Retro Reviews: An Introduction

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Political news and analysis always suffers from a recency bias—we tend to assume that the latest analysis and reportage is superior to what was posted yesterday, or last year. The bias was accelerated by the advent of the 24-hour news cycle that was created with the launch of cable news pioneer CNN in 1980 and with the popularity of social media, especially Twitter, which burst onto the scene in 2006.

But we know that a viral tweet-thread from an hour ago doesn’t necessarily offer a superior analysis to last week’s laboriously reported magazine article. More importantly, today’s political observers are unlikely to be able to make sense of the forces swirling around them if they’re ignorant of what previous generations of writers and scholars wrote in similar situations.

The rise of anti-corporate politics among otherwise conservative white working class Americans in 2016 might have been bewildering, for example—if one had never heard of Ross Perot and his 1992 run for president. Similarly, opposition to big box trailers like Target and Walmart in the early 2000s seemed like a new phenomenon, until one reads about how small town business owners used to sponsor public burnings of the Sears catalog a century ago.

With that in mind, we here at the Competitive Enterprise Institute are launching a new blog series called “Retro Reviews.” We’ll take a look back at the important writing of previous years (and decades) and do our best to extract the wisdom contained therein.

I hope this series will inspire some of our readers to dig back into their libraries, and perhaps the books still left on their shelves from their college years, and rediscover what the pundits, researchers, and theorists from previous eras had to say. The good takes will reinforce the smart policies already in place, and the flawed, outdated ones may just wake us up to needed reforms. New retro reviews will be posted individually, and updated on the master list below. Happy reading.

  • Richard Morrison reviews Morrell Heald’s The Social Responsibilities of Business (October 7, 2021)
  • Richard Morrison reviews Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s Communist Manifesto (November 25, 2020)
  • Ryan Young reviews William H. McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples (September 2, 2020)
  • Ryan Young reviews Philip Henry Wicksteed’s The Common Sense of Political Economy (May 20, 2020)
  • Richard Morrison reviews Irving Kristol’s Two Cheers for Capitalism (May 13, 2020)
  • Ryan Young reviews Vlad Tarko’s Elinor Ostrom: An Intellectual Biography (April 23, 2020)
  • Ryan Young reviews Eric H. Cline’s 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (April 6, 2020)