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July 26, 2014

Countries that Protect Jobs Stifle Economic Growth



(p. 240) In an "Interview" conducted by Jessie Romero, John Haltiwanger discusses changing patterns of job creation and destruction: "But now we're seeing a decline in the entry rate and a pretty stark decline in the share of young businesses. . . . But it's also important to recognize that the decline in the share of young firms has occurred because the impact of entry is not just at the point of entry, it's also over the next five or 10 years. A wave of entrants come in, and some of them grow very rapidly, and some of them fail. That dynamic has slowed down. . . . If you look at young small businesses, or just young businesses period, the 90th percentile growth rate is incredibly high. Young businesses not only are volatile, but their growth rates also are tremendously skewed. It's rare to have a young business take off, but those that do add lots of jobs and contribute a lot to productivity growth. We have found that startups together with high-growth firms, which are disproportionately young, account for roughly 70 percent of overall job creation in the United States. . . . "I think the evidence is overwhelming that countries have tried to stifle the [job] destruction process and this has caused problems. I'm hardly a fan of job destruction per se, but making it difficult for firms to contract, through restricting shutdowns, bankruptcies, layoffs, etc., can have adverse consequences. The reason is that there's so much heterogeneity in productivity across businesses. So if you stifle that destruction margin, you're going to keep lots of low-productivity businesses in existence, and that could lead to a sluggish economy. I just don't think we have any choice in a modern market economy but to allow for that reallocation to go on. Of course, what you want is an environment where not only is there a lot of job destruction, but also a lot of job creation, so that when workers lose their jobs they either immediately transit to another job or their unemployment duration is low." Econ Focus, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Second Quarter 2013, pp. 30-34. http://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/econ_focus/2013/q2/pdf/interview.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

(Note: italics, ellipses, and bracketed word, in original.)






July 10, 2014

Raghuram Rajan: "Never in the Field of Economic Policy Has So Much Been Spent, with So Little Evidence, by So Few"



(p. 213) Raghuram Rajan delivered the Andrew Crockett Memorial Lecture at the Bank of International Settlements, titled "A Step in the Dark: Unconventional Monetary Policy after the Crisis." "Two competing narratives of the sources of the crisis, and attendant remedies, are emerging. The first, and the better known diagnosis, is that demand has collapsed because of the high debt build up prior to the crisis. . . . But there is another narrative. And that is that the fundamental growth capacity in industrial countries has been shifting down for decades now, masked for a while by debt-fueled demand. More such demand, or asking for reckless spending from emerging markets, will not put us back on a sustainable path to growth. Instead, industrial democracies need to improve the environment for growth. The first narrative is the standard Keynesian one, modified for a debt crisis. It is the one (p. 214) most government officials and central bankers, as well as Wall Street economists, subscribe to, and needs little elaboration. The second narrative, in my view, offers a deeper and more persuasive view of the blight that afflicts our times." Rajan argues that central banks took the right actions during the financial crisis, but that the wisdom of the ultra-low interest rate policies in the aftermath of the crisis are not yet clear. "Churchill could well have said on the subject of unconventional monetary policy, 'Never in the field of economic policy has so much been spent, with so little evidence, by so few'. Unconventional monetary policy has truly been a step in the dark." June 23, 2013, at http://www.bis.org/events/agm2013/sp130623.htm.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 27, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 211-18.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






July 1, 2014

Natural Resources Increase through Innovation



SolarPanelsDunhuangChina2014-05-31.jpg "A worker inspects solar panels in Dunhuang, China. We have an estimated supply of one million years of tellurium, a rare element used in some panels." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C1) How many times have you heard that we humans are "using up" the world's resources, "running out" of oil, "reaching the limits" of the atmosphere's capacity to cope with pollution or "approaching the carrying capacity" of the land's ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff--metals, oil, clean air, land--and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption.


. . .


But here's a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone.


. . .


Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.


. . .


(p. C2) . . ., Mr. Ausubel, together with his colleagues Iddo Wernick and Paul Waggoner, came to the startling conclusion that, even with generous assumptions about population growth and growing affluence leading to greater demand for meat and other luxuries, and with ungenerous assumptions about future global yield improvements, we will need less farmland in 2050 than we needed in 2000. (So long, that is, as we don't grow more biofuels on land that could be growing food.)


. . .


The economist and metals dealer Tim Worstall gives the example of tellurium, a key ingredient of some kinds of solar panels. Tellurium is one of the rarest elements in the Earth's crust--one atom per billion. Will it soon run out? Mr. Worstall estimates that there are 120 million tons of it, or a million years' supply altogether.


. . .


Part of the problem is that the word "consumption" means different things to the two tribes. Ecologists use it to mean "the act of using up a resource"; economists mean "the purchase of goods and services by the public" (both definitions taken from the Oxford dictionary).

But in what sense is water, tellurium or phosphorus "used up" when products made with them are bought by the public? They still exist in the objects themselves or in the environment. Water returns to the environment through sewage and can be reused. Phosphorus gets recycled through compost. Tellurium is in solar panels, which can be recycled. As the economist Thomas Sowell wrote in his 1980 book "Knowledge and Decisions," "Although we speak loosely of 'production,' man neither creates nor destroys matter, but only transforms it."


. . .

If I could have one wish for the Earth's environment, it would be to bring together the two tribes--to convene a grand powwow of ecologists and economists. I would pose them this simple question and not let them leave the room until they had answered it: How can innovation improve the environment?



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "The Scarcity Fallacy; Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 26, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 25, 2014, and has the title "The World's Resources Aren't Running Out; Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again.")






May 20, 2014

G.D.P. Is a Useful, But Biased Downward, Measure of Growth



GDPBK2014-04-28.jpg















Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.






(p. 6) Dr. Coyle concludes that while imperfect, the G.D.P. is good enough as a measure of how fast the economy is growing and better than any alternative. It is closely correlated with things that do contribute to happiness. (Nobody is happy in a recession.)

"We should not be in a rush to ditch G.D.P.," Dr. Coyle writes. "Yet it is a measure of the economy best suited to an earlier era."

For one thing, it fails to count the value of the staggering growth in consumer choice. Where once we had three television networks, we now have 1,000 channels; greater choice equals greater freedom, she declares. It does poorly in measuring the Internet economy, in which so many benefits -- like Google searches -- are offered free. It badly lags behind the headlong pace of innovation and creativity. It struggles with the true value of a host of products or services that didn't exist before. To the degree that it misses those new benefits to consumers, it understates the pace of economic growth.



For the full review, see:

FRED ANDREWS. "Off the Shelf; An Economic Gauge, Imperfect but Vital." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 6, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 5, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Coyle, Diane. GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2014.






May 4, 2014

Gilder's Information Theory of Capitalism Will Boost Morale of Innovative Entrepreneurs



KnowledgeAndPowerBK2014-04-24.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.







(p. A13) Individuals like Ford and Jobs are key figures in the economic paradigm that George Gilder lays out in "Knowledge and Power." He calls for an "information theory of capitalism" in which the economy is driven by a dynamic marketplace, with information widely (and freely) distributed. The most important feature of such an economy, Mr. Gilder writes, is the overthrow of "equilibrium," and the most important actors are inventors and entrepreneurs whose breakthrough ideas are responsible for "everything useful or interesting" in commercial life.


. . .


Aspiring owners shouldn't look to "Knowledge and Power" for practical advice on starting a company, but Mr. Gilder's case for the central role of entrepreneurship might boost their morale. Certainly his argument could not be more timely. Census Bureau data show that startups were responsible for nearly all new job creation from 1996 to 2009. Yet entrepreneurship itself (as measured by new business formation) has been stagnant for about two decades. Thus the important question for America's future may well be, as Mr. Gilder says, "how we treat our entrepreneurs." He persuasively shows that creating a more supportive climate for entrepreneurs--by clearing away burdensome regulations and freeing information from its current imprisonment--will result in a more prosperous and vigorous society, creating not only more jobs but more Jobs.



For the full review, see:

MATTHEW REES. "BOOKSHELF; The Real Market-Maters; Economists as far back as Adam Smith have undervalued entrepreneurs--the restless, inventive, job-creating engines of the economy." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 18, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 17, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Knowledge and Power' by George Gilder
Economists as far back as Adam Smith have undervalued entrepreneurs--the restless, inventive, job-creating engines of the economy.")


The book under review is:

Gilder, George. Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It Is Revolutionizing Our World. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2013.






April 26, 2014

One Way to Appreciate All We Take for Granted



TheKnowledgeBK2014-04-24.jpg














Source of book image: http://knowledge.dsruptiv.net/en-gb/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/The-Knowledge-Full-Cover_lowres.jpg



(p. 8) Over the past generation or two we've gone from being producers and tinkerers to consumers. As a result, I think we feel a sense of disconnect between our modern existence and the underlying processes that support our lives. Who has any real understanding of where their last meal came from or how the objects in their pockets were dug out of the earth and transformed into useful materials? What would we do if, in some science-fiction scenario, a global catastrophe collapsed civilization and we were members of a small society of survivors?

My research has to do with what factors planets need to support life. Recently, I've been wondering what factors are needed to support our modern civilization. What key principles of science and technology would be necessary to rebuild our world from scratch?


. . .


. . . there are the many materials society requires: How do you transform base substances like clay and iron into brick or concrete or steel, and then shape that material into a useful tool? To learn a small piece of this, I spent a day in a traditional, 18th-century iron forge, learning the essentials of the craft of the blacksmith. Sweating over an open coke-fired hearth, I managed to beat a lump of steel into a knife. Once shaped, I got it cherry-red hot and then quenched it with a satisfying squeal into a water trough, before reheating the blade slightly to temper it for extra toughness.


. . .


. . . , it needn't take a catastrophic collapse of civilization to make you appreciate the importance of understanding the basics of how devices around you work. Localized disasters can disrupt normal services, making a reasonable reserve of clean water, canned food and backup technologies like kerosene lamps a prudent precaution. And becoming a little more self-reliant is immensely rewarding in its own right. Thought experiments like these can help us to explore how our modern world actually came to be, and to appreciate all that we take for granted.



For the full commentary, see:

LEWIS DARTNELL. "OPINION; Civilization's Starter Kit." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MARCH 30, 2014): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 29, 2014.)


Dartnell's commentary, quoted above, has been elaborated in his book:

Dartnell, Lewis. The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.






March 31, 2014

Better Policies Explain Why Poland Prospers More than Ukraine



RushchyshynYaroslavUkraineEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, a garment manufacturer, wants to end penalties when his company reports a financial loss." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) LVIV, Ukraine -- Every kind of business in this restless pro-European stronghold near the border with Poland has an idea about how to make Ukraine like its more prosperous neighbor.

For Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, founder of a garment manufacturer, it is abolishing bizarre regulations that have had inspectors threatening fines for his handling of fabric remnants and for reporting financial losses.

For Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, it is modernizing a rigid education system to help nurture entrepreneurs.

For Natalia Smutok, an executive at a company that makes color charts for paint and cosmetics, it meant starting an antibribery campaign, even though she is 36 weeks pregnant.


. . .


(p. B10) Victor Halchynsky, a former journalist who is now a spokesman for the Ukrainian unit of a Polish bank, said the divergence of the two countries was a source of frustration.

"It's painful because we know it's only happened because of policy," he said, adding that while both countries had started the reform process, Poland "finished it."

Ukraine has been held back by a number of policies. Steep energy subsidies have kept consumption high and left the country dependent on Russian gas, draining state coffers. Mr. Pavliv said the state university system, which he called "pure, pure Soviet," was too inflexible to set up a training program for project managers, or to allow executives without specific certifications to teach courses. An agriculture industry once a Soviet breadbasket has been hurt by antiquated rules, including restrictions on land sales. Aggressive tax police have been used to shake down businesses.



For the full story, see:

DANNY HAKIM. "A Blueprint for Ukraine." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 14, 2014): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 13, 2014.)



PavlivAndrewTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, wants to help turn Lviv into a little Ukrainian Silicon Valley." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






March 9, 2014

In Traditional Societies People Try to Kill Strangers



DiamondJared2014-03-02.jpg







Jared Diamond. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.












(p. 12) Your latest book, "The World Until Yesterday," is about traditional societies and your research in New Guinea. Why is the acronym Weird central to the book? In Weird -- Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic -- societies we take these things for granted that just didn't exist anywhere in the world until a few thousand years ago. We encounter strangers, and it's normal, and we don't freak out and try to kill them. We eat food that somebody else grew for us. We have a government with police and lawyers to settle disputes.


. . .


. . . , the book has been criticized for saying traditional societies are very violent. Some people take a view of traditional society as being peaceful and gentle. But the proportional rate of violent death is much higher in traditional societies than in state-level societies, where governments assert a monopoly on force. During World War II, until Aug. 14, 1945, American soldiers who killed Japanese got medals. On Aug. 16, American soldiers who killed Japanese were guilty of murder. A state can end war, but a traditional society cannot.

People have called the book racist, saying it suggests third-world poverty is caused by environmental factors instead of imperialism and conquests. It's clearly nonsense. It's not as if people in certain parts of the world were rich until Europeans came along and they suddenly became poor. Before that, there were big differences in technology, military power and the development of centralized government around the world. That's a fact.



For the full interview, see:

AMY CHOZICK, interviewer. "Talk; 'New Guinean Kids Are Not Brats'; Jared Diamond on What We Can Learn from Traditional Societies." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., JAN. 12, 2014): A12.

(Note: bold in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date JAN. 10, 2014, and has the title "Jared Diamond: 'New Guinean Kids Are Not Brats'.")


The book under discussion above is:

Diamond, Jared. The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? New York: Viking Penguin, 2012.






March 5, 2014

Angus Maddison Saw that Life Improved During the "Capitalist Epoch"



HockeyStickGraph2014-03-02.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) Angus Maddison, the late and eminent economist for the OECD, produced a famous chart in 1995, depicted nearby. For the longest time--basically from after the Garden of Eden until the 19th century--economic benefit for the average person in the West or Japan was flat as toast. The Mona Lisa aside, there was a reason someone back then said life was nasty, brutish and short. Then suddenly, new wealth spread broadly.

Maddison describes 1820 till 1950 as the "capitalist epoch." He means that admiringly. The tools of capitalism unlocked the knowledge created until then. What came to be called "economic growth" gave more people jobs that lifted them and their families from the muck of joblessness and poverty. Maddison also noted that much of the world did not participate in the capitalist epoch. No wonder they revolt now.

This history is worth restating because the importance of strong economic growth, and the unavoidable necessity of a U.S. that leads that growth, may be disappearing down the memory hole of public policy, on the left and even among some on the right. Both share the grim view that the U.S. economy is flatlining, and the grim fight is over how to divide what's left.



For the full commentary, see:

Henninger, DANIEL. "WONDER LAND; The Growth Revolutions Erupt; Ukrainians want what we've got: The benefits of real economic growth." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 27, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 26, 2014.)


One of Maddison's last important books was:

Maddison, Angus. Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.






March 3, 2014

United States Drops Out of Top 10 in Economic Freedom



IndexOfEconomicFreedom2014.jpgSource of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) World economic freedom has reached record levels, according to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, released Tuesday [Jan. 14, 2014] by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. But after seven straight years of decline, the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 most economically free countries.

For 20 years, the index has measured a nation's commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100 by evaluating 10 categories, including fiscal soundness, government size and property rights. These commitments have powerful effects: Countries achieving higher levels of economic freedom consistently and measurably outperform others in economic growth, long-term prosperity and social progress.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY MILLER. "America's Dwindling Economic Freedom; Regulation, taxes and debt knock the U.S. out of the world's top 10." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 14, 2014): A13.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 13, 2014.)


For more on the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, visit:

http://www.heritage.org/index/






February 28, 2014

Growth Slow Due to Policies Impeding Start-Ups



(p. A11) The most recent period of rapid productivity growth in the U.S.--and rapid economic growth--was in the 1980s and '90s and reflected the remarkable success of new businesses in information and communications technologies, including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Intel and Google. These new companies not only created millions of jobs but transformed modern society, changing how much of the world produces, distributes and markets goods and services.

Rising living standards in the future will depend on the continued success of these businesses but also on the next generation of success stories. Getting the U.S. economy back on track will require a much higher annual rate of new business startups. Sadly, the annual rate of new business creation is about 28% lower today than it was in the 1980s, according to our analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's Business Dynamics Statistics annual data series.

Why is the startup rate so low? The answer lies in Washington and the policies implemented in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that were, ironically, intended to grow and stabilize the economy.    . . .

This explosion in federal regulation, intervention and subsidies has retarded productivity growth by protecting incumbents at the expense of more efficient producers, including startups. The number of pages in the Federal Code of Regulations peaked at nearly 175,000 in 2012, an increase of more than 7% in President Obama's first three years.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT and LEE E. OHANIAN. "U.S. Productivity Growth Has Taken a Dive; It has averaged about 1.1% since 2011, less than half the historical rate since 1948. Here's how to increase it." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 4, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 3, 2014.)






December 21, 2013

Farm Land Reverts to Forest as Farmers Move to Cities



OrtegaDeWingLandRevertsToForest2013-10-27.jpg "NEW GROWTH; Marta Ortega de Wing once raised pigs in Chilibre, Panama, on land now reverting to nature, a trend dimming the view of primeval forests as sacred." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) CHILIBRE, Panama -- The land where Marta Ortega de Wing raised hundreds of pigs until 10 years ago is being overtaken by galloping jungle -- palms, lizards and ants.

Instead of farming, she now shops at the supermarket and her grown children and grandchildren live in places like Panama City and New York.

Here, and in other tropical countries around the world, small holdings like Ms. Ortega de Wing's -- and much larger swaths of farmland -- are reverting to nature, as people abandon their land and move to the cities in search of better livings.

These new "secondary" forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest -- an iconic environmental cause -- may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

"There is far more forest here than there was 30 years ago," said Ms. Ortega de Wing, 64, who remembers fields of mango trees and banana plants.

The new forests, the scientists argue, could blunt the effects of rain forest destruction by absorbing carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, one crucial role that rain forests play. They could also, to a lesser extent, provide habitat for endangered species.



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "New Jungles Prompt a Debate on Saving Primeval Rain Forests." The New York Times (Fri., January 30, 2009): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date January 29, 2009 and has the title "New Jungles Prompt a Debate on Rain Forests.")






November 17, 2013

Foreign Aid Frees Despots from Having to Seek the Consent of the Governed



TheGreatEscapeBK2013-10-24.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.






(p. 4) IN his new book, Angus Deaton, an expert's expert on global poverty and foreign aid, puts his considerable reputation on the line and declares that foreign aid does more harm than good. It corrupts governments and rarely reaches the poor, he argues, and it is high time for the paternalistic West to step away and allow the developing world to solve its own problems.

It is a provocative and cogently argued claim. The only odd part is how it is made. It is tacked on as the concluding section of "The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality" (Princeton University Press, 360 pages), an illuminating and inspiring history of how mankind's longevity and prosperity have soared to breathtaking heights in modern times.


. . .


THE author has found no credible evidence that foreign aid promotes economic growth; indeed, he says, signs show that the relationship is negative. Regretfully, he identifies a "central dilemma": When the conditions for development are present, aid is not required. When they do not exist, aid is not useful and probably damaging.

Professor Deaton makes the case that foreign aid is antidemocratic because it frees local leaders from having to obtain the consent of the governed. "Western-led population control, often with the assistance of nondemocratic or well-rewarded recipient governments, is the most egregious example of antidemocratic and oppressive aid," he writes. In its day, it seemed like a no-brainer. Yet the global population grew by four billion in half a century, and the vast majority of the seven billion people now on the planet live longer and more prosperous lives than their parents did.



For the full review, see:

FRED ANDREWS. "OFF THE SHELF; A Surprising Case Against Foreign Aid." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 13, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 12, 2013.)



The book reviewed is:

Deaton, Angus. The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013.






November 13, 2013

Greenspan's Epiphany: As Entitlements Rise, Savings Fall



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Source of book image: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-AB661_bkrvgr_GV_20131021130523.jpg







(p. C11) In his new book "The Map and the Territory," to be released on Tuesday, Mr. Greenspan, 87, goes on a hunt for what has gone wrong in American politics and in the U.S. economy.


. . .


Mr. Greenspan's biggest revelation came one day about a year ago when he was playing with gross domestic savings numbers. What he found, to his surprise and initial skepticism, was that an increase in entitlements has closely corresponded to a decline in the country's savings. "We had this extraordinary increase in benefits, with each party trying to outbid the other," he says. "That practice has been eroding the country's flow of savings that's so critical in financing our capital investment." The decline in savings has been partly offset by borrowing from abroad, which brings us to our current foreign debt: "$5 trillion and counting," he says.


. . .


Studying the minutiae of the events leading to the financial crisis brought to mind some lessons from his famous friendship, from the 1950s on, with the late Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand.


. . .


Mr. Greenspan then believed in analysis based mainly on hard science and empirical facts. Rand told him that unless he considered human nature and its irrational side, he would "miss a very large part of how human beings behaved." At the time they weren't discussing economics, but today he realizes the full impact of emotions and instincts on markets. He also has come to admire psychologist and Princeton University professor emeritus Daniel Kahneman's work applying psychological insights to economic theory, for which he won a Nobel Prize in 2002.


. . .


With his new book, Mr. Greenspan hopes to provide politicians and the public with a road map to avoid making the same mistakes again. His suggestions include reducing entitlements, embracing "creative destruction" by letting facilities with cutting-edge technology displace those with low productivity, and fixing the political system by encouraging bipartisanship.



For the full interview/review, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer/reviewer. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview/review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan: What Went Wrong; The former Fed chairman on where the economy went wrong, where he went wrong--and Ayn Rand.")



The book discussed is:

Greenspan, Alan. The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.






November 9, 2013

Entrepreneurial Spirit Values "Voyaging into the Unknown"



PhelpsEdmundWinner2006NobelPrize2013-10-24.jpg











"Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. C7) Edmund Phelps's "Mass Flourishing" could easily be retitled "Contra-Corporatism," for at its heart this fine book is an attack on that increasingly common "third way" between capitalism and socialism. Mr. Phelps cogently argues that America's current economic woes reflect a reduction in the innovative dynamism that generates economic success and personal satisfaction. He places little hope in the Democratic Party, which "voices a new corporatism well beyond Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society," or in Republicans in the thrall of "traditional values," who see "the good economy as mercantile capitalism plus social protection and social insurance." He instead yearns for legislative solons who "could usefully ask of every bill and regulatory directive: How would it impact the dynamism of our economy?"


. . .


The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. He sees modern capitalism as profoundly humanist, imbued with "a spirit that views the prospect of unanticipated consequences that may come with voyaging into the unknown as a valued part of experience and not a drawback."


. . .


In . . . [the] new corporatism, the state protects both organized labor and politically connected companies. and the state has acquired a "panoply of new roles," from regulations "aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition" to lawsuits that "add to the diversion of income from earners to those receiving compensation or indemnification." It is as if "every person in a society is a signatory to an implicit contract" in which "no person may be harmed by others without receiving compensation." But protection against all conceivable harm also means protection against almost all change--and this is the death knell of dynamism and innovation.


. . .


But what is to be done? The author wants governments that are "aware of the importance of the role played by dynamism in a modern-capitalist economy," and he disparages both current political camps. He has a number of thoughtful ideas about financial-sector reform. He is no libertarian and even proposes a "national bank specializing in extending credit or equity capital to start-up firms"--not my favorite idea.



For the full review, see:

EDWARD GLAESER. "How to Unleash the Economy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Mass Flourishing' by Edmund Phelps; Innovative dynamism is the key to economic success and personal satisfaction, a Nobel-winner argues.")



The book under review is:

Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.




Mass-FlourishingBK2013-10-24.jpg















Source of book image: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/files/2013/08/Mass-Flourishing-cover.jpg









November 1, 2013

Sound Economic Policies Benefit Africa More than Sachs' Profligate Interventions



TheIdealistBK2013-10-22.jpg
















Source of book image: http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2013-09-02-TheIdealist.jpg





(p. A19) Nina Munk's new book, "The Idealist," is about the well-known economist Jeffrey Sachs and his "quest to end poverty," as the subtitle puts it.


. . .


The quest began in 2005, when Sachs, who directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, started an ambitious program called the Millennium Villages Project. He and his team chose a handful of sub-Saharan African villages, where they imposed a series of "interventions" in such areas as agriculture, health and education.


. . .


With almost every intervention, she documents the chasm that exists between the villagers and those running the project. At one point, the Millennium Villages Project persuades the farmers in Ruhiira to grow maize instead of their traditional crop, called matoke. "The results were fantastic," she reports, a bumper crop. Except there were no buyers for the maize, so some of it wound up being eaten by rats. In Dertu, Sachs's staff decided it should set up a livestock market. It flopped. Efforts to convince villagers to start small businesses largely failed. The critical problem of getting clean water to the villages was enormously expensive.

Ultimately, reports Munk, Dertu was scaled back by the Millennium Villages Project while Ruhiira is today lauded as one of the project's most successful villages. "There is no question the lives of people in Ruhiira have been improved," Munk told me. "I've seen it." But she is dubious about what that means -- other than the fact that if you pump millions of dollars into an isolated African village, the villagers' lives will be better.


. . .


That things in Africa are getting better is undeniable. Child mortality is down, as is the number of people living in extreme poverty. In his book, "Emerging Africa," Steve Radelet, the former chief economist for the United States Agency for International Development, gives credit to such factors as more democratic governments, a new class of civil servants and businesspeople, and sounder economic policies. Sachs wants us to believe that the Millennium Villages Project has also helped show the way.

"The Idealist" makes it tough to believe it's the latter.



For the full review, see:

JOE NOCERA. "Fighting Poverty, and Critics." The New York Times (Tues., September 3, 2013): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 2, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Munk, Nina. The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. New York: Doubleday, 2013.


The Radelet book mentioned is:

Radelet, Steven. Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way. pb ed. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2010.







October 4, 2013

Taxpayers Work, Save and Invest More When Taxes Are Low



TheGrowthExperimentBK2013-09-28.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. 15) The 1980s boom was launched on the simple insight that, by lowering tax rates and regulatory hurdles and juicing the incentives to produce, innovate and take risks, the animal spirits of the American free-enterprise system would revive. Two seminal books hatched the supply-side revolution. The first was Jude Wanniski's "The Way the World Works" (1978); the second, George Gilder's "Wealth and Poverty" (1981).

Almost as influential, coming a few years later, was Lawrence Lindsey's "The Growth Experiment" (1990). Slightly academic in nature, it was the first book to quantify the economic and revenue windfall of the 1981 Reagan across-the-board tax cuts. Mr. Lindsey's conclusion was that Reagan's 1981 tax act quickened the pace of production, which reduced the predicted revenue loss. His research found that although the Reagan tax cuts didn't "pay for themselves," the ones at the highest end of the income spectrum "did produce a revenue gain" because of "changes in taxpayer behavior." He concluded that "the core supply-side tenet--that tax rates powerfully affect the willingness of taxpayers to work, save and invest, and thereby also affect the health of the economy--won as stunning a vindication as has been seen in at least a half-century of economics."

He has now updated his book, taking us through the booms and busts of the past 20 years. It is a valuable project in part because Mr. Lindsey was a front-seat economic adviser to George W. Bush, serving as director of the National Economic Council and as one of the architects of the often-maligned 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts.

Mr. Lindsey's central claim is that those tax changes saved the economy from the undertow of the financial meltdown at the end of the Clinton presidency.



For the full review, see:

Stephen Moore. "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Growth Experiment Revisited' by Lawrence Lindsey; The 25 years after Reagan's tax cuts saw unprecedented wealth creation and progress. America's net worth exploded by $40 trillion." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., September 10, 2013): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 9, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Growth Experiment Revisited' by Lawrence Lindsey; The 25 years after Reagan's tax cuts saw unprecedented wealth creation and progress. America's net worth exploded by $40 trillion.")


The book under review is:

Lindsey, Lawrence B. The Growth Experiment Revisited: Why Lower, Simpler Taxes Really Are America's Best Hope for Recovery. New York: Basic Books, 2013.






August 13, 2013

For Hubbard and Kane "Institutions Explain Innovation"



HowTheMightyFallBK2013-08-08.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A11) Messrs. Hubbard and Kane argue, as do others, that certain policies and core principles are the key: property rights, flexible work rules, open markets. For the authors, such matters explain economic growth entirely.

To those who would cite the primacy of technological breakthroughs, Messrs. Hubbard and Kane assert that inventions only spark growth if there are systems in place (such as intellectual-property rights) that enable inventions to flourish and their value to spread. "The wheel and the windmill were invented many times," they write, "then forgotten, until finally one society had the institutional framework to implement them widely and pass them on permanently." In short, "institutions explain innovation."



For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How the Mighty Fall; The Roman empire eventually lost its economic vitality thanks to price controls, heavy taxes and state-sponsored debt relief.." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 21, 2013): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 20, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Hubbard, Glenn, and Tim Kane. Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.







July 28, 2013

Children of Chinese Entrepreneurs Want to Work for Government



XieChaoboJoblessEngineeringStudent2013-07-23.jpg













"Engineering student Xie Chaobo has yet to land a job." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A1) BEIJING--Xie Chaobo figures he has the credentials to land a job at one of China's big state-owned firms. He is a graduate student at Tsinghua University, one of China's best. His field of study is environmental engineering, one of China's priorities. And he is experimenting with new techniques for identifying water pollutants, which should make him a valuable catch.

But he has applied to 30 companies so far and scored just four interviews, none of which has led to a job.

Although Mr. Xie's parents are entrepreneurs who have built companies that make glasses, shoes and now water pumps, he has no interest in working at a private startup. Chinese students "have been told since we were children to focus on stability instead of risk," the 24-year-old engineering student says.

Over the past decade, the number of new graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold to more than six million a year, creating an epic glut that is depressing wages, (p. A10) leaving many recent college graduates without jobs and making students fearful about their future. Two-thirds of Chinese graduates say they want to work either in the government or big state-owned firms, which are seen as recession-proof, rather than at the private companies that have powered China's remarkable economic climb, surveys indicate. Few college students today, according to the surveys, are ready to leave the safe shores of government work and "jump into the sea," as the Chinese expression goes, to join startups or go into business for themselves, although many of their parents did just that in the 1990s.



For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. "Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.



ChineseStudentAfterGraduationPlans2013-07-23.jpgSource of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






July 2, 2013

Property Rights, Flexible Work Rules, Open Markets Are Keys to Economic Growth



BalanceBK2013-06-28.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.







(p. A11) Messrs. Hubbard and Kane argue, as do others, that certain policies and core principles are the key: property rights, flexible work rules, open markets. For the authors, such matters explain economic growth entirely.

To those who would cite the primacy of technological breakthroughs, Messrs. Hubbard and Kane assert that inventions only spark growth if there are systems in place (such as intellectual-property rights) that enable inventions to flourish and their value to spread. "The wheel and the windmill were invented many times," they write, "then forgotten, until finally one society had the institutional framework to implement them widely and pass them on permanently." In short, "institutions explain innovation."



For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How the Mighty Fall; The Roman empire eventually lost its economic vitality thanks to price controls, heavy taxes and state-sponsored debt relief." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 21, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 20, 2013.)


The book under review, is:

Hubbard, Glenn, and Tim Kane. Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






June 21, 2013

Amish "Are Big Boosters of Genetically Modified Corn"



(p. 222) The Amish use disposable diapers (why not?), chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, and they are big boosters of genetically modified corn. In Europe this corn is called Frankenfood. I asked a few of the Amish elders about that last one. Why do they plant GMOs? Well, they reply, corn is susceptible to the corn borer, which nibbles away at the bottom of the stem and occasionally topples the stalk. Modern 500-horsepower harvesters don't notice this fall; they just suck up all the material and spit out the corn into a bin. The Amish harvest their corn semimanually. It's cut by a chopper device and then pitched into a thresher. But if there are a lot of stalks that are broken, they have to be pitched by hand. That is a lot of very hard, sweaty work. So they plant Bt corn. This genetic mutant carries the genes of the corn borer's enemy, Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a toxin deadly to the corn borer. Fewer stalks are broken and the harvest can be aided with machines, so yields are up. One elder Amish man whose sons run his farm said he was too old to be pitching heavy, broken cornstalks, and he told his sons that he'd only help them with the harvest if they planted Bt corn. The alternative was to purchase expensive, modern harvesting equipment, which none of them wanted. So the technology of genetically modified crops allowed the Amish to continue using old, well-proven, debt-free equipment, which accomplished their main goal of keeping the family farm together. They did not use these words, but they made it clear that they considered genetically modified crops appropriate technology for family farms.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






June 1, 2013

Cities Provide Children "Options for Their Future"



(p. 85) As Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City (about Mumbai), says, "Why would anyone leave a brick house in the village with its two mango trees and its view of small hills in the East to come here?" Then he answers: "So that someday the eldest son can buy two rooms in Mira Road, at the northern edges of the city. And the younger one can move beyond that, to New Jersey. Discomfort is an investment."

Then Mehta continues: "For the young person in an Indian village, the call of Mumbai isn't just about money. It's also about freedom." Stewart Brand recounts this summation of the magnetic pull of cities by activist Kavita Ramdas: "In the village, all there is for a woman is to obey her husband and relatives, pound millet, and sing. If she moves to town, she can get a job, start a business, and get education for her children." The Bedouin of Arabia were once seemingly the freest people on Earth, roaming the great Empty Quarter at will, under a tent of stars and no one's thumb. But they are rapidly quitting their nomadic life and (p. 86) hustling into drab, concrete-block apartments in exploding Gulf-state ghettos. As reported by Donovan Webster in National Geographic, they stable their camels and goats in their ancestral village, because the bounty and attraction of the herder's life still remain for them. The Bedouin are lured, not pushed, to the city because, in their own words: "We can always go into the desert to taste the old life. But this [new] life is better than the old way. Before there was no medical care, no schools for our children." An eighty-year-old Bedouin chief sums it up better than I could: "The children will have more options for their future."



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: italics, an bracketed "new," in original.)






May 28, 2013

Modern Cities Are "Successful Former Slums" that Allowed "Vibrant Economic Activity"



(p. 82) Babylon, London, and New York all had teeming ghettos of unwanted settlers erecting shoddy shelters with inadequate hygiene and engaging in dodgy dealings. Historian Bronislaw Geremek states that "slums constituted a large part of the urban landscape" of Paris in the Middle Ages. Even by the 1780s, when Paris was at its peak, nearly 20 percent of its residents did not have a "fixed abode"--that is, they lived in shacks. In a familiar complaint about medieval French cities, a gentleman from that time noted: "Several families inhabit one house. A (p. 83) weaver's family may be crowded into a single room, where they huddle around a fireplace." That refrain is repeated throughout history. A century ago Manhattan was home to 20,000 squatters in self-made housing. Slab City alone, in Brooklyn (named after the use of planks stolen from lumber mills), contained 10,000 residents in its slum at its peak in the 1880s. In the New York slums, reported the New York Times in 1858, "nine out of ten of the shanties have only one room, which does not average over twelve feet square, and this serves all the purposes of the family."

San Francisco was built by squatters. As Rob Neuwirth recounts in his eye-opening book Shadow Cities, one survey in 1855 estimated that "95 percent of the property holders in [San Francisco] would not be able to produce a bona fide legal title to their land." Squatters were everywhere, in the marshes, sand dunes, military bases. One eyewitness said, "Where there was a vacant piece of ground one day, the next saw it covered with half a dozen tents or shanties." Philadelphia was largely settled by what local papers called "squatlers." As late as 1940, one in five citizens in Shanghai was a squatter. Those one million squatters stayed and kept upgrading their slum so that within one generation their shantytown became one of the first twenty-first-century cities.

That's how it works. This is how all technology works. A gadget begins as a junky prototype and then progresses to something that barely works. The ad hoc shelters in slums are upgraded over time, infrastructure is extended, and eventually makeshift services become official. What was once the home of poor hustlers becomes, over the span of generations, the home of rich hustlers. Propagating slums is what cities do, and living in slums is how cities grow. The majority of neighborhoods in almost every modern city are merely successful former slums. The squatter cities of today will become the blue-blood neighborhoods of tomorrow. This is already happening in Rio and Mumbai today.

Slums of the past and slums of today follow the same description. The first impression is and was one of filth and overcrowding. In a ghetto a thousand years ago and in a slum today shelters are haphazard and dilapidated. The smells are overwhelming. But there is vibrant economic activity.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: italics, and bracketed "San Francisco" in original.)






May 24, 2013

Technology Brings Choices and Control, Which Brings Happiness



(p. 78) For the past 30 years the conventional wisdom has been that once a person achieves a minimal standard of living, more money does not bring more happiness. If you live below a certain income threshold, increased money makes a difference, but after that, it doesn't buy happiness. That was the conclusion of a now-classic study by Richard Easterlin in 1974. However, recent research from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania shows that worldwide, affluence brings increased satisfaction. Higher income earners are happier. Citizens in higher-earning countries tend to be more satisfied on average.

My interpretation of this newest research--which also matches our intuitive impressions--is that what money brings is increased choices, rather than merely increased stuff (although more stuff comes with the territory). We don't find happiness in more gadgets and experiences. We do find happiness in having some control of our time and work, a chance for real leisure, in the escape from the uncertainties of war, poverty, and corruption, and in a chance to pursue individual freedoms--all of which come with increased affluence.

I've been to many places in the world, the poorest and the richest spots, the oldest and the newest cities, the fastest and the slowest cultures, and it is my observation that when given a chance, people who walk will buy a bicycle, people who ride a bike will get a scooter, people riding a scooter will upgrade to a car, and those with a car dream of a plane. Farmers everywhere trade their ox plows for tractors, their gourd bowls for tin ones, their sandals for shoes. Always. Insignificantly few ever go back. The exceptions such as the well-known Amish are not so exceptional when examined closely, for even their communities adopt selected technology without retreat.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






May 23, 2013

Wealth from Innovation Is Nobler than Wealth from Litigation



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Source of book image: http://ww4.hdnux.com/photos/15/60/06/3604871/3/628x471.jpg




(p. C7) In business, Green routinely sued her competitors. . . .


. . .


It was precisely Green's vision of life as a zero-sum game, a match between enemies, that proved her flaw. She appreciated the idea that dollars compound, but she never seemed to grasp that the compounding of ideas, innovation, is just as important, that in certain, non-litigious, environments ideas "fructify," to use a period verb. Litigation like Green's prevented the kind of innovation in which she might have wanted to invest. Wealth is created when Apple beats Samsung, but more wealth is created when Apple comes up with a new phone.



For the full review, see:

AMITY SHLAES. "Quarrelsome Queen of the Gilded Age." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., September 29, 2012): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 28, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Wallach, Janet. The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2012.






May 20, 2013

"Lowest-Paid Burger Flipper" Is "Better Off than King Henry"



(p. 76) After going from room to room, skipping none except the garage (that would be a project in itself), we arrived at a total of 6,000 varieties of things in our house. Since we have multiple examples of some varieties, such as books, CDs, paper plates, spoons, socks, on so on, I estimate the total number of objects in our home, including the garage, to be close to 10,000.

Without trying very hard, our typical modern house holds a king's ransom. But in fact, we are wealthier than King Henry. In fact, the lowest-paid burger flipper working at McDonald's is in many respects (p. 77) better off than King Henry or any of the richest people living not too long ago. Although the burger flipper barely makes enough to pay the rent, he or she can afford many things that King Henry could not. King Henry's wealth--the entire treasure of England--could not have purchased an indoor flush toilet or air-conditioning or secured a comfortable ride for 500 kilometers. Any taxicab driver can afford these today. Only 100 years ago, John Rockefeller's vast fortune as the world's richest man could not have gotten him the cell phone that any untouchable street sweeper in Bombay now uses. In the first half of the 19th century Nathan Rothschild was the richest man in the world. His millions were not enough to buy an antibiotic. Rothschild died of an infected abscess that could have been cured with a three-dollar tube of neomycin today. Although King Henry had some fine clothes and a lot of servants, you could not pay people today to live as he did, without plumbing, in dark, drafty rooms, isolated from the world by impassable roads and few communication connections. A poor university student living in a dingy dorm room in Jakarta lives better in most ways than King Henry.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






May 17, 2013

21st Century Person Would Be Sick in Dickens' 1850 London



NancyFromOliverTwist2013-05-04.jpg "Anderson found Dickens World to be "surprisingly grisly" for a park that markets itself to children; he noted several severed heads and a gruesome performance of "Oliver Twist" in the courtyard. Here, a mannequin of Nancy from "Oliver Twist."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 48) . . . even if it were possible to create a lavish simulacrum of 1850s London -- with its typhus and cholera and clouds of toxic corpse gas, its sewage pouring into the Thames, its (p. 49) average life span of 27 years -- why would anyone want to visit? ("If a late-20th-century person were suddenly to find himself in a tavern or house of the period," Peter Ackroyd, a Dickens biographer, has written, "he would be literally sick -- sick with the smells, sick with the food, sick with the atmosphere around him.")


For the full story, see:

SAM ANDERSON. "VOYAGES; The Pippiest Place on Earth." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., February 7, 2012): 48-53.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 7, 2012 (sic), and has the title "VOYAGES; The World of Charles Dickens, Complete With Pizza Hut.")






May 12, 2013

Knowledge Economy Migrating to Intangible Goods and Services



(p. 67) Our present economic migration from a material-based industry to a knowledge economy of intangible goods (such as software, design, and media products) is just the latest in a steady move toward the immaterial. (Not that material processing has let up, just that intangible processing is now more economically valuable.) Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, says, "Data from nearly all parts of the world show us that consumers tend to spend relatively less on goods and more on services as their incomes rise. . . . Once people have met their basic needs, they tend to want medical care, transportation and communication, information, recreation, entertainment, financial and legal advice, and the like." The disembodiment of value (more value, less mass) is a steady trend in the technium. In six years the average weight per dollar of U.S. exports (the most valuable things the U.S. produces) (p. 68) dropped by half. Today, 40 percent of U.S. exports are services (intangibles) rather than manufactured goods (atoms). We are steadily substituting intangible design, flexibility, innovation, and smartness for rigid, heavy atoms. In a very real sense our entry into a service- and idea-based economy is a continuation of a trend that began at the big bang.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis in original; a graph is omitted that appears in the middle of the paragraph quoted above.)






March 14, 2013

Foreign Aid Is Not Effective



BeyondGoodIntentionsBK.JPG
















Source of book image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9781580054348_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG



(p. C8) In 2002, Tori Hogan was a 20-year-old intern for the international nonprofit Save the Children, helping write a report on the effect of humanitarian aid on children. In a dusty refugee-camp high school in Kenya a teenage student told her: "A lot of aid workers come and go, but nothing changes. If the aid projects were effective, we wouldn't still be living like this after all these years." That remark ended Tori Hogan's "dreams of 'saving Africa,' " she writes in "Beyond Good Intentions," a book that bypasses sweeping condemnations of the aid industry to reach sometimes less satisfying zones of nuance.


. . .


The most savage writing on this topic comes from authors who have devoted chunks of their lives to conflict zones. In "The Crisis Caravan" (2010), Dutch journalist Linda Polman quotes, to devastating effect, Sierra Leone rebels who claim that they launched mass amputations in 1999 to compete with Congo and Kosovo for international attention and development aid. Michael Maren, the author of "Road to Hell" (2010), lost his child to the aid effort in Somalia.



The book under review is:

Hogan, Tori. Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey into the Realities of International Aid. pb (appears there was no hb edition) ed. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2012.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



The Polman book mentioned above, is:

Polman, Linda. The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.


The Maren book mentioned above, is:

Maren, Michael. The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity. New York: The Free Press, 1997.






February 16, 2013

IKEA Says Government Bureaucracy Slows Job Creation



OhlssonMikaelCEOofIKEA2013-02-03.jpg "The economy 'will remain challenging for a long time,' says IKEA Chief Executive Mikael Ohlsson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B3) MALMO, Sweden--IKEA is poised to embark on a global spending spree, but its departing chief executive says red tape is slowing how fast the home-furnishings retailer can open its pocket book.

With the company set to report record sales on Wednesday, CEO Mikael Ohlsson said the amount of time it takes to open a store has roughly doubled in recent years.

"What some years ago took two to three years, now takes four to six years. And we also see that there's a lot of hidden obstacles in different markets and also within the [European Union] that's holding us back," he said in an interview recently at an IKEA store on Sweden's western coast.


. . .


IKEA plans to invest €2 billion in stores, factories and renewable energy this year. But the company fell €1 billion short of its goal of investing €3 billion in new projects last year, largely because of bureaucratic obstacles, he said. For 10 years IKEA has tried unsuccessfully to relocate a store in France, for example. The company also is challenging German policy dictating what can be sold and where, saying the rules are out of sync with EU legislation.

"It's a pity, because it can help create jobs and investments at a time when unemployment is high in many countries," Mr. Ohlsson said. A new IKEA store creates construction and store jobs for about 1,000 workers, he said.


. . .


The company's highest-profile headaches have come in India, an untapped market where IKEA wants to open a first store in at least five years and roll out an additional three soon thereafter.



For the full story, see:

ANNA MOLIN. "IKEA Chief Takes Aim at Red Tape." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 23, 2013): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 22, 2013.)






February 10, 2013

Is America Moving Toward a Less Upwardly Mobile Future?



Coming-ApartBK2013-01-11.jpg











Source of book image: http://catholicexchange.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Coming-Apart.jpg







(p. C6) The future as described by Charles Murray in "Coming Apart'' is bleak enough to have been imagined by George Orwell. Unfortunately, "Coming Apart" is nonfiction, meticulously documented and depressingly real. Mr. Murray examines America as it moves away from an upwardly mobile, socially mobile country with shared purpose and shared identities to a country dividing into two isolated and disparate camps.


