Robert Skidelsky
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Articles from New York Review of Books

The Programmed Prospect Before Us
Robert Skidelsky
New York Review of Books | Monday, March 10, 2014

 
Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans
by Simon Head
Basic Books, 230 pp., $26.99
 
1.
 
The entire thesis of Simon Head’s arresting new book is contained in the subtitle. It goes all the way back to Adam Smith’s telling observation that the division of labor in a pin factory, while doing wonders for productivity (output per worker), would make workers as “stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be.” This was because no worker needed to know how to make a pin, only how to do his part in the process of making a pin. Artisan production was on the point of becoming industrial production; industrial production would destroy work skills.
 
By the start of the twentieth century, and after the Industrial

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Inventing the World’s Money
Robert Skidelsky
New York Review of Books | Thursday, January 09, 2014

 
The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order
by Benn Steil.
Council on Foreign Relations/Princeton University Press, 449 p., $29.95
 
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Do we need another book on Bretton Woods, the conference in 1944 in New Hampshire that established a new monetary system following World War II? The answer is yes. The two excellent existing histories of Bretton Woods, by Richard Gardner (1956) and Armand van Dormael (1978), are now dated. New historical materials have become available. Since the crash of 2008 the arcane subject of the world’s money has become urgently relevant. So a fresh look at the famous conference is warranted.
 
In The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry

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For a National Investment Bank
Robert Skidelsky and Felix Martin
New York Review of Books | Wednesday, March 30, 2011

 
President Obama is in a bind. He knows that the economic recovery is fragile and dependent on continued fiscal stimulus—hence the bipartisan deal on further tax breaks he brokered in December. But he also knows that the tolerance in Washington for deficits of close to 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product is running out. In the short term, the politics of the new Congress will not allow them; and in the long term, the President’s own National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has warned against them.
 
The President’s dilemma was on open display in his State of the Union address in January. It is, he said, deficit spending by government that has “broken the back of this recession”; and government-supported investment in

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Book Review: The World Finance Crisis & the American Mission
Robert Skidelsky
New York Review of Books | Wednesday, June 17, 2009

 
Fixing Global Finance
by Martin Wolf
Johns Hopkins University Press, 230 pp., $24.95
 
1.
 
By common consent, we have been living through the greatest economic downturn since World War II. It originated, as we all know, in a collapse of the banking system, and the first attempts to understand the resulting economic crisis focused on the reasons for bank failures. The banks, it was said, had failed to "manage" the new "risks" posed by financial innovation. Alan Greenspan's statement that the cause of the crisis was the "underpricing of risk worldwide" was the most succinct expression of this view.[1] Particular attention was paid to the role of the American subprime mortgage market as the source of the so-called "toxic" assets that had

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Book Review: Can You Spare a Dime?
Robert Skidelsky
New York Review of Books | Friday, December 26, 2008

 
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
by Niall Ferguson
Penguin, 442 pp., $29.95
 
The historian Alan Taylor used to say, mischievously, that the only point of history is history. The idea that one could use it to predict the future, still more to avoid past mistakes, was pure illusion. Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money, a history of financial innovation written as a television documentary[1] as well as a book, offers a neat test of Taylor's theory. Ferguson can claim some powers of anticipation. History convinced him in 2006 that the good times could not last "indefinitely." This was an insight to which the Nobel Prize–winning mathematical economists who devised the Black-Scholes formula—the complicated model for

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