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Member: walbat

CollectionsYour library (1,552)

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TagsUS (1,134), 20th Century (781), 19th Century (628), Economic (406), Europe (344), Diplomatic (281), 18th Century (277), Biography (243), East Asia (180), Military (152) — see all tags

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About me"The mind that is not baffled is not employed" - Wendell Berry

Notable Quotes:

*Current Problems*

"How much does productivity growth matter? The basic answer: simple arithmetic says it matters a lot. If labor productivity grows an average of 2 percent per year, average living standards for our children's generation will be twice what we experienced. If labor productivity grows an average of 1 percent per year, the difference is dramatic: Living standards will take two generations to double. But fortunately, when it comes to productivity, we are not simply consigned to luck or to fate. Governments can take sensible actions to promote more rapid productivity growth. Broadly speaking, government policy works best when it can address a need that the private sector neglects, including investment in basic research, infrastructure, early childhood education, schooling, and public health. Reasonable people can disagree about the right way forward, but if we as a society are to succeed, we need to follow policies that will support and advance productivity growth. That is easier said than done. But it can be done."
- Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, Government Policy and Labor Productivity (July 2017)

"A strong case can be made that World War II, however devastating in terms of deaths and casualties among the American military (albeit much less than the greater toll of deaths and wounded among other combatants), nevertheless represented an economic miracle that rescued the American economy from the secular stagnation of the late 1930s. In fact...the case is overwhelming for the 'economic rescue' interpretation of World War II along every conceivable dimension, from education and the GI Bill to the deficit-financed mountain of household saving that gave a new middle class the ability to purchase the consumer durables made possible by the Second Industrial Revolution."
- Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War (2016)

"The most important negative feature of American exceptionalism was the inability of the political system to adopt universal health insurance, defined as insurance that is a right of citizenship rather than being dependent on employment. Why should households suffering from devastating loss of income through unemployment also lose services to prevent diseases and ultimately death? Bismarck figured out this greatest of all economy policy issues in the 1880s, but even now an efficient system of the provision of medical care as a right of citizenship has thus far eluded the American political system."
- Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War (2016)

"For me, the most maddening failure of the liberal elite was that too many of its members became indifferent to the declining share of corporate income devoted to wages. By the early 1980s, you could see clear evidence of their growing interest in accumulating wealth for themselves, of their focus on corporate profits that would pay them dividends and increase the value of their stocks; 'Wall Street Week' soared to popularity on PBS - it was the 'Downton Abbey' of its time. Profits have increased since the 1980s, yet wages have stagnated."
- Charles Peters, "I Remember When Appalachia Wasn't Trump Country" (New York Times, March 4, 2017)

"Contrary to the popular misconception, we’re not “the feds.” We’re not politicians or fiscal policymakers. We don’t spend money or set taxes. We don’t write legislation. And unlike politicians, we’re not elected. In conducting monetary policy, we base our decisions on what’s best for the long-term health of the economy, without political influence from Congress, the Administration, or others. To my mind, this is the single most important feature of the Fed: the ability to act independently of short-term political influence…which allows us to respond to changing circumstances as needed. Across the world, independent central banks have proven to be more effective at stabilizing inflation and keeping their countries’ economies performing up to their full potential than countries where the central bank is under political control."
- John C. Williams, President, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (Speech, February 28, 2017)

*Politics and Society*

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."
- Ascribed to Bertrand Russell

"In a dying civilization, political prestige is the reward not of the shrewdest diagnostician, but of the man with the best bedside manner. It is the decoration conferred on mediocrity by ignorance."
- Eric Ambler, The Mask of Dimitrios (1939)

"Simple minds understand the simple language of the victorious sword much more easily than they can grasp the cautious word with which the pen slowly binds together the results of claim and counterclaim, of compromise and concession. And simple minds are always in the majority."
- Erich Eyck, A History of the Weimar Republic (1962)

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
- Louis D. Brandeis (Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 1916-1939)

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
- Robert Hanlon

"'Relativism' is the view that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other. No one holds this view. Except for the occasional cooperative freshman, one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an important topic are equally good."
- Richard Rorty, The Consequences of Pragmatism (1982)

"Democracy, to me, is liberty plus economic security. To put it in plain language, we Americans want to talk, pray, think as we please - and eat regular."
- Rep. Maury Maverick, D-TX (1937)