For the full review essay, see:

Jeb Bush (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Bush's contribution is on p. C6).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Murray, Charles. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. New York: Crown Forum, 2012.






February 5, 2013

"Rome's Rise Is a Story of Economic Growth, Not Divine Intervention or Native Virtue"



(p. C7) In chronicling the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon declared that "if a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus." Gibbon himself elegantly narrated how happiness and prosperity withered after this flowering between 96 and 180 A.D. But what about the near-millennium of Roman history that came before? "What was it," as Anthony Everitt asks in "The Rise of Rome," "that enabled a small Italian market town by a ford on the river Tiber to conquer the known world" and thereby made Gibbon's golden years possible?


. . .


Most of that economic activity, whether it developed autonomously as a result of lower costs or was driven by the coercive rule of the state, was catalyzed by the Mediterranean, with which even the sophisticated Roman road network could not compete. Yet in the period from the middle of the third century B.C. to the middle of the first, Mr. Everitt, following his literary sources, directs our attention to Hamilcar, the Carthaginian general; and to Hannibal, his hot-tempered son, leading elephants first across the Pyrenees and then the Alps. Both are important, and, had they not been defeated, Rome would have had a very short "rise" indeed. But the real action was on the Mediterranean. As the number of shipwrecks datable to these years attests, it was being crossed by trading vessels with a frequency never yet seen and never again matched--including the halcyon years hymned by Gibbon.

Sometimes the data can preserve an astonishingly precise record of a trade route. For example, storage containers--probably for wine--salvaged from the spectacular wrecks at Grand Congloué, off Marseilles, bear the stamp "SES." Archaeologists have confidently linked this mark with a certain Sestius, who must have manufactured the wares at the villa we know he owned in southwestern Tuscany, no mean distance away.

When the shipwreck data, which suggest increased economic activity, are considered alongside the population contraction that Rome suffered in its bloody military campaigns, a tentative but rich answer to Mr. Everitt's question begins to emerge: Rome's rise is a story of economic growth, not divine intervention or native virtue. And although even this account, like all our conclusions about the distant past, must be provisional, it is at least anchored in an empirical model of how income gains from trade and lowered transaction costs were not swallowed up by an ever-expanding population.



For the full review, see:

BRENDAN BOYLE. "BOOKSHELF; The Economy of Empire; The rise of the world's greatest empire is as much a story of shipping and markets as of divine providence and individual virtue." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., September 22, 2012): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated September 21, 2012.)






January 29, 2013

Fragile Governments Cling to Failed Foreign Aid



AntifragileBK2013-01-11.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-VL312_bkrvta_DV_20121122124330.jpg







(p. C12) Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Antifragile" argues that some people, organizations and systems are resilient in the face of stress because they are able to alter themselves by adapting and learning. The converse is fragility, embodied in entities that are immovable even when faced with shocks or adversity. To my mind, an obvious example is how numerous governments and international agencies have clung to foreign aid as a tool to combat poverty even though aid has failed to deliver sustainable growth and meaningfully reduce indigence. And nation-states, which rest on one unifying vision of the nation, tend to be fragile, while city-states that adjust, adapt and constantly evolve tend to be antifragile. Mr. Taleb's lesson: Embrace, rather than try to avoid, the shocks.


For the full review essay, see:

Dambisa Moyo (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Moyo's contribution is on p. C12).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. New York: Random House, 2012.






January 19, 2013

Capitalism Would Bring Economic Growth to Bitouga, and Thereby Save the Elephants



BurningIvoryInGabon2013-01-12.jpg "SEIZED AND DESTROYED; Gabon burned 10,000 pounds of ivory in June to show its commitment against poaching, but elephants are still being slaughtered." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) But as the price of ivory keeps going up, hitting levels too high for many people to resist, Gabon's elephants are getting slaughtered by poachers from across the borders and within the rain forests, proof that just about nowhere in Africa are elephants safe.

In the past several years, 10,000 elephants in Gabon have been wiped out, some picked off by impoverished hunters creeping around the jungle with rusty shotguns and willing to be paid in sacks of salt, others mowed down en masse by criminal gangs that slice off the dead elephants' faces with chain saws. Gabon's jails are filling up with small-time poachers and ivory traffickers, destitute men and women like Therese Medza, a village hairdresser arrested a few months ago for selling 45 pounds of tusks.

"I had no idea it was illegal," Ms. Medza said, almost convincingly, from the central jail here in Oyem, in the north. "I was told the tusks were found in the forest."

She netted about $700, far more than she usually makes in a month, and the reason she did it was simple, she said. "I got seven kids."

It seems that Gabon's elephants are getting squeezed in a deadly vise between a seemingly insatiable lust for ivory in Asia, where some people pay as much as $1,000 a pound, and desperate hunters and traffickers in central Africa.


. . .


In June, Gabon's president, Ali Bongo, defiantly lighted a pyramid of 10,000 pounds of ivory on fire to make the point that the ivory trade was reprehensible, a public display of resolve that Kenya has put on in years past. It took three days for all the ivory to burn, and even after the last tusks were reduced to glowing embers, policemen vigilantly guarded the ashes. Ivory powder is valued in Asia for its purported medicinal powers, and the officers were worried someone might try to sweep up the ashes and sell them.

Some African countries, like Zimbabwe and Tanzania, are sitting on million-dollar stockpiles of ivory (usually from law enforcement seizures or elephants that died naturally) that someday may be legal to sell.


. . .


(p. A10) The growing resentment of the government is undermining conservation efforts, too, with villagers grumbling about not seeing a trace of the oil money and saying Mr. Bongo should not lecture them about poaching for a living.


. . .

The children here eat thumb-size caterpillars, cooked in enormous vats, because there is little else to eat. Many men have bloodshot eyes and spend their mornings sitting on the ground, staring into space, reeking of sour, fermented home-brew.


. . .


International law enforcement officials say the illicit ivory trade is dominated by Mafia-like gangs that buy off local officials and organize huge, secretive shipments to move tusks from the farthest reaches of Africa to workshops in Beijing, Bangkok and Manila, where they are carved into bookmarks, earrings and figurines.

But often the first link in that chain is a threadbare hunter, someone like Mannick Emane, a young man in Bitouga. Adept in the forest, he was trained nearly from birth to follow tracks and stalk game, and was puffing idly on a cigarette he had just lighted with a burning log.

He conceded he would kill elephants, "for the right price."

"Life is tough," he said. "So if someone is going to give us an opportunity for big money, we're going to take it."

Big money, he said, was about $50.

His friend Vincent Biyogo, also a hunter, nodded in agreement.

"When I was born," he said, "I dreamed of a better life, I dreamed of driving a car, going to school, living like a normal human being."

"Not this," he added quietly, staring at a pot of boiling caterpillars. "Not this."



For the full story, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN. "In Gabon, Lure of Ivory Is Hard for Many to Resist." The New York Times (Thurs., December 27, 2012): A5 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 26, 2012.)



BitougaManResentsGovernment2013-01-12b.jpg "A man in Bitouga, where people live in extreme poverty and say they resent the government's telling them not to poach." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT story quoted and cited above.






January 16, 2013

Descartes Saw that a Great City Is "an Inventory of the Possible"



(p. 226) Joel Kotkin writes about "The Broken Ladder: The Threat to Upward Mobility in the Global City." "A great city, wrote Rene Descartes in the 17th Century, represented 'an inventory of the possible,' a place where people could create their own futures and lift up their families. In the 21st Century--the first in which the majority of people will live in cities--this unique link between urbanism and upward mobility will become ever more critical."


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 4 (Fall 2010): 219-26.






December 18, 2012

Poor People Want Washing Machines







The wonderful clip above is from Hans Rosling's TED talk entitled "The Magic Washing Machine."

He clearly and strongly presents his central message that the washing machine has made life better.



What was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution? Hans Rosling makes the case for the washing machine. With newly designed graphics from Gapminder, Rosling shows us the magic that pops up when economic growth and electricity turn a boring wash day into an intellectual day of reading.


Source of video clip summary:

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html



The version of the clip above is embedded from YouTube, where it was posted by TED: http://youtu.be/BZoKfap4g4w

It can also be viewed at the TED web site at:

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html



(Note: I am grateful to Robin Kratina for telling me about Rosling's TED talk,)

(Note: I do not agree with Rosling's acceptance of the politically correct consensus view that the response to global warning should mainly be mitigation and green energy---to the extent that a response turns out to be necessary, I mainly support adaptation, as suggested in many previous entries on this blog.)






December 2, 2012

Garcia "Wanted to Get an Education and Get Out of" the "Sustainable" Life



GarciaJesusAntisustainable2012-12-01.jpg "In a straightforward sense, Mr. García, 44, is a Mexican ecologist. More broadly, though, he is a self-appointed emissary from the land once known as Pimería Alta, an interpreter of its culture, plants and people." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D6) Over the weekend, Mr. García would be driving back to his family seat in the mission town of Magdalena de Kino, Mexico. In a way, his personal mission is to recreate the orchards he knew there. He has started with dozens of seedlings in the backyard of the small ranch house that he shares with his girlfriend, Dena Cowan, a Spanish-language interpreter and videographer. (The couple recently produced a documentary, in Spanish and English, about the Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project called "Tasting History.")

Yet he remembered the orchards with something other than simple nostalgia.

As a child, he packed boxes of fruit to load onto his uncle's truck. "My father had this farm that he was renting, probably two acres," Mr. García recalled. By necessity, "the only things we bought from the store were salt, sugar, coffee and kerosene," he said. "Everything else we produced."

"Our mother, she made our underwear out of the wheat sacks," he continued. "My father used to make these homemade shoes for my brothers: leather, with used tires on the sole. They would hide them in the river on the way to school and then go to school barefooted." Better that, he recalled, than let classmates see their privation.

By the time Mr. García reached junior high, his older sister has become a teacher and the family's lot had improved. They installed indoor plumbing, for a start. There was nothing trendy about what he ironically calls their "sustainable" years. "I got the tail end," Mr. García said. "But I got enough to realize how hard work it is. I learned enough to realize I wanted to get an education and get out of that life."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL TORTORELLO. "Seeds of an Era Long Gone." The New York Times (Thurs., November 22, 2012): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the article was dated November 21, 2012.)






November 28, 2012

Rajan Hired to Open India to Entrepreneurship



RajanRaghuramIndiaSchoolOfBusiness2012-11-20.jpg "Raghuram G. Rajan criticized Indian policy makers during a speech in April at the Indian School of Business. In August, the Indian government offered him a job." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B3) NEW DELHI -- In April, the economist Raghuram G. Rajan gave a speech to a group of graduating Indian students in which he criticized the country's policy makers for "repeating failed experiment after failed experiment," rather than learning from the experiences of other countries. A week later, he assailed the government again, this time in a speech attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But instead of drawing a rebuke from India's often thin-skinned leaders, he got a job offer. In August, Mr. Singh, who has frequently sought Mr. Rajan's advice, called and asked him to take a leave from his job as a professor at the University of Chicago to return to India, where he was born, to help revive the country's flagging economy. Within weeks, he was at work as the chief economic adviser in the Finance Ministry.

Analysts say the appointment of an outspoken academic like Mr. Rajan, along with the recent push by New Delhi to reduce energy subsidies and open up retailing, insurance and aviation to foreign investment, signal that India's policy makers appear to be serious about tackling the nation's economic problems.


. . .


Mr. Rajan said he would like to focus his efforts on three big themes: liberalizing India's financial system; making it easier to do business, particularly for entrepreneurs and manufacturers; and fixing India's dysfunctional food distribution system, which wastes a lot of food even as many of the country's poor are malnourished.



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJA. "As Its Economy Sags, India Asks a Critic to Come Home and Help Out." The New York Times (Sat., October 6, 2012): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated October 5, 2012.)






November 26, 2012

American Innovators Created Synergies and Interchangeable Parts



TheDawnOfInnovationBK2012-11-20.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A13) . . . the post-Civil War industrialization had an important and largely overlooked predecessor in the first decades of the 19th century, when, as Charles Morris writes in "The Dawn of Innovation," "the American penchant for mechanized, large-scale production spread throughout industry, presaging the world's first mass-consumption economy." It is a story well worth telling, and Mr. Morris tells it well.


. . .


Whole industries sprang up as the country's population boomed and spilled over into the Middle West. The rich agricultural lands there produced huge surpluses of grain and meat, especially pork. The city of Cincinnati--whose population grew to 160,000 in 1860, from 2,500 in 1810--became known as "Porkopolis" because of the number of hogs its slaughterhouses processed annually.

Mr. Morris does a particularly good job of explaining the crucial importance of synergy in economic development, how one development leads to another and to increased growth. The lard (or pig fat) from the slaughterhouses, he notes, served as the basis for the country's first chemical industry. Lard had always been used for more than pie crust and frying. It was a principal ingredient in soap, which farm wives made themselves, a disagreeable and even dangerous task thanks to the lye used in the process.

But when lard processing was industrialized to make soap, it led to an array of byproducts such as glycerin, used in tanning and in pharmaceuticals. Stearine, another byproduct, made superior candles. Just in the decade from the mid-1840s to the mid-1850s, Cincinnati soap exports increased 20-fold, as did the export of other lard-based products. Procter & Gamble, founded in Cincinnati in 1837 by an Irish soap maker and an English candle maker who had married sisters, grew into a giant company as the fast-rising middle class sought gentility.

Mr. Morris goes into great detail on the development of interchangeable parts--the system of making the components of a manufactured product so nearly identical that they can be easily substituted and replaced.



For the full review, see:

John Steele Gordon. "BOOKSHELF; The Days Of Porkopolis." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 20, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was updated November 19, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Morris, Charles R. The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution. Philadelphia, PA: PublicAffairs, 2012.






October 21, 2012

Chamber Blitz Clip for Tort Reform



BlitzGasolineCans2012-10-11.jpg "Blitz gasoline cans, at Ace Hardware in Miami, Okla., will soon disappear from stores. The company closed because of the costs of lawsuits contending that the cans were unsafe." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


The "Mr. Flick" quoted below is Rocky Flick, the former CEO of Blitz.


(p. B1) Crusading against what it considers frivolous lawsuits, the United States Chamber of Commerce has had no shortage of cases to highlight, like the man suing a cruise line after burning his feet on a sunny deck or the mother claiming hearing loss from the screaming at a Justin Bieber concert.

Now, the lobbying group's Institute for Legal Reform is showing a 30-second commercial that uses Blitz USA, a bankrupt Oklahoma gasoline can manufacturer, to illustrate the consequences of abusive lawsuits. The ad shows tearful workers losing their jobs and the lights going out at the 46-year-old company as a result of steep legal costs from lawsuits targeting the red plastic containers, according to the company and the institute.

The closing of the 117-employee operation this summer became a rallying point for proponents of tort reform. . . .


. . .


(p. B2) Blitz executives note that the company, which was the nation's leading gas can producer, sold more than 14 million cans a year over the last decade, with fewer than two reported incidents per million cans sold. The company said the most serious incidents usually involved obvious misuse of the cans, like pouring gasoline on an open fire.


. . .


A decade ago, Mr. Flick said, the company would face one or two lawsuits a year. The number grew to six or seven a year, and finally to 25 or so last year when Blitz filed for bankruptcy.



For the full story, see:

CLIFFORD KRAUSS. "Two Sides of Product Liability: A Factory's Closing Focuses Attention on Tort Reform." The New York Times (Fri., October 4, 2012): B1.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 5, 2012 and has the shorter title "A Factory's Closing Focuses Attention on Tort Reform.")



View the Chamber video clip on the Blitz example:





FlickRockyFormerBlitzCEO2012-10-11.jpg













"Rocky Flick, Blitz's former chief executive." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







October 15, 2012

"The New Upper Class Must Start Preaching What It Practices"



ComingApartBK2012-09-03.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-RO889_bkrvmu_DV_20120130124608.jpg







(p. C2) There remains a core of civic virtue and involvement in working-class America that could make headway against its problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need--not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold. The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending "nonjudgmentalism." Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.


For the full essay, see:

CHARLES MURRAY. "The New American Divide; The ideal of an 'American way of life' is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated. Charles Murray on what's cleaving America, and why." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 21, 2012): C1-C2.


The essay quoted above is related to Murray's book:

Murray, Charles. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. New York: Crown Forum, 2012.






September 6, 2012

Macaulay Argues that a Limited Government that Protects Property Will Promote Economic Growth



Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the nation by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties, by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment, by maintaining peace, by defending property, by diminishing the price of law, and by observing strict economy in every department of the state. Let the Government do this: the People will assuredly do the rest.


Source:

Macaulay, Thomas Babington, Lord. "Review of: Robert Southey's "Sir Thomas More; or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society"." In Critical and Historical Essays Contributed to the Edinburgh Review. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1830.

(Note: the quote above appeared on the back cover of The Cato Journal 30, no. 1 (Winter 2010); Macaulay's full review, including the quote, can be viewed online at: http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/macS1.html )

(Note: the online version does not give page numbers, but gives what I think are "screen" numbers. The passage quoted is all of "SC.96" which appears at the very end of the essay.)





September 1, 2012

Mitt Romney on Innovation and Creative Destruction



No-ApologyBK2012-08-31.jpg













Source of book image: http://mittromneycentral.com/uploads/No-Apology1.jpg






(p. 108) Innovation and Creative Destruction

The key to increasing national prosperity is to promote good ideas and create the conditions that can lead them to be fully exploited--in existing businesses as well as new ones. Government is generally not the source of new ideas, although innovations from NASA and the military have provided frequent exceptions. Nor is government where innovation is commercially developed. But government policies do, in fact, have a major impact on the implementation of innovative ideas. The degree to which a nation makes itself productive, and thus how prosperous its citizens become, is determined in large measure by whether government adopts policies that stimulate innovation or that stifle it.

The government policy that has the greatest effect on innovation is simply whether or not the government will allow it. It's sad but true: Government can and often does purposefully prevent innovation and the resulting improvement in productivity. Recall my hypothetical example of a society in which half the farming jobs were lost due to innovation in the use of a plow? Some nations accept and encourage such "creative destruction," recognizing that in the long run it leads to greater productivity and wealth for its citizens. But other nations succumb to the objections of those in danger of becoming unemployed and prevent innovation that may reduce short-term employment.

Two centuries ago, more than three-quarters of our workforce actually did labor on farms. Over the succeeding decades, innovations like irrigation, fertilizer, and tractors were welcomed, and eventually large farming corporations were allowed to prosper, despite protests from family farmers and the often heart-wrenching dislocations that accompanied consolidation of farmlands. The result was the disappearance of millions of agricultural jobs and the large-scale migration of Americans from rural regions to our cities. Once there, they provided the labor that powered America's new industrial age. And at the same time, because farming innovation and productivity were allowed to flourish, America became the leader in agriculture education, research, and industry. Innovations from these sources have enabled us to produce sufficient food to feed not only our growing population but other parts of the world as well.



Source:

Romney, Mitt. No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2010.

(Note: bold in original.)






August 2, 2012

Romney Right that Culture Matters for Economic Success



WealthAndPovertyOfNationsBK2012-07-31.jpg
















Source of book image: http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1172699090l/209176.jpg




In the piece quoted below, and in much of the TV media coverage, the story is spun as being that Romney offended the Palestinians. But that is not the story. The story is that Romney courageously highlighted an important, but politically incorrect, truth---culture, generally, does matter for economic performance; and Israeli culture, specifically, has encouraged economic growth.

Romney referred to an important book by the distinguished economic historian David Landes. Last school year, one of the students in my Economics of Technology seminar gave a presentation on a related Landes book. That presentation can be viewed at: http://www.amazon.com/review/R2GLBAMFCS5PXH/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0521094186&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=

I recently read another relevant book, Start-Up Nation, that directly supports Romney's specific claim, by making the case that Israeli culture is especially congenial to entrepreneurial initiative and success.



(p. A1) JERUSALEM -- Mitt Romney offended Palestinian leaders on Monday by suggesting that cultural differences explain why the Israelis are so much more economically successful than Palestinians, thrusting himself again into a volatile issue while on his high-profile overseas trip.


. . .


In the speech, Mr. Romney mentioned books that had influenced his thinking about nations -- particularly "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations," by David S. Landes, which, he said, argues that culture is the defining factor in determining the success of a society.

"Culture makes all the (p. A14) difference," Mr. Romney said. "And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things."

He added, "As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States."

The remarks, which vastly understated the disparities between the societies, drew a swift rejoinder from Palestinian leaders.



For the full story, see:

ASHLEY PARKER and RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. "Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop." The New York Times (Tues., July 31, 2012): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2012.)


The Landes book discussed by Romney is:

Landes, David S. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.


The book on Israeli entrepreneurship, that I mention in my comments, is:

Senor, Dan, and Saul Singer. Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. hb ed. New York: Twelve, 2009.






July 3, 2012

Our Cups Will Runneth Over If We Choose Entrepreneurship, Imagination, Will and Optimism



AbundanceBK2012-06-11.jpg



















Source of book image: http://www.abundancethebook.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/cover-NYTimes-3d-500.jpg?139d23


(p. 18) in Silicon Valley, where the locals tend to be too busy starting companies to wallow in gloom, Peter Diamandis has stood out as one of the more striking optimists. Several years ago, Diamandis founded the X Prize Foundation, which rewards entrepreneurs with cash for achieving difficult goals, like putting a reusable spaceship into flight on a limited budget. More recently he helped start Singularity University, an academic program that convenes several weeks a year in the Valley and educates business leaders about the "disruptive" -- i.e., phenomenally innovative -- technological changes Diamandis is anticipating. To be sure, Diamandis is both very bright (he studied molecular biology and aerospace engineering at M.I.T. before getting an M.D. at Harvard) and well informed. Moreover, he's not the kind of optimist who will merely see the glass as half full. He'll give you dozens of reasons, some highly technical, why it's half full. Then he'll explain that your cognitive biases are tricking you into seeing the glass of water in a negative light, and cart out the research of acclaimed psychologists like Daniel Kahne­man to prove his point. Finally he may suggest you stop fretting: new technologies will soon fill the glass up anyway. Indeed, they are likely to overfill it.


. . .


(p. 19) Throughout the book Diamandis . . . offers small groups of driven entrepreneurs as a kind of Leatherman solution to the world's problems. It's true that plenty of insurgents are doing impressive things out there -- Elon Musk's Tesla Motors, which helped jump-start the world's electric car industry, is a good example.


. . .


. . . , there's a significant idea embedded within "Abundance": We should remain aware, as writers like Jared Diamond have likewise told us, that societies can choose their own future, and thus their own fate. In that spirit Diamandis and Kotler put forth a range of possible goals we may achieve if we have the imagination and the will. A little optimism wouldn't hurt, either.



For the full review, see:

JON GERTNER. "Plenty to Go Around." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., April 1, 2012): 18 & 19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 30, 2012.)


The book under review is:

Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. New York: Free Press, 2012.






June 12, 2012

Obama's World Bank President Opposes Growth, Profits and Globalization



President Obama's pick for World Bank President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, is scheduled to take office on July 1, 2012.



(p. A8) Dr. Kim has drawn fire recently for comments in a book he co-edited in 2000, "Dying for Growth." In a piece he co-authored for it, Dr. Kim co-wrote that "the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men."


. . .


. . . an economist who has become one of Dr. Kim's leading critics, New York University's William Easterly, said the World Bank nominee offered an "amateur" approach to economics through an "antiglobalization point of view" that is critical of corporations.

"His critique was much more radical, that the system itself was responsible for creating poverty," Mr. Easterly said.



For the full review, see:

SUDEEP REDDY. "WORLD NEWS; Criticism Over U.S.'s World Bank Pick Swells." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 9, 2012): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: online version of the article is dated April 8, 2012.)


William Easterly's wonderful and courageous book is:

Easterly, William. The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002 [1st ed. 2001].







June 6, 2012

Michael Milken Provided "Access to Capital for Growing Companies"



(p. 163) Although [high yield] . . . bonds eventually became known as a favored tool for leveraged--buyout specialists in the 1980s, Mike's original goal was different. He wanted to provide access to capital for growing companies that needed financing to expand and create jobs. Most of these companies lacked the investment grade" bond ratings required before the big financial institutions would back them. Mike knew that non-investment-grade (a k a "junk") companies create virtually all new jobs, and he believed that helping these companies grow strengthened the American economy and created good jobs for American workers.

It was by studying credit history at Berkeley in the 1960s that Mike developed his first great insight. He found that while there could be significant risk in any one high-yield bond, a carefully constructed portfolio of these assets produced a consistently better return over the long run than supposedly "safe" investment-grade debt. This was proved during the two decades of the 1970s and '80s when returns on high-yield bonds topped all other asset classes. Mike saw a great opportunity when he realized that the perception of default risk far exceeded the reality. In fact, these bonds had a surprisingly low-risk profile when adjusted for the potential returns.

After twenty years of superior gains, the high-yield bond market finally fell in 1990. Actually, it didn't fall--it was pushed by unwise government regulation that forced institutions to sell their bonds. The dip only lasted a year, however, with the market roaring back 46 percent in 1991.

Mike's competitors--Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Credit Suisse First Boston, the old oligopolies of the syndication (p. 164) business--labeled them "junk bonds" to disparage Mike's brainchild. He was not a member of their white-shoe club and they were not going to take his act lying down.



Source:

Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

(Note: bracketed words and ellipsis added.)





May 31, 2012

Tax Hikes Punish Hard Work and Reduce Incentives to Invest



(p. A15) The supply-sider has a different view from both the Keynesian and the budget balancer. Fundamentally, supply-side advocates focus on the harmful effects of tax increases. Raising tax rates hurts the economy directly because tax hikes reduce incentives to invest and because they punish hard work. As such, tax increases slow growth. But budget cuts work in the right direction by making lower tax revenues sustainable. If spending exceeds revenues, then the government must borrow and this commits future governments to raising taxes in order to service the debt.


. . .


On the tax side, there is strong evidence that supports the supply-siders. Christina Romer, President Obama's first chairwoman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, and David Romer document the strong unfavorable effect of increasing tax rates on economic growth (American Economic Review, 2010). They report that an increase in taxes of 1% of gross domestic product lowers GDP by almost 3%. The evidence on government spending also suggests that high spending means lower growth.

For example, Swedish economists Andreas Bergh and Magnus Henrekson (Journal of Economic Surveys 2011) survey a large literature and conclude that an increase in government size by 10 percentage points of GDP is associated with a half to one percentage point lower annual growth rate.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "OPINION; Three Views of the 'Fiscal Cliff'; It's the tax increases we have to fear. Spending cuts won't hurt the economy." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 21, 2012): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated May 20, 2012 and has the title "OPINION; Edward Lazear: Three Views of the 'Fiscal Cliff'; It's the tax increases we have to fear. Spending cuts won't hurt the economy.")



The Romer and Romer paper mentioned is:

Romer, Christina D., and David H. Romer. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks." American Economic Review 100, no. 3 (June 2010): 763-801.


The Bergh and Henrekson paper mentioned is:

Bergh, Andreas, and Magnus Henrekson. "Government Size and Growth: A Survey and Interpretation of the Evidence." Journal of Economic Surveys 25, no. 5 (Dec. 2011): 872-97.






April 26, 2012

NGO Workers Are More Concerned with Following Plan than Achieving Mission



BazaarPoliticsBK2012-04-08.jpg













Source of book image: http://www.bibliovault.org/thumbs/978-0-8047-7672-1-frontcover.jpg






In the quote below, "NGO" means "Non-Government Organization," for instance, a philanthropy.


(p. 17) As for the state's representatives, their authority was what Coburn calls a "useful fiction." The district governor wielded his connections to Kabul as best he could, but did not possess great influence, in part because -- in keeping with the most sophisticated state-building methods -- government aid was mainly distributed by locally elected committees. Istalif's police were seen as hapless at best, predatory at worst; Coburn found that villagers were eager to protect him from a local officer. The French soldiers who periodically showed up in the bazaar had little impact, though their presence did become an excuse for keeping women out of the area. But Coburn observed that "no group was less effective at accumulating influence" than the NGO community. The best development experts accomplished little: their turnover was high, and they frequently bestowed their largess on deserving locals -- women, refugees who'd returned from abroad with some education, victims of wartime injuries -- who didn't have the connections or ability to capitalize on their good fortune. NGO workers seemed less concerned with achieving a valuable outcome than with demonstrating to their backers that they had followed a mission plan to the letter.


For the full review, see:

ALEXANDER STAR. "Applied Anthropology." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 20, 2011): 16-17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated November 18, 2011, and has the title "Afghanistan: What the Anthropologists Say.")


The book being discussed is:

Coburn, Noah. Bazaar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afghan Market Town. Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.





April 19, 2012

"Dematerialization" Means More Goods from Fewer Resources



(p. C4) Economic growth is a form of deflation. If the cost of, say, computing power goes down, then the users of computing power acquire more of it for less--and thus attain a higher standard of living. One thing that makes such deflation possible is dematerialization, the reduction in the quantity of stuff needed to produce a product. An iPhone, for example, weighs 1/100th and costs 1/10th as much as an Osborne Executive computer did in 1982, but it has 150 times the processing speed and 100,000 times the memory.

Dematerialization is occurring with all sorts of products. Banking has shrunk to a handful of electrons moving on a cellphone, as have maps, encyclopedias, cameras, books, card games, music, records and letters--none of which now need to occupy physical space of their own. And it's happening to food, too. In recent decades, wheat straw has shrunk as grain production has grown, because breeders have persuaded the plant to devote more of its energy to making the thing that we value most. Future dematerialization includes the possibility of synthetic meat--produced in a lab without brains, legs or guts.

Dematerialization is one of the reasons that Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler give for the future's being "better than you think" in their new book, "Abundance."



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; The Future Is So Bright, it's Dematerializing." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 25, 2012): C4.


The book mentioned by Ridley is:

Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. New York: Free Press, 2012.






March 13, 2012

Upper Class "Have Lost the Confidence to Preach What They Practice"



Coming-ApartBK2012-03-07.jpg













Source of book image:
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-K9jKNHD0vwE/Tzn4yKgEtII/AAAAAAAAC8Q/2wZqk1Hl1V4/s1600/murray-coming-apart.jpg




(p. 9) The problem, Murray argues, is not that members of the new upper class eat French cheese or vote for Barack Obama. It is that they have lost the confidence to preach what they practice, adopting instead a creed of "ecumenical niceness." They work, marry and raise children, but they refuse to insist that the rest of the country do so, too. "The belief that being a good American involved behaving in certain kinds of ways, and that the nation itself relied upon a certain kind of people in order to succeed, had begun to fade and has not revived," Murray writes.


For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE. "Tramps Like Them; Charles Murray Argues that the White Working Class Is No Longer a Virtuous Silent Majority." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., February 12, 2012): 9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 10, 2012 and has the title "Tramps Like Them; Charles Murray Examines the White Working Class in 'Coming Apart'.")







February 26, 2012

In China the Rich and Creative Prepare to Vote with Their Feet



ShiKangBeijingMillionaire2012-02-22.jpg "Shi Kang, a millionaire writer living in Beijing, started thinking about emigrating after a long road trip last year around the U.S." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) BEIJING--This time last year, Shi Kang considered himself a happy man.

Writing 15 novels had made him a millionaire. He owned a luxury apartment and a new silver Mercedes. He was so content with his carefree life in Beijing that he never even traveled overseas.

Today, a year later, Mr. Shi is considering emigrating to the U.S.--one of a growing number of rich Chinese either contemplating leaving their homeland or already arranging to do it.


. . .


(p. A12) A survey published in November found that 60% of about 960,000 Chinese people with assets over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) were either thinking about emigrating or taking steps to do so. The U.S. was the top destination, followed by Canada, Singapore and Europe, according to the survey by the state-run Bank of China and Hurun Report, which analyzes trends among China's wealthy.


. . .


Mr. Su was no dissident, though. Like many of his generation, he turned his attention to getting rich. Today, at 46, Mr. Su runs his own aerospace technology company and estimates his own net worth, including the various properties he owns, at around 80 million yuan, or close to $13 million.

His main reason for leaving, he says, is the business environment. "The government has too much power," he says. "Regulations here mean that businessmen have to do a lot of illegal things. That gives people a real sense of insecurity." He said four of his distributors have also applied for investment immigration to Canada.


. . .


"The problem is that government power is too great," Mr. Su says. "When the economy is going up, they think that everything they are doing is right." If they don't change, he worries, "another revolution will come soon."


. . .


The current migrant wave is different in that they are escaping neither poverty nor political unrest--and many say they are leaving for good. The Hurun survey showed that the average respondent had 60 million yuan in assets and was 42, old enough to remember the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, but young enough to have learned how to prosper in a market economy.

Deng Jie fits the profile. Twenty-seven years ago, in the fledgling years of China's market reforms, he began his career in a state-run ceramics factory in Beijing, sharing a cramped dormitory with colleagues and earning 50 yuan a month (about $13 in those days).

Today, at 48, he runs his own chemical pigments business and lives with his wife and daughter in one of the three luxury apartments he owns. In dollar terms, he is a millionaire several times over. His properties alone have appreciated by 800% in a decade.

Yet the hope he felt for his country in the 1980s, he says, has "been doused with bucket after bucket of cold water." He cited a host of concerns, including rampant corruption among the officials he deals with, and new labor regulations that he says have made his work force too costly and demanding.

"I'm representing a lot of other people like me," he says. "We used to want to contribute to the nation. But now we just feel so disappointed. China cannot continue like this. It has to change."



For the full story, see:

JEREMY PAGE. "Plan B for China's Wealthy: Moving to the U.S., Europe." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 22, 2012): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)



ChineseEB5visaApplicationGraph.jpg














Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.










February 24, 2012

Manifesto for a Rising Standard of Living



AbundanceBK2012-02-22.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.







(p. A13) Mr. Diamandis is the chairman and chief executive of the X Prize Foundation and the founder of more than a dozen high-tech companies. With his journalist co-author, he has produced a manifesto for the future that is grounded in practical solutions addressing the world's most pressing concerns: overpopulation, food, water, energy, education, health care and freedom. The authors suggest that "humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation where technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standard of living for every man, woman, and child on the planet."


. . .


Predictions of a rosy future have a way of sounding as unrealistic as end-is-nigh forecasts. But Messrs. Diamandis and Kotler are not just dreamers. They lay out a plausible road map, discussing, among other things, the benefits of do-it-yourself tinkering--like the work by geneticist J. Craig Venter in beating the U.S. government in the race to sequence the human genome--and the growing willingness of techno-philanthropists like Bill Gates to tackle real-world problems.

The biggest hurdles, however, are not scientific or technological but political. There are still too many corrupt dictators and backward-looking governments keeping millions in penury. But as we have seen lately, the misruled have a way of throwing off despotic governments. With ever more people reaching for freedom, countless millions are tacitly embracing the Diamandis motto: "The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself."



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL SHERMER. "BOOKSHELF; Defying the Doomsayers; Abundance" argues that growing technologies have the potential not only to spread information but to solve some of humanity's most vexing problems." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 22, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book being reviewed is:

Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. New York: Free Press, 2012.







February 20, 2012

Nasar Gives Compelling Portrait of Joseph Schumpeter and His Vienna



Grand-PursuitBK2012-02-05.jpg














Source of book image: http://luxuryreading.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/grand-pursuit.jpg





(p. C31) Ms. Nasar gives us Belle Époque Vienna -- infatuated with modernity and challenging London in the race to electrify with new telephone service, state-of-the-art factories and power-driven trams -- and then a devastating picture of Vienna at the end of World War I: war veterans loitering outside restaurants waiting for scraps, and desperate members of a middle class that saw inflation wipe out all its savings trading a piano for a sack of flour, a gold watch chain for a few sacks of potatoes.


. . .


Among the more compelling portraits in this volume is that of Joseph Alois Schumpeter, the brilliant European economist who argued that the distinctive feature of capitalism was "incessant innovation" -- a "perennial gale of creative destruction" -- and who identified the entrepreneur as the visionary who could "revolutionize the pattern of production by exploiting an invention" or "an untried technological possibility."



For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Economist's Progress: Better Living Through Fiscal Chemistry." The New York Times (Fri., December 2, 2011): C31.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 1, 2011.)







January 26, 2012

Paleolithic Homo Sapiens Engaged in Long Distance Trade



(p. 71) At Mezherich, in what is now Ukraine, 18,000 years ago, jewellery made of shells from the Black Sea and amber from the Baltic implied trade over hundreds of miles.

This is in striking contrast to the Neanderthals, whose stone tools were virtually always made from raw material available within an hour's walk of where the tool was used.



Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





January 22, 2012

Hunter-Gatherers Suffered Violence, Famine and Disease--No Idyllic Golden Age



(p. 44) The warfare death rate of 0.5 per cent of the population per year that was typical of many hunter-gatherer societies would equate to two billion people dying during the twentieth century (instead of 100 million). At a cemetery uncovered at Jebel Sahaba, in Egypt, dating from 14,000 years ago, twenty-four of the fifty-nine bodies had died from unhealed wounds caused by spears, darts and arrows. Forty of these bodies were women or children. Women and children generally do not take part in warfare - but they are (p. 45) frequently the object of the fighting. To be abducted as a sexual prize and see your children killed was almost certainly not a rare female fate in hunter-gatherer society. After Jebel Sahaba, forget the Garden of Eden; think Mad Max.

It was not just warfare that limited population growth. Hunter-gatherers are often vulnerable to famines. Even when food is abundant, it might take so much travelling and trouble to collect enough food that women would not maintain a sufficient surplus to keep themselves fully fertile for more than a few prime years. Infanticide was a common resort in bad times. Nor was disease ever far away: gangrene, tetanus and many kinds of parasite would have been big killers. Did I mention slavery? Common in the Pacific north-west. Wife beating? Routine in Tierra del Fuego. The lack of soap, hot water, bread, books, films, metal, paper, cloth? When you meet one of those people who go so far as to say they would rather have lived in some supposedly more delightful past age, just remind them of the toilet facilities of the Pleistocene, the transport options of Roman emperors or the lice of Versailles.



Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





January 9, 2012

Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires Wins Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership



PiresPedroDeVeronaRodrigues2011-11-14.jpg














"Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A10) MONROVIA, Liberia -- Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires, the former president of Cape Verde, the desertlike archipelago about 300 miles off the coast of West Africa, has won one of the world's major prizes, the $5 million Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

The record of governing in Africa has been poor enough lately that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation decided not to award the prize for the past two years. In many African countries, leaders have refused to leave office after losing elections, tried to alter constitutions to ensure their continued tenure or gone back on pledges not to run for re-election.


. . .


Mr. Pires served two terms -- 10 years -- as president until stepping down last month. During that period, the foundation noted, Cape Verde became only the second African nation to move up from the United Nations' "least developed" category. The foundation says the prize is given only to a democratically elected president who has stayed "within the limits set by the country's constitution, has left office in the last three years and has demonstrated excellence in office."



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "Ex-President of Cape Verde Wins Good-Government Prize." The New York Times (Tues., October 11, 2011): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 10, 2011.)





January 6, 2012

In 1800 the Life of a Peasant Was Not Pleasant



(p. 12) There are people today who think life was better in the past. They argue that there was not only a simplicity, tranquility, sociability and spirituality about life in the distant past that has been lost, but a virtue too. This rose-tinted nostalgia, please note, is generally confined to the wealthy. It is easier to wax elegiac for the life of a peasant when you do not have to use a long-drop toilet. Imagine that it is 1800, somewhere in Western Europe or eastern North America. The family is gathering around the hearth in the (p. 13) simple timber-framed house. Father reads aloud from the Bible while mother prepares to dish out a stew of beef and onions. The baby boy is being comforted by one of his sisters and the eldest lad is pouring water from a pitcher into the earthenware mugs on the table. His elder sister is feeding the horse in the stable. Outside there is no noise of traffic, there are no drug dealers and neither dioxins nor radioactive fall-out have been found in the cow's milk. All is tranquil; a bird sings outside the window.

Oh please! Though this is one of the better-off families in the village, father's Scripture reading is interrupted by a bronchitic cough that presages the pneumonia that will kill him at 53 - not helped by the wood smoke of the fire. (He is lucky: life expectancy even in England was less than 40 in 1800.) The baby will die of the smallpox that is now causing him to cry; his sister will soon be the chattel of a drunken husband. The water the son is pouring tastes of the cows that drink from the brook. Toothache tortures the mother. The neighbour's lodger is getting the other girl pregnant in the hayshed even now and her child will be sent to an orphanage. The stew is grey and gristly yet meat is a rare change from gruel; there is no fruit or salad at this season. It is eaten with a wooden spoon from a wooden bowl. Candles cost too much, so firelight is all there is to see by. Nobody in the family has ever seen a play, painted a picture or heard a piano. School is a few years of dull Latin taught by a bigoted martinet at the vicarage. Father visited the city once, but the travel cost him a week's wages and the others have never travelled more than fifteen miles from home. Each daughter owns two wool dresses, two linen shirts and one pair of shoes. Father's jacket cost him a month's wages but is now infested with lice. The children sleep two to a bed on straw mattresses on the floor. As for the bird outside the window, tomorrow it will be trapped and eaten by the boy.



Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.






January 1, 2012

Ridley Argues that Our Future Can Be Bright




RationalOptimistBK.jpg

















Source of book image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_cheRMv1X2oI/TAOvTFTnoeI/AAAAAAAAAgU/WAp7q0I_5mw/s1600/Ridley+Rational+Optimist.jpg




Ridley's book is very well-written, well-argued and well-documented. He takes on all the main arguments against a happy future for humans. I agree with most of what he writes. (One exception is that I think he underestimates the importance of patents in enabling a broader group of inventors to continue inventing.)

In the coming weeks, I will be quoting some of the more memorable, thought-provoking, or useful passages.



Book discussed:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.






December 5, 2011

"Private Life Was Completely Transformed in the Nineteenth Century"



(p. 448) Private life was completely transformed in the nineteenth century - socially, intellectually, technologically, hygienically, sartorially, sexually and in almost any other respect that could be made into an adverb. Mr Marsham was born (in 1822) into a world that was still essentially medieval - a place of candlelight, medicinal leeches, travel at walking pace, news from afar that was always weeks or months old - and lived to see the introduction of one marvel after another: steamships and speeding trains, telegraphy, photography, anaesthesia, indoor plumbing, gas lighting, antisepsis in medicine, refrigeration, telephones, electric lights, recorded music, cars and planes, skyscrapers, motion pictures, radio, and literally tens of thousands of tiny things more, from mass-produced bars of soap to push-along lawnmowers.

It is almost impossible to conceive just how much radical day-to-day change people were exposed to in the nineteenth century, particularly in the second half. Even something as elemental as the weekend was brand new.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





November 20, 2011

For-Profit Entrepreneur Brings Good Things to Bangladesh



PolakPaulEntrepreneur2011-11-09.jpg"INVENTOR Paul Polak creates cheap and effective devices to help the poor." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D4) If necessity is the mother of invention, Paul Polak is one of its fathers.

For 30 years Dr. Polak, a 78-year-old former psychiatrist, has focused on creating devices that will improve the lives of 2.6 billion people living on less than $2 a day. But, he insists, they must be so cheap and effective that the poor will actually buy them, since charity disappears when donors find new causes.

Inventing a new device is only the beginning, he says; the harder part is finding dependable manufacturers and creating profitable distributorships. The "appropriate technology" field, he argues, is "dominated by tinkerers and short of entrepreneurs."

His greatest success has been a treadle pump that lets farmers raise groundwater in the dry season, when crops fetch more money. He has sold more than two million, he said.


. . .


Q. What got you interested in poverty?


. . .


Q. And in third-world poverty?

A. My wife's a Mennonite, and they had programs in Bangladesh. It had hit me between the eyes that homeless people in Denver were living on $500 a month, but there were people overseas living on $30 a month. So I took a trip to Bangladesh.

Some farmers were using hand pumps, but biomechanically, that's a lousy way to raise water. A Mennonite guy had invented a rower pump that would pull up enough to water a half-acre of vegetables. They had installed 2,000 over five years, and those farmers seemed to be making a lot of money, so I said, "Why don't we do a project, with an objective of selling 25,000 a year?"

We hit that pretty quickly. One or two Mennonites objected -- they considered the idea of selling something to poor people immoral. But we kept at it, and then we found the treadle pump. It was brilliantly simple, it could be manufactured by local workshops, and a local driller could dig a 40-foot well and install it for $25. Studies showed that farmers made $100 in one season on that investment.

We talked to 75 little welding shops where they make things like bedsprings, and jawboned them into making treadle pumps. We went to people who sold things like toilet bowls, and cut a deal with them to be dealers. We trained 3,000 tinkerers to be well-drillers. We hired troubadours to write songs about treadle pumps, and we'd pass out leaflets when they performed. We even produced a 90-minute Bollywood movie.


. . .


Q. What's the biggest mistake aid agencies make?

A. As we were developing our pump, the World Bank was subsidizing deep-well diesel pumps that could cover 40 acres. The theory was that you'd get a macroeconomic benefit, but it was also very destructive to social justice. The big pumps were handed out by government agents; the government agent was bribeable. The pump would go to the biggest landholder, and he'd become a waterlord.

