Category Archive 'Economics'
02 Aug 2017

Milton Friedman on Inflation

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“Only government can take perfectly good paper, cover it with perfectly good ink and make the combination worthless.”

— Milton Friedman

19 Jul 2017

Deirdre McCluskey’s Classical Liberalism Manifesto

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Patric Park, Adam Smith, 1845, Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

A must-read essay.

As Boaz says at the outset of The Libertarian Mind, “In a sense, there have always been but two political philosophies: liberty and power.” …

[The new liberalism, by inspiriting for the first time in history a great mass of ordinary people, produced a massive explosion of betterments. Steam, rail, universities, steel, sewers, plate glass, forward markets, universal literacy, running water, reinforced concrete, automobiles, airplanes, washing machines, antibiotics, the pill, containerization, free trade, computers, the cloud. It yielded in the end an increase in real income per head by a factor of thirty, and a startling rise in the associated ability to seek the transcendent in Art or Science or God or Baseball.

I said 30. It was a stunning Great Enrichment, material and cultural, well after the classic Industrial Revolution.

The Enrichment was, I say again in case you missed it, three thousand percent per person, near enough, utterly unprecedented. The goods and services available to even the poorest rose by that astounding figure, in a world in which mere doublings, increases of merely 100 percent, had been rare and temporary, as in the glory of fifth century Greece or the vigor of the Song Dynasty. In every earlier case, the little industrial revolutions had reverted eventually to a real income per head in today’s prices of about $3 a day, which was the human condition since the caves. Consider trying to live on $3 a day, as many people worldwide still do (though during the past forty years their number has fallen like a stone). After 1800 there was no reversion. On the contrary, in every one of the forty or so recessions since 1800 the real income per head after a recession exceeded what it had been at the previous peak. Up, up, up. Even including the $3-a-day people in Chad and Zimbabwe, world real income per head has increased during the past two centuries by a factor of ten, and by a factor of thirty as I said, in the countries that were lucky, and liberally wise. Hong Kong. South Korea. Botswana. The material and cultural enrichment bids fair to spread now to the world.

And the enrichment has been equalizing. Nowadays in places like Japan and the United States the poorest make more, corrected for inflation, than did the top quarter or so two centuries ago. Jane Austen lived more modestly in material terms than the average resident of East Los Angeles.

HT: Arnold Kling.

04 Jun 2017

What the Paris Treaty Was Really About

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Sundance explains that the Paris Climate Treaty was only ever pretending to be about the climate.

The Paris Treaty was/is always about distribution of economic wealth; and the convenient use of “climate phrases” as branding instruments used to create political policy favorable to multinational corporate interests who control the shifting of economic wealth.

Listen to the responses from participating EU corporate comptrollers discussing climate and the entire purpose of the Paris Treaty becomes self-evident. Example:

    “The preservation of our competitive position is the precondition for successful climate protection. This correlation is often underestimated.”

    ~ Matthias Wissmann, President of German Auto Industry Group VDA

The preservation of Germany’s competitive auto manufacturing position is contingent upon the U.S. exporting it’s wealth and handcuffing itself to a faux-climate treaty. Do not take my word for it, read Wissmann’s own interview. The Paris Treaty is nothing about climate, and everything about economics and multinational corporate interests.

To understand the larger objectives of the global and financial elite it is important to understand the three-decade global financial construct they now seek to protect. Global financial exploitation of national markets:

    ♦Multinational corporations purchase controlling interests in various national elements of developed industrial western nations.

    ♦The Multinational Corporations making the purchases are underwritten by massive global financial institutions, multinational banks.

    ♦The Multinational Banks and the Multinational Corporations then utilize lobbying interests to manipulate the internal political policy of the targeted nation state(s).

    ♦With control over the targeted national industry or interest, the multinationals then leverage export of the national asset (exfiltration) through trade agreements structured to the benefit of lesser developed nation states – where they have previously established a proactive financial footprint.

