Robert Skidelsky
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Project Syndicate "Against the Current"

Shaky Social Contracts
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Friday, February 13, 2009

 
London – “Enrich yourselves,” China’s Deng Xiaoping told his fellow countrymen when he started dismantling Mao Zedong’s failed socialist model. In fact, elites everywhere have always lived by this injunction, and ordinary people have not minded very much, provided that the elites fulfill their part of the bargain: protect the country against its enemies and improve living conditions. It is this implied social contract that is now endangered by economic collapse.
 
Of course, the terms of the contract vary with place and time. In nineteenth-century Europe, the rich were expected to be frugal. Conspicuous consumption was eschewed. The rich were supposed to save much of their income, as saving was both a fund for investment and a moral

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The Unreality of the “Real” Business Cycle
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Tuesday, January 13, 2009

 
 
London – Testifying recently before a United States congressional committee, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said that the recent financial meltdown had shattered his “intellectual structure.” I am keen to understand what he meant.
 
Since I have had no opportunity to ask him, I have to rely on his memoirs, The Age of Turbulence, for clues. But that book was published in 2007 – before, presumably, his intellectual structure fell apart.
 
In his memoirs, Greenspan revealed that his favorite economist was Joseph Schumpeter, inventor of the concept of “creative destruction.” In Greenspan’s summary of Schumpeter’s thinking, a “market economy will incessantly revitalize itself from within by scrapping old and failing

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Perfect Losers
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Monday, December 22, 2008

 
London – Economics, it seems, has very little to tell us about the current economic crisis. Indeed, no less a figure than former United States Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently confessed that his entire “intellectual edifice” had been “demolished” by recent events.
 
Scratch around the rubble, however, and one can come up with useful fragments. One of them is called “asymmetric information.” This means that some people know more about some things than other people. Not a very startling insight, perhaps. But apply it to buyers and sellers. Suppose the seller of a product knows more about its quality than the buyer does, or vice versa. Interesting things happen – so interesting that the inventors of this idea received Nobel

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Morals and the Meltdown
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Wednesday, November 19, 2008

 
 
London – After World War I, H.G. Wells wrote that a race was on between morality and destruction. Humanity had to abandon its warlike ways, Wells said, or technology would decimate it.
 
Economic writing, however, conveyed a completely different world. Here technology was deservedly king. Prometheus was a benevolent monarch who scattered the fruits of progress among his people. In the economists’ world, morality should not seek to control technology, but should adapt to its demands. Only by doing so could economic growth be assured and poverty eliminated. Traditional morality faded away as technology multiplied productive power.
 
We have clung to this faith in technological salvation as the old faiths waned and technology became ever

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Kipling’s Wisdom
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Monday, October 20, 2008

 
LONDON - The beginning of October marked the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the American-led bombardment of Afghanistan. Seven years later, the Taliban are still fighting. Some 50 insurgents died recently in an assault on Lashkar gar, the capital of Helmand province. Osama bin Laden is nowhere to be found. Has the time come for NATO to declare victory and leave?
 
Recently, a French diplomatic cable relating a conversation on September 2 between the French ambassador to Afghanistan, Francois Fitou, and his British colleague, Sherard Cowper-Coles, was leaked in Le Canard Enchainé, a French satirical newspaper. Cowper-Coles was reported to have said that the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, that NATO’s presence

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