Robert Skidelsky
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Project Syndicate "Against the Current"

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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A British Bridge for a Divided Europe
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Friday, April 15, 2016

 
LONDON – The European Union has never been very popular in Britain. It joined late, and its voters will be asked on June 23 whether they want to leave early. The referendum’s outcome will not be legally binding on the government; but it is inconceivable that Britain will stay if the public’s verdict is to quit.

Over the years, the focus of the British debate about Europe has shifted. In the 1960s and 1970s, the question was whether Britain could afford not to join what was then the European Economic Community. The fear was that the United Kingdom would be shut out of the world’s fastest-growing market, and that its partnership with the United States would be at risk as well: The Western alliance would consist of two pillars,


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The Economist’s Concubine
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Thursday, March 17, 2016

 
LONDON – In recent decades, economics has been colonizing the study of human activities hitherto considered exempt from formal calculus. What critics call “economics imperialism” has given rise to an economics of love, of art, of music, of language, of literature, and of much else.

The unifying idea underlying this extension of economics is that whatever people do, whether it is making love or making widgets, they aim to achieve the best results at the least cost. These benefits and costs can be reduced to money. So people are always looking for the best financial return on their transactions.

This is contrary to the popular separation of activities in which it is right (and rational) to count the cost, and those in which

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Keynes’s General Theory at 80
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Tuesday, February 23, 2016

 
 LONDON – In 1935, John Maynard Keynes wrote to George Bernard Shaw: “I believe myself to be writing a book on economic theory which will largely revolutionize – not, I suppose, at once but in the course of the next ten years – the way the world thinks about its economic problems.” And, indeed, Keynes’s magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in February 1936, transformed economics and economic policymaking. Eighty years later, does Keynes’s theory still hold up?
 
Two elements of Keynes’s legacy seem secure. First, Keynes invented macroeconomics – the theory of output as a whole. He called his theory “general” to distinguish it from the pre-Keynesian theory, which assumed a unique level of output –

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