Robert Skidelsky
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Recent Articles

The Scarecrow of National Debt
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Monday, August 22, 2016

 

Most people are more worried by government debt than about taxation. “But it’s trillions” a friend of mine recently expostulated about the United Kingdom’s national debt. He exaggerated a bit: it is £1.7 trillion. But one website features a clock showing the debt growing at a rate of £5,170 per second. Although the tax take is far less, the UK government still collected a hefty £533.7 billion in taxes in the last fiscal year. The tax base grows by the second, too, but no clock shows it.

Many people think that, however depressing heavy taxes are, it is more honest for governments to raise them to pay for their spending than it is to incur debt. Borrowing strikes them as a way of taxing by stealth. “How are they going to pay it back?”


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A tweak to helicopter money will help the economy take off
Robert Skidelsky
Financial Times | Thursday, August 04, 2016

 

Theresa May, the UK prime minister, has all but repudiated the economic policies of the previous chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne. She has promised an “industrial strategy to get the whole economy moving”. What form should a renovated economic strategy take?

The immediate problem to overcome is the uncertainty engendered by the Brexit vote. What weapons exist to fight it? Mr Osborne’s target of eliminating the budget deficit by 2019-20 has already been abandoned, but adding to the national debt by issuing government bonds for an infrastructure programme is likely to unsettle the financial markets. The Bank of England’s base rate is already close to zero, and judging by Thursday’s announcement we should not expect a


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The Failure of Free Migration
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Monday, July 18, 2016

 
LONDON – The horrendous attack by a French-Tunisian man on a crowd in Nice celebrating Bastille Day, which killed 84 and injured hundreds more, will give National Front leader Marine Le Pen a massive boost in next spring’s presidential election. It doesn’t matter whether the murderer, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, had any links to radical Islamism. Throughout the Western world, a toxic mix of physical, economic, and cultural insecurity has been fueling anti-immigration sentiment and politics precise at the moment when the disintegration of post-colonial states across the Islamic crescent is producing a refugee problem on a scale not seen since World War II.

In the last 30 years or so, a key benchmark for liberal-democratic societies has

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Basic Income Revisited
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Thursday, June 23, 2016

 
LONDON – Britain isn’t the only country holding a referendum this month. On June 5, Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected, by 77% to 23%, the proposition that every citizen should be guaranteed an unconditional basic income (UBI). But that lopsided outcome doesn’t mean the issue is going away anytime soon.

Indeed, the idea of a UBI has made recurrent appearances in history – starting with Tom Paine in the eighteenth century. This time, though, it is likely to have greater staying power, as the prospect of sufficient income from jobs grows bleaker for the poor and less educated. Experiments with unconditional cash transfers have been taking place in poor as well as rich countries.

UBI is a somewhat uneasy mix of two objectives: poverty

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The False Promise of Negative Interest Rates
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Tuesday, May 24, 2016

 
LONDON – As a biographer and aficionado of John Maynard Keynes, I am sometimes asked: “What would Keynes think about negative interest rates?”

It’s a good question, one that recalls a passage in Keynes’s General Theory in which he notes that if the government can’t think of anything more sensible to do to cure unemployment (say, building houses), burying bottles filled with bank notes and digging them up again would be better than nothing. He probably would have said the same about negative interest rates: a desperate measure by governments that can think of nothing else to do.
 
Negative interest rates are simply the latest fruitless effort since the 2008 global financial crisis to revive economies by monetary measures. When cutting

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