The Making of Modern Economics Wins 2009 Choice Award

My book The Making of Modern Economics has just won the Choice Book Award for Outstanding Academic Title for 2009. Choice is the reviewing journal for academic libraries. I was delighted by this surprise announcement, especially for a 2nd edition!

Winner of 2009 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title

Winner of 2009 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title

Some of the unique characteristics of The Making of Modern Economics:

1. A major critique of Karl Marx’s theories of capitalism, labor, imperialism and exploitation, and why most of his predictions have utterly failed. (Many former Marxists report that that this chapter alone converted them to the free market.)
2. Two chapters on Keynes and Keynesian economics, what one economist has called “the most devastating critique of Keynesian economics ever written.”
3. Five full chapters on the Austrian and Chicago schools of free-market economics. It is the only one-volume history of economics written by a free-market economist (all previous histories had been written by socialists, Keynesians and Marxists).
4. How Keynes saved capitalism — from Marxism!
5. Over 100 illustrations, portraits, and photographs.
6. Provocative sidebars, humorous anecdotes, even musical selections reflecting the spirit of each major economist.

Choice Review: “With a supreme, lively blend of economics and sociology, Skousen has magnificently managed to put flesh, blood, and DNA on the skeleton of economics in this survey of great economic thinkers. This new work is must reading for economists who want to acquire professional depth and richness. Essential. All economics collections and all levels of readers.”

Description: Here is a bold, updated history of economics–the dramatic story of how the great economic thinkers built today’s rigorous social science. Noted financial writer and economist Mark Skousen has revised this popular work to provide more material on Adam Smith, Marx, and Keynes, and expanded coverage of Joseph Stiglitz, “imperfect” markets, the financial crisis of 2008, and behavioral economics.

Available in hardback and paperback on

Other quotes about The Making of Modern Economics:

“Mark’s book is fun to read on every page. I have read it three times, and listened to it on audio tape on my summer hike. It deserves to stay in print for many decades. I love this book and have recommended it to dozens of my friends.” — John Mackey, CEO/President, Whole Foods Market

“I champion Skousen’s new book to everyone. I keep it by my bedside and refer to it often. An absolutely ideal gift for college students.”– William F. Buckley, Jr., National Review

“Mark Skousen has emerged as one of the clearest writers on all matters economic today, the next Milton Friedman.” –Michael Shermer, Scientific American

“Both fascinating and infuriating….engaging, readable, colorful…”–Foreign Affairs

“Provocative, engaging, anything but dismal.”–N. Gregory Mankiw, Harvard University

“Lively…amazing…good quotations!” –Journal of Economic Perspectives

“One of the most original books ever published in economics.”–Richard Swedberg, University of Stockholm

“Lively and accurate, a sure bestseller. Skousen is an able, imaginative and energetic economist.” — Milton Friedman, Hoover Institution

“Having no previous interest in economics, I was honestly surprised to find your book so captivating.” –Haila Williams, Production Manager, Blackstone Audio Books

“Skousen gets the story ‘right’ and does it in an entertaining fashion, without dogmatic rantings.” –Peter Boettke, George Mason University

“One of the most readable ‘tell all’ histories of the 20th century.”–Richard Ebeling, Hillsdale College

“I couldn’t put it down! The musical accompaniments for each chapter are a wonderful touch. Humor permeates the book and makes it accessible like no other history. It will set the standard.”–Steven Kates, chief economist, Australian Chamber of Commerce

“The most fascinating, entertaining and readable history I have ever seen. I highly recommend it for translation abroad.”–Ken Schoolland, Hawaii Pacific University

“My students love The Making of Modern Economics! Mark Skousen makes the history of economics come alive like no other textbook.”– Roger W. Garrison, Auburn University.

“It’s unputdownable!”–Mark Blaug, University of Amsterdam

“Skousen is the only economist I know who I can understand. He writes for the common man!” — Dr. Laurence Hayek, U. K.

“Mark Skousen has a genius for explaining complex issues in a clear way and connecting ideas. He is the Henry Hazlitt of our time.” –Steve Mariotti, President, NFTE

“Mark Skousen is a great economist, great philosopher, great entrepreneur, and great friend. He should win the Nobel in economics.” — Steve Forbes

Available in hardback and paperback on

Book Review: The Making of Modern Economics

Click here to purchase The Making of Modern Economics by Mark Skousen

Click here to purchase The Making of Modern Economics by Mark Skousen

From an online book review on BillyBush.Net:

I recently finished “The Making of Modern Economics” by Mark Skousen.  I found this book quite intriguing.  It provides a powerful foundation and historical background to economic thought by offering the histories of the individuals that most contributed to modern schools of economics and public policy.

Brother, Can You Spare a Decade?

Perspective – Liberty Magazine – May 2009

Brother, Can You Spare a Decade?
by Mark Skousen

Few things other than a New Deal can be more painful than an economic depression. But few eras were more vital and enjoyable than the private side of the last one.

One of the rare books in my financial library is “I Like the Depression,” by Henry Ansley, the “Jackass of the Plains.” This amusing little volume was published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1932, and the price was a buck fifty.

Ansley, a newspaperman from Amarillo, Texas, described a prosperity in the 1920s that wasn’t that great. He burned candles at both ends, became a financial hotshot, and ultimately overextended himself. Then the depression hit: “Good-by twin beds, frozen salads, indigestion, credit and swelled head. Hail to the old-fashioned nightgown, buttermilk, sow bosom [a kind of food], comfort and cash.” He lost his job but found happiness by rediscovering leisure, friends, and neighborliness. Hard times taught him the value of a dollar and not to take things for granted: “My dog is my pal again; my wife my lover and my Dad my advisor.”

