Gregory Mankiw

Making No Cents

President Obama has taken his fair share of flak for not following through on campaign promises--from renegotiating NAFTA to reforming immigration to ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. But there’s a slightly more obscure pledge--one he made at a March 2008 town hall meeting in Greensburg, Pennsylvania--that he may want to revisit. “I will seriously consider eliminating the penny,” then-candidate Obama said, in response to a voter who questioned the wisdom of producing coins so worthless that vending machines (and some stores) no longer accept them.

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Until last September, when the banking industry came crashing down and depression loomed for the first time in my lifetime, I had never thought to read The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, despite my interest in economics. I knew that John Maynard Keynes was widely considered the greatest economist of the twentieth century, and I knew of his book's extraordinary reputation. But it was a work of macroeconomics--the study of economy-wide phenomena such as inflation, the business cycle, and economic growth.

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The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression By Amity Shlaes (HarperCollins, 464 pp., $26.95) Herbert Hoover By William E. Leuchtenburg (Times Books, 208 pp., $22) Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America By Adam Cohen (Penguin Press, 372 pp., $29.95) A generation ago, the total dismissal of the New Deal remained a marginal sentiment in American politics. Ronald Reagan boasted of having voted for Franklin Roosevelt. Neoconservatives long maintained that American liberalism had gone wrong only in the 1960s.

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