President Barack Obama has shown a determination to redistribute wealth by increasing government spending, despite unsustainable deficits. We shouldn’t be surprised if Janet Yellen, the president’s nominee to be Federal Reserve chairman, shares his objective.
Americans are egalitarian. This trait has long frustrated plutocrats who, more than a century ago, invented Social Darwinism to teach that the rich prospered because they were smart and productive. Few people believed this, not then and not now.
Unlike the movies, life rarely permits second takes. But the Second World War gave John Maynard Keynes, the patron saint of government activism, and Friedrich Hayek, the Cassandra who warned of the state’s destructive potential, just such opportunities.
The greatest debate in the history of economics began with a simple request for a book. In the early weeks of 1927, Friedrich Hayek, a young Viennese economist, wrote to John Maynard Keynes at King’s College, Cambridge, in England, asking for an economic textbook written 50 years before: Francis Ysidro Edgeworth’s exotically titled “Mathematical Psychics.” Keynes replied with a single line on a plain postcard: “I am sorry to say that my stock of ’Mathematical Psychics’ is exhausted.”