"Because the United States has preserved its Constitution in aspic, it continues to run its politics based on assumptions current in the 18th century rather than the 21st century, with rank and privilege continuing to be politically very important."
- Trevor Burnard, "An Infatuation with Titles: Hereditary Privilege and Liberty in the Era of the American Revolution," Historically Speaking 13, no. 2 (2012)

"A constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the state or of laissez faire. It is made for people of fundamentally differing views, and the accident of our finding certain opinions natural and familiar, or novel, and even shocking, ought not to conclude our judgment upon the question of whether statutes embodying them conflict with the Constitution of the United States."
- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Lochner v. New York (1905)

"Because of the way decision-making authority is dispersed in the American political system, the advocates of a stronger central state have had to win support (or at least acquiescence) in all three branches of the federal government; their opponents have often been able to block them or to force them to moderate their proposals by exerting a decisive influence in only one branch. The moments at which all the necessary elements come into alignment, and at which truly dramatic increases in state power are therefore possible, have proven to be few in number and short in duration."
- Aaron L. Friedberg, In the Shadow of the Garrison State: America's Anti-Statism and Its Cold War Grand Strategy (2000)

"The rights of mankind are simple. They require no learning to unfold them. They are better felt, than explained. Hence in matters that relate to liberty, the mechanic and the philosopher, the farmer and the scholar, are all upon a footing. But the case is widely different with respect to government. It is a complicated science, and requires abilities and knowledge of a variety of other subjects, to understand it."
- Benjamin Rush, "To the Freemen of the United States," Pennsylvania Gazette (1787)

"Business elements [in the 1890s] kept alive the antigovernment sentiment, [sociologist Lester Frank] Ward contended, not because they believed in laissez faire but because they feared that if the laissez-faire philosophy were abandoned, government would consider the unequal distribution of wealth, which was the greatest evil of society, as within its purview and, in coping with this problem, would trench on the domain of those who benefited most from the status quo. When big business cried paternalism, it was therefore merely referring to government action that would recognize the claim of the 'defenseless laborer and artisan' to a share of the state protection afforded business." [Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose]
- Sidney Fine, Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State (1956)

"Businessmen have a different set of delusions from politicians; and need, therefore, different handling. They are, however, much milder than politicians, at the same time allured and terrified by the glare of publicity, easily persuaded to be 'patriots,' perplexed, bemused, indeed terrified, yet only too anxious to take a cheerful view, vain perhaps but very unsure of themselves, pathetically responsive to a kind word. You could do anything you liked with them, if you would treat them (even the big ones), not as wolves and tigers, but as domestic animals by nature, even though they have been badly brought up and not trained as you would wish. It is a mistake to think that they are more immoral than politicians. If you work them into the surly, obstinate, terrified mood, of which domestic animals, wrongly handled, are so capable, the nation's burdens will not get carried to the market; and in the end public opinion will veer in their way."
-John Maynard Keynes, letter to FDR (February 1938)

"For if you teach a people for ten years that the character of its government is not greatly important, that political success is for those who equivocate and evade, and if you tell them that acquisitiveness is the ideal, that things are what matter, that Mammon is God, then you must not be astonished at the confusion in Washington…. It is not only against the material consequences of this decade of drift and hallucination, but against the essence of its spirit that the best and bravest among us are today in revolt."
- Walter Lippmann, New York Herald Tribune (May 20, 1932)

"Our danger is neither from 'radicalism' or 'conservatism' but from incoherence and paralysis. What we have to fear is the inability of the government to determine policies and execute them…. For we are suffering not from tyranny but from weakness, not from evil purposes but from confused purposes, not from stupidity but from impotence."
- Walter Lippmann, New York Herald Tribune (July 19, 1932)

"A nation that demands of its government only the maintenance of order is already a slave at the bottom of its heart; it is a slave to its well-being, and the man who is to put it in chains can appear."
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Vol. 2, 1840)

On the Progressive Viewpoint: "The native [American] ethos of mass participation in politics and citizenlike civic consciousness…confirmed the idea that everyone was in some very serious sense responsible for everything."
- Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR (1955)

*Economic Arguments*

"Maximum wealth, badly distributed, does not lead to maximum happiness."
- Guido Calabresi, "The New Economic Analysis of Law: Scholarship, Sophistry, or Self-Indulgence?", Proceedings of the British Academy 68 (1982)

