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Robert Skidelsky

Robert Skidelsky

Keynesian economist, crossbench peer in the House of Lords, author of Keynes: the Return of the Master and co-author of How Much Is Enough?

Articles by Robert Skidelsky

Macro Economics, End of Work Climate Change

June 16, 2021

Robert Skidelsky is emeritus professor of political economy at Warwick University. His numerous, award-winning books include Keynes: The Return of the Master (2010), a discussion of John Maynard Keynes and the urgent relevance of his ideas in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and How Much is Enough? The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life (2012), co-written with his son Edward Skidelsky. A member of the House of Lords since 1991, Skidelsky was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1994. His most recent book is Money and Government (2018) in which he argues against the orthodoxy of small-state neoclassical economics in favour of Keynes’ “big idea”.

Interview by Masoud Golsorkhi

Masoud Golsorkhi You say in the preface to Money and Government that the whole of

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Britain’s Benefit Madness

April 16, 2021

Work is the ultimate escape from poverty. But the futile sort demanded by the United Kingdom’s income-support scheme puts many of society’s weakest members on a path to nowhere, because it reflects a welfare ideology that fails to distinguish fantasy from reality.

LONDON – Mahatma Gandhi probably never said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by how it treats its weakest member.” But that doesn’t make it any less true. And nowadays, the United Kingdom is in danger of receiving a failing grade.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 14.5 million people, or 22% of the UK’s population of 65 million, live below the “poverty line” (defined as less than 60% of median income). Of a working-age population of 42 million, some 5-6 million, or about 12%, are either unemployed or

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Sequencing the Post-COVID Recovery

March 16, 2021

As countries emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, John Maynard Keynes’s emphasis on the need to implement post-crisis economic policies in the right order is highly relevant. But sustainability considerations mean that the distinction between recovery and reform is less clear cut than it seemed in the 1930s.

LONDON – John Maynard Keynes was a staunch champion of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The road to a civilized future, he wrote, went through Washington, not Moscow – a direct rejoinder to those idealists, including some of his students, who put their faith in communism.

But Keynes was not uncritical of FDR. Specifically, he faulted Roosevelt for mixing up recovery and reform. Recovery from the slump was the first priority; social reforms, “even wise and

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Why the West failed to contain COVID-19

November 26, 2020

The promise of a “final” end to lockdowns in the spring of 2021 is the kind of hyperbole we have come to expect about new products and policies. The Oxford University vaccine may work; it may even be delivered effectively. Meanwhile, Covid-19 is still around, the UK government is extending lockdown for large parts of the country and effective protections are still being ignored, at grave cost.

From the start of the pandemic, the policy choice in Europe has been presented as a trade-off between lives and livelihoods. Since priority was (rightly) attached to saving lives, the livelihoods of large sections of the population have been sacrificed, with income support for workers in the form of long paid holidays called furloughs, and loans and grants for business prevented from trading.

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Spending Review: Beyond Accountancy

November 26, 2020

The furlough and the business support schemes, started in March, would end in October to coincide with the reopening of the economy. This meant that the UK economy would be much the same -give and take some minor “scarring”- in 2021 as it was in 2019: a year’s growth lost, but that was the limit of the damage.

The expectation of a fourth quarter bounce-back was always unrealistic: severely damaged economies never “bounce back” unaided. The Chancellor’s response to the “second wave” of infections and lockdowns in October/ November was, in essence, to extend his March 2020 job retention measures until next March. The “V” was becoming more like a “U”, the scarring would be worse, but the assumption seems to have been that very little extra support for businesses and jobs would be

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Job Creation is the New Game in Town

November 13, 2020

November 13 2020Even if a successful rollout of a new COVID-19 vaccine causes the current health crisis to recede by next spring, the unemployment crisis will remain. That is especially true in the United Kingdom, where fiscal stimulus is urgently needed to avert a lost decade – if not a lost generation – of growth.

EDINBURGH/LONDON – In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, both the US and European economies are gearing up for large-scale job creation. US President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to invest $700 billion in manufacturing and innovation, plus $2 trillion in a “Biden Green Deal” to combat climate change and promote clean energy. Meanwhile, Germany has abandoned years of thrift by backing a €750 billion ($887 billion) European Union recovery fund and, like France, will

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Robert Skidelsky Speech on Internal Withdrawal Bill

October 19, 2020

I will confine my remarks to Part 5 of this Bill. I find myself swayed by two completely opposite accusations of bad faith. The government accuses    EU negotiators of bad faith in seeking to erect  ‘unreasonable’ customs barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK .

Opponents of the Bill  say the bad faith is our own government’s. The Withdrawal Agreement set up a  Joint Committee to  resolve trade disputes; the government have chosen not to use it So, as Ed Milliband argued in his powerful phillipic in the other place,  the government was proposing to breach international law for bogus reasons.