Ansley’s book was never a bestseller, but it started me thinking. Can the worst of times also be the best of times? The history books are replete with the evils of the 1930s — soup lines, bank closings, Hoovervilles, dustbowls, bear markets, demoralizing despair. It’s all been retold countless times, in such books as Milton Meltzer’s “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” and most recently Amity Shlaes’s “The Forgotten Man.” The Great Depression brought us Nazi Germany, the New Deal, Keynesianism, and, some say, World War II.

Not surprisingly, everyone from Wall Street to the halls of Congress is worried that the current recession will turn into the dreaded D, and has seized on desperate rescue measures. But was the Great Depression all bad? Did anything good come out of the 1930s? I started doing some research and was amazed to find a bright side to the gloomy ’30s — a lower cost of living, great new inventions and other technological advances, new forms of entertainment, more sports and reading, and a return to sober social behavior.

Start with leisure. Henry Ansley describes the free time he had during the depression. Indeed, millions of Americans had a lot more leisure time. Before the depression, almost everyone worked a six-day week. In the 1930s, the five-day work week became commonplace. “Spread the work!” was the rally cry. By 1937, wage earners in 57% of all manufacturing companies enjoyed a five-day week. Saturday was now a free day, and the Saturday rush hour was replaced by the Friday rush hour.

As a result, there was a tremendous increase in sports and leisure-oriented jobs. People began getting out into the sun and open air and taking a greater interest in golf, tennis, skiing, roller skating, and bicycling. Softball became a national pastime; by 1939, there were nearly half a million teams and 5 million players of all ages throughout the country. Expensive private club golf courses withered, but inexpensive public courses grew. Miniature golf was all the rage in the early ’30s. Bobby Jones became the first and only person to win the Grand Slam of golf in 1930. And black athletes became national idols for the first time, Joe Louis in boxing and Jesse Owens in track and field.

Americans traveled more. House trailers became a very big business. Camping, canoeing, and other inexpensive outdoor activities increased in popularity. People took their cameras with them, and photography became a craze of remarkable dimensions. Americans took tons of pictures with their small German cameras. Life and Look — big, glossy picture magazines — became popular.

Dancing, all the rage in the ’20s, continued to rage in the ’30s. Americans would dance their way out of the depression! Young people everywhere danced the swing, the jitterbug, and the boogie woogie to the music of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Louie Armstrong.

Indoors, parlor games such as bridge and the ingenious “Monopoly” were popular. People read more, and circulation at local public libraries increased. Kids loved comic books, especially “Superman,” the world’s first comic book superhero. Books “condensed” by Reader’s Digest saved time and money. There was an intense interest in epic novels — Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth,” A.J. Cronin’s “The Citadel,” Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” — as well as such how-to books as Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” (1937, with 17 printings right away).

In the same year, Lin Yutang, the Chinese-American Taoist, published “The Importance of Living,” which was to become especially popular among libertarians. It encouraged Americans to stop worrying and start “letting go.” One chapter was entitled “The Art of Loafing.” “I am quite sure,” Lin wrote, “that amidst the hustle and bustle of American life, there is a great deal of wistfulness, of the divine desire to lie on a plot of grass under tall beautiful trees of an idle afternoon and just do nothing.” Whether fortunately or unfortunately, in their own opinion, millions of Americans got to live Lin’s upbeat message of idleness.

New Entertainments

Idleness — and its companion, entertainment. People wanted to forget their troubles, and radio and motion pictures provided an escape. Radio really came of age during this period, with up to 80 million listeners on some evenings. There was a lot more to radio than FDR’s fireside chats. It was the way to hear worldwide news bulletins, good music, and such half-hour comedies as “Amos ’n’ Andy,” the first syndicated program, and “The Jack Benny Show.” In the late 1930s, NBC was carrying broadcasts of symphony orchestras, especially its own orchestra, conducted by the immortal Arturo Toscanini, to 10 million listeners every week. And who can forget the night of Sunday, October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles broadcast his version of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds”?

Hollywood blossomed during the ’30s. In one decade, the motion picture industry went from silent films to talkies in Technicolor. Films brought the American public together as never before. Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, Mickey Rooney, and Clark Gable were welcome alternatives to Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, and other demagogues of the era. Many considered Shirley Temple a gift from God during the gloomy de-pression. The motion picture event of 1938 was the first full-length animated cartoon, Walt Disney’s “Snow White.” The same year saw one of the first films in Technicolor, the blockbuster “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” starring Errol Flynn. A burst of classic award-winning films came out the next year, including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and the greatest of all epic films, “Gone With the Wind.”

The ’30s was the era of the first great horror films, “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and “King Kong.” For a dime, Americans could go to the Saturday matinee and see double features of cowboys, adventurers, and gangsters. The silver screen brought us science fiction, serial thrillers and the Singing Cowboy (Gene Autry). The theater was filled with humor — Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, the Three Stooges. Americans would laugh their way out of the depres-sion! There were reasons why Chicago economist Robert Lucas, Jr., called the 1930s “one long vacation.”

New Technology

Alvin Hansen and other Keynesian economists developed their “stagnation thesis” in the late 1930s, arguing that the United States was indefinitely stuck in an economic rut. They claimed that there was no new technology, no new frontier to drive the American economy. They ignored the tremendous economic progress that took place throughout the depression — the invention of plastics, artificial fibers, plywood, the 2-cycle diesel engine, and lighter, tougher steels.

Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll invented the electron microscope in 1932. Howard Armstrong created FM radio in 1933. Wallace Carothers manufactured nylon, and Robert A. Watson-Watt discovered radar in 1935. Hans Pabst von Ohain developed the jet engine in 1937 and the first jet airplane in 1939. Chester Carlson originated xerography in 1938. Igor Sikorsky made the first practical helicopter in 1939. Several people, including Philo T. Farnsworth and Isaac Shoenberg, developed television in the 1930s. CBS and NBC began broadcasting TV during this decade.

