Robert Higgs

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Robert Higgs
Born (1944-02-01) 1 February 1944 (age 79)
Academic career
FieldEconomic history, political economy, natural resource economics, health economics, military economics
School or
Austrian School
Edwin Mills
H. Louis Stettler
Price V. Fishback
InfluencesKuznets, North, Coase, Schumpeter, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard

Robert Higgs (born 1 February 1944) is an American economic historian and economist combining material from Public Choice, the New institutional economics, and the Austrian school of economics; and describes himself as a "libertarian anarchist"[1] in political and legal theory and public policy[clarification needed]. His writings in economics and economic history have most often focused on the causes, means, and effects of government power and growth.

Academic career[edit]

Higgs earned a Ph.D. in Economics from the Johns Hopkins University and has held teaching positions at the University of Washington, Lafayette College, and Seattle University. He has also been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University. He held a visiting professorship at the University of Economics, Prague in 2006,[2] and has supervised dissertations in the Ph.D. program at Universidad Francisco Marroquín,[3] where he is currently an honorary professor of economics and history.

Higgs has been a Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute since September 1994. He has served at Editor at Large of The Independent Review since 2013, after having been Editor from 1995 to 2013.[2]


The Ratchet effect[edit]

In his ''Crisis and Leviathan'', Higgs first elaborated in detail on his ratchet hypothesis as part of a more general interpretation of governmental growth. Higgs aimed to demonstrate that contemporary models to explain the growth of government did not explain why growth historically occurred in spurts, rather than continuously. Higgs formulated the ratchet effect to explain this phenomenon. He theorized that most government growth occurred in response to real or imagined national "crises" and that after the crises, some, but rarely all, of the new interventions ceased. ''Crisis and Leviathan'' surveys the history of the American federal government from the 1880s to the 1980s, applying the ratchet effect to the period. He cites economic crises and wars as the chief sources for the growth of government.

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.[4]

Foreign policy[edit]

During the 2008 presidential election, Higgs defended then-presidential candidate Ron Paul in response to Bret Stephens's article from The Wall Street Journal and made the case why "war, preparation for war, and foreign military interventions have served for the most part not to protect us, as we are constantly told, but rather to sap our economic vitality and undermine our civil and economic liberties."[5]


Books authored[edit]

Books edited[edit]

  • 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)

Book contributions[edit]

  • "War Can Rarely be Justified." War. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2014, pp. 27–36. ISBN 978-0737769715.
  • Second Thoughts: Myths and Morals of U.S. Economic History, edited by Donald M. McCloskey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0195066333.


  1. ^ "What Is the Point of My Libertarian Anarchism?"
  2. ^ a b "Senior Fellow Robert Higgs." Independent Institute. [1]
  3. ^ Cole, Julio. World Economic Growth, 1980–1999: A Growth-Regression Approach. p. 9. September 2003. "Tesis Doctoral". Archived from the original on 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
  4. ^ McCarthy, Daniel. "Enemy of the State." The American Conservative. 9 May 2005. [2]
  5. ^ "Libertarian Foreign Policy in the Hobbesian Crosshairs". LewRockwell.

External links[edit]