Blogroll Category: Current Affairs

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Conceived in Liberty, Volume 5: The New Republic: 1784–1791

Mises Institute - Tue, 20/10/2020 - 16:30

The fifth volume of Conceived in Liberty highlights the most important battle of the American project — one that continues to this day — the conflict between those who want to centralize power, and those who choose to stand to defend the American heritage of liberty.

This book features a foreword by Judge Andrew Napolitano, a preface by Dr. Thomas E. Woods, and an introduction by Dr. Patrick Newman. Narrated by Millian Quinteros.

Download the complete audiobook (41 MP3 files) in one ZIP file here. This audiobook is also available on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play, and via RSS.​
Categories: Current Affairs

So just why is Britain building wastelands of rabbit hutches?

Adam Smith Institute - 1 hour 59 min ago

A complaint in The Guardian about how modern housing estates are nothing but rabbit hutches jammed together:

Matthew Carmona, a professor at University College London, whose team has surveyed new housing schemes across the country as part of a major forthcoming report, says big developers are producing too many estates with serious design flaws. “At present we are just not meeting the basic requirements for civilised living that we should expect in a country like our own,” he said.

Seems an entirely fair complaint to us.

The worst new estates lack nearby amenities such as shops, pubs and cafes. They are unconnected to surrounding areas, with few public transport links. They lack enough green spaces and playgrounds.

Simply dormitories with none of the things that make up actual civilisation. They’re also the smallest new builds in Europe. So, why is this?

The design code for the development, which will eventually see 873 homes built across 32 hectares, specifies distinctive architecture and a high-quality, accessible environment.

We’re sure it does. But why in heck are so many houses being crammed on such a small amount of land? Because the government insists that houses must be crammed onto small areas of land.

That’s around 27 dwellings per hectare there. Until recently at least the national insistence was 30 or more dwellings per hectare.

Why is new British housing nothing but rabbit hutch dormitories in civilisational wastelands? Because that’s what government insists is built. And it’s worth noting that not one single person who legislates upon, designs nor builds these horrors ever actually lives in one. They’re always for people other than those doing the insisting.

The reason modern British housing is crap is because that’s what government insists is built, crap. The solution to this is to change the insistence at least, if not the government. Rather than who is doing the building within those rules.

Categories: Current Affairs

Hearing date set for Bishop Love

Anglican Ink - 3 hours 47 min ago

A Message From Bishop Love Regarding the Upcoming Hearing
January 21, 2020

To the Clergy and People of the Diocese of Albany,

Several of you have been asking about the status of the Title IV Disciplinary proceedings directed against me in regard to B012. I have been notified that a Hearing, headed by The Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, (President of the Hearing Panel) is scheduled to be held at the Desmond Hotel in Albany on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. The subject of the Hearing is “The Matter of Allegations Concerning the Rt. Rev. William H. Love, Bishop of Albany.”

It is alleged by the Intake Report and Investigator’s Report that I have “violated Canon IV.4.1(c) by failing to abide by the promises and vows made when he [I] was ordained, specifically the Declaration he [I] signed at his [my] ordination as bishop in which he [I] promised to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.’ ”

The above charge is the result of my unwillingness to abide by Resolution B012, passed by the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which if followed, would allow for same-sex marriages to occur in the Diocese of Albany.

The Hearing Panel convened for this case is made up of the following five individuals:

· The Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, Convener
· The Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith
· The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Brooke-Davidson
· The Rev. Erik Larsen
· Ms. Melissa Perrin

In accordance with the Canons, the Hearing is “open” to the public however, under the control and direction of the Hearing Panel. Space will be limited. While the exact starting time has not yet been released, I anticipate it will begin by mid-morning and will most likely take only a few hours. Both sides have agreed that there are no contested facts regarding my actions and neither side will be presenting witnesses. Instead, the attorneys will be making arguments as to what the canon law requires.

I want to thank all of you who have been holding me and my family and the Diocese of Albany up in your prayers these past many months. It is greatly appreciated. Whatever the outcome of the Hearing, I pray God’s will and purpose will be accomplished.

Faithfully Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. William H. Love
Bishop of Albany

The post Hearing date set for Bishop Love appeared first on Anglican Ink © 2020.

Boko Haram execute Christian pastor held captive

Anglican Ink - 7 hours 52 min ago

Boko Haram has announced that it has killed Pastor Lawan Andimi, a leading Church figure, kidnapped in north-east Nigeria by the Islamist terrorist group on 2 January.

A video announcing the pastor’s execution, which took place on 20 January, was released today by Boko Haram via its regular journalist contact, Ahmad Salkida. It is not known how Pastor Andimi, who leaves behind a wife and seven children, was killed.

CaptionIn his final message to his family and colleagues, Pastor Lawan Andimi urged them not to cry or worry about him but to “thank God for everything”

Pastor Andimi, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), was abducted in Adamawa State during a series of Boko Haram attacks in the region.

In a video released by his captors on 5 January, the pastor had called on senior CAN colleagues to ask the State governor, Ahmadu Fintiri, to intercede for his release. It is thought that the church was involved in negotiations with the captors when Pastor Andimi was killed.

In his poignant statement, Pastor Andimi had told his family and colleagues not to cry or worry about him but to “thank God for everything”.

“I have never been discouraged because all conditions that one finds himself is in the hands of God. By the grace of God, I will be together with my wife, my children and my colleagues. If the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God,” he said.

A regional analyst in contact with Barnabas has warned that there are indications that Boko Haram is extending its territory in north-east Nigeria. At least four murderous Islamist attacks have taken place in the region in less than a month, including the beheading of ten Christian men and shooting of an eleventh by Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). The past year has also seen a significant increase in Boko Haram activity in neighbouring Far North Cameroon. The expert raised concerns that the group may be progressively combining forces with other terrorist militia including ISWAP, Fulani herdsmen and Al Shabaab.

The post Boko Haram execute Christian pastor held captive appeared first on Anglican Ink © 2020.

A Christian conservative reflection on the anti-woke rebellion

Anglican Ink - 7 hours 55 min ago

Anti-woke rebels such as the comedian Ricky Gervais, the actor and musician Laurence Fox, and the writer Douglas Murray may be a breath of fresh air in a stultifying neo-Stalinist atmosphere but social conservatives inspired by Christianity surely ought to be clear in their minds that our enemy’s enemy is not necessarily our friend.

The new anti-wokeists object to the authoritarianism and hypocrisy of the socially Marxist establishment in Hollywood, in the BBC, and in Silicon Valley as we do and they are doing so with wit and eloquence. There is much that social conservatives can applaud in this mounting rebellion. Social conservatives should be opposing woke-ist thought policing, brain-washing and social engineering.