"It has been the function of the liberal tradition in American politics, from the time of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy down through Populism, Progressivism, and the New Deal, at first to broaden the numbers of those who could benefit from the great American bonanza and then to humanize its workings and help heal the casualties."
- Richard Hoftstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR (1955)

"There is no little irony in the fact that inflation was the dominant fear in the depths of the Great Depression, when deflation was the real and present danger."
- Barry Eichengreen, Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919-1939 (1992)

"I experienced at first hand the evolution of macroeconomics from literary exposition - where propositions seemed plausible but never completely convincing - into a mathematical discipline - where propositions were logically convincing but never completely plausible."
- Mervyn King, The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy (2016)

"One way to think about economic models is as fables...They are simple and are set in abstract environments. They make no claim to realism for many of their assumptions. While they seem to be populated by real people and firms, the behavior of the principal characters is drawn in highly stylized form. Inanimate objects ('random shocks,' 'exogenous parameters,' 'nature') often feature in the model and drive the action. The story line revolves around clear cause-and-effect, if-then relationships. And the moral - or policy implication, as economists call it - is typically quite transparent: free markets are efficient, opportunistic behavior in strategic interactions can leave everyone worse off, incentives matter, and so on.
- Dani Rodrik, Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science (2015)

"One of the properties of internally consistent economic models is their enormous survival power. The predictions they generate may be demonstrably inaccurate. But, after the fact, confidence in the essential truth of the theoretical system can be salvaged so long as it can provide reasons to account for the discrepancy between the expectation and reality."
- William J. Barber, From New Era to New Deal: Herbert Hoover, the Economists, and American Economic Policy, 1921-1933 (1985)

"The point is to realize that economic models are metaphors, not truth. By all means express your thoughts in models, as pretty as possible…. But always remember that you may have gotten the metaphor wrong, and that someone else with a different metaphor may be seeing something that you are missing."
- Paul Krugman, "How I Work" (New York Times, July 5, 2013)

"If the right stylized facts can be used as a basis for theory, and theorists have good indications of the relative quantitative importance of various phenomena, it is clearly far more likely that the theory itself can make a useful contribution."
(Translation: Theories based on reality seem to be more realistic and useful.)
- Anne O. Krueger, "Trade Policy and Economic Development: How We Learn" (1997)

"Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful."
- George E. P. Box & Norman R. Draper, Empirical Model Building and Response Surfaces (1987)

"The advance of behavioral economics is not fundamentally in conflict with mathematical economics, as some seem to think, though it may well be in conflict with some currently fashionable mathematical economic models.
- Robert J. Shiller, Is Economics a Science? (2013)

"The prevailing emphasis on mathematical and logical rigor has given economics an internal consistency that is missing in other social sciences. But there is little value in being consistently wrong."
- John Quiggen, Zombie Economics (2010)

"To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences."
- Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014)

"It is one thing to see the market as being populated by rational, self-interested, acquisitive individual agents. It is quite another to develop a theory of value and distribution by translating that general characterisation of economic man into a formal model of constrained optimization. Almost no political economist of any period would have been troubled by adopting the general characterisation. But it was not until the advent of the marginalist approach to the determination of relative prices [in the 1870s] that this general idea was reformulated so as to become the basis of a theory of value. So ingrained has this model become that it is sometimes difficult to see beyond it when one looks back to writers of the past. It is often the case that when the idea of self-interested behaviour is encountered in earlier works, an interpretation is cast in these terms - an interpretation thus framed in a conceptual and theoretical language that would not have been available to the thinker concerned.
- Murray Milgate & Shannon C. Stimson, After Adam Smith: A Century of Transformation in Politics and Political Economy (2009)

"The measure of success attained by Wall Street, regarded as an institution of which the proper social purpose is to direct new investment into the most profitable channels in terms of future yield, cannot be claimed as one of the outstanding triumphs of laissez-faire capitalism, which is not surprising if I am right in thinking that the best brains of Wall Street have been in fact directed towards a different object."
- John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936)

"Keynes was a great and important man. But it is possible to describe the evolution of fiscal policy in America up to 1940 without reference to him. And yet, by the outbreak of the war a large part of the fiscal revolution had already occurred. It was accepted policy that we would run deficits in depressions, that we would not raise taxes in depressions in an attempt to balance the budget, and that in severe depressions we would raise expenditures, at least for relief and probably for recovery. We no longer believed that depressions were necessarily short and self-terminating, and we did not think depression deficits, even if fairly large and prolonged, would lead to national bankruptcy. Keynes helped this policy and these attitudes to emerge...but he was not indispensable for their emergence."
- Herbert Stein, The Fiscal Revolution in America (1969)

