Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Amazon Review of Craufurd Goodwin's, "Walter Lippmann:Public Economist

The Columnist as Economist

Duke University economic historian Craufurd Goodwin has written, but probably too lengthy, biography of the preeminent columnist Walter Lippmann’s writings.  However, it is not a biography of Lippmann. Although he focuses on Lippmann’s “Today and Tomorrow” columns from the early 1930s through the 1960s, he takes up his earlier writings and books along the way.

What the book brings out is Lippmann’s grappling with the economic crisis of the Great Depression. In column after column Lippmann is concerned about the economic collapse and the tragedy of mass unemployment that comes with it. For the most part Lippmann gets it right. Early on he is against the gold standard, for a flexible monetary policy and for free trade. Lippmann is an anti-monopolist to the core and it explains his opposition to the National Recovery Act. Lippmann, a friend of Keynes since the Versailles Conference of 1919, brings his ideas to the American public.

In column after column Lippmann is a true believer in both Keynesian Economics and the competitive market system. In the case of the latter, that makes him an anti-New Dealer and for that conservatives flock to him. One of the lessons for today is that in the 1930s both Lippmann and Keynes urged that economic recovery should take precedent over economic reforms. Would that President Obama follow that important advice in 2009-10.

Walter Lippmann stopped writing in 1967 and died in 1974 just as the Keynesian consensus was collapsing. One wonders what how he would have responded to the stagflation of the 1970s. Unfortunately Goodwin is silent on this question.

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