economics

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Trade of the free.

Ever since the time of David Ricardo, the 18th-century economist who developed the idea of comparative advantage, it has been well-known that not everyone benefits when trade barriers fall. If the U.S. is relatively good at making shoes and Japan is relatively good at making blue jeans, American jeans makers and Japanese shoe companies have good reason to fear a trade agreement between the two countries.

This becomes especially dangerous when one country specializes in cheap labor. [Economists suspect] that this is what happened with China — the addition of a billion workers to the global labor force was a bonanza for the rich, who could buy cheaper consumer goods, and a disaster for the middle class in developed nations. As Bivens noted, the U.S. has gradually shifted toward trading with poorer and poorer countries — good for global development but perilous for many American workers.

Noah Smith on winners and losers.

The tl;dr of this article is that, while economics are starting to publicly admit that free trade’s losses often outweigh its “gains”, the discipline has no idea on a) what to do about it, or b) what to replace it with. So, y’know. Thanks for that, free market ideologues, I guess.

2020-02-14T08:39:09+11:0014th June, 2020|Tags: economics|

Cost-shifting.

No one believes every worthy cause should be funded by the government so that private charity becomes redundant. And it’s true the federal government partially subsidises donations by making them tax-deductible. But where do you draw the line between what the government should cover and what can be left to the generosity – or otherwise – of private citizens?

The more I think about it, the more I realise that, as part of their commitment to Smaller Government and lower taxes, governments have been quietly shifting the dividing line between what the government pays for and what should depend on charity.

Ross Gittins on who pays.

To be honest, I kinda do believe in making private charity redundant, so… there’s that.

2020-02-11T10:19:42+11:009th June, 2020|Tags: economics, politics|

In Capitalist America, company subsumes YOU.

It’s strange that people fear a collectivist communism in which people in gray toil at the whim of some absent chairman. That is the reality of today’s capitalism. Collectivism is retail workers wearing matching polo shirts, and executives spending their lives maximizing company growth. Collectivism is the Google campus. Company towns, with absolute power given to unaccountable, unelected leaders, total submission to managerial hierarchies and every action serving the good of the institution, look a lot more like the dystopian vision of communism than a “free society.” It’s ironic, even ingenious, that propagandists could use the terrifying specter of “collectivism” to entrap people into a clearly collectivist system.

Samuel Miller McDonald on collective capital.

2020-02-05T08:28:50+11:003rd June, 2020|Tags: economics, politics|

The death of Economic Man.

Animals seek and respect dominance, but humans put more value on prestige – good opinion rather than fear – which tends to confer the greater reproductive advantage. Heinrich describes the behaviour of prestigious leaders as “prosocial, generous, and cooperative … using self-deprecating humour”. Christakis has a fascinating chapter on leadership during shipwrecks. The effective leaders, such as Shackleton, depended on the authority won through good opinion conferred by their sacrifice of self-interest.

But this process can sometimes go wrong – as it has done in our own societies. Economic and technological shocks, combined with a culture of “you deserve what you get”, have created big winners whose behaviour is disproportionately influential. As these winners turn into Economic Man, bad behaviour becomes prominent: they buy yachts; they dump their families; they brag. In consequence of being disproportionately influential, these people spread immodesty and selfishness: their repellent norms become more prevalent.

Paul Collier on inhuman economics.

By “Economic Man” here Collier means the sort of “self-interested rational actor” used by things like economics and game theory… and which has not only no basis in things like human evolution and sociology, but in most cases actively works against them. Collier probably puts a bit too much emphasis on the biological determinism of human “genes” as pro-social but it’s not exactly wrong, either; humans evolved in groups, and we do terribly when completely alone. It’s literally not in our natures to exist like that—or, more accurately, when it does occur, it’s a terrible pathology—no matter what economists might try and say…

2020-01-29T14:22:33+11:0030th May, 2020|Tags: culture, economics|

Useful idiots.

Always worth remember our current shitty economic system didn’t emerge “naturally”; it was intentionally engineered, mostly by ideological dipshits all-too-eager to throw the many under the bus of the few…

2020-01-15T09:26:54+11:008th May, 2020|Tags: economics, usa|

Return.

The terrible price of treating everything as an economic transaction. Heavy content warning that this deals with sexual assault, in particular government economists literally “putting a price on rape” to calculate the “most economically efficient” way of handling prison rape. If that sounds monstrous… Yes! It is!

2020-01-11T10:35:47+11:0025th April, 2020|Tags: culture, cw: sexual assault, economics|

Common good.

I don’t have kids, so I don’t personally “use” the public school system. I don’t have friends or family members in substance abuse programs, or in need of assistance fleeing domestic abuse. I don’t (yet) need aging services. But the idea that I should only pay for things that benefit me directly is anathema to me. Every single thing on that list benefits me in some way, because it benefits the community around me. Kids’ education matters not because they’re my kids, but because education matters, in general. I might not need rescue services in the woods out in the corner of the county, but some day, maybe I would. Maybe I would need help in some way that’s currently unimaginable to me. Paying taxes means caring for other people, even if their circumstances aren’t identical to your own.

Anne Helen on paying for it.

This reminds me of an encounter we had recently with our accountant, who made some comment to the effect that purchasing private health insurance was “obviously better than paying extra tax.”1 To which my husband and I, baffled, immediately answered, “No?”

Taxes are great. Taxes pay for parks and libraries and roads and schools and doctors. Private sector fees pay for CEOs to buy extra Ferraris. Pay your fucking taxes.

  1. Australian has both private and public/universal healthcare systems. While private healthcare isn’t compulsory—and is generally overkill for the young and/or those without certain chronic medical conditions—not having it incurs a “levy”, i.e. extra tax, for people in certain income brackets. There’s an entire industry of effectively useless private health insurance policies that are priced just far enough below this levy cost that not buying one is a non-negligible financial hit, effectively turning into free money for the private healthcare industry. []
2020-01-07T15:33:06+11:0016th April, 2020|Tags: economics, politics|