RTWT

28 Jan 2017

The Triumph of Free Trade

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An elaborate allegorical illustration used as the frontispiece in Jane Cobden’s book The Hungry Forties (1904) which was part of the free trade campaign against Joseph Chamberlain’s pro-tariff movement in 1903. There is a very large sheaf of wheat (the “Fairy Wheatsheaf”) in the centre with the heads of Cobden and Bright near the base (other heads are visible in the grass beneath and around the sheaf but these are hard to identify); to the left is a destitute family which has been impoverished by tariffs; to the right is a prosperous family which has been enriched by free trade. The writing at the bottom of the page is hard to read but it is called “The fairy Wheatsheaf. Free Trade & Protection Contrasted”

Richard Ebling, at the Foundation for Economic Education, explains how free trade triumphed in the mid-19th century making Europe into a great and prosperous modern civilization.

Great Britain became the first country in the world to institute a unilateral policy of free trade. For the rest of the nineteenth century — indeed, until the dark forces of collectivism enveloped Europe during World War I — the British Empire was open to the entire world for the free movement of men, money, and goods.

Its economic success served as a bright, principled example to the rest of the globe, many of whose member countries followed the British lead in establishing, if not complete free trade, at least regimes of much greater freedom of trade and commerce.

British free trade policy helped to usher in the age of nineteenth-century free trade, and fostered what has been called the classical liberal era of “the three freedoms” which only came to an end with the First World War in 1914. The German free market economist Gustav Stolper explained these three freedoms in his book, This Age of Fable (1942), written while in exile in America during the Second World War:

    They were: freedom of movement for men, for goods and for money. Everyone could leave his country when he wanted and travel or migrate wherever he pleased without a passport. The only European country that demanded passports (not even visas!) was Russia, looked at askance for her backwardness with an almost contemptuous smile. Who wanted to travel to Russia anyway? …

    There were still customs barriers on the European continent, it is true. But the vast British Empire was free-trade territory open to all in free competition, and several other European countries, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Scandinavia, came close to free trade.

    For a time the Great Powers on the European continent seemed to veer in the same direction. In the sixties of the nineteenth century the conviction was general that international free trade was the future. The subsequent decades did not quite fulfill that promise. In the late seventies reactionary trends set in. But looking back at the methods and the degree of protectionism built up at that time we are seized with nostalgic envy. Whether a bit higher or a bit lower, tariffs never checked the free flow of goods. All they affected was some minor price changes, presumably mirroring some vested interest.

    And the most natural of all was the free movement of money. Year in, year out, billions were invested by the great industrial European Powers in foreign countries, European and non-European … These billions were regarded as safe investments with attractive yields, desirable for creditors as well as debtors, with no doubts about the eventual return of both interest and principal.

The nineteenth-century victory of free trade over Mercantilism and Protectionism represented one of the great triumphs in the history of classical liberalism. It was the achievement of the Scottish Moral Philosophers and those that are now referred to as the “Classical Economists” in demonstrating the spontaneous order and coordination arising from a free, competitive market system – Adam Smith’s “system of natural liberty” and the cooperative gains for all through a system of division of labor.

The momentous importance in human history of this triumph is not always appreciated for what it was: a crucial institutional transformation that heralded the beginning of the material and cultural improvement of mankind through the private and peaceful associations of humanity for the mutual betterment of the mass of mankind. This transformation continues today, even in the face of the reactionary return to paternalistic government and political interference with human life over the last century.

14 Dec 2016

“A Christmas Carol? Bah, Humbug!”

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Tom Mullen argues that Dickens and Hollywood got everything wrong about Scrooge.

As Butler Shaffer demonstrated in his brilliant defense of poor Ebenezer, Scrooge was an invaluable benefactor to English society before the events of Dickens’ story. We are not given details of his business dealings other than they had something to do with finance. That Scrooge had been in business so many years and had amassed such wealth is enough for us to conclude he had made many more wise decisions on where to direct capital than unwise ones.

Who knows what housing, stores, railways or other benefits to society Scrooge had made possible through his wise judgment? How many thousands of jobs had he created? Dickens is unjustly silent on this. Whatever Scrooge had financed, we know it was something the public wanted or needed enough to pay for voluntarily. Thanks to Scrooge, however crusty his demeanor, the common people of London were far richer than they otherwise would have been without his services.