But we are not libertarians. Our outlook has been shaped by the Book of Common Prayer.  We want to belong to a nation that is being ‘godly and quietly governed’ under a Christian constitutional monarch. Led by the Prayer Book, we pray in the name of Christ that Almighty God would ‘grant unto her (the Queen’s) whole Council, and to all who are put in authority under her, that they may truly and indifferently (impartially) minister justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice and to the maintenance of thy true religion and virtue’.

Because their primary objection to woke-ism would seem to be its authoritarianism, we do not seem to hear much about law and order from the anti-wokeists. Their main objection to woke-ism would seem to be summed up in Laurence Fox’s song The Distance.

‘They have put something in the water/They seek a cure for the conversation/They stole a march on your indecision/And the first to fall is laughter/Just to quell the long offended/They seek to murder your opinion.’

I think I can say ‘Amen’ here even if I may not be inclined to sing along for musical reasons (in case my tuneless tones were overheard by the neighbours). But there would seem to be a verse missing in an anti-wokeist hymn like this. The practical reality is that fear-spreading lawlessness is a massive impediment to liberty. When knife-murderers strut the streets of London and other major British cities with their heads held high, surely such gangsters are in their own way dictators? Woke is surely not the only threat to liberty.

‘Conservative’ political leaders may now be waking up to the growing anti-woke public feeling and we may see them being bolder in speaking out against identity politics and the delusion that ‘racism’ is widespread in British society. But unless and until Her Majesty’s Government is prepared to pass legislation that would require a judge to pronounce the sentence of death on, for example, a young man who has been found being guilty by a jury of his peers of committing murder with a knife, even if he was only a day over 18 when he did it, her ministers show themselves to be moral relativists who do not really believe in the clear demarcation between right and wrong, which is required for true liberty to flourish.

So, even at the risk of being labelled ‘boring’ by the cool new anti-wokeists, Christian-based social conservatives should be clearly different from libertarians if we are to do any good for our country.

The post A Christian conservative reflection on the anti-woke rebellion appeared first on Anglican Ink © 2020.

Money, Inflation, and Business Cycles: The Cantillon Effect and the Economy

Mises Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 22:45

 

Money, Inflation, and Business Cycles: The Cantillon Effect and the Economy
by Arkadiusz Sieroń
Abingdon: Routledge, 2019
x + 162 pp
.

Abstract: Austrian economists hold that money matters a great deal in concrete terms in the immediate short run and has permanent long-run effects. Sierońs book investigates the Cantillon effect, which indicates that money is not neutral because inevitabily it is injected unevenly, creating economic distortions. These distortions are important to the long run and the Austrian theory of the business cycle.

inflation    interest rate    central bank    money neutrality    cantillon

Economists agree that money matters, but that agreement stops when it comes to how money matters. For example, some say it only matters in the short run while others believe that it matters in the short and long run. Austrian economists hold that money matters a great deal in concrete terms in the immediate short run and has permanent long run effects.

Given that the world economy has experienced more than a decade of radical and unproven monetary policy by central banks and half a century of fiat currencies, the effects of money are more important than ever. Professor Sieroń has produced a comprehensive review of this question and has extended the analysis of this key question in many different directions.

The central topic of the book is the Cantillon effect which appears in the title of all but one chapter. This effect was named after Richard Cantillon, the first economic theorist. He wrote, circa 1730, that the effect of new money depended on where it was injected into the economy.

Chapter one deals with the neutrality of money, where money has no effect on the economy. Five types of money neutrality are described and examined. The assumptions made for each are explained, and in particular, all the conditions that must exist for “dynamic neutrality” are explained. The reader will no doubt come the conclusion that money is never neutral and that it could be dangerous to make such an assumption as part of one’s economic analysis.

In Chapter two, the theory of the Cantillon effect is explained. It begins with an increase in the money supply and who first receives the money. That means the increase of money changes income distribution in favor of who first receives the new money. Then, depending on the preferences of those who first receive the money, some goods will experience an increase in demand, while other goods will experience a relative decrease. This in turn changes outputs of various goods and ultimately investments. Cantillon famously noted that if the new money comes into the hands of savers, that the interest rate would decrease, but if it comes into the hands of consumers, the interest rate would increase, as entrepreneurs would need to borrow more to meet the increased demand for goods.

Chapter three recaps the Cantillon effect in the history of economic thought. Beginning with Cantillon himself, the views of David Hume, John Cairnes, and other Classical economists are examined. Then Irving Fisher, John Maynard Keynes, New Keynesians, Post Keynesians and other modern schools of macroeconomics are considered, including the Austrian school, along with a special emphasis on Milton Friedman’s approach. In general, non-Austrians tend to think that Cantillon effects exist only in the short run and the effects can be generally assumed away, whereas the Austrian economists incorporate them as central to their analysis and show that the effects are important even in the very long run.

Chapter four provides a complete classification of the various types of Cantillon effects. Cantillon’s own analysis is presented and then extended to the modern context. Chapter five examines the Cantillon effect in the modern context of credit expansion. In chapter six, the various types of credit expansion are examined to explain the secondary characteristics of a business cycle. So, for example, if the expansion is mainly in the area of home mortgage credit, then a housing bubble results. In the next chapter, price bubbles in certain asset prices are shown to be proof par excellence of the Cantillon effect to which Austrian economists are alert, but which mainstream economists ignore, except perhaps in the positive light of the so-called wealth effect.

The next two chapters explore two of the more controversial topics, from the mainstream perspective. The first, chapter eight, analyzes the impact of new money on income and wealth. It is shown here that there are winners and losers from new money. For example, the Fed’s monetary expansions tend to help the wealthy, banks, big corporations, and the financial industry more generally. Subsequently, as prices rise, the Fed’s policy hurts retirees, those on fixed incomes and wage earners who receive the new money last, if at all. This is one reason why the Fed and most mainstream macroeconomists vigorously deny the existence and importance of Cantillon effects and adopt the assumption of neutral money. Tragically, they often get away with this ruse because the theft cannot be directly seen, except in the final result.

The last substantive chapter, chapter nine, explores the Cantillon effect in the international context. Given globalization, the structure of production is now more integrated than ever, and that is a good thing. However, as a result, new money creation by central bank will have negative international consequences. Under certain circumstances the channels of new money flow can dampen the business cycle and price inflation, but the primary impact is for major central banks, in particular the Fed, to export business cycles, economic crises, and price inflation. Obviously, the Fed would vigorously deny that it is the source of global economic instability, but others have found that this is empirically the case. The book is concisely written and is “insight dense” and is a much-needed contribution to the literature.

