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Thank Queen Victoria for Sparing You Pain

July 22nd, 2014


Whenever someone tells you that the modern economy makes people miserable and that people felt just as happy generations ago, ask the following question: “Would you like open-heart surgery without anesthesia?”

Today “sedation dentists” advertise on radio programs, offering to lull anxious patients to sleep for mere tooth cleanings. And so it’s hard for us in 2014 to imagine that in the 1850s doctors would amputate limbs without either washing their hands or putting their patients into a sleepy mood. … Continue Reading →

We’re Not the World’s Policeman

July 1st, 2014


The U.S.’s only recent foreign policy success was our soccer team’s win over Ghana. “The U.S. can’t be the world’s policeman!” That’s the cliche that’s been tossed about ever since Vietnam. And it’s true, of course. We have trouble enough handling Toledo, much less Tripoli and Afghanistan.

But what happens when the U.S. appears to withdraw from the world, looking feeble and feckless? Just turn on the television to see the answer: Vladimir Putin struts into Crimea, Bashar Assad refuses … Continue Reading →

A Jersey Boy’s Guide to Cash and Culture

June 23rd, 2014


“How did you know that Jersey Boys would be a smash on Broadway?” Of course, I didn’t know, but that’s the question I hear when people find out that I was among the co-producers. Clint Eastwood, a legend among film buffs, jazz aficionados, and cowboys, has just unveiled his movie version. Amid the tight harmonies and snapping fingers, let me share some history and investing lessons for those tempted to go for gold, if not platinum.

Ten years ago, Jersey … Continue Reading →

Mouse Rules

June 10th, 2014


Today’s Wall Street Journal explains how Disney executives turn kids TV into toy profits. But Walt Disney himself figured this out a long time ago. To raise money for his non-silent movie Steamboat Willie (1928), Walt licensed Mickey Mouse’s face for pads of paper. Though Walt did not invent the idea of Mickey Mouse Clubs, he enthusiastically backed them in the early 1930s, publishing newsletters and offering buttons, pencil boxes, and a theme song. Twenty years before the perky Annette … Continue Reading →

Free Trade Makes You Taller!

June 3rd, 2014


While Thomas Piketty and his critics hurl reams of contradictory data at each other on the subject of income inequality, don’t forget this crucial historical fact:  Capitalism and free trade have made people more equal in the most important ways — life expectancy, health, and even height. The freer trade that followed the Industrial Revolution brought lower prices to consumers; new opportunities to far-off places like Cleveland, Bombay and Shanghai; and it inspired young people to leave the farm and … Continue Reading →

Blubber, Shoes, and Eden

May 9th, 2014


For many philosophers and social scientists, the twentieth century was just one big mistake — one hundred years of war, pollution, inequality, and dangerous lab-created “Frankenfoods” like Chicken McNuggets. If only we could go back to a simpler time, they lament. A British economist wrote a piece in the Financial Times entitled “The Hippies Were Right All Along About Happiness.” If only we could expunge the drive to compete along with the drive to acquire, we could return to the … Continue Reading →

Capital and the War on Young Workers

April 21st, 2014


Imagine going to a job interview with a sign posted on your back that reads I’M VERY EXPENSIVE AND REALLY DON’T KNOW MUCH.  That’s the plight of many workers, especially young jobseekers.  Americans are competing, not just against foreign labor, but against machines, tablets, and gizmos.

Last week pundits cheered so loudly a book tour by French economist Thomas Piketty that you might have thought the Beatles had  touched down on Ed Sullivan’s stage.  Piketty’s provocative Capital in the Twenty-first Continue Reading →

War for Scotland: 007 vs. David Bowie

April 7th, 2014


With all the focus on Crimea, Syria, U.S. college basketball and Malaysian jetliners, few Americans know that Scotland is close to pulling out of the UK.  On September 18, Scots will go to the polls and possibly grab the lever that says “independence.”  Polls show a slim 6 point deficit for the nationalists, but they are gaining ground.  And why not?  The world is in a sour mood, and citizens have been throwing the bums out all over the world  … Continue Reading →

Cows, Trains and Teslas

March 19th, 2014

What do cows, trains and Telsas have in common?  They symbolize the fight for progress versus entrenched interests.  Read my essay here and in Investors Business Daily:
Cows did not care much for railroads in the 1880s.  Those steel grills on the front of locomotives are called cow-catchers and would turn live steer into instant hamburger.  That’s pretty much the story of economic progress, which the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.”  There’s often a lot of blood Continue Reading →

Why GDP is a Mess

March 10th, 2014


GDP is flawed.  Not just flawed like a sticky cupholder but more like a dangerous speedometer that tricks you into slamming on the brakes or the accelerator.  The way we calculate GDP incites leaders to spend more money on bogus stimulus, for instance.   The IMF asked me to comment on GDP and review a new book.  I never turn down the IMF.  After all, you never know when you’ll need a billion-dollar bailout. Here’s my analysis from IMF Finance &

Continue Reading →