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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

The UK Labour Party’s Green-Energy Debacle

13 days ago

Labour leaders’ decision to abandon their highly publicized Green Prosperity Plan underscores the party’s ongoing failure to articulate a coherent response to Conservative criticism. Instead of focusing on bolstering their fiscal credentials, Labour leaders should reconnect with the party’s Keynesian roots.

LONDON – Following months of speculation and infighting, the United Kingdom’s Labour Party has officially abandoned its pledge to borrow £28 billion ($35 billion) annually to invest in green-energy initiatives if it wins the next general election.

Although the British media quickly dubbed it the “mother of all U-turns,” Labour’s announcement was hardly surprising. The party has been gradually scaling back its Green Prosperity Plan, first unveiled by Shadow Chancellor Rachel

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The Lost Peace

13 days ago

Russian-Ukrainian peace talks, February–March 2022

20th February 2024

As the Ukrainian war approaches its second anniversary, there has been renewed, if rather limp, talk of a cease-fire followed by negotiations. The premise is that since neither side can “win,” it makes sense to start making peace. Few now remember that the war almost ended before it got going. On February 24, 2022, Russia launched ground and air attacks on Ukraine on four fronts. On February 28, 2022, Russian and Ukrainian officials came together in Gomel, Belarus, to start to negotiate peace. Peace talks continued intermittently for a month before being called off.

Knowledge of these talks has been steadily leaking ever since President Putin waved a “peace agreement” before Russian TV cameras on June 17,

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The Machine Age

27 days ago

My new book, The Machine Age, was published by Allen Lane on the 2nd November 2023. It’s available to buy on Amazon. Launch events were held at the Royal Society of Arts on the 6th November 2023 and UnHerd Club on the 28th November 2023. Links to the videos of each launch event are below:

Royal Society of Arts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JX1m1RNmjd8

UnHerd Club: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3XM1WB88Ls

The following is a 23 page summary of the book:

Preface

This book tells three stories about the impact of machines on the human condition: on the way we work, on the way we live and on our possible future. The stories follow in order, since they relate the growing intrusion of machines into our lives over time; but they are linked together by both history and

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The Machine Age

January 24, 2024

My new book, The Machine Age, was published by Allen Lane on the 2nd November 2023. It’s available to buy on Amazon. Launch events were held at the Royal Society of Arts on the 6th November 2023 and UnHerd Club on the 28th November 2023. Links to the videos of each launch event are below:

Royal Society of Arts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JX1m1RNmjd8

UnHerd Club: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3XM1WB88Ls

The following is a 23 page summary of the book:

Preface

This book tells three stories about the impact of machines on the human condition: on the way we work, on the way we live and on our possible future. The stories follow in order, since they relate the growing intrusion of machines into our lives over time; but they are linked together by both history and

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What we should tell our grandchildren about AI

January 23, 2024

They will see the promise—it is incumbent on us to alert them to the threat, or humanity will perish

14th November 2023

My new book, The Machine Age, is an ambitious—possibly overambitious—attempt to understand the human condition at this moment in time, through the prism of our relationship with machinery. 

The book is structured around three stories: the relationship of machines to jobs, to freedom and to survival. Of course, when I talk about the relationship between humans and machines I am using a figure of speech. It’s not the machines which promise heaven or threaten hell. It’s those who turn on the switches. The danger is that sooner rather than later they will lose control of what they have created, like Frankenstein and his Monster. 

The job displacement story is

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Marx and Keynes can free Labour from its budget bind

January 23, 2024

Rachel Reeves needs a new economic narrative to break the fear of deficits and debt

24th November 2023

To observe the basic thinking behind Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement on 22 November, and how Rachel Reeves will respond, is to find that the Chancellor and his shadow inhabit the same mental universe. They both aim to lift the British economy out of the doldrums, and they agree that doing so depends on improving the efficiency of the supply side of the economy – the way capital and labour are used. But they disagree about how this can be done: there is a Conservative supply-side story and a Labour supply-side story. The political challenge facing both politicians is to persuade voters – and the markets – that their version offers the best hope for Britain’s future.

The

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Britain’s Post Office Scandal and the Rule of Law

January 23, 2024

January 18, 2024 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

The wrongful prosecution and conviction of more than 900 postmasters highlights the erosion of the systems designed to uphold institutional accountability in the United Kingdom. It also underscores the growing threat of a legal paradigm in which individuals are presumed guilty until proven innocent.

LONDON – A new TV drama has brought to light one of the greatest injustices in the history of the United Kingdom, prompting a long-overdue public reckoning and raising hopes for much-needed institutional accountability.