Categories: Current Affairs

The Limits of Economic Calculation

Mises Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 20:00

[This article is excerpted from chapter 12 of Human Action]

Economic calculation cannot comprehend things which are not sold and bought against money.

There are things which are not for sale and for whose acquisition sacrifices other than money and money's worth must be expended. He who wants to train himself for great achievements must employ many means, some of which may require expenditure of money. But the essential things to be devoted to such an endeavor are not purchasable. Honor, virtue, glory, and likewise vigor, health, and life itself play a role in action both as means and as ends, but they do not enter into economic calculation.

There are things which cannot at all be evaluated in money, and there are other things which can be appraised in money only with regard to a fraction of the value assigned to them. The appraisal of an old building must disregard its artistic and historical eminence as far as these qualities are not a source of proceeds in money or goods vendible. What touches a man's heart only and does not induce other people to make sacrifices for its attainment remains outside the pale of economic calculation.

However, all this does not in the least impair the usefulness of economic calculation. Those things which do not enter into the items of accountancy and calculation are either ends or goods of the first order. No calculation is required to acknowledge them fully and to make due allowance for them. All that acting man needs in order to make his choice is to contrast them with the total amount of costs their acquisition or preservation requires. Let us assume that a town council has to decide between two water supply projects. One of them implies the demolition of a historical landmark, while the other at the cost of an increase in money expenditure spares this landmark. The fact that the feelings which recommend the conservation of the monument cannot be estimated in a sum of money does not in any way impede the councilmen's decision. The values that are not reflected in any monetary exchange ratio are, on the contrary, by this very fact lifted into a particular position which makes the decision rather easier. No complaint is less justified than the lamentation that the computation methods of the market do not comprehend things not vendible. Moral and aesthetic values do not suffer any damage on account of this fact.

Money, money prices, market transactions, and economic calculation based upon them are the main targets of criticism. Loquacious sermonizers disparage Western civilization as a mean system of mongering and peddling. Complacency, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy exult in scorning the "dollar-philosophy" of our age. Neurotic reformers, mentally unbalanced literati, and ambitious demagogues take pleasure in indicting "rationality" and in preaching the gospel of the "irrational." In the eyes of these babblers money and calculation are the source of the most serious evils. However, the fact that men have developed a method of ascertaining as far as possible the expediency of their actions and of removing uneasiness in the most practical and economic way does not prevent anybody from arranging his conduct according to the principle he considers to be right. The "materialism" of the stock exchange and of business accountancy does not hinder anybody from living up to the standards of Thomas à Kempis or from dying for a noble cause. The fact that the masses prefer detective stories to poetry, and that it therefore pays better to write the former than the latter, is not caused by the use of money and monetary accounting. It is not the fault of money that there are gangsters, thieves, murderers, prostitutes, corruptible officials, and judges. It is not true that honesty does not "pay." It pays for those who prefer fidelity to what they consider to be right to the advantages which they could derive from a different attitude.

Other critics of economic calculation fail to realize that it is a method available only to people acting in the economic system of the division of labor in a social order based upon private ownership of the means of production. It can only serve the considerations of individuals or groups of individuals operating in the institutional setting of this social order. It is consequently a calculation of private profits and not of "social welfare." This means that the prices of the market are the ultimate fact for economic calculation. It cannot be applied for considerations whose standard is not the demand of the consumers as manifested on the market but the hypothetical valuations of a dictatorial body managing all national or earthly affairs. He who seeks to judge actions from the point of view of a pretended "social value," i.e., from the point of view of the "whole society," and to criticize them by comparison with the events in an imaginary socialist system in which his own will is supreme, has no use for economic calculation. Economic calculation in terms of money prices is the calculation of entrepreneurs producing for the consumers of a market society. It is of no avail for other tasks.

He who wants to employ economic calculation must not look at affairs in the manner of a despotic mind. Prices can be used for calculation by the entrepreneurs, capitalists, landowners, and wage earners of a capitalist society. For matters beyond the pursuits of these categories it is inadequate. It is nonsensical to evaluate in money objects which are not negotiated on the market and to employ in calculations arbitrary items which do not refer to reality. The law determines the amount which ought to be paid as indemnification for having caused a man's death. But the statute enacted for the determination of the amends due does not mean that there is a price for human life. Where there is slavery, there are market prices of slaves. Where there is no slavery man, human life, and health are res extra commercium. In a society of free men the preservation of life and health are ends, not means. They do not enter into any process of accounting means.

It is possible to determine in terms of money prices the sum of the income or the wealth of a number of people. But it is nonsensical to reckon national income or national wealth. As soon as we embark upon considerations foreign to the reasoning of a man operating within the pale of a market society, we are no longer helped by monetary calculation methods. The attempts to determine in money the wealth of a nation or of the whole of mankind are as childish as the mystic efforts to solve the riddles of the universe by worrying about the dimensions of the pyramid of Cheops. If a business calculation values a supply of potatoes at $100, the idea is that it will be possible to sell it or to replace it against this sum. If a whole entrepreneurial unit is estimated $1,000,000, it means that one expects to sell it for this amount. But what is the meaning of the items in a statement of a nation's total wealth? What is the meaning of the computation's final result? What must be entered into it and what is to be left outside? Is it correct or not to enclose the "value" of the country's climate and the people's innate abilities and acquired skill? The businessman can convert his property into money, but a nation cannot.

The money equivalents as used in acting and in economic calculation are money prices, i.e., exchange ratios between money and other goods and services. The prices are not measured in money; they consist in money. Prices are either prices of the past or expected prices of the future. A price is necessarily a historical fact either of the past or of the future. There is nothing in prices which permits one to li]ken them to the measurement of physical and chemical phenomena.

Categories: Current Affairs

Fed Nominee Judy Shelton Wants Sound Money — and Lots of It

Mises Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 18:00

There is good news and bad news regarding President Trump's nomination of Judy Shelton for one of the two vacant positions on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. The good news is that Ms. Shelton is not a technically trained academic economist, indoctrinated in the prevailing orthodoxy. She holds a doctorate in business administration from the University of Utah and has spent most of her career in the world of free-market policy think tanks, including stints at the Hoover Institute and the Atlas Network. She also writes refreshingly and articulately in favor of the gold standard, or some version of it.

The bad news is that she leans heavily toward supply-side economics, which is deeply flawed on monetary policy. Like most supply-siders, the position she advocates may be summed up in the motto, “I favor sound money—and plenty of it.”

