Robert Higgs

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Robert Higgs (born 1 February 1944) is an American economic historian, economist of the Austrian School, and a libertarian anarchist. His writings in economics and economic history have most often focused on the causes, means, and effects of government growth.

Participation in academia

He is a Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute (since September 1994), and is editor of Independent Review (since 1995).[1] He is an adjunct faculty member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute[2] and is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.[3] Higgs is also a contributor to[4]

Higgs has held teaching positions at University of Washington, Lafayette College, and Seattle University. He has also been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University. Higgs held a visiting professorship at the University of Economics, Prague in 2006,[1] and has supervised dissertations in the Ph.D. program at Universidad Francisco Marroquín.[5]


The Ratchet Effect

Daniel McCarthy praised Higgs and summarized his ratchet effect theory in a review of Against Leviathan that appeared in The American Conservative. In the review, McCarthy remarked that,

What made Crisis and Leviathan a milestone was the rigor with which it elaborated upon the logic of James Madison's 1794 warning against "the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in government." Other political economists had studied the growth of state power during times of war, depression, and general upheaval before, but none had done so as thoughtfully and thoroughly as Higgs. He took special care in describing the "ratchet effect" — once a crisis has passed state power usually recedes again, but it rarely returns to its original levels; thus each emergency leaves the scope of government at least a little wider than before.[6]

Jörg Guido Hülsmann,[7] Joseph Salerno,[8] Lew Rockwell,[9] and other scholars have discussed the Higgs Ratchet Effect in their writings.

The Iraq War

A vehement critic of the Iraq war, Higgs wrote in the Los Angeles Chronicle in February 2008 that only a high toll in casualties or economic hardship will end the Iraqi war, not cogent arguments. Higgs continued:

It follows directly that up to this point the continued prosecution of the war has served the leaders' interests. They may say they are trying to end the war. They may have secured their election or reelection, as many of the Democrats now serving in Congress have, by promising to do whatever they can to end the war. Yet the truth is that they've sold the public a bill of goods. When the leaders have considered all the personal consequences they expect to follow from acting to end the war, they have concluded that, all things being considered, doing so does not serve their interest, and therefore they have refrained from doing so.[10]

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and social security

Higgs's 10 September 2008 article, "Ticking Time Bomb Explodes, Public Is Shocked," stated that

[t]he failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, setting in motion the biggest government bailout/takeover in U.S. history, brings a grim sense of fulfillment to competent economists.... Our political economy is rife with such catastrophes in waiting, yet the public always seems startled, and outraged, when the day of reckoning can no longer be deferred, and another apartment collapses in the state’s Hotel of Impossible Promises, loading onto the taxpayers more visibly the burden of sheltering the previous occupants.... Call it democracy in action or utterly corrupt governance; they are the same thing.[11]

The article was praised and quoted on-air by several talk radio personalities, with WBEN Buffalo's Tom Bauerle stating that it was one of his favorite "all-time articles."[12][13]

Regime uncertainty

Main article: Regime uncertainty

The concept of regime uncertainty describes uncertainty of investors in their private property rights in their capital and the income it yields because of government action.[14]


As author

  • The Transformation of the American Economy, 1865-1914 (1971)
  • Competition and Coercion: Blacks in the American Economy, 1865-1914 (1977; paperback edition 1980) Nominated for the American Historical Association's Beveridge Award
  • Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government (1987)
  • Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society (2004)
  • Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 (2005)
  • Depression, War and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy (2006)
  • Politická ekonomie strachu ("The Political Economy of Fear") (Czech language; 2006)
  • Neither Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government (2007)

As editor

  • Emergence of the Modern Political Economy (1985)
  • Arms, Politics, and the Economy: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (1990)
  • Hazardous to Our Health? FDA Regulation of Health Care Products (1995)
  • Re-Thinking Green: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy with Carl P. Close (2005)
  • The Challenge of Liberty: Classical Liberalism Today with Carl P. Close (2006)
  • Opposing the Crusader State: Alternatives to Global Interventionism with Carl P. Close (2007)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Senior Fellow Robert Higgs." Independent Institute. [1]
  2. "Faculty and Staff." Ludwig von Mises Institute
  3. "Robert Higgs." Cato Institute
  4. "Robert Higgs: Archives."
  5. Cole, Julio. World Economic Growth, 1980-1999:A Growth-Regression Approach. p. 9. September 2003. [2]
  6. McCarthy, Daniel. "Enemy of the State." The American Conservative. 9 May 2005. [3]
  7. Hülsmann, Jörg Guido. "Legal Tender Laws and Fractional Reserve Banking." Journal of Libertarian Studies. Summer 2004. [4]
  8. Salerno, Joseph. "The Place of Mises' Human Action in the Development of Modern Economic Thought." Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. Vol. 2, No. 1. [5]
  9. Rockwell, Llewellyn H. Jr. "What Not To Do." 14 September 2001. [6]
  10. Higgs, Robert. "The War in Iraq: 1,760 Days and Counting." Los Angeles Chronicle. 5 February 2008. [7]
  11. "Ticking Time Bomb Explodes, Public Is Shocked." Independent Institute. 10 September 2008.[8]
  12. The Rush Limbaugh Show. Episode aired 15 September 2008.
  13. The Tom Bauerle Show. Episode aired 17 September 2008
  14. Robert Higgs. "Regime Uncertainty - Why the Great Depression Lasted So Long and Why Prosperity Resumed after the War" (pdf), The Independent Review, Vol, I, No. 4, Spring 1997. Referenced 2010-08-15.