The Post Office Scandal, as it is known in the UK, involves the wrongful prosecution and conviction of more than 900 postal workers for theft and fraud between 1999 and 2015, owing to faulty software. Although the British government

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How to Prevent an AI Apocalypse

January 23, 2024

December 19, 2023 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

While techno-optimists celebrate AI’s potential to reshape the world, we must mitigate the risks these new tools pose to communities and to humanity. To prevent the rich and powerful from monopolizing the fruits of technological innovation, we must ensure that the benefits of increased productivity are distributed equitably.

LONDON – A little over a year ago, the San Francisco-based OpenAI released its chatbot, ChatGPT, triggering an artificial-intelligence gold rush and reigniting the age-old debate about the effects of automation on human welfare.

The fear of displacement by machines can be traced back to the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution, when groups of English handloom weavers, known as Luddites, began destroying the power

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Peacekeeping, Past and Present

January 23, 2024

November 20, 2023 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

Between 1815 and 1914, the Concert of Europe served as a crucial peacekeeping mechanism, enabling the continent to avoid a major war. Drawing the right lessons from its successes and eventual failure can help us strive to recreate the conditions that led to an imperfect but durable peace.

LONDON – The world was a relatively peaceful place during the nineteenth century. Aside from the American Civil War and China’s Taiping Rebellion, there were few prolonged conflicts anywhere between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914. This raises a fundamental question: How did Europe largely avoid major wars for 100 years amid what Hedley Bull called “international anarchy”?

The prevailing view is that the Concert

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Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Rich

January 23, 2024

October 24, 2023 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

As the world grapples with multiple, compounding economic and political crises, Western intellectuals provide little cause for optimism. Two new books paint a bleak picture of a disintegrating liberal international order and a future shaped by warring powers and digital serfdom.

LONDON – Reading this fall’s selection of new nonfiction books, one cannot help but recall W.B. Yeats’ prescient lines from The Second Coming: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” As the liberal international order is beset by domestic and global challenges, the values that have shaped the West’s socioeconomic landscape since the Enlightenment appear to be in decline. The somber tone of Western intellectuals suggests that we

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The New Anatomy of Britain

January 23, 2024

September 22, 2023 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

In his new book, former Conservative MP Rory Stewart sharply critiques the British political class. Analyzing the degradation of the United Kingdom’s public services, he highlights two potential culprits: a ruling class preoccupied with political maneuvering and a civil service excessively focused on bureaucracy.

LONDON – Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain, published in 1962, was a profound and scholarly work that appeared at a time when the perception that the United Kingdom was in decline was undermining confidence in British institutions. Though the former Conservative minister Rory Stewart’s new memoir, Politics On the Edge, is far more personal and narrower in scope, it similarly provides an opportunity to reflect on the state of the

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Imagining a Keynesian Revival

January 23, 2024

August 21, 2023 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

The economic shocks of the past two decades were not freak occurrences but rather the product of a profoundly flawed and corrupt system. But narrowing the policy discussion to a binary choice between market fundamentalism and protectionism overlooks the potential for constructive leadership.

SALZBURG – In 2009, while the world economy was still reeling from the global financial crisis, Nobel laureate economist Robert Lucas observed that “everyone is a Keynesian in the foxhole.” The implication was that, when an economy is faced with a severe economic shock, conventional fiscal policy norms must take a backseat to stabilization.

Imagine a scenario where the global economy plunges into an economic crisis akin to the Great Depression of 1929-32,

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The Great Unbanking

January 23, 2024

July 20, 2023 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

Brexiteer Nigel Farage’s recent claim that he had been designated a “politically exposed person” and blacklisted by financial institutions, if true, represents a dangerous violation of people’s rights. This unchecked overreach, driven by regulatory zeal, is neither rational nor prudent.

LONDON – Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the driving force behind the campaign for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, recently caused an uproar when he revealed that his bank accounts were closed two months earlier, allegedly because of his political views.

Farage claimed that he tried to open new accounts with seven other banks, all of which turned him down. His original bank, Coutts – a subsidiary of

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The Costly Return of Geopolitics

January 22, 2024

June 19, 2023 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

Geopolitics, which originated during the run-up to World War I, represents an inherently pessimistic view of international relations as a perpetual power struggle. But as the world’s military and policy establishments prepare for prolonged conflict, we must resist the allure of the zero-sum mindset.