His only weakness seems to be sentimentality towards the whiny, presumably mediocre-at-best Bob Cratchett. We know Scrooge was paying Cratchett more than anyone else was willing to or Cratchett would surely have accepted a higher-paying job to put additional funds towards curing Tiny Tim. But we really don’t have any evidence anyone else was willing to employ Cratchett at all, at any salary level. Still, we must defer to Scrooge’s judgment on this and perhaps even laud him for finding a way to employ a substandard employee without jeopardizing the firm as a whole.

Thus, all was as well as it could have been on December 23. Scrooge’s customers were happy, Bob Cratchett was at least employed, thanks to Scrooge, and Scrooge himself was as happy as he could be, considering the ingratitude with which his genius had been rewarded and all the panhandlers constantly shaking him down.

Everything changed on Christmas Eve, when Scrooge was terrorized – there really is no other word for it – by three time-traveling, left-wing apparitions. It wasn’t enough to frighten an elderly man with the mere appearance of ghosts. They took him on a trip through time, scolding him for supposed mistakes made in the past and blaming him for the misfortunes of others in the present and future. And let’s not forget the purpose of this psychological waterboarding. They are not, as Shaffer observes, pursuing Scrooge’s happiness, but his money. They are William Graham Sumner’s A & B conspiring to force C to relieve the suffering of X. Politicians A & B use the polite coercion of legislation; the spirits make use of more direct and honest threats of violence.

Their plot was successful. Scrooge awoke from his night of terror obviously out of his senses and began making one poor financial decision after another. Perhaps buying the largest turkey in the local shop could be excused on Christmas Day. But then, without any evidence of improvement in performance, he raised Bob Cratchett’s salary and promised to take on the Cratchett family’s medical expenses.

After that, we are told Scrooge was “transformed” completely, which we can only interpret to mean he no longer made the kind of decisions that had previously benefited so many. We are told Scrooge’s subsequent behavior was so foolhardy that some people laughed at him. But even this wasn’t enough to snap him out of the permanent delirium with which the spirits had inflicted him.

How many profitable ventures were never financed, both before and after Scrooge went out of business?

The story ends on that foreboding note. We are told Scrooge never again returned to the prudent decision-making that had brought on the supernatural terror attack on Christmas Eve. We have to assume the “transformed” Scrooge eventually went out of business, perhaps solely due to overpaying Cratchett, who is 50% of his labor force, perhaps due to the cumulative effect of the many unwise decisions we are told continued afterwards.

Not only was Tiny Tim’s medical care cut off, but the whole Cratchett family was rendered destitute and starving. As Scrooge had already been paying Cratchett more than anyone else was willing to, even before the imprudent raise, we have to assume Cratchett made less after Scrooge went out of business than he did at the beginning of the story, if he convinced anyone to employ him at all.

Worse even than the misfortune that befell Scrooge, Cratchett and Tiny Tim was the misfortune visited upon society as a whole. How many profitable ventures were never financed, both before and after Scrooge went out of business from investing with his heart instead of his head? How many future jobs were destroyed and children of unemployed fathers left sick and hungry?

27 Apr 2016

US GDP 25% Smaller Due to Federal Regulation

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RegulatoryCosts

Investors Business Daily cites a George Mason University Study of the compliance cost of federal regulations which finds that those costs are truly staggering.

Economists scratch their heads when asked to explain the economy’s tepid growth over the past several years. A new study gives a possible answer: the growing, cumulative burden of federal regulations.

Under President Obama, annual GDP growth never once even hit 3%. Under Bush before him, there were only two years when growth topped 3%. But in the two decades before that, annual GDP growth was above 3% in all but six years.

Growth has been so anemic for so long, we’re now being told that this is the “new normal.” As the Bureau of Labor Statistics put it, “annual U.S. GDP growth exceeding 3% … is not expected to be attainable over the coming decade.” It lists everything as a cause, except for one thing: federal regulations.

Whenever a new regulation gets passed, the government puts out a cost analysis, which focuses on annual compliance costs. That’s fine for a point in time. But these regulations don’t go away. And every year more get added to the pile. The Code of Federal Regulations is now more than 81,000 pages long.

