As we listen carefully to the current criticisms of America, we should see them in the context of the wonderful features of our nation that continue to attract tens of thousands of the world’s best and brightest to become Americans and thus add to the material and cultural richness of our lives. We should not lose sight of, nor stop defending, the features of our society that have made us the Land of Opportunity even as we confront and strive to deal with our shortcomings. Those motivated by making more money and those motivated by serving and doing good to others enjoy the incentives for both in our free enterprise system. We make money by serving others, by creating better things and services for the benefit of our fellow man.
Our rights to make our own decisions and speak our minds are protected by our Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Our property and commitments (contracts) are protected by the Rule of Law. Indeed, our history is not without sin, far from it. Slavery was practiced almost from the beginning of time, and our new nation shamefully participated in the practice for almost the first hundred years of its existence. Discriminatory laws and practices replaced slavery for many decades beyond the end of slavery. Though all Americans now enjoy the equal protection of the law, the uninformed prejudices of some persevere. Our culture of mutual caring that is nurtured by our capitalist economic system and the values taught by all major religions, continue to make progress towards shrinking and isolating bigots. But we have a ways to go. We have engaged in wars that are not justified by our defense and that are inconsistent with our values. In this area our economic incentives are perverse.
Our freedom to speak out when we see wrong and to praise what is good are critical to preserving what is good and fixing what is not. The “cancel culture” crowd seem more intent on tearing America down than building it up by fixing its weaknesses. The current cancerous attacks on our freedom to speak out and debate the important issues of our day in the name of political correctness risks undermining our progress: “America’s Jacobin moment”. This is not to say that we should not strive to address our fellow Americans politely “What is wrong with PC?”. But if we become afraid to express our views and concerns honestly, we lose the ability to understand one another and build mutually satisfactory compromises. “Do we really need free speech?”.
So on this celebration of our Declaration of Independence and the birth of our nation let’s commit ourselves to preserving what has made us great, which includes the ability to freely criticize what is not so great, and to admit and learn from our mistakes and to work at becoming better still: freer, responsible for our own lives, and more compassionate toward others.
I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy. I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989. After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017. Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75. I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise. In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.” My recent books are One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina; My Travels in the Former Soviet Union; My Travels to Afghanistan; My Travels to Jerusalem; and My Travels to Baghdad. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.
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