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The Incoherence of the Economists

What is an economist? There is an easy answer: economists are social scientists who create simplified quantitative models of large-scale market phenomena. But they are more than that. Besides their scientific role, economists have achieved a social cachet that far exceeds what one might expect from a class of geeky quasi-mathematicians. In addition to being…

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The Conservation of Coercion

It was the anarchists who first told me about the Kapauku Papuans. Among the Kapauku, in West New Guinea, there was no state administration of justice; instead, both civil disputes and grave crimes were adjudicated by a caste of private citizens called tonowi. As tonowi travelled the highlands, collecting evidence, pronouncing judgement, and suggesting sentences, their reputations would spread. The wisest and most impartial tonowi were in high demand, and could command a correspondingly high price from a village for their assistance in settling a dispute. A tonowi who developed a reputation for corruption or partiality, however, would soon need to find a new line of work. Past judgements of great tonowi in difficult cases formed an evolving body of common law that helped inform new cases…

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The Development Delusion: Foreign Aid and Inequality

During the last decades of the Soviet Union, technocrats in Moscow managed to prop up the failing regime by telling a story. They knew that the economy was falling apart, but they refused to admit it. Instead, they hired propagandists to convince the public that everything was still going according to plan, that the Soviet…

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Make the Left Great Again

The West is currently in the midst of an antiestablishment revolt of historic proportions. The Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, the election of Donald Trump in the United States, the rejection of Matteo Renzi’s neoliberal constitutional reform in Italy, the European Union’s unprecedented crisis of legitimation—although these interrelated phenomena differ in ideology and goals,…

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Utilitarian Economics and the Corruption of Conservatism

The Oxford English Dictionary has two definitions of the word “conservatism.” The first defines it as a “commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation”; the second defines it as “the holding of political views that favor free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.” The former definition strikes me as…

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Germany’s Trade Surplus: Causes and Effects

On January 25, 2015, in a free election, the Greek people exercised their right to decide the destiny of their country. A majority of the Greeks voted against austerity. SYRIZA, an outspoken left-wing party, came to power. Since that day, many European governments, led by Germany, have stubbornly refused to allow the Greek government to…

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Ricardo’s Vice and the Virtues of Industrial Diversity

There is, however, another explanation for why anti–free trade sentiment has risen: the gains from specialization at the national level were not there to share in the first place, for sound empirical reasons that were ignored in Ricardo’s example. That ignorance has been ingrained in economics since then, as Robbins’s definition—dominant and…

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Capitalism without Capitalists

Western capitalism is in bad shape. A decade has passed since banks and financial houses began to crumble and took Western economies to the brink of collapse, but economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic remains weak. It is still determined more by governments and central banks than the animal spirits of entrepreneurial capitalism.…

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Romance and Socialism in J. S. Mill

John Stuart Mill had the worst personal life of any libertarian philosopher, a competitive category for bad personal lives. Marriage in particular has a record of making libertarian philosophers behave discreditably—that is, in a way that brings discredit not just on their character but on their ideas. Bertrand Russell famously divorced the first of his four wives after a bicycle trip: “suddenly, as I was…

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Toward a New Bretton Woods Agreement

The fifteenth anniversary of the euro in 2017 offers a good occasion to reexamine what is wrong with the present international monetary arrangements and the theories used to justify them. Theoretical questions concerning the nature of money have profound implications for policy issues, including the mandates of central banks, interest rates, exchange rates, credit growth…

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