Visions of the future are always forged within a present. The Great Depression led sober economists to wonder whether capitalism and economic growth had come to an end. Golden Era economists of the 1950s and 1960s, confident they knew better, promised that the formula for permanent growth had been discovered. In the 1970s a combination of high inflation and unemployment – known as 'stagflation' – brought a painful end to such hopes, and the pessimists once again argued that this was the new normal. Instead came the giddy exuberance of the 1980s and 1990s. This spawned books like Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man (1992), which declared that Western democratic capitalism had won and would be the 'final form of human government'.
Today, gloom is back in fashion. Fukuyama's hopes for democracy have been toppled by the meteoric rise of China and the return of an authoritarian Russia, and for capitalism by the largest crisis since the Great Depression. These times call for a different kind of book – one like Satyajit Das's A Banquet of Consequences. Will pessimism prove prescient this time around?