Manufacturers weren’t idle in getting new technology to market. New household products included electric mixers, pop-up toasters, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and irons. For the first time, consumers enjoyed sliced bread and packaged frozen foods. Union Pacific came out with fancy new streamlined, air-conditioned trains. Mass-market automobiles could now accelerate to 60 mph, carrying passengers along new highways with underpasses and cloverleafs. The dirigible, a new form of air transportation, appeared in 1936 (but disappeared with the fiery destruction of the Hindenberg a year later). The Douglas DC3 came out in 1936, traveling at 200 mph, compared to the 1932 passenger airplane speed of 110 mph. Coast-to-coast travel in overnight air sleepers was now possible. New ocean liners, such as the Queen Mary, appeared in a crowded New York harbor. Everyone came to witness the building of the 102-story Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center (the only skyscraper group to rise in the 1930s). And who could not marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge, opened to traffic on May 28, 1937?

Social historian Frederick Lewis Allen, author of “Only Yesterday” (1931), a bestselling history of the 1920s, summed it up best when he wrote in a sequel, “Since Yesterday” (1940), “the American imagination was beginning to break loose again.” At the end of the decade, the New York World’s Fair had as its theme “The World of Tomorrow.”

Society and Economics

The depression brought about a change in American social trends. People attended church more. Many retreated from the sexual revolution of the roaring ’20s. The mood was more somber and prudent, even after Prohibition was repealed in December 1933. (By the end of the decade, Alcoholics Anonymous was founded.) There was greater approval of marriage and family life. The divorce rate dropped sharply, by 23% from 1929 to 1932, though so did the marriage rate and the birth rate — possibly because marriage and children cost money.

Not all economic news was bad. The most favorable statistic was the decline in the cost of living. During the period 1929–32, retail prices dropped by an average 24%, wholesale prices by 31%, farm prices by 51%, and raw commodity prices by 42%. Of course, wages, salaries, dividends, and other forms of income declined as well, but for those who kept their jobs and held onto their assets, the loss of nominal income was offset by sharply lower prices for all consumer products. “Everything was all right in those years,” said a woman quoted in Amity Shlaes’ book, “but only if you had a job.”

Unemployment reached 25% and higher in some regions at the depths of the depression, causing enormous hardship for millions of Americans. But see it in another light: three out of every four people were employed in the worst parts of the depression. Total employment rose after 1932, reaching 90% by the end of the decade. In a sense, the Democrats were right: happy days were here again!

Businesses adjusted to the new deflation by downsizing, cutting costs, and implementing labor-saving devices. Even the farming industry mechanized. By 1936, despite persistent unemployment, real national output had nearly recovered to pre-depression levels. Auto sales exceeded all previous years except 1928–29. The steel industry was operating at close to capacity. Even the building industry was climbing briskly. Miami was having its best season since the collapse of the Florida land boom. The race tracks were crowded, lavish debutante parties flourished in the big cities, and the night clubs were full.

For bulls and bears alike, the 1930s was the most fantastic period in stock market history. Stock prices collapsed between 1929 and 1932, losing an average 88%, but industrial, rail, and utility stocks all shot up from their lows in the summer of 1932, anticipating the end of hard times. Few bull markets have ever equaled the rocket performance of the summer of 1932, when the rails tripled within eight weeks and the utility averages doubled. Wall Street went on a rampage for the next four years. The Dow rose 67% in 1933, 4% in 1934, 38% in 1935, and 25% in 1936. After a sharp 32% correction in 1937, the market re-sumed its upward trend until war broke out in Europe in September, 1939. There were also plenty of speculative opportunities on the long side of gold and other natural resource stocks during the ’30s. In sum, the bulls, not just the bears, had plenty of chances to make money in the 1930s.

There’s an old saying, “It is the irritation in the oyster that forms the pearl.” The Great Depression was an irritation that most people didn’t expect. A few people couldn’t take the hard times and jumped out of windows, but most responded to the challenge. Adversity often demonstrates the virtue and creativity of humankind. Bad news often creates good news and opportunities to learn and advance. The 1930s were no exception.

Mark Skousen is the author of Economic Logic, now available in its second edition.

Will we survive Obamanomics?

From the Gilroy Dispatch

Officially, President Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget is titled “A New Era of Responsibility.”

That’s false on two counts. It’s an era – not of responsibility, but of big-government taxation, spending, and regulation. And it’s not new. History is full of attempts to inflate the state to grow the economy. Virtually all have ended badly. As the recent sell-off reminds us, Wall Street’s verdict on Obamanomics has been quick and sharp.

The president’s budget is right in castigating the “troubled past” of the Bush administration, which spent money like a drunken sailor on education, healthcare, bailouts, and two seemingly endless wars in the greater Middle East, with virtually no regard for how to pay for a rapidly growing national debt.

But now we must confront the troubled future. Obama has adopted the big-spending policies of George W. Bush, with trillions more proposed for education, bailouts, and healthcare. He wants to sharply reduce (but not end) the American presence in Iraq. At the same time, he plans to deploy an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, which may lead to an expanded quagmire there.

Hasn’t Obama read the bestseller “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time,” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin? A Pakistani general who talked with Mr. Mortenson aptly identified the real problem in Afghanistan: “The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.”

In some ways, Obama’s plans are more grandiose than Bush’s. He wants to encourage green technology and energy independence, and move toward national healthcare. The cost is enormous. The deficit for this year alone is expected to reach $1.7 trillion.

To help pay for this, Obama proposes the largest tax increase in history. Some of this, such as new taxes on oil and gas companies, is explicit. Some of it, such as the new cap and trade program, is quite subtle. And some of it will “merely” repeal the Bush tax rates on high incomes. But all of it represents a tremendous muzzle on the economy at a time when it needs to be unleashed.

Even these huge tax hikes won’t be nearly sufficient to pay for the outlays. In fact, to pay for it in full, The Wall Street Journal pointed out, Uncle Sam would have to confiscate every penny earned by Americans making at least $75,000 a year.