This contradictory position was clearly evident in her Wall Street Journal op-ed, The Case for Monetary Regime Change . In this piece Shelton attributes blame for “the devastating 2008 global meltdown” to the Fed’s “influence over the creation of money and credit.” She then goes on to criticize the Fed’s policy of paying interest on excess reserves for slowing down the economic recovery from the post-crisis depression. Her argument is that paying interest on excess reserves discouraged the banking system from fully lending out the enormous amount of reserves that gushed forth into the system through the Fed’s QE programs. While this is true, the Fed’s policy was still very expansionary. If we examine the data in the chart below, we see that the from mid-2011 to 2017, the year-over-year (YOY) growth rates of the money supply as measured by the Fed aggregates of M2 and MZM varied between 5% and 10%. These slightly exceeded the monetary growth rates recorded during the run-up of the housing bubble from the beginning of 2002 through 2005, which culminated in the “devastating global meltdown” that Shelton bemoaned a few sentences earlier. Thus, Shelton considers the same rates of monetary growth inflationary in the earlier period but contractionary in the later period. She seems to have picked up this peculiar argument from the Cato Institute's George Selgin, which I criticized a few years ago.

moneystock.png

Shelton also reveals the flaws in her supply-side position when she argues that a gold standard and a Bretton Woods-like regime, by “linking the supply of money and credit to gold,” would both be effective in “redress[ing] inflationary pressures.” Shelton’s position here shows a lack of theoretical and historical awareness of the vast differences between the classical gold standard and the Bretton Woods System in their nature and operation. The former was a genuine gold standard in which gold coins were in circulation and all bank notes and deposits were instantaneously redeemable in gold. The Bretton Woods System on the other hand was a form of “price-rule monetarism,” in which the Fed followed a rule to target a legally mandated price of gold by buying and selling gold, foreign currencies, or domestic securities. There was no gold in circulation as a medium of exchange and the convertibility of dollars into gold was restricted to foreign governments and other official institutions.

The historical Bretton Woods system had inherent flaws that led to its slow motion inflationary collapse in the late 1960s and its disappearance in 1971. This did not stop supply-siders, including Shelton, in her 1994 book Monetary Meltdown , for penning proposals for an updated version of Bretton Woods. This article contains my critique of an earlier supply-side proposal for a monetary system based on a gold price rule.

Overall, I consider Judy Shelton among the best politically palatable (at least to Republicans) candidates for Federal Reserve Board of Governors. But, unfortunately, this is weak praise, given that the very existence and function of the Fed is a destructive influence on the U.S. and global economy.

Categories: Current Affairs

People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent

Mises Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 17:45

 

People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent
by Joseph E. Stiglitz
New York: W.W. Norton, 2019
xxvii + 371 pp.

Abstract: Randall Holcombe's new book adds a historical dimension to public choice theory by combining it with "elite theory." In doing this, he arrives at a controversial thesis: a new economic system, "political capitalism," has come to replace market capitalism. Holcombe extends the public choice analysis of government of Buchanan and Tullock, who challenged the standard neoclassical contention that the free market cannot adequately supply public goods and therefore needed to be supplemented by state intervention.

economic freedom    progressivism    constitution    public choice    capitalism

Joseph Stiglitz is an eminent economist, but it is evident from People, Power, and Profits that he is a moralist as well, and one of a peculiar sort. Early in the book, he says this:

…to answer such questions [about what to do] I have to explain the true source of wealth, distinguishing wealth creation from wealth extraction. The latter is any process whereby one individual takes wealth from others through one form of exploitation or another. The true source of “the wealth of a nation” lies... in the creativity and productivity of the nation’s people and their productive interactions with each other... it rests on... institutions broadly referred to as ‘the rule of law, systems of checks and balance, and due process.” (pp. xiii–xiv)

One might have been reading Franz Oppenheimer or Albert Jay Nock on the distinction between the political and the economic means. Stiglitz does spoil things a little when he says later on that “the real politik of the twenty-first century” is that those who seek to preserve the “values I articulate” will have to persuade others to follow the policies he suggests. Since realpolitik (one word, not two) means politics based on interests rather than ideology, this is confusing. It seems a forgivable slip, though, given Stiglitz’s seeming endorsement of a distinction basic to libertarian thought.1

In fact, though, Stiglitz means close to the opposite of what libertarians have in mind by the distinction between production and predation. For him, it is greedy capitalists and other private rent-seekers who exploit the people, and the state that maintains values.

Why does he think this? As he sees matters, equality is of fundamental importance: “The American dream of equality of opportunity is a myth: a young American’s life prospects are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in almost any other advanced country. I tell my students that they have one crucial decision to make in life: choosing the right parent. If they get it wrong, their prospects may be bleak.” (p. 44) To clarify Stiglitz’s point, his objection is not just to the fact that some people have poor prospects, but also to the fact that some people have vastly more income and wealth than others.

How does inequality come about, if, as he says, equality of opportunity is a shared American value? The very well off, in his view, have written the rules in their favor. The government has become their tool. If he is correct, the solution seems obvious. Do we not need to curtail the power of the government? To anticipate an objection, I do not endorse Stiglitz’s commitment to equality. But if you do want equality, and you think that the rich control the government, limits on the state seem required.

Stiglitz is well aware of this contention. He says: “But here’s the rub: the powers that enable government to improve social well-being can be used by some groups or individuals within society to advance their interests at the expense of others. This is sometimes termed ‘government failure,’ in contrast to market failure.” (p. 149) This of course is the familiar contention of the public choice school, ably defended by Randall Holcombe in his excellent Political Capitalism (2019)2 The problem with attempts to compare market failure with government failure, Stiglitz thinks, is that only market fundamentalists believe that the market can operate without strong government control. “My study of economics had taught me that the ideology of many conservatives was wrong; their almost religious belief in the power of markets—so great that we could largely rely on unfettered markets for running the economy—had no basis in theory or evidence.” (p. xii). Elsewhere, he writes of a “libertarian dream.” (p. 139)

If we persist and ask why Stiglitz is so convinced of the need for a strong government hand in the economy, we confront a paradox. Stiglitz is best known as an economist for his work on the limitations of the neoclassical model of competitive equilibrium. Concerning the model, he says, “It is not robust—slight changes in assumptions... lead to large changes in results....” (p. 280, note 1) Yet he judges the free market inadequate because it fails to conform to the requirements of this model.