Q. There have been some well-known failures in this field, like One Laptop Per Child and the Playpump. Can you say why?

A. The laptop was a middle-class device that doesn't communicate with people who don't read and write. It cost $100, plus it used the charity model -- buy two, give one away. The Playpump, which was a children's merry-go-round that pumps water, cost $11,000. Women in Africa walk for hours to a well, and then jiggle the pump handle for 60 seconds. This replaces the jiggling. How important is that? And they break. For $11,000, you could dig five wells and eliminate the walk.

Q. What are your principles for success?

A. In 1981, I said, "I'm going to interview 100 $1-a-day families every year, come rain or shine, and learn from them first."

Over 28 years, I've interviewed over 3,000 families. I spend about six hours with each one -- walking with them through their fields, asking what they had for breakfast, how far their kids walk to school, what they feed their dog, what all their sources of income are. This is not rocket science. Any businessman knows this: You've got to talk to your customers.



For the full story, see:

DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. "A CONVERSATION WITH PAUL R. POLAK; An Entrepreneur Creating Chances at a Better Life." The New York Times (Tues.,September 27, 2011): D4.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 26, 2011.)





October 31, 2011

More on Jobs Haiku



My Jobs haiku has received some discussion in the blogosphere.


It is reproduced, along with haikus submitted by other economics bloggers, in an entry of the blog of the Economist magazine:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/10/poetry?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/theeconomyinhaiku


I especially like a comment to the Economist blog entry:

CaitP

Oct 26th 2011 7:59 GMT

What a creative way to describe the economy. It is so interesting to see how everyone interprets the economy through poem. I personally like the "jobs and Jobs" one. I think it describes our economy, and gives a snapshot of a major moment in our history.



kbuch5

Nov 2nd 2011 1:41 GMT

It is interesting to see people's opinions about the economy being put into haikus. My favorite out of these is the haiku that refers to the fact that we have lost Steve Jobs and many jobs for US citizens. And in order to regain these jobs we are going to need more people to contribute in ways Steve Jobs has.


(Note: I added kbuch5's comment on 11/7/11.)


CNBC correspondent Jane Wells describes my haiku as "poetic" on her blog:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/45078738






October 23, 2011

Obama Regulations Are "Choking Off Innovation"



From 2007 to 2010 Nina V. Fedoroff was the science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in the Obama administration. Fedoroff is currently a Professor of Biology at Penn State. The passages quoted below are from her courageous commentary in The New York Times op-ed section:



(p. A21) . . . even as the Obama administration says it wants to stimulate innovation by eliminating unnecessary regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to require even more data on genetically modified crops, which have been improved using technology with great promise and a track record of safety. The process for approving these crops has become so costly and burdensome that it is choking off innovation.

Civilization depends on our expanding ability to produce food efficiently, which has markedly accelerated thanks to science and technology. The use of chemicals for fertilization and for pest and disease control, the induction of beneficial mutations in plants with chemicals or radiation to improve yields, and the mechanization of agriculture have all increased the amount of food that can be grown on each acre of land by as much as 10 times in the last 100 years.

These extraordinary increases must be doubled by 2050 if we are to continue to feed an expanding population. . . .


. . .


Myths about the dire effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment abound, but they have not held up to scientific scrutiny. And, although many concerns have been expressed about the potential for unexpected consequences, the unexpected effects that have been observed so far have been benign. Contamination by carcinogenic fungal toxins, for example, is as much as 90 percent lower in insect-resistant genetically modified corn than in nonmodified corn. This is because the fungi that make the toxins follow insects boring into the plants. No insect holes, no fungi, no toxins.


. . .


Only big companies can muster the money necessary to navigate the regulatory thicket woven by the government's three oversight agencies: the E.P.A., the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.


. . .


. . . the evidence is in. These crop modification methods are not dangerous. The European Union has spent more than $425 million studying the safety of genetically modified crops over the past 25 years. Its recent, lengthy report on the matter can be summarized in one sentence: Crop modification by molecular methods is no more dangerous than crop modification by other methods. Serious scientific bodies that have analyzed the issue, including the National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society, have come to the same conclusion.



For the full commentary, see:

NINA V. FEDOROFF. "Engineering Food for All." The New York Times (Fri., August 19, 2011): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was dated August 18, 2011.)







October 20, 2011

Fewer Entrepreneurial Startups Leads to Fewer New Jobs




JobsCreatedByStartupsGraph2011-10-18.jpg
















Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.






(p. B1) Start-ups fuel job growth disproportionately since by definition they are starting and growing, adding employees, says the Kauffman Foundation, which researches and advocates for entrepreneurship.

Though there was start-up activity during and after the recession, driven partly by unemployed individuals putting out a shingle, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show the total number of "births" of new businesses declined sharply from previous years. What's more, the number of people employed by new businesses that are less than a year old--a common definition of a start-up--also declined. That trend started a decade ago.

In a recent report on entrepreneurship, the BLS said the number of new businesses less than a year old that existed in the year ending March 2010 "was lower than any other year" since its research began in 1994. The downdraft started with the recession.

"More people who were self-employed failed and left self-employment than people who entered," says Scott Shane, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University who wrote a study on entrepreneurship and the recession for the Cleveland Fed. "The net effect is negative, not positive, largely because downturns hurt those in business and those thinking of entering business."



For the full story, see:

JOHN BUSSEY. "THE BUSINESS; Shrinking in a Bad Economy: America's Entrepreneur Class." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., AUGUST 12, 2011): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The BLS report mentioned above can be found at: http://www.bls.gov/bdm/entrepreneurship/entrepreneurship.htm


The Scott Shane commentary mentioned above can be found at:
http://www.clevelandfed.org/research/commentary/2011/2011-04.cfm



YoungFirmsGraph2011-10-18.jpg














Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.










October 19, 2011

Jobs Haiku




jobs and Jobs are gone
need more Jobs to get more jobs
innovate to grow

Arthur Diamond



In his Q4 survey of influential economics bloggers, Tim Kane of the Kauffman Foundation whimsically requested that we create a haiku that speaks to the state of the economy. I sent him my haiku, above, on Sunday, October 16, 2011.

(Do not worry---I have no plans to retire and devote myself to writing poetry.)






October 3, 2011

"Coolidge Helped Americans Prosper by Letting Them Be Free"



(p. A15) Ronald Reagan, who grew up during the Coolidge presidency, admired "Silent Cal," even going so far as to read a biography of the 30th president as he recovered from a surgery in 1985 and to praise him in letters to his constituents. To Reagan, Coolidge wasn't silent, but was silenced by New Deal supporters, whose intellectual heirs control much of Washington today.


. . .


Unlike President Obama, President Coolidge didn't want to "spread the wealth around," but to grow it. He didn't call for "shared sacrifice"--Americans had sacrificed enough during the great war--but for good character.

There "is no surer road to destruction than prosperity without character," he said in a speech at the University of Pennsylvania in 1921. And from the White House lawn in 1924 he said, "I want the people of America to be able to work less for the Government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. That is the chief meaning of freedom."


. . .


As Coolidge saw things in 1924, "A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent public necessity and sound public policy is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny. It condemns the citizen to servitude." Coolidge helped Americans prosper by letting them be free.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES C. JOHNSON. "How Silent Cal Beat a Recession; The late president inherited a bad economy, and he cut taxes and slashed spending to spur growth." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 4, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)





September 24, 2011

Chinese Boom Financed by Government Debt and "Clever Accounting"



EmptyLotForWuhanTower2011-08-08.jpg "An empty lot in Wuhan, China, where developers intend to build a tower taller than the Empire State Building in New York." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) . . . the Wuhan Metro is only one piece of a $120 billion municipal master plan that includes two new airport terminals, a new financial district, a cultural district and a riverfront promenade with an office tower half again as high as the Empire State Building.


. . .


The plans for Wuhan, a provincial capital about 425 miles west of Shanghai, might seem extravagant. But they are not unusual. Dozens of other Chinese cities are racing to complete infrastructure projects just as expensive and ambitious, or more (p. A8) so, as they play their roles in this nation's celebrated economic miracle.

In the last few years, cities' efforts have helped government infrastructure and real estate spending surpass foreign trade as the biggest contributor to China's growth. Subways and skyscrapers, in other words, are replacing exports of furniture and iPhones as the symbols of this nation's prowess.

But there are growing signs that China's long-running economic boom could be undermined by these building binges, which are financed through heavy borrowing by local governments and clever accounting that masks the true size of the debt.

The danger, experts say, is that China's municipal governments could already be sitting on huge mountains of hidden debt -- a lurking liability that threatens to stunt the nation's economic growth for years or even decades to come. Just last week China's national auditor, who reports to the cabinet, warned of the perils of local government borrowing. And on Tuesday the Beijing office of Moody's Investors Service issued a report saying the national auditor might have understated Chinese banks' actual risks from loans to local governments.

Because Chinese growth has been one of the few steady engines in the global economy in recent years, any significant slowdown in this country would have international repercussions.



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "Building Boom in China Stirs Fears of Debt Overload." The New York Times (Thurs., July 7, 2011): C8.

(Note: online version of the article is dated July 6, 2011 and has the title "Building Boom in China Stirs Fears of Debt Overload.")

(Note: ellipses added.)





August 28, 2011

Strong Economic Growth Benefits Workers



(p. A13) Workers do well only when the economy grows at a healthy and consistent pace. The biggest threat to long-term economic growth is government growth of the magnitude that characterized the past two years and that is forecast for our future.

Our current problems are not a result of acts of nature. They stem from policy choices that dramatically increased the size of the government. In the past two years, the federal budget has grown by a whopping 16%.


. . .


. . . , the price of the stimulus is what appears to be a permanent increase in the size of government that will continue to slow economic growth. Most economists believe that high debt and high taxes each contributes to slow economic growth, which hurts workers both in the short and long run.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "OPINION; How Big Government Hurts the Average Joe; Job growth is very closely linked to GDP growth. If the economy is not growing, then jobs aren't being added." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., August 5, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)






August 18, 2011

"How Painfully Dim the World Was before Electricity"




(p. 112) We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle - a good candle - provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100-watt light bulb. Open your refrigerator door and you summon forth more light than the total amount enjoyed by most households in the eighteenth century. The world at night for much of history was a very dark place indeed.


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





August 4, 2011

Robert Lucas Sees Lower Growth Due to Too Much Regulation and Taxes



(p. A15) Robert Lucas, the 1995 Nobel laureate in economics, has spent his career thinking about why economies grow, and in particular about the effect of policy making on growth. From his office at the University of Chicago, Prof. Lucas has been wondering, like the rest of us, why, if the recession officially ended in the first half of 2009, there hasn't been more growth in the U.S. economy. He's also been wondering why this delayed recovery resembles the long non-recovery years of the 1930s. And he has been thinking about the U.S. and Europe.

In May, Bob Lucas pulled his thoughts together and delivered them as the Milliman Lecture at the University of Washington, an exercise he described to me this week as "intelligent speculation."

Here is the lecture's provocative final thought: "Is it possible that by imitating European policies on labor markets, welfare and taxes, the U.S. has chosen a new, lower GDP trend? If so, it may be that the weak recovery we have had so far is all the recovery we will get."


. . .


"If we're going to move to a European welfare state," says Prof. Lucas, "we're going to have to pay a European price." And that price could be a permanently lower level of GDP per person. The U.S.'s amazing 100-year ride would slow.

Among the many things any such drop in GDP will siphon away is America's relentless productive vitality. "So much new happens in the United States," Prof. Lucas says. But will it still?



For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL HENNINGER. "The Disappearing Recovery; What if the weak recovery is all the recovery we are going to get?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JULY 14, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of article had the date JULY 13, 2011.)






July 13, 2011

Medieval Halls Did Not Conduce to Comfort or to Observing Modern Proprieties



Practically all living, awake or asleep, was done in this single large, mostly bare, always smoky chamber. Servants and family ate, dressed, and slept together--"a custom which conduced neither to comfort nor the observance of the proprieties," as J. Alfred Gotch noted with a certain clear absence of comfort himself in his classic book The Growth of the English House (1909). Through the whole of the medieval period, till well Into the fifteenth century the hall effectively was the house, so much so that it became the convention to give its name to the entire dwelling, as in Hardwlck Hall or Toad Hall.


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)





June 29, 2011

"There Is More Uncertainty, and Everybody Is Afraid"





Robert Shiller is often a shrewd diagnostician, but less often a wise therapist. For instance he is right in thinking that uncertainty is part of our problem, but wrong in his usual view that more government spending is the solution.

A better way to reduce uncertainty is for the government to act more predictably, following some reasonable rules. I heard such a view articulately defended in a lunch speech at the American Economic Association meetings in January by Stanford economist John Taylor. His speech has been polished and published in National Affairs (see citation way below).

Here are some interesting observations by Shiller (via Bewley):



(p, 7) Factors of production like wheat or trucks or pumps don't have morale issues. Human beings do.

How these issues affect the labor market is a major focus of the research of Professor Bewley, who is a colleague of mine at Yale. He has developed an idiosyncratic approach, interviewing hundreds of corporate managers at length about the driving forces for their actions. The managers consistently told him that they are concerned about the emotional state of their core employees. They said that their companies' continued success depends on the positive feelings and loyalty of these workers -- and lamented the hard choices that would need to be made in a severe downturn.


. . .


Lower-level managers won't ask for scarce resources . . . , because those items look like luxuries to fellow employees, who worry that there won't be enough in the company budget for them to keep their jobs.

One top manager told Professor Bewley that he had to compensate for the reticence of lower-level managers, who won't ask for anything. "I tell them to put in a few dreams for equipment they would like, because if they don't try, they'll never get what they want," this manager said.

Of course, while that reticence may preserve jobs in one's own company, it works against job growth elsewhere. A result is a loss of vigor in the aggregate economy, and the sapping of the very kind of creativity that might spur a recovery.

Professor Bewley shared with me a passage from an interview in July with a manager of a large manufacturing company. "There is more uncertainty, and everybody is afraid," this manager told him. "Do your job. Keep employed. Don't come up with a new idea." In his own company, the manager said, "Everybody is doing the same thing."



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SHILLER. "ECONOMIC VIEW; The Survival of the Safest." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 3, 2010): 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 2, 2010.)


Here is the Taylor reference:

Taylor, John B. "The Cycle of Rules and Discretion in Economic Policy." National Affairs, no. 7 (Spring 2011): 55-65.





June 25, 2011

Chinese College Graduates Are Underemployed "Ant Tribe" in Big Cities



(p. A1) BEIJING -- Liu Yang, a coal miner's daughter, arrived in the capital this past summer with a freshly printed diploma from Datong University, $140 in her wallet and an air of invincibility.

Her first taste of reality came later the same day, as she lugged her bags through a ramshackle neighborhood, not far from the Olympic Village, where tens of thousands of other young strivers cram four to a room.

Unable to find a bed and unimpressed by the rabbit warren of slapdash buildings, Ms. Liu scowled as the smell of trash wafted up around her. "Beijing isn't like this in the movies," she said.

Often the first from their families to finish even high school, ambitious graduates like Ms. Liu are part of an unprecedented wave of young people all around China who were supposed to move the country's labor-dependent economy toward a white-collar future. In 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then the president, announced plans to bolster higher education, Chinese universities and colleges produced (p. A12) 830,000 graduates a year. Last May, that number was more than six million and rising.

It is a remarkable achievement, yet for a government fixated on stability such figures are also a cause for concern. The economy, despite its robust growth, does not generate enough good professional jobs to absorb the influx of highly educated young adults. And many of them bear the inflated expectations of their parents, who emptied their bank accounts to buy them the good life that a higher education is presumed to guarantee.

"College essentially provided them with nothing," said Zhang Ming, a political scientist and vocal critic of China's education system. "For many young graduates, it's all about survival. If there was ever an economic crisis, they could be a source of instability."


. . .


Chinese sociologists have come up with a new term for educated young people who move in search of work like Ms. Liu: the ant tribe. It is a reference to their immense numbers -- at least 100,000 in Beijing alone -- and to the fact that they often settle into crowded neighborhoods, toiling for wages that would give even low-paid factory workers pause.

"Like ants, they gather in colonies, sometimes underground in basements, and work long and hard," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.


. . .


A fellow Datong University graduate, Yuan Lei, threw the first wet blanket over the exuberance of Ms. Liu, Mr. Li and three friends not long after their July arrival in Beijing. Mr. Yuan had arrived several months earlier for an internship but was still jobless.

"If you're not the son of an official or you don't come from money, life is going to be bitter," he told them over bowls of 90-cent noodles, their first meal in the capital.


. . .


In the end, Mr. Li and his friends settled for sales jobs with an instant noodle company. The starting salary, a low $180 a month, turned out to be partly contingent on meeting ambitious sales figures. Wearing purple golf shirts with the words "Lao Yun Pickled Vegetable Beef Noodles," they worked 12-hour days, returning home after dark to a meal of instant noodles.


. . .


Mr. Li worried aloud whether he would be able to marry his high school sweetheart, who had accompanied him here, if he could not earn enough money to buy a home. Such concerns are rampant among young Chinese men, who have been squeezed by skyrocketing real estate prices and a culture that demands that a groom provide an apartment for his bride. "I'm giving myself two years," he said, his voice trailing off.

By November, the pressure had taken its toll on two of the others, including the irrepressible Liu Yang. After quitting the noodle company and finding no other job, she gave up and returned home.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China's Army of Graduates Is Struggling." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 12, 2010): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 11, 2010 and has the title "China's Army of Graduates Struggles for Jobs.")





June 15, 2011

Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons Did Not Much Overlap: Evidence Against an Early Human Golden Age



In 2010 archeologist Brian Fagan published a book that used his read of the evidence to imagine the interactions between Cro-Magnon (us) and Neanderthal humans. He mostly portrayed the interaction as one of wary, but mainly benign mutual neglect. His broader portrayal of the lives of the hunter-gatherer Cro-Magnons did not completely place them in a Golden Age, but did much to praise many aspects of their lives.

Also in 2010, Matt Ridley published a book that discussed and dismissed the view that the hunter-gatherers were to be admired. He mainly pointed to the evidence of how common violent death was among hunter-gatherers, and hence how precarious and fearful their lives must have been.

Now there is additional relevant evidence. Apparently the period of overlap between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals was much briefer than had been previously believed. This implies (see below) that rather than benign mutual neglect, it is much more likely that the Cro-Magnons violently wiped out the Neanderthals.

Hobbes may not have been entirely wrong when he described early human life as "nasty, poor, brutish and short."


(p. D4) An improvement in the dating of fossils suggests that the Neanderthals, a heavily muscled, thick-boned human species adapted to living in ice age Europe, perished almost immediately on contact with the modern humans who started to enter Europe from the Near East about 44,000 years ago. Until now bones from several Neanderthal sites have been dated to as young as 29,000 years ago, suggesting there was extensive overlap between the two human species. This raised the question of whether there had been interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals, an issue that is still not resolved.


. . .


Reviewing . . . Neanderthal dates ascertained with the new ultrafiltration method, Dr. Higham sees an emerging pattern that no European Neanderthal site can reliably be dated to less than 39,000 years ago. "It's only with reliable techniques that we can interpret the archaeological past," he said.

He is re-dating Neanderthal sites across Europe and so far sees no evidence for any extensive overlap between Neanderthals and modern humans. "There was a degree of contemporaneity, but it may not have been very long," he said. A short period of contact would point to the extinction of the Neanderthals at the hands of modern humans.

"It's very unlikely for Neanderthals to go extinct without some agency from modern humans," Dr. Higham said.

Paul Mellars, an expert on Neanderthals at Cambridge University in England, said that the quality of the dates from Dr. Higham's laboratory was superb and that samples of bone re-dated by the lab's method were almost always found to be several thousand years older than previously measured. The picture supported by the new dates is that the interaction between modern humans and Neanderthals in Europe was brief in each region, lasting perhaps a few hundred years, Dr. Mellars said, until the modern humans overwhelmed their competitors through better technology and greater numbers.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Neanderthals and Early Humans May Not Have Mingled Much." The New York Times (Tues., May 10, 2011): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 9, 2011.)


The Fagan book is:

Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.


The Ridley book is:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





June 9, 2011

"Progress Depended on the Empirical Habit of Thought"



In the passage below from 1984 Orwell presents an underground rebel's account of why the authoritarian socialist dystopia cannot advance in science and technology.


(p. 155) The world of today is a bare, hungry, dilapidated place compared with the world that existed before 1914, and still more so if compared with the imaginary future to which the people of that period looked forward. In the early twentieth century, the vision of a future society unbelievably rich, leisured, orderly, and efficient--a glittering (p. 156) antiseptic world of glass and steel and snow-white concrete--was part of the consciousness of nearly every literate person. Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen, partly because of the impoverishment caused by a long series of wars and revolutions, partly because scientific and technical progress depended on the empirical habit of thought, which could not survive in a strictly regimented society.



Source:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].

By Canadian law, 1984 is no longer under copyright. The text has been posted on the following Canadian web site: http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four





June 7, 2011

Government Administrators Steal Money, Food and Benefits from Poor in India



(p. A8) NEW DELHI -- India spends more on programs for the poor than most developing countries, but it has failed to eradicate poverty because of widespread corruption and faulty government administration, the World Bank said Wednesday.


. . .


One of the primary problems, the World Bank said, was "leakages" -- an often-used term in development circles that refers to government administrators and middle men stealing money, food and benefits. The bank said that 59 percent of the grain allotted for public distribution to the poor does not reach those households.



For the full story, see:

"India's Anti-Poverty Programs Are Big but Troubled." The New York Times (Thurs., May 19, 2011): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 18, 2011, has the title "India's Anti-Poverty Programs Are Big but Troubled," is attributed to Heather Timmons, and is considerably more detailed than the published version.)





June 6, 2011

Chinese Government Created Real Estate Bubble in a Dozen Ghost Towns Like Kangbashi Area of Ordos



KangbashiRealEstateBubble2011-06-02.jpg"As China's roaring economy fuels a wild construction boom around the country, critics cite places like Kangbashi as proof of a speculative real estate bubble they warn will eventually burst." Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of caption: online version of the NYT slideshow that accompanied the online article quoted and cited below.


The October 19, 2010 New York Times front page story (quoted below) on the Ordos ghost town in China, was finally picked up by the TV media on May 30 in a nice NBC Today Show report.

It should be clear that the Chinese real estate bubble will burst, just as real estate bubbles eventually burst in places like Japan and the United States. What is not clear is what the effects will be on the Chinese and world economies.


(p. A1) Ordos proper has 1.5 million residents. But the tomorrowland version of Ordos -- built from scratch on a huge plot of empty land 15 miles south of the old city -- is all but deserted.

Broad boulevards are unimpeded by traffic in the new district, called Kangbashi New Area. Office buildings stand vacant. Pedestrians are in short supply. And weeds are beginning to sprout up in luxury villa developments that are devoid of residents.


. . .


(p. A4) As China's roaring economy fuels a wild construction boom around the country, critics cite places like Kangbashi as proof of a speculative real estate bubble they warn will eventually pop -- sending shock waves through the banking system of a country that for the last two years has been the prime engine of global growth.


. . .


Analysts estimate there could be as many as a dozen other Chinese cities just like Ordos, with sprawling ghost town annexes. In the southern city of Kunming, for example, a nearly 40-square-mile area called Chenggong has raised alarms because of similarly deserted roads, high-rises and government offices. And in Tianjin, in the northeast, the city spent lavishly on a huge district festooned with golf courses, hot springs and thousands of villas that are still empty five years after completion.


. . .


In 2004, with Ordos tax coffers bulging with coal money, city officials drew up a bold expansion plan to create Kangbashi, a 30-minute drive south of the old city center on land adjacent to one of the region's few reservoirs. . . .

In the ensuing building spree, home buyers could not get enough of Kangbashi and its residential developments with names like Exquisite Silk Village, Kanghe Elysees and Imperial Academic Gardens.

Some buyers were like Zhang Ting, a 26-year-old entrepreneur who is a rare actual resident of Kangbashi, having moved to Ordos this year on an entrepreneurial impulse.

"I bought two places in Kangbashi, one for my own use and one as an investment," said Mr. Zhang, who paid about $125,000 for his 2,000-square-foot investment apartment. "I bought it because housing prices will definitely go up in such a new town. There is no reason to doubt it. The government has already moved in."

Asked whether he worried about the lack of other residents, Mr. Zhang shrugged off the question.

"I know people say it's an empty city, but I don't find any inconveniences living by myself," said Mr. Zhang, who borrowed to finance his purchases. . . .



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "A City Born of China's Boom, Still Unpeopled." The New York Times (Weds., October 19, 2010): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 19, 2010 and has the title "Chinese City Has Many Buildings, but Few People.")




KangbashiRealEstateGraph2011-06-02.jpg















Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.
























June 5, 2011

"If You Could Choose, Would You Prefer to Live Then or Now?"



(p. 78) 'Perhaps I have not made myself clear,' he said. 'What I'm trying to say is this. You have been alive a very long time; you lived half your life before the Revolution. In 1925, for instance, you were already grown up. Would you say from what you can remember, that life in 1925 was better than it is now, or worse? If you could choose, would you prefer to live then or now?'


Source:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].


By Canadian law, 1984 is no longer under copyright. The text has been posted on the following Canadian web site: http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four





May 25, 2011

Corruption, Inefficiency, Inflation and Bad Policies Lead to Decline in Foreign Investment in India



ForeignDirectInvestmentGraph2011-05-19.jpg Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) While inefficiency and bureaucracy are nothing new in India, analysts and executives say foreign investors have lately been spooked by a highly publicized government corruption scandal over the awarding of wireless communications licenses. Another reason for thinking twice is a corporate tax battle between Indian officials and the British company Vodafone now before India's Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the inflation rate -- 8.2 percent and rising -- seems beyond the control of India's central bank and has done nothing to reassure foreign investors.

And multinationals initially lured by India's growth narrative may find that the realities of the Indian marketplace tell a more vexing story. Some companies, including the insurer MetLife and the retailing giant Wal-Mart, for example, are eager to invest and expand here but have been waiting years for policy makers to let them.



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJAJ. "Foreign Investment Ebbs in India." The New York Times (Fri., February 25, 2011): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 24, 2011.)





May 20, 2011

Garbage Landfill Is Home to 80,000 in Payatas



(p. 281) Perhaps you've heard of Smoky Mountain, the town-sized garbage landfill in Payatas, outside Manila in the Philippines, that is home to an estimated eighty thousand desperately poor Filipinos who eke out a miserable existence scavenging what others throw away. Eighty thousand people is more than the population of Utica, New York. Entire families have been born at the Smoky Mountain landfill and lived their lives there, amidst squalor, stench, and constant smoke of smoldering trash. In July 2000, about two hundred residents of the Payatas landfill died when a large hill of trash collapsed, burying them under a garbage avalanche.


Source:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.





April 15, 2011

Italy's Dynastic Capitalism "Is Built Around Loyalty, Not Performance"



AltomonteCarloItalianEconomist2011-03-12.jpg"Carlo Altomonte, an economist, says that "Italy's problem isn't that we have a lot of debt. It's that we don't grow."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 6) "I know that in the States, all Mediterranean countries get lumped together," says Carlo Altomonte, an economist with Bocconi University in Milan. "But Italy's problem isn't that we have a lot of debt. It's that we don't grow."


. . .


"There is no sense of what a market economy is in this country," says Professor Altomonte. "What you see here is an incredible fear of competition."


. . .


FIVE years ago, Francesco Giavazzi needed a taxi. Cabs are relatively scarce in Milan, especially at 5 a.m., when he wanted to head to the airport, so he called a company at 4:30 to schedule a pickup. But when he climbed into the cab half an hour later, he discovered that the meter had been running for more than 20 minutes, because the taxi driver had arrived soon after the call and started charging for (p. 7) his time. Allowed by the rules, but to Mr. Giavazzi, utterly unfair.

"So it was 20 euros before we started the trip to the airport," recalls Mr. Giavazzi, who is an economics professor at Bocconi University. "I said, 'This is impossible.' "

Professor Giavazzi later wrote an op-ed article denouncing this episode as another example of the toll exacted by Italy's innumerable guilds, known by several names here, including "associazioni di categoria." (These are different from unions, another force here, in that guilds are made up of independent players in a trade or profession who have joined to keep outsiders out and maintain standards, as opposed to representing employees in negotiations with management, as a union might.) Even baby sitters have associations in Italy.

The op-ed did not endear Professor Giavazzi to the city's cab drivers. They pinned leaflets with his name and address at taxi stands around Milan and for the next five nights, cabs drove around his home, honking their horns.

"This is a country with a lot of rents," says Professor Giavazzi, sitting in his office one recent afternoon, . . . "You need a notary public, it's like 1,000 euros before you even open your mouth. If you're a notary public in this country, you live like a king."

For Mr. Barbera, as is true with every entrepreneur here, the prevalence and power of Italy's guilds explains much of what is driving up costs. He says he must overspend for accountants, lawyers, truckers and other members of guilds on a list that goes on and on: "Everything has a tariff, and you have to pay."


. . .


Italians, notes Professor Altomonte, are among the world's heaviest consumers of bottled water. "Do you know why? Because the water in the tap comes from the government."

The suspicion of Italians when it comes to extra-familial institutions explains why many here care more about protecting what they have than enhancing their wealth. Most Italians live less than a mile or two from their parents and stay there, often for financial benefits like cash and in-kind services like day care. It's an insularity that runs all the way up to the corporate suites. The first goal of many entrepreneurs here isn't growth, so much as keeping the business in the family. For a company to really expand, it needs capital, but that means giving up at least some control. So thousands of companies here remain stubbornly small -- all of which means Italy is a haven for artisans but is in a lousy position to play the global domination game.

"The prevailing management style in this country is built around loyalty, not performance," says Tito Boeri, scientific director at Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti, who has written about Italy's dynastic capitalism.



For the full story, see:

DAVID SEGAL. "Is Italy Too Italian?" The New York Times (Sun., August 1, 2010): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 31, 2010.)


BarberaSpaForYarn2011-03-12.jpg"The clothier Luciano Barbera in his family's "spa for yarn," where crates of thread rest for months. Economists fear that such small-scale artisanship cannot sustain Italy's economy forever." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





March 30, 2011

In Greece It Is Illegal for Brewers to Produce Tea



PolitopooulosDemetriGreekEntrepreneur2011-03-09.jpg "Demetri Politopoulos at his microbrewery in northern Greece. He says Greek leaders need to do more to make the country an easier place to do business." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 1) DEMETRI POLITOPOULOS says he has suffered countless indignities in his 12-year battle to build a microbrewery and wrest a sliver of the Greek beer market from the Dutch colossus, Heineken.

His tires have been slashed and his products vandalized by unknown parties, he says, and his brewery has received threatening phone calls. And he says he has had to endure regular taunts -- you left Manhattan to start up a beer factory in northern Greece? -- not to mention the pain of losing 5.3 million euros.

Bad as all that has been, nothing prepared him for this reality: He would be breaking the law if he tried to fulfill his latest -- and, he thinks, greatest -- entrepreneurial dream. It is to have his brewery produce and export bottles of a Snapple-like beverage made from herbal tea, which he is cultivating in the mountains that surround this lush pocket of the country.

An obscure edict requires that brewers in Greece produce beer -- and nothing else. Mr. Politopoulos has spent the better part of the last year trying fruitlessly to persuade the Greek government to strike it. "It's probably a law that goes back to King Otto," said Mr. Politopoulos with a grim chuckle, referring to the Bavarian-born king of Greece who introduced beer to the country around 1850.

Sitting in his office, Mr. Politopoulos took a long pull from a glass of his premium Vergina wheat beer and said it was absurd that he had to lobby Greek politicians to repeal a 19th-century law so that he could deliver the exports that Greece urgently needed. And, he said, his predicament was even worse than that: it was emblematic of the web of restrictions, monopolies and other distortions that have made many Greek companies uncompetitive, and pushed the country close to bankruptcy.



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "What's Broken in Greece? Ask an Entrepreneur." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., January 30, 2011): 1 & 5.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 29, 2011.)





March 24, 2011

The Progress Paradox Documents How Life Is Better Here and Now



ProgressParadoxBK.jpg















Source of book image: http://grigr.com/




Greg Easterbrook's book has been out for several years, but I am a slow reader and have a long "to read" list. I enjoyed the first half or so of the book very much, and also enjoyed some parts of the second half. Roughly speaking, the first half is devoted to illustrating how much better life is now than before, and here (the West) than there (the less-developed countries). Roughly speaking, the second half of the book asks why we aren't happier, and complains about areas of life where Easterbrook sees room for improvement.

Some of the part I like has now been updated, or written with better argument or more panache, by Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist. But even so, Easterbrook often gives examples, or arguments, that complement Ridley's case.

And even though Ridley is on average more eloquent than Easterbrook, the latter is eloquent plenty often enough to be worth reading. (And maybe my judgment about eloquence is colored by my agreeing with Ridley 90% of the time, and only agreeing with Easterbrook 75% of the time.)

On the less-satisfying second half of the book: worthwhile questions are often asked, but the answers are few and not very satisfying.

In the next few weeks, I'll occasionally be quoting a few of the more illuminating or edifying passages in the Easterbrook book.



Easterbrook's book:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.


The Ridley book that I mention:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





March 10, 2011

Egypt's Urban Decline as Cause (or Symptom) of Slow Growth




EgyptUrbanChangeAndGrowthGraphs2011-02-27.jpg














Source of graphs: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.






















We all know that correlation is not the same as causation. The main cause of Egypt's slow growth is its lack of institutions and policies supporting entrepreneurial capitalism, and not the decline of Egyptian cities. (But the decline of Egyptian cities does not help.)



(p. B1) Since then, the cities of Asia have expanded rapidly, drawing in millions of peasant farmers looking for a better life -- and, more often than not, finding it. Almost 50 percent of East Asians now live in cities. And Egypt? It is the only large country to have become less urban in the last 30 years, according to the World Bank. About 43 percent of Egyptians are city dwellers today.

This urban stagnation helps explain Egypt's broader stagnation. As tough as city life in poor countries can be, it's also fertile ground for economic growth. Nearly everything can be done more efficiently in a well-run city, be it plumbing, transportation or the generation of new ideas and businesses. "Being around other people," says Paul Romer, the economist and growth expert, "helps make us smarter."

Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economist (and weekly contributor to the Times's Economix blog), has just published a book, "The Triumph of the City, making the case that cities are humanity's greatest invention. Countries that become more urban tend to become far more productive, Mr. Glaeser writes. The effect is even bigger for poor countries than rich ones.


. . .


Three researchers -- Michael Clemens, Lant Pritchett and Claudio Montenegro -- recently found a novel way to measure how well various countries use the workers they have. The three compared the wages of immigrants to the United States with the wages of similar workers from the same country who remained home.

A 35-year-old urban Egyptian man with a high school education who moves to the United States can expect an incredible eightfold increase in living standards, the researchers found. Immigrants from only two countries, Yemen and Nigeria, receive a larger boost. In effect, these are the countries with the biggest gap between what their workers can produce in a different environment and what they are actually producing at home.

No wonder 19 percent of Egyptians told Gallup (well before the protests) that they would move to another country if they could. Mr. Clemens says that for every green card the United States awarded in a recent immigration lottery, 146 Egyptians had applied.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "Economic Scene; For Egypt, a Fresh Start, With Cities." The New York Times (Weds., February 16, 2011): B1 & B11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated February 15, 2011.)


The scholarly article summarized is:

Clemens, Michael, Claudio Montenegro, and Lant Pritchett. "The Place Premium: Wage Differences for Identical Workers across the Us Border." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series # RWP09-004, January 2009.


The Glaeser book is:

Glaeser, Edward L. Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.






February 25, 2011

Paul Romer Looking to Found a "Charter City"



Romer's idea of setting up a Charter City sounds like a more advanced version of a free trade zone. It might work if you could find a well-governed nation to serve as guarantor of the city's charter. That's a big "if."

Still, it's a more intriguing idea for advancing economic development than most of the default policies (like sending foreign aid to be stolen by corrupt dictators).



(p. A2) For the past couple of years, economist Paul Romer has been hopscotching the globe looking for a country desperate enough to try his audacious notion: Start a new "charter city," an enclave free of old laws and practices, as William Penn did in Pennsylvania. (Think "charter school," a school free of union contracts and school bureaucracy.)


. . .


About a decade ago, he walked away from academia, started an online teaching company, sold it and then turned to his next big idea: To create jobs to lift millions out of poverty, take an uninhabited 1,000 square-kilometer tract (386 square miles), about the size of Hong Kong, preferably government-owned. Write a charter: the all-important rules. Allow anyone to move in or out. Invite foreign investors to build infrastructure for profit. And sign a treaty with a well-governed country, say Norway or Canada, to serve as "guarantor" to assure investors and residents that the charter will be respected, much as the British once did for Hong Kong, and--. . . .



For the full story, see:

DAVID WESSEL. "CAPITAL; The Quest for a 'Charter City'." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 3, 2011): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)





February 19, 2011

"A Great Artisan Can Make a Family Prosperous; A Great Inventor Can Enrich an Entire Nation"



(p. 247) We feel real poignancy when we recall the bucolic life (even if we do so through the soft focus of nostalgia) of a country weaver happy in his work skills and content with his life. But those skills, like those of a medieval goldsmith or an ancient carpenter, could not, by their very nature, reproduce themselves outside the closed community of the initiates. One lesson of the Luddite rebellion specifically, and the Industrial Revolution generally, is that maintaining the prosperity of those closed communities--their pride in workmanship as well as their economic well-being----can only be paid for by those outside the communities: by society at large. A great artisan can make a family prosperous; a great inventor can enrich an entire nation.


Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.





January 17, 2011

UNESCO Condemns Africans to Live in a Poorer Past: More on Why Africa is Poor



DjenneMaliBrickBuildings2011-01-12.jpg "As a World Heritage site, Djenné, Mali, must preserve its mud-brick buildings, from the Great Mosque, in the background, to individual homes." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 4) DJENNÉ , Mali -- Abba Maiga stood in his dirt courtyard, smoking and seething over the fact that his 150-year-old mud-brick house is so culturally precious he is not allowed to update it -- no tile floors, no screen doors, no shower.

"Who wants to live in a house with a mud floor?" groused Mr. Maiga, a retired riverboat captain.

With its cone-shaped crenellations and palm wood drainage spouts, the grand facade seems outside time and helps illustrate why this ancient city in eastern Mali is an official World Heritage site.

But the guidelines established by Unesco, the cultural arm of the United Nations, which compiles the heritage list, demand that any reconstruction not substantially alter the original.

"When a town is put on the heritage list, it means nothing should change," Mr. Maiga said. "But we want development, more space, new appliances -- things that are much more modern. We are angry about all that."


. . .


Mahamame Bamoye Traoré, the leader of the powerful mason's guild, surveyed the cramped rooms of the retired river boat captain's house, naming all the things he would change if the World Heritage rules were more flexible.

"If you want to help someone, you have to help him in a way that he wants; to force him to live in a certain way is not right," he said, before lying on the mud floor of a windowless room that measured about 6 feet by 3 feet.

"This is not a room," he said. "It might as well be a grave."



For the full story, see:

NEIL MacFARQUHAR. "Ancient City in Mali Rankled by Rules for Life in Cultural Spotlight." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., January 9, 2011): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 8, 2011 and had the title "Mali City Rankled by Rules for Life in Spotlight.")



DjenneMaliResidents2011-01-12.jpg "Many residents of Djenné say they long for more modern homes, but Unesco preservation guidelines limit alterations to original structures." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






January 15, 2011

Higher Cancer Rates Due More to Longer Life Spans than to Modern Life Styles



PrehistoricSkullCancer2011-01-12.jpg"DIAGNOSIS. Evidence of tumors in the skull of a male skeleton exhumed from an early medieval cemetery in Slovakia. Often thought of as a modern disease, cancer has always been with us." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D1) When they excavated a Scythian burial mound in the Russian region of Tuva about 10 years ago, archaeologists literally struck gold. Crouched on the floor of a dark inner chamber were two skeletons, a man and a woman, surrounded by royal garb from 27 centuries ago: headdresses and capes adorned with gold horses, panthers and other sacred beasts.

But for paleopathologists -- scholars of ancient disease -- the richest treasure was the abundance of tumors that had riddled almost every bone of the man's body. The diagnosis: the oldest known case of metastasizing prostate cancer.

The prostate itself had disintegrated long ago. But malignant cells from the gland had migrated according to a familiar pattern and left identifiable scars. Proteins extracted from the bone tested positive for PSA, prostate specific antigen.

Often thought of as a modern disease, cancer has always been with us.


. . .


(p. D7) . . . , Tony Waldron, a paleopathologist at University College London, analyzed British mortality reports from 1901 to 1905 -- a period late enough to ensure reasonably good records and early enough to avoid skewing the data with, for example, the spike in lung cancer caused in later decades by the popularity of cigarettes.

Taking into account variations in life span and the likelihood that different malignancies will spread to bone, he estimated that in an "archaeological assemblage" one might expect cancer in less than 2 percent of male skeletons and 4 to 7 percent of female skeletons.

Andreas G. Nerlich and colleagues in Munich tried out the prediction on 905 skeletons from two ancient Egyptian necropolises. With the help of X-rays and CT scans they diagnosed five cancers -- right in line with Dr. Waldron's expectations. And as his statistics predicted, 13 cancers were found among 2,547 remains buried in an ossuary in southern Germany between A.D. 1400 and 1800.

For both groups, the authors wrote, malignant tumors "were not significantly fewer than expected" when compared with early-20th-century England. They concluded that "the current rise in tumor frequencies in present populations is much more related to the higher life expectancy than primary environmental or genetic factors."


. . .


"Cancer is an inevitability the moment you create complex multicellular organisms and give the individual cells the license to proliferate," said Dr. Weinberg of the Whitehead Institute. "It is simply a consequence of increasing entropy, increasing disorder."

He was not being fatalistic. Over the ages bodies have evolved formidable barriers to keep rebellious cells in line. Quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthier diets and taking other preventive measures can stave off cancer for decades. Until we die of something else.

"If we lived long enough," Dr. Weinberg observed, "sooner or later we all would get cancer."



For the full story, see:

GEORGE JOHNSON. "Unearthing Prehistoric Tumors, and Debate." The New York Times (Tues., December 28, 2010): D1 & D7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 27, 2010.)





December 3, 2010

If the Feds Want an Effective Stimulus, They Should Spend to Reduce the Patent Backlog



In my seminar on the Economics of Technology on Tuesday night (11/30/10), Gauri presented some interesting information on intellectual property. At one point she summarized that the lag in processing patents is about three years, but it takes, on average, only about 18 hours to process a patent once the processing has begun.

Later in the seminar, we talked about a brief article by Amar Bhidé on whether large economic stimulus programs have worked in the past, and will work in the present. Bhidé was skeptical, and I am too.

But it occurred to me that one modest economic stimulus expenditure might help. Why not make the highest stimulus spending priority to hire and train enough patent examiners to reduce the patent lag from three years to, say, three weeks?


The Bhidé article mentioned above is:

Bhidé, Amar. "Don't Believe the Stimulus Scaremongers." Wall Street Journal, (Tues., February 17, 2009): A15.






November 9, 2010

If You Think Life Was Better in the Past, "Say One Single Word: Dentistry"



(p. 2) In general, life is better than it ever has been, and if you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: "dentistry."


Source:

O'Rourke, P. J. All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty. paperback ed. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994.






October 30, 2010

All He "Could See Was Cows and Farms" in "Virginia's High Tech Corner"



(p. A18) . . . government attempts to rejuvenate regional economies have a mixed track record, in the U.K. and elsewhere.

Stuart S. Rosenthal, an economics professor at Syracuse University, remembers driving through Virginia in 1997 and seeing a sign saying, "You are entering southwest Virginia's high tech corner."

"And all I could see was cows and farms," he said. Recent employment data shows that aside from one pocket, little has changed.



For the full story, see:

ALISTAIR MACDONALD. "U-Turn in the U.K.: Big Spending Cuts." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 15, 2010): A18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 14, 2010.)





October 6, 2010

China's Continued Growth Requires Reliance on Private Enterprise



(p. A21) No country in the modern world has managed persistent economic growth without considerable reliance on private enterprise and decentralized private markets. All centrally planned economies failed to achieve sustained development, including the Soviet Union before its collapse, China before market reforms began in the late 1970s, and Cuba since Castro's revolution in the late 1950s.

China's private sector has led its dominance in textiles, electronics, and other consumer and producer goods. It's followed the model of the "Asian Tigers"--Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan--and relied heavily on exports produced with cheap labor. In the process, China has accumulated enormous reserves, as Taiwan, Japan and other rapidly growing Asian economies did in past decades.

Poorer countries like China need not get everything "right" to grow rapidly through exports to richer countries. They need only have some strong sectors that use world markets to fuel overall growth. Japan's rapid growth from the 1960s-1980s was led by a highly efficient manufacturing sector. Yet at the same time Japan also had a large and inefficient service sector, and an agricultural sector that was riddled with subsidies and inefficient incentives.

Similarly, China's economy still has a glut of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) with excessive employment and low productivity. Their importance has fallen over time, but Chinese economists estimate that they still control about half of nonagricultural GDP. One crucial example is the state-controlled financial sector that makes cheap loans to other large, inefficient and unprofitable state enterprises. China's economy also suffers from extensive price controls, restrictions on migration, and many other structural barriers to efficient growth.



For the full commentary, see:

GARY S. BECKER. "China's Next Leap Forward; The jump from middle-income to rich status is much harder to achieve than the ascent from poverty. But there are plenty of reasons to believe China's growth prospects remain strong." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., SEPTEMBER 29, 2010): A21.