What’s the future for Obamanomics? The stock market’s reaction doesn’t bode well. The Dow has fallen more than 18 percent since the last trading day of Bush’s term. Clearly, Wall Street thinks that Obama’s tax, spend, and regulate policies will be a disaster.

Despite the dire headlines, the world is not coming to an end, we are not headed into another Great Depression, and free-market capitalism has not breathed its last breath.

In my book, “The Big Three in Economics,” I found that the press has frequently and prematurely written the obituary of Adam Smith and his free-market philosophy, only to see a new and more vibrant global marketplace reemerge after being savagely attacked by Keynesians, Marxists, and assorted socialists. Market capitalism survived and prospered after the boom-bust industrial revolution of the 19th century, and the Great Depression and world wars of the 20th century. It will recover from the financial panic of 2008-09 and Obamanomics.

Adam Smith, the supreme defender of market capitalism, expressed this optimism well in 1776 when he wrote in “The Wealth of Nations”:

“The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition … is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration.”

The ideas of Adam Smith and his modern followers will make a comeback. Already, pro-market forces are gathering in Congress to defeat Obama’s ambitious and highly socialistic agenda. Charities and nonprofits are already up in arms about the proposed limits on tax deductions for wealthy donations for good causes.

I’m doing my part by holding the world’s largest gathering of free minds at FreedomFest, July 9-11, 2009, in Las Vegas.


Proof Is in the Dow

“The Obama budget is nothing less than an attempt to end the ideas of Ronald Reagan.” — New York Times

Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, once stated, “There is much ruin in a nation.”  President Obama is out to prove it in his Newspeak program he calls “A New Era of Responsibility.”  It should be called “A New Era of Irresponsibility.”

And there’s no better proof than the stock market’s reaction to Obamanomics, which is big-government Keynesianism at its worst.  Since Obama took office, the Dow is down a whooping 15% — and that’s after the huge sell off in the market in 2008 by more than 30%.

And the market has continued to drop precipitously since Obama addressed Congress and announced his obscene $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal year 2010.  This budget includes:

the largest tax increase in history, including a monstrous tax on oil & gas (cap and trade) and the repeal of the Bush tax rates on incomes higher than $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.  Contrary to Obama’s claim, over 65% of tax filers in this category are small business owners and investors.

the highest level of federal spending since 1945, from today’s 21% of GDP to a whooping 27.7%.  This includes new entitlements in health care and energy.

Clearly Wall Street has spoken:  Obama’s tax, spend and regulate policies are a disaster for the nation.

And sadly Obama doesn’t get it.

What should investors do?  Play it conservative.  Be well-diversified in global stocks.  Maintain a high cash position, look for bargain opportunities, and keep squirreling away gold and silver coins.

And do not despair.  It is not time to head for the hills, although some wealthy friends are talking about moving to New Zealand, or the Bahamas.  (One friend of mine has already taken the extreme step of renouncing his US citizenship!)

In writing “The Big Three in Economics” (click here to order), I found that Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack on many occasions by his sworn enemies Keynesians, Marxists and socialists, and has often been left for dead, but always makes a comeback.

As Adam Smith declared in his 1776 classic “The Wealth of Nations,”

“The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition . . . is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration.”

In sum, the ideas of Adam Smith, and his modern followers, including Ronald Reagan, are far from dead.  They are only in hibernation.  The free-market giant will soon be awakened by our dire situation.

Hopefully pro-market forces in Congress (both Republicans and Democrats)  will filibuster the Obama tax increases and budget excesses.  Charities and non-profits are already up in arms about the proposed limits on tax deductions for wealthy donations for good causes.

I’m doing my part by holding the world’s largest gathering of free minds at FreedomFest, July 9-11, 2009, in Las Vegas, the focal point of liberty.  For details, go to  I hope you will join us.

I know I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.

Obamanomics Is Making Matters Worse

Unfortunately, the [Keynesian] balance week is unbalanced. ~ Milton Friedman

We have outlived the short-run and are suffering from the long-run consequences of [Keynesian] policies. ~ Ludwig von Mises

Last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced another solution to the financial crisis — his new “Financial Stability Plan.” Since the announcement, Citigroup has fallen 51 percent, Bank of America is down 46 percent, and Wall Street had its worst week in 2009.

So much for the Financial “Stability” Plan.

As John Adams once said, “Facts are a stubborn thing.”  The Obama model of Keynesian-style bailouts and massive deficits is simply failing to cure the growing financial crisis.

Despite all the bailouts President Obama has put forth — for the banks, the big 3 auto companies, and homeowners — the global economy is still reeling.

In fact, I would argue that Obamanomics (Keynesian economics in disguise) is counterproductive and making matters worse.  That’s because business and Wall Street recognize that there is no free lunch — government spending is piling up huge debts that will need to be paid back, probably through the printing presses.  And inflation — another evil — will come back with a vengeance.

Keynes is famous for the line, “In the long run, we are all dead.”  And that’s what Wall Street fears — that financially we are all going to be killed by excessive debt.

Lack of confidence in Obama, Geitner and Bernanke is why gold is going through the roof now, and is approaching $1,000 an ounce. The U.S. Mint is having a hard time keeping up with demand for American eagle gold and silver coins.

The problem is Keynesian-style policy, the darling of the establishment politicos and media giants.  Keynes has suddenly trumped Adam Smith.  And that’s dangerous.

One day last week, I walked into the largest Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York and saw a big display table up front with all kinds of books on John Maynard Keynes and Keynesian economics.  One book, The Return of Depression Economics, was written by Paul Krugman, the caustic New York Times columnist who just won the Nobel Prize.

Another book was called The Case for Big Government by Jeff Madrick, the editor of Challenge magazine.  I can understand writing a book in support of good, efficient, strong, and productive government, but “big” alone?  Most Americans prefer the motto “cheaper and better.”

The biggest surprise at Barnes & Noble was to see my own book, The Big Three in Economics, prominently displayed along side all the Keynesian and Marxist books.  It has suddenly become my most successful book.