I cannot support the regret motion, and would like to explain why.

To my mind, international law is not the main issue. ‘Never before’ say Noble Lords, ‘has a British

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Policing Truth in the Trump Era

October 14, 2020

Social-media companies’ only incentive to tackle the problem of fake news is to minimize the bad press that disseminating it has generated for them. But unless and until telling the truth serves the bottom line, it is futile to expect them to change course.

LONDON – On October 6, US President Donald Trump posted a tweet claiming that the common flu sometimes kills “over 100,000” Americans in a year. “Are we going to close down our Country?” he asked. “No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”

Trump’s first claim is true: the flu killed over 100,000 Americans in 1918 and 1957. “We have learned to live with it,” is a matter of opinion, while his claim that COVID-19 is “far less lethal” than flu in most

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International Law and Political Necessity

September 21, 2020

The UK government’s proposed “breach” of its Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union is purely a negotiating ploy. Critics of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tactics must argue their case on pragmatic rather than legal grounds.

LONDON – Whenever the great and the good unite in approval or condemnation of something, my impulse is to break ranks. So, I find it hard to join the chorus of moral indignation at the UK government’s recent decision to “break international law” by amending its Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with the European Union.

The “breach” of the WA is a calculated bluff based on the government’s belief that it can honor the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum only by deploying considerable chicanery. The main problem is reconciling the WA with the 1998 Good Friday

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What Would Keynes Have Done

September 18, 2020

In the long-run, Covid-19 may well change the way we work and live. It may – and should – lead us towards a greener, less consumption-driven economy. The question for now is what to do about the economic devastation it will bring in its wake. Around 730,000 UK jobs were lost between March and July, the biggest quarterly decline since 2009, and unemployment is forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility to reach its highest level since 1984 (11.9 per cent). 

The coming downturn is as inevitable as the rain announced by blackening clouds. In this respect it is quite unlike the banking collapse of 2008, or even Covid-19 itself, both of which were unforeseen. Remember the Queen’s question in 2008 to a group of economists at the London School of Economics: “Why did no one see it

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The Crowding-Out Myth

August 24, 2020

The argument that public investment invariably “crowds out” private capital is wrong both theoretically and empirically. States have always played a leading role in allocating capital, either through direct investments, or by deliberately encouraging certain types of private investment.LONDON – Three economic effects of COVID-19 seem to be generally agreed upon. First, the developed world is on the brink of a severe recession. Second, there will be no automatic V-shaped recovery. And third, governments will therefore need to “support” national economies for an indefinite period. But, despite this consensus, little thought has been given to what private firms’ prolonged dependence on government support will mean for the relationship between the state and the capitalist economy.SŁAWOMIR

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Will COVID-19 Put Us Right With Nature?

April 16, 2020

The COVID-19 virus, as frightening as it now seems, may ultimately fail to jolt humanity out of its profligate habits. But instead of regarding the pandemic as merely another problem requiring a technical fix, the world should see it as an opportunity to rethink humanity’s relationship with the planet.LONDON – One of the few things not in short supply in the COVID-19 era is commentary on the pandemic. Understandably enough, the virus has generated a non-stop flow of news about its spread, instructions on how to avoid and survive it, analysis of its causes and treatment, and conjecture about its impact on work habits, mental health, the economy, geopolitics, and much else.My own period of home detention has produced the following reflections, which I add with some diffidence to the

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The Monetarist Fantasy Is Over

February 17, 2020

Feb 17, 2020 ROBERT SKIDELSKYUK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, determined to overcome Treasury resistance to his vast spending ambitions, has ousted Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid. But Johnson’s latest coup also is indicative of a global shift from monetary to fiscal policy.LONDON – The forced resignation of the United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, is the latest sign that macroeconomic policy is being upended, and not only in the UK. In addition to completing the ritual burial of the austerity policies pursued by UK governments since 2010, Javid’s departure on February 13 has broader significance.Prime Minister Boris Johnson is determined to overcome Treasury resistance to his vast spending ambitions. The last time a UK prime minister tried to open the

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The Terrorism Paradox

January 20, 2020

There was, all too predictably, no shortage of political profiteering in the wake of November’s London Bridge terror attack, in which Usman Khan fatally stabbed two people before being shot dead by police. In particular, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, swiftly called for longer prison sentences and an end to “automatic early release” for convicted terrorists.
In the two decades since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, terrorism has become the archetypal moral panic in the Western world. The fear that terrorists lurk behind every corner, plotting the wholesale destruction of Western civilization, has been used by successive British and US governments to introduce stricter sentencing laws and much broader surveillance powers – and, of course,

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For a public sector job guarantee

