Emma Rothschild is Director of the Joint Centre for History and Economics at King’s College, Cambridge and Harvard, and Professor of History at Harvard. She is the author of Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet and the Enlightenment.

Can We Transform the Auto-Industrial Society?

William Eggleston: Karco, 1983–1986; from ‘William Eggleston: Democratic Camera: Photographs and Video, 1961–2008,’ a recent exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The catalog of the exhibition is published by the Whitney Museum and Haus der Kunst, Munich, in conjunction with Yale University Press.
The cataclysm of the American automobile industry has been an odd combination, so far, of immediate and historical anxieties. The government loan of $13.4 billion to General Motors and Chrysler in December 2008 was presented by the outgoing administration as an unsolicited gift, lest a “disorderly liquidation of American auto …

Real, Pretended or Imaginary Dangers

The American republic was founded amid the misfortunes of two European empires. The failure of the British in the American war of independence demonstrated the limits of military power in an extended and discontented empire. The failures of the French empire demonstrated a more insidious condition, the political costs of …

The Reagan Economic Legacy

The twelve million new jobs that were created during the Reagan years fall into four main categories. The first group consists of services to wealth, or to the rich. Two million new jobs between 1981 and 1987 were created in finance, insurance, real estate, and legal services. [^1] “Sales representatives, …

The Real Reagan Economy

Mr. Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers asserts that the administration’s economic program “has become a blueprint” for worldwide growth. Recent US economic growth, they write in their 1988 Annual Report, “was shaped by government policies explicitly directed toward fostering the inherent dynamism of the private sector.” “Our proven market-oriented policies”—the …

The Costs of Reaganism

In their elated, vainglorious 1984 reports, Reagan’s advisers suggest that their economic and military policies constitute a single “spirit.” I think they are right. It is a spirit that dishonors—and may destroy—the world that Mr. Reagan proposes to lead. “America’s new strength, confidence, and purpose,” Mr. Reagan said in his …

The Delusions of Deterrence

For 1984, the Department of Defense’s project is the moral regeneration of nuclear weapons. Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s annual report for the 1984 fiscal year is said to have been “painstakingly composed” at the Defense Department and “reviewed” by President Reagan. Its purpose, apparently, is to “combat the impression in some …

The Philosophy of Reaganism

It is a relief to have at last an extensive official statement of the “philosophical beliefs and economic judgments” of the Reagan administration; one that sets out to “help both the public and our fellow economists to understand the basis, the importance, and the effects” of present economic policies. The …

Reagan and the Real America

Mr. Reagan has an imposing vision of the country that he is to lead. He sees an inherent America—an America which is white, and male, and industrial—and a project, of economic growth, by which this reality can be born again. He sees a “spirit” which is “still there, ready to …

Boom and Bust

The United States may buy itself two things with its $1 trillion defense budget of 1981 to 1985. The first is an economic decline of the sort that comes about once or twice in a century. The second is a nuclear war. This country is in the early years—not, despite …

Some Views of Mrs. Thatcher’s Victory

Kingsley Amis Before trying to interpret this election we might notice what happened at it. Mrs. Thatcher’s victory was unusually decisive in two senses. She won by a bigger margin than any other Opposition leader since the Second World War, and she overcame the general tendency of the British electorate …

Carter and Arms: No Sale

The export of armaments is about to become an essential American industry. This is one conclusion suggested by a new study prepared for the Defense Department by the US Department of Labor. The study makes it possible for the first time to understand the economic consequences of the arms boom.

The Arms Boom and How to Stop It

There are very many things to be said against Jimmy Carter’s defense advisers. The most important has to do with Vietnam. The people Carter has chosen were involved closely and resolutely in the prosecution of the Vietnam war. These men march through the pages of the Pentagon Papers. They form …

Banks: The Politics of Debt

We are living in one of the great epochs of expansion in international finance. For thousands of banks, the years from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s have been a dizzy time. Their business has increased in value and in geographical extent. The most euphoric increase is in the …

Banks: The Coming Crisis

There is a view, quite widely held, that the events of the last two years prove the fortitude of the international financial system. None of the largest banks in the world failed in the economic crisis of 1974-1975; no countries went broke. The neurotic episodes of 1974 and 1975 did …

The Boom in the Death Business

The newest increase in the arms trade is said to have amazed even the Department of Defense. Announcing recently that US foreign military sales were worth $9.5 billion in the 1975 fiscal year, the Defense Department described the pleasant news as “unexpected.” In 1973, these US sales were worth some …

How Doomed Are We?