October 4, 2010

Country Data on Light Intensity at Night May Be More Accurate than Official GDP



(p. 63) In a new working paper, Vernon Henderson, Adam Storeygard and David Weil of Brown University suggest an alternative source of data: outer space. In particular they track changes in the intensity of artificial light over a country at night, which should increase with incomes. American military weather satellites collect these data every night for the entire world.

It is hard to know exactly how much weight to put on extraterrestrial brightness. Changes in the efficiency of electricity transmission, for example, may cause countries to look brighter from outer space, even if economic activity has not increased much. But errors in its measurement are unlikely to be correlated with errors in the calculation of official GDP, since they arise for different reasons. A weighted average of the growth implied by changes in the intensity of artificial light and official GDP growth rates ought to improve the accuracy of estimates of economic growth. Poor countries in particular may have dodgy GDP numbers but their night-light data are as reliable as anyone else's.



For the full story, see:

"Measuring growth from outer space; Light relief; Data about light emitted into space may help improve growth estimates." The Economist (Aug. 6, 2009): 63.


The working paper referenced is:

Henderson, J. Vernon, Adam Storeygard, and David N. Weil. "Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space." NBER Working Paper No. 15199, July 2009.





August 29, 2010

Cro-Magnon Provides Baseline to Measure Our Progress



Cro-MagnonBK.jpg















Source of book image:
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51BS%2BtGJZ8L.jpg



Biologically modern humans have inhabited the world for at least 50,000 years, and maybe for 100,000 years or more.

Only in the last 200 years, and especially the last 100 years, has humanity made substantial progress in the quality and quantity of life.

Usually the most recent 200 years are compared with the previous few thousand, because conditions in the previous few thousand years are much better known than those in the tens of thousands of years further in the past.

But comparisons further back are of interest, and Brian Fagan's book Cro-Magnon is a source of some information that allows us to do so to some extent.

In the next few weeks, I will occasionally be quoting a few passages from Fagan that I believe are suggestive.


The reference for the Fagan book is:

Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.





August 22, 2010

"Pork Actually Pushes Private Investment Out of a State"



Some West Virginia miners may have faced unemployment due to technological progress. But what they needed to improve their situation was economic growth from private enterprise, rather than Senator Robert Byrd's federal pork.


(p. A11) . . . mining companies developed more efficient techniques for extracting coal and natural gas, which eliminated the need for many blue collar jobs. Laid-off workers lacked the skills to attract other types of businesses and college students couldn't find jobs after graduation, so they left. Such dramatic changes would be serious obstacles for any politician.

. . .


By contrast, Byrd's solution was to steer federal largess to his state.


. . .


Take Route 50. Thirty years ago, the federal government extended the route from two lanes to four with the hopes of spurring development. But hit the open road today and you'll notice it's just that--open. "You won't see another car for two hours," says Russell Sobel, a professor of economics at West Virginia University. "You can't just build roads and expect that things will happen. People who want to transport goods and services need to be there."


. . .


"We've created this culture of dependency," warns Mr. Sobel, "Our human capital is not good at competing in the marketplace; it's good at securing federal grants."

Federal funding is a shaky foundation for an economy because no one can replace Big Daddy. In their recently released paper "Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?" Harvard professors Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval and Christopher Malloy found that states that lose chairmanships on important congressional committees lose 20% to 30% in earmarks.

Even worse, they found that pork actually pushes private investment out of a state. When the federal government intrudes, it raises demand for the state's workers and real estate, jacking up prices. Often, companies can't compete, so they flee.



For the full commentary, see:

BRIAN BOLDUC. "CROSS COUNTRY; Robert Byrd's Highways to Nowhere; Government pork hasn't made West Virginia prosperous." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JULY 10, 2010): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The research referenced is:

Cohen, Lauren, Joshua D. Coval, and Christopher J. Malloy. "Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?" NBER Working Paper No.15839, March 2010.





July 17, 2010

Big Government Slows Economic Growth



(p. A15) Americans are debating whether to substantially expand the size of their government. As Swedish economists who live in the developed world's largest welfare state, we urge our friends in the New World to look carefully before they leap.

Fifty years ago, Sweden and America spent about the same on their government, a bit under 30% of GDP. This is no longer true. In the years leading up to Sweden's financial crisis in the early 1990s, government spending went as high as 60% of GDP. In America it barely budged, increasing only to about 33%.

While America was maintaining its standing as one of the world's wealthiest nations, Sweden's standing fell. In 1970, Sweden was the fourth richest country in the world on a per capita basis. By 1993, it had fallen to 17th.

This led us to ask whether Sweden's dramatic increase in the size of government contributed to its sluggish growth. Our research shows that it did.

We surveyed the existing literature looking at the trade-offs between government size and economic growth throughout the world. While results vary, the most recent research, by Diego Romero-Avila in the European Journal of Political Economy (2008) and by Andreas Bergh and Martin Karlsson in Public Choice (2010) find a negative correlation between government size and economic growth in rich countries.

The weight of the evidence demonstrates that when government spending increases by 10 percentage points of GDP, the annual growth rate drops by 0.5 to 1 percentage point. This may not sound like much, but over 30 years this would result in the loss of trillions of dollars each year in an economy as large as America's.



For the full commentary, see

ANDREAS BERGH AND MAGNUS HENREKSON. "Lessons From the Swedish Welfare State; New research shows bigger government means slower growth. Our country is a prime example." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., JULY 12, 2010): A15.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated JULY 10, 2010.)





July 10, 2010

Former French Student Protest Leader: "We've Decided that We Can't Expect Everything from the State"



DynamismEuropeAndUnitedStatesGraph.gif
















Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A16) "The euro was supposed to achieve higher productivity and growth by bringing about a deeper integration between economies," says Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Centre for European Reform, a London think tank. "Instead, integration is slowing. The lack of flexibility in labor and product markets raises serious questions about the likelihood of the euro delivering on its potential."

Structural changes are the last great hope in part because euro zone members have few other levers for lifting their economies. Individual members can't tweak interest rates to encourage lending, because those policies are set by the zone's central bank. The shared euro means countries don't have a sovereign currency to devalue, a move that would make exports cheaper and boost receipts abroad.

The remaining prescription, many economists say: chip away at the cherished "social model." That means limiting pensions and benefits to those who really need them, ensuring the able-bodied are working rather than living off the state, and eliminating business and labor laws that deter entrepreneurship and job creation.

That path suits Carlos Bock. The business-studies graduate from Bavaria spent months navigating Germany's dense bureaucracy in order to open a computer store and Internet café in 2004. Before he could offer a Web-surfing customer a mug of filter coffee, he said, he had to obtain a license to run a "gastronomic enterprise." One of its 38 requirements compelled Mr. Bock to attend a course on the hygienic handling of mincemeat.

Mr. Bock closed his store in 2008. Germany's strict regulations and social protections favor established businesses and workers over young ones, he said. He also struggled against German consumers' reluctance to spend, a problem economists blame in part on steep payroll taxes that cut into workers' takehome pay, and on high savings rates among Germans who are worried the country's pension system is unsustainable.

"If markets were freer, there might be chaos to begin with," Mr. Bock said. "But over time we'd reach a better economic level."

Even in France, some erstwhile opponents of reforms are changing their tune. Julie Coudry became a French household name four years ago when she helped organize huge student protests against a law introducing short-term contracts for young workers, a move the government believed would put unemployed youths to work.

With her blonde locks and signature beret, Ms. Coudry gave fiery speeches on television, arguing that young people deserved the cradle-to-grave contracts that older employees enjoy at most French companies. Critics in France and abroad saw the protests as a shocking sign that twentysomethings were among the strongest opponents of efforts to modernize the European economy. The measure was eventually repealed.

Today, the now 31-year-old Ms. Coudry runs a nonprofit organization that encourages French corporations to hire more university graduates. Ms. Coudry, while not repudiating her activism, says she realizes that past job protections are untenable.

"The state has huge debt, 25% of young people are jobless, and so I am part of a new generation that has decided to take matters into our own hands," she says. "We've decided that we can't expect everything from the state."




For the full story, see:

MARCUS WALKER And ALESSANDRA GALLONI. "Europe's Choice: Growth or Safety Net." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 25, 2010): A1 & A16.





June 20, 2010

Farmers in India Like Wal-Mart



WalMartIndiaFarmer2010-05-20.JPG"Mohammad Haneef, [above], a farmer in Haider Nagar, said that Wal-Mart is better than his previous clients. "You have to establish trust," he said in Hindi. "Wal-Mart has been paying on time. We would just like them to buy more."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (Note: bracketed word added.)


(p. B1) HAIDER NAGAR, India -- At first glance, the vegetable patches in this north Indian village look no different from the many small, spare farms that dot the country.

But up close, visitors can see some curious experiments: insect traps made with reusable plastic bags; bamboo poles helping bitter gourd grow bigger and straighter; and seedlings germinating from plastic trays under a fine net.

These are low-tech innovations, to be sure. But they are crucial to the goals of the benefactor -- Wal-Mart -- that supplied them.

Two years after Wal-Mart came to India, it is trying to do to agriculture here what it has done to industries around the world: change business models by using its hyper-efficient practices to improve productivity and speed the flow of goods.


. . .


(p. B3) Here in Haider Nagar, in the bread basket state of Punjab, farmers who supply vegetables to Wal-Mart say they like working with the company. It typically pays them 5 to 7 percent more than they earn from local wholesale markets, they said. And they do not have to pay to transport produce because Wal-Mart picks it up from their fields.

Abdul Majid, who sells cucumbers to Wal-Mart, says his yields have risen about 25 percent since he started following farming advice about when to apply fertilizers and which kinds -- more zinc, less potash -- from the company and its partner, Bayer CropScience.

Mohammad Haneef, a farmer in a nearby village, said he had sold to two other companies before Wal-Mart, but one shut down and the other cheated him and paid him late. Wal-Mart is much better, he said, but its buyers are picky, taking the best vegetables and leaving him with inferior ones that he still must truck to wholesale markets.

"You have to establish trust," he said in Hindi. "Wal-Mart has been paying on time. We would just like them to buy more."



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJAJ. "Cultivating a Market in India; Wal-Mart Nurtures Suppliers as It Lays Plans for Expansion." The New York Times (Tues., April 13, 2010): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 12, 2010 and has the title "In India, Wal-Mart Goes to the Farm.")





June 14, 2010

Companies Make Big Bets to Get Us What We Need



MolycorpMineralsRareEarthMine2010-05-19.jpg"The Molycorp Minerals rare earth mine in Mountain Pass, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



If the government does not interfere with the price system, then the prospect of higher prices will provide private companies and entrepreneurs the incentive to take risks to provide us with what we need. In the article quoted below, the example is rare earth minerals that are used in high technology products.



(p. B1) On a high plateau where burros and jackrabbits wander an hour's drive southwest of Las Vegas, a 400-foot-deep chasm hewn from volcanic rock sits at the center of an international policy debate.

The chasm, in Mountain Pass, Calif., used to be the world's main mine for rare earth elements -- minerals crucial to military hardware and the latest wind turbines and hybrid gasoline-electric cars. Molycorp Minerals, which owns the mine, announced on Monday that it had registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering to help raise the nearly $500 million needed to reopen and expand the mine.

Molycorp is making a big bet that its mine -- once the world leader in production of rare earth elements, but now a rusting relic -- can be made competitive again. Global demand is surging for the minerals. And customers, particularly the American military, are seeking alternatives to China, which now mines 97 percent of the world's rare earth elements.

As part of reopening the mine, Molycorp plans to increase its capacity to mine and refine neodymium for rare earth magnets, which are extremely lightweight and are used in many high-tech applications. It will also resume bulk production of lower-value rare earth elements like cerium, used in industrial processes like polishing glass and water filtration.



For the full story, see:

KEITH BRADSHER. "A Mine Owner's Risky Bet on Rare Minerals." The New York Times (Thur., April 22, 2010): B1 & B4.

(Note: italics in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "Challenging China in Rare Earth Mining.")





June 7, 2010

Class Action Suit Did Little for Class Members, But "Enriched" Attorneys



Many attorneys are good people, including my late father, one of my brothers, and one of my favorite former students.

But a few attorneys must be conscience-challenged; for instance the ones "representing" the class in the case described below.

More importantly, class-action litigation increases the costs and uncertainty of doing business, and thereby increases the prices of the products and services we buy.

In speaking to one of my classes a few years ago, Omaha entrepreneur Joe Ricketts made a strong case for tort reform. it is hard to disagree, unless, like the Democratic Party, you are receiving large contributions from trial lawyers.


(p. B1) . . . , a 2008 settlement of a class action against Ford Motor Co., involving incidents in which Firestone tires exploded on Ford Explorers, offered certain Explorer owners coupons worth $500 toward the purchase of a new Explorer and $300 toward the purchase of any other Ford vehicle.

As of March, only 148 people had redeemed a coupon out of 1,647 people eligible. The plaintiffs' attorneys who led that litigation collected about $19 million in fees.

"It was rather absurd," said Julie Hamilton Webber of Glendale, Calif., a class member who has a 1993 Ford Explorer. "The net result was the attorneys were enriched and did nothing for the class."



For the full story, see:

DIONNE SEARCEY. "Toyota Owners May Reap Little." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MAY 20, 2010): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title "Toyota Owners May See Little.")





June 1, 2010

When Life Really Stunk



(p. 51) The situation of the rural town of Marney was one of the most delightful easily to be imagined. In a spreading dale, contiguous to the margin of a dear and lively stream, surrounded by meadows and gardens, and backed by lofty hills, undulating and richly wooded, the traveller (sic) on the opposite heights of the dale would often stop to admire the merry prospect that recalled to him the traditional epithet of his country.

Beautiful illusion! For behind that laughing landscape, penury and disease fed upon the vitals of a miserable population.

The contrast between the interior of the town and its external aspect was as striking as it was full of pain. With the exception of the dull high street, which had the usual characteristics of a small agricultural market town, some sombre mansions, a dingy inn, and a petty bourse, Marney mainly consisted of a variety of narrow and crowded lanes formed by cottages built of rubble, or unhewn stones without cement, (p. 52) and, from age or badness of the material, looking as if they could scarcely hold together. The gaping chinks admitted every blast; the leaning chimneys had lost half their original height; the rotten rafters were evidently misplaced; while in many instances the thatch, yawning in some parts to admit the wind and wet, and in all utterly unfit for its original purpose of giving protection from the weather, looked more like the top of a dunghill than a cottage. Before the doors of these dwellings, and often surrounding them, ran open drains full of animal and vegetable refuse, decomposing into disease, or sometimes in their imperfect course filling foul pits or spreading into stagnant pools, while a concentrated solution of every species of dissolving filth was allowed to soak through, and thoroughly impregnate, the walls and ground adjoining.

These wretched tenements seldom consisted of more than two rooms, in one of which the whole family, however numerous, were obliged to sleep, without distinction of age, or sex, or suffering. With the water streaming down the walls, the light distinguished through the roof, with no hearth even in winter, the virtuous mother in the sacred pangs of childbirth gives forth another victim to our thoughtless civilisation (sic); surrounded by three generations whose inevitable presence is more painful than her suffering in that hour of travail; while the father of her coming child, in another corner of the sordid chamber, lies stricken by that typhus which his contaminating dwelling has breathed into his veins, and for whose next prey is perhaps destined his new-horn child. These swarming walls had neither windows nor doors sufficient to keep out the weather, or admit the sun, or supply the means of ventilation; the humid and putrid roof of thatch exhaling malaria like all other decaying vegetable matter. The dwelling-rooms were neither boarded nor paved; and whether it were that some were situate in low and damp places, occasionally flooded by the river, and usually much below the level of the road; or that the springs, as was often the case, would burst through the mud floor; the ground was at no time better than so much clay, while sometimes you might see little channels cut from the centre under the doorways to carry off the water, the door itself removed from its hinges; a resting-place for infancy in its deluged home. These hovels were in many instances not (p. 53) provided with the commonest conveniences of the rudest police; contiguous to every door might be observed the dungheap on which every kind of filth was accumulated, for the purpose of being disposed of for manure, so that, when the poor man opened his narrow habitation in the hope of refreshing it with the breeze of summer, he was met with a mixture of gases from reeking dunghills.



Source:

Disraeli, Benjamin. Sybil. paperback ed, Oxford World's Classics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009 [1845].





May 9, 2010

Maddison Showed Per Capita Income Stagnation from 1000 AD - 1820 AD



MaddisonAngus2010-05-05.gif











Angus Maddison. Source of photo: http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/



I neither met Angus Maddison, nor ever heard him speak, but I have often seen his work praised by those whom I respect.

One example is the praise given to Maddison by Brad DeLong in his wonderful "Cornucopia" essay that documents the benefits from the process of creative destruction.


(p. B10) Professor Maddison, a British-born economic historian with a compulsion for quantification, spent many of his 83 years calculating the size of economies over the last three millenniums. In one study he estimated the size of the world economy in A.D. 1 as about one five-hundredth of what it was in 2008.

He died on April 24 at a hospital in Paris after a long illness, his daughter, Elizabeth Maddison, said.


. . .


In his research, he tried to reconstruct thousands of years' worth of economic data, most notably in his 2007 book "Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 A.D.." He argued that per capita income around the globe had remained largely stagnant from about 1000 to 1820, after which the world became exponentially richer and life expectancies surged.


. . .


In his archaeological excavation of the economies of other eras, he was "trying to explain why some countries achieved faster growth or higher income levels than others," he wrote in an autobiographical essay, "Confessions of a Chiffrephile" published in 1994. He wanted to know what some countries did right and what others did wrong, and to figure out how growth influenced culture, and was influenced by it.

Professor Maddison often referred to himself as a "chiffrephile," or lover of numbers, a term he invented to characterize economists and economic historians like himself who were prone to quantifying the world.

While macroeconomic research in the last few decades was dominated by elegant mathematical models and technical wizardry, his focus on meat-and-potatoes data and cross-country historical comparisons has come back into vogue in recent years, especially in the wake of the financial crisis.



For the full obituary, see:

CATHERINE RAMPELL. "Angus Maddison, 83, Who Quantified Ancient Economies." The New York Times (Mon., May 3, 2010): B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated April 30, 2010 and has the title "Angus Maddison, Economic Historian, Dies at 83.")


The Maddison book mentioned in the obituary is:

Maddison, Angus. Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.





April 8, 2010

If We Want More Jobs, We Need More (Steve) Jobs



(p. A19) Mr. Obama and his advisers need to grasp this essential fact: Entrepreneurs are not just a cute little subsector of the American economy. They are the whole game. They will give us tomorrow's Apples and the multiplier effect of small businesses and exciting new jobs that go with them. Entrepreneurs are necessary to keep our large multinationals on their toes. It's no coincidence that the entrepreneurial flowering of the 1970s forced a managerial revolution in large companies during the 1980s and 1990s. Without Steve Jobs, there would have been no Lou Gerstner to reinvent IBM in the '90s. Entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs make everyone better.


For the full story, see:

RICH KARLGAARD. "Apple to the Rescue?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JANUARY 28, 2010): A19.





March 27, 2010

An "Entrepreneur's Visa" to Let the Future Sergey Brin In



(p. A19) . . . , there is one way to create a lot more jobs without spending federal money. Let's import them. More precisely, let's import the people who create them: entrepreneurs.

A bipartisan bill that would begin to do just that was introduced on Feb. 24 by Sens. John Kerry (D., Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R., Ind.). Their "Startup Visa Act" would create a new, two-year visa for immigrant entrepreneurs whose firms attract at least $250,000 in financing from American angel investors or venture capital firms.


. . .


Here's a way to improve on the Kerry-Lugar plan. Create a true "job creator's visa," one tied directly and only to job creation by new immigrant entrepreneurs. The visa could be a temporary one for immigrants already here on another visa who establish a business. It could then be extended if the firm hires at least one American non-family resident. The visa should become permanent once the enterprise crosses a certain job threshold (such as five or 10 workers). But it would not be tied to financing.


. . .


Google was founded by Sergey Brin, a Russian immigrant, and American Larry Page by borrowing funds from their own credit cards. Why on earth would we want to create an entrepreneurs' visa that couldn't let in the future Sergey Brin?



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT E. LITAN. "Visas for the Next Sergey Brin; To create more jobs, let's import more employers." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 8, 2010): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated MARCH 7, 2010.)





March 26, 2010

United States Exports "High-Value-Added Services that Support Well-Paying Jobs"



ServiceImportsExportsGraph2010-03-16.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A23) Exports of American services have jumped by 84 percent since 2000, while the growth rate among goods was 66 percent. America trails both China and Germany in sales of goods abroad, but ranks No. 1 in global services by a wide margin. And while trade deficits in goods have been enormous -- $840 billion in 2008 -- the country runs a large and growing surplus in services: we exported $144 billion more in services than we imported, dwarfing the surpluses of $75 billion in 2000 and $58 billion in 1992.

Equally important, Commerce Department data show that the United States is a top-notch competitor in many of the high-value-added services that support well-paying jobs.


. . .


. . . , will Washington offer tax breaks or other export incentives? While businesses may clamor for them, these would be a setback for freer trade -- after all, for years it has been America that has been hectoring other countries to end their subsidies to exporters. Will Washington try to pick winners in the global marketplace, like green energy? More often than not, this kind of industrial policy wastes money, fosters inefficiency and creates few permanent jobs.



For the full story, see:

W. MICHAEL COX. "An Order of Prosperity, to Go." The New York Times (Weds., February 17, 2010): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)





March 6, 2010

"Silicon Valley's Economy is Sputtering"



SiliconValleyEmptyOfficeBuilding2010-02-28.jpg "An unoccupied office building in San Jose, Calif., in December. Many tech firms are hiring engineers abroad to do their work." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B3) SAN FRANCISCO -- Silicon Valley's economy is sputtering and risks permanently stalling, according to an annual report by a group of researchers in the region.

Part of the toll on Silicon Valley has resulted from the recession. The region, the center of the global technology industry, lost 90,000 jobs from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009. Unemployment is higher than national levels and the worst in the region since 2005, when technology companies were still recovering from the dot-com implosion.

The drop in the number of midlevel jobs -- the engineers who drive much of the Valley's growth -- has been sharpest. And when companies do hire, they are cautiously hiring independent contractors instead of regular employees, and are hiring abroad, according to the "2010 Index of Silicon Valley" report, which was produced by the Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, two local nonprofit groups.

Other economic indicators are also gloomy, the report found.

"We show no evidence that the recovery has arrived," said Russell Hancock, chief executive of Joint Venture.




For the full story, see:

CLAIRE CAIN MILLER. "Report Warns Silicon Valley Could Lose Its Edge." The New York Times (Thurs., February 11, 2010): B3.

Note: The online version of the article is dated February 10, 2010, and has the title "Report Warns Silicon Valley Could Lose Its Edge.")





February 26, 2010

The "Bongo System" of Corruption in Gabon: More on Why Africa is Poor



BongoGabon2010-01-27.jpg "The image of Ali Bongo, the son of longtime ruler Omar Bongo, blanketed Libreville." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) The "Bongo system," as people here refer to it -- forsaking roads, schools and hospitals for the sake of Mr. Bongo's 66 bank accounts, 183 cars, 39 luxury properties in France and grandiose government constructions in Libreville -- is etched in the streets of this languid seaside capital, where he ruled for 41 years, and also in the minds of its inhabitants.


. . .


A Western family here spoke of embarrassment at visiting a government minister whose house is packed with the latest flat-screen televisions and other expensive electronic gadgets, and whose garage was full of luxury cars. The top aide to a leading opposition figure, discussing the "Bongo system," said: "You had to bring a suitcase to the palace. Bongo didn't write checks." The president, he said, "calls everybody to the palace, and the money is handed out. That's how the country was run."

He spoke of a "sandwich system" of vote-buying employed by the ruling party in rural districts: notables are called together for a meeting, and at the end, when all are tired, a tray of "sandwiches" is passed around. Inside each "sandwich" is up to $600.

Looking around at an outdoor restaurant, he asked not to be named because he said: "It's a police state. They mess up your life."


. . .


On paper, the government's budget allocations for health, education and transportation were impressive, "huge," said the Western development official. "But in reality, it was actually about 20 percent of what was on paper," the official said. "The rest was embezzled," he added, asking to remain anonymous because identifying him would complicate his work in the country.


. . .


"It's a tiny number that benefits from the country's riches," said a cigarette vendor, Price Nyamam, squatting on the pavement in the poor Rio district. He said he had degrees in economics and sociology. "You are obliged to do work that doesn't correspond to your aspirations."



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "Libreville Journal; Underneath Palatial Skin, Corruption Rules Gabon." The New York Times (Tues., September 15, 2009): A5.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date September 14, 2009.)

(Note: ellipses added.)


GabonDumpForaging2010-01-27.jpg "Foraging for food at the main dump." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





February 22, 2010

Dubai's Economic Future Depends on Its Institutions



DubaiViewFromTallestBuilding2010-01-25.jpg "A man took in the view of Dubai from the 124th floor of the newly opened, $1.5 billion Burj Khalifa, a rocket-shaped building that soars 2,717 feet." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A7) CAIRO -- In the heady days of the Dubai gold rush, when real estate sold and resold even before a shovel hit the ground, the ambitious emirate was hailed as the model of Middle Eastern modernity, a boomtown that built an effective, efficient and accessible form of government.

Then the crash came and revealed how paper-thin that image was, political and financial analysts said. That realization, not just in Dubai but also in Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates, has cast a harsh light on an opaque, top-down decision-making process, not just in business but in matters of crime and punishment as well, political and financial analysts said.

The financial crisis and now two criminal cases that have generated critical headlines in other countries have demonstrated that the emirates remain an absolute monarchy, where institutions are far less important than royalty and where the law is particularly capricious -- applied differently based on social standing, religion and nationality, political experts and human rights advocates said.

"I think what we learned here the last four months is that the government, at least on a political level, is still very undeveloped," said a financial analyst based in Dubai who asked not to be identified to avoid compromising his ability to work in the emirates. "It's very difficult to read or interpret or understand what is going on. The institutions have not shaped up to people's expectations."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL SLACKMAN. "Dubai Memo; Entrenched Monarchy Thwarts Aspirations for Modernity." The New York Times (Fri., January 22, 2010): A7.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 21, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)


DubaiOfficesForRentSign2010-01-25.jpg "Workers repaired a phone line next to an office building in Dubai's Internet City. Even after a bailout, Dubai remains heavily burdened by debt." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





February 21, 2010

Chinese Subsidies Create Unprofitable Overcapacity and Risk of Crisis



(p. 5) . . . subsidies, . . . , have spurred excess capacity and created a dangerous political dynamic in which these investments have to be propped up at all cost.

China has been building factories and production capacity in virtually every sector of its economy, but it's not clear that the latest round of investments will be profitable anytime soon. Automobiles, steel, semiconductors, cement, aluminum and real estate all show signs of too much capacity. In Shanghai, the central business district appears to have high vacancy rates, yet building continues.


. . .


Over all, there is a lack of transparency. China's statistics on its gross domestic product are based more on recorded production activity than on what is actually sold. Chinese fiscal and credit policies are geared toward jobs and political stability, and thus the authorities shy away from revealing which projects are most troubled or should be canceled.

Put all of this together and there is a very real possibility of trouble.



For the full commentary, see:

TYLER COWEN. "Economic View; Dangers of an Overheated China." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 29, 2009 ): 5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 28, 2009.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





February 20, 2010

"How Am I Going to Live without Google?"



GoogleChinaFlowers2010-01-25.jpg "A woman examined bouquets and messages left by Google users on Wednesday outside the Internet search company's headquarters in Beijing." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article cited way below (after the citation to the quoted article, which is a different article).


David Smick in The World as Curved, has suggested that restrictions on the internet in China, limit entrepreneurship, and ultimately economic growth.


(p. 5) BEIJING -- At the elite Tsinghua University here, some students were joking Friday that they had better download all the Internet information they wanted now in case Google left the country.

But to many of the young, well-educated Chinese who are Google's loyal users here, the company's threat to leave is in fact no laughing matter. Interviews in Beijing's downtown and university district indicated that many viewed the possible loss of Google's maps, translation service, sketching software, access to scholarly papers and search function with real distress.

"How am I going to live without Google?" asked Wang Yuanyuan, a 29-year-old businessman, as he left a convenience store in Beijing's business district.


. . .


Li An, a Tsinghua University senior, said she used to download episodes of "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" from sites run by BT China that are now closed. "I love American television series," she said with frustration during a pause from studying Japanese at a university fast-food restaurant on Friday.

The loss of Google would hit her much harder, she said, because she relies on Google Scholar to download academic papers for her classes in polymer science. "For me, this is terrible," Ms. Li said.

Some students contend that even after Google pulls out, Internet space will continue to shrink. Until now, Google has shielded Baidu by manning the front line in the censorship battle, said a 20-year-old computer science major at Tsinghua.

"Without Google, Baidu will be very easy to manipulate," he said. "I don't want to see this trend."

A 21-year old civil engineering student predicted a strong reaction against the government. "If Google really leaves, people will feel the government has gone too far," he insisted over lunch in the university cafe.

But asked whether that reaction would influence the government to soften its policies, he concentrated on his French fries. "I really don't know," he said.




For the full story, see:

SHARON LaFRANIERE. "Google Users in China, Mostly Young and Educated, Fear Losing Important Tool." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., January 17, 2010): 5.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "China at Odds With Future in Internet Fight" and is dated January 16, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The source of the photo at the top is the online version of:

KEITH BRADSHER and DAVID BARBOZA. "Google Is Not Alone in Discontent, But Its Threat Stands Out." The New York Times (Thurs., January 13, 2010): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title "Google Is Not Alone in Discontent, But Its Threat to Leave Stands Out" and is dated January 14, 2010.)


The reference to the Smick book is:

Smick, David M. The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy. New York: Portfolio Hardcover, 2008.





February 18, 2010

Socialist Chavez's Thugs Destroy Venezuelans' Economic Freedom



VenezuelanNationalGuardPriceInspection2010-01-24.jpg "A member of the National Guard stands guard during a inspection of prices at a store in La Guaira outside Caracas Jan. 12." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A8) CARACAS -- President Hugo Chávez's decision to devalue Venezuela's currency in order to shore up government finances could backfire on the populist leader if the move leads to substantially higher prices and extends an economic downturn.

Just days after Mr. Chávez cut the value of the "strong bolivar" currency, some businesses were marking up prices. Shoppers jammed stores to stock up on goods before the increases took hold.

Amelia Soto, a 52-year-old housewife waited in line at a Caracas drugstore to buy 23 tubes of toothpaste. "Everywhere I hear that prices are going to skyrocket so I want to buy as much as I can now," she said.

Airlines have doubled fares; government officials said they were looking into reports that large retail chains were also increasing prices.


. . .


The price increases are setting the stage for confrontations with authorities following Mr. Chávez's orders to shut down retailers that raise prices.


. . .


The higher prices for consumer goods represent a huge liability for a country facing 27% inflation, one of the highest levels in the world.




For the full story, see:

DARCY CROWE and DAN MOLINSKI. "Prices in Venezuela Surge After Devaluation." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JANUARY 13, 2010): A8.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Venezuelans Rush to Shop as Stores Increase Prices.")

(Note: ellipses added.)





February 9, 2010

Venture Capitalists Invested 37% Less in Start-Ups in 2009



(p. B5) Venture capitalists, whose money provides fuel to technology start-ups, last year invested the lowest amount in such companies since 1997, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association released on Friday.


. . .


In 2009, venture capitalists invested $17.7 billion in 2,795 start-ups -- 37 percent less cash and 30 percent fewer deals than in 2008. Internet companies, which have excited investors for more than a decade, took a big hit as investment declined 39 percent.




For the full story, see:

CLAIRE CAIN MILLER. "Venture Capital Was Tight for Tech Start-Ups in '09." The New York Times (Fri., January 22, 2010): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 12, 2010

World's Poor Care More About Food and Illness than Global Warming



(p. A21) The saddest fact of climate change--and the chief reason we should be concerned about finding a proper response--is that the countries it will hit hardest are already among the poorest and most long-suffering.

In the run-up to this month's global climate summit in Copenhagen, the Copenhagen Consensus Center dispatched researchers to the world's most likely global-warming hot spots. Their assignment: to ask locals to tell us their views about the problems they face. Over the past seven weeks, I recounted in these pages what they told us concerned them the most. In nearly every case, it wasn't global warming.

Everywhere we went we found people who spoke powerfully of the need to focus more attention on more immediate problems. In the Bauleni slum compound in Lusaka, Zambia, 27-year-old Samson Banda asked, "If I die from malaria tomorrow, why should I care about global warming?" In a camp for stateless Biharis in Bangladesh, 45-year-old Momota Begum said, "When my kids haven't got enough to eat, I don't think global warming will be an issue I will be thinking about." On the southeast slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, 45-year-old widow and HIV/AIDS sufferer Mary Thomas said she had noticed changes in the mountain's glaciers, but declared: "There is no need for ice on the mountain if there is no people around because of HIV/AIDS."




For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "OPINION; Time for a Smarter Approach to Global Warming; Investing in energy R&D might work. Mandated emissions cuts won't.." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., DECEMBER 15, 2009): A21.





January 5, 2010

Heart Disease Is Not Just a Malady of Modern Societies, But "Is Part of the Human Condition"



MummyScanHeartDisease2009-12-21.jpg"Scientists scanned 20 mummies, and examined scans of two more, for the study." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) ORLANDO, Fla. -- Researchers said they found evidence of hardening of the arteries in Egyptian mummies dating as far back as 3,500 years, challenging longstanding assumptions that cardiovascular disease is mainly a malady of modern societies.

A team of heart-imaging experts and Egyptologists examined 22 mummies from the Egyptian National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo in a CT scanning machine, looking for evidence of calcium buildup that could indicate vascular disease.

They were able to identify the hearts, arteries or both in 16 of the mummies, nine of whom had deposits of calcification. An analysis determined the deposits were either definite or probable evidence of atherosclerosis, the condition that leads to heart attacks and strokes.

"Not only do we have atherosclerosis now, it was prevalent as long as 3,500 years ago," said Gregory Thomas, a cardiologist and imaging specialist at University of California, Irvine, who was principal investigator of the study. "It is part of the human condition."

The research was presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association scientific meeting here. A report is also scheduled to appear in Wednesday's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.




For the full story, see:

RON WINSLOW. "Heart Disease Found in Egyptian Mummies." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., NOVEMBER 18, 2009): A5.

(Note: the online version of the article has a date of NOVEMBER 19, 2009 and is titled "Heart Disease Found in Egyptian Mummies.")





January 2, 2010

Entrepreneurial Innovation Comes from Diverse Outsiders Rather than Establishments



(p. 113) Firms that win by the curve of mind often abandon it when they establish themselves in the world of matter. They fight to preserve the value of their material investments in plant and equipment that embody the ideas and experience of their early years of success. They begin to exalt expertise and old knowledge, rights and reputation, over the constant learning and experience of innovative capitalism. They get fat.

A fat cat drifting off the curve, however, is a sitting duck for new nations and companies getting on it. The curve of mind thus tends to favor outsiders over establishments of all kinds. At the capitalist ball, the blood is seldom blue or the money rarely seasoned. Microcosmic technologies are no exception. Capitalism's most lavish display, the microcosm, is no respecter of persons.

The United States did not enter the microcosm through the portals of the Ivy League, with Brooks Brothers suits, gentleman Cs, and warbling society wives. Few people who think they are in already can summon the energies to break in. From immigrants and outcasts, street toughs and science wonks, nerds and boffins, the bearded and the beer-bellied, the tacky and uptight, and sometimes weird, the born again and born yesterday, with Adam's apples bobbing, psyches (p. 114) throbbing, and acne galore, the fraternity of the pizza breakfast, the Ferrari dream, the silicon truth, the midnight modem, and the seventy-hour week, from dirt farms and redneck shanties, trailer parks and Levittowns, in a rainbow parade of all colors and wavelengths, of the hyperneat and the sty high, the crewcut and khaki, the pony-tailed and punk, accented from Britain and Madras, from Israel and Malaya, from Paris and Parris Island, from Iowa and Havana, from Brooklyn and Boise and Belgrade and Vienna and Vietnam, from the coarse fanaticism and desperation, ambition and hunger, genius and sweat of the outsider, the downtrodden, the banished, and the bullied come most of the progress in the world and in Silicon Valley.





Source:

Gilder, George. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 1990.





December 19, 2009

Safe Drinking Water Matters More than Global Warming



(p. A17) Getting basic sanitation and safe drinking water to the three billion people around the world who do not have it now would cost nearly $4 billion a year. By contrast, cuts in global carbon emissions that aim to limit global temperature increases to less than two degrees Celsius over the next century would cost $40 trillion a year by 2100. These cuts will do nothing to increase the number of people with access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Cutting carbon emissions will likely increase water scarcity, because global warming is expected to increase average rainfall levels around the world.

For Mrs. Begum, the choice is simple. After global warming was explained to her, she said: "When my kids haven't got enough to eat, I don't think global warming will be an issue I will be thinking about."

One of Bangladesh's most vulnerable citizens, Mrs. Begum has lost faith in the media and politicians.

"So many people like you have come and interviewed us. I have not seen any improvement in our conditions," she said.

It is time the developed world started listening.




For the full commentary, see:

Bjørn LOMBORG. "Global Warming as Seen From Bangladesh; Momota Begum worries about hunger, not climate change." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOVEMBER 9, 2009): A17.





December 14, 2009

Gilder's Microcosm Tells the Story of the Entrepreneurs Who Made Personal Computers Possible



MicrocosmBK.jpg















Source of book image: http://images.indiebound.com/923/705/9780671705923.jpg




Many years ago Telecosm was the first George Gilder book that I read; I enjoyed it for its over-the-top verbal exuberance in detailing, praising and predicting the progress of the then-new broadband technologies. I bought his earlier Microcosm at about the same time, but didn't get around to reading it because I assumed it would be a dated read, dealing in a similar manner with the earlier personal computer (PC) technology.

In the last year or so I have read Gilder's Wealth and Poverty and Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise. There is some interesting material in Gilder's famous Wealth and Poverty, which has sometimes been described as one of the main intellectual manifestos of the Reagan administration. But Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise has become my favorite Gilder book (so far).

In each chapter, the main modus operandi of that book is to present a case study of a recent entrepreneur, with plenty of interpretation of the lessons to be learned about why entrepreneurship is important to the economy, what sort of personal characteristics are common in entrepreneurs, and what government policies encourage or discourage entrepreneurs.

In that book I read that the original plan had been to include several chapters on the entrepreneurs who had built the personal computer revolution. But the original manuscript grew to unwieldy size, and so the personal computer chapters became the basis of the book Microcosm.

So Microcosm moved to the top of my "to-read" list, and turned out to be a much less-dated book than I had expected.

Microcosm does for the personal computer entrepreneurs what Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise did for a broader set of entrepreneurs.

In the next few weeks, I will occasionally quote a few especially important examples or thought-provoking observations from Microcosm.




Reference to Gilder's MIcrocosm:

Gilder, George. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 1990.


Other Gilder books mentioned:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992. (The first edition was called simply The Spirit of Enterprise, and appeared in 1984.)

Gilder, George. Telecosm: The World after Bandwidth Abundance. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 2002.

Gilder, George. Wealth and Poverty. 3rd ed. New York: ICS Press, 1993.





December 5, 2009

Malaria "Weakly Related to Temperature"; "Strongly Related to Poverty"



(p. A17) In the West, campaigners for carbon regulations point out that global warming will increase the number of malaria victims. This is often used as an argument for drastic, immediate carbon cuts.

Warmer, wetter weather will improve conditions for the malaria parasite. Most estimates suggest that global warming will put 3% more of the Earth's population at risk of catching malaria by 2100. If we invest in the most efficient, global carbon cuts--designed to keep temperature rises under two degrees Celsius--we would spend a massive $40 trillion a year by 2100. In the best case scenario, we would reduce the at-risk population by only 3%.

In comparison, research commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Center shows that spending $3 billion annually on mosquito nets, environmentally safe indoor DDT sprays, and subsidies for effective new combination therapies could halve the number of those infected with malaria within one decade. For the money it takes to save one life with carbon cuts, smarter policies could save 78,000 lives. . . .

Malaria is only weakly related to temperature; it is strongly related to poverty. It has risen in sub-Saharan Africa over the past 20 years not because of global warming, but because of failing medical response.




For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "Climate Change and Malaria in Africa; Limiting carbon emissions won't do much to stop disease in Zambia." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOVEMBER 2, 2009): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated Nov. 1st.)





November 13, 2009

Global Warming Is Least Worry of Vanuatu Island's Poor



(p. A19) In a warning often repeated by environmental campaigners, the Vanuatuan president told the United Nations that entire island nations could be submerged. "If such a tragedy does happen," he said, "then the United Nations and its members would have failed in their first and most basic duty to a member nation and its innocent people."

Torethy Frank, a 39-year-old woman carving out a subsistence lifestyle on Vanuatu's Nguna Island, is one of those "innocent people." Yet, she has never heard of the problem that her government rates as a top priority. "What is global warming?" she asks a researcher for the Copenhagen Consensus Center.


. . .


Torethy and her family of six live in a small house made of concrete and brick with no running water. As a toilet, they use a hole dug in the ground. They have no shower and there is no fixed electricity supply. Torethy's family was given a battery-powered DVD player but cannot afford to use it.


. . .


What would change her life? Having a boat in the village to use for fishing, transporting goods to sell, and to get to hospital in emergencies. She doesn't want more aid money because, "there is too much corruption in the government and it goes in people's pockets," but she would like microfinance schemes instead. "Give the money directly to the people for businesses so we can support ourselves without having to rely on the government."

Vanuatu's politicians speak with a loud voice on the world stage. But the inhabitants of Vanuatu, like Torethy Frank, tell a very different story.



For the full commentary, see:

BJøRN LOMBORG. "The View from Vanuatu on Climate Change; Torethy Frank had never heard of global warming. She is worried about power and running water." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 23, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version is dated Thurs., Oct. 22.)





November 10, 2009

John Mackey: "I Believe in the Dynamic Creativity of Capitalism"



MackeyJohn2009-10-28.jpg Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. Source of the caricature: online version of the WSJ interview quoted and cited below.



(p. A11) "I honestly don't know why the article became such a lightning rod," says John Mackey, CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market Inc., as he tries to explain the firestorm caused by his August op-ed on these pages opposing government-run health care.


. . .


. . . his now famous op-ed incited a boycott of Whole Foods by some of his left-wing customers. His piece advised that "the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us closer to a complete government takeover of our health-care system." Free-market groups retaliated with a "buy-cott," encouraging people to purchase more groceries at Whole Foods.


. . .


What Mr. Mackey is proposing is more or less what he has already implemented at his company--a plan that would allow more health savings accounts (HSAs), more low-premium, high-deductible plans, more incentives for wellness, and medical malpractice reform. None of these initiatives are in any of the Democratic bills winding their way through Congress. In fact, the Democrats want to kill HSAs and high-deductible plans and mandate coverage options that would inflate health insurance costs.


. . .


Mr. Mackey's latest crusade involves traveling to college campuses across the country, trying to persuade young people that business, profits and capitalism aren't forces of evil. He calls his concept "conscious capitalism."

What is that? "It means that business has the potential to have a deeper purpose. I mean, Whole Foods has a deeper purpose," he says, now sounding very much like a philosopher. "Most of the companies I most admire in the world I think have a deeper purpose." He continues, "I've met a lot of successful entrepreneurs. They all started their businesses not to maximize shareholder value or money but because they were pursuing a dream."

Mr. Mackey tells me he is trying to save capitalism: "I think that business has a noble purpose. It's not that there's anything wrong with making money. It's one of the important things that business contributes to society. But it's not the sole reason that businesses exist."

What does he mean by a "noble purpose"? "It means that just like every other profession, business serves society. They produce goods and services that make people's lives better. Doctors heal the sick. Teachers educate people. Architects design buildings. Lawyers promote justice. Whole Foods puts food on people's tables and we improve people's health."

Then he adds: "And we provide jobs. And we provide capital through profits that spur improvements in the world.


. . .


"I don't think anybody's too big to fail," he says. "If a business fails, what happens is, there are still assets, and those assets get reorganized. Either new management comes in or it's sold off to another business or it's bid on and the good assets are retained and the bad assets are eliminated. I believe in the dynamic creativity of capitalism, and it's self-correcting, if you just allow it to self-correct."

That's something Washington won't let happen these days, which helps explain why Mr. Mackey felt compelled to write that the Whole Foods health-insurance program is smarter and cheaper than the latest government proposals.



For the full interview, see:

STEPHEN MOORE. "The Conscience of a Capitalist; The Whole Foods founder talks about his Journal health-care op-ed that spawned a boycott, how he deals with unions, and why he thinks CEOs are overpaid." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 3, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)





August 7, 2009

"The Single Most Important Question for the Future of America Is How We Treat Our Entrepreneurs"



(p. 13) The single most important question for the future of America is how we treat our entrepreneurs. If we smear, harass, overtax, and overregulate them, our liberal politicians will be shocked and horrified to discover how swiftly the physical tokens of the means of production collapse into so much corroded wire, eroding concrete, scrap metal, and jungle rot.


Source:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.





August 5, 2009

Property Rights Would Allow American Indians to Prosper



(p. A19) President Barack Obama courted the Indian vote. During the campaign, he visited Montana's Crow Reservation last May and was adopted into the tribe under the Crow name "One Who Helps People Throughout the Land." There he said, "Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans," and vowed to improve their economic opportunities, health care and education.