January 13, 2020

My Lords, I think I am the only macroeconomist contributing to this debate, which is perhaps rather odd as it is a debate on economic affairs. As instructive and important as the other contributions have been, I want to talk about economic policy, because unless the economy works a lot better than it has in the last 10 years, none of the spending pledges, to be quite honest, will be worth the paper that they are written on, and how well it works will largely depend on economic policy.
The good news is that fiscal policy is back. The gracious Speech said: “My Government will invest in the country’s public services … My Government will prioritise investment in infrastructure and world-leading science research and skills”.
That is good. Governments everywhere have started to inch back to

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Economic Possibilities for Ourselves

December 21, 2019

The most depressing feature of the current explosion in robot-apocalypse literature is that it rarely transcends the world of work. Almost every day, news articles appear detailing some new round of layoffs. In the broader debate, there are apparently only two camps: those who believe that automation will usher in a world of enriched jobs for all, and those who fear it will make most of the workforce redundant.
This bifurcation reflects the fact that “working for a living” has been the main occupation of humankind throughout history. The thought of a cessation of work fills people with dread, for which the only antidote seems to be the promise of better work. Few have been willing to take the cheerful view of Bertrand Russell’s provocative 1932 essay In Praise of Idleness. Why is it so

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A Post-Election Reckoning for British Politics

December 17, 2019

Leaving the European Union on January 31, 2020, will be UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s repayment of the debt he owes to the many Labour supporters who “lent” his Conservatives their votes. But “getting Brexit done” won’t be enough for the Tories to hold on to their parliamentary seats.LONDON – Speaking outside No. 10 Downing Street following his emphatic election victory, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked long-time Labour supporters for having “lent” his Conservative Party their votes. It was a curious phrase, whose meaning depended entirely on context. The Tories had breached Labour’s strongholds in the Midlands and North East England on the promise of “getting Brexit done.” Leaving the European Union, as Britain will on January 31, 2020, will be Johnson’s repayment of

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China’s Quest for Legitimacy

December 3, 2019

December 3, 2019
The conventional Western view is that China faces the alternatives of integrating with the West, trying to destroy it, or succumbing to domestic violence and chaos. But the Chinese scholar Lanxin Xiang instead proposes a constitutional regime based on a modernized Confucianism.LONDON – Liberal democracy faces a legitimacy crisis, or so we are repeatedly told. People distrust government by liberal elites, and increasingly believe that the democracy on offer is a sham. This sentiment is reflected in the success of populists in Europe and the United States, and in the authoritarian tilt of governments in Turkey, Brazil, the Philippines, and elsewhere. In fact, liberal democracy is not only being challenged in its European and American heartlands, but also has failed to

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Placido Domingo: cancel culture?

October 30, 2019

‘People who do really good stuff have flaws’ said Barack Obama in a recent talk.  About the same time I read: ‘Placido Domingo has withdrawn from all future engagements at New York’s Metropolittan Opera [after 51 consecutive years] following allegations of sexual harrassment made by several women, including a soprano who said he reached down her robe and grabbed her bare breast’.[The Week,5 October 2019] Domingo’s burnished tenor and acting ability has thrilled generations of opera lovers.  At 78 it was probably  time he hung up his boots. But should he be driven  off stage by allegations of sexual impropriety?

I reproduce below two comments I received from friends, the first a man, the second a woman,  both of whom share my love of opera.
First,‘In my view, the primary dilemma is

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How to Achieve Shorter Working Hours

September 12, 2019

I have great pleasure in presenting this report on shorter working hours, which John McDonnell asked me to prepare, and which I have written with the valuable assistance of Rachel Kay.
I accepted John’s invitation because shorter working hours is something I believe in.
In fact, I wrote a book with my son, How Much is Enough?, which made the case for reducing the burden of work as part of the good life.
The philosophy of this Report is quite simple. The advance of technology – the replacement of human effort by machine effort – should enable hours of socially necessary work – work needed to earn a living – to fall. Quite simply, machines will do more and more of that work.
This has been happening ever since the Industrial Revolution got going. In 1870 people in Britain worked on

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Letter: The UK’s failing economic model demands such bold ideas

September 6, 2019

Below is the text of a letter to the editor of the Financial Times, signed by Lord Skidelsky alongside 81 other signatories, and published on 6th September 2019.
Your series of articles exploring the Labour party’s economic agenda fails to appreciate the severity of the UK’s current economic condition, and reproduces a number of misconceptions.

There is growing political consensus that the UK’s economic model is failing. The economy has been performing badly for more than a decade. Household debt has fuelled the meagre recovery from the crash of 2007-08. Earnings have stagnated, with many families borrowing to cover basic expenses; an estimated 8.3m people cannot keep up with debts or bills. The housing market is in crisis, with young people set to be poorer than their parents. Since

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The Fall and Rise of Public Heroism

August 21, 2019

Recently I watched The Man Who Was Too Free, a moving documentary about the Russian dissident politician Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in front of the Kremlin in 2015. A young, handsome rising political star in the 1990s, Nemtsov later refused to bend to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism and went into opposition, where he was harassed, imprisoned, and finally killed. The film left me thinking about the diminished role of heroism and courage in modern life, and also about the fate of Russia.