Mark Skousen with the Totem Pole of Economics

But mine was the only book there that took a dim view of Keynes and Marx and their solutions to the financial crisis (always more government, more taxes, and more regulations).  For my money, Adam Smith and his followers (Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard) deserve to be on top of the Totem Pole of Economics.

Unfortunately, Keynes is all the rage now.  The British economist became famous in the 1930s for advocating going off the gold standard, running deficits and bailing out troubled banks with easy money as a way to end the Great Depression.
Today’s politicians, from George Bush to Barack Obama, have suddenly become Keynesians during this financial crisis, spending money they don’t have in a vain effort to right the ship.  Even Newsweek has gone so far to say, “We are all socialists now.”  Alan Greenspan, the ex-student of Ayn Rand, now favors nationalization of the big American banks Citibank and Bank of America.

Every investor and gold bug should know the enemy: Keynes, the advocate of big government and the welfare state, and Karl Marx, the radical who advocated outright state socialism and total central control of the means of production.
After World War I, Randolph Bourne observed, “War is the health of the state.”  Today he might say, “A financial crisis is the health of the state.”

It looks like modern-day statists are getting their wish.  We’re getting big government, good and hard.  Adam Smith and Milton Friedman are out of favor, while John Maynard Keynes, the patron saint of bailouts, inflation, and the welfare state, is making a comeback with a vengeance.

The tentacles of the leviathan state are growing by leaps and bounds.  In 2009, global governments will be the largest shareholders in commercial banks, reversing 20 years of retreat by the state.  The costs of entitlements are exploding upwards, and Congress hasn’t had the courage to address future liabilities.  Social Security and Medicare are government-sponsored Ponzi schemes that will make Bernie Madoff’s embezzlement look like a picnic.

The late management guru Peter Drucker said, “Government is better at creating problems than solving them.” In fact, wrote a cynical Ducker, government has gotten bigger, not stronger, and can only do three things well — taxation, inflation, and making war.  According to Drucker, the state has become a “swollen monstrosity….Indeed, government is sick — and just at a time when we need a strong, healthy, and vigorous government.”  (He said all this in 1969.)  If you want to solve problems, he counseled, you must turn to business and the private sector.

But where does one get the straight scoop on Keynes, Marx, and their nemesis, Adam Smith and the followers of free-market capitalism?

I have no apologies for where I stand on the issue.  In writing The Big Three, I commissioned a Florida woodcarver, James Sagui, to create “The Totem Pole of Economics.”  (The Tolem Pole of Economics is shown on the back cover of the book.)  Clearly, my hero is Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, a declaration of economic independence.

Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher, is on top of the Totem Pole for his advocacy of a revolutionary new doctrine which he called a “system of natural liberty,” what we might call laissez faire or free-market capitalism.  He used the “invisible hand” to symbolized how the private actions of individual entrepreneurs would lead to the public good.

Today’s advocates of Smithian economics have real solutions to the crisis, as I’ve outlined in previous HUMAN EVENTS columns:  suspend “mark to market” accounting rules, make the Bush tax cuts permanent, slash the corporate tax rate, and mostly importantly “do no harm.”  Also, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the Canadian banking system, ranked #1 in the world in soundness (US is #40) for its conservative reserve requirements and nationwide branching.  (Not a single Canadian bank has failed in either the Great Depression or now.)

Keynes is ranked below Adam Smith, because he supported big government and the welfare state as a way to stabilize the crisis-prone capitalist economy, the “middle ground” between laissez faire and totalitarian socialism.  But as we have seen, Keynesian activism has led to much mischief in the world today, and countries that have adopted his bureaucratic, regulated mindset have witnessed “slow growth” and “stagflation” style economies.

And Marx is the “low man” on the Totem Pole.  His radical solution, government ownership and control of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, would be, as Hayek says, “the road to serfdom.”

Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack many times by his arch enemies, the Marxists and Keynesians.  But Smithian economics has nine lives, and has always managed a comeback.  With your help, Adam Smith will return.

Click here for a copy of The Big Three in Economics.

Pulling Down the Keynesian Cross

Ideas On Liberty
Economics on Trial
June 2001

by Mark Skousen

“The circle had come right round; it was as though Keynes had never been.”
-Robert Skidelsky1

“Textbooks have to be rewritten in the aftermath of each scientific revolution.”
-Thomas S. Kuhn2

In his third and final volume on John Maynard Keynes, Robert Skidelsky comes to the shocking conclusion that the Keynesian revolution was temporary, that Keynes’s General Theory was really only a “special” case, and that “free market liberalism” has ultimately triumphed. This is all the more amazing given that Lord Skidelsky has spent the past 20 years of his professional career studying Keynes and resides in Keynes’s old estate, Tilton House. Few scholars would have the guts to repudiate the theory of the man they adore.

It’s even tougher for old dogs to learn new tricks, and that refrain applies to Paul Samuelson, the “American Keynes” who introduced millions of students to the “new economics” of the master. He continues to hang his hat on the Keynesian cross, even as he publishes the 17th edition of his world-famous textbook. The pedagogical paradigm keeps shifting further toward the classical model of Adam Smith, and as each edition of Economics moves in that direction, Samuelson resists the change. He cites his mentor more than any other economist; only Keynes, not Adam Smith or Milton Friedman, is measured as a “many-sided genius.” His textbook still begins macroeconomics with the Keynesian model, even though most other textbook writers have adopted Greg Mankiw’s method of starting with the long-run classical model.3 According to Samuelson, Adam Smith’s invisible-hand doctrine-that laissez-faire behavior maximizes social welfare-“holds only under very limited conditions.”4 On the final page (755) of his massive textbook, he renders “two cheers to the market, but not three.”

Two Cheers for Hayek and Friedman

Having reviewed all 17 editions of Samuelson’s magnum opus, I conclude that his textbook has gradually shifted, albeit grudgingly, from one cheer to two cheers for the market. Much of this improvement is due to Yale’s Bill Nordhaus, his co-author since 1985. (He writes the entire text now, which Samuelson then reviews.)

