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Share Buybacks and the Contradictions of “Shareholder Capitalism”

In the jargon of finance, America is suffering from a capital allocation problem. The country seems incapable of making the necessary investments to fuel future productivity and growth, or to ensure widespread prosperity. At the government level, public spending on basic research and development as well as infrastructure investment has declined significantly over the past…

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Principles for Dummies

On the first page of his best-selling memoir, Ray Dalio unburdens himself of the opinion that he is “a dumb shit.” Nothing in the ensuing six hundred or so pages convinced me that I should dissent from this verdict. I can say honestly, in keeping with the book’s own serial inducements to “radical transparency,” that my endorsement of Dalio’s conclusion about his own intelligence was arrived at without prejudice…

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The Open Office and the Spirit of Capitalism

It would be too much to say that the office is the prime locus of utopian aspirations in American life. But the claim wouldn’t be entirely misleading, either, and it might even shed some light on what the office actually is. From their earliest days as dingy counting houses in Boston and Manhattan, American offices have…

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Corporate Power and the Self-Destruction of Neoliberalism

Since the mid-1970s, the majority of economic power in the Western world has fallen into the hands of business and finance. At that time—facing the enormous challenges of oil price explosions, inflation, and unemployment—the governments of most countries virtually surrendered, and left it to global corporations to search for solutions. Margret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and…

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Radical Markets versus Sensible Politics

Market-based reforms were used in the 1980s—really invented as a concept in the run-up to the 1980s—to counteract the excesses and failures of post–World War II social policy. At the time, marginal income tax rates in excess of 70 percent had shifteind income into unproductive tax-optimization vehicles instead of savings and investment. Excessive urban rent controls were a disincentive…

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The Rise of the Financial Economy

Remember auction rate securities? For decades, financial institutions hosted “auctions” of these fixed-rate instruments for buyers and sellers. They were considered so safe, and the auctions (where the interest rate would be “reset” depending on the level of interest in the securities, among other factors) so routine, that auction rate securities became an alternative to money…

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Evaluating Increases in Think-Tank Executive Compensation

Shortly before announcing his plans to resign from the presidency of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Arthur Brooks outlined a framework for evaluating the “impact” of think tanks such as his own in the Harvard Business Review.1 In his article, Brooks identified several metrics for assessing impact, such as the number of op-eds placed in leading newspapers…

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Investor Protection, National Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law

As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to renegotiate—or else repudiate—the North American Free Trade Agreement (nafta), which liberalized trade and other economic activity between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This fall, his administration began formal talks toward redrafting the Clinton-era trade deal, which is nearly a quarter century old. The nafta renegotiations have been…

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Edison’s Legacy: Industrial Laboratories and Innovation

Between 1999 and 2016, the U.S. share of global high technology exports dropped from 18 percent to 7 percent. From one of the world’s leading technology product exporters prior to 2000, the United States has become a net importer since then, and the deficit keeps growing. During this period…

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Two Cheers for Tax Reform

The recently announced tax reform package is one of the few serious and intelligent proposals offered by House Republicans in years. Not surprisingly, however, everyone seems to hate it. Defenders no less than critics of the plan seem incapable of thinking about tax policy outside of the simplistic framework of Reaganomics. As a result, most…

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