People who want to find out what Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke has in mind for the economy need to read some history. Bernanke declares himself a “Great Depression buff,” and as a professor at Princeton, he published an entire book devoted to the subject. The work in question, Essays on the Great Depression, published by Princeton University Press in 2000, offers vital clues to his thinking. From his interpretation of this prior disaster, he draws a key conclusion: policymakers must at all costs prevent deflation. Unfortunately for the economy, Austrian business cycle theory gives us strong reason to reject both Bernanke’s historical analysis and his policy recommendations.
In The Pity of War, Niall Ferguson asked a penetrating question: What would have happened had Britain remained neutral during World War I? Agree with his answer”history would probably have turned out better”or not, of one thing there can be little doubt. Ferguson showed that he possessed an outstanding historical imagination. He did not practice what Herbert Butterfield called “Whig history,” that is, history as a progressive unfolding toward the glorious present. A more realistic approach to history recognizes, as Ferguson did in his earlier book, that people have often confronted genuine alternatives. Unfortunately, Ferguson’s historical imagination has deserted him in The Ascent of Money. He traces the history of finance, from the origin of money to the derivatives and hedge funds of today. Though he describes in his vivid style the panics and disasters that have often characterized this development, for him the path has been onward and upward.
When you read the Crunchy Cons, one name comes up again and again. As a political movement, the group has been spearheaded by Rod Dreher, and it to him that we owe the phrase “Crunchy Cons.” Yet although he has mounted a spirited defense of the group’s credo in his Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Culture and Its Return to Roots and writes a Crunchy Con blog, he is not the movement’s principal ideologue. That post belongs to the poet, novelist, literary scholar, and farmer Wendell Berry.