The Geneva School and its Ordoglobalists

by Stefan Kolev

Four cities are usually considered the birthplaces of neoliberalism: Vienna, London, Chicago, and Freiburg. In his new book, Globalists. The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism(Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2018, 393 pages), historian Quinn Slobodian points out that an important place is missing in this series: Geneva. The Genevan melting pot of neoliberal ideas in the immediate vicinity of major international institutions was formative in the various attempts to establish an order for the global economy over the past nine decades.

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The Virtues of the Market: Wilhelm Röpke as a Cultural Economist

Patricia Commun / Stefan Kolev (eds.): Wilhelm Röpke (1899-1966). A Liberal Political Economist and Conservative Social Philosopher, Springer, Cham 2018, 272 pages, 123 Euro.

by Erwin Dekker

Neo-liberalism is often associated with an excessive focus on the market at the expense of both the state and society. This new book, which is the outcome of a conference held to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Röpke’s death, demonstrates that precisely this imbalance was one of the main worries of many ordoliberals, and in particular of Wilhelm Röpke.

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THE TYRANNY OF METRICS, Jerry Muller, Princeton, 220 pp.

by Edward Chancellor*

Once upon a time, there was a factory in the Soviet Union that made nails. Moscow set quotas on nail production. When the quotas involved quantity, the factory churned out many small, useless nails. When Moscow realised its error and set a quota by weight instead, the factory produced big, equally useless nails that weighed a pound each.

This much repeated tale of Soviet industrial inefficiency is an urban legend. But it contains a large grain of truth. Communism failed in large measure because central planners had inadequate knowledge of conditions on the ground and their attempts at control were generally thwarted. It would be nice to think that we have learnt from the mistakes of Stalin’s Russia. This is not the case as Jerry Muller explains in his book, “The Tyranny of Metrics.” The world remains in thrall to what Muller calls “metric mania.”

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China’s Great Wall of Debt, Dinny McMahon, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pp.

by Edward Chancellor*

China’s economy has long defied the doom-mongers. In place of their ominous critique, a more constructive view of economic management in the People’s Republic has surfaced. Beijing, we are told, has found the right balance between state and market forces, and is best positioned to exploit exciting new technologies, such as big data and artificial intelligence. Politically fractured and economically sclerotic Western nations can only look on in envy.

Dinny McMahon, a former financial journalist and mandarin speaker who spent many years reporting on the Middle Kingdom, doesn’t buy this line. In his view, China’s economy has spent years locked in continuous stimulus mode, accumulating bad debts and generating great economic imbalances along the way. This is not an original thesis. But it’s a welcome reality check on the current China hype. Of the many books that have observed the fragility and contradictions of China’s economic model, “China’s Great Wall of Debt” is the best. McMahon writes well, has a fine eye for detail and finds original stories to illustrate his argument.

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The Viennese culture of conversation: Understanding and defending fragile orders

by Stefan Kolev*

For a better understanding of the turbulences of our time, studying those earlier politico-economic debates which focused on fragile orders of economy and society can certainly prove insightful. In The Viennese Students of Civilization, Erwin Dekker addresses such an age and interprets the works and impact of economists often labeled as the “Austrian School” – economists who are both the research object for historians of economics and the source of inspiration for today’s “Austrian Economists”. Continue reading

The Fed’s Institutional Design

by Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr.[1]

I have been reading Central Bank Governance & Oversight Reform, edited by John H. Cochrane and John B. Taylor. It is a conference volume of unusually high quality with all the discussions of presentations included.

I plan to write more about the book later, but to highlight one chapter here. It goes beyond the usual topics, covered well in the book, on rules versus discretion, credible commitments, policy legislation, and the historical record.

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Krugman Redistribution or Ponzi Scheme

by Chidem Kurdas

A nice thing about Paul Krugman, he does not mince his words. Thus his new book, End This Depression Now!, repeats as boldly as possible the central point he’s repeatedly made in his New York Times columns and blogs for years. Namely, governments have to spend a lot more. They have to run gigantic deficits, much more than they’re doing now. His penchant for going straight for the jugular means that the full implications of the scheme he advocates are crystal clear. Continue reading

“National Competitiveness”

by Mario Rizzo

A new book has been published, Institutional Economics and National Competitiveness,  edited by long-time colloquium member — Professor Young Back Choi of St. John’s University. Here is the publisher’s description. Please ask your library to order it.

This book offers a strong contribution to the growing field of institutional economics, going beyond the question of why institutions matter and examines the ways in which different types of institutions are conducive to the enhancement of competitiveness and economic development. Adopting a variety of approaches, ranging from New Institutional Economics, Public Choice, Constitutional Political Economy and Austrian Economics, to more traditional economic approaches, contributors examine the important issues of interest to development economics.

This book asks whether democracy is a pre-condition for economic development, what the proper role of government is in the age of globalization and whether successful government led policies were the cause of South Korea’s economic development. As well as these key questions, the book covers the issues of whether the government should rely on the market process to encourage economic development or must they interfere, and by what criteria one can judge a proposal for policies for economic prosperity. The book tries to make a contribution by introducing a variety of perspective, some argue in favour of industrial policies while others argue for a lesser role for the government and a greater entrepreneurial freedom. Some question the wisdom of promoting democracy as a necessary condition for economic development while others argue that political liberalization is the basis of lasting competitive edge of an economy

Check out the details here at the Routledge site. This book is in their series, “Frontiers of Political Economy.”

Predictably Rational: A Brilliant Book by Richard B. McKenzie

by Mario Rizzo 

This is the time of the year that various publications recommend Christmas books or the best books of 2010. (I have never known what a Christmas — or summer — book is. Are they supposed to be light reading? I don’t believe in reading “light.” When I am in the mood for that, I watch TV.)  In any event, I have a serious book to recommend.

Every so often a brilliant book comes out on a topic of great academic importance that is in danger of not getting the attention it deserves. I am thinking about Predictably Rational: In Search of Defenses for Rational Behavior in Economics by Richard B. McKenzie. Continue reading