What’s the cumulative impact of all these rules, EDIT3-regu-042616regulations and mandates over several decades? A new study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University tries to get an answer, and what it found is mind-boggling.

The paper looked at regulations imposed since 1977 on 22 different industries, their actual growth, and what might have happened if all those regulations had not been imposed.

What it found is that if the regulatory state had remained frozen in place in 1980, the economy would have been $4 trillion — or 25% — bigger than it was in 2012. That’s equal to almost $13,000 per person in that one year alone.

Looked at another way, if the economic growth lost to regulation in the U.S. were its own country, it would be the fourth largest economy in the world, as the nearby chart shows.

Read the whole thing.

16 Feb 2016

Laissez-Faire, Not Socialism, Made Sweden Prosperous

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SwedenEconomy

Johan Norberg notes that the Left loves to point out Sweden as a model of Socialism with Economic Prosperity. The problem is that all the prosperity is a legacy from an economic system which Socialism is determined to change.

Once upon a time I got interested in theories of economic development because I had studied a low-income country, poorer than Congo, with life expectancy half as long and infant mortality three times as high as the average developing country.

That country is my own country, Sweden—less than 150 years ago.

At that time Sweden was incredibly poor—and hungry. When there was a crop failure, my ancestors in northern Sweden, in Ångermanland, had to mix bark into the bread because they were short of flour. Life in towns and cities was no easier. Overcrowding and a lack of health services, sanitation, and refuse disposal claimed lives every day. Well into the twentieth century, an ordinary Swedish working-class family with five children might have to live in one room and a kitchen, which doubled as a dining room and bedroom. Many people lodged with other families. Housing statistics from Stockholm show that in 1900, as many as 1,400 people could live in a building consisting of 200 one-room flats. In conditions like these it is little wonder that disease was rife. People had large numbers of children not only for lack of contraception, but also because of the risk that not many would survive for long.

As Vilhelm Moberg, our greatest author, observed when he wrote a history of the Swedish people: “Of all the wondrous adventures of the Swedish people, none is more remarkable and wonderful than this: that it survived all of them.”1

But in one century, everything was changed. Sweden had the fastest economic and social development that its people had ever experienced, and one of the fastest the world had ever seen. Between 1850 and 1950 the average Swedish income multiplied eightfold, while population doubled. Infant mortality fell from 15 to 2 per cent, and average life expectancy rose an incredible 28 years. A poor peasant nation had become one of the world’s richest countries.

Many people abroad think that this was the triumph of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, which somehow found the perfect middle way, managing to tax, spend, and regulate Sweden into a more equitable distribution of wealth—without hurting its productive capacity. And so Sweden—a small country of nine million inhabitants in the north of Europe—became a source of inspiration for people around the world who believe in government-led development and distribution.

But there is something wrong with this interpretation. In 1950, when Sweden was known worldwide as the great success story, taxes in Sweden were lower and the public sector smaller than in the rest of Europe and the United States. It was not until then that Swedish politicians started levying taxes and disbursing handouts on a large scale, that is, redistributing the wealth that businesses and workers had already created. Sweden’s biggest social and economic successes took place when Sweden had a laissez-faire economy, and widely distributed wealth preceded the welfare state.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

02 Feb 2016

Abbott and Costello Explain the Democrats’ Theory of Labor and Economics

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28 Sep 2015

The $1500 Six-Month Sandwich

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Chelsea German, at Cato, points to a demonstration of the argument for division of labor through marketplace exchange first advanced by Adam Smith:

What would life be like without exchange or trade? Recently, a man decided to make a sandwich from scratch. He grew the vegetables, gathered salt from seawater, milked a cow, turned the milk into cheese, pickled a cucumber in a jar, ground his own flour from wheat to make the bread, collected his own honey, and personally killed a chicken for its meat. This month, he published the results of his endeavor in an enlightening video: making a sandwich entirely by himself cost him 6 months of his life and set him back $1,500.

(It should be noted that he used air transportation to get to the ocean to gather salt. If he had taken it upon himself to learn to build and fly a plane, then his endeavor would have proved impossible).