What’s new about the latest edition? More free-market economists are cited, including Julian Simon, Ronald Coase, James Buchanan, Arthur Laffer, Robert Mundell, and Gary Becker. Samuelson and Nordhaus devote an entire page (41) to F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, “guardians of economic freedom.” They recommend Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, saying, “All thoughtful economists should study his arguments carefully.”

In chapter 2, “Markets and Government in a Modern Economy,” the authors highlight the benefits of globalization and the importance of property rights, noting that Russia and other former communist nations have suffered because of a failure to enforce “the legal framework.”

They also add an entire new page on the issue of lighthouses as public goods. For years Samuelson used the lighthouse as a prime example of market failure; only government could build and operate lighthouses. Several years ago I chided Samuelson for ignoring Ronald Coase’s famous essay, “The Lighthouse in Economics,” which proved that the Trinity House and other lighthouses in England were built and owned by private firms that imposed tolls on ships docking at nearby ports.5

Now, finally, Samuelson and Nordhaus have responded to Coase’s challenge in the 17th edition (pp. 37—38). They admit that privately operated lighthouses existed in England, but then point to the east coast of Florida as a case where “there were no lighthouses until 1825, and no private-sector lighthouses were ever built in this area.” According to Nordhaus, the only response to shipwrecks was a thriving private “wrecking” industry that charged high fees for “saving lives and cargo.” Nordhaus goes on to note that lighthouses have become obsolete, replaced by the satellite-based Global Positioning System, a service provided by the government.

In sum, the paradigm in economics has definitely shifted from Keynesianism to classical economics, but the case for complete laissez faire is still raging in the halls of academia.

1. Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Britain, 1937-1946 (London: Macmillan, 2000), p. 506.
2. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 137.
3. See N. Gregory Mankiw, Principles of Economics, 2d ed. (Ft. Worth, Tex.: Harcourt College Publishers, 2001). I still regard Roy J. Ruffin and Paul R.Gregory, Principles of Economics, 7th ed. (Boston: Addison Wesley Longman, 2001) as the best mainstream textbook on the market today.
4. Paul A. Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus, Economics, 17th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2001), p. 325.
5. Mark Skousen, “The Perseverance of Paul Samuelson’s Economics,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Spring 1997, p. 145. Coase’s article appeared in the Journal of Law and Economics, October 1974, pp.357-76.

It All Started with Adam

Ideas On Liberty
Economics on Trial
May 2001

by Mark Skousen

Adam Smith, that is. Having just completed writing a history of economics,1 I have concluded that, despite the protestations of Murray Rothbard and other detractors, the eighteenth-century moral philosopher and celebrated author of The Wealth of Nations deserves to be named the founding father of modern economics.

The reason: Adam Smith is the first major figure to articulate in a profound way what has become known as the first fundamental theorem of welfare economics: that the invisible hand of competition automatically transforms self-interest into the common good. George Stigler rightly labels Smith’s model of laissez-faire capitalism (Smith never used the phrase) the “crown jewel” of The Wealth of Nations and “the most important substantive proposition in all of economics.” He states, “Smith had one overwhelmingly important triumph: he put into the center of economics the systematic analysis of the behavior of individuals pursuing their self-interests under conditions of competition.”2

In short, Smith’s thesis is that a “system of natural liberty,” an economic system that allows individuals to pursue their own self-interest under conditions of competition and common law, would be a self-regulating and highly prosperous economy. Eliminating restrictions on prices, labor, and trade meant that universal prosperity could be maximized through lower prices, higher wages, and better products. Smith assured the reader that his model would result in “universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.”3

Indeed it has. Published in 1776, The Wealth of Nations was the intellectual shot heard around the world, a declaration of economic independence to go along with Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of political independence. It was no accident that the industrial revolution and sharply higher economic growth began in earnest shortly after its publication. As Ludwig von Mises declares, “It paved the way for the unprecedented achievements of laissez-faire capitalism.”4

For or Against Smith

The most amazing discovery I made in researching and writing over the past three years is that every major economic figure—whether Marx, Mises, Keynes, or Friedman—could be judged by his support of or opposition to Adam Smith’s invisible-hand doctrine. Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen, John Maynard Keynes, and even British disciples Thomas Robert Malthus and David Ricardo denigrated Adam Smith’s classical model of capitalism, while Alfred Marshall, Irving Fisher, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman, among others, remodeled and improved on Smithian economics.

For example, Keynes is unsympathetic to Adam Smith’s worldview. “It is not true that individuals possess a prescriptive ‘natural liberty’ in their economic activities. . . . Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightening. . . . Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately.”5 The basic thesis of Keynes’s magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936), is that laissez-faire capitalism is inherently unstable and requires heavy state intervention to survive. Keynesian disciple Paul Samuelson correctly understood the true meaning of Keynes: “With respect to the level of total purchasing power and employment, Keynes denies that there is an invisible hand channeling the self-centered action of each individual to the social optimum.”6 Thus, I conclude that Keynesian economics, rather than its savior, is an enemy of Adam Smith’s system of natural liberty.

Karl Marx went even further. Instead of creating a system of natural liberty, Marx set out to destroy it. Modern-day Marxist John Roemer agrees. The “main difference” between Smith and Marx is: “Smith argues that the individual’s pursuit of self-interest would lead to an outcome beneficial to all, whereas Marx argued that the pursuit of self-interest would lead to anarchy, crisis, and the dissolution of the private property-based system itself. . . . Smith spoke of the invisible hand guiding individual, self-interested agents to perform those actions that would be, despite their lack of concern for such an outcome, socially optimal; for Marxism the simile is the iron fist of competition, pulverizing the workers and making them worse off than they would be in another feasible system, namely, one based on the social or public ownership of property.”7

Adam Smith as a Heroic Figure

By measuring economists against a single standard, Adam Smith’s invisible-hand doctrine, I found a fresh way to unite the history of economic thought. Virtually all previous histories of economics, including Robert Heilbroner’s popular work, The Worldly Philosophers, present the story of economics as one conflicting idea after another without resolution or a running thread of truth. This hodgepodge approach to history leaves the reader confused and unable to separate the wheat from the chaff.