Heroism is a product of extreme situations – classically, involving war and violence. Because today’s Western way of life is non-extreme, the value of heroism has fallen. But its stock is rising in most of the rest of the world, including Russia.
The hero is both noble and

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The Case for a Guaranteed Job

August 16, 2019

“Any government,” writes the economist and hedge fund manager Warren Mosler, “can achieve full employment by offering a public service job to anyone who wants one at a fixed wage.” Versions of this idea have received powerful endorsements from prominent Democratic politicians in the US, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has linked a government job guarantee to a Green New Deal. Moreover, versions of a job-guarantee program (JGP), more or less connected to green economics, have been implemented in Argentina, India, South Africa, and – whisper it quietly – Hungary under its illiberal populist leader, Viktor Orbán.
In the United States in December 2017, 6.6 million people were deemed to be officially unemployed, 4.9 million were working

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From Versailles to the Euro

July 20, 2019

This month marks the centenary of the Treaty of Versailles, one of the agreements that brought World War I to a close. In a sense, the tables have turned. Whereas the treaty imposed huge reparations on Germany, today’s Germany has taken the lead in imposing a large debt obligation on its fellow eurozone member Greece.

Although the creditor-debtor cards have been reshuffled since 1919, the game remains the same. Creditors want their pound of flesh, and debtors want to avoid giving it. Debtors want their debts forgiven, while creditors fret about “moral hazard” and ignore the destabilizing, contagious effects of making debtor countries poorer. Sadly, the eurozone has not learned the debt lessons of Versailles, or heeded the warnings of John Maynard Keynes.
When World War I ended, the

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Norman’s Last Day

July 8, 2019

The funeral of Norman Stone took place on Friday 28 June in the Deak Lutheran Church in Budapest. His son Rupert asked me to be a pall bearer and I followed the coffin up the aisle behind the prime minister Viktor Orban. Historians Niall Ferguson and Harold James, among others, eulogised him. My presence was in a sense accidental. I happened to be spending a month in Vienna and I had come over from to Budapest to see him the previous week: on the day, in fact, he died.

I had known Norman intermittently, but intensely, since Cambridge in 1982: he was a Fellow in history at Jesus College, and finishing his book, Europe Transformed; I was on sabbatical from Warwick University finishing the first volume of my biography of Keynes. I can’t remember how and why we met. I do remember him

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From Versailles to the Euro

June 20, 2019

This month marks the centenary of the Treaty of Versailles, one of the agreements that brought World War I to a close. In a sense, the tables have turned. Whereas the treaty imposed huge reparations on Germany, today’s Germany has taken the lead in imposing a large debt obligation on its fellow eurozone member Greece.

Although the creditor-debtor cards have been reshuffled since 1919, the game remains the same. Creditors want their pound of flesh, and debtors want to avoid giving it. Debtors want their debts forgiven, while creditors fret about “moral hazard” and ignore the destabilizing, contagious effects of making debtor countries poorer. Sadly, the eurozone has not learned the debt lessons of Versailles, or heeded the warnings of John Maynard Keynes.
When World War I ended, the

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Interview, in House Magazine

May 31, 2019

By Geoffrey Lyons
In a 2015 article for Project Syndicate, historian Niall Ferguson accused Lord Robert Skidelsky of being “un-Keynesian” for refusing to admit that George Osborne’s austerity policies worked. Skidelsky’s position, Ferguson argued, wasn’t true to the great economist-statesman’s view that one ought to adjust their beliefs in the face of changing facts.
Ferguson must have known this was a critical hit. It’s not that Skidelsky has come to identify his views with those of “the Master” that makes “un-Keynesian” such a biting characterization, but rather that he is arguably the greatest living authority on the twentieth-century economist. Besides being a prolific writer and lecturer on economic issues, Skidelsky is perhaps best known for his acclaimed three-volume biography of

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Has Austerity Been Vindicated?

May 22, 2019

Harvard University Professor Alberto Alesina has returned to the debate on budget deficits, austerity, and growth. Back in 2010, Alesina told European finance ministers that “many even sharp reductions of budget deficits have been accompanied and immediately followed by sustained growth rather than recessions even in the very short run” (my italics). Now, with fellow economists Carlo Favero and Francesco Giavazzi, Alesina has written a new book entitled Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn’t, which recently received a favorable review from his Harvard colleague Kenneth Rogoff.

New book, old tune. The authors’ conclusion, in a nutshell, is that “in certain cases the direct output cost of spending cuts is more than compensated for by increases in other components of aggregate

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