Robert Skidelsky
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Project Syndicate "Against the Current"

Minimum Wage or Living Income?
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Thursday, July 16, 2015

 
LONDON – Most rich countries now have millions of ‘working poor’ – people in some sort of work, but work which does not pay enough to keep them above the poverty line, and whose wages therefore have to be subsidised by the state. These subsidies take the form of ‘tax credits.’
 
The idea is a very old one. England had its Speenhamland system during the Napoleonic wars, a form of outdoor relief intended to offset the rising price of bread. In 1795, the authorities of Speenhamland, a village in Berkshire, authorised a means-tested sliding scale of wage supplements. Families were paid extra to top up wages set at a certain level. The level varied with the number of children and price of bread.
 
After criticism that the scheme allowed

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The Sino-Russian Marriage
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Friday, June 19, 2015

 
LONDON – The Chinese are the most historically minded of peoples. In his conquest of power, Mao Zedong used military tactics derived from Sun Tzu, who lived around 500 BC; Confucianism, dating from around the same time, remains at the heart of China’s social thinking, despite Mao’s ruthless attempts to suppress it.
 
So when President Xi Jinping launched his “New Silk Road” initiative in 2013, no one should have been surprised by the historical reference. “More than two millennia ago,” explains China’s National Development and Reform Commission, “the diligent and courageous people of Eurasia explored and opened up several routes of trade and cultural exchanges that linked the major civilisations of Asia, Europe, and Africa, collectively

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Niall Ferguson’s Wishful Thinking
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Friday, May 29, 2015

 
LONDON – Niall Ferguson begins his rejoinder to my rejoinder to his interpretation of the results of the United Kingdom’s recent general election by citing an apocryphal Keynes quote: “If the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?” But should the fact that the British economy grew last year by 2.6% have caused Keynesians to change their minds? Would it have caused Keynes to rewrite his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money?
 
Ferguson seems to think so. I do not.
 
Keynes never thought that an economy, felled by a shock, would remain on the floor. There would always be some rebound, regardless of government policy. What he emphasized was the “time-element” in the cycle. With depressed profit expectations, an

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No Pain, No Gain for Britain?
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Friday, May 15, 2015

 
LONDON – The economic historian Niall Ferguson reminds me of the late Oxford University historian, A.J.P. Taylor. Though Taylor maintained that he tried to tell the truth in his historical writing, he was quite ready to spin the facts for a good cause. Ferguson, too, is a wonderful historian – but like Taylor, his political arguments are heavily spun.
 
Ferguson’s cause is American neo-conservatism, coupled with a relentless aversion to Keynes and Keynesians. His latest defense of fiscal austerity came immediately after the United Kingdom’s recent election, when he wrote in the Financial Times that, “Labour should blame Keynes for their defeat.”
 
Ferguson’s argument amounts to that of a brutal disciplinarian who claims vindication for

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Debating the Confidence Fairy
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Wednesday, April 22, 2015

 
LONDON – In 2011, the Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman characterized conservative discourse on budget deficits in terms of “bond vigilantes” and the “confidence fairy.” Unless governments cut their deficits, the bond vigilantes will put the screws to them by forcing up interest rates. But if they do cut, the confidence fairy will reward them by stimulating private spending more than the cuts depress it.
 
Krugman thought the “bond vigilante” claim might be valid for a few countries, such as Greece, but argued that the “confidence fairy” was no less imaginary than the one that collects children’s teeth. Cutting a deficit in a slump could never cause a recovery. Political rhetoric can stop a good policy from being adopted, but it

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