My approach places Adam Smith and his system of natural liberty at the center of the discipline. Think of it as a story of high drama with a singular heroic figure. Adam Smith and his classical model face one battle after another against the mercantilists, socialists, and other enemies of liberty. Sometimes even his “dismal” disciples (Malthus, Ricardo, and Mill) wound him. Marx and the radical socialists attack him with a vengeance and leave him for dead, only to have him resuscitated by the leaders of the marginalist revolution (Menger, Jevons, and Walras) and raised up to become the inspiration of a whole new science.

But the “neo-classical” model of capitalism faced its greatest threat from the Keynesian revolution during the Great Depression and the postwar era. Fortunately, the story has a good ending. Through the untiring efforts of free-market advocates, especially Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek, Adam Smith’s model of capitalism is re-established and in the end triumphs. As Milton Friedman proclaims, “To judge from the climate of opinion, we have won the war of ideas. Everyone-left or right-talks about the virtues of markets, private property, competition, and limited government.”8

Long live Adam Smith!

1. The Making of Modern Economics (Annonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe Publishers, 2001).
2. George Stigler, “The Successes and Failures of Professor Smith,” Journal of Political Economy, December 1976, p. 1201.
3. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York: Modern Library, 1965 [1776]), p. 11.
4. Ludwig von Mises, “Why Read Adam Smith Today,” in The Wealth of Nations Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1998), p. xi.
5. John Maynard Keynes, “The End of Laissez-Faire,” Essays in Persuasion (New York: Norton, 1963 [1931]), p. 312. Keynes’s speech was given in 1926, a full decade before The General Theory came out.
6. Paul A. Samuelson, “Lord Keynes and the General Theory,” The New Economics, ed. Seymour Harris (New York: Knopf, 1947), p.151.
7. John E. Roemer, Free to Lose (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), pp. 2-3. Note the title, imitative, albeit negatively, of Milton and Rose Friedman’s popular Free to Choose (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980).
8. Milton and Rose Friedman, Two Lucky People (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 582.

Having Their Cake

Economics on Trial
Ideas on Liberty
October 2000

Having Their Cake
by Mark Skousen

“The duty of ‘saving’ became nine-tenths of virtue and the growth of the cake the object of true religion.” -JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (1)

In his 1920 bestseller, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes made a profound observation about the success of capitalism before the Great War. He lauded “the immense accumulations of fixed capital” built up by the “new rich” during the half century before the war and compared the huge capital investment of this golden era to a “cake,” noting how “vital” it was that the cake “never be consumed;” but continue to “grow.”

Keynes was intensely optimistic about the prospects of humanity, “if only the cake were not cut but was allowed to grow in the geometrical proportion predicted by Malthus for population.” Rapid capital accumulation would result in the elimination of “overwork, overcrowding, and underfeeding,” and workingmen “could proceed to the nobler exercises of their faculties.”

Alas, it was not to be. The First World War destroyed Keynes’s dream of universal progress. The cake was consumed. “The war has disclosed the possibility of consumption to all and the vanity of abstinence to many.” (2)

War isn’t the only enemy of capital accumulation. Since World War II, the greatest threat to capital formation (the growth of the cake) has been the direct and indirect taxation of capital.

Take, for example, the federal estate tax. The estate tax is often viewed as an “inheritance” tax and even a “death” tax. But it’s much worse than that. It’s also a tax on capital. An estate’s taxable property includes stocks, bonds, business assets, real estate, coins and collectibles-all after-tax, afterconsumption investments.

If your net worth exceeds $675,000, your heirs will be forced to pay at least 18 percent to the IRS. The tax rate hits a confiscatory 55 percent at a mere taxable estate of $3 million.

Capital is the lifeblood of the economy. Capital investment finances new technology, new production processes, quality improvements, jobs, and economic growth in general. When those investment funds are taxed-$28 billion in 1998-the funds are removed from the investment pool and transferred to Washington, where they are consumed. For the most part the funds are consumed through government expenditures and “transfer payments” (welfare, salaries of government workers, and so on).

The estate tax also creates economic distortions. It encourages individuals to engage in “estate planning,” expensive legal exercises to avoid the death tax. It forces individuals to buy insurance policies they would not otherwise buy and create tax-exempt trusts and foundations that they would not ordinarily create. Undoubtedly, millions of fiends are transferred every year into foundations and charities just to avoid estate taxes. Charitable giving and public foundations have become big business, but what is the price? Mismanagement and waste are common features in these nonbusiness organizations.

Another Inefficient Tax: Capital Gains Taxes

Perhaps an even more sinister tax is the capital gains tax. If you sell an asset (stock, bond, commodity, real estate, or collectible), the profits are taxed between 20 and 40 percent, depending on how long you held the asset. (If you hold for more than a year, the maximum rate is 20 percent.) This is a terrible penalty on capital. It means that every time a stock or other asset is traded outside a taxexempt vehicle, 20 to 40 percent of the profits are removed from the private economy and sent to Washington, never to be invested again. With the recent bull market on Wall Street, annual capital gains taxes have exceeded $100 billion. What a terrible drain on the economy.

Capital gains taxes also result in economic inefficiency. Because of the high tax on capital gains, many investors refuse to sell their assets. They may prefer to switch into a potentially more profitable investment, but they stay with their original investment because they hate the idea of paying Uncle Sam. Clearly, capital would be more efficiently allocated to its more productive use without this burdensome profits tax.