The metaphors of pessimism have been appropriated, in the past year or so, by the most prominent of political orators. People like Henry Kissinger now complain in public about the prospects for industrial civilization. President Giscard d’Estaing declares, “When we examine the great curves that project into the future the …

Running Out of Food

One year ago, the director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Dr. A. Boerma, wrote that the world had become dangerously dependent on current harvests, and therefore on the weather. Cereal stocks were at the lowest level in twenty years. “The world food situation,” Boerma wrote, “is more difficult …

The Politics of Food

“We are all feeling depressed,” the German foreign minister, Mr. Scheel, declared last month at the United Nations. “Things cannot go on like this. No one with a clear head and a feeling heart should still be able to sleep calmly…. We are stumbling in the dark.” At the April …

Concocting the Next “Crisis”

The darkest consequence of oil diplomacy, in America, is a political language, a premonition. Already the world energy crisis has brought threatening changes in US economic policy. These changes are evident in Kissinger’s and Nixon’s plans for “energy independence.” But the new policies go beyond oil commerce to world trade …

Where the Energy Crisis Is Pushing Us

It now looks as though the world, or part of it, may achieve an energy plan, or part of one. With the oil price increases announced over Christmas by Middle Eastern producing countries, the “oil weapon” seems more a matter of money, less of embargoes. Crude oil, according to the …

Running Out of Gas

The present afflictions of the automobile business—from political and financial disdain to consumer preference for small cars—are a sickness born in past strength. Like all dominant national industries—and like, for example, the British railroad industry in the mid-nineteenth century—the auto business depended for its early, glorious growth on the sustenance …

Illusions About Energy

Alternative energy is, after inflation in oil prices and profits, the major subject of present “energy crisis” rhetoric. But new energy supplies may not provide the relief that they now seem to offer, although President Nixon promised, in June, in the latest version of his energy strategy, “intensive effort,” and …

What Is the ‘Energy Crisis’?

President Nixon’s energy policy, expounded in April and amended in each subsequent turn of economic policy, down to the imposition in June of Freeze Two, has failed so far to halt even the rhetoric of the “energy crisis.” The President’s energy message was received with judicious commendation by large and …

The Great Transpo Expo

Transpo ’72 was first planned as an air show, by the late Mendel Rivers of the House Committee on Armed Services. For a modest $750,000 of federal money, it would stimulate foreigners to buy American airplanes, and it would attract visitors to Dulles airport outside Washington, where it was to …

GM in More Trouble

Early in February, workers at GM’s Vega factories in Lordstown, Ohio, voted by a 97 percent majority to authorize a strike over working conditions. The struggles which preceded the strike vote are by now famous: a change in plant management, layoffs, a disciplinary crackdown, an increase in car defects, complaints …

Auto Didacts

The American auto industry is at the moment notoriously paranoid about its public relations. Although it pays for nearly 10 percent of all national advertising, the industry feels that it is treated unfairly by journalists, academics, and consumer advocates. The new chairman of General Motors, Richard C. Gerstenberg, has described …

GM in Trouble I. THE VEGA

On September 10, four days before the United Automobile Workers struck General Motors, Chevrolet started selling a small and inexpensive car. The car had been the subject of the longest prenatal advertising campaign ever provided for an American commodity. In April, 1970, it was baptized in sky-writing over downtown Detroit: …

Notes from a Political Trial

The Oakland Seven were acquitted at 10:20 on the evening of Friday March 28 by four housewives, two Post Office clerks, a retired Colonel of the Marines, a statistician, a carpenter, an assembly-line inspector at General Motors, a defense plant tool and die maker, and the supervisor of construction in …