LONDON – One of the regrettable consequences of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was the advent of the pseudoscience known as geopolitics. Drawing inspiration from Darwin’s concepts of “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest,” the progenitors of geopolitics argued that all of history was shaped by a competitive “struggle of nations.” This approach, which stood in stark contrast to the harmonious view of international relations

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Comment in the House of Lords on a post-Putin Russia

June 27, 2023

Lord Skidelsky 

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, made an important point about the importance of thinking about a post-Putin future. I have never thought that Putin either can or deserves to survive this adventure on which he has embarked, but I am interested in what is meant by such phrases as

“withdraw his troops and end this bloodshed now”,

and a remark from the Labour Front Bench about the importance of “winning the war”. What exactly do these things mean? It seems to me that the black box here is Crimea. Is it assumed that winning the war and withdrawing Russian forces means going back to 2014 frontiers and that that is the purpose of winning the war? If that is the case, what legitimacy do the Government expect a post-Putin Government to have in Russia? In

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Creeping Toward Dystopia

May 26, 2023

May 25, 2023 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

Amid the growing excitement about generative AI, there are also mounting concerns about its potential contribution to the erosion of civil liberties. The convergence of state intelligence agencies and surveillance capitalism underscores the threat that artificial intelligence poses to the future of democracy.

LONDON – With investors pouring billions of dollars into artificial intelligence-related startups, the generative AI frenzy is beginning to look like a speculative bubble akin to the Dutch tulip mania of the 1630s and the South Sea Bubble of the early eighteenth century. And, much like those episodes, the AI boom appears headed for an inevitable bust. Instead of creating new assets, it threatens to leave behind only mountains of debt.

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FrankenTech

April 20, 2023

April 19, 2023, Central European University

LONDON – In Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, scientist Victor Frankenstein famously uses dead body parts to create a hyperintelligent “superhuman” monster that – driven mad by human cruelty and isolation – ultimately turns on its creator. Since its publication in 1818, Shelley’s story of scientific research gone wrong has come to be seen as a metaphor for the danger (and folly) of trying to endow machines with human-like intelligence.

Shelley’s tale has taken on new resonance with the rapid emergence of generative artificial intelligence. On March 22, the Future of Life Institute issued an open letter signed by hundreds of tech leaders, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, calling

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Can Governments Still Steer the Economy?

March 28, 2023

Mar 28, 2023 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

Inflation and growth rates are increasingly determined by global events over which national policymakers have no control. Instead of clinging to the illusion that they can control the uncontrollable, governments should use fiscal policy to protect their most vulnerable citizens from disruptive external shocks.

LONDON – In 1969, the British financial journalist Samuel Brittan published a book called Steering the Economy: The Role of the Treasury. At the time, it was still widely assumed that the United Kingdom’s economy was steerable and that the Treasury (which was still in charge of monetary policy) was at the helm.

Back then, the Treasury’s macroeconomic model, which calculated national income as the sum of consumption, investment, and

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Speech on the Spring Budget Statement 2023

March 17, 2023

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the remarkable maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Moyo. It was very thoughtful and thought provoking, and I very much appreciated her reference to me—she will have a great future here.

The Budget was crafted in the shadow of disruptive world events over which the Chancellor has little or no control, but it is by its effectiveness in tackling or responding to those events that I think this Budget will be judged. The three killer apps—as one might call them—are global finance, technology and geopolitics. The global banking crisis of course caused the depression of 2008-09. The recent collapse of SVB shows, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, noted in this House on Tuesday, what a huge proportion of our tech industry depends on

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Letter: The economic conditions that make wars more likely

February 27, 2023

FEBRUARY 17 2023

One year has passed since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and nothing seems to indicate that the flames of war are dying. Why does the war still continue? Why are military tensions rising in the world?

We reject the thesis of a “clash of civilisations”. Rather, we need to recognise that the contradictions in the deregulated global economic system have made geopolitical tensions more acute (Opinion, February 14).

One of the worst faults of the present system is the imbalance in economic relations inherited from the era of free-market globalisation. We refer to international net positions, where the US, the UK and various other western countries have large external debts, while China, other eastern countries, and to some extent Russia are in an

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Globalization’s Latest Last Stand

February 21, 2023

With the world increasingly turning away from economic integration and cooperation, the second wave of globalization is threatening to give way to fragmentation and conflict, as the first wave did in 1914. Averting catastrophe requires developing strong political foundations capable of sustaining a stable international order.

LONDON – Is the world economy globalizing or deglobalizing? The answer would have seemed obvious in 1990. Communism had just collapsed in Central and Eastern Europe. In China, Deng Xiaoping was unleashing capitalist enterprise. And political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously proclaimed the “end of history,” by which he meant the triumph of liberal democracy and free markets.

Years earlier, the British economist Lionel Robbins, a firm believer in free

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The Return of Thoughtcrime

January 17, 2023

The UK’s draconian Public Order Bill, which seeks to restrict certain forms of protest used by climate activists, will expand the state’s ability to detain people deemed disruptive and limit the courts’ ability to restrain it. This will align the British legal system with those of authoritarian countries like Russia.

LONDON – In December 1939, police raided the home of George Orwell, seizing his copy of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In a letter to his publisher after the raid, Orwell wondered whether “ordinary people in countries like England grasp the difference between democracy and despotism well enough to want to defend their liberties.”