Two vital steps in this direction are to strengthen property rights and the rule of law on reservations. Virtually every study of international development shows that both of these are crucial to prosperity. Indian country is no different. The effect of insecure property rights is evident on a drive through any western reservation. When you see 160 acres overgrazed and a house unfit for occupancy, you can be sure the title to the land is held by the federal government bureaucracy.


. . .

My own research, published in the Journal of Law and Economics, shows that for tribes with state jurisdiction, per capita income grew 20% faster between 1969 and 1999 than for their counterparts under tribal court jurisdiction. All Indians are less likely than whites to get home loans, but the likelihood of a loan rejection falls by 50% on reservations under state jurisdiction.


. . .

Mr. Obama's rallying cry was "change," and that is exactly what he needs to bring about in Indian policy. The first Americans deserve to be freed from the bureaucratic shackles that have made them victims, and allowed to establish property rights and legal systems that can make them victors.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY L. ANDERSON. "OPINION; Native Americans Need the Rule of Law." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 16, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipses in original.)





August 4, 2009

"It Is No Time to Concede"



BeckerGaryCartoon2009_07_10.jpg






Gary Becker. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ interview quoted and cited below.




(p. A9) "What can we do that would be beneficial? [One thing] is lower corporate taxes and businesses taxes and maybe taxes in general. Particularly, you want to lower the tax on capital so you raise the after-tax return to investing and get more investing going on."


. . .


What Mr. Becker has seen over a career spanning more than five decades is that free markets are good for human progress. And at a time when increasing government intervention in the economy is all the rage, he insists that economic liberals must not withdraw from the debate simply because their cause, for now, appears quixotic.

As a young academic in 1956, Mr. Becker wrote an important paper against conscription. He was discouraged from publishing it because, at the time, the popular view was that the military draft could never be abolished. Of course it was, and looking back, he says, "that taught me a lesson." Today as Washington appears unstoppable in its quest for more power and lovers of liberty are accused of tilting at windmills, he says it is no time to concede.



For the full interview, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY. "OPINION: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Now Is No Time to Give Up on Markets." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 21, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



Gary Becker_2009_07_10.jpg Gary Becker. Source of photo: http://larryevansphotography.com/Gary%20Becker_2.jpg






July 30, 2009

Today's Middle Class Citizens of the U.S. Are Better Off Than Emperor Tiberius, Emperor Napoleon, and Saint Thomas Aquinas



In conversation at the HES meeting in Denver, Pete Boettke mentioned that the opportunity cost of blogging can be very high.

The passage below is from a draft of a key chapter of a long-awaited book authored by Berkeley economist and world-renowned blogger Brad DeLong. (At least in this case, Boettke is right.)


(p. 3) Could the Emperor Tiberius have eaten fresh grapes in January? Could the Emperor Napoleon have crossed the Atlantic in a night, or gotten from Paris to London in two hours? Could Thomas Aquinas have written a 2000-word letter in two hours--and then dispatched it off to 1,000 recipients with the touch of a key, and begun to receive replies within the hour? Computers, automobiles, airplanes, VCR' s, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, telephones, and other technologies--combined with mass production--give middle-class citizens of the United States today degrees of material wealth--control over commodities, and the ability to consume services--that previous generations could barely imagine.



Source:

DeLong, J. Bradford. "Cornucopia: The Pace of Economic Growth in the Twentieth Century." NBER Working Paper, w7602, 2000.





July 21, 2009

Foreign Aid to Africa "Underwrites Brutal and Corrupt Regimes"



DeadAimBK.jpg














Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.




(p. A13) It is one of the great conundrums of the modern age: More than 300 million people living across the continent of Africa are still mired in poverty after decades of effort -- by the World Bank, foreign governments and charitable organizations -- to lift them out if it. While a few African countries have achieved notable rates of economic growth in recent years, per-capita income in Africa as a whole has inched up only slightly since 1960. In that year, the region's gross domestic product was about equal to that of East Asia. By 2005, East Asia's GDP was five times higher. The total aid package to Africa, over the past 50 years, exceeds $1 trillion. There is far too little to show for it.

Dambisa Moyo, a native of Zambia and a former World Bank consultant, believes that it is time to end the charade -- to stop proceeding as if foreign aid does the good that it is supposed to do. The problem, she says in "Dead Aid," is not that foreign money is poorly spent (though much of it is) or that development programs are badly managed (though many of them are). No, the problem is more fundamental: Aid, she writes, is "no longer part of the potential solution, it's part of the problem -- in fact, aid is the problem."

In a tightly argued brief, Ms. Moyo spells out how attempts to help Africa actually hurt it. The aid money pouring into Africa, she says, underwrites brutal and corrupt regimes; it stifles investment; and it leads to higher rates of poverty -- all of which, in turn, creates a demand for yet more aid. Africa, Ms. Moyo notes, seems hopelessly trapped in this spiral, and she wants to see it break free. Over the past 30 years, she says, the most aid-dependent countries in Africa have experienced economic contraction averaging 0.2% a year.



For the full review, see:

MATTHEW REES. "Bookshelf; When Help Does Harm." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Mach 17, 2009): A13.



The reference to the book under review, is:

Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.





July 18, 2009

"Build a Wall Around the Welfare State"



For a long time, I've been meaning to post a pithy comment on immigration policy from the Cato Institutes's Bill Niskanen.

The comment was related to the proposal to erect a wall between the United States and Mexico, in order to reduce illegal immigration. Some libertarians favor open immigration. Others believe that so long as we have a large welfare state, open immigration would impose high costs on the taxpayer, and thereby reduce economic growth. (I believe that I read Milton Friedman supporting this latter position, in the year or two before he died in 2006.)

In this context, Niskanen's pithy comment has appeal:


"Build a wall around the welfare state, not around the country."


Source:

William A. Niskanen on 11/19/07 at the meetings of the Southern Economic Association in New Orleans.





July 9, 2009

Government Regulators Again Suppress Entrepreneurial Innovation



FeetNibblingFish2009-06-20.jpgSource of photo: http://images.quickblogcast.com/82086-71861/pedicurex_large.jpg


(p. A1) Until Mr. Ho brought his skin-eating fish here from China last year, no salon in the U.S. had been publicly known to employ a live animal in the exfoliation of feet. The novelty factor was such that Mr. Ho became a minor celebrity. On "Good Morning America" in July, Diane Sawyer placed her feet in a tank supplied by Mr. Ho and compared the fish nibbles to "tiny little delicate kisses."

Since then, cosmetology regulators have taken a less flattering view, insisting fish pedicures are unsanitary. At least 14 states, including Texas and Florida, have outlawed them. Virginia doesn't see a problem. Ohio permitted fish pedicures after a review, and other states haven't yet made up their minds. The world of foot care, meanwhile, has been plunged into a piscine uproar. Salon owners who (p. A12) bought fish and tanks before the bans were imposed in their states are fuming.

The issue: cosmetology regulations generally mandate that tools need to be discarded or sanitized after each use. But epidermis-eating fish are too expensive to throw away. "And there's no way to sanitize them unless you bake them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees," says Lynda Elliott, an official with the New Hampshire Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Esthetics. The board outlawed fish pedicures in November.

In Ohio, ophthalmologist Marilyn Huheey, who sits on the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology, decided to try it out for herself in a Columbus salon last fall. After watching the fish lazily munch on her skin, she recommended approval to the board. "It seemed to me it was very sanitary, not sterile of course," Dr. Huheey says. "Sanitation is what we've got to live with in this world, not sterility."


. . .


State bans have disrupted Mr. Ho's plans to build a nationwide franchise network. Currently, he has four active franchises, in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Missouri. But others have terminated franchise agreements. In Calhoun, Ga., Tran Lam, owner of Sky Nails, says she paid Mr. Ho $17,500 in exchange for fish and custom-made pedicure tanks. A few weeks later, in October, the Georgia Board of Cosmetology deemed fish pedicures illegal. "I'm very mad," says Ms. Lam. "I lost a lot of money and the economy is so bad."




For the full story, see:

JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Ban on Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Nail Salons on the Hook; Mr. Ho's Import From China Caught On, But Some State Pedicure Inspectors Object." Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 23, 2009): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 6, 2009

Our "Patently Absurd" Patent System



(p. A15) The Founders might have used quill pens, but they would roll their eyes at how, in this supposedly technology-minded era, we're undermining their intention to encourage innovation. The U.S. is stumbling in the transition from their Industrial Age to our Information Age, despite the charge in the Constitution that Congress "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."


. . .

Both sides may be right. New empirical research by Boston University law professors James Bessen and Michael Meurer, reported in their book, "Patent Failure," found that the value of pharmaceutical patents outweighed the costs of pharmaceutical-patent litigation. But for all other industries combined, they estimate that since the mid-1990s, the cost of U.S. patent litigation to alleged infringers ($12 billion in legal and business costs in 1999) is greater than the global profits that companies earn from patents (less than $4 billion in 1999). Since the 1980s, patent litigation has tripled and the probability that a particular patent is litigated within four years has more than doubled. Small inventors feel the brunt of the uncertainty costs, since bigger companies only pay for rights they think the system will protect.

These are shocking findings, but they point to the solution. New drugs require great specificity to earn a patent, whereas patents are often granted to broad, thus vague, innovations in software, communications and other technologies. Ironically, the aggregate value of these technology patents is then wiped out through litigation costs.

Our patent system for most innovations has become patently absurd. It's a disincentive at a time when we expect software and other technology companies to be the growth engine of the economy. Imagine how much more productive our information-driven economy would be if the patent system lived up to the intention of the Founders, by encouraging progress instead of suppressing it.



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "OPINION: INFORMATION AGE; Patent Gridlock Suppresses Innovation." Wall Street Journal (Mon., JULY 14, 2008): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 5, 2009

The Middle Ages Were Poor Ages (and, Yes, Dark Ages Too)



FallOfRomeBK.jpg















Source of book image: http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/11610000/11613340.jpg



(p. A19) . . . some excellent books for general readers in the past few years, notably Brian Ward- Perkins's "The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization" (2005), have shown how devastating was the economic and human cost paid between 450 and 900. It is still unfashionable to speak of the Dark Ages (there was continuing cultural life), but these were certainly the Poor Ages, in which protection for the weak and vulnerable, from roaming killers and even from the weather, was much more precarious than it had been under Roman rule.



For the full review, see:

SCOTT PATTERSON. "Bookshelf; The Emperor Left Town." Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 21, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the book mainly under review by Patterson, is NOT the book featured in this blog entry.)

The reference for the Ward-Perkins book, is:

Ward-Perkins, Bryan. The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.





June 28, 2009

"Don't Kill the Goose"



(p. A11) I think there are two major but not fully formed or fully articulated fears among thinking Americans right now, and the deliberate obscurity of official language only intensifies those fears.

The first is that Mr. Obama's government, in all its flurry of activism, may kill the goose that laid the golden egg. This is as dreadful and obvious a cliché as they come, but too bad, it's what people fear. They see the spending plans and tax plans, the regulation and reform hunger, the energy proposals and health-care ambitions, and they--we--wonder if the men and women doing all this, working in their separate and discrete areas, are being overseen by anyone saying, "By the way, don't kill the goose."

The goose of course is the big, messy, spirited, inspiring, and sometimes in some respects damaging but on the whole brilliant and productive wealth-generator known as the free-market capitalist system. People do want things cleaned up and needed regulations instituted, and they don't mind at all if the very wealthy are more heavily taxed, but they greatly fear a goose killing. Economic freedom in all its chaos and disorder has kept us rich for 200 years, and allowed us as a nation to be generous and strong at home and in the world. But the goose can be killed--by carelessness, hostility, incrementalism, paralysis, and by no one saying, "Don't kill the goose."



For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "What's Elevated, Health-Care Provider? Economy of language would be good for the economy." Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 15, 2009): A11.






June 17, 2009

Cooking with Cow Shit Adds to Global Warming (and Would Be Ended by Economic Growth)



SootFromCookingIndia.jpg"Cooking in Kohlua, India. Soot from tens of thousands of villages in developing countries is responsible for 18 percent of the planet's warming, studies say." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Economic growth is sometimes seen as increasing pollution. But the article quoted below shows that primitive cooking methods, which occur in the absence of economic growth, cause one of the most damaging forms of pollution: black carbon.


(p. A1) KOHLUA, India -- "It's hard to believe that this is what's melting the glaciers," said Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, one of the world's leading climate scientists, as he weaved through a warren of mud brick huts, each containing a mud cookstove pouring soot into the atmosphere.

As women in ragged saris of a thousand hues bake bread and stew lentils in the early evening over fires fueled by twigs and dung, children cough from the dense smoke that fills their homes. Black grime coats the undersides of thatched roofs. At dawn, a brown cloud stretches over the landscape like a diaphanous dirty blanket.

In Kohlua, in central India, with no cars and little electricity, emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, are near zero. But soot -- also known as black carbon -- from tens of thousands of villages like this one in developing countries is emerging as a major and previously unappreciated source of global climate change.

While carbon dioxide may be the No. 1 contributor to rising global temperatures, scientists say, black carbon has emerged as an important No. 2, with recent studies estimating that it is responsible for 18 percent of the (p. A12) planet's warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide. Decreasing black carbon emissions would be a relatively cheap way to significantly rein in global warming -- especially in the short term, climate experts say. Replacing primitive cooking stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot could provide a much-needed stopgap, while nations struggle with the more difficult task of enacting programs and developing technologies to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.


. . .


Better still, decreasing soot could have a rapid effect. Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for years, soot stays there for a few weeks. Converting to low-soot cookstoves would remove the warming effects of black carbon quickly, while shutting a coal plant takes years to substantially reduce global CO2 concentrations.


. . .


Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of environmental engineering at Stanford, said that the fact that black carbon was not included in international climate efforts was "bizarre," but "partly reflects how new the idea is."



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "By Degrees; Black Carbon; Soot From Third-World Stoves Is New Target in Climate Fight." The New York Times (Thurs., April 16, 2009): A1, A12.

(Note: ellipses added; the title of the online version is "By Degrees - Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight." )


BlackCarbonMap.jpg





Source of maps: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 10, 2009

Major Advances Seldom Come from Big Incumbent Firms



(p. 109) Most of today's Fortune 500 were not there fifty years ago. All of the private sector's net new jobs in the United States during the past twenty years were added by companies not on the Fortune 1000 twenty years ago: two thirds of the net new jobs came from companies with fewer than twenty employees twenty years ago. Ten years ago our automobile giants seemed invincible. Today we wonder whether more than one will survive.

In 1960, Theodore Levitt of Harvard wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review, "Marketing Myopia," in which he pointed out that every industry was once a growth industry. Perversely, a vicious cycle sets in. After experiencing continued growth for a while, managers in the industry come to believe that continuing growth is assured. They persuade themselves that there is no competitive substitute for their product, and develop too much faith in (p. 110) the benefits of mass production and the inevitable steady cost reduction that results as output rises. Managements become preoccupied with products that lend themselves to carefully controlled improvement and the benefits of manufacturing cost reduction. All of these forces combine to produce an inevitable stagnation or decline.

In Dynamic Economics, the economist Burton Klein puts forward a carefully researched and very similar view: "Assuming that an industry has already reached the stage of slow history, the advances will seldom come from the major firms in the industry. In fact, of some fifty inventions [fifty key twentieth-century breakthrough innovations that he studied] that resulted in new S-shaped curves [major new growth patterns] in relatively static industries, I could find no case in which the advance in question came from a major firm in the industry." George Gilder elaborates on Klein's work "The very process by which a firm becomes most productive in an industry tends to render it less flexible and inventive."

It appears that evolution is continuously at work in the marketplace; that adaptation is crucial; and that few big businesses, if any, pull it off. Many of our excellent companies most probably will not stay buoyant forever. We would merely argue that they've had a long run--a much longer and more successful run than most--and are coming much closer than the rest to maintaining adaptability and size at the same time.



Source:

Peters, Thomas J., and Robert H. Waterman. In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

(Note: italics and brackets in original.)





May 31, 2009

Entrepreneurs, Not MITI, Decided Japan Outcomes in '60s, '70s and '80s



(p. 164) Ishibashi's regime was followed in the early 1960s by the "income-doubling campaign" of his associate Hayato Ikeda, who assumed power in 1961 and continued the supply-side thrust. The result was a steady upsurge of domestic growth, with firms and industries rapidly gaining experience in intense rivalries at home before entering the global arena as low-cost producers, and with government cutting taxes and increasing revenues and savings.

It is from this domestic crucible of intense competition with normal rates of bankruptcy far above those in the United States, with scores of rivals in every field, that the great Japanese companies have emerged. At various times during the last three decades, for example, there have been 58 integrated steel firms, 50 motorbike companies, 12 auto firms, 42 makers of hand-held calculators, 13 makers of facsimile machines, and 250 producers of robots. Overlooking this welter are always the crested bureaucrats of MITI, sometimes offering useful aid and guidance--but at the center, deciding outcomes, have always been the entrepreneurs.



Source:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.





May 27, 2009

"Dynamism Has Been Leached From Our System," But Not from Our Brains or Our Hearts



Sometimes one of Peggy Noonan's columns reminds us that she was once one of Ronald Reagan's best speech writers:


(p. A11) I heard a man named Nathan Myhrvold speak of a thing called Microsoft. I saw a young man named Steve Jobs prowl a New York stage and unveil a computer that then we thought tiny and today we'd call huge. A man named Steve Wozniak became a household god as my son reported his visionary ways. It was a time so full of genius and dynamism that it went beyond words like "breakthrough" and summoned words like "revolution." If you were paying attention, if you understood you were witnessing something great, the invention of a new age, the computer age, it caught at your throat. It was like hearing great music. People literally said what had been said in the age of Thomas Edison: "What will they think of next?" What a buoyant era.


. . .


And for a moment, as I sent and received my first airborne Wi-Fi emails, I was back there. And I was moved because I realized how much I missed it, how much we all do, that "There are no walls" feeling. "Think different." "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.' " That was 25 years ago. The world was on fire.

It has cooled. And the essential problem with the crash we're in is no one can imagine quite feeling that way again. People can remember it, but they can't quite resummon it.


. . .


I end with a hunch that is not an unhappy one. Dynamism has been leached from our system for now, but not from the human brain or heart. Just as our political regeneration will happen locally, in counties and states that learn how to control themselves and demonstrate how to govern effectively in a time of limits, so will our economic regeneration. That will begin in someone's garage, somebody's kitchen, as it did in the case of Messrs. Jobs and Wozniak. The comeback will be from the ground up and will start with innovation. No one trusts big anymore. In the future everything will be local. That's where the magic will be. And no amount of pessimism will stop it once it starts.




For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "Remembering the Dawn of the Age of Abundance; Times are hard, but dynamism isn't dead." Wall Street Journal (Sat., Feb. 21, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)





May 20, 2009

Economic Freedom Map



EconomicFreedomPoster.JPG Source of image: http://divisionoflabour.com/archives/EFWposter.JPG


I heard a useful presentation by John Morton on the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom Map at the April 2009 Association of Private Enterprise Education meetings in Guatemala City. Using data developed by Jim Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and their associates, the map provides striking visual evidence of the relationship between economic freedom and economic growth.

For additional information, and to purchase a copy of the map, visit: http://www.freetheworld.com/ef_map.html





May 9, 2009

Stagnation Caused by "Depriving Creative Individuals of Financial Power"



(p. 164) The key to growth is quite simple: creative men with money. The cause of stagnation is similarly clear: depriving creative individuals of financial power. To revive the slumping nations of social democracy, the prime need is to reverse the policies of entrepreneurial euthanasia. Individuals must be allowed to accumulate disposable savings and wield them in the economies of the West. The crux is individual, not corporate or collective, wealth.


Source:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.





May 5, 2009

System of Capitalism without Capitalists Is Failing in Europe



(p. 164) The reason the system of capitalism without capitalists is failing throughout most of Europe is that it misconceives the essential nature of growth. Poring over huge aggregations of economic data, economists see the rise to wealth as a slow upward climb achieved through the marginal productivity gains of millions of workers, through the slow accumulation of plant and machinery, and through the continued improvement of "human capital" by advances in education, training, and health. But, in fact, all these sources of growth are dwarfed by the role of entrepreneurs launching new companies based on new concepts or technologies. These gains generate the wealth that finances the welfare state, that makes possible the long-term investments in human capital that are often seen as the primary source of growth.


Source:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.





May 1, 2009

Frazer Institute Seeks Better Measures of Policy Variables



George Gilder emphasizes that the importance of entrepreneurship to economic growth has been missed by many economists, in part because of the difficulty of measuring both the inputs of entrepreneurship (e.g., courage, persistence, creativity, etc.) and the outputs of entrepreneurship (e.g., happiness from more challenging work, greater variety of products, etc.).

Unfortunately this is not just an academic problem, because economists' policy advice is based on their models, and their models focus on what they can measure. If they can't measure entrepreneurship, then policies to encourage entrepreneurship are neglected.

Now the Frazer Institute, is seeking proposals to improve the measurement of important poorly measured policy-relevant variables. This initiative is in the spirit of the good work that the Frazer Institute has done in correlating measures of economic freedom with measures of economic growth.

I have been asked to publicize this initiative, and am pleased to do so:


Dear Art Diamond,

The Fraser Institute is launching a new contest to identify economic and public policy issues which still require proper measurement in order to facilitate meaningful analysis and public discourse. We hope you can help promote this contest by posting it on your weblog, artdiamondblog.

The Essay Contest for Excellence in the Pursuit of Measurement is an opportunity for the public to comment on an economic or public policy issue that they feel is important and deserves to be properly measured.

A top prize of $1,000 and other cash prizes can be won by identifying a vital issue that is either not being measured, or is being measured inappropriately. Acceptable entry formats include a short 500-600 word essay, or a short one-minute video essay.

Complete details and a promotional flyer are available at: http://www.fraserinstitute.org/programsandinitiatives/measurement_center.htm.

Entry deadline is Friday, May 15th, 2009.

Sponsored by the R.J. Addington Center for the Study of Measurement.

Enquiries may be directed to:

Courtenay Vermeulen
Education Programs Assistant
The Fraser Institute
Direct: 604.714.4533
courtenay.vermeulen@fraserinstitute.org



The Fraser Institute is an independent international research and educational organization with offices in Canada and the United States and active research ties with similar independent organizations in more than 70 countries around the world. Our vision is a free and prosperous world where individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets, and personal responsibility. Our mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals.



An important source of Gilder's views, obliquely referred to in my comments above, is:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.





April 27, 2009

The Most Fertile Margins of the Economy Are Always in People's Minds



(p. 151) The most fertile margins of the economy are always in people's minds: thoughts and plans and projects yet unborn to business. The future emerges centrifugally and at first invisibly, on the fringes of existing companies and industries. The fastest-growing new firms often arise through defections of restive managers and engineers from large corporations or through the initiatives of (p. 152) immigrants and outcasts beyond the established circles of commerce. All programs that favor established companies, certified borrowers, immobile forms of pay, pensions, and perquisites, institutionally managed savings and wealth, against mobile capital, personal earnings, disposable savings, and small business borrowing, tend to thwart the turbulent, creative, and unpredictable processes of innovation and growth.


Source:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.





April 7, 2009

Entrepreneurs Are the Main Source of Economic Growth


(p. 144) The reason the system of capitalism without capitalists is failing throughout most of Europe is that it misconceives the essential nature of growth. Poring over huge aggregations of economic data, economists see the rise to wealth as a slow upward climb achieved through the marginal productivity gains of millions of workers, through the slow accumulation of plant and machinery, and through the continued improvement of "human capital" by advances in education, training, and health. But, in fact, all these sources of growth are dwarfed by the role of entrepreneurs launching new companies based on new concepts or technologies. These gains generate the wealth that finances the welfare state, that makes possible the long-term investments in human capital that are often seen as the primary source of growth.


Source:

Gilder, George. The Spirit of Enterprise. 1 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.





March 29, 2009

Vaclav Klaus: The Czech Republic's Free Market Crusader


KlausVaclav2009-02-15.jpg "President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic is known for his economic liberalism." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) To supporters, Mr. Klaus is a brave, lone crusader, a defender of liberty, the only European leader in the mold of the formidable Margaret Thatcher. (Aides say Mr. Klaus has a photo of the former British prime minister in his office near his desk.)


. . .


As a former finance minister and prime minister, he is credited with presiding over the peaceful 1993 split of Czechoslovakia into two states and helping to transform the Czech Republic into one of the former Soviet bloc's most successful economies.

But his ideas about governance are out of step with many of the European Union nations that his country will lead starting Jan. 1.

While even many of the world's most ardent free marketeers acknowledged the need for the recent coordinated bailout of European banks, Mr. Klaus lambasted it as irresponsible protectionism. He blamed too much -- rather than too little -- regulation for the crisis.

A fervent critic of the environmental movement, he has called global warming a dangerous "myth," arguing that the fight against climate change threatens economic growth.

. . .


Those who know Mr. Klaus say his economic liberalism is an outgrowth of his upbringing. Born in 1941, he obtained an economics degree in 1963 and was deeply influenced by free market economists like Milton Friedman.

Mr. Klaus's son and namesake, Vaclav, recalled in an interview that when he was 13, his father told him to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to better understand Communism's oppressiveness.

"If you lived under communism, then you are very sensitive to forces that try to control or limit human liberty," he said in an interview.



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "A Fiery Czech Is Poised to Be the Face of Europe." The New York Times (Tues., November 25, 2008): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)





March 26, 2009

High Progressive Income Taxes Result in "Demoralization of Entrepreneurs"


(p. 127) High progressive and unnegotiable gouges like those in Sweden and England drive people altogether out of the country into offshore tax havens, out of income-generating activities into perks and leisure pursuits, out of money and savings into collectibles and gold, and, most important, out of small business ventures into the cosseting arms of large established corporations and government bureaucracies. The result is the demoralization of entrepreneurs and the stultification of capital. The experimental knowledge that informs and refines the process of economic growth is stifled, and the metaphysical capital in the system collapses, even while all the indices of capital formation rise.


Source:

Gilder, George. The Spirit of Enterprise. 1 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.





March 22, 2009

"Venturesome" Consumers May Help Save the Day


Bhide makes thought-provoking comments about the role of the entrepreneurial or "venturesome" consumer in the process of innovation. The point is the mirror image on one made by Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy when he emphasized that consumer resistance to innovation is one of the obstacles that entrepreneurs in earlier periods had to overcome. (The decline of such consumer resistance was one of the reasons that Schumpeter speculated that the entrepreneurial might become obsolete.)

I would like to see Bhidé's evidence on his claim that technology rapidly advanced during the Great Depression. The claim seems at odds with Amity Shlaes' claim that New Deal policies often discouraged entrepreneurship.

(p. A15) Consumers get no respect -- we value thrift and deplore the spending that supposedly undermines the investment necessary for our long-run prosperity. In fact, the venturesomeness of consumers has nourished unimaginable advances in our standard of living and created invaluable human capital that is often ignored.

Economists regard the innovations that sustain long-run prosperity as a gift to consumers. Stanford University and Hoover Institution economist Paul Romer wrote in the "Concise Encyclopedia of Economics" in 2007: "In 1985, I paid a thousand dollars per million transistors for memory in my computer. In 2005, I paid less than ten dollars per million, and yet I did nothing to deserve or help pay for this windfall."

In fact, Mr. Romer and innumerable consumers of transistor-based products such as personal computers have played a critical, "venturesome" role in generating their windfalls.

. . .

History suggests that Americans don't shirk from venturesome consumption in hard times. The personal computer took off in the dark days of the early 1980s. I paid more than a fourth of my annual income to buy an IBM XT then -- as did millions of others. Similarly, in spite of the Great Depression, the rapid increase in the use of new technologies made the 1930s a period of exceptional productivity growth. Today, sales of Apple's iPhone continue to expand at double-digit rates. Low-income groups (in the $25,000 to $49,999 income segment) are showing the most rapid growth, with resourceful buyers using the latest models as their primary device for accessing the Internet.

Recessions will come and go, but unless we completely mess things up, we can count on our venturesome consumers to keep prosperity on its long, upward arc.



For the full commentary, see:

Amar Bhidé. "Consumers Can Still Spot Value in a Crisis." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 11, 2009): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




January 31, 2009

Car Bailout Destroys Dynamism of Process of Creative Destruction


(p. A29) Not so long ago, corporate giants with names like PanAm, ITT and Montgomery Ward roamed the earth. They faded and were replaced by new companies with names like Microsoft, Southwest Airlines and Target. The U.S. became famous for this pattern of decay and new growth. Over time, American government built a bigger safety net so workers could survive the vicissitudes of this creative destruction -- with unemployment insurance and soon, one hopes, health care security. But the government has generally not interfered in the dynamic process itself, which is the source of the country's prosperity.

But this, apparently, is about to change. Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi want to grant immortality to General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. They have decided to follow an earlier $25 billion loan with a $50 billion bailout, which would inevitably be followed by more billions later, because if these companies are not permitted to go bankrupt now, they never will be.

This is a different sort of endeavor than the $750 billion bailout of Wall Street. That money was used to save the financial system itself. It was used to save the capital markets on which the process of creative destruction depends.

Granting immortality to Detroit's Big Three does not enhance creative destruction. It retards it. . . .

. . .

But the larger principle is over the nature of America's political system. Is this country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests? Or is the U.S. going to stick with its historic model: Helping workers weather the storms of a dynamic economy, but preserving the dynamism that is the core of the country's success.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "Bailout to Nowhere." The New York Times (Fri., November 18, 2008): A29.

(Note: ellipses added.)




January 21, 2009

"In Spite of the Economic Crisis and Unemployment . . . Civilization's Progress is Going Faster and Faster"


The Palace of Discovery mentioned in the passage below was a part of the 1937 Paris Exposition.

(p. 206) The mastermind behind the Palace of Discovery, French Nobel Prize laureate Jean Perrin, wrote, "In spite of the wars and the revolutions, in spite of the economic crisis and unemployment, through our worries and anxieties, but also through our hopes, civilization's progress is going faster and faster, thanks to ever-more flexible and efficient techniques, to farther- and farther-reaching lengths. . . . Almost all of them have appeared in less than a century, and have developed or applied inventions now known by all, which seem to have fulfilled or even passed the desires expressed in our old fairy tales."


Source:

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis in the title is added; ellipsis in the quoted passage is in the original.)




January 14, 2009

Only Permanent Tax Cuts Provide Effective Stimulus


IncomeExpendituresGraph.gif








Source of graph: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.


(p. A15) The incoming Obama administration and congressional Democrats are now considering a second fiscal stimulus package, estimated at more than $500 billion, to follow the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. As they do, much can be learned by examining the first.

The major part of the first stimulus package was the $115 billion, temporary rebate payment program targeted to individuals and families that phased out as incomes rose. Most of the rebate checks were mailed or directly deposited during May, June and July.

The argument in favor of these temporary rebate payments was that they would increase consumption, stimulate aggregate demand, and thereby get the economy growing again. What were the results? The chart nearby reveals the answer.

The upper line shows disposable personal income through September. Disposable personal income is what households have left after paying taxes and receiving transfers from the government. The big blip is due to the rebate payments in May through July.

The lower line shows personal consumption expenditures by households. Observe that consumption shows no noticeable increase at the time of the rebate. Hence, by this simple measure, the rebate did little or nothing to stimulate consumption, overall aggregate demand, or the economy.

These results may seem surprising, but they are not. They correspond very closely to what basic economic theory tells us. According to the permanent-income theory of Milton Friedman, or the life-cycle theory of Franco Modigliani, temporary increases in income will not lead to significant increases in consumption. However, if increases are longer-term, as in the case of permanent tax cut, then consumption is increased, and by a significant amount.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN B. TAYLOR. "Why Permanent Tax Cuts Are the Best Stimulus." Wall Street Journal (Tues., NOVEMBER 25, 2008): A15.




January 12, 2009

"Commerce in Goods Brought with it Commerce in Entertainment, Music, Ideas, Gods and Cults"


TerraCottaVessel.jpg






"This terra-cotta vessel, from the Hittite site in Turkey, looks strikingly modern." Source of photo and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. D7) The show whisks us along on complementary interlocking narratives that take the visitor down a spaghetti junction of cultural confluences. We learn that in the 1950s a prominent Turkish archaeologist excavated a site known locally as Kultepe. It yielded a vast hoard of cuneiform tablets that record in detail the town's trade in copper and numerous aspects of its domestic life, including letters home -- many of which are on display. As a result, we know that Assyrian merchants in the copper trade moved en masse to Central Anatolia and founded the town, and many like it, to feed the burgeoning trade in what Ms. Aruz calls "the luxury goods of the time." She adds that "potentates competed to possess artifacts like these -- the more distant and exotic their origins, the more desirable because their possession denoted power and prestige."

Visitors should, in particular, feast their eyes on the smoothly burnished terra-cotta spouted vessels from Kultepe and Hittite sites in Turkey. Outlandishly geometric and eerily modern, futuristic even, they alone are worth the price of admission.

In following the visual motif of bull-leaping acrobats from Crete to Anatolia to Egypt on everything from Minoan vases to cylinder seals and carved boxes, the show makes the point that commerce in goods brought with it commerce in entertainment, music, ideas, gods and cults. Suddenly images of Sphinxes and Gryphons pop up all over the 15th-century B.C. geosphere, as do toys and board games and educational institutions.



For the full story, see:

SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. "Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs; Mathematicians Land Top Spot in New Ranking of Best and Worst Occupations in the U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 6, 2008): D2.

For the case for the complementarity between capitalism and culture, see:

Cowen, Tyler. Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.


AmagiCuneiform.gif "The cuneiform inscription . . . is the earliest-known written appearance of the word "freedom" (amagi), or "liberty." It is taken from a clay document written about 2300 B.C. in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash." Source of the cuneiform and the caption: http://www.libertyfund.org/aboutlogo.htm

(Note: ellipsis added.)




January 11, 2009

Gains in Productivity Due to "Bipartisan Removal of Regulations that Stifle Competition and Innovation"


In the Clinton administration, Martin Neil Baily was the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. He is one of those Democratic economists, along with Brad DeLong and Larry Summers, who appreciates the importance of innovation through the process of creative destruction, in making our lives better.

(p. A15) The economic attention of U.S. government and business leaders is fixed squarely on the downturn and financial crisis. Whether or not bailouts are proper short-term medicine, economists agree that the long-run solution for restoring economic growth lies in raising productivity.

The single best measure of a country's average standard of living is productivity: the value of output of goods and services a country produces per worker. The more workers produce, the more income they receive, and the more they can consume. Higher productivity results in higher standards of living.

So how has U.S. productivity grown recently? Unfortunately, very slowly. After averaging 2.7% productivity growth from 1995 through 2002, annual growth of productivity in the nonfarming business sector has slowed dramatically -- to just 1.7% in 2005, 1.0% in 2006, and 1.4% in 2007. At this new average rate of under 1.4%, it would take nearly 52 years for average U.S. living standards to double -- versus just 26 years at the earlier average. Signs of this slowdown are apparent, particularly in the waning competitiveness of U.S. sectors like automobiles, financial services and information technology.

On Monday, we are issuing a new report that details a set of policies the government could implement to boost U.S. productivity growth. Time is of the essence in addressing this challenge because the economy-wide impacts of structural policies tend to appear only gradually, in part because of many-year corporate planning horizons. It is also because faster productivity growth will ease the burden of massive U.S. fiscal deficits now projected for the coming years.

A central theme of this report is the critical role that competitive product markets play in spurring productivity growth and boosting standards of living. One of the great U.S. policy successes of recent decades has been the bipartisan removal of regulations that stifle competition and innovation in product markets. U.S. industries that face strong competitive intensity are more productive than highly regulated or otherwise sheltered industries. This competition, in turn, yields higher incomes and greater choices for consumers.

Maintaining the productivity benefits of product market competition requires sound choices in areas including trade and investment, regulation and infrastructure.



For the full commentary, see:

MARTIN NEIL BAILY and MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER. "What's Behind the Recent Productivity Slowdown." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 13, 2008): A15.




January 10, 2009

Good Jobs and Bad Jobs


MathLumberjackCartoon.jpg










Source of cartoon: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


Labor is usually viewed as a victim of the process of creative destruction, because some old jobs are destroyed when a new technology replaces an old one. But part of the process is the creation of new jobs, and on average, the new jobs are created have better characteristics than the old jobs that are destroyed.

The article quoted below, discusses some of the characteristics that make a job better or worse.

(p. D2) Nineteen years ago, Jennifer Courter set out on a career path that has since provided her with a steady stream of lucrative, low-stress jobs. Now, her occupation -- mathematician -- has landed at the top spot on a new study ranking the best and worst jobs in the U.S.

"It's a lot more than just some boring subject that everybody has to take in school," says Ms. Courter, a research mathematician at mental images Inc., a maker of 3D-visualization software in San Francisco. "It's the science of problem-solving."

The study, released Tuesday from CareerCast.com, a new job site, evaluates 200 professions to determine the best and worst according to five criteria inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. (CareerCast.com is published by Adicio Inc., in which Wall Street Journal owner News Corp. holds a minority stake.)

The findings were compiled by Les Krantz, author of "Jobs Rated Almanac," and are based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, as well as studies from trade associations and Mr. Krantz's own expertise.

According to the study, mathematicians fared best in part because they typically work in favorable conditions -- indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise -- unlike those toward the bottom of the list like sewage-plant operator, painter and bricklayer. They also aren't expected to do any heavy lifting, crawling or crouching -- attributes associated with occupations such as firefighter, auto mechanic and plumber.



For the full story, see:

SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. "Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs; Mathematicians Land Top Spot in New Ranking of Best and Worst Occupations in the U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 6, 2008): D2.

For the ranking of 200 jobs, and the components that went into the ranking, see:

http://www.careercast.com/jobs/content/JobsRated_Top200Jobs





January 7, 2009

In Geology, Economic Growth Caused Scientific Progress


(p. 130) . . . , the major problem inhibiting England's industrial development was the state of the roads. So the introduction of waterborne transportation on the new canals triggered massive economic expansion because these waterways transported coal (and other raw materials) much faster and cheaper than by packhorse or wagon. In 1793 a surveyor called William Smith was taking the first measurements in preparation for a canal that was to be built in the English county of Somerset, when he noticed something odd. (p. 131) Certain types of rock seemed to lie in levels that reappeared, from time to time, as the rock layer dipped below the surface and then re-emerged across a stretch of countryside. During a journey to the north of England (to collect more information about canal-construction techniques), Smith saw this phenomenon happening everywhere. There were obviously regular layers of rock beneath the surface which were revealed as strata where a cliff face of a valley cut into them. In 1796 Smith discovered that the same strata always had the same fossils embedded in them. In 1815, after ten years of work, he compiled all that he had learned about stratification in the first proper colored geological map, showing twenty-one sedimentary layers. Smith's map galvanized the world of fossil-hunting.


Source:

Burke, James. The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible - and Other Journeys. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1997.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




December 26, 2008

Eastman Was a Self-Financed Entrepreneur


Mark Casson has argued that the more original the entrepreneur's innovation, the more likely he will need to finance all, or a large part, of it himself. To the extent that this is true, it represents an important argument for allowing the accumulation of wealth (and thereby an argument against substantial personal income, and inheritance, taxes.)

Here is an example, consistent with Casson's argument, of a self-financed entrepreneur:

(p. 36) The idea of loading film into a camera, snapping the picture and then sending the film to a store to be processed was the brainchild of an American from Rochester, New York, called George Eastman. One day in 1879, at the bank where he had worked since leaving school at the age of fourteen, he didn't get the promotion he was expecting. So he left and used his savings to set himself up as a "Maker and Dealer in Photographic Supplies." At this time, picture taking was a messy, cumbersome and expensive business, involving glass-late negatives, buckets of chemicals an monster wooden cameras. When Eastman had finished his experiments with the process, his slogan promised, "You press the button. We do the rest."


Source:

Burke, James. The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible - and Other Journeys. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1997.




December 18, 2008

Deaths in 'Natural' Disasters Caused by Absence of Economic Growth


We are often made to feel guilty for the suffering of other countries in "natural" disasters. But the deaths are more due to the lack of infrastructure, sound buildings and the like, which in turn are due to the countries' lack of economic growth, which in turn is due to their rejection of the process of capitalist creative destruction.

(p. 90) The simple truth is that money matters more than anything else in most disasters. Which is another way of saying that where and how we live matters more than Mother Nature. Developed nations experience just as many natural disasters as undeveloped nations. The difference is in the death toll. Of all the people who dies from natural disasters on the planet from 1985 to 1999, 65 percent came from nations with incomes below $760 per capita, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, for example, was similar in magnitude and depth to the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. But the Northridge earthquake killed only sixty-three people. The Pakistan earthquake killed about a hundred thousand.

People need roofs, roads, and health care before quibbles like personality and risk perception count for much. And the effect is geometric. If a large nation raises its GNP from $2,000 to $14,000 per person, it can expect to save 530 lives a a year in natural disasters, according to a study by Matthew Kahn at Tufts University. And for those who survive, money is a form of liquid resilience: it can bring treatment, stability, and recovery.



Source:

Ripley, Amanda. The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.




December 6, 2008

Reason for Success of U.S. Economy: "We Let People Fail"


McCain's chief economic adviser and entrepreneur-expert Hotz-Eakin offered some cogent comments on the trend toward more government bailouts at the taxpayers' expense:

(p. A6) Mr. Obama is by no means an activist in the Japanese mold, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economic adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign. But as a whole, policies crafted to address distinct problems in the auto, energy and banking sectors are merging into a broader policy that would pick some winners and losers, preserve entire industries and shape consumer choices.

"We're backing into industrial policy in an emergency to correct massive market failures," said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute who has worked with the president-elect's economic team.

. . .

"The reason the U.S. economy was so successful for so long was not because we did things so well. It was because we let people fail." Mr. Hotz-Eakin said. "This is dangerous at some very deep level."



For the full story, see:

JONATHAN WEISMAN. "Wider U.S. Interventions Would Yield Winners, Losers as Industries Realign." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., NOVEMBER 20, 2008): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the final paragraph was in the print edition, but was deleted from the online version.)




December 4, 2008

The Benefits from the Discovery of Sulfa, the First Antibiotic


I quoted a review of The Demon Under the Microscope in an entry from October 12, 2006. I finally managed to read the book, last month.

I don't always agree with Hager's interpretation of events, and his policy advice, but he writes well, and he has much to say of interest about how the first anti-bacterial antibiotic, sulfa, was developed.

In the coming weeks, I'll be highlighting a few key passages of special interest. In today's entry, below, Hager nicely summarizes the importance of the discovery of antibiotics for his (and my) baby boom generation.

(p. 3) I am part of that great demographic bulge, the World War II "Baby Boom" generation, which was the first in history to benefit from birth from the discovery of antibiotics. The impact of this discovery is difficult to overstate. If my parents came down with an ear infection as babies, they were treated with bed rest, painkillers, and sympathy. If I came down with an ear infection as a baby, I got antibiotics. If a cold turned into bronchitis, my parents got more bed rest and anxious vigilance; I got antibiotics. People in my parents' generation, as children, could and all too often did die from strep throats, infected cuts, scarlet fever, meningitis, pneumonia, or any number of infectious diseases. I and my classmates survived because of antibiotics. My parents as children, and their parents before them, lost friends and relatives, often at very early ages, to bacterial epidemics that swept through American cities every fall and winter, killing tens of thousands. The suddenness and inevitability of these epidemic deaths, facts of life before the 1930s, were for me historical curiosities, artifacts of another age. Antibiotics virtually eliminated them. In many cases, much-feared diseases of my grandparents' day---erysipelas, childbed fever, cellulitis---had become so rare they were nearly extinct. I never heard the names.


Source:

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.




November 26, 2008

Science Fiction Writers Provide More Accurate Forecasts Than Economists


Robert Fogel, quoted below, is a Nobel-Prize-winning professor of economics at the University of Chicago:

(p. 13) I think I've largely covered how things looked after World War II, highlighting both what now seems to have been an unjustified pessimism and also the difficulties in forecasting the future. I close with an anecdote from Simon Kuznets. He used to give a one-year course in growth economics, both at Johns Hopkins and Harvard. One of the points he made was that if you wanted to find accurate forecasts of what happened in the past, don't look at what the economists said. The economists in 1850 wrote that the progress of the last decade had been so great that it could not possibly continue. And economists at the end of the nineteenth century wrote that the progress of the last half century had been so great that it could not possibly continue during the twentieth century. Kuznets said you would come closest to an accurate forecast if you read the writers of science fiction. But even the writers of science fiction were too pessimistic. Jules Verne recognized that we might eventually get to the moon, but he couldn't conceive of the technology that actually made the journey possible.

I was at a 2003 conference at Rockefeller University that brought together about 30 people from different disciplines (economics, biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as some industrial leaders) who put forward their views of what was likely to happen in the new millennium. And I must say that the noneconomists were far more bullish than most of the economists I know. So I suspect if we have another MussaFest in 2024, we'll all look back at how pessimistic we were in 2004.



Source:

Fogel, Robert W. "Reconsidering Expectations of Economic Growth after World War Ii from the Perspective of 2004." IMF Staff Papers 52 (Special Issue 2005): 6-14.





November 3, 2008

"We Will Stay a Laissez-Faire Economy"


AnsipAndrusEstonianPrimeMinister.jpg








"Andrus Ansip, leader of Estonia, an ex-Soviet Republic." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

An earlier entry suggested that Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's support for Steve Forbes' flat tax, had helped Estonia achieve a high rate of growth.

