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Phillip W. Magness


  • Originally published 09/24/2013

    Is Obama Like Ike?

    Michael Doran

    If Obama were truly like Ike in foreign policy...

  • Originally published 09/24/2013

    Memento Mori

    Lewis H. Lapham

    The death of American Exceptionalism -- and of me.

  • Originally published 09/24/2013

    Scot who saved American buffalo subject of film

    He is little known in his home country, but the Scot credited with saving America’s buffalo from being hunted to extinction is now the subject of an award-winning film.

  • Originally published 09/24/2013

    The Unsung Hero Who Coined the Term "Genocide"

    Michael Ignatieff

    If the history of the western moral imagination is the story of an enduring and unending revolt against human cruelty, there are few more consequential figures than Raphael Lemkin.

  • Originally published 08/12/2014

    Historical Revision and the alleged “myth” of an exploitable Phillips Curve

    Liberty and Power

    The history of thought is an inherently tricky evidentiary exercise, as it typically involves a need to discern intention from written words left by the subjects in question. Its better practitioners attempt to understand the parameters of a particular decision or argument by weighing the available evidence around it and interpreting it in light of the context in which it was made. Typically implicit is a willingness to follow that evidence where it leads, even when the implication is unexpected or, in cases involving thinkers of prominence, an unwelcome mark on their reputation. But when the historical enterprise itself begins with an act of simply casting about for bullet points to get around a past figure’s shortcomings, the whole enterprise quickly devolves into counter-historical territory – into exercises in exonerative history that attempt to parse a past figure away from something embarrassing, or something that simply “went wrong” in ways that defied his intentions or expectations. Such seems to be the case with a relatively new and unusual approach to the contributions of economist Paul A. Samuelson as they pertain to the Phillips Curve. 

  • Originally published 07/27/2014

    The History of Paul Krugman’s own Alarmist “Inflation Addiction”

    Liberty and Power

    Frequenters of the Krug-o-sphere will recognize a familiar theme of lambasting what he sees as inflationary alarmism. Krugman usually employs this critique to dismiss criticisms of either deficit finance or expansionary monetary policies, both of which comport well with his Keynesian economic outlook and his own political preferences on matters such as federal spending.  From a historical perspective however, Krugman’s position derives from an unusual source.

  • Originally published 07/18/2014

    The Constitutional Havoc of the Income Tax Amendment

    Liberty and Power

    Some days back I offered an interpretation of the motives and political economy behind the adoption of the 16th Amendment, noting at the time that it also caused extreme constitutional havoc by altering the relationship between the tariff system and the generation of federal tax revenue. While it is certainly possible to read this as a statement of political aversion to the modern income tax system, my characterization was actually an intended reference to certain very specific constitutional consequences of the income tax amendment that actually have little to do with any personal preferences regarding the validity of progressive income taxation.

  • Originally published 06/24/2014

    Confessions of a reformed activist

    Liberty and Power

    When advising politically-inclined students – and working at a DC based academic research institute and Public Policy department ensures I have many of these – I often counsel them to eschew electoral politics entirely, to  approach policy careers with managed and severely constrained expectations about the results they can expect to achieve, and to generally shed the instinctual habits of activism. To the politically enthused and – more so – the idealist who seeks to better the world in which he or she lives, this message is both exceedingly difficult to receive and counter-intuitive to almost everything they've been brought up to believe about democracy, participatory government, and attaining social change.

  • Originally published 06/20/2014

    Abraham Lincoln and the Corwin Amendment

    Liberty and Power

    Most serious historical overviews of the Civil War contain at least a brief mention of the Corwin Amendment, the last-ditch compromise effort to protect slavery where it existed by enshrining it in the Constitution. They also do so tepidly and seldom acknowledge it as anything more than a historical footnote.

  • Originally published 06/20/2014

    Thaddeus Stevens and Colonization

    Liberty and Power

    Did Rep. Thaddeus Stevens pledge to support the revival of the colonization office during Lincoln’s second term? That is the direct insinuation of an unsent letter from 1865 bearing the Radical Republican leader’s endorsement.

  • Originally published 06/13/2014

    A Soviet Devil in the Capitalist Details

    Liberty and Power

    The other day I began scrutinizing Thomas Piketty’s data on capital to national income ratios and particularly the twice-published Figure 5.8/12.4. This graph provides an important piece of evidence for Piketty’s theoretical argument in Capital in the 21st Century, and particularly his contention that “a country that saves a lot and grows slowly will over the long run accumulate an enormous stock of capital (relative to its income), which can in turn have a significant effect on the social structure and distribution of wealth.” This “law” of capital accumulation, along with Piketty’s much quoted formula r>g, is supposed to demonstrate the central argument of his book wherein returns on capital outpace income, leading to sustained wealth disparity.

  • Originally published 06/08/2014

    Data Problems with Piketty’s Capital/Income Ratios

    Liberty and Power

    The post that follows is a bit more technical than my other posts on the data problems with Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. It also involves a more complex piece of his data, though one with significant implications to his general theory about a hypothesized inherent tendency of capital returns to outpace other earnings.

  • Originally published 06/07/2014

    5 remaining problems for Thomas Piketty in the wake of the FT controversy

    Liberty and Power

    In the past few days Thomas Piketty and a number of his less scrupulous defenders have taken to declaring the data dispute around Capital in the 21st Century a settled matter since the publication of Piketty’s retort to Chris Giles of the Financial Times.

  • Originally published 06/06/2014

    About that new “study” that supposedly vindicates Piketty…

    Liberty and Power

    Robert Murphy has an excellent post up today following a conversation about the new Saez-Zucman (2014) “study” of US wealth inequality that Piketty iscurrently trumpeting (see p. 7) as something of a vindication of his highly problematic and as-of-yet still unexplained Figure 10.5.

  • Originally published 06/06/2014

    Remember the War Revenue Act of 1898!

    Liberty and Power

    The federal revenue situation of the late 19th century United States presents a somewhat case study in constitutional political economy, owing to a fairly restrictive constitutional restraint on the means of raising revenue for the federal government. The U.S. Constitution provided Congress with the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises” as its primary means of taxation, yet it also provided that “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”

  • Originally published 06/06/2014

    Remember the War Revenue Act of 1898!

    The federal revenue situation of the late 19th century United States presents a somewhat case study in constitutional political economy, owing to a fairly restrictive constitutional restraint on the means of raising revenue for the federal government. The U.S. Constitution provided Congress with the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises” as its primary means of taxation, yet it also provided that “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”

  • Originally published 06/06/2014

    Remember the War Revenue Act of 1898!

    The federal revenue situation of the late 19th century United States presents a somewhat case study in constitutional political economy, owing to a fairly restrictive constitutional restraint on the means of raising revenue for the federal government. The U.S. Constitution provided Congress with the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises” as its primary means of taxation, yet it also provided that “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”

  • Originally published 06/06/2014

    Remember the War Revenue Act of 1898!

    The federal revenue situation of the late 19th century United States presents a somewhat case study in constitutional political economy, owing to a fairly restrictive constitutional restraint on the means of raising revenue for the federal government. The U.S. Constitution provided Congress with the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises” as its primary means of taxation, yet it also provided that “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”

  • Originally published 06/06/2014

    Remember the War Revenue Act of 1898!

    The federal revenue situation of the late 19th century United States presents a somewhat case study in constitutional political economy, owing to a fairly restrictive constitutional restraint on the means of raising revenue for the federal government. The U.S. Constitution provided Congress with the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises” as its primary means of taxation, yet it also provided that “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”