Of More Than One Mind

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Of More Than One Mind

Steven Lagerfeld

Editor Steven Lagerfeld introduces the Winter 2012 issue, "Lessons of the Great Depression."

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Four years ago, even the staunchest of pessimists might have been dismayed if they could have somehow learned that in 2012 the world economy would still be feeling the effects of recession. While the current economic downturn is the subject of a great deal of glum commentary, it has also, as demonstrated by this issue of the WQ, sparked much lively debate.

“Lessons of the Great Depression,” our cover cluster of articles, features a range of contrasting views on that calamity of the 1930s and the causes of our own current economic distress. Robert J. Samuelson finds in the Depression-era gold standard a parallel to the contemporary welfare state—a straitjacket that exacerbates economic ills. Louis Hyman answers with a historically based argument that stagnating wages and growing economic inequality are the root cause of our current distress and the source of the “debt bomb” that exploded in 2007 and 2008. Robert Z. Aliber contends that today’s “Mini-Depression” could have been avoided altogether if bank regulators and the Federal Reserve had acted to defuse that bomb, which was plainly visible amid the excesses of the last decade.

Elsewhere in the issue, journalist Zahid Hussain, the current Pakistan scholar here at the Wilson Center, offers an unusually well-informed report on Pakistan’s impoverished, little-studied tribal areas, whose status, he says, is crucial not only to his own country’s future but to neighboring Afghanistan’s as well. Historian Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen provides a fascinating look at the appeal philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has held for Americans over the past century—I think of the essay as “Nietzsche and You.” Digging a bit further back in time, historical novelist Max Byrd relates the true story of an 18th-century Frenchman’s efforts to construct lifelike mechanical beings, and reflects on these creations’ connection to contemporary science.

One of the great rewards of editing the WQ is the opportunity to engage with that curious, intellectually demanding crowd that is our readership. Lately, readers have been telling me they want to see more contrasting arguments and ideas in our pages, the better to make up their own minds about things. In this issue, we are confident you will find, we deliver in spades.