Apparently there is some sentiment in Estonia to stay the course:

(p. B6) TALLINN, Estonia -- For nearly two decades, Estonia embraced capitalism with such gusto that it seemed to be channeling the laissez-faire philosophy of Milton Friedman. From its policies meant to attract foreign investors to its flat tax and freewheeling business culture, it stood out as the former Soviet republic most adept at turning post-Communist chaos into a thriving market economy.

Now Estonians, and some of their Baltic neighbors, are slogging through their first serious economic downturn since liberation from the Soviet grip in the early 1990s.

. . .

Whatever happens, government officials say there will be no betrayal of Friedman's philosophy. "We will stay a laissez-faire economy," said Juhan Parts, Estonia's minister of the economy.

. . .

"I'm an optimist," said Marje Josing, director of the Estonian Institute for Economic Research. "Fifteen years ago things looked bad, but they managed. A little real-life pressure won't hurt."

Indeed, so far the downturn has done little to discourage Estonia's ambitious entrepreneurs. If anything, it has made them look more avidly elsewhere for growth.

"Estonia may be a small country," Tarmo Prikk, chief executive of Thulema, an office furniture maker, said with a laugh. "But my ego is bigger."



For the full story, see:

CARTER DOUGHERTY. "Estonia's Let-It-Be Economy Is Rattled by Worldwide Distress." The New York Times (Fri., October 10, 2008): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)




November 2, 2008

Obama's Tax Policies Would Be "a Significant Step Towards" Another "Great Depression"


Lee Ohanian is the co-author of a much-cited article in the highly-ranked Journal of Political Economy on the economics of the Great Depression. Below is a paragraph from his recent analysis of our current situation:


(p. A17) I am particularly concerned about bad policies because significantly higher taxes have been proposed by Barack Obama. His plan would raise the marginal tax rate on the most productive workers more than 10 percentage points -- an increase that would bring us near Western European levels. His plan would also raise capital income taxes, taxing capital gains and dividends at 20%, compared to a 15% rate under Sen. John McCain's plan. A five percentage-point difference might strike you as small, but it is not. I have calculated that a five percentage-point difference in overall capital income taxation over the long haul is equal to a difference in the nation's capital stock of about 18%. This means a 6% difference in GDP and a 6% difference in the average wage rate. This means that real GDP and the average wage would fall, gradually but persistently declining about 6% after 25 years. That's not quite a Great Depression, but a significant step towards one.


For the full commentary, see:

LEE E. OHANIAN. "Good Policies Can Save the Economy; Why we need lower tax rates and more skilled immigrants." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., OCTOBER 8, 2008): A17.

The academic article co-authored by Ohanian is:

Cole, Harold L., and Lee E. Ohanian. "New Deal Policies and the Persistence of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis." Journal of Political Economy 112, no. 4 (August 2004): 779-816.




October 29, 2008

"The Real Economic Heroes of Capitalism: the Self-Made Entrepreneurs"


(p. A19) Much of the resentment felt by citizens toward the massive investment companies . . . stems from the perception that capitalism is rigged toward the most powerful. When the owner of a small retail outlet or medium-sized service firm gets into financial trouble -- who steps in to help? Why are the rules to start a business so onerous, why is the bureaucratic process so lengthy, why are the requirements for hiring employees so burdensome? When does the entrepreneur receive the respect and cooperation he deserves for making a genuine contribution to the productive capacity of the economy? Equal access to credit is sacrificed to the overwhelming appetite of big business -- especially when government skews the terms in favor of its friends. It is time to pay deference to the real economic heroes of capitalism: the self-made entrepreneurs who have the courage to start a business from scratch, the fidelity to pay their taxes, and the dedication to provide real goods and services to their fellow man.

. . .

Who would have guessed that it would take a Frenchman to remind us that hope is the limitless source of power that drives the human spirit to create, to improve, to achieve its dreams; it is the greatest civilizing influence in our culture. Yet it was Mr. Sarkozy, speaking before Congress last November, who offered the most profound assessment of our nation's gift to the world. "What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind," he said. "America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who -- with their hands, their intelligence and their heart -- built the greatest nation in the world: 'Come, and everything will be given to you.' She said: 'Come, and the only limits to what you'll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.'"



For the full commentary, see:

JUDY SHELTON. "A Capitalist Manifesto; Markets remain our best hope for a better future." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 13, 2008): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)




October 24, 2008

L.E.D.'s as the Next Leapfrog Advance in Light



A few years ago I presented a paper at the meetings of Society for Social Studies of Science in which I mentioned Nordhaus's wonderful paper in which he measures advances in technology that produce illumination. Some of the technologies represent leapfrog advances that are part of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.

At the end of my presentation, a member of the audience gave me a reference to the new L.E.D. light technology that he suggested was the next leapfrog advance. (Alas, I do not remember his name.)


(p. C3) L.E.D. bulbs, with their brighter light and longer life, have already replaced standard bulbs in many of the nation's traffic lights. Indeed, the red, green and yellow signals are -- aside from the tiny blinking red light on a DVD player, a cellphone or another electronic device -- probably the most familiar application of the technology.

But it is showing up in more prominent spots. The ball that descends in Times Square on New Year's Eve is illuminated with L.E.D.'s. And the managers of the Empire State Building are considering a proposal to light it with L.E.D. fixtures, which would allow them to remotely change the building's colors to one of millions of variations.

. . .

The problem, though, is the price. A standard 60-watt incandescent usually costs less than $1. An equivalent compact fluorescent is about $2. But in Europe this September, Philips, the Dutch company dealing in consumer electronics, health care machines and lighting, is to introduce the Ledino, its first L.E.D. replacement for a standard incandescent. Priced at $107 a bulb, it is unlikely to have more than a few takers.

"L.E.D. performance is there, but the price is not," said Kevin Dowling, a Philips Lighting vice president . . .

. . .

"The Marcus Center lighting will require no maintenance for 15 years," Mr. Gregory said. "That's a dream for a lighting designer."

But he does not expect standard bulbs to disappear totally. Just as the invention of the light bulb did not completely kill the candle and kerosene lamp markets, Mr. Gregory said, "there will always be a need for incandescent bulbs. They will never totally go away."

"The way an incandescent bulb plays on the face on a Broadway makeup mirror," he said, "you can never duplicate that."



For the full story, see:

ERIC A. TAUB. "Fans of L.E.D.'s Say This Bulb's Time Has Come." The New York Times (Mon., July 28, 2008): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The reference to the Nordhaus paper is:

Nordhaus, William D. "Do Real-Output and Real-Wage Measures Capture Reality? The History of Light Suggests Not." In The Economics of New Goods, edited by Robert J. Gordon and Timothy F. Bresnahan, Chicago: University of Chicago Press for National Bureau of Economic Research, 1997, pp. 29-66.


LEDsNewYearsBallFullSpectrum.jpg "The full spectrum of color, design and programming available for the Times Square ball." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





October 23, 2008

Based on Past Experience, the Renaissance Was Impossible


(p. 26) Even the wisest of them were at a hopeless disadvantage, for their only guide in sorting it all out---the only guide anyone ever has---was the past, and precedents are worse than useless when facing something entirely new. They suffered another handicap. As medieval men, crippled by ten centuries of immobility, they viewed the world through distorted prisms peculiar to their age.

In all that time nothing of real consequence had either improved or declined. Except for the introduction of waterwheels in the 800s and windmills in the late 1100s, there had been no inventions of significance. No startling new ideas had appeared, no new terri-(p. 27)tories outside Europe had been explored. Everything was as it had been for as long as the oldest European could remember. The center of the Ptolemaic universe was the known world---Europe, with the Holy Land and North Africa on its fringes. The sun moved round it every day. Heaven was above the immovable earth, somewhere in the overarching sky; hell seethed far beneath their feet. Kings ruled at the pleasure of the Almighty; all others did what they were told to do. Jesus, the son of God, had been crucified and resurrected, and his reappearance was imminent, or at any rate inevitable. Every human being adored him (the Jews and the Muslims being invisible). The Church was indivisible, the afterlife a certainty; all knowledge was already known. And nothing would ever change.

The mighty storm was swiftly approaching, but Europeans were not only unaware of it; they were convinced that such a phenomenon could not exist. Shackled in ignorance, disciplined by fear, and sheathed in superstition, they trudged into the sixteenth century in the clumsy, hunched, pigeon-toed gait of rickets victims, their vacant faces, pocked by smallpox, turned blindly toward the future they thought they knew---gullible, pitiful innocents who were about to be swept up in the most powerful, incomprehensible, irresistible vortex since Alaric had led his Visigoths and Huns across the Alps, fallen on Rome, and extinguished the lamps of learning a thousand years before.



Source:

Manchester, William. A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, Portrait of an Age. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1993.

(Note: italics in original.)




September 14, 2008

Cubans Skeptical of Their Government


CubanCellPhone.jpg "Cubans used a cellphone to take photos in Havana recently after Cuba's government lifted some restrictions on consumer items." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A16) MEXICO CITY -- A rare study conducted surreptitiously in Cuba found that more than half of those interviewed considered their economic woes to be their chief concern while less than 10 percent listed lack of political freedom as the main problem facing the country.

"Almost every poll you ever see, even those in the U.S., goes to bread-and-butter issues," said Alex Sutton, director of Latin American and Caribbean programs at the International Republican Institute, which conducted the study. "Everybody everywhere is interested in their purchasing power."

The results showed deep anxiety about the state of the country, with 35 percent of respondents saying things were "so-so" and 47 percent saying they were going "badly" or "very badly." As for the government's ability to turn things around, Cubans were skeptical, with 70 percent of those interviewed saying they did not believe that the authorities would resolve the country's biggest problem in the next few years.

The study, to be released on Thursday, was conducted from March 14 to April 12, after Raúl Castro officially took over the presidency.



For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "In Rare Study, Cubans Put Money Worries First." The New York Times (Thurs., June 5, 2008): A16.

(Note: the order of some of the article content differed in the print and online versions; the version above is consistent with the print version.)




August 13, 2008

High Prices Provide Incentive to Innovate


MonsantoCornResearcher.jpg





"A Monsanto researcher, Mohammadreza Ghaffarzadeh, monitored drought-resistant corn technology in Davis, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 4) CORN prices are at record high levels. Costs for other agricultural essentials, from wheat to coffee to rice, have surged, too. And many people are stunned, even frightened, by all the increases.

But some entrepreneurs and analysts -- recognizing that relative price increases in specific goods always encourage innovators to find ways around the problem -- say they see an opportunity for creative solutions.

"When something becomes dear, you invent around it as much as you can," says David Warsh, editor of Economicprincipals.com, a newsletter on trends in economic thinking.

Joel Mokyr, an economic historian at Northwestern University, adds, "All of a sudden, some things that didn't look profitable now do."

. . .

A study in the 1950s by the economist Zvi Griliches of American farmers' adoption of more productive varieties of corn showed how higher prices reduced the cost of adopting new technologies.

. . .

Ultimately, higher food prices give innovators room to cover the cost of protecting human health. But prices are a democratic signal: when all innovators see them, their ability to sneak up on an opportunity, while others nap, vanishes.

"The bigger the prize people are chasing, the more people go after it," says Paul Romer, a theorist on sources of economic growth. "As people pile into an area, the expected return to any one innovator goes down."

Yet, fortunately, the return to society goes up.



For the full commentary, see:

G. PASCAL ZACHARY. "Ping; A Brighter Side of High Prices." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., May 18, 2008): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)


For more on Zvi Griliches's contributions to the economics of innovation, see:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "Zvi Griliches's Contributions to the Economics of Technology and Growth." Economics of Innovation and New Technology 13, no. 4 (June 2004): 365-397.




August 7, 2008

Ordinary People Have Prospered in Recent Decades


CareyDrewLivingLarge.jpg




Source of image: http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2008/02/blog-post_2174.html



Stephen Moore is right when he calls Drew Carey's "Living Large" video "wonderful."

It would be even more wonderful, if it gave a bit more emphasis, a la Schumpeter, to the positive effects of new products, in addition to its emphasis on declining prices of already existing products.

(p. W11) A few weeks ago I gave a talk on the state of the economy to a group of college students -- almost all Barack Obama enthusiasts -- who were griping about how downright awful things are in America today. As they sipped their Starbucks lattes and adjusted their designer sunglasses, they recited their grievances: The country is awash in debt "that we will have to pay off"; the middle class in shrinking; the polar ice caps are melting; and college is too expensive.

I've been speaking to groups like this one for more than 20 years, but I have never confronted such universal pessimism from a young audience. Its members acted as if the hardships of modern life are making it nearly impossible for them to get out of bed in the morning. So I conducted a survey of these grim youngsters. How many of you, I asked, own a laptop? A cellphone? An iPod, a DVD player, a flat-screen digital TV? To every question somewhere between two-thirds and all of the hands in the room rose. But they didn't even get my point. "Well, duh," one of them scoffed, "who doesn't have an iPod these days?" I was way too embarrassed to tell them that I, for one, don't. They thought that living without these products would be like going back to prehistoric times.

They seemed clueless that as recently as the early 1980s only the richest people in the world had cellphones and the quality of these products left much to be desired. Watch a movie from 20 years ago and you will laugh out loud seeing big clunky black machines that weighed as much as a brick, gave crackly service and cost $4,200. Now cellphones are practically free -- even disposable. And the cost of making calls has dropped dramatically too.

. . .

There's a wonderful new video on Reason.tv called "Living Large." In it, comedian Drew Carey goes to a lake in California where people are relaxing on $80,000 27-foot boats and goofing around on $25,000 jet skis that they have hitched to their $40,000 SUVs. Mr. Carey asks these boat owners what they do for a living. As it turns out, they aren't hedge-fund managers. One is a gardener, another a truck driver, another an auto mechanic and another a cop.

. . .

After my lecture, one young woman walked up to me on her way out and huffed: "What I favor is a radical redistribution of wealth in America." I tried to tell her that America's greatness is a result of our focus on creating wealth, not redistributing it. But it was too late -- she was already tuning in to her iPod.



For the full commentary, see:

STEPHEN MOORE. "DE GUSTIBUS; The Bare Necessities: A Generation Tries to Imagine Life Without iPods." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 14, 2008): W11.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The video is:

Carey, Drew. "Living Large: The Middle Class." reason.tv Posted February 8, 2008.




August 1, 2008

William Manchester Shows the Darkness of the Dark Ages


WorldLitOnlyByFireBK.jpg









Source of book image: http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~aahobor/Lucy-Day/Images/Covers-50/A-World-Lit-Only-by-Fire.jpg

William Manchester was better known for other books, but I recommend A World Lit Only by Fire. It is not always pleasant reading, but it is often fascinating, and sometimes amusing or edifying. Unlike some historians, who are afraid to call the Dark Ages dark because they are afraid to make value judgments, Manchester details just how 'brutish, nasty and short' life was during the centuries from 400 AD to 1000 AD (and to a large extent even up to 1600).

He also exposes the failings of institutions and historical individuals who are now revered, including martial Popes who lived ostentatiously with funds extracted from starving peasants, and Protestant 'reformers' who burned books and murdered those they considered heretics.

Only a few hundred years separates us from the times that Manchester chronicles. It is useful to contemplate how far we have come, and how far we may fall, if we do not recognize and defend the values upon which civilization depends.

Reference:

Manchester, William. A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, Portrait of an Age. Back Bay Publishers, 1993.




July 25, 2008

African Farmer-Entrepreneurs, and U.S. Companies, Creating Another Breadbasket


(p. A14) ARSI NEGELE, Ethiopia -- Babou Galgo, a 61-year-old farmer, proudly showed off his prized harvest from last season: two shiny gold medals from the regional and federal government and a slick certificate praising his "outstanding performance in increasing agriculture production and productivity."

What he had done was boost his corn yields on his small farm in southern Ethiopia an eye-popping sevenfold over the past several years. Even more impressive, he had boosted the well-being of his family as well: With the added income, they moved out of a traditional mud-brick tukul and into a brick and concrete house furnished with a refrigerator, television and DVD player, rare luxuries for a farmer in one of the world's poorest countries.

Indeed, not long ago, Mr. Galgo would have had no need for a refrigerator as meager yields had him struggling to feed his family. "It's the seeds," he says, noting the reason for his reversal of fortunes. "Hybrids."

Africa's nascent push to finally feed itself is turning the clock back to the early part of 20th-century America. It was in the 1930s and '40s when Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International popularized hybrid seeds in the U.S., swelling corn yields throughout the Midwest. Seven decades later, African farmers and U.S. companies are trying to recreate the same boom that turned America into the world's breadbasket, only this time in the harsh climate -- environmental and political -- of Ethiopia and greater Africa.

. . .

Farmer Galgo is ready for another upgrade. Sitting in his comfortable living room, beneath wall murals of Jesus and a peace dove, he tells Mr. Admassu, "I want to expand my land and buy a tractor. A big tractor, with a lot of power."



For the full story, see:


ROGER THUROW. "Agriculture's Last Frontier; African Farmers, U.S. Companies Try to Create Another Breadbasket With Hybrids." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2008): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




July 21, 2008

Free Trade Defended By Democratic Leadership Council Founder


(p. A15) Where are the pro-trade Democrats? America won't increase middle-class incomes and create jobs without them.

. . .

History proves that expanding trade and productivity help create growth. We learned that the hard way when the Smoot-Hawley tariff helped crush trade and exacerbate the Great Depression. Conversely, we have seen trade drive the economy during the great expansions of the 1960s and 1990s.

. . .

Trade gives poor people around the globe the opportunity to build a brighter future. During the Clinton administration, new trade programs like the African Growth and Opportunity Act helped key regions in the world succeed, while American workers stood to gain.

I helped found the Democratic Leadership Council in the wake of Walter Mondale's 49-state defeat in 1984, and we have always supported expanded trade. We still have a ways to go to win that argument in the Democratic Party. But the record is clear. Over the past 20 years, our party has grown stronger when we've been willing to do the right thing on the toughest issues, from putting the nation's fiscal house in order to overhauling a broken welfare system that trapped millions in poverty.



For the full commentary, see:

AL FROM. "Confessions of a Pro-Trade Democrat." The Wall Street Journal
(Mon., June 9, 2008): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)




July 20, 2008

More Europeans Leading Stagnant, Stunted Lives


RomeFamilyAngst.jpg "Gianluca Pompei, Francesca Di Pietro and son, Mario, 2, shopping in Rome. They have cut spending on entertainment." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C1) LES ULIS, France -- When their local bakery in this town south of Paris raised the price of a baguette for the third time in six months, Anne-Laure Renard and Guy Talpot bought a bread maker. When gasoline became their biggest single expense, they sold one of their two cars.

Their combined annual income of 40,000 euros, about $62,500, lands Ms. Renard, a teacher, and Mr. Talpot, a postal worker, smack in the middle of France's middle class. And over the last year, prices in France have risen four times as fast as their salaries.

At the end of every month, they blow past their bank account's $900 overdraft limit, plunging themselves deeper into a spiral of greater resourcefulness and regret.

"In France, when you can't afford a baguette anymore, you know you're in trouble," Ms. Renard said one recent evening in her kitchen, as her partner measured powdered milk for their 13-month-old son, Vincent. "The French Revolution started with bread riots."

The European dream is under assault, as the wave of inflation sweeping the globe mixes with this continent's long-stagnant wages. Families that once enjoyed Europe's vaunted quality of life are pinching pennies to buy necessities, and cutting back on extras like movies and vacations abroad.

Potentially more disturbing -- especially to the political and social order -- are the millions across the continent grappling with the realization that they may have lives worse, not better, than their parents.



For the full story, see:

CARTER DOUGHERTY and KATRIN BENNHOLD. "Squeezed in Europe; For Middle-Class, Stagnant Wages and a Stunted Lifestyle." The New York Times (Thurs., May 1, 2008): C1 & C8.

(Note: the online version of the title is "For Europe's Middle-Class, Stagnant Wages Stunt Lifestyle." )


TalptRenardFrenchFamily.jpg



"Anne-Laure Renard, a teacher, and Guy Talpot, a postal worker, sold one car and bought a bread maker to cut expenses. Prices have risen four times as fast as salaries in France in the last year." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




July 12, 2008

Air Conditioning Makes Life Better


SteinBenAirConditioner.jpg Source: screen capture from video clip referenced below.

Ben Stein commenting during CBS's "Sunday Morning" on July 6, 2008, delivered a wonderful tribute to the benefits of air conditioning.

The clip can be viewed at:

http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?id=4235362n


AirConditionerChildren.jpg Source: screen capture from video clip referenced above.




June 22, 2008

Reducing the Cost of Hotels: Prefab Rooms from China


ChinesePrefabHotelRooms.jpg "The Travelodge chain in Britain is building two hotels from stackable metal containers imported from China. One of the hotels, in Uxbridge in West London, is shown under construction at right and in a rendering at left." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 23) TRAVELODGE, one of the largest budget hotel chains in Britain, is a company in a hurry.

. . .

Once the company finds a location, it turns to a construction partner with equally aggressive plans: Verbus Systems, a London-based company that builds rooms in metal containers in factories near Shenzhen, China, and delivers them ready to be stacked into buildings up to 16 stories tall.

Verbus Systems' commercial director, Paul Rollett, said his company "can build a 300-room hotel anywhere on the planet in 20 weeks."

. . .

When they arrive at Heathrow, the containers will be hoisted into place by crane. The containers, which are as large as 12 by 47 feet, will support one another just as they do when they are crossing the ocean by ship, Mr. Rollett said. No additional structure is necessary.

. . .

DON CARLSON, the editor and publisher of Automated Builder, a trade magazine based in Ventura, Calif., said that in hotels, "modular is definitely the wave of the future." Modular buildings, he said, are stronger, and more soundproof, because stacking units -- each a fully enclosed room -- "gives you double walls, double floors, double everything."

Mr. Rollett agreed, saying that with the steel shipping container approach, "You could have a party in your room, and people in the next room wouldn't hear a thing."

. . .

He is working with his British clients, which, he said, include a Travelodge competitor, Premier Inn, to make the best possible use of the assembly-line method. "We're increasing the degree of modularity," he said, noting that the latest units come with fully fitted bathrooms and "even the paint on the walls."

The only thing they don't have, he said, "is the girl to put a chocolate on your pillow."


For the full article, see:

FRED A. BERNSTEIN. "CHECKING IN; Arriving in London: Hotels Made in China." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., May 11, 2008): 23.

(Note: ellipses added.)




June 3, 2008

Capital Accumulation Did Not Require Cutbacks in Consumption


(p. 166) Of course, the capital that supplied the Industrial Revolution was not created out of thin air. But neither was it painfully accumulated by the frugal habits of Protestant burghers, expropriated from labor by massive reductions of wages, or squeezed out of reduced consumption. No reduction in the real income of workers or landowners nor in their rate of consumption, no national resolve to increase the rate of saving, was needed to fund the new machines and the new forms of factory organization. Rather, the increase in output that was generated by the factories was more than sufficient to pay their capital costs over a short period of time, for the increase was large and the capital costs were modest.


Source:

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.




June 1, 2008

Successful Entrepreneurs are Not Always Remembered


(p. 161) They made their profits not from their skill in manufacture, but from their skill in the design of machines that could spin and weave better and more cheaply than those of their predecessors and contemporary rivals. They were highly successful, though their names are all but forgotten.

Source:

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.




May 24, 2008

The Importance of the City for Human Progress


I remember Stigler in his history of economic thought class, waxing eloquent about the wondrous idyllic life of the countryside, and then ending with a Stiglerian zinger; something like: 'and where there is no idea to be found for miles and miles.' (I believe, in his memoirs, that Stigler mentions that it is good for a great university to be located in a great city.)

Rosenberg and Birdzell attribute even greater importance to urban life:

(p. 78) The merchants were consigned to the towns, and the towns themselves were nonfeudal islands in a feudal world.


Source:

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.




May 22, 2008

Voting with Your Feet in the Middle Ages


An application of the 'voting with your feet' technique for comparing consumption bundles is made by Rosenberg and Birdzell to compare life on the medieval manor with life in the medieval town:

(p. 51) The path of escape was from manor to town, not from town to manor. Stadluft macht frei, as the German proverb went.

Source:

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.

(Note: italics in original.)




May 19, 2008

"How the West Grew Rich" is an Elegant and Wonderful Book


HowTheWestGrewRickBK.jpg









Source of book image:
http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/22600000/22606300.jpg


For many years I have wanted to carefully read Rosenberg and Birdzell's How the West Grew Rich. I am glad I have finally done it, and wish I had done it sooner. It is a tour de force of careful scholarly synthesis of a wide range of issues related to a fundamental question with many implications for policy.

The authors operate within a broadly Schumpeterian perspective, in that they see innovation as the key driver of human progress. One underlying theme is that societies that give more play to experimentation in institutions, are more likely to allow, encourage, and widely adopt, innovations.

Although written over two decades ago, the book only rarely seems dated. (The only instance I can think of is the occasional attention that the authors give to Marxist claims, that are seldom taken as seriously now as they sometimes still were in 1986.)

The writing style is not easy to read, but is rewarding. They write with elegance, and subtlety, and dry wit.

The reference to the book:

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.




May 13, 2008

For Happiness, "Income Does Matter"


SatisfactionPerCapitaGDPgraph.jpg Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. C7) . . . , Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers argue that money indeed tends to bring happiness, even if it doesn't guarantee it. They point out that in the 34 years since Mr. Easterlin published his paper, an explosion of public opinion surveys has allowed for a better look at the question. "The central message," Ms. Stevenson said, "is that income does matter."

To see what they mean, take a look at the map that accompanies this column. It's based on Gallup polls done around the world, and it clearly shows that life satisfaction is highest in the richest countries. The residents of these countries seem to understand that they have it pretty good, whether or not they own an iPod Touch.

If anything, Ms. Stevenson and Mr. Wolfers say, absolute income seems to matter more than relative income. In the United States, about 90 percent of people in households making at least $250,000 a year called themselves "very happy" in a recent Gallup Poll. In households with income below $30,000, only 42 percent of people gave that answer. But the international polling data suggests that the under-$30,000 crowd might not be happier if they lived in a poorer country.

. . .

Economic growth, by itself, certainly isn't enough to guarantee people's well-being -- which is Mr. Easterlin's great contribution to economics. In this country, for instance, some big health care problems, like poor basic treatment of heart disease, don't stem from a lack of sufficient resources. Recent research has also found that some of the things that make people happiest -- short commutes, time spent with friends -- have little to do with higher incomes.

But it would be a mistake to take this argument too far. The fact remains that economic growth doesn't just make countries richer in superficially materialistic ways.

Economic growth can also pay for investments in scientific research that lead to longer, healthier lives. It can allow trips to see relatives not seen in years or places never visited. When you're richer, you can decide to work less -- and spend more time with your friends.

Affluence is a pretty good deal. Judging from that map, the people of the world seem to agree. At a time when the American economy seems to have fallen into recession and most families' incomes have been stagnant for almost a decade, it's good to be reminded of why we should care.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "Economic Scene; Money Doesn't Buy Happiness. Well, on Second Thought . . . ." The New York Times (Weds., April 16, 2008): C1 & C7.

(Note: ellipses in text added; ellipsis in title in original; the title in the online version was "Economic Scene; Maybe Money Does Buy Happiness After All." )

SmileyMoneyFace.jpg




Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





April 22, 2008

Lack of Legal Status for Poor Keeps Them "In Constant Fear"


The passage below is quoted from a WSJ summary of an article in the July 16, 2007 issue of Time:

(p. B5) Writing in Time magazine, Ms. Albright, former U.S. secreatary of state, and Mr. de Soto, a Peruvian-born economist who heads the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Lima, say that about half of the world's population work in shadow economies. They generally lack birth certificates, legal addresses or, crucially, deeds to their shacks and market stalls. "Without legal documents, they live in constant fear of being evicted by local officials or landlords," write Ms. Albright and Mr. de Soto, who co-chair the U.N. Commission on Legal Empowerment of the poor. As a result, the poor are unable to invest or even plan for the future.

For the full summary, see:

"The Informed Reader; Poverty; Lack of Strong Legal Identity Helps Keep Down World's Poor." Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 6, 2007): B5.




April 16, 2008

The Free Market Works


The story quoted below tells how outsourcing high-tech jobs to India has bid up the salaries of high-tech Indian engineers, thereby reducing the appeal of further outsourcing. Marvelous how the market works!

Another lesson from the story applies to forecasting: mechanical extrapolation of current trends is inferior to prediction that takes account of predictable changes in prices (in this case, salaries).


(p. A15) Around the century's turn, when U.S. companies first began flooding to India for its cheap labor, pundits warned that the subcontinent could increasingly rob the U.S. of high-end white-collar jobs. Debate was especially sharp in Silicon Valley, then in a slump, because India annually turns out nearly 500,000 engineering graduates.

. . .

Several years on, the forces of globalization are starting to even things out between the U.S. and India, in sophisticated technology work. As more U.S. tech companies poured in, they soaked up the pool of high-end engineers qualified to work at global companies, belying the notion of an unlimited supply of top Indian engineering talent. In a 2005 study, McKinsey & Co. estimated that just a quarter of India's computer engineers had the language proficiency, cultural fit and practical skills to work at multinational companies.

The result is increasing competition for the most skilled Indian computer engineers and a narrowing U.S.-India gap in their compensation. India's software-and-service association puts wage inflation in its industry at 10% to 15% a year. Some tech executives say it's closer to 50%. In the U.S., wage inflation in the software sector is under 3%, according to Moody's Economy.com.

Rafiq Dossani, a scholar at Stanford University's Asia-Pacific Research Center who recently studied the Indian market, found that while most Indian technology workers' wages remain low -- an average $5,000 a year for a new engineer with little experience -- the experienced engineers Silicon Valley companies covet can now cost $60,000 to $100,000 a year. "For the top-level talent, there's an equalization," he says.


For the full story, see:

Pui-Wing Tam and Jackie Range. "Second Thoughts: Some in Silicon Valley Begin to Sour on India; A Few Bring Jobs Back As Pay of Top Engineers In Bangalore Skyrockets." Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 3, 2007): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




April 7, 2008

Creative Sparks Arise from Opportunistic Innovation


StrategicIntuitionBK.jpg










Source of book image:
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51vovIVI5sL.jpg


(p. D16) One of the insights of "Strategic Intuition" is that business makes progress by following the opportunistic innovation model, while governments and international-aid agencies aim repetitively at rigid social goals. Such rigidity happens partly for a reason that Mr. Duggan is too polite to mention -- bureaucrats, by nature, rarely give off a creative spark. Mr. Duggan prefers to emphasize a structural cause: The public demands solutions to problems of great social importance; thus bureaucrats get stuck with fixed objectives. Yet Mr. Duggan also shows that social progress often happens by emulating the opportunism of business. Among the most powerful of his examples is Muhammad Yunus's invention of microcredit.

. . .

If there are still businessmen who feel compelled to follow a fixed-goal plan -- missing out on the profits of opportunistic flexibility -- then at least there is the free market to punish them. Market feedback is surely one big reason that we have so many innovative entrepreneurs. Where the old approach does most of the damage is in social policy, where the feedback is either fuzzy (as in domestic policy) or absent (foreign aid). Social policy could use a lot fewer commencement speakers and a lot more creative sparkers.


For the full review, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY. "BOOKSHELF; Surprised by Opportunity." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., November 14, 2007): D16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The reference to the Stratetic Intuition book is:

Duggan, William. Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.




February 29, 2008

"The No. 1 Need that Poor People Have is a Way to Make More Cash"

 

  Moving water is easier with the 20-gallon rolling drum.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. D3)  . . . , the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, . . . , is honoring inventors dedicated to “the other 90 percent,” particularly the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.

Their creations, on display in the museum garden until Sept. 23, have a sort of forehead-thumping “Why didn’t someone think of that before?” quality.

. . .

Interestingly, most of the designers who spoke at the opening of the exhibition spurned the idea of charity.

“The No. 1 need that poor people have is a way to make more cash,” said Martin Fisher, an engineer who founded KickStart, an organization that says it has helped 230,000 people escape poverty.  It sells human-powered pumps costing $35 to $95.

Pumping water can help a farmer grow grain in the dry season, when it fetches triple the normal price.  Dr. Fisher described customers who had skipped meals for weeks to buy a pump and then earned $1,000 the next year selling vegetables.

 

For the full story, see: 

DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.  "Design That Solves Problems for the World's Poor."  The New York Times  (Tues., May 29, 2007):  D3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

FilterForDrinkingWater.jpg TechnologiesForPoor.jpg   The photo on the left shows a woman safely drinking bacteria-laden water through a filter.  The photo on the right shows a "pot-in-pot cooler" that evaporates water from wet sand between the pots, in order to cool what is in the inner pot.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




"The No. 1 Need that Poor People Have is a Way to Make More Cash"

 

  Moving water is easier with the 20-gallon rolling drum.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. D3)  . . . , the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, . . . , is honoring inventors dedicated to “the other 90 percent,” particularly the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.

Their creations, on display in the museum garden until Sept. 23, have a sort of forehead-thumping “Why didn’t someone think of that before?” quality.

. . .

Interestingly, most of the designers who spoke at the opening of the exhibition spurned the idea of charity.

“The No. 1 need that poor people have is a way to make more cash,” said Martin Fisher, an engineer who founded KickStart, an organization that says it has helped 230,000 people escape poverty.  It sells human-powered pumps costing $35 to $95.

Pumping water can help a farmer grow grain in the dry season, when it fetches triple the normal price.  Dr. Fisher described customers who had skipped meals for weeks to buy a pump and then earned $1,000 the next year selling vegetables.

 

For the full story, see: 

DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.  "Design That Solves Problems for the World's Poor."  The New York Times  (Tues., May 29, 2007):  D3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

FilterForDrinkingWater.jpg TechnologiesForPoor.jpg   The photo on the left shows a woman safely drinking bacteria-laden water through a filter.  The photo on the right shows a "pot-in-pot cooler" that evaporates water from wet sand between the pots, in order to cool what is in the inner pot.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




February 27, 2008

Big is Not Always Better

 

It is an enduring puzzle why the West has been so much more succesful than China in achieving economic growth over the past several centuries.  The puzzle arises because there is considerable evidence of early Chinese acheivements in technology.

One example would be the exploratory voyages of Zheng He.  The Chinese ships were much, much larger than those of Christopher Columbus.  But as Clayton Christensen has shown in a more modern context, size does not always matter as much as nimbleness and motivation. 

(And another part of the story involves culture and institutions.)

  

 

The most complete account of Christensen's thinking, so far, is his book with Raynor:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor.  The Innovator's Solution:  Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

 

(Note:  I am grateful to Prof. Yu-sheng Lin for first informing me of the large difference in size between the ships.  I am also grateful to Prof. Salim Rashid, and Liberty Fund's Mr. Leonidas Zelmanovitz, for my having the opportunity to encounter Prof. Lin.)

 




Big is Not Always Better

 

It is an enduring puzzle why the West has been so much more succesful than China in achieving economic growth over the past several centuries.  The puzzle arises because there is considerable evidence of early Chinese acheivements in technology.

One example would be the exploratory voyages of Zheng He.  The Chinese ships were much, much larger than those of Christopher Columbus.  But as Clayton Christensen has shown in a more modern context, size does not always matter as much as nimbleness and motivation. 

(And another part of the story involves culture and institutions.)

  

 

The most complete account of Christensen's thinking, so far, is his book with Raynor:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor.  The Innovator's Solution:  Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

 

(Note:  I am grateful to Prof. Yu-sheng Lin for first informing me of the large difference in size between the ships.  I am also grateful to Prof. Salim Rashid, and Liberty Fund's Mr. Leonidas Zelmanovitz, for my having the opportunity to encounter Prof. Lin.)

 




February 24, 2008

Innovative New Products Often Expensive at First, But Price Soon Falls


AdoptionInnovationsGraph.gif Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 14) To understand why consumption is a better guideline of economic prosperity than income, it helps to consider how our lives have changed. Nearly all American families now have refrigerators, stoves, color TVs, telephones and radios. Air-conditioners, cars, VCRs or DVD players, microwave ovens, washing machines, clothes dryers and cellphones have reached more than 80 percent of households.

As the second chart, on the spread of consumption, shows, this wasn't always so. The conveniences we take for granted today usually began as niche products only a few wealthy families could afford. In time, ownership spread through the levels of income distribution as rising wages and falling prices made them affordable in the currency that matters most -- the amount of time one had to put in at work to gain the necessary purchasing power.

At the average wage, a VCR fell from 365 hours in 1972 to a mere two hours today. A cellphone dropped from 456 hours in 1984 to four hours. A personal computer, jazzed up with thousands of times the computing power of the 1984 I.B.M., declined from 435 hours to 25 hours. Even cars are taking a smaller toll on our bank accounts: in the past decade, the work-time price of a mid-size Ford sedan declined by 6 percent.


For the full commentary, see:

W. MICHAEL COX and RICHARD ALM. "You Are What You Spend." The New York Times Company, Week in Review section (Sun., February 10, 2008): 14.




February 14, 2008

Bill Gates Reads Julian Simon


(p. A15)  A core belief of Mr. Gates is that technology can erase problems that seem intractable. That belief was deepened, Mr. Gates says, by his study of Julian Simon, a now-deceased business professor who argued that increases in wealth and technology would offset shortages in energy, food and other global resources.

Pacing in his office last week, Mr. Gates retold the story of a famous $10,000 wager between Mr. Simon and Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University professor who predicted that human population growth would outstrip the earth's resources.  Mr. Simon bet that even as a growing population increased demand for metals such as tin and copper, the price of those metals would fall within the decade ending in 1990. Mr. Simon won the bet. "He cremated the guy," says Mr. Gates.  Mr. Ehrlich's administrator at Stanford University said he was out of the country and couldn't comment on the wager.


For the full story, see:

ROBERT A. GUTH.  "Bill Gates Issues Call For Kinder Capitalism; Famously Competitive, Billionaire Now Urges Business to Aid the Poor."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., January 24, 2008):  A1 & A15.





February 6, 2008

Bill Gates Misreads Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments

 

GatesDavos2008.jpgBill Gates speaking at the Davos meetings in Switzerland on January 24, 2008.  Source of the photo: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/dealbook/davos2008/gates600.jpg

 

The German scholars used to call it "Das Adam Smith Problem":  how to reconcile the Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments with his later Wealth of Nations.  One alleged inconsistency is the advocacy of altruism in the former, and the advocacy of self-interest in the latter.  

But a closer reading of The Theory of Moral Sentiments solves the problem.  Smith thought a case could be made for altruism, but only toward those we know really well, which primarily meant one's own family, and maybe also others in one's community who one knows well.  The reason is that altruism works only when we know very well the situation and values of those who we propose to help.  Otherwise, we may end up doing more harm than good.

So when Gates embarks on global altruism, he should be careful in citing Smith for support.

 

The passage quoted below discusses Bill Gates's interpretation of Adam Smith:

(p. A15)  Key to Mr. Gates's plan will be for businesses to dedicate their top people to poor issues -- an approach he feels is more powerful than traditional corporate donations and volunteer work. Governments should set policies and disburse funds to create financial incentives for businesses to improve the lives of the poor, he plans to say today. "If we can spend the early decades of the 21st century finding approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce poverty in the world," Mr. Gates plans to say.

In the interview, Mr. Gates was emphatic that he's not calling for a fundamental change in how capitalism works. He cited Adam Smith, whose treatise, "The Wealth of Nations," lays out the rationale for the self-interest that drives capitalism and companies like Microsoft. That shouldn't change, "one iota," Mr. Gates said.

But there's more to Adam Smith, he added. "This was written before 'Wealth of Nations,'" Mr. Gates said, flipping through a copy of Adam Smith's 1759 book, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments." It argues that humans gain pleasure from taking an interest in the "fortunes of others." Mr. Gates will quote from that book in his speech today.

Talk of "moral sentiments" may seem surprising from a man whose competitive drive is so fierce that it drew legal challenges from antitrust authorities. But Mr. Gates said his thinking about capitalism has been evolving for years. He outlined part of his evolution from software titan to philanthropist in a speech last June to Harvard's graduating class, recounting how when he left Harvard in 1975 he knew little of the inequities in the world. A range of experiences including trips to Africa and India have helped raise that awareness.

In the Harvard speech, Mr. Gates floated the idea of "creative capitalism." But at the time he had only a "fuzzy" sense of what he meant. To clarify his thinking, he decided to prepare the Davos speech.


For the full story, see:

ROBERT A. GUTH.  "Bill Gates Issues Call For Kinder Capitalism; Famously Competitive, Billionaire Now Urges Business to Aid the Poor."  The Wall Street Journal   (Thurs., January 24, 2008):  A1 & A15.

 

One good article that discusses some of the issues in my initial commentary is:

Coase, Ronald H.  "Adam Smith's View of Man."  In Essays on Economics and Economists.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1995.


 

CharitableFoundationsTop10.gif



 






Source of the graphic:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

 




January 27, 2008

Raghuram Rajan on the Current Economic Downturn and the Subprime Mortgage Mess

 

       "Traders in the oil futures pit of the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday" (January 22. 2008).  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below. 

 

Raghuram Rajan is mentioned in the article quoted below.  I first ran across him as the co-author of a book that was billed as applying Schumpeterian ideas of creative destruction to issues of economic growth and development. 

Then, at the American Economic Association meetings in New Orleans in early January, I was on my way to a History of Economics Society reception, when I stumbled by chance into a modest reception in which Rajan was giving an informal speech on the subprime mortgage crisis.

It was such an interesting presentation, that I ended up totally missing the History of Economics Society reception.  Rajan argued that the main problem was one of misguided incentives.  Bonuses at top investment firms like Merrrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase, are supposed to go to those whose investments produce high returns, with modest risks.  The problem with the complicated securities based on the subprime mortgages was that they produced high returns, but the risks were actually also fairly high.  The high-flying investors probably had some knowledge of this, but the public did not.  In most years the investors could invest in the high return, but high risk, securities, and collect huge bonuses.  But now the chickens have come home to roost.

Rajan suggested that the answer would be a change in the way in which the traders are given bonuses.  Instead of handing them out annually, let them become vested only after observing the investment's track record for several years.  If the investment goes south before the bonus is vested, the trader does not get the bonus.  This would provide an incentive and reward for those who accurately accessed the risk of their investments. 

 

(p. A1)  . . . , Wall Street hasn't yet come clean. Even after last week, when JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo announced big losses in their consumer credit businesses, financial service firms have still probably gone public with less than half of their mortgage-related losses, according to Moody's Economy.com. They're not being dishonest; they just haven't untangled all of their complex investments.

"Part of the big uncertainty," Raghuram G. Rajan, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said, "is where the bodies are buried."

As Mr. Rajan pointed out, this situation is more severe than the crisis involving Long Term Capital Management in the late 1990s. That was a case in which a limited set of bad investments, largely at one firm, had the potential to drive down the value of other firms' holdings in the short term. Those firms then might have stopped lending money because they no longer had the capital to do so. But their own balance sheets were largely healthy.

This time, the firms are facing real losses, which will almost certainly curtail lending, and economic growth, this year.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; Worries That the Good Times Were Mostly a Mirage."  The New York Times  (Weds., January 23, 2008):  A1 & A23.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The Schumpeterian book co-authored by Rajan, is:

Rajan, Raghuram G., and Luigi Zingales.  Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists:  Unleashing the Power of Financial Markets to Create Wealth and Spread Opportunity.  New York:  Crown, 2003.

 




January 19, 2008

"Freedom and Prosperity Are Highly Correlated"

 

    Source of graph:  http://www.heritage.org/Press/ALAChart/images/ALC_017_index_econ_freedom_3col_c.jpg

 

(p. A13)  . . .  the evidence is piling up that neither government nor multilateral spending on education and infrastructure are key to development. To move out of poverty, countries instead need fast growth; and to get that they need to unleash the animal spirits of entrepreneurs.

Empirical support for this view is presented again this year in The Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, released today. In its 14th edition, the annual survey grades countries on a combination of factors including property rights protection, tax rates, government intervention in the economy, monetary, fiscal and trade policy, and business freedom.

The nearby table shows the 2008 rankings but doesn't tell the whole story. The Index also reports that the freest 20% of the world's economies have twice the per capita income of those in the second quintile and five times that of the least-free 20%. In other words, freedom and prosperity are highly correlated.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY.  "The Real Key to Development."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., January 15, 2008):  A13. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

IndexOfEconomicFreedom2008.gif     Source of table:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

 




January 4, 2008

"Not Even an Unchallenged Autocrat Can Repeal the Laws of Supply and Demand"

 

   "Essentials like bread, sugar and cornmeal have all but vanished in Zimbabwe after the government commanded merchants nationwide to counter 10,000-percent-a-year hyperinflation by slashing prices in half and more. The shelves at this grocery store are mostly bare."  Source of the caption and the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, July 28 — Robert G. Mugabe has ruled over this battered nation, his every wish endorsed by Parliament and enforced by the police and soldiers, for more than 27 years. It appears, however, that not even an unchallenged autocrat can repeal the laws of supply and demand.

One month after Mr. Mugabe decreed just that, commanding merchants nationwide to counter 10,000-percent-a-year hyperinflation by slashing prices in half and more, Zimbabwe’s economy is at a halt.

Bread, sugar and cornmeal, staples of every Zimbabwean’s diet, have vanished, seized by mobs who denuded stores like locusts in wheat fields. Meat is virtually nonexistent, even for members of the middle class who have money to buy it on the black market. Gasoline is nearly unobtainable. Hospital patients are dying for lack of basic medical supplies. Power blackouts and water cutoffs are endemic.

