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Of course, corporatism proved less robust than these writers expected. Conservatives railed against big government for stifling freedom. Liberals denounced big corporations for reducing employees to automatons. Both sides came to see big labor as the protector of special interests. It came from economics. Appelbaum opens his book with the observation that economics was not always the imperial discipline. In , President John F. Starting in the s, however, economists began to wield extraordinary influence. They persuaded Richard Nixon to abolish the military draft.

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They brought economics into the courtroom. They took over many of the top posts at regulatory agencies, and they devised cost-benefit tests to ensure that regulations were warranted. Meanwhile, Fed chairmen were expected to have economic credentials. Soon the noneconomists on the Fed staff were languishing in the metaphorical basement.

Read: How the Fed failed to learn from history. Lemann hangs this part of his story on Michael C. But rather than seeing a remedy in checks exerted by regulators and organized labor, Jensen proposed to overhaul the firm so that ownership and control were reunited. Executives should be rewarded more with stock and less with salary, so that they would think like shareholders and focus on the profits that shareholders wanted. Managers who failed to generate a good return would see their stock prices languish, which would create tempting takeover targets.

A market for corporate control would redouble the pressure on bosses to behave like owners.

How Economists’ Faith in Markets Broke America

Successful takeovers, in turn, would shift corporations into the hands of single, all-powerful proprietors, capable of overseeing management more effectively than scattered stockholders could. The market could be made to solve the problem of the firm.

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Government could pull back from regulation. Jensen was equally fortunate in his own way. Shortly after the publication of his research, the invention of junk bonds made hostile takeovers the rage. Jensen became the scholar who explained why this unprecedented boardroom bloodbath was good news for America. And to a considerable extent, the news was good. Shielded from market discipline, the old corporate heads had deployed capital carelessly. They had expanded into new markets for reasons of vanity, squandered money on fancy management dining rooms, and signed labor contracts like the Treaty of Detroit, which—however statesmanlike—stored up liabilities to retirees that would ultimately hobble their companies.

Reengineered and reinvigorated, American business staved off what might have been an existential threat from Japanese competition.

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The social contract of the Berle era was gone: the unstated assumption of lifetime employment, the promise of retirement benefits, the sense of community and stability and shared purpose that gave millions of lives their meaning. Berle had viewed the corporation as a social and political institution as much as an economic one, and the dismembering of corporations on purely economic grounds was bound to generate fallout that had not been accounted for. As the collapse of Enron and other corporate darlings revealed, a good deal of non-market-related accounting fraud compounded the fragility.

Even before the crash, Jensen disavowed the transactional culture he had helped to legitimize. Holy shit , Jensen remembers saying to himself. Anything can be corrupted.

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It is a tricky tale to tell, because many of the myths of the era fall apart on close inspection. Contrary to common presumption, the economics establishment in the s and s did not believe that markets were perfectly efficient. We have a dedicated site for Germany. This unique book offers an in-depth commentary on the Book of Genesis from an economic and anthropological point of view.

The book follows the characteristic attitude of Jewish and Christian practices in commenting on the Bible from the original standpoint of economics. This highly informative and thought-provoking work will appeal to theologians, philosophers, professional economists and those interested in religious studies. If we want to continue on our trends of growth, and the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for societies that come with it, every individual must become more concerned with the welfare of those around us—and in the world at large and most of all our descendants in the future.

So, how do we proceed? Cowen, in a culmination of 20 years of thinking and research, provides a roadmap for moving forward. Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals argues that our reason and common sense can help free us of the faulty ideas that hold us back as people and as a society. Tyler Cowen is the Holbert L. He received his PhD in economics from Harvard University in He also cowrites a blog called Marginal Revolution , runs a podcast series called Conversations with Tyler , and has co-founded the online economics education project, MRUniversity.

About the Elegant Economist

Mitchell Waldrop is a freelance writer and editor. He was previously a writer and West Coast bureau chief for Chemical and Engineering News and senior writer at Science , editorial page and features editor at Nature , and worked in media affairs for the National Science Foundation. He lives in Washington, D.

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