Since its inception in 1986, the Independent Institute has become well-respected in the worlds of academia, policy research, and public debate for its commitment to nonpoliticized scholarly excellence. Our program has enjoyed the benefits of working with many superb scholars, producing highly acclaimed books and other studies offering seminal insights into the workings of the political economy. However, the Institute has lacked a means to carry on a regular dialogue with the many people seriously interested in an informed public debate and the scholarship that must undergird such debate. With the publication of The Independent Review, we seek to fill that void.
In recent decades, the established sanctity of statecraft in general, and political institutions in particular, has increasingly been met with skepticism, cynicism, and distaste. Since the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, politics has taken an increasingly anti-political turn with subsequent elections producing a more impatient electorate determined to throw the rascals out. Among academics, many of the shibboleths that long dominated economics, history, political science, philosophy and law and too often served to justify the regality of government programs in the twentieth century have been either abandoned or come to be viewed with suspicion.
American political culture no longer simply concurs with the powers or policies that have prevailed. What is liberal or conservative is no longer so clear, and new paradigms are beginning to appear on the horizon. Of course, in this new era of rethinking, bouts of confusion, apprehension, and conflict must be expected. Those who have benefited from existing policies, and the discredited ideas on which they have been based, will no doubt disparage the independent thinkers who now challenge the modern Leviathan state and seek to restore the vitality of civil society. At the same time, maverick thinkers may simply echo Luddite or other fallacies hostile to honest intellectual endeavor, individual liberty, and the rule of law, convinced that they have discovered the hidden path to Shangri-La.
The Independent Review, is a vehicle for independent scholarship produced by independent minds. In tracing the dynamics of political economy and, yes, challenging government failures, we remain ever mindful of the intellectual and cultural heritage of mankind. We seek not to fashion some sort of new view but, instead, to honor the lessons of history while restoring independent inquiry to center stage as the essential activity for enhancing our understanding of society, past, present and future.
For the first seventeen years, under the superb editorship of Robert Higgs and the outstanding scholars who serve on the editorial and advisory boards, The Independent Review has truly pioneered many important debates. In 2013, Dr. Higgs handed off editorial tasks to an new trio of excellent scholars who are serving as Co-Editors, Christopher J. Coyne, Michael C. Munger, and Robert M. Whaples. In the process, Dr. Whaples has also become Managing Editor and Dr. Higgs now serves as Editor at Large and continues his very popular “Etceteras” column in each issue.
David J. Theroux
Founder and President
The Independent Institute
Highly formal and technically challenging work does not appear in The Independent Review. Heavily mathematical forms of exposition have become de rigueur in economics and increasingly in political science. Other fields, such as philosophy, have their own ways of excluding strangers from the conversation. Good arguments can be made for these expositional conventions. But whatever the merits of esoteric forms of communication in the various disciplines, our aims as co-editors dictate that the common language of this journal, as a rule, must be English. We reject the work of writers who cannot express their ideas clearly. Those who write with vigor, wit, and flair will be received with open arms.
Because The Independent Review eschews arcane or ponderous writing, it appeals to students as well as teachers, generalists as well as specialists, lay persons as well as professionals. Political economy embraces a great diversity of topics; The Independent Review’s audience is equally diverse. Although political economy comprises fundamentally important issues, the analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of these issues need not be hard to swallow. When Paul Samuelson published his Foundations of Economic Analysis in 1947, he made his epigraph Willard Gibbs’s declaration that “mathematics is a language.” Today we have good reason to insist that English is a language, too.
Fortunately, for many purposes verbal expression is sufficient, and sometimes it is superior, as it accommodates a degree of nuance unachievable by alternative modes of expression. But certain types of analysis require more than words. Authors who make appropriate use of mathematical or statistical analysis, as opposed to just showing off, will find these pages accessible to them. For empirical articles, we give preference to expositions that display data or relations in an arresting visual manner. Sometimes a numerical table is essential, and a well-constructed graph goes a long way.
Although the style of exposition in The Independent Review is simpler than that in many professional journals, readers will find that the articles, features, and reviews represent scholarship of the highest caliber. The Independent Review is fortunate to have outstanding scholars serving as associate editors, contributing editors, and members of the board of advisors. In addition, excellent outside referees assist us in evaluating the papers submitted for publication, so first the authors and ultimately the readers receive the benefit of top-notch peer review.
Finally, something must be said about ideology. Political economy deals with issues that are infused with ideological presuppositions and implications: liberty, tyranny, democracy, collectivism, taxation, regulation, public policies of all sorts. For many journals, a paper’s ideological correctness is a sine qua non for acceptance. Even professional journals espousing “positive” or “value-free” analysis commonly fall short of their aspirations, as ideologic al assumptions creep unannounced into their pages.
In America during much of the twentieth century the ideology contained in works of political economy—often only between the lines—increasingly pulled the subject away from its moorings in the ideas of such classic figures as Montesquieu, Smith, Jefferson, Madison, and Tocqueville. More recently, however, political economists have begun to rediscover their lost heritage. Writers such as the Nobelists Friedrich Hayek and James Buchanan have inspired much important new research. Meanwhile, outside academia, developments such as the worldwide movement to privatize state enterprises and the abandonment of central planning in the socialist countries have given new urgency to the analysis of voluntary cooperation, free markets, and limited, constitutional government. The Independent Review provides an outlet for writers engaged in the development and extension of this classic tradition. However, we do not exclude papers written from alternative perspectives. Indeed, we hope to feature illuminating debates. In any event, many questions remain open; no one has all the answers. Normative as well as positive analyses will find a place here, and no attempt will be made to avoid the hard questions. On the contrary.
Under Robert Higgs’ editorship during its first seventeen years, The Independent Review succeeded in realizing these hopes, its pages filled with a broad range of excellent scholarship in an exceptionally interesting and widely appealing form. The new editors – Christopher Coyne, Michaael Munger and Robert Whaples will endeavor mightily to maintain these high standards. To readers who are tired of narrowly specialized, technically inaccessible, and often boring journals, to those who are hungry for something expositionally tastier yet still intellectually meaty, we welcome you to what we hope to be a continuing feast.
Robert Higgs, Editor-at-large
Christopher Coyne, Co-Editor
Michael Munger, Co-EditorRobert Whaples, Co-Editor and Managing Editor