For example, he holds that the growth of knowledge, infrastructure, and even charitable help to the poor are “public goods” that the market cannot on its own produce efficiently according to the criterion used in this model. “This can be put another way: everyone wants to be a free-rider on the efforts of others. They can enjoy the benefits of the public goods provided by others without bearing the cost.” (p. 322, note 4) Much of his assault on the “market power” of monopolies rests on judging them by the standards of a perfect competition model in equilibrium. Prices charged by entrepreneurs that do not quickly revert to the prices that would be set in this model he deems exploitative.

Stiglitz professes great concern for the potential of the poor, but in fact he thinks that most people are irrational and require control by enlightened experts like him. In reviewing a proposal that people should be deemed owners of their personal data but should be able to consent to allowing internet companies to use the data, he says:

Some say, let it be. The individual is freely deciding whether to let others have his data. But there many areas where we as a society decide to interfere in individuals’ unfettered decisions. There are other settings where we forbid individuals to engage in behavior that harms only themselves, such as participating in pyramid schemes or selling organs.... Individuals don’t really appreciate what is or could be done with their data....” (p. 129)

In another instance, he says: “Firms can also pry wealth from others by taking advantage of their weaknesses—for instance, enticing them to gamble away their wealth or persuading them to borrow at usurious interest rates.” (p. 281, note 9)

Because people are so easily deceived by the false information they see on social media, the government needs to guide them to the truth. “We can also attempt to create more discerning consumers of information. Some countries, like Italy, are extending public media education (including about social media), making individuals more aware of assertions that are blatantly false.” (p. 133. On p. 321, note 34, he fears that such programs will have only “limited efficacy.”)

A substantial number of Stiglitz’s complaints against the market are in fact instances of “political capitalism.” For example, in a passage that will interest supporters of the Austrian theory of the business cycle, he says: “We evolved into a system of what is called fractional reserve banking, where the amount that banks hold in reserves is just a fraction of what they owe... bankers made a pretty penny lending out money... they could create loans essentially out of thin air... when they fail, taxpayers foot the bill.” (p. 111) Why is this a case of market failure? Again, if the government bails out a bank or investment firm that is deemed “too big to fail,” this is quintessential political capitalism.

Even if Stiglitz is right that the free market is flawed, though, would he still not need to confront the public choice point? Would not the failures of the market, such as they are, have to be balanced against the failures of the government? Stiglitz does not think so. Talk of “regulatory capture” and the like is misplaced. A dedicated group of experts devoted to public service will act impartially to secure the public good.

Designing a good, efficient regulatory system is difficult, but we’ve done a remarkably good job of combining expertise with checks and balances. We want to avoid politicization of the regulatory process as far as possible... This doesn’t mean that every rule is ideal... But all human institutions are fallible. We’ve done a creditable job of creating a framework that works. (pp. 145–46)

Sometimes, Stiglitz’s bias is comical in its intensity. Thus, he mocks those in the Reagan era who said that “firms should pursue their shareholder interest,” not aim at social responsibility. (p. 112) He tells us that “Milton Friedman the high priest of the Chicago School... was asserting these positions.” (pp. 314–15, note 22). Yet later on, he says,

There is no individual abridgment of rights when we restrict corporate contributions [to political campaigns] indeed, one might argue the reverse, I buy a stock on the basis of my judgment of the corporation’s economic prospects. It weakens the economy to have to conflate those judgments with whether I agree with the CEO’s political judgments. (pp. 169–70)

He excoriates President Trump for his attacks on the judiciary: [T]aking a page from the playbook of despots everywhere... he attacked the courts themselves, undermining confidence in the judiciary and its role as a fair arbiter….” (p. 165) Immediately after saying this, Stiglitz attacks judges appointed by Republicans for their partisan decisions and for “the appointment of a grossly unqualified judge, Clarence Thomas.” (p. 165). It is wrong to impugn the integrity of the Court—except, of course, when I do it.

Proposals to “pack” the Court by increasing the number of judges

could lead to a further weakening of America’s democratic institutions: each side would be tempted to add further judges to the Court when they could to ensure control of the Court—until the opposing party took power. The Court is already seen to too great an extent as merely another partisan weapon; this act might confirm the perception. (p..167)

Far better would be a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on the justices. Until such an amendment is passed, “the number of positions in the Court should be increased.” (p. 167)

Stiglitz perfectly illustrates a famous remark by Joseph Schumpeter: “Capitalism stands its trial before judges who have the sentence of death in their pockets. They are going to pass it, whatever the defense they may hear; the only success victorious defense can possibly produce is a change in the indictment.”

  • 1. After all, “as Shakespeare put it, ‘to err is human.’” (p. 263, note 20) It was actually Alexander Pope who said that, but never mind: to err is human. (Pope wrote “humane,” a standard spelling for “human” in the eighteenth century.)
  • 2. See my review in this issue, pp. 492-497.
Categories: Current Affairs

A World Without Entrepreneurs

Mises Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 17:00

Reading Per Bylund's interview "How Entrepreneurs Build the World" inspired a thought: what would the world be like without entrepreneurs? Given that entrepreneurs are central to the market system, a world without entrepreneurs—or with only a few of them—would be a grim situation. Without entrepreneurs, we'd see few new products, little innovation, and few gains in the standard of living.

And without entrepreneurs, we would still be using archaic technology and services. The consumer would have no expectation of regularly find new and improved products available to him. Innovation might exist in a scientific sense, but the benefits would not be reaped in the marketplace, because no entrepreneurs would seek to find a way to make scientific innovations profitable.

Consider how our world was built by entrepreneurs. Most of what we purchase and use daily started in the minds of entrepreneurs, with their energy and capital. They thought of consumers' needs and wants, and brought products into existence with continually more reasonable and affordable prices, making these products available to almost all people.

Let's look at a few specific examples.

Toothpaste, floss, and toothbrushes were invented by William Colgate; the elevator was brought to us by Elisha Otis; and the printing press was accelerated by Richard March Hoe, who invented the rotary printing press. The laptop or smartphone you are using to read this article was made available by a host of entrepreneurs acting to provide you with this capability.  That morning brew you drink was put into conveniently located shops and easy-to-use cups by entrepreneurs who used their capital and produced and delivered coffee beans to you—from bean to cup. All of this was done in the pursuit of profit.

The list goes on as to the benefits entrepreneurs have brought us and the progress they have made in the lives of the average person who enjoys these conveniences spun out by the market process, competition, and ingenuity. Without entrepreneurs, only the most minimal needs would be fulfilled in the marketplace. The consumer would rarely have a voice—that is, no vote in what products are brought to market.  If it were not for entrepreneurs' insistence in meeting consumer demands and expectations, we would still be using rotary phones!

