Robert Skidelsky
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Project Syndicate "Against the Current"

Post-Crash Economics
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Thursday, June 19, 2014

 
In last month’s European Parliament election, euroskeptic and extremist parties won 25% of the popular vote, with the biggest gains chalked up in France, the United Kingdom, and Greece. These results were widely, and correctly, interpreted as showing the degree of disconnect between an arrogant European elite and ordinary citizens.
 
Less noticed, because less obviously political, are today’s intellectual rumblings, of which French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a withering indictment of growing inequality, is the latest manifestation. We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the neoliberal capitalist consensus that has prevailed throughout the West since the 1980s – and that many claim led to the

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The Road to Full Investment
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Tuesday, May 20, 2014

 
A specter is haunting the treasuries and central banks of the West – the specter of secular stagnation. What if there is no sustainable recovery from the economic slump of 2008-2013? What if the sources of economic growth have dried up – not temporarily, but permanently?
 
The new pessimism comes not from Marxists, who have always looked for telltale signs of capitalism’s collapse, but from the heart of the policymaking establishment: Larry Summers, former US President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury, and chief economist of almost everything at one time or another.
 
Summers’s argument, in a nutshell, is that if the expected profitability of investment is falling, interest rates need to fall to the same extent. But interest rates

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Kennan’s Revenge
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Tuesday, April 22, 2014

 
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that gas giant Gazprom would start demanding payment a month in advance for the supplies that it sells to Ukraine. The British newspaper The Observer published, in response, a striking cartoon showing Putin sitting on a throne of outward-pointing daggers, turning off the Ukraine gas tap while saying, “Winter is coming.” The background was bright red, and a hammer and sickle and a skull were planted on Putin’s breast. For some, at least, the Cold War is back.
 
But, before we drift into Cold War II, we would do well to recall why we had the first one. The end of Communism removed one important reason: the Soviet Union’s expansionist thrust and the Western democracies’

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The Wolves of Wall Street
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Friday, March 21, 2014

 
“What a commentary on the state of twentieth-century capitalism,” mused “motivational speaker” Jordan Belfort as he looked back on his life of fraud, sex, and drugs. As head of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, he fleeced investors of hundreds of millions of dollars in the early 1990’s. I saw Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street and was sufficiently intrigued to read Belfort’s memoir, on which the screenplay is based. I learned quite a lot.
 
For example, the scam known as “pump and dump,” which netted Belfort and his fellow Strattonites their ill-gotten gains, comes into much clearer view in the memoir than it does in the film. The technique works by buying up the stock of worthless companies through nominees, selling it on

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Death to Machines?
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Friday, February 21, 2014

 
At the start of the Industrial Revolution, textile workers in the Midlands and the North of England, mainly weavers, staged a spontaneous revolt, smashing machinery and burning factories. Their complaint was that the newfangled machines were robbing them of their wages and jobs.
 
The rebels took their name, and inspiration, from the apocryphal Ned Ludd, supposedly an apprentice weaver who smashed two knitting frames in 1779 in a “fit of passion.” Robert Calvert wrote a ballad about him in 1985: “They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy/ That all he could do was wreck and destroy,” the song begins. And then: “He turned to his workmates and said: ‘Death to Machines’/They tread on our future and stamp on our dreams.”
 
The Luddites’ rampage was

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