Robert Skidelsky
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Project Syndicate "Against the Current"

How Much Debt is Too Much?
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Thursday, January 28, 2016

 
 LONDON – Is there a “safe” debt/income ratio for households or debt/GDP ratio for governments? In both cases, the answer is yes. And in both cases, it is impossible to say exactly what that ratio is. Nonetheless, this has become the most urgent macroeconomic question of the moment, owing not just to spiraling household and government debt since 2000, but also – and more important – to the excess concern that government debt is now eliciting.
 
According to a 2015 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, household debt in many advanced countries doubled, to more than 200% of income, between 2000 and 2007. Since then, households in the countries hardest hit in the 2008-2009 economic crisis have deleveraged somewhat, but the household debt

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The Decline of the West Revisited
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Monday, November 16, 2015

 
LONDON – The terrorist slaughter in Paris has once again brought into sharp relief the storm clouds gathering over the twenty-first century, dimming the bright promise for Europe and the West that the fall of communism opened up. Given dangers that seemingly grow by the day, it is worth pondering what we may be in for.

Though prophecy is delusive, an agreed point of departure should be falling expectations. As Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute reports: “The assumption of an automatically better future for the next generation is gone in much of the West.”

In 1918, Oswald Spengler published The Decline of the West. Today the word “decline” is taboo. Our politicians shun it in favor of “challenges,” while our economists talk


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From Memory to Denial in Russia
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Tuesday, October 20, 2015

 
LONDON – My most painful experience in Russia was a visit to Perm-36, the only one of Stalin’s forced-labor camps to have been preserved, in 1998. I was in Perm, a city in the Urals, to take part in a seminar of the Moscow School of Political Studies. Founded by the remarkable Lena Nemirovskaya, the school’s purpose was to introduce young post-communist Russians to democracy, self-government, and capitalism.

One bitterly cold March day, I joined a few friends on a trip to the former camp. Built in the early 1940s as a “regular” labor camp, Perm-36 was converted into a concentration camp for political prisoners in 1972.

The last prisoners were released in 1987, three years into Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule. Now it was being restored


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The Agony and the Exodus
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Wednesday, September 23, 2015

 
The tragic exodus of people from war-torn Syria and surrounding countries challenges the world’s reason and sympathy. Since 2011, some four million people have fled Syria, with millions more internally displaced. Syria’s neighbors – Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey – currently house the vast majority of the externally displaced. But, as the crisis has progressed, hundreds of thousands of refugees have headed toward Europe, with most taking the extremely dangerous marine route.
 
The nature and scale of this exodus have rendered all previous legal and political assumptions about migration obsolete. In the past, the chief motive for migration was economic. The debate to which economic migration gave rise was between liberals, who upheld the

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Taking Corbynomics seriously
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Wednesday, August 19, 2015

 
LONDON – Fiscal austerity has become such a staple of conventional wisdom in the United Kingdom that anyone in public life who challenges it is written off as a dangerous leftist. Jeremy Corbyn, the current favorite to become the next leader of Britain’s Labour Party, is the latest victim of this chorus of disparagement. Some of his positions are untenable. But his remarks on economic policy are not foolish, and deserve proper scrutiny.
 
Corbyn has proposed two alternatives to the UK’s current policy of austerity: a National Investment Bank, to be capitalized by canceling private-sector tax relief and subsidies; and what he calls “people’s quantitative easing” – in a nutshell, an infrastructure program that the government finances by

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