Robert Skidelsky
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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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On reasoning uncontaminated by facts
Robert Skidesky
Thursday, May 07, 2015

 
 The following thoughts may be of no interest to anyone but myself, but I venture them in the hope of getting a comment or two. The proposition 1+1=2 presents itself to the mind as a necessary truth. In the older language it used to be called an a priori truth - that is, prior to any experience. It seems absurd to imagine our primitive ancestors reaching it by arranging pebbles on a beach. The idea of counting itself had to be present, as well as the desire for some beautiful or useful way of arranging things.
 
Similarly, we do not learn of the mathematically expected result of tossing a coin (50:50) by repeated experiments. In fact, people have tried this and found that their repeated tossings never led to the mathematically expected

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Spin and Over-Spending
Robert Skidesky
Friday, May 01, 2015

 
 The scorn which greeted Ed Milliband's denial at yesterday's leaders' debate that the last Labour government had 'overspent' shows how much success the Conservative ‘overspending’ narrative has had. Miliband said Labour had built or repaired hundreds of schools and hospitals; that the public accounts had been derailed not by overspending but by the financial crisis.... All quite true, but Labour's reluctance to defend its record until now has left too little time to alter the popular perception before the election.
 
Simon Wren-Lewis, writing in a special 2013 edition of the Oxford Review of Economic Policy (Volume 29, No. 1), strongly refutes the Tory assertion. In the years leading up to the crisis (1997-2007) public net debt remained

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Topsy Turvy Economics
Robert Skidesky
Wednesday, April 29, 2015

 
 'All countries must live within their means' writes James Palumbo in London's Evening Standard (28 April). Amen to that. But what are the means? They are the workers, skills, and materials - resources in short - that pay for the things the country consumes. Common sense tells us that these means include workers who are unemployed, skills which are not being used, and goods which could be produced if there was a market for them. By such measures, most countries are living well BELOW their means. For example, Spain, Greece, Ireland, France and Cyprus have an average unemployment rate of 17.2%. US unemployment is 5.5%, but the labour participation ratio has dropped from 66% to 63%. In the UK, headline unemployment is 5.6%, but

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George Osborne’s cunning plan: how the chancellor’s austerity narrative has harmed recovery
Robert Skidelsky
New Statesman | Wednesday, April 29, 2015

 
Over their five years in power, the Conservatives have claimed their austerity policy saved the country from disaster. This purported economic competence sits at the heart of their election campaign. It needs critical scrutiny.
 
The coalition government has given two main reasons why austerity – cutting the Budget deficit – was necessary. The first is that its predecessor Labour government, living “beyond its means”, left the nation with a rising mountain of public debt. The only way to restore fiscal probity was to start austerity as soon as possible.
 
The second reason was that commitment to austerity was the only way to reassure the bond markets that the British government would not “go the way of Greece”: that is, default on its

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