Manufacturing has slowed to a crawl because few businesses can produce goods for less than their government-imposed sale prices. Raw materials are drying up because suppliers are being forced to sell to factories at a loss. Businesses are laying off workers or reducing their hours.

The chaos, however, seems to have done little to undermine Mr. Mugabe’s authority. To the contrary, the government is moving steadily toward a takeover of major sectors of the economy that have not already been nationalized.

. . .

(p. A8)  . . .  Most of the goods on store shelves this week were those people did not need or could not afford — dog biscuits; ketchup; toilet paper, which has become a luxury here; gin; cookies.

At various locations of TM, a major supermarket chain, aisles of meat coolers were empty save a few plastic bags of scrap meat for dogs. Flour, sugar, cooking oil, cornmeal and other basics were not to be found. A long line hugged the rear of one store, waiting for a delivery of the few loaves of bread that a baker provided to stay in compliance with the price directive.

The government’s takeover of slaughterhouses seems ineffectual: this week, butchers killed and dressed 32 cows for the entire city. Farmers are unwilling to sell their cows at a loss.

The empty grocery shelves may be the starkest sign of penury, but there are others equally worrisome. Doctors say that at most, there is a six-week supply of insulin and blood-pressure medications. Less vital drugs like aspirin are rarities.

“You can boil willow bark, just as Galen did,” one physician quipped.

 

For the full story, see: 

MICHAEL WINES.  "Caps on Prices Only Deepen Zimbabweans’ Misery."  The New York Times (Thurs., August 2, 2007):  A1 & A8.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

   "Women in Esigodini, Zimbabwe, cook melons into mash.  Meat has been so scrace that melons have been their main source of nutrition."  Source of caption:  print version of the NYT article cited above.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




December 5, 2007

Measuring Trends in Government Corruption

 

CorruptionWorldBankGraph.jpg   Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A6)  Africa, often stereotyped as a place of epic corruption and misrule, emerges in a World Bank report as a continent of great variety, with some countries — Tanzania, Liberia, Rwanda, Ghana and Niger — making notable progress over the past decade, and others — Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Eritrea — moving backward.

The report, released yesterday and based on the most comprehensive data on governance in more than 200 countries, found that not just poor countries struggled with corruption and flawed government.

. . .

The report, “Governance Matters, 2007: Worldwide Governance Indicators 1996-2006,” was written by Mr. Kaufmann and the World Bank researchers Aart Kraay and Massimo Mastruzzi. It was posted on the Internet at www.govindicators.org. Data came from an ideologically diverse array of groups that included Freedom House, Transparency International, the Heritage Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and the State Department.

“This is the best data source on governance now,” said Steven Radelet, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a Washington research group. “It is of huge importance in development. Ten years ago, there was no data. Fifteen years ago, we didn’t talk about this stuff.”

. . .  

The report found that the gains and losses balanced out such that the average quality of governance worldwide over the past decade was little improved.

 

For the full story, see: 

CELIA W. DUGGER.  "World Bank Report on Governing Finds Level Playing Field."  The New York Times  (Weds., July 11, 2007):  A6. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




December 2, 2007

Effective Foreign Aid

 

   "HOMELAND SECURITY.  Many women in Mexico, like Estela Palacio Calzada, with her granddaughter, rely on money sent back from the U.S. "  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that altruism is more effective when it is directed toward those we know best--mainly our family, and immediate neighbors.

A policy implication may be that the most effective foreign aid is to have more open immigration policies, that then permit the migrants to send back funds to those in their home country who they know best.

 

THE money flows in dribs and drabs, crossing borders $200 or $300 at a time. It buys cornmeal and rice and plaid private school skirts and keeps the landlord at bay. Globally, the tally is huge: migrants from poor countries send home about $300 billion a year. That is more than three times the global total in foreign aid, making “remittances” the main source of outside money flowing to the developing world.

Surveys show that 80 percent of the money or more is immediately spent, on food, clothing, housing, education or the occasional beer party or television set. Still, there are tens of billions available for savings or investment, in places where capital is scarce. While remittances have been shown to reduce household poverty, policymakers are looking to increase the effect on economic growth.

Some migrants, for instance, send home money to savings accounts at small bank-like microfinance institutions, which use the resulting capital pool to lend to local entrepreneurs.

 

For the full story, see:

JASON DePARLE. "Migrant Money Flow: A $300 Billion Current."  The New York Times, Week in Review Section  (Sun., November 18, 2007):  3.

 

   Source of map graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




November 12, 2007

Strong Global Support for Free Markets

 

FreeMarketsPositiveViewTable.gif   Source of table:  "World Publics Welcome Global Trade -- But Not Immigration." Pew Global Attitudes Project, a project of the PewResearchCenter. Released: 10.04.07 dowloaded from: http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=258

 

(p. A10) WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 — Buoyed and battered by globalization, people around the world strongly view international trade as a good thing but harbor growing concerns about its side effects: threats to their cultures, damage to the environment and the challenges posed by immigration, a new survey indicates.

In the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey of people in 46 countries and the Palestinian territories, large majorities everywhere said that trade was a good thing. In countries like Argentina, which recently experienced trade-based growth, the attitude toward trade has become more positive.

But support for trade has decreased in recent years in advanced Western countries, including Germany, Britain, France and Italy — and most sharply in the United States. The number of Americans saying trade is good for the country has dropped by 19 percentage points since 2002, to 59 percent.

“G.D.P. growth hasn’t been as dramatic in these places as in Latin America or Eastern Europe,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, referring to gross domestic product, the total value of the goods and services produced in a country. “But worldwide, even though some people are rich and some are poor, support for the basic tenet of capitalism is pretty strong.”

 

For the full story, see: 

BRIAN KNOWLTON. "Globalization, According to the World, Is a Good Thing. Sort Of."  The New York Times   (Fri., October 5, 2007):  A10. 

 




October 30, 2007

United States Cotton Subsidies Hurt Poor African Farmers

 

Dan Sumner did his dissertation many years ago under T.W. Schultz, a great economist, and a great human being.  (Dan was a friend of mine in grad school--we were members of a club that gathered once a month to discuss the works of Bertrand Russell.) 

 

Eliminating billions of dollars in federal subsidies to American cotton growers each year would reduce American cotton production and exports, raise world prices by about 10 percent and modestly improve the incomes of millions of poor cotton farmers in Africa, according to a new study by Oxfam, the aid group.

Agricultural economists at the University of California, Davis, who conducted the study for Oxfam, found that a typical farm family of 10 in Chad, Benin, Burkina Faso or Mali — Africa’s major cotton producers — that now earns $2,000 a year would have an extra $46 to $114 a year to spend if American subsidies were removed.

“Fifty to a hundred bucks is a lot of money to these people,” said Daniel Sumner, chairman of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the university. “It’s not right to think that changing U.S. subsidies will turn very poor people into middle-class households by our standards. That’s a generational process. But it’s money in their pocket.”

. . .

Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard who is skeptical of the importance of reduced agricultural subsidies, said he found Oxfam’s new estimates credible, but said the gains forecast were relatively small.  . . .

. . .

But the authors of the report said that removing American subsidies would permanently shift the price of cotton upward, with prices subsequently fluctuating around a higher average. 

 

For the full story, see: 

CELIA W. DUGGER.  "Oxfam Suggests Benefit in Africa if U.S. Cuts Cotton Subsidies."  The New York Times  (Thurs., June 21, 2007):  A12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




October 23, 2007

Human Capital and Rule of Law Are "Largest Share of Wealth"

 

Two years ago the World Bank's environmental economics department set out to assess the relative contributions of various kinds of capital to economic development. Its study, "Where is the Wealth of Nations?: Measuring Capital for the 21st Century," began by defining natural capital as the sum of nonrenewable resources (including oil, natural gas, coal and mineral resources), cropland, pasture land, forested areas and protected areas. Produced, or built, capital is what many of us think of when we think of capital: the sum of machinery, equipment, and structures (including infrastructure) and urban land.

But once the value of all these are added up, the economists found something big was still missing: the vast majority of world's wealth! If one simply adds up the current value of a country's natural resources and produced, or built, capital, there's no way that can account for that country's level of income.

The rest is the result of "intangible" factors -- such as the trust among people in a society, an efficient judicial system, clear property rights and effective government. All this intangible capital also boosts the productivity of labor and results in higher total wealth. In fact, the World Bank finds, "Human capital and the value of institutions (as measured by rule of law) constitute the largest share of wealth in virtually all countries."

Once one takes into account all of the world's natural resources and produced capital, 80% of the wealth of rich countries and 60% of the wealth of poor countries is of this intangible type. The bottom line: "Rich countries are largely rich because of the skills of their populations and the quality of the institutions supporting economic activity."

 

For the full commentary, see: 

RONALD BAILEY.  "Secrets of Intangible Wealth."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., September 29, 2007):  A9.

 




October 16, 2007

How the Congo Government 'Inspires' Technology Entrepreneurs: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

KapingaMichelineCellPhone.jpg  "Micheline Kapinga of Kamponde, Congo, uses a cellphone on the only site in the village that is sometimes able to capture a signal."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

I AM just back from Tanzania in East Africa.

In the mornings, disregarding the protests of the armed guards at my lodge near Arusha, I jogged along muddy footpaths. After the heavy rains, and under a low, misty sky, the fields looked as ruined as a battlefield. Very poor farmers and their children stared curiously at me as I passed.

In the afternoons, I attended the TEDGlobal 2007 conference, held by the Technology, Entertainment and Design organization in the modern Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge. The contrast between the two experiences troubled me.

TED conferences, mostly held in Monterey, Calif., are invitation-only affairs, are attended by the aristocracy of Silicon Valley and are known for their adventurousness in drawing together wildly disparate trends in technology, business and the arts.

On this occasion, Bono, the Irish rock star and champion of African causes, had persuaded the conference’s organizer, Chris Anderson, to invite the usual crowd, as well as African entrepreneurs, activists, health care professionals and artists to this tropical, leafy region midway between the Serengeti Plain and Mount Kilimanjaro.

. . .

At least one of the African attendees of the conference was representative of the kind of technological entrepreneurialism that the show advocated.

Alieu Conteh, the chairman of Vodacom Congo, was born in Gambia, in West Africa, 55 years ago and moved to Congo in 1981. For years, he was a successful coffee buyer and exporter.

Congo is about the size of Western Europe and has an estimated population of 65 million people. It is one of the least-developed nations in the world, with less than 300 miles of roads, most of them in poor condition.

In 1997, Mr. Conteh recalled in an interview, he heard Laurent D. Kabila, then the country’s president, deliver a speech in which he called upon his countrymen to rebuild Congo’s infrastructure after the 30-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko. Mr. Conteh, who had no experience in telecommunications, said he was inspired. He decided to build the nation’s first GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) digital network.

At the time, according to Mr. Conteh, fewer than 10,000 people living in Congo — mainly business people, foreigners and government employees — had mobile handsets. They paid $7 to $10 a minute to make a call, using an older technology. Less than 15,000 homes had a telephone landline.

Mr. Conteh said he went, cap in hand, to the minister of communications to ask for the country’s first GSM license. In January 1998 he got it — but he first had to pay the government a license fee of $100,000. Over the years, and with little explanation, he said, the government, which is often terribly short of money, increased the license fee, first to $400,000, then $2 million.

  

For more of the commentary, see: 

JASON PONTIN.  "SLIPSTREAM; What Does Africa Need Most: Technology or Aid?"  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., June 17, 2007):  3. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




October 2, 2007

David Warsh on Paul Romer's 'Triumph of Formalism'

 

  David Warsh prepares to speak as Sandra Peart introduces him at the HES meetings at George Mason.  Source of photo:  me. 

 

David Warsh in his plenary address to the History of Economics Society on June 9, 2007, recounted a version of the account that he gives in his 2006 book Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations. (A key part of this story was also told in an article in the Sunday magazine section of The New York Times.)

Here I concentrate on the plenary lecture presentation.

Warsh said that he is the first to give Romer his due; that Romer has managed to alienate the economists both at Chicago and at MIT. (Well, maybe, but Tom Friedman sure gives Romer a lot of attention and praise in his best-selling The World is Flat.) Warsh also said that he (Warsh) has been accused of writing a hagiography of Romer.

Warsh identifies the key contribution of Romer as being that he identifies the key properties of knowledge, namely that it is nonrivalrous and nonexcludible. He claims that Romer was the first to see this, and so is responsible for beginning the crucial field of the economics of knowledge.

Further, Warsh claims that the economics profession only achieved this insight when Romer found a way to incorporate knowledge in his formal models.

This story, Warsh says, is a triumph of formalism; only through formalism could such an important advance have been made.

At this point in the presentation, I became rather annoyed---I had my hand up during most of the question session, but Warsh chose not to call on me.  (In fairness, I was seated on his far left, though at the front, so it is possible that he did not see me.)

What I told Warsh afterwards was that the lesson from this episode is the exact opposite of the one he claims---it is not an example of the triumph of formalism, but rather an example of the shame of formalism.

Long before Romer, others had pointed out the nonrivalry and nonexcludibility of knowledge. E.g., Arrow briefly in a famous essay (1962), and Harry Johnson at greater length in an obscure essay (1972).

The requirement that serious knowledge requires formalization before it is taken seriously, meant that economists ignored for several decades, what had been nonformally known. It is to the shame of formalism that for decades useful issues were ignored.

And even more strongly, to say that Romer is responsible for founding the economics of knowledge is to add insult to injury to the economists who had actually founded this field: economists such as Richard Nelson, Nathan Rosenberg, Zvi Griliches and Edwin Mansfield.

Not only was their work largely ignored for decades, but a leading advocate and exemplar of the formalist methodology responsible for the ignorance, is himself given credit for their achievements.

 

The reference to Warsh's book, is:

Warsh, David. Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.

 

For further information on the founders of the economics of science and technology, one could consult:

"Economics of Science." In Steven  N. Durlauf and Lawrence E. Blume, The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd ed., forthcoming, 2008, Basingstoke and New York:  Palgrave Macmillan, reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan. This article is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been reviewed or edited. The definitive published version of this extract may be found in the complete New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics in print and online, forthcoming, 2008. 

"The Economics of Science."  Knowledge and Policy 9, nos. 2/3 (Summer/Fall 1996): 6-49.

"Edwin Mansfield's Contributions to the Economics of Technology."  Research Policy  32, no. 9 (Oct. 2003):  1607-1617.

"Zvi Griliches's Contributions to the Economics of Technology and Growth."  Economics of Innovation and New Technology 13, no. 4 (June 2004):  365-397.

 

The full reference on the Arrow article, is: 

Arrow, Kenneth J.  "Economic Welfare and the Allocation of Resources for Inventions."  In Richard R. Nelson, ed., (National Bureau of Economic Research), The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity:  Economic and Social Factors.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1962, pp. 609-625.

 

The full reference on the Harry Johnson article, is: 

Johnson, Harry G.  "Some Economic Aspects of Science."  Minerva 10, no. 1 (January 1972):  10-18.

 




October 1, 2007

Mugabe Driven by Quest for Power, More than from Paranoia, or Marxism: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

No one outside of Mr. Mugabe’s inner circle, of course, can say with certainty why he has pursued policies since 2000 that have produced economic and social bedlam. For his part, Mr. Mugabe says Zimbabwe’s chaos is the product of a Western plot to reassert colonial rule, while he is simply taking steps to fight that off.

Among many outside that circle, however, the growing conviction is that Zimbabwe’s descent is neither the result of paranoia nor the product of Mr. Mugabe’s longstanding belief in Marxist economic theory. Instead, they say, Zimbabwe is fast becoming a kleptocracy, and the government’s seemingly inexplicable policies are in fact preserving and expanding it.

. . .

Mr. Mugabe’s government declares currency trading illegal, but regularly dumps vast stacks of new bills on the black market, still wrapped in plastic, to raise foreign exchange for its own needs, business leaders and economists say.

The nation’s extraordinary hyperinflation, last pegged by analysts at 10,000 percent a year, is an economic disaster that, by all accounts, the government needs to address. Yet after it ordered merchants in July to slash their prices, cadres of policemen and soldiers moved into shops to enforce the new controls, scoop up bargains and give friends and political heavyweights preferential access to cheap goods.

. . .

Mr. Mugabe’s 25-bedroom mansion in Borrowdale, the gated high-end suburb of Harare, the capital, is the locus of a boomlet that has spawned luxury homes for government and party officials. (Mr. Mugabe said his mansion was built with goods and labor donated by foreign governments.)

Mr. Mugabe arrived to open Zimbabwe’s Parliament this month in a Rolls-Royce. Equally telling, the legislature’s parking lot was crammed with luxury cars.

Such riches have been accompanied by a steep decline in living standards for just about everyone else. The death rate for Zimbabweans under the age of 5 grew by 65 percent from 1990 to 2005, even as the rate for the world’s poorest nations dropped. Average life expectancy here is among the world’s lowest, according to the United Nations.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MICHAEL WINES.  "News Analysis; Zimbabwe’s Chaos: The Powerful Thrive."  The New York Times (Fri., August 3, 2007):  A8. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




September 19, 2007

Pyramids Can Take Many Forms: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

My Wabash economics prof Ben Rogge used to say that rulers have always liked to spend the people's money to build pyramids intended to proclaim the glory of the ruler.  But in modern times the rulers have to be a tad more subtle than the Egyptians, so, for instance, in Brazil they build Brazilia, instead of actual pyramids. 

And according to the story below, summarized from the May 2007 IEEE Spectrum, in Africa, they build large dams.

 

Small dams could help deliver electricity to much of Africa's population, but since they lack the prestige of larger-scale projects, few of them get built.

. . .

In Uganda, which has plenty of rivers and streams to supply power, Mr. Zachary describes how a small water-power generator, supplied by a small nearby dam, delivers 60 kilowatts of energy to a nearby hospital. The generator would barely be enough to run a single magnetic-resonance imaging machine, a staple in Western hospitals. But it does provide enough power to light the hospital and keep basic equipment running for the 100 nurses and doctors who work there. The entire generation system cost $15,000 to build.

Still, Africa's leaders are unlikely to abandon their preference for big public works, says Mr. Zachary, since they create thousands of construction jobs and reinforce the political might of the central government. 

 

For the full summary, see: 

"Informed Reader; ENERGY; Small Dams Might Help to Electrify Africa."  The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 8, 2007):  B10. 

(Note:  ellipsis added; the original article in IEEE Spectrum is by G. Pascal Zachary.)

 




September 15, 2007

More Millionaires

 

The ranks of the richest Americans expanded last year at an increased pace, driven by a strong economy, but that growth is expected to moderate in coming years, according to a new study.

The 11th annual World Wealth Report, compiled by Merrill Lynch & Co. and Capgemini Group, shows that in 2006, the U.S. population of high-net-worth individuals -- those with at least $1 million in investible assets, excluding their primary residences -- rose 9.4% to 2.92 million. In 2005, the same population increased 6.8% to 2.67 million.

Robert McCann, president of Merrill Lynch Global Private Client Group, attributed the increased pace of wealth generation to gains in economic output and continued growth in the world's stock markets, two primary drivers of wealth creation.

 

For the full story, see:

DAISY MAXEY.  "Ranks of Rich in U.S. Grow at Faster Pace."   The Wall Street Journal   (June 28, 2007):  D6. 

 




September 3, 2007

The U.S. has Exceled at Turning Information Technology into Greater Productivity

 

To explain the experience in the United States, one would have to believe that Americans have some better way of translating the new technology into productivity than other countries. And that is precisely what Professor Van Reenen's research suggests.

His paper ''Americans Do I.T. Better: U.S. Multinationals and the Productivity Miracle,'' (with Nick Bloom of Stanford University and Raffaella Sadun of the London School of Economics) looked at the experience of companies in Britain that were taken over by multinational companies with headquarters in other countries. They wanted to know if there was any evidence that the American genius with information technology transfers to locations outside the United States. If American companies turn computers into productivity better than anyone else, can businesses in Britain do the same when they are taken over by Americans?

And in the huge service sectors -- financial services, retail trade, wholesale trade -- they found compelling evidence of exactly that. American takeovers caused a tremendous productivity advantage over a non-American alternative.

When Americans take over a business in Britain, the business becomes significantly better at translating technology spending into productivity than a comparable business taken over by someone else. It is as if the invisible hand of the American marketplace were somehow passing along a secret handshake to these firms.

. . .

But there is a chance that the 1990s represent a fundamental shift in the global economy. Perhaps the greater amount of uncertainty and churn in the world economy in the 1990s is the new norm. Perhaps the 21st century will continually favor those who adjust best to changes. As Professor Van Reenen put it, ''If the world has become one in which everyone is trying to hit a moving target, it certainly helps to be the best at changing one's aim.''

But that is, of course, the paradox of the American position. We hate experiencing major adjustments and industry transformations that force people to look for new jobs. That experience has made many skeptical about the future of the United States in the world economy. Yet the evidence seems to show that for all our dissatisfaction, we are the most flexible economy around and may be best poised to take advantage of the coming changes on a global scale precisely because we are so good at adjusting. 

 

For the full commentary, see: 

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE. "ECONOMIC SCENE; How the U.S. Has Kept the Productivity Playing Field Tilted to Its Advantage."  The New York Times  (Thurs., June 21, 2007)  C3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  I thank Aaron Brown for calling the above article to my attention.)

 




September 1, 2007

How to End Poverty

 

To find policies that are likely to alleviate poverty, it is best to look at actual successes and failures. In recent decades, the biggest single accomplishment is the post-1979 (post-Mao) economic growth in China. Xavier Sala-i-Martin ("The World Distribution of Income," Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 2006) finds that the number of persons below a standard poverty line fell in China by about 250 million from 1970 to 2000. This massive poverty reduction occurred despite an increase in the Chinese population of more than 400 million and rising income inequality within China. The second-best story is the economic growth in India, where the poverty count fell by around 140 million people from 1970 to 2000.

Also illuminating is the greatest tragedy for world poverty -- the low economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. In this case, the number of people in poverty rose by around 200 million from 1970 to 2000.

These examples suggest that the key question for poverty alleviation is how to get Africa to grow like China and India. An important clue is that the triumphs in China and India derive mainly from improvements in governance, notably in the opening up to markets and capitalism. Similarly, the African tragedy derives primarily from government failure. Another clue is that foreign aid had nothing to do with the successes and did not prevent the African tragedy.

One reason for this is that foreign aid is typically run through governments and, thereby, tends to promote public sectors that are large, corrupt and unresponsive to market forces.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ROBERT BARRO.  "COMMENTARY; Bill Gates's Charitable Vistas." The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., June 19, 2007):  A17.

 




August 31, 2007

Let There Be Light

 

  One of Mark Bent's solar flashlights stuck in a wall to illuminate a classroom in Africa.  Source of the photo:   http://bogolight.com/images/success6.jpg

 

What Africa most needs, to grow and prosper, is to eject kleptocratic war-lord governments, and to embrace property rights and the free market.  But in the meantime, maybe handing out some solar powered flashlights can make some modest improvements in how some people live.

The story excerpted below is an example of private, entrepreneur-donor-involved, give-while-you-live philanthropy that holds a greater promise of actually doing some good in the world, than other sorts of philanthropy, or than government foreign aid. 

 

FUGNIDO, Ethiopia — At 10 p.m. in a sweltering refugee camp here in western Ethiopia, a group of foreigners was making its way past thatch-roofed huts when a tall, rail-thin man approached a silver-haired American and took hold of his hands. 

The man, a Sudanese refugee, announced that his wife had just given birth, and the boy would be honored with the visitor’s name. After several awkward translation attempts of “Mark Bent,” it was settled. “Mar,” he said, will grow up hearing stories of his namesake, the man who handed out flashlights powered by the sun.

Since August 2005, when visits to an Eritrean village prompted him to research global access to artificial light, Mr. Bent, 49, a former foreign service officer and Houston oilman, has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture a solar-powered flashlight.

His invention gives up to seven hours of light on a daily solar recharge and can last nearly three years between replacements of three AA batteries costing 80 cents.

Over the last year, he said, he and corporate benefactors like Exxon Mobil have donated 10,500 flashlights to United Nations refugee camps and African aid charities.

Another 10,000 have been provided through a sales program, and 10,000 more have just arrived in Houston awaiting distribution by his company, SunNight Solar.

“I find it hard sometimes to explain the scope of the problems in these camps with no light,” Mr. Bent said. “If you’re an environmentalist you think about it in terms of discarded batteries and coal and wood burning and kerosene smoke; if you’re a feminist you think of it in terms of security for women and preventing sexual abuse and violence; if you’re an educator you think about it in terms of helping children and adults study at night.”

Here at Fugnido, at one of six camps housing more than 21,000 refugees 550 miles west of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Peter Gatkuoth, a Sudanese refugee, wrote on “the importance of Solor.”

“In case of thief, we open our solor and the thief ran away,” he wrote. “If there is a sick person at night we will took him with the solor to health center.”

A shurta, or guard, who called himself just John, said, “I used the light to scare away wild animals.” Others said lights were hung above school desks for children and adults to study after the day’s work.

 

For the full story, see:


Will Connors and Ralph Blumenthal.  "Letting Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poor."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., May 20, 2007):  8.

(Note:  the title of the article on line was:  "Solar Flashlight Lets Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poorest Villages.")

 

 EthiopiaMap.gif   Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




August 16, 2007

"The Engine of Prosperity is Technological Progress"

 

Steve sometimes writes clever, entertaining essays on issues of little policy importance (like whether a rational person should stand still, or move forward, on escalators).  But in the piece excerpted below, he does a great job of discussing the biggest policy issue of them all:  what drives economic progress?

 

Modern humans first emerged about 100,000 years ago. For the next 99,800 years or so, nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing. There were wars, political intrigue, the invention of agriculture -- but none of that stuff had much effect on the quality of people's lives. Almost everyone lived on the modern equivalent of $400 to $600 a year, just above the subsistence level. True, there were always tiny aristocracies who lived far better, but numerically they were quite insignificant.

Then -- just a couple of hundred years ago, maybe 10 generations -- people started getting richer. And richer and richer still. Per capita income, at least in the West, began to grow at the unprecedented rate of about three quarters of a percent per year. A couple of decades later, the same thing was happening around the world.

Then it got even better. By the 20th century, per capita real incomes, that is, incomes adjusted for inflation, were growing at 1.5% per year, on average, and for the past half century they've been growing at about 2.3%. If you're earning a modest middle-class income of $50,000 a year, and if you expect your children, 25 years from now, to occupy that same modest rung on the economic ladder, then with a 2.3% growth rate, they'll be earning the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $89,000 a year. Their children, another 25 years down the line, will earn $158,000 a year.

Against a backdrop like that, the temporary ups and downs of the business cycle seem fantastically minor. In the 1930s, we had a Great Depression, when income levels fell back to where they had been 20 years earlier. For a few years, people had to live the way their parents had always lived, and they found it almost intolerable. The underlying expectation -- that the present is supposed to be better than the past -- is a new phenomenon in history. No 18th-century politician would have asked "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" because it never would have occurred to anyone that they ought to be better off than they were four years ago.

. . .

The source of this wealth -- the engine of prosperity -- is technological progress. And the engine of technological progress is ideas -- not just the ideas from engineering laboratories, but also ideas like new methods of crop rotation, or just-in-time inventory management.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEVEN LANDSBURG.  "A Brief History of Economic Time."   The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., June 9, 2007):  A8. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




July 14, 2007

Mugabe Prints More Money and Beats Up Shopkeepers, as Inflation Soars: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

     "Inflation made food cost a fortune in Harare this week.  The government imposed controls that required vendors to sell some items below cost."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

JOHANNESBURG, July 3 — Zimbabwe’s week-old campaign to quell its rampant inflation by forcing merchants to lower prices is edging the nation close to chaos, some economists and merchants say.

As the police and a pro-government youth militia swept into shops and factories, threatening arrest and worse unless prices were rolled back, staple foods vanished from store shelves and some merchants reported huge losses. News reports said that some shopkeepers who had refused to lower prices had been beaten by the youth militia, known as the Green Bombers for the color of their fatigues.

In interviews, merchants said that crowds of people were following the police and militia from shop to shop to buy goods at the government-ordered prices.

“People are losing millions and millions and millions of dollars,” said one merchant in Bulawayo, referring to the Zimbabwean currency, which is becoming worthless given the nation’s inflation, the world’s highest. “Everyone is now running out of stock, and not being able to replace it.”

. . .

Gasoline was reported to be vanishing from stations as the going price, about 180,000 dollars per liter, was slashed by the government to something closer to the officially approved price of 450 dollars per liter. Mr. Mugabe’s government intends to cope with the shortages by subsidizing producers of basic goods. One of the few newspapers not under government control, The Zimbabwe Independent, reported last week that flour, which is controlled entirely by the state, will be sold to bakers for 10 million dollars a ton, half the market price. Similarly, many suppliers of basic goods have been told by the government that they will be allowed to buy gasoline at one tenth the going price, the newspaper reported. The government apparently plans to make up those losses by printing more money. Zimbabwe’s dollar has lost more than half its value in recent weeks because the government has constantly issued new bills to pay its mounting debts.

 

For the full story, see: 

MICHAEL WINES.  "Anti-Inflation Curbs on Prices Create Havoc for Zimbabwe."  The New York Times  (Weds., July 4, 2007):  A8. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

CNN on 7/10/07 broadcast a great clip from ITN, that had been courageously recorded undercover by Martin Geissler.  See  "Desperation in Zimbabwe":

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/offbeat/2007/06/23/vo.mi.ugly.dogs.ap?DPFPR=true

(Note:  ITN is sometimes also called ITV.  "ITN" stands for the International Television Network.)

 

Postscript:  According to an entry on the ITV web site entitled "Mugabe Battles Economic Crises," Mugabe "has warned he will not be restrained by "bookish economics"."  (He makes a great case for cracking open the books, doesn't he?  Or at least for opening the window and looking at what is happening outside?)

For the Mugabe quote on bookish economics, see:

http://itn.co.uk/news/a1d7763de3c4778b619a72cbeab24d6d.html

 




June 26, 2007

"Roosevelt Warned us of Fearing Fear Itself; Now We Fear Life Itself"

 

   Source of book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/159523005X.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_V46468787_SS500_.jpg

 

I saw Todd Buchholz on C-Span and on CNBC, and I enjoyed hearing his views, so I decided to buy his Bringing the Jobs Home.  I don't like the title, because it sort of implies that the job market is a zero-sum-game, in which one country's gain implies another country's loss.  Us true-blue free marketers believe that the market is a non-zero-sum game in which everyone everywhere can have jobs, and have better ones over time.

But Buchholz's little book is fun to read, and says much that is plausible about how the government hurts the worker and reduces the efficiency of the labor market. 

Read the following excerpt for part of his rousing conclusion to the book.

(And, Aaron, I agree with you that Buchholz is wrong to say the American spirit is "innate.") 

 

(p. 177)  . . . :  Since the 1960s, each year we've lost a little nerve, gained another bureaucrat, another lawyer, another layer of protection against life's uncertainties.  We have gotten used to a government that aims to coddle us but ends up both preventing us from growing and dampening the innate American spirit.  The spirit still stirs but gets buried under the weight of the nanny state.

. . .

(p. 178)  American government officials today cannot put our standard of living in a lockbox to preserve, protect and defend us.  Franklin D. Roosevelt warned us of fearing fear itself; now we fear life itself. 

. . .

(p. 179)  To paraphrase Churchill, Americans did not sail the perilous Atlantic, scale the Appalachians and struggle past the Rockies because we were made of cotton candy.

 

Source: 

Buchholz, Todd G. Bringing the Jobs Home: How the Left Created the Outsourcing Crisis--and How We Can Fix It. New York: Sentinel, 2004.

 




June 23, 2007

Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus Against Kyoto

 

(p. 8) Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician who recently led the Copenhagen Consensus, an economic analysis of global environment and development issues , said that while global warming was a serious problem, Kyoto-style limits would have little impact and would divert resources better spent on alleviating poverty.

He said one element missing from most climate discussions was the need for a more vigorous effort to improve climate-friendly energy technologies like solar power and carbon capture, in which greenhouse emissions are trapped and pumped underground before they can escape into the atmosphere.

While many advocates have proposed an emissions tax, Dr. Lomborg said a much smaller investment in research and development on such technologies would be more likely to help in the long run.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW C. REVKIN.  "Talks to Start On Climate Amid Split On Warming."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., November 5, 2006):  8. 

 




June 11, 2007

The Safety Net in Europe and the United States

 

SafetyNetGraph.jpg   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

FROM issues of crime and punishment to the proper domain of the spiritual and temporal powers, Americans and Europeans have long cast a skeptical eye at one another across the Atlantic.

Perhaps nowhere has the gaze been more jaundiced than in the area of work. From the perspective of Western Europe, American employers have a relatively free hand to hire and fire, coupled with meager and short-lived unemployment benefits. America’s deregulated labor markets seem to provide hardly any safety net when it comes to economic dislocations of workers.

Americans, by contrast, have found it hard to resist a touch of schadenfreude at the joblessness stoked by European governments’ intervention in labor markets, with rules on everything from wages to layoffs, on top of generous unemployment benefits.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

EDUARDO PORTER.  "Economic View; A Bridge Over the Atlantic, in Labor Policy."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., April 1, 2007):  5.

 




April 6, 2007

Morales Slaughters Snow-White Llama to Celebrate Nationalization of Tin Smelter

   A snow-white llama that has not yet been symbolically sacrificed by Bolivian President Evo Morales.  Source of the photo:  http://www.staff.stir.ac.uk/f.r.wheater/images/25%20Llama%205_8_04.JPG

 

Picture it, in President Evo Morales' Bolivia:  a peaceful, innocent-looking, snow-white llama slaughtered in homage to a barbaric mystical ritual, and in celebration of the slaughter, through nationalization, of private property and economic growth.  And afterwards, one imagines the visitng French brass band played on. 

 

VINTO, Bolivia: The ritual sacrifice of a snow-white llama provided a symbolic completion Friday to President Evo Morales' nationalization of Bolivia's lone operating tin smelter.

Swiss mining giant Glencore International AG owned the plant until last week and has threatened to seek compensation through international arbitration. Morales still says his government will not compensate Glencore for the Feb. 9 nationalization of the Vinto plant, located on a high Andean plain 180 kilometers (110 miles) southeast of the capital of La Paz.

. . .

After the ceremony, Morales hosted plant workers, a troupe of Andean pipers and a visiting French brass band to an outdoor supper of fried chicken and chuno, a traditional Bolivian dish of dehydrated potatoes.

While the nationalization retained all but a handful of smelter employees, workers remained divided over the change in management. Some rushed to greet "Companero Evo" as he toured the plant; others hung back and wondered about the future.

"Anywhere in the world they'll tell you the government can't be a good administrator," said plant employee Oscar Leyton. "But we'll just have to wait and see how they do it. If they screw up here, they'll screw up the whole country."

 

For the full story, see: 

"In Bolivia, llama sacrifice completes Morales' tin smelter nationalization."  International Herald Tribune  February 16, 2007.

(Note:  ellipsis added.) 

 




April 4, 2007

Preventing Creative Destruction Slows Economic Growth

 

GrowthRatesUS-Eur-JapanGraphic.jpg   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

It would be interesting to explore why the gap in growth rates was smaller last year than previously.  Was it a statistical fluke?  Or did the U.S. labor market become somewhat less flexible?  Or maybe the job market in Europe and Japan became somewhat more flexible? 

 

FOR more than a decade, many American economists have pointed to Europe and Japan as prima facie evidence that layoffs in the United States are a good thing. The economies in those countries were not nearly as robust as this country’s. And the reason? Too much job security in Europe and Japan, the economists said.

American employers, in sharp contrast, have operated with much more “flexibility.” Hiring and firing at will, they shift labor from where it is not needed to where it is needed. If Eastman Kodak is struggling to establish itself in digital photography, then Kodak downsizes and labor moves to industries and companies that are thriving — software, for example, or health care, or Wal-Mart Stores or Caterpillar.

This shuffling out of one job and into another shows up in the statistics as nearly full employment. Never mind that the shuffling does not work as efficiently as the description implies or that many of the laid-off workers find themselves earning less in their next jobs, an income roller coaster that is absent in Europe and Japan. A dynamic economy leaves no alternative, or so the reasoning goes among mainstream economists.

“Trying to prevent this creative destruction from happening is a recipe for less economic growth and less productivity,” said Barry Eichengreen, an international economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

LOUIS UCHITELLE.  "ECONOMIC VIEW; Job Security, Too, May Have a Happy Medium."  The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., February 25, 2007):  5.

 




April 1, 2007

Better than Socialism, but Not Free Market Enough: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

     Voters in line to vote for President in Senegal on 2/25/07.   Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

My old Wabash professor Ben Rogge used to say that rulers liked to build pyramids to proclaim their glory.  He mentioned the Egyptian pyramids, and he mentioned the whole government-created capital city of "Brasilia" in Brazil. 

When rulers in a poor country invest a lot of tax money in infrastructure, such as roads, how much of that is due to their belief in mistaken economic theories, and how much to their wanting to build their own version of the pyramids? 

In either case, at least it can be said that the people probably benefit more from their taxes being used to build roads, than from their taxes being used to build pyramids.  At least the roads can be complementary to transporting goods, and to the mobility of labor. 

But the people would benefit even more if they could keep the tax money to use for their own purposes.

 

(p. A3) DAKAR, Senegal, Feb. 25 — Moudou Gueye was confident that Senegal’s presidential election on Sunday would turn around his fortunes, at least in the short term.

Seven years ago he voted for Abdoulaye Wade, a rabble-rousing professor who, after decades in opposition to Socialist Party rule, sailed into office buoyed by the votes of frustrated young people like Mr. Gueye, who is now 32. They hoped that Mr. Wade, a free-market liberal, would transform this impoverished nation’s economy, which had been stunted by generations of ineffective central planning.

. . .

. . .   Senegal has had relatively robust economic growth that has hovered at around 5 percent over several years (it was lower last year, owing in part to high fuel prices, according to government officials), compared with the 1 percent achieved during much of the Socialist era, and dozens of huge public works projects.

While in some ways the country is better off, economic growth and a building binge have not produced large numbers of jobs in a country struggling to make the transition from an agrarian society based largely on peanut farming to one that harnesses the wealth of a global economy.

. . .

Countering criticism that Mr. Wade is too old to serve another term — his official age is given as 80, but many people suspect he is older — his daughter, Sindiély, who has worked as a special assistant to the president, said he was as sharp and agile as ever.

“It is not a question of age,” Ms. Wade said as she waited to cast her vote in downtown Dakar. “It is a question of dynamism and ideas and what you have planned for your country.”

Along Dakar’s seaside roadway, young men marveled at the cars whizzing below a brand-new overpass, one of Mr. Wade’s long-anticipated public works projects.

Pap Ndiaye, an 18-year-old street vendor who sells baby clothes to people stalled in traffic, said the newly completed road was a sign that the country was moving in the right direction.

“Wade has done a lot for this country,” Mr. Ndiaye said. “Our hope is that he will stay and finish his work.”

Less than a mile away, the road abruptly ends with a bright yellow sign that says “déviation,” or detour. With a hard turn to the right, drivers pour off the broad new highway, and back into the tangled, chaotic streets of one of Dakar’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods.

 

For the full story, see: 

LYDIA POLGREEN.  "Senegalese Vote Hinges on Views of Economic Growth."  The New York Times  (Mon., February 26, 2007):  A3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




March 24, 2007

Mugabe Eats Cake As He Ruins Zimbabwe Economy: More on Why Africa is Poor

   Tyrant Mugabe eats cake while his slaves starve.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

JOHANNESBURG, Feb. 21 — President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe turned 83 on Wednesday to the strains of the song “God Bless President Mugabe” on state-controlled radio, along with an interview on state television, a 16-page paean to his rule in Harare’s daily newspaper and the prospect of a grand birthday party — costly enough to feed thousands of people for months, his critics argued — on Saturday.

Zimbabwe’s economy is so dire that bread vanished from store shelves across the country on Wednesday after bakeries shut down, saying government price controls were requiring them to sell loaves at a loss. The price controls are supposed to shield consumers from the nation’s rampant inflation, which now averages nearly 1,600 percent annually.

. . .

On Wednesday, The Herald, the state-managed newspaper, included in 16 pages of tributes to Mr. Mugabe an editorial calling him “an unparalleled visionary” and “an international hero among the oppressed and poor.”

. . .

“The guy is insensitive,” John Shiri, 41, a teacher at a primary school, told a local journalist. “There is no bread as we are talking, but he will be feasting and drinking with his family and hangers-on when there is no wheat in the country.”

. . .

Tawanda Mujuru, who runs a vegetable stall on Samora Machel Avenue in downtown Harare, said that she would be working in a factory if not for the failure of Mr. Mugabe’s economic policies.

“He has the guts to eat and drink when we are suffering like this,” she said. “Let him enjoy. Every dog has his day. We shall have our day.”

 

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL WINES.  "Mugabe Gets Ready to Eat Cake While Fellow Zimbabweans Can’t Find Bread on Shelves."  The New York Times  (Thurs., February 22, 2007):  A6.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 




March 17, 2007

Zimbabwe Official Says People Eat Field Mice as a "Delicacy": More on Why Africa is Poor


   Screen capture from CNN report "A Ruined Land," broadcast on December 19, 2006.

 

(CNN) -- Twelve-year-old Beatrice returns from the fields with small animals she's caught for dinner.

Her mother, Elizabeth, prepares the meat and cooks it on a grill made of three stones supporting a wood fire. It's just enough food, she says, to feed her starving family of six.

Tonight, they dine on rats.

"Look what we've been reduced to eating?" she said. "How can my children eat rats in a country that used to export food? This is a tragedy."   . . . 

This is a story about how Zimbabwe, once dubbed southern Africa's bread basket, has in six short years become a basket case. It is about a country that once exported surplus food now apparently falling apart, with many residents scrounging for rodents to survive.

According to the CIA fact book, which profiles the countries of the world, the Zimbabwean economy is crashing -- inflation was at least 585 percent by the end of 2005 -- and the nation now must import food.

Zimbabwe's ambassador to United States, Machivenyika Mapuranga, told CNN on Tuesday that reports of people eating rats unfairly represented the situation, adding that at times while he grew up his family ate rodents.

"The eating of the field mice -- Zimbabweans do that. It is a delicacy," he said. "It is misleading to portray the eating of field mice as an act of desperation. It is not."

 

For the full story, see: 

Jeff Koinange.  "Living off rats to survive in Zimbabwe."  CNN  POSTED: 3:40 p.m. EST, December 19, 2006.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

RatsZimbabweDelicacy.jpg   Rats for dinner in Zimbabwe.  Source:  online CNN article cited above.

 




February 28, 2007

Listen to Ralph Raico on the Industrial Revolution

RaicoRalph.gif   Historian and libertarian Ralph Raico.  Source of photo:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Raico

 

If you're looking for a wise, witty, erudite, and thought-provoking discussion of a variety of historical issues from a broadly libertarian perspective, then Ralph Raico is your man.  (The flavor of libertarianism is neo-Austrian, but not dogmatically so.)

Several of his lectures can be purchased on CD or cassette from the Ludwig von Mises Institute.  Or you can listen to streaming versions on your computer for free. 

I particularly like his lecture on "The Industrial Revolution" in which he persuasively argues that ordinary people benefited from the Industrial Revolution, and that the benefit would have been clearer sooner, had it not been for the coincidental costs being imposed on ordinary people by the Napoleonic wars and by the corn laws.    

The link for the free streaming version of the lecture is: 

http://www.mises.org/media.aspx

 




February 3, 2007

To Help Poor: "Allow Entrepreneurs to Flourish"

 

Of the three "views" discussed in Wessel's original commentary, the following excerpt just includes the one that I share:

 

With the billions of dollars they are spending, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Bill Clinton and Bono are likely to make progress in their quest to prevent treatable diseases from killing millions of people.  Nearly all of these people live or will live in poor countries.

That worries economist Simon Johnson.  He doesn't doubt the moral imperative to fight disease.  Still, he wonders:  "Do we really know how to help the poor people -- the increasing number of poor people?  Do we really know how to help them out of poverty?"

Such questions haunt academics, governments, international institutions and global do-gooders.  They are impressed with China's rapid modernization, though puzzled that it has done so well without following standard precepts.  They are disappointed and puzzled that Latin America nations haven't done better, especially because so many did take the advice of the experts.  They are depressed and puzzled by the continued widespread misery in Africa.

With intellectual humility, Mr. Johnson, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, faced a roomful of peers at the annual meeting of the American Economics Association last weekend and said, "Public health had the germ theory of disease.  Economics has made great progress, but it's still waiting for its 'germ theory of disease.'"  That probably overstates the challenges remaining to public-health warriors -- avian flu, AIDS/HIV, malaria and all -- but not the shortcomings of economic understanding of what poor countries should do to achieve sustained growth.

. . .

A third view is that earlier economists focused on the wrong thing.  Mr. Johnson, among others, argues that what really matters is having solid political, legal and economic institutions -- courts, central banks, honest bureaucrats, private-property rights -- that allow entrepreneurs to flourish.  Imposing what seem to be sound economic policies on corrupt, incompetent or myopic governments is doomed.  Building strong institutions is a necessary prerequisite.  In this camp, there is a running side argument about which comes first:  the institutions or the educated people who create them.  Was the Constitution key to U.S. success, or was it Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton?