Additionally, it is unlikely companies would exist in such vast numbers to serve customers. After all, firms exist to allow entrepreneurs to harness the potential of innovations and turn it into profit.  Moreover, entrepreneurial firms help accelerate innovation. In Inventing the Electronic Century, Alfred Chandler explained how technology-focused industries started as entrepreneurial spin-offs directed toward expanding innovation even further:

Those earlier industries were based on a number of basic technological innovations: the electricity-producing dynamo, which brought the electric lighting that transformed urban life, and electric power, which so transformed industrial production techniques; the telephone, which brought the first voice transmission over distances; the internal combustion engine, which produced the automobile and the airplane; the new chemical technologies that permitted the production of man-made dyes and, of more significance, a wide range of man-made therapeutic drugs, and other man-made materials ranging from silicon and aluminum to a wide variety of plastics.1

As Chandler explained, the consumer electronics market would not have started ex nihilo—without entrepreneurial-minded people within the firms or consumers demanding new and innovative products.

Market feedback from consumers enables firms to produce the products consumers demand, and entrepreneurs attempt to use these firms to learn from the marketplace.  This is a central process to expanding the market for goods and services since, as Hayek so famously stated, "The market process is discovery through trial and error."

Yet, it is amazing how this critical function of the market is taken for granted: without it, there would be few inventions or innovations—and even less market competition.

And, of course, entrepreneurs provide benefits to groups other than consumers. Consider the role of an employer—the one who provides employment to those wanting to earn a livelihood. Commerce and e-commerce would break down along with the division of labor, ultimately resulting in a decline in related industries and markets. When the marketplace is allowed to function freely, more entrepreneurship today leads to more tomorrow. And the consumers benefit. 

For example, if the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) had not started the supermarket revolution of its day, many of the products and services consumers now expect as a part of the grocery shopping experience might not exist: no home delivery, self-checkout, coupons, a wide variety of foodstuffs, one-stop shopping. Expansion in these areas has led to new opportunities for both workers and other entrepreneurs.

We can see similar benefits across an enormous number of new industries. The products, services, and innovations that exist have not magically appeared. They have been the result of decades—if not centuries—of entrepreneurial action that has built on itself and expanded choices in consumption, employment, and investment—year in and year out.

  • 1. Alfred Chandler provided a number of examples of how companies pursued innovation and used entrepreneurial decision-making to gain market share. Chandler explained that the learning path is what firms use to innovate for future gains; if they stop learning or discontinue learning paths, they are no longer competitive. See https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/alfred-chandler-on-the-electronic-century
Categories: Current Affairs

Don't let TfL drive Uber out of the market

Adam Smith Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 16:45

It has been two years since TfL first rejected Uber’s license renewal and they still seem to be reaching the wrong decision. They have continually failed to value Uber’s popularity. Uber has 3.5 million regular users in London alone and yet TfL wants to deny Londoners the service. Backlash against Uber is not exclusive to the UK.

Today marks the anniversary of Madrid’s taxi strike. Much like in the UK, Spain’s black cab equivalent has been hostile to its biggest competitor Uber. The strike has left a black mark on the reputation of Madrid’s taxis. The standoff lasted sixteen days last year and saw taxi drivers blocking roads. But this anti-competition protest wasn’t enough to persuade people to use Madrid’s taxis. It lost them what little reputation they had left as not only did they provide an inferior service, they also actively intimidate and disrupt alternatives. 

Madrid’s taxis’ refusal to embrace competition saw them suffer. Ultimately, they were forced to accept innovation and many of them have now paired with ride hailing apps such as Pidetaxi and Tele Taxi. London’s black cabs should learn from their European counterparts that resisting competition will do them no good. In the long run, it simply isn’t viable to deny consumers what they want and consumers want Uber.

Despite criticism over its safety, Uber remains popular among many adults, including parents wanting to ensure their children get home safely (with the added benefit of not having to leave their home to do so). Part of this success stems from the ability to track rides. Parents are able to see their kids in real time. They also know the license plate of the car beforehand. Uber also enables parents to pay for their kids and know they can get home at any time, no matter what the cost and that their kids won’t spend the money on other things. While Uber may not be entirely safe, it is certainly on a par with black cabs. Uber drivers must pass a DBS check and get a TfL private hire license. 

There have been concerns over Uber’s safety as unauthorised drivers were able to upload their photos to the accounts of authorised drivers on some 14,000 journeys, however, this is not just cause to ban the app entirely. The overwhelming majority of journeys are conducted by authorised drivers with authorised profiles. Uber can introduce safety measures such as requiring photos to be taken at Uber’s office and then uploaded by Uber itself or random spot checks. Safety concerns are not, however, limited to private hire vehicles. Those who criticise Uber in favour of black cabs seem quick to forget cases such as the black cab rapist, John Worboys. 

Another reason for Uber’s success is that it’s easy to use the app. Uber is hassle free as they can be booked in advance, the driver knows the exact destination and removes the need for passengers to speak to the drivers. The last factor makes it desirable with tourists as it removes the issue of a language barrier. 

Uber has honed its service thanks to competition, such as Cabify. If Uber didn’t provide a service that people wanted, it would have failed a long time ago. Rather than changing to meet the demands of the customer, black cabs have attempted to deny the customer of a service that will satisfy them.

Uber doesn’t just make customers happy but also its employees. Uber enables 45,000 licenced drivers in London to work flexible hours that suit them. According to a 2018 report from the University of Oxford they earn above the London living wage. Banning Uber will harm these drivers and disproportionately affect minorities: 80% of black cab drivers are white compared to 26% of private hire drivers. In the States, drivers with Gold, Platinum or Diamond status on Uber’s reward system for drivers (i.e. frequent drivers) are rewarded with full tuition coverage at Arizona State University Online for them or a family member. Uber is planning on introducing this UK version of this scheme with the Open University.

TfL has denied Uber the renewal of its license over concerns over safety but left Londoners with an alternative that offers a service many customers don’t want. Any system is fallible and susceptible to be misused. Replacing Uber with black cabs leaves Londoners no more protected. The solution to problems with the market for taxis is not eradicating competition. It is introducing more of it.

Categories: Current Affairs

Paul Tenney’s Global Entrepreneurial Journey Leads to Database Technology Success in Asia

Mises Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 16:15

Storytelling can be a powerful aid to effective business strategy. A good story can identify both a destination and a path to get there, and unite people on a shared journey. That’s why we like to use the Economics For Entrepreneurs podcast to tell journey stories from time to time: to illustrate and inspire.

