Robert Skidelsky
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Project Syndicate "Against the Current"

Free Trade and Costly Love
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Monday, January 20, 2014

 
The World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in Bali in December produced a modest package of encouragements to global trade. More broadly, the WTO’s multilateral approach has shown its worth by preventing a massive increase in trade barriers, unlike in 1929-1930, when protectionism helped deepen and broaden the Great Depression. But the main question – whether globalization is a good thing, and for whom – remains unanswered.
 
The essence of globalization – free trade – rests on the theory of comparative advantage, which views international trade as profitable even for a country that can produce every commodity more cheaply (in terms of labor or all resources) than any other country.
 
The textbook example given by the Nobel

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Shale Gas to the Rescue?
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Thursday, December 19, 2013

 
The developed world is slowly emerging from the Great Recession, but a question lingers: How fast and how far will the recovery go? One big source of pessimism has been the idea that we are running out of investment opportunities – and have been since before the 2008 crash. But is that true?
 
The last big surge of innovation was the Internet revolution, whose products came onstream in the 1990’s. Following the dot-com collapse of the early 2000’s, speculation in real estate and financial assets – enabled by cheap money – kept Western economies going. The post-2008 slump merely exposed the unsoundness of the preceding boom; the mediocrity of the recovery reflects the mediocrity of previous prospects, coolly considered. The risk now is

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Four Fallacies of the Second Great Depression
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Wednesday, November 20, 2013

 
LONDON – The period since 2008 has produced a plentiful crop of recycled economic fallacies, mostly falling from the lips of political leaders. Here are my four favorites.
 
The Swabian Housewife. “One should simply have asked the Swabian housewife,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. “She would have told us that you cannot live beyond your means.”
 
This sensible-sounding logic currently underpins austerity. The problem is that it ignores the effect of the housewife’s thrift on total demand. If all households curbed their expenditures, total consumption would fall, and so, too, would demand for labor. If the housewife’s husband loses his job, the household will be worse off than before.
 

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Misconceiving austerity
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Monday, October 21, 2013

 
LONDON – Was the British government’s decision to embrace austerity in the wake of the global financial crisis the right policy, after all? Yes, claims the economist Kenneth Rogoff in a much-discussed recent commentary. Rogoff argues that while, in hindsight, the government should have borrowed more, at the time there was a real danger that Britain would go the way of Greece. So Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne turns out, on this view, to be a hero of global finance.
 
To show that there was a real threat of capital flight, Rogoff uses historical cases to demonstrate that the United Kingdom’s credit performance has been far from credible. He mentions the 1932 default on its World War I debt owed to the United States, the debts

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The Russian Janus
Robert Skidelsky
Project Syndicate | Friday, September 20, 2013

 
Russia presents two opposing faces to the world: one menacing, the other benign. Both have now combined, somewhat unexpectedly, to break the momentum carrying the United States, and possibly other Western powers, toward a disastrous military intervention in Syria.
 
Russia’s domestic situation remains deplorable. With the collapse of the planned economy in 1991, Russia proved to be not so much a developed as a misdeveloped country, unable to sell most of its products in non-captive markets.
 
So Russia regressed into a commodity-based economy, mainly selling energy, while its talented scientists and technicians sought jobs abroad and its intellectual life decayed. Russia is also, no surprise, blighted by corruption, which drives away

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