 

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID WESSEL.  "CAPITAL; Why Economists Are Still Grasping For Cure to Global Poverty."  The Wall Streeet Journal  (Thurs.,  January 11, 2007):  A7.

 




January 23, 2007

International Trade Helps Poor African Cotton Farmer

   Left photo shows Dennis Okelo in the grocery store that he opened with savings from growing cotton, and selling it to Dunavant.  Right photo shows a Dunavant cotton gin in Zambia.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. 1)  WHERE is he?” the old woman asks. “Where is he?”

Finding Dennis Okelo used to be easy. The old woman — and most other people in a village outside of Lira, the provincial capital of northern Uganda — went directly to Mr. Okelo’s fields. He was always in one of his “gardens,” with his slacks rolled up above his calves and a short hoe close by. Or he was seated outside of his mud-brick house under a banana tree.

Then cotton growing revived in Uganda, and Dunavant Enterprises came to town about five years ago, paying cash on delivery. After three seasons of growing cotton for Dunavant, the world’s largest privately owned cotton broker and one of the biggest family-owned agribusinesses in the United States, Mr. Okelo, who owns less than three acres and has two wives and a passel of children, had saved $300, about double his annual earnings before Dunavant started buying his cotton.

Last summer, Mr. Okelo opened a grocery store, which is where the old woman finally found him: smiling, standing behind the wooden plank that serves as his service counter in a shop the size of a utility shed. The grocery, one of two in the village, carries dried foods, cooking oil, matches, cosmetics, batteries and candy.

“Before Dunavant, no one came to help us,” says Mr. Okelo, 40, who has farmed a variety of crops in these parts for about 20 years.

. . .

(p. 7)  IN his small shop, Mr. Okelo knows nothing of global developments in the cotton trade even though he is a direct beneficiary of them. He started farming during the lean years in Uganda, after the ouster of the country’s notorious dictator, Idi Amin, when the cultivation of cotton lagged so badly that production nearly ceased and farmers treated the crop like a weed.

A few years ago, as Uganda’s production began to revive, Dunavant’s trainers taught Mr. Okelo to grow cotton in straight rows and to use a string to measure precisely the distance between rows, to maximize plantings. Mr. Okelo’s new methods are basic, but in a part of Africa where farmers work the land chiefly with a hoe — and tractors, fertilizer and pesticides are rarities — even basic improvements can lead to large gains in production.

“Cotton is the crop that gives farmers the best money,” Mr. Okelo said. “I want Dunavant to be even closer to me.”

 

For the full story, see: 

G. PASCAL ZACHARY. Out of Africa: Cotton and Cash." The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., January 14, 2007): 1 & 7.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

 DunvanantWilliamCottonEntrepreur.jpg   William B. Dunavant, Jr.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




January 21, 2007

Barney Frank on Schumpeter's "Great Concept"

FrankBarney.jpg   Barney Frank. Source of photo: http://www.house.gov/frank/welcome.html

 

Policy-makers are often enthused by the innovation unleashed by Schumpeter's process of creative destruction, but draw back out of fear of the destruction of jobs.  In the passage below, Barney Frank expresses that fear.

I think that there are answers to the fear.  More and better jobs are created, than destroyed; workers can invest in general skills that do not depreciate, and retool the specific skills that do depreciate; and conscientious workers suffer from lack of recognition and upward mobility, when creative destruction is stiffled.  The pain is less than usually thought, and the gain is greater. 

 

One of the consequences of this separation between economic growth and the well-being of the great majority of citizens is that an increasing number of citizens don't care about economic growth.  Not surprising.  Not only do they not benefit, but in many cases they get the short-term disruptive effects.

I mean, there was a great concept from Joseph Schumpeter of creative destruction in which, as the old economic order is destroyed, resources are freed up for the new order.

Well, increasingly, we have people who see the destruction in their own lives, but don't see that they're going to be part of the new creation.

 

Source:

Transcript of remarks delivered at the National Press Club on "Wages" by Democratic Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, on January 3, 2007.

 




December 6, 2006

Jeffrey Sachs "Has Apparently Spent More Time Studying the Economic Thinking of Salma Hayek than that of Friedrich"


  Salma Hayek.  Source of image: http://www.imdb.com/gallery/granitz/0273-spe/Events/0273-spe/hayek_sa.lma?path=pgallery&path_key=Hayek,%20Salma

 

(p. A18) Scientific American, in its November 2006 issue, reaches a "scientific judgment" that the great Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek "was wrong" about free markets and prosperity in his classic, "The Road to Serfdom."  The natural scientists' favorite economist -- Prof. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University -- announces this new scientific breakthrough in a column, saying "the evidence is now in."  To dispel any remaining doubts, Mr. Sachs clarifies that anyone who disagrees with him "is clouded by vested interests and by ideology."

This sounds like one of those moments in which the zeitgeist of mass confusion about national poverty, world poverty and prosperity comes together in one mad tragicomic brew.

. . .  

Mr. Sachs, who is currently best known for his star-driven campaign to end world poverty, has apparently spent more time studying the economic thinking of Salma Hayek than that of Friedrich. 

. . .

Mr. Sachs's empirical analysis purports to show that Nordic welfare states are outperforming those states that follow the "English-speaking" tradition of laissez-faire, like the U.K. or the U.S. Poverty rates are indeed lower in the Nordic countries, although the skeptical reader (probably an ideologue) might wonder if the poverty outcome in, say, the U.S., with its tortured history of a black underclass and its de facto openness to impoverished but upwardly mobile immigrants, is really comparable to that of Nordic countries.

Then there is the big picture, where those laissez-faire Anglophones in, first, the U.K. and, then, the U.S., just happened to have been the leaders of the ongoing global industrial revolution that abolished far more poverty over the past two centuries than a few modest Scandinavian redistribution schemes.  Mr. Sachs apparently thinks the industrial revolution was led by IKEA.  Lastly, let's hear from the Nordics themselves, who have been busily moving away from the social welfare state back toward laissez-faire.  According to the English-speaking ideologues that composed the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, Denmark, Finland and Sweden were all included in the 20 countries classified as "free" in 2006 (with Denmark actually ranked ahead of the U.S.).  Only Norway missed the cut -- barely.

Mr. Sachs is wrong that Hayek was wrong.  In his own global antipoverty work, he is unintentionally demonstrating why more scientists, Hollywood actors and the rest of us should go back and read "The Road to Serfdom" if we want to know what will not work to achieve "The End of Poverty."  Hayek gave the best exposition ever of the unpopular ideas of economic freedom that somehow triumph anyway, alleviating far more national and global poverty than more fashionable Scandinavia-envy and grandiose plans to "make poverty history."

 

For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY.  "Dismal Science."  Wall Street Journal  (Weds., November 15, 2006):  A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 

Hayek's courageous masterpiece is:

Hayek, Friedrich A. Von. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1944.

 

Easterly's great book on how to encourage economic development in poor countries, is:

Easterly, William. The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002.





November 30, 2006

Copenhagen Consensus: Money Spent on Global Warming Would Do More Good Elsewhere


(p. A12) The report on climate change by Nicholas Stern and the U.K. government has sparked publicity and scary headlines around the world.  Much attention has been devoted to Mr. Stern's core argument that the price of inaction would be extraordinary and the cost of action modest.

Unfortunately, this claim falls apart when one actually reads the 700-page tome.  Despite using many good references, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is selective and its conclusion flawed.  Its fear-mongering arguments have been sensationalized, which is ultimately only likely to make the world worse off. 

. . .  

Mr. Stern is also selective, often seeming to cherry-pick statistics to fit an argument.  This is demonstrated most clearly in the review's examination of the social damage costs of CO2 -- essentially the environmental cost of emitting each extra ton of CO2.  The most well-recognized climate economist in the world is probably Yale University's William Nordhaus, whose "approach is perhaps closest in spirit to ours," according to the Stern review.  Mr. Nordhaus finds that the social cost of CO2 is $2.50 per ton.  Mr. Stern, however, uses a figure of $85 per ton.  Picking a rate even higher than the official U.K. estimates -- that have themselves been criticized for being over the top -- speaks volumes.

. . .  

Last weekend in New York, I asked 24 U.N. ambassadors -- from nations including China, India and the U.S. -- to prioritize the best solutions for the world's greatest challenges, in a project known as Copenhagen Consensus.  They looked at what spending money to combat climate change and other major problems could achieve.  They found that the world should prioritize the need for better health, nutrition, water, sanitation and education, long before we turn our attention to the costly mitigation of global warning.

We all want a better world.  But we must not let ourselves be swept up in making a bad investment, simply because we have been scared by sensationalist headlines.

 

For the full story, see: 

BJORN LOMBORG.  "Stern Review."  Wall Street Journal (Thurs., November 2, 2006):  A12.

(Note:  the ellipses are added.)

 




November 28, 2006

Is Variety Good?

Chris Anderson has a stimulating and useful chapter in The Long Tail on why having variety and choice is good.

Not all agree.  My old Wabash economics professor, Ben Rogge, with wry amusement, used to refer us to Alvin Toffler's Future Shock.  Toffler's view was that choice was stressful---visualize the Robin Williams' Russian émigré character in "Moscow on the Hudson," when he collapses in panic on not knowing how to choose amongst the variety of coffees in the Manhattan supermarket aisle.

What amused Rogge was the contrast between the old critics of capitalism, who criticized capitalism for providing too few goods for the proletariat, and the new critics, like Toffler, who criticized capitalism for providing too many goods for the proletariat. 

Although Toffler has recanted his earlier views, others, such as Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice, have picked up the anti-choice banner.

Here's my current two cents worth.  Sometimes we value variety for its own sake, and sometimes not.  I may find the variety of ethnic restaurants exciting, but not the variety of music on I-tunes.

But even when I don't value variety for its own sake, I still may value it because it increases the odds that the product I can find matches the product I want.  Let me explain.

In the language of Clayton Christensen and co-author Raynor, in The Innovator's Solution, generally what I want is a good that does well, a "job" that I want or need to get done.

Some critics of mass production descried the loss of the variety of products produced by pre-industrial craftsmen.  But what good did it do the peasants that no two chairs were quite alike, if all of them were too hard and misshapen for the job of comfortably sitting in them?

Mass production reduced variety, but increased quality, in the sense of bringing (cheaply) to market, products that were far better at doing the jobs that most people wanted/needed to get done. 

If the modern varieties of chairs are a response to differences in the jobs that different consumers need to get done, then I might generally, and accurately, presume that variety is usually good, not because I want to constantly sample a lot of different chairs (like I want to sample a lot of different ethnic foods), but rather because variety increases the odds that I will find the one or two particular chairs that allow me to do the job that I want a chair to do for me.  

Specifically, recently, we were looking for a chair that was firm, spill-resistant, would swivel to allow talking to someone in the kitchen, would recline for watching television, would be dog-chew resistant, and would have a color/fabric complementary to the rest of the furniture.  We shopped at Nebraska Furniture Mart, which is the largest furniture store in the U.S., with the greatest selection, because we hoped to find the one chair that would do all of these jobs.

We came close, but I wish there was a store with even greater selection.

   




November 25, 2006

Does Focus on Scarcity, Blind Us to Abundance?

Chris Anderson ends chapter 8 of his stimulating The Long Tale, with a provocative jab at economists:

(p. 146)  Finally, it's worth noting that economics, for all its charms, doesn't have the answer to everything.  Many phenomena are simply left to other disciplines, from psychology to physics, or left without an academic theory at all.  Abundance, like growth itself, is a force that is changing our world in ways that we experience every day, whether we have an equation to describe it or not.

 

The reference to Anderson's book, is:

Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail. New York: Hyperion, 2006.




November 9, 2006

African Entrepreneur Funds Prize for African Leaders Who Resist Kleptocracy

IbrahimMo.jpg  Billionaire entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

At a news conference in London on Thursday, Mo Ibrahim, a 60-year-old Sudanese-born billionaire who made his money in the cellphone business, announced that he was offering a $5 million prize for the sub-Saharan African president who on leaving office has demonstrated the greatest commitment to democracy and good governance.  The money will be spread out over 10 years.

“We must face the reality,” Mr. Ibrahim said, referring to Africa’s leadership record.  “Everything starts by admitting the truth:  we failed.  I’m not proud at all.  I’m ashamed.  We really need to resolve the problem and the problem, in our view, is bad leadership and bad governance.”

. . .

Unlike many projects that aim to help famine-stricken villages or far-flung AIDS clinics, this one is supposed to focus on political leadership — and the post-independence culture of autocrats and kleptocrats that spawned such figures as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire or Idi Amin of Uganda.

. . .

Africa’s culture of the Big Man clinging to office was built in part, Mr. Ibrahim said, on a sense among many of its leaders that, if they relinquished power voluntarily, they would face penury and powerlessness and would no longer be the font of patronage or the tenant of what he called “the hilltop palace.”

“We want them to have a life after office,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

“Your leaders here become rich after they leave office,” he said, referring to the directorships, book deals and lecture circuit tours that accrue to Western leaders.  “What life is there for our people after office?  Some of our leaders cannot even afford to rent an apartment” in their own capitals, he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

ALAN COWELL  "Prize to Honor Heroes in African Democracy."  The New York Times  (Fri., October 27, 2006):  A11.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




November 5, 2006

Closing the Alleged 'Digital Divide'

 One version of the laptops produced by One Laptop Per Child for roughly $100 a piece.  Source of image:  http://www.laptop.org/OLPC_files/nigeria.jpg

 

Simply giving each child a laptop, won't much improve their standard of living.  (See Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth.)  But maybe a few of the children will obtain access to information about what is possible in the outside world, and maybe that will lead them to fight for more freedom?

But at least, if they remain poor, it will not be possible to lay the blame on some sort of 'digital divide.'  Lay the blame, instead on government economic planning. 

Note the aside buried in the article:  'competitive advantage' economist Michael Porter is telling the Libyans how to develop a "national economic plan"??  (Say it ain't so, Michael!)

 

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 10 — The government of Libya reached an agreement on Tuesday with One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit United States group developing an inexpensive, educational laptop computer, with the goal of supplying machines to all 1.2 million Libyan schoolchildren by June 2008.

The project, which is intended to supply computers broadly to children in developing nations, was conceived in 2005 by a computer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nicholas Negroponte.  His goal is to design a wireless-connected laptop that will cost about $100 after the machines go into mass production next year.

. . .

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman, suggested that the next generation of cellphones might be a better way to reach across the so-called digital divide.

Mr. Negroponte said Microsoft refused to sell its Windows software to the project at a price that would make it possible to include in his system.  As a result, his laptops will come with the freely available Linux operating system, which is becoming increasingly popular in the developing world.

The idea of a laptop for every schoolchild grew out of Mr. Negroponte’s experience in giving children Internet-connected laptops in rural Cambodia.  He said the first English word out of the mouths of the Cambodian students was “Google.”

Discussions between the One Laptop project and the Libyan government began as part of work being done by the Monitor Group, an international consulting firm co-founded by the economist Michael E. Porter.  It is now helping the Libyans develop a national economic plan.

. . .  

The first test models will be distributed to the five participating countries companies at the end of this November, according to Mr. Negroponte, and mass production is planned for June or July of 2007.

The computers come with a wireless connection, a built-in video camera, an eight-hour battery and a hand crank for recharging batteries.  They will initially be priced below $150, and the price is expected to decline when they are manufactured in large numbers.

 

For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF.  "U.S. Group Reaches Deal to Provide Laptops to All Libyan Schoolchildren."  The New York Times  (Weds., October 11, 2006):  A14.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

  MIT's Nicholas Negroponte.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited above.



November 1, 2006

Mellon Allowed Great Innovation By Restraining Intrusive Government


(p. W4) Though scarcely known today, Andrew W. Mellon was a colossus in late 19th-century and early 20th-century America.  He would come to play a major role in the management of the American economy, but first he built one of the country's great fortunes, one that would rank him today with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.  He is now the subject of a comprehensive, if slightly grudging, biography by David Cannadine, the distinguished British historian.

Mellon is not associated with any single industry, in the way that Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller are.  He was a venture and equity-fund capitalist, one of the first to function on a major scale.  He and his younger brother, Dick, took over their father's Pittsburgh-based investment and coal-mining business and expanded it into many fields, including copper, oil,  petrochemicals and aluminum (Alcoa).

No banker was as gimlet-eyed; Mr. Cannadine shows Mellon shrewdly and coldly calculating every investment prospect.  Yet few venture capitalists were as daring.  In the 1890s, when Rockefeller was ruthlessly monopolizing the petroleum industry, Mellon didn't flinch from setting up a competing refinery.  When Mellon finally sold out to Rockefeller, he did so at a considerable profit.  Several years later he came back to oil and eventually built Gulf into an industry giant.

Original Supply-Sider

But Mellon was more than an entrepreneurial industrialist.  In his mid-60s he became a famous -- and infamous -- public servant, performing as Treasury secretary under three presidents, from 1921 to 1932.  He was the original supply-sider, pushing tax cuts under Presidents Harding and Coolidge.  He argued that the high tax rates left over from World War I were depressing economic activity; that lower rates would turn the economy around; that high-income earners would end up paying more and that low-income earners would be removed from the tax roles entirely.

His program was a fantastic success.  The top rate was cut to 25% from 77%.  The rich did indeed pay more, while low- and middle-income earners saw their tax bills shrink to nothing or next to nothing.  The economy boomed.  The U.S. outstripped more heavily taxed nations, such as Britain and France.  Mellon also pushed painstakingly for the creation of an international monetary system to replace the one shattered by World War I.  The big challenge was huge Allied war debts to the U.S. and onerous German reparations.  Mellon negotiated the easiest terms that were politically possible so that trade and economies could revive.

We sometimes forget just how dynamic the 1920s were in America.  The automobile became a commonplace item for working Americans; labor-saving devices, such as the washing machine, grew ever more common as well; movies and radio provided mass entertainment as never before (an experimental television broadcast was carried out in 1927); and stock ownership widened to include more members of the middle class.

It was a time of great innovation and inventiveness, and in a sense Mellon presided over it all by allowing it to happen without intrusive government policies.

 

For the full review, see:

STEVE FORBES.  "BOOKS; The Man Who Made the Twenties Roar."  The Wall Street Journal    (Fri., October 6, 2006):  W4.

 

Reference for the book:

David Cannadine.  MELLON.  Knopf, 2006.  779 pages, $35

 

 MellonBK.jpg  Source of book image:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




October 30, 2006

Italy Suffers from a "Growing Spirit of Cynicism and Escapism"

  Source of book image:  http://ec3.images-amazon.com/images/P/0767914392.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V57219494_.jpg

 

As anyone can attest who has lived in Italy even briefly, its domestic life can be gracious and sweet.  The question is whether this way of life can survive the many urgent challenges enumerated by Mr. Severgnini:  an abysmal fertility rate, crushing pension obligations, marginal economic growth, a sclerotic legal system, the flight abroad of the most creative young minds, and a growing spirit of cynicism and escapism.

 

For the full review, see:

FRANCIS X. ROCCA.  "BOOKS; An Italian Challenge; Keeping la dolce vita as modernity spreads."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., September 9, 2006):  P8.

 

The reference to the book:

Beppe Severgnini.  La Bella Figura. Broadway, 2006.  217 pages, $23.95.




October 28, 2006

Entrepreneur Makes Risky, Massive Infrastructure Bet

  A Louisiana site where Cheniere is building a terminal for liquified natural gas.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

Charif Souki is making a risky business decision.  If he is wrong, he and his investors will lose much. If he is right, consumers will be better off, having a larger supply of liquified natural gas (LNG).  And if he is right, he should be allowed to make a lot of money, both because that is just, and because it is useful for those who have bet right in the past, to have ample means to bet right in the future.   

(p. C1)  CAMERON PARISH, La. — The Sabine River channel, where alligators and speckled trout live alongside petrochemical plants and oil refineries, has suddenly become the center of a quiet revolution in the world of natural gas.

And it is mainly at the prodding of a little-known company called Cheniere Energy, with help from Exxon Mobil and Sempra Energy.  Together they have overcome formidable regulatory hurdles to build three new liquefied natural gas terminals on the channel that will double the nation’s capacity to import natural gas by 2011.

It has been 24 years since anyone on American shores has built a new liquefied natural gas terminal.  Two of the country’s four existing onshore terminals, which dock tankers the size of aircraft carriers ferrying supercooled gas from places like Qatar and Trinidad, were mothballed for years because production at home was plentiful and prices were low.

As recently as five years ago almost nobody in the energy world thought it possible to make money from a new American terminal project — with price tags that start at $600 million — let alone get a federal permit.

One lonely believer was Charif Souki, a Lebanese immigrant entrepreneur who had previously raised (p. C4) money for real estate in Paris and hotels in Hawaii before becoming chairman of Cheniere, a floundering gas exploration company.  Not even the 9/11 attacks, which made many people on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts view liquefied natural gas terminals as potential terrorist targets, diverted him from his vision.

Now, even as natural gas prices sag, along with his company’s stock price, and the word glut is on the tip of the tongue among the drilling crowd, Mr. Souki says he is fixed on the longer view.

He is convinced the nation will need to import more gas because North American production is declining.  That is the same view Mr. Souki held six years ago, when he decided to shake up the company’s business plan.  He defiantly changed its stock symbol to LNG in 2003, and devoted himself to scoping out the country’s coastlines for potential terminal sites.

The already energy-intensive shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico, he concluded, made the most sense, economically and politically, and he started buying real estate in uninhabited harbors close to existing pipelines and gas-thirsty refineries and petrochemical plants.

“People were actually amused that we would be thinking about importing natural gas,” dryly giggled Mr. Souki, 53, a man with a taste for double-breasted suits.  “Nobody took us very seriously.”

Cheniere was so unprofitable and utterly spurned by investors in 2002 that Mr. Souki had to borrow $30,000 from his company’s president just to meet a payroll.  But over the last four years, Mr. Souki has managed to arrange financing, sign up long-term buyers and master the regulatory process. 

 

For the full story, see:

CLIFFORD KRAUSS.  "A Big Bet on Natural Gas."  The New York Times  (Weds., October 4, 2006):  C1 and C4.

GasTerminalLousianaMap.gif    The map shows the area in which the terminal is being built.  The bottom photo shows a Louisiana site where Cheniere is building a terminal for liquified natural gas.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited above.




October 26, 2006

Equatorial Guinea's Kleptocracy: More on Why Africa is Poor

KristofNick.jpg  Nicholas D. Kristof.  Source of image:  online verison of the NYT commentary cited below.

 

The founding president of this country was a witch doctor who murdered tens of thousands, put enemies’ heads on pikes, denounced education and spread land mines on the road out of his country to prevent people from fleeing.  This was then so vile a place that an American diplomat stabbed another to death here in 1971 and claimed in his trial that he had been driven insane partly by the screams of all the people being tortured.

When the president was finally ousted in 1979, he ran off into the bush with $60 million packed in suitcases.  But he was pursued, and in a shootout, the nation’s entire foreign exchange reserves burned up.

. . .

Equatorial Guinea traditionally has been Africa’s poster boy for bad governance.  Even after the old witch doctor was ousted, the kleptocracy continued under Teodoro Obiang, the current president.  A new book about the country, “The Wonga Coup,” notes that in 2004 President Obiang bought a Boeing 737, one of six personal planes, for $55 million, and outfitted it with a king-sized bed and gold-plated fittings in the extra-large bathroom.

Schools and clinics are needy, but Forbes lists President Obiang as the world’s eighth richest ruler, with a net worth of $600 million.  Just last year, “The Wonga Coup” says, the president’s son spent the equivalent of a third of his country’s entire education budget on a vacation home in South Africa and three cars — two Bentleys and a Lamborghini.

 

For the full commentary, see:

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF.  "Optimism and Africa."  The New York Times  (Tues., October 3, 2006):  A27.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The book mentioned in the commentary is: 

Roberts, Adam.  The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa.  PublicAffairs, 2006.

 

    Source of book image:  http://images.amazon.com/images/P/1586483714.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V65100719_.jpg



October 22, 2006

Indian Infrastructure: "If the Public Sector Cannot Deliver, Let's Try the Private Sector"

BANGALORE, India, Oct. 2 — About 25 miles south of the Chennai airport, past rows of ramshackle shops and pavements crowded with roadside vendors and assorted cattle, a short turnoff leads to a gated modern oasis.

Inside, at complete variance with the chaos of its surroundings, are the lakes, promenades, lush landscaping and security systems of Mahindra World City.  Its modern office high rises already house 4,000 workers with space for several thousand more.

This is the first of India’s special economic zones, or S.E.Z.’s, which could offer a partial solution to the extreme weaknesses in India’s infrastructure:  narrow, pothole-filled roads; erratic supplies of electricity and other utility services; and inadequate communication links.

The zone strategy borrows from China’s playbook, and in many ways, is a means to compete with China.  In fact, if all goes according to government plan, hundreds of these privately run zones will sprout like miniature foreign islands, offering better infrastructure and jobs, increasing exports and attracting investment from foreigners.

 

For the full story, see: 

SARITHA RAI.  "Oases of Modernity Amid India’ s Desert of Public Services."  The New York Times  (Tues., October 3, 2006):  C5.




October 21, 2006

In Egypt: The Authorities Versus the Entrepreneur


  Cairo entrepreneur serves good food to willing customers.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


In The Other Path, Hernando de Soto wrote about how governments in much of the world make it nearly impossible for the poor to legally get a start as entrepreneurs.  Here is a perfect example of de Soto's point:


CAIRO, Oct. 2 — With his cart tucked beneath a highway overpass, just beside the railroad tracks and behind a parked taxi, Farouk Salem darted his eyes back and forth nervously as he awaited customers.

On most days, except during Ramadan, the sun has barely risen and worshipers are shuffling out of the nearby mosque after morning prayers as the first customers make their way to Mr. Salem.  A few quick flicks of a ladle, the shaking of a bottle or two, and breakfast is ready.

Mr. Salem sells ful, the fava bean stew that is a staple of Egyptian cuisine, as a cheap, hearty breakfast for just 20 cents.  But he is an unlicensed street vendor, one of the many hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who make their living in what economists here describe as Egypt’s informal work force:  selling, delivering, cooking, cleaning, serving, ferrying, shoeshining, anything that will provide income.

Dr. Rashad Abdou, a professor of economics at Cairo University, estimated that the informal sector might account for as much as 60 percent of Egypt’s economy.

“As long as I keep a low profile, they don’t bother me,” Mr. Salem said on a recent day, as his brother worked behind the parked metal cart, dishing out bowls of ful.  The police have forced him to move many times and have even confiscated his cart.  But it is hard to keep a really low profile when the food is good and the prices are cheap.

As the sun began to heat up the morning air, customers showed up in a steady stream, some still in their pajamas.

“It’s good,” said Muhammad Abbadi.  “It’s clean.  And the most important thing is it’s cheap.  We are poor.  You see how poor we are in Egypt.”

. . .

“If the authorities want to chase me away, they will do it,” he says, his face tight and nervous.  “If they want to put me in prison, they can.  If they want to take my cart away, they can.”

He walked over to get some more bread as Muhammad kept ladling.

 

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL SLACKMAN.  "CAIRO JOURNAL; A Hand on the Ladle, and an Eye Out for the Law."  The New York Times (Tues., October 3, 2006):  A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

 

CairoFulFavaBeanStew.jpg  Ful is a fava bean stew that is popular in Cairo.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

The reference to the de Soto book is: 

Soto, Hernando de. The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World. 1st ed: HarperCollins, 1989.

 




October 14, 2006

R&D Stats Better; But Still Omit a Lot of Innovation

GDPgrowthWithR&Dgraph.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

Note well Romer's caveat below that, although we may be measuring better, we are still not measuring Schumpeterian innovations (such as the Wal-Mart innovations that are vastly increasing the efficiency of retailing).

 

That research and development makes an important contribution to U.S. economic growth has long been obvious.  But in an important advance, the nation's economic scorekeepers declared they can now measure that contribution and found that it is increasing.

. . .

Since the 1950s, economists have explained economic output as the result of measurable inputs.  Any increase in output that can't be explained by capital and labor is called "multifactor productivity" or "the Solow residual," after Robert Solow, the Nobel Prize-winning economist considered the father of modern growth theory.

From 1959 to 2002, this factor accounted for about 20% of U.S. growth.  From 1995 to 2002, when productivity growth accelerated sharply, that grew to about 33%.  Accounting for R&D would explain about one-fifth, by some measures, of the productivity mystery.  It suggests companies have been investing more than the official data had previously shown -- a good omen for future economic growth.  "The slump in investment is not as drastic as people thought before they saw these figures," says Dale Jorgenson, professor of economics at Harvard University.

Mr. Jorgenson noted a lot of the multifactor productivity growth remains unexplained.  "The great mystery of growth . . . is not eliminated."

Paul Romer, an economics professor at Stanford Business School, said the better the measurements of R&D become, the more economists and policy makers will realize other factors may be more important.  "If you look at why we had rapid productivity growth in big-box retailing, there were lots of intangibles and ideas that . . . don't get recorded as R&D."

 

For the full story, see:

GREG IP and MARK WHITEHOUSE.  "Why Economists Track Firms' R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., September 29, 2006):  A2.

(Note:  The slightly different online version of the title is:  "Why Economists Track Firms' R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth.")

(Note:  ellipses in Jorgenson and Romer quotes, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

 




October 13, 2006

Hernando de Soto Creates Buzz in Clinton Hallways

DeSotoClinton.jpg  Hernando de Soto and Bill Clinton at the second annual Clinton Global Initiative.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

. . . the buzz in the hallways centered on a topic that until recently most philanthropists all but ignored:  registering poor people's property so they could borrow against it to build businesses, pay taxes or for other purposes.  Many citizens of developing countries don't formally have title to their land, and many economists -- including Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, another conference attendee -- see this as a key source of urban poverty.  According to Mr. de Soto's research, the value of unregistered land in developing countries totals over $9 trillion.  Mr. Clinton told the audience that these assets "cannot be converted into collateral for loans -- wealth locked-up and locked-down -- keeping people in grinding poverty instead of being an asset that can lift them up."  Up to 85% of urban land parcels in the developing world are unregistered, Mr. Clinton said, citing Mr. de Soto's research.

But standing in the way of widespread land-ownership records are insufficient legal frameworks, confusing procedures and corrupt property registries.  And establishing land ownership is all but impossible in communist and socialist countries, where property usually is owned by the state, said John Bryant, chief executive of Operation Hope, a nonprofit in Los Angeles that provides financial services to the poor.

 

For the full article, see: 

SALLY BEATTY. "GIVING BACK; Helping the Poor Register Land." Wall Street Journal (Fri., September 29, 2006): W2.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)




October 5, 2006

Reforms Make it Easier to Start and Run a Business in Africa


(p. A12) Authors of the report, ''Doing Business,'' by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, the bank's private sector arm, say they hope simplifying and easing the rules of the capitalist game will entice more businesses above ground.

A team of 30 researchers found that African countries had made many incremental changes.

''The most surprising thing for me was to see the pickup of reform in Africa,'' said Simeon Djankov, a World Bank economist who four years ago developed the rankings on the ease of doing business.  ''Something has happened this year.  At least two-thirds of Africa's countries have at least one positive reform.''

Tanzania computerized its business and tax registries and reduced delays in customs inspections and the courts.

Ghana has cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, from 32.5 percent, and made it easier to export goods.

Rwanda scrapped a law adopted during Belgian colonial rule that had given one official a monopoly on notarizing documents for the entire country.

Ivory Coast slashed the time to register property to a month from more than a year by eliminating a requirement that the urban minister give his consent.

Wealthy donors like the World Bank, the United States and Britain, which focus on spurring economic growth and job creation, are putting heavier emphasis on such changes in deciding where to provide aid.

The Millennium Challenge Account, President Bush's aid program, explicitly uses the bank report's measure of days to start a business as one criterion for deciding who qualifies for large grants.

 

For the full story, see:

CELIA W. DUGGER.  "Africa Moves Up the Ladder of Business-Friendly Regions."   The New York Times (Weds., September 6, 2006):  A12.

(Note:  the online version of the article had this, slightly different, title:  "In Africa, a More Business-Friendly Approach.")   






October 4, 2006

Sprint to Risk Billions on New Infrastructure

WiMaxSprintGraphic.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

If Sprint bets on WiFi, they're betting with their money; if the government bets on WiFi, they're betting with your money.  If Sprint succeeds, thereby benefiting the consumer, at no risk to the consumer, the consumer should not object to their earning huge profits.

Note also, that this is a plausble candidate for a firm trying to follow Clayton Christensen's advice to try to disrupt itself.  (And see the comment at the end, for someone who hasn't read Christensen, or doesn't believe what he has read.)

 

Analysts say building a nationwide WiMax network could cost Sprint between $1 billion and $4 billion, a hefty sum for a company that is already struggling to meet Wall Street's expectations.  Sprint said it expects to invest $1 billion on the project in 2007 and between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in 2008.

Sprint's decision carries considerable risks:  Investors have hammered telecom companies that have made large capital investments in new technologies, banking on future markets to emerge.  For example, among other things, Verizon Communications Inc.'s stock has been under fire as the company is rolling out a costly new fiber optic network that it says will position the company to deliver a bundled TV, Internet, and phone service.  Also, WiMax technology is still untested on a large scale.

Sprint is making a huge bet that consumer demand for wireless Internet access and services such as cellphone downloads of music and video will continue to grow in the coming years.  Consumers already can get access to wireless Internet service at Wi-Fi "hotspots" in airports and coffee shops, and some cities, like Anaheim, Calif., are blanketing their terrain with Wi-Fi connections.

. . .

. . . , some analysts and industry experts question why the company is gearing up for such a major capital investment when it is already even or ahead the other top U.S. carriers, Verizon and Cingular Wireless, when it comes to data services. "Why compete against yourself? It doesn't make a lot of sense at this point," said Mike Thelander, principal analyst at Signals Research Group who predicted several weeks ago that Sprint would choose WiMax.

 

For the full story, see:

AMOL SHARMA and DON CLARK.  "Sprint Bets on New Wireless 'WiMax'."  Wall Street Journal  (Tues.,  August 8, 2006):  B1-B2.

(Note:  the above passages are from the online version, which was later, and less tentative about Sprint's intentions, than the print version.) 

(Note:  ellipses added.)




September 22, 2006

"Free to Choose" Turns Estonia into "Boomtown"


  Source of book image:  http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/imageviewer.asp?ean=9780156334600

 

If, like Mr. Laar, you are only going to read one book in economics, Milton Friedman's Free to Choose, is not too bad a choice:

(p. A23) Philippe Benoit du Rey is not one of those gloomy Frenchmen who frets about the threat to Gallic civilization from McDonald's and Microsoft.  He thinks international competition is good for his countrymen.  He's confident France will flourish in a global economy -- eventually.

But for now, he has left the Loire Valley for Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and the economic model for New Europe.  It's a boomtown with a beautifully preserved medieval quarter along with new skyscrapers, gleaming malls and sprawling housing developments:  Prague meets Houston, except that Houston's economy is cool by comparison.

Economists call Estonia the Baltic tiger, the sequel to the Celtic tiger as Europe's success story, and its policies are more radical than Ireland's.  On this year's State of World Liberty Index, a ranking of countries by their economic and political freedom, Estonia is in first place, just ahead of Ireland and seven places ahead of the U.S. (North Korea comes in last at 159th.)

It transformed itself from an isolated, impoverished part of the Soviet Union thanks to a former prime minister, Mart Laar, a history teacher who took office not long after Estonia was liberated.  He was 32 years old and had read just one book on economics:  ''Free to Choose,'' by Milton Friedman, which he liked especially because he knew Friedman was despised by the Soviets.

Laar was politically naïve enough to put the theories into practice.  Instead of worrying about winning trade wars, he unilaterally disarmed by abolishing almost all tariffs.  He welcomed foreign investors and privatized most government functions (with the help of a privatization czar who had formerly been the manager of the Swedish pop group Abba).  He drastically cut taxes on businesses and individuals, instituting a simple flat income tax of 26 percent.

 

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY.  "New Europe's Boomtown."  The New York Times  (Tues., September 5, 2006):  A23.

 




March 29, 2006

Contrasting Planners with Searchers in Economic Development



Source of book image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594200378/sr=8-1/qid=1143511279/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-0403843-7507349?%5Fencoding=UTF8


A professor at New York University and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, Easterly spent most of his career as an economist at the World Bank. He had to leave that job after publishing his iconoclastic 2001 book, "The Elusive Quest for Growth," which skillfully combined a history of economists' growth theories with a devastating empirical analysis of the failure of international efforts to spur third world development. The book's theme was "incentives matter."

In "The White Man's Burden," Easterly turns from incentives to the subtler problems of knowledge. If we truly want to help the poor, rather than just congratulate ourselves for generosity, he argues, we rich Westerners have to give up our grand ambitions. Piecemeal problem-solving has the best chance of success.

He contrasts the traditional "Planner" approach of most aid projects with the "Searcher" approach that works so well in the markets and democracies of the West. Searchers treat problem-solving as an incremental discovery process, relying on competition and feedback to figure out what works.

. . .

"The White Man's Burden" does not match "The Elusive Quest for Growth" as a tour de force. Easterly is doing something harder here: not merely cataloging past failures but trying to suggest a more promising approach. Unfortunately, his alternative is still underdeveloped, devolving at times into slogans.

After all, Searchers plan, too. The question is not whether to plan, but who makes the plans, how they are changed and where feedback comes from. "The White Man's Burden" underplays the essential role of competition, not only in markets but between political jurisdictions.


For the full review, see:

VIRGINIA POSTREL. "The Poverty Puzzle." The New York Times, Section 7 (Sun., March 19, 2006): 12.


For Easterly's latest book, see:

Easterly, William. The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. The Penguin Press, 2006. 436 pp. $27.95.




March 26, 2006

"The world we have lost was ripe for rejection"

   The source for the image of the book cover is: http://img.textbookx.com/images/large/91/0521633591.jpg

 

Roche delineates minimal light and exiguous fires, chilblains and miasmas, the distinction of white linen, the rare treat of sweetness, the still rarer taste of coffee that made its drinkers sparkle, and the hankerings they inspired. Limited access to water affected drinking habits, cooking, hygiene, and sartorial practices. Housewives and laundresses coped with mountains of dirty linen by river or by pond; the great sent their laundry to the American islands for a whiter wash; the poor rioted for soap as well as bread. Society moved from an economy of scarcity and salvation to one of plenty and prodigality. But the move was slow and spotty. The world we have lost was ripe for rejection.

 

For the full review, see:

Weber, Eugen. "Recommended Reading." The Key Reporter 67, no. 2 (Winter 2002): 12.

 

The reviewed book is:

Roche, Daniel. A History of Everyday Things: The Birth of Consumption in France, 1600-1800. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

 




February 21, 2006

NGOs Throw Money at Poverty, and Then Declare Success

Mark Pendergrast, in his opus on coffee, tells us about Bill Fishbein, a coffee retailer from Rhode Island, who wanted to help small, poor, coffee farmers in Guatemala:

 

(p. 419) . . . , Fishbein wanted to do something to help.  At first, he worked with established nongovernment organizations (NGOs) but soon became disillusioned. Too often, the NGOs simply threw money at communities, then declared projects successful even without long-term improvements.  "It amounts to a network to move money around, to pull the heartstrings of donors," he complains.

 

Source:

Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

 




February 15, 2006

"Growing Recognition of Economic Costs" of Koyoto Protocol



Commentary on the Kyoto Protocol:

(p. 3) . . . the current stalemate is not just because of the inadequacies of the protocol. It is also a response to the world's ballooning energy appetite, which, largely because of economic growth in China, has exceeded almost everyone's expectations. And there are still no viable alternatives to fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gases.

Then, too, there is a growing recognition of the economic costs incurred by signing on to the Kyoto Protocol.

As Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, a proponent of emissions targets, said in a statement on Nov. 1: ''The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.''

This is as true, in different ways, in developed nations with high unemployment, like Germany and France, as it is in Russia, which said last week that it may have spot energy shortages this winter.

. . .

The only real answer at the moment is still far out on the horizon: nonpolluting energy sources. But the amount of money being devoted to research and develop such technologies, much less install them, is nowhere near the scale of the problem, many experts on energy technology said.

Enormous investments in basic research have to be made promptly, even with the knowledge that most of the research is likely to fail, if there is to be any chance of creating options for the world's vastly increased energy thirst in a few decades, said Richard G. Richels, an economist at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit center for energy and environment research.

''The train is not leaving the station, and it needs to leave the station,'' Mr. Richels said. ''If we don't have the technologies available at that time, it's going to be a mess.''



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "THE WORLD; On Climate Change, a Change of Thinking." The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., December 4, 2005): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 25, 2006

The Good Old Days, When Coffee Smelled Like Wet Dogs




We tend to romanticize the country store, and to deride chain stores and name brands. But maybe coffee lovers should think twice.


 

(p. 116, footnote 1) "The air was thick with an all-embracing odor," wrote Gerald Carson in The Old Country Store, "an aroma composed of dry herbs and wet dogs, [of] strong tobacco, green hides and raw humanity."  Bulk roasted coffee absorbed all such smells.

 

Source: 

Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

 

(Note: the "of" in brackets in the Carson quote is the word Carson used in his book; Pendergrast mistakenly substitutes the word "or"; I have corrected Pendergrast's mistake.)






January 23, 2006

Good Rules Encourage Entrepreneurship, Resulting in Vibrant Economy



Some useful observations from the 2004 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Edward Prescott:

Good tax rates, . . . , need be high enough to generate sufficient revenues, but not so high that they choke off growth and, perversely, decrease tax revenues.  This, of course, is the tricky part, and brings us to the task at hand:  Should Congress extend the 15% rate on capital gains and dividends?  Wrong question.  Should Congress make the 15% rate permanent?  Yes.  (This assumes that a lower rate is politically impossible.)

These taxes are particularly cumbersome because they hit a market economy right in its collective heart, which is its entrepreneurial and risk-taking spirit.  What makes this country's economy so vibrant is its participants' willingness to take chances, innovate, acquire financing, hire new people and break old molds.  Every increase in capital gains taxes and dividends is a direct tax on this vitality.

Americans aren't risk-takers by nature any more than Germans are intrinsically less willing to work than Americans.  The reason the U.S. economy is so much more vibrant than Germany's is that people in each country are playing by different rules.  But we shouldn't take our vibrancy for granted.  Tax rates matter.  A shift back to higher rates will have negative consequences.

And this isn't about giving tax breaks to the rich.  The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece by former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, who noted that "nearly 60% of those paying capital gains taxes earn less than $50,000 a year, and 85% of capital gains taxpayers earn less than $100,000."  In addition, he wrote that lower tax rates on savings and investment benefited 24 million families to the tune of about $950 on their 2004 taxes.

Do wealthier citizens realize greater savings?  Of course -- this is true by definition.  But that doesn't make it wrong.  Let's look at two examples:    First, there are those entrepreneurs who have been working their tails off for years with little or no compensation and who, if they are lucky, finally realize a relatively big gain.  What kind of Scrooge would snatch away this entrepreneurial carrot?  As mentioned earlier, under a good system you have to provide for these rewards or you will discourage the risk taking that is the lifeblood of our economy.  Additionally, those entrepreneurs create huge social surpluses in the form of new jobs and spin-off businesses.   Entrepreneurs capture a small portion of the social surpluses that they create, but a small percentage of something big is, well, big.

Congratulations, I say.  Another group of wealthier individuals includes those who, for a variety of reasons, earn more money than the rest of us.  Again, I tip my hat.  Does it make sense to try to capture more of those folks' money by raising rates on everyone?  To persecute the few, should we punish the many?  We need to remember that many so-called wealthy families are those with two wage-earners who are doing nothing more than trying to raise their children and pursue their careers.  Research has shown that much of America's economic growth in recent decades is owing to this phenomenon -- we should encourage this dynamic, not squelch it.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT. "'Stop Messing With Federal Tax Rates'." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 20, 2005): A14.





November 10, 2005

Rioting Caused by Economy Closed to Creative Destruction


FrenchRiots11-2005.jpg Source of photo: WSJ online version of article quoted and cited below.

The French rioters face very high unemployment. French restrictions on the labor market, and the economy more generally, cause the high unemployment. For example, the French make it hard for firms to fire employees, so as a result, firms are more reluctant to hire workers in the first place, resulting in higher unemployment. Although they do not know it, the rioters are rioting because France is closed to creative destruction. The following commentary is on point:

(p. A16) Like other Americans, immigrants often dramatically improve their quality of life and economic prospects by moving out to less dense, faster growing areas. They can also take advantage of more business-friendly government. Perhaps the most extreme case is Houston, a low-cost, low-tax haven where immigrant entrepreneurship has exploded in recent decades. Much of this has taken place in the city itself. Looser regulations and a lack of zoning lower land and rental costs, providing opportunities to build businesses and acquire property.

It is almost inconceivable to see such flowerings of ethnic entrepreneurship in Continental Europe. Economic and regulatory policy plays a central role in stifling enterprise. Heavy-handed central planning tends to make property markets expensive and difficult to penetrate. Add to this an overall regulatory regime that makes it hard for small business to start or expand, and you have a recipe for economic stagnation and social turmoil. What would help France most now would be to stimulate economic growth and lessen onerous regulation. Most critically, this would also open up entrepreneurial and employment opportunity for those now suffering more of a nightmare of closed options than anything resembling a European dream.



For the full commentary, see:

Joel Kotkin. "Our Immigrants, Their Immigrants." The Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2005): A16.




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