This week’s guest, Paul Tenney, tells us a particularly illustrative journey story, since it combines an entrepreneurial career of achievement and purposeful geographic mobility.

Key Takeaways And Actionable Insights

First, pick a promising industry with a potential for long term growth.

In the 2000’s, Paul identified database marketing technology as a growth industry, with expansive future promise but current low maturity (“e-mail spammers” were disdained at cocktail parties).

Learn and build a track record working for a growth company in the growth industry.

Paul rapidly accumulated executive experience, since growth demands that all employees step up to new responsibilities.

Develop your customer focus.

A fundamental lesson of Austrian Economics is that understanding customers and their needs always comes first in business building. This is especially true in emerging business technology. It’s easy to become focused on “product” (the technology) and lose sight of the customer, who may not understand the tech but view it as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Paul focused on customer success activities, which revealed customer problems to be solved, and taught him the primacy of customer care in building business relationships.

Accelerate your accumulation of experience.

Experience becomes knowledge and knowledge becomes a personal competitive advantage. A growth business can provide accelerated knowledge-expanding opportunities. In Paul’s case, the opportunity came via an international posting, opening new customer vistas and revealing new customer requirements from the same technology.

Identify a partnering route to launch your business.

Your goal is to establish an independent business to run. The challenge of the transition from employment to entrepreneurship can be modified in a number of ways. One is to find a partnership that can both bear some uncertainty for you, and provide you with a strategic resource advantage. Paul partnered with the company that had previously employed him to provide technology, so that he did not have to build it from scratch. He developed his own customer base using this technology.

Establish an initial value proposition.

The technology partnership supported a strong customer value proposition in Paul’s local geography: experience the benefits of world-class big company tech, with customized / localized service, and the low unit economics that come with the partner’s scale.

Then, take the Customer Success route to deeper understanding of market needs.

Paul had learned how a well-developed Customer Success capability could generate insightful customer problem statements. These represent unmet needs for which Paul’s new company could develop new and unique local solutions.

Gain higher ground with an advanced business proposition.

Paul was able to establish new high levels of customized local service (e.g. language) while maintaining the global list price for technology. Insights gleaned over time led to the realization that simplifying the technology proposition — for example, by reducing the complexity caused by hyper-personalization of e-mail marketing to end-consumers, and focusing on the binary question of whether or not e-mails generated sales — resulted in a better customer value experience.

This focus also resulted in new-to-the-world services (such as the “fatigue curve” and “rehabilitation rate”), further elevating the value proposition.

Paul shared a lot more of his experience: about raising capital, about value theory, about the role of resilience in the entrepreneurial journey, and about the customer success of de-complexifying technology. Don’t miss his inspiring journey.

Additional Resources

"Paul Tenney’s Global Entrepreneurial Journey" (PDF): Mises.org/E4E_49_PDF

Categories: Current Affairs

The Origin of the Prolonged Economic Stagnation in Contemporary Japan: The Factitious Deflation and Meltdown of the Japanese Firm as an Entity

Mises Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 15:30

 

The Origin of the Prolonged Economic Stagnation in Contemporary Japan: The Factitious Deflation and Meltdown of the Japanese Firm as an Entity
by Masayuki Otaki
Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge, 2016
x + 136 pp.

Abstract: While Otaki has seen what the Japanese economic disease is, he has failed to understand what fundamentally causes it. Somehow, Otaki attributes the Japanese troubles to a failure to follow the teachings of John Maynard Keynes. A Japanese economy on the gold standard would be insulated from the endless boom-and-bust cycle of the Keynesian shell game. There would have been no bubble, no collapse, and no lost decades. But Otaki does not see this, and clings to a sincere belief that Keynesianism is the cure for what ails Japan.

monetary policy    gold standard    keynes    business cycle    japan

Economics writing has a reputation for stolidity unto soporiferousness. To be fair, prose that trades in margins, utils, and curves-named-after-other-economists is perhaps a bit difficult to jazz up enough to read like For Whom the Bell Tolls. If one asked the average undergrad to rate his or her econ textbook on spiciness, the response might clock in somewhere between “cell phone contract” and “house dust.”

That may be true, but let no one—and I mean no one—lay the blame for it at the feet of Masayuki Otaki. The Origin of the Prolonged Economic Stagnation in Contemporary Japan: The Factitious Deflation and Meltdown of the Japanese Firm as an Entity (whew!) is, hands down, the most raucous economics volume I have ever read. This is gripping, dramatic stuff, larded with high-flown moralizing about policy and theory that is sure to grab and hold the attention of even the most indifferent reader. In the Preface alone, a mere two pages, Otaki manages to deploy “grievous,” “precarious,” “vicious,” “spurious,” and even “egregious,” a running of the “-ous” adjectives that is perhaps even more thrilling than the running of the Pamplona bulls. I was hooked. Otaki had me at “acute roundabout trespass”; I swooned at “substantively surcharged nominally on account of keeping the Japanese border from the menus of China”; I went all doe-eyed at “fanatic captives in the quantity theory of money”. Who could put this book down? Not I. I read it in one sitting, straight through, anxiously, even rambunctiously, turning pages to find out what would happen next.

So, what happened? Well, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure. Otaki has a gift for making economics read like dispatches from the French and Indian War, but I confess I was a little too thick-headed to penetrate the meaning of some of the more esoteric passages (and there are many). Here are the main points, as near as I can tell. (Otaki very helpfully includes a “concluding remarks” section at the end of each of his seven chapters. Without those, I would have been quite lost.)

- Otaki does not like Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzō or, more specifically, his economic policies, which critics and supporters alike refer to as “Abenomics.”

- One of the main reasons Otaki does not like Abenomics is that he sees it as an extension of “Koizuminomics” (a term that I just made up and which I do not expect to catch on, for obvious reasons). Koizumi Jun’ichirō was the prime minister of Japan from 2001 to 2006, and made it the centerpiece of his administration, at least in the early days, to privatize the financial arm of the Japanese postal service. Unlike the United States, where the post office is responsible mainly for delivering grocery store circulars while racking up billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded deficits and campaigning on the side for Democrats, the Japanese postal service is generally efficient and well-managed. So efficient and well-managed, in fact, that it also has its own bank. (US post offices provided this service, too, until about fifty years ago.) The postal bank remains in a state of semi-privatization almost two decades after Koizumi’s initial attempts at reforms, but it still holds the equivalent of some three trillion dollars US in savings and insurance assets. Otaki argues that the Koizumi brand of “privatization” was really a kind of crony capitalism that Otaki calls “pseudo laissez faire.”

