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Tag Archives: Political Economy

What Is Populism? The People V. the People

“Populism” has received many definitions and historical interpretations. Some analysts take it simply as a more active form or stretch of democracy, but this may underplay the existence of very different theories and practices of democracy. One analytically useful definition of populism was given by political scientist William Riker in his 1982 book Liberalism Against Democracy. He defines the essence of populism as a political ideal in which the will of the people...

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Will Government be Permanently Larger After the Pandemic Ends?

In his 1987 book Crisis and Leviathan, economic historian Robert Higgs argued that in the 20th century, the U.S. federal government grew mainly as a result of three crises: World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. During those crises, the feds raised taxes, introduced more spending programs, and took on more regulatory power. While much of the added government power fell after each of the three crises ended, it never fell back to where it was before the...

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The European Union, Italy writ large

It has been called Europe’s “Hamiltonian moment.” It’s true that for the first time the EU has seen a common issuance of debt. As the Wall Street Journal summarizes: On Tuesday European Union leaders agreed to a recovery plan funded by the bloc’s first major issuance of common debt, and some are calling it a historic moment for the Continent’s political and fiscal integration. This is a significant development, but don’t hold your breath for a United States of...

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The Invention of Government, starring Mariana Mazzucato

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Mariana Mazzucato offers a summary of her last book, The Value of Everything. The book is both a polemic against marginalism, which she considers a cover-up for laissez-faire (as if Jevons, Marshall, Walras, or Menger were champions of unfettered competition), and a plea for more government intervention in the economy. Mazzucato does not argue: she tells a story, sometimes very effectively. Here’s the story in a nutshell: When the...

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The “Trump Economy” Before Covid-19

In the cover feature of the Summer issue of Regulation, I review the American economy and the economic performance of the Trump administration before Covid-19 hit. I review the evidence on unemployment, GDP growth, wages, stock prices, regulation, trade, public finance, etc. Nine figures illustrate my evaluation. A short excerpt on only one of the topics covered: In the spring of 2016, then-candidate Trump told WashingtonPost reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa,...

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10% Less Democracy

I’m a great admirer of my colleague (and former EconLog blogger) Garett Jones‘ Hive Mind.  His new 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less is a worthy successor. Though less revolutionary, 10% Less Democracy presents a mighty and succinct case that “populism doesn’t work.”  Democracy is only tolerable because elites usually don’t slavishly do what’s popular.  In functional polities, economically and cognitively...

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What I’m Thinking

1. Getting people to be rational about politics is an uphill battle during the best of times.  During a global hysteria, it’s hopeless. 2. Due to this doleful realization, I refrained from discussing the lockdown when it first emerged.  The best course, I deemed, was to wait for readers to simmer down. 3. Since many have now simmered down, here’s what I was thinking three months ago. 4. I was convinced that coronavirus was a dire threat by early March, but I opposed...

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Sweden’s Keyhole Solution

As I explain in Open Borders, a responsible advocate of government intervention always asks, “Is there any cheaper and more humane approach?”  “Government should do something” is perfectly consistent with “Scrupulously avoid collateral damage.”  Following Tim Harford, I call such responsible approaches “keyhole solutions.”  This recent AIER piece from James Cooper (via Dan Klein) provides a fine example: I am an American living in Stockholm. I have been living here...

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Zingales on the Rule of Economists

In the spirit of Clemenceau, Huntington (1981) claims that in a democracy, the ultimate responsibility for a country’s military strategy belongs to the civilian political leadership. If, instead, the military controls the political decisions, it is a military dictatorship. In the same way, the ultimate responsibility for a country’s economic policy should belong to the political leadership. If economists control it, it is a technocratic dictatorship. This is the...

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What We Would Now Know, If Demagogues Didn’t Rule Every Country on Earth

About six months after the rise of COVID-19, humanity still doesn’t know the answers to a long list of critical questions.  Questions like: 1. What is the true Infection Fatality Rate (IFR)? 2. What fraction of the population has COVID-19 now? 3. What fraction of the population has already had it? 4. How does the IFR really vary by age, gender, and prior health status? 5. How much immunity to COVID-19 do recovered patients acquire? 6. What are the odds of contracting...

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