Nearly a century later, the United Kingdom’s draconian Public Order Bill, passed by the UK House of Commons last year and now

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Spying on Citizens

January 6, 2023

Sir, Your leading article (“Digital Danger”, Jan 2) warns of the use of Chinese-made surveillance systems to track people in the UK. But neither your editorial nor the surveillance watchdog, Fraser Sampson, seems to have any qualms about British-made equipment being used for the same purpose. In 1786 Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon, in which a central prison watchtower could shine a light on all the encircling prison cells without the inmates being able to tell that they were being watched. This, he thought, would motivate them to behave legally. Bentham thought his contrivance was equally applicable to hospitals, schools and factories. In Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, one-way TV systems are installed in every flat. Big Brother would always be watching you.

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Speech on “Ukraine: Tactical Nuclear Weapons”

December 2, 2022

My Lords, I am grateful, as we all are, to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for initiating this debate and for drawing attention to the real danger of nuclear escalation.

I am in profound disagreement with the Government’s policy on Ukraine—I have said it before in this House and I shall say it again. This disagreement can be stated in one sentence: the Government’s policy is a war policy; I support a peace policy. I shall try to justify that.

The then Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, stated on 27 April:

“We will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.”

This policy has been repeatedly restated by government spokesmen. It is supported by the Opposition and echoed by the media.

In calling for peace, I may be an isolated voice

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Speech on the Autumn Statement 29 November 2022

November 30, 2022

My Lords, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is designed to reassure the markets of the sustainability of the public finances. That is, the Chancellor accepts as binding the views of the City of London, whether they are right or wrong. It is what the markets think that matters, not how matters really are—a nice intrusion of post-modernist thinking in what is supposed to be the hard science of economic policy-making.

It is pretty obvious why the Government should pay such attention to the financial markets. For decades, the financial sector has propped up the UK’s hollowed-out economy. Financial flows into the City of London allowed the country to neglect production and trade and artificially maintain a higher standard of living than its productive capacity warranted. Now we are

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Too Poor for War

November 9, 2022

Nov 8, 2022 ROBERT SKIDELSKY and PHILIP PILKINGTON

Decades of deindustrialization have hollowed out the UK economy and made it woefully ill-prepared for wartime disruptions. As the financial speculators who funded its current-account deficits turn against the pound, policymakers should consider Keynesian taxes and increasing public investment.

LONDON – A wartime economy is inherently a shortage economy: because the government needs to direct resources toward manufacturing guns, less butter is produced. Because butter must be rationed to make more guns, a war economy may lead to an inflationary surge that requires policymakers to cut civilian consumption to reduce excess demand.

In his 1940 pamphlet “How to Pay for the War,” John Maynard Keynes famously called for fiscal

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Reinstating fiscal policy for normal times: Public investment and Public Jobs Programmes

November 2, 2022

ROBERT SKIDELSKY and SIMONE GASPERIN (2021)

Abstract:

This paper upholds the classical Keynesian position that a laissez-faire market economy lacks a spontaneous tendency to full employment. Focusing on the UK case, it argues that monetary policy could not prevent the economic collapse of 2008-9 or achieve full recovery from the Great Recession that followed. The paper then outlines the case for fiscal policy to regain a permanent status of primacy in modern macroeconomic management, beyond the pandemic emergency. It distinguishes between public investment and automatic stabilisers, reducing discretionary actions to a minimum. It presents the case for re-empowering the State’s public investment function and for reforming the system of automatic counter-cyclical stabilisers by

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House of Lords Speech on the Public Order Bill

November 2, 2022

My Lords, it is very cold in this House; I wonder what has happened to the heating. It certainly has a chilling effect on debate.

I am not a lawyer like the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, nor a policeman like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I am driven to take part in the debate because I have become increasingly concerned at the wide powers of surveillance and control being claimed by Governments in the name of public order and national security—powers that, in their structure though not yet in the scale of their implementation, resemble those in countries such as Russia and China.

I recall that George Orwell wrote in 1939 about

“whether the ordinary people in countries like England grasp the difference between democracy and despotism well enough to want to defend their liberties.

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Gorbachev’s Tragic Legacy

October 21, 2022

Oct 19, 2022ROBERT SKIDELSKY

Admired in the West but loathed by his countrymen as a harbinger of Russia’s post-Cold War misfortune, Mikhail Gorbachev fully grasped the immense challenges of reforming the ailing Soviet Union. Today’s Russia largely reflects the anti-Western grievances stemming from his failure.

LONDON – Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader, was buried last month at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow next to his wife Raisa and near fellow Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. To no one’s surprise, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the funeral. Novodevichy, after all, is where “unsuccessful” Soviet leaders had been consigned to their final rest.

Putin’s snub reminded me of a conversation I had two decades ago during a midnight stroll through

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