"A heavy progressive tax upon a very large fortune is in no way such a tax upon thrift or industry as a like tax would be on a small fortune. No advantage comes either to the country as a whole or to the individuals inheriting the money by permitting the transmission in their entirety of the enormous fortunes which would be affected by such a tax; and as an incident to its function of revenue raising, such a tax would help to preserve a measurable equality of opportunity for the people of the generations growing to manhood."
- President Theodore Roosevelt (1907)

"But the best state for human nature is that in which, while no one is poor, no one desires to be richer, nor has any reason to fear from being thrust back, by the efforts of others to push themselves forward."
- John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy (1886)

"Economists have to start innocent of all distracting ideas. They have to have minds sufficiently empty to construct or accept those axiomatic models of human behavior that are their bread and butter. Late adolescence is the ideal time to start such a training."
- Robert & Edward Skidelsky, How Much is Enough? (2012)

"Society refuses to turn itself into a giant vending machine that delivers anything and everything in return for the proper number of coins. When members of my [economics] profession sometimes lose sight of this principle, they invite the nastiest definition of an economist: the person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Society needs to keep the market in its place. The domain of rights is part of the checks and balances on the market designed to preserve values that are not denominated in dollars. For the same reasons that an investor holds many different stocks and bonds in his portfolio, society diversifies its mechanisms for distribution and allocation. It won't put all of its eggs in the market's basket."
- Arthur M. Okun, Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff (1975)

"It is not human beings who need adapting to the market; it is the marketplace that needs adapting to human beings."
- Robert & Edward Skidelsky, How Much is Enough? (2012)

"If it is true that the economy must be deferred to, then there is a case not only for constraining the imprudent actions of the prince but for repressing those of the people, for limiting participation, in short, for crushing anything that could be interpreted by some economist-king as a threat to the proper functioning of the 'delicate watch'."
- Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph (1977)

"How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys, is not so much the utility as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniences. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number."
- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

*Historical Methods*

"Political theorists...tend to believe that the history of political thought can be studied as a search for enduring answers to perennial questions that can enhance contemporary political thought. Historians, on the other hand, tend to hold that ideas are the products of particular circumstances and particular moments in time and that using them for present purposes is a distortion of their original historical meaning.... It's the theorists' claim that their present-day use of past ideas is true to the original way they were used in the past that historians quarrel with."
- Gordon S. Wood, The Purpose of the Past (2008)

"Historians draw on facts to construct stories. Political scientists arrange facts to validate hypotheses. For historians, facts are like stones: if sorted and stacked with sufficient skill, something of lasting value might result. For political scientists, facts serve as ornaments, selected and displayed in accordance with a predetermined design. For this reason, even the best political science seldom makes for good history."
- Andrew J. Bacevich, "Review Essay," Diplomacy and Statecraft 19, no. 4 (2008)

"The historian who becomes an advocate or a prosecutor instead of a judge forfeits his title to confidence, and, if he aspires to be a judge, he should not try a case by a code unknown to the defendant."
- Henry Charles Lea, "Ethical Values in History," American Historical Review 9, no. 2 (1904)

"But historians who write for the public need to keep in mind…that their books must have ideas as well as narrative, a point of view as well as stories. Too many histories written today for public consumption are biographies, many of them celebratory; and too few of them are analytical by any measure of that term.
- James M. Banner, Jr., "On Being a Historian," Historically Speaking 13, no. 4 (2012)

About my libraryThis collection includes only books that are sitting on my shelves, staring at me. Works of history dominate, mainly modern American and world history. Reflecting my professional experience and teaching focus, diplomatic and economic studies account for sizeable shares of my collection.


Favorite authorsFred Anderson, Taylor Branch, Warren I. Cohen, Barry Eichengreen, Richard Hofstadter, Michael Kazin, James A. Morone, Heather Cox Richardson, Steven Runciman, George Sansom, Jonathan D. Spence, Alan Taylor, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Richard White, Garry Wills, C. Vann Woodward (Shared favorites)

Real namePhilip Wall


Account typepublic, lifetime

URLs /profile/walbat (profile)
/catalog/walbat (library)

Member sinceOct 19, 2008

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