The inefficiency of making even something as humble as a sandwich by oneself, without the benefits of market exchange, is simply mind-boggling. There was a time when everyone grew their own food and made their own clothes. It was a time of unimaginable poverty and labor without rest.

Via the Wall Street Journal.

09 Jul 2015

The Greek Financial Crisis

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GreektoMe

04 Jul 2015

Greece and the EU

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GreekMythology

07 May 2015

Another Look at Growth

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Real-GDP

Scott Grannis calculates just how much economic growth we’ve lost, for some unknown reason, over the course of the last six years.

Real GDP growth in the first quarter was weaker than expected (0.2% vs. 1.0%), but it wasn’t much of a surprise. It’s now been almost six years that the economy has managed only meager growth—about 2 ¼% per year on average. As a result, by my calculations, real GDP is a little over 10% below its long-term trend potential. That’s more than $2 trillion in lost income every year, and it’s getting worse. …

The chart above compares the level of real GDP to a long-term trend growth rate of 3.1%. This confirms once again that we are stuck in the slowest recovery ever. It’s my belief that the persistence of slow growth is largely the result of bad policies, though demographics likely plays a part too. Corporate profits have been very strong, but business investment has been very weak. Without new investment and risk-taking, we are not going to see a pickup in productivity which is, at the end of the day, what drives stronger growth and higher living standards. Investment has been weak probably because marginal tax rates and regulatory burdens have increased significantly in the past six years. In a sense, and expansion of government has suffocated the private sector.

Things are not going to change much for the better until policies become more pro-growth.

Whether the persistence of relatively weak growth is a reason for the Fed to continue to keep short-term interest rates extraordinarily low is one of the key questions of our time. I don’t see how low interest rates stimulate investment or enhance productivity. Only private initiatives can do that.

On the bright side, if policies do become more favorable, there is tremendous upside potential to look forward to. Closing the GDP gap would be nothing short of exhilarating.

07 May 2015

Calculating the Impact of Dodd-Frank on Economic Growth

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Douglas Holtz-Eakin attempts to calculate the impact of the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) on the growth of the economy.

What did Dodd-Frank do to the effective tax rate on banks? Consider, first, the burden of complying with the new regulations. The American Action Forum’s analysis of the Federal Register indicates that the cumulative burden (including the market value of paperwork hours for compliance) is roughly $14.8 billion annually. Notice that after-tax income in the presence of the burden is:

[rL – C – Burden](1-tB)

where r is interest on loans (L), C is the cost of acquiring funds and other operations, and tB is the tax rate on banks. Suppose that instead of a burden, the same after-tax income was generated by simply raising the tax rate to t’. Then, by definition:

[rL – C – Burden](1-tB) = [rL – C](1-t’)

[which] can be re-arranged to yield:

t’ = tB + (1-tB)[Burden/(rL-C)]

To put some empirical meat on [this], the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) Quarterly Banking Profile (QBP) provides information on taxes ($67.5 billion) and net income ($151.2 billion) that permit one to compute an initial tax rate of 31 percent. Using the AAF burden data and (11) yields an increase to 37.8 percent from compliance burdens.

A similar approach can be used to transform the roughly 2 percentage point rise in the leverage ratio of the banking sector (from 7.5 to 9.5 percent) from 2008 to 2014 into a rise in the effective tax rate. The banking sector responded to Dodd-Frank by holding more equity capital, thus require it to have greater earnings to meet the market rate of return – the same impact as raising taxes. In this case, the higher leverage ratio translates into a further increase in the effective tax rate to 40.3 percent, for a total rise of 9.2 percent.

Collecting results, the impact on economic growth is a decline in the per capital growth rate of 0.059 percentage points annually. Is this a big deal? Consider lowering the growth rate in the Congressional Budget Office baseline projections by exactly this amount between 2016 and 2025. The lower rate of economic growth translates into a total loss of $895 billion in GDP or $3,346 for every member of the working age (16 and older) population over those 10 years.

29 Oct 2014

Hillary Clinton: “Corporations Don’t Create Jobs.”

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ChelseaClinton1

“NBC created a job for Chelsea, so there’s at least one corporation that created a job.” Chuck Lane, Washington Post

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