"Reducing double digit inflation was a great triumph of economic policy," says Washington Post and Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson. His latest book, The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath (Random House), which is excerpted in this issue (page 48), was completed before the financial markets went haywire, and while it didn't explicitly predict the economic crisis, Samuelson notes, "it did suggest that these things might happen." He says he stopped short of writing "a concluding chapter that said we have arrived in economic paradise," and is glad he did, because he "would have looked like an idiot."
Philippe Lacoude is a peculiar optimist. "We got out of the 1929 recession, although not until the politicians made it a depression," he says. The vice president of the consulting firm Algonkian Technologies, Lacoude joins economics columnist Veronique de Rugy to list four steps policy makers could take to help the economy better than any bailout (page 30). "Economic science has evolved, and economists are more aware of what not to do," Lacoude says. "I'm not so sure about politicians, but we have more experience. It does not mean that we will not be experimenting with very bad ideas."
Jeffrey Rogers Hummel teaches economic history at San Jose State University, a role that has him caught between two worlds. "Historians don't know much about economics, but at least they're reverent about data," he explains. "Economists get these theories and want to test them, and they're sometimes not too careful about the data." In this issue, Hummel channels the historians of the future as they ponder the "unprecedented" Federal Reserve monetary injections in the fall of 2008 (page 52). Hummel, the author of Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War (Open Court), blogs at the History News Network, but not very often. "The historian in me would like to wait five years or 10 years," he says, "but the economist in me means I have to keep on top of things."