The United States can learn a lot from foreign nations. Hong Kong has a flat 15 percent personal income tax, a 16.5 percent corporate income tax, and no tax at all on capital gains. In fact, most of the New Industrial Countries in Southeast Asia do not tax capital gains.

Thus capital can move freely throughout Hong Kong and around the world without distortion. And the cake has grown rapidly because of capital’s tax-free status. Hong Kong does have an estate tax on values exceeding HK$7 million, but the maximum rate is only 18 percent. (3)

Fortunately, the U.S. government has recently recognized the negative drain these taxes have on the economy. It has reduced long-term capital gains, and Congress has even entertained a bill to abolish federal estate taxes altogether.

Eliminating taxes on estates and capital gains has been criticized as a break for the rich. Moreover, critics say, estate taxes should be kept in order to establish a level playing field. They argue, “Children and grandchildren of wealthy people didn’t earn inherited money. They should have to work for it, just as their parents did. Inheritances create disincentives to work.”

But these critics fail to understand the broader implications of a large tax-free estate and tax-free capital gains. Everyone-not just the rich-benefits from eliminating these taxes because wealthy people’s capital would be left intact, invested in the stock market, businesses, farms, banks, insurance companies, real estate, and other capital assets, thus insuring strong economic growth and a high standard of living for everyone. As Ludwig von Mises once stated, “Do they realize that every measure leading to capital decumulation jeopardizes their prosperity?” (4)

As an investment adviser, I share the concern that unrestricted inheritances to children or grandchildren can be morally corrupting, but there are other solutions besides a confiscatory tax. For example, a will can limit the use of inherited funds until a certain age of responsibility is reached, or a trust can offer matching funds as a way to encourage work and responsibility.

1. John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1920), p. 20.
2. Ibid., pp. 20-21.
3. For an excellent summary of tax policies throughout the world, see International Tax Summaries, published annually by Coopers & Lybrand (New York: John Wiley & Sons).
4. Ludwig von Mises, Planning for Freedom, 4th ed. (South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press, 1980), p. 208.

Keynesianism Defeated


By Mark Skousen

In 1992, Harvard Prof. Greg Mankiw was paid an unprecedented advance of $1.1 million to produce the “next Salmuelson”–a successor to Paul Samuelson’s “Economics,” the most successful economics textbook ever written, with more than four million copies sold in 15 editions and 41 foreign translations since 1948. Mr. Mankiw’s 800-page “Principles of Economics” has now been published, to great publicity. And for good reason: Mr. Mankiw has written a revolutionary–or rather, counterrevolutionary–work.

Virtually the entire book is devoted to classical economics, leaving the Keynesian model as an afterthought in the end chapters. Mr. Mankiw’s pedagogy is all the more remarkable given that he considers himself a “neo-Keynesian.” His liberal bias has allowed him to do what no other mainstream economist dares: He has betrayed Keynes.

Almost all economics textbooks published in the past 50 years have taken their cue from Mr. Samuelson, whose major influence was John Maynard Keynes’s “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” (1936). Keynes’s book taught that Adam Smith’s classical model–founded on the virtues of thrift and balanced budgets, laissez faire capitalism and free trade–was a “special” case and only applied in times of full employment.

Keynes’s model portrayed the market as a driver without a steering wheel, a driver that could push the economy off the road at any time. He taught that the economy needed a large and activist government to steer it on the road of full employment. Keynesianism, or the “new economics,” became widespread–the “general” theory.

Modern economics textbooks thus focused primarily on the ups and downs of the capitalist system and how government policy could attempt to ameliorate the business cycle. They include many chapters studying cyclical fluctuations, while burying the study of economic growth and development–otherwise known as supply-side economics–in the back pages. Now Mr. Mankiw has changed all that, putting classical economics back at the forefront, where it belongs.

This is more than some free-market economists have been able to accomplish in tile past. James Gwartney and Richard Stroup, authors of “Economics: Private and Public Choice” (Dryden, 1997), don’t believe in the Keynesian model of aggregate supply and aggregate demand, or AS-AD, but they were forced to include it by their publisher’s review board, which consists of mainstream economists. Roger LeRoy Miller, author of another best-selling textbook, “Economics Today” (Addison-Wesley, 1997), told me, “AS-AD is a bunch of nonsense, but I’m required to teach it.” (One small victory: Paul Heyne refused to put AS-AD in his “The Economic Way of Thinking” (Prentice-Hall, 1997) and got away with it because he writes for a niche market.)

So, in a Nixon-goes-to-China twist, it took a Keynesian to accomplish what the free-market economists couldn’t–relegating Keynesian models to a minor role in textbooks.

Mr. Mankiw calls his classical model “the real economy in the long run.” His textbook, published by Harcourt Brace’s Dryden Press, teaches that increases in government spending crowd out private capital, producing higher interest rates. Higher thrift and greater savings produce lower interest rates and higher economic growth. Unemployment is caused not by greedy industrialists, but by minimum wage laws, collective bargaining, unemployment insurance and other regulations that raise the cost of labor.

Mr. Mankiw even approvingly quotes Milton Friedman: “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon”–not the product of rising labor or supply costs, as many Keynesians believe. In fact, Mr. Mankiw cites Mr. Friedman more than he cites Keynes.

This is not to say that Mr. Mankiw’s textbook isn’t without a few sins of omission. He fails to tell students about the great postwar economic miracles of Japan, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and Chile. He also ignores the current debate over Social Security privatization. And there are no references to the great Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek, or to Nobel laureate James Buchanan and the public choice theory he espouses.

But these complaints are small compared with the book’s overall message, that classical economics is now the “general” theory and Keynesian economics is the “special” case. Amazingly, Mr. Mankiw doesn’t mention most of the standard Keynesian analysis: No “consumption function,” no “Keynesian cross,” no “propensity to save,” no “paradox of thrift”– and only one short reference to the “multiplier”!

That’s quite a feat for Mr. Mankiw, a man who named his dog Keynes.