- The Japanese people overall have been sold a bill of goods by the late-postwar pseudo laissez fairers. While early-postwar Japan still took seriously the firm as an entity that allowed for transactions not possible in the broader market (Otaki relies heavily here on Coase and Williamson, and also on the alternative firm theory of Uzawa Hirofumi and Edith Penrose), the advent of neo-liberalism and globalism, and in particular Japanese foreign direct investment (FDI) in other Asian countries, have combined to drive down wages for the average Japanese worker and hollow out the firm. Also, in the past, many Japanese companies held shares of one another’s stock, which encouraged at least a modicum of regard for the wider social costs of corporate actions, but today the neo-liberal shareholder has taken the place of the worker and the firm as the beneficiary of corporate profits.

- The Japanese stock market (as well as the American stock market) has boomed following the Lehman shock of 2008 because of foreign investors, and has nothing to do with Abenomics except negatively, because investors are looking for something more profitable than the zero or even negative interest rates currently on offer by Japanese banks.

This is the basic scope and outline of the book. There are thus, according to Otaki, major structural problems with the Japanese economy. This much is clear, and even those who have not quite broken the code of Otaki’s highly idiomatic English should have no trouble grasping that he is against crony capitalism (he calls the politically-connected president of Japan Railways Tokai “a pharaoh who decided to build his pyramid”), finds Prime Minister Abe and his “right-wing” ideas “appalling,” and urges an “evacuation from the myopic policy decisions” such as zero-interest rates and the spending debacle of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

One is inclined to agree with much of Otaki’s diagnosis. Surely, the Japanese economy is in bad shape, and surely it should be obvious to everyone but government bankers by this point that more “stimulus” spending has as much chance of “reincarnat[ing]” (to use Otaki’s term) the Japanese economy as a savings account at a Japanese bank has of generating interest. Otaki is right about all that, and I would argue that he is also right (I tend to agree with Uzawa) that one of the secrets to Japanese economic success was its very strong communal culture, which has been largely undermined in an age of crony-capitalist “rigging” (again, Otaki) of the labor market and the economy overall. There are things that firms in Japan have tended to do that have helped to humanize global competition and shield average workers from much of the destruction side of creative destruction. As the firm has changed and as Japanese business practices have been caught up in a political economy faced with major social and geopolitical upheavals, the old ways have faltered and younger workers have noticed that things just aren’t what they used to be. Stimulus doesn’t stimulate because the patient is, for all intents and purposes, already dead. Otaki is largely on the mark in this general assessment.

But here is also precisely where Otaki’s analysis breaks down. For, while he has very nicely seen what the disease is, he has failed, in my view, to understand what fundamentally causes it. In fact, I think he may be very much misinformed. For, while Otaki sees the out-of-control government spending and jerry-rigged “disinflation” and “deflation” as creatures of the “fanatic advocates of the exorbitant expansionary monetary policy [who] are only naïve captives of the quantity theory of money that has been apparently rebutted by the recent experience both in Japan and the United States,” he somehow, in a way that I just cannot figure out, at the same time manages to attribute all of this to a failure to follow the teachings of John Maynard Keynes. “Those who have common sense can hardly deny that the exorbitant expansionary policy fails in recovering the economy,” Otaki swashbuckles in the closing chapter, the excellently titled “We still have time and power.” Bravo! But wait. What’s this? Otaki also seems to think that Keynes, of all people, supplies the antidote to this recklessness. Somehow this all begins to sound like the Atkins Diet.

Alas, Otaki’s devotion to Keynes is apparently real. There’s this passage, for example:

[…] the prominent disinflation in [the] Japanese economy is not a monetary phenomenon caused by the shortage of the quantity of money, but a real phenomenon which comes from the stagnation of the labor productivity progress.

Well, OK, labor and productivity are certainly very important. But the problem arises when Otaki next introduces a kind of ingrown Keynesianism to explain how “price stability” is the answer to stagnation in labor productivity. “In this sense,” Otaki continues,

the concurrent monetary policy by the BOJ [Bank of Japan], which unreasonably aims to promote inflation via perturbing the confidence of money, is quite precarious. Keynes [citing Keynes (2013)] asserts that “[a] policy of price stability is the very opposite of a policy of permanently cheap money.” One of his reasons is that “[m]odern individualistic society, organized on lines of capitalistic industry, cannot support a violently fluctuating standard of value, whether the movement is upwards or downwards. Its arrangements presume and absolutely require a reasonably stable standard.”

Keynes is half right. There must be a “reasonably stable standard” if an economy is not to fly off the rails and spiral out of control, as the Japanese economy did when it overheated at the end of the 1980s and then imploded just as Debbie Gibson was going out of style. The reason that Japan has not found its feet again is precisely because of the failure to find this “reasonably stable standard,” coupled with the handicap of not having the advantage that the American economy has (and which Otaki also mentions) of being able to print the world’s common currency.

But how can Otaki fail to see that the very problems he diagnoses in the Japanese economy are inherent in Keynesianism? For example, this “vicious cycle” which Otaki laments just three pages after citing Keynes could also be read as Keynesianism’s calling card:

The Busted Bubble and the Surge of FDI -> Stagnant Domestic Markets -> [Rising] Unemployment -> [Decreased] Labor Productivity -> Disinflation -> [Reduced] Consumption -> Stagnant Domestic Markets

“We consider that the current Japanese economy is entrapped by the vicious cycle,” Otaki concludes. I concur. But this vicious cycle is the creature of Keynesianism, not something alien to Keynes’s ideas.

An economy must have a “reasonably stable standard” because, as Mises proved in great detail in Human Action, people act for a myriad of reasons and there is really no way to index and organize the totality of their interactions—an economy—without a standard that is infinitely fungible and common to all. The problem with fiat money, such as that printed by the ream by the Bank of Japan, the Federal Reserve, and other Houses of Keynes around the world, is that it is not money at all, but so many admission tickets to a political con game.

So, of course the Japanese government is rigging the Japanese economy. What did Otaki expect? The Roman emperors debased their own currency (also covered at length in Human Action), and virtually every other sovereign, prime minister, president, and chief of the exchequer who could get away with it has done the same. If someone is OK with being a member of an organization which commits armed robbery from hundreds of millions of bank accounts once every April 15th, then he or she is probably also OK with purloining money in other ways, for example by setting up a monopoly on Gresham’s Law and turning all of a given polity’s money into political scrip. It’s quite a racket. It’s what central banks do. Otaki seems to think that the Bank of Japan will one day wake up and start acting morally and for the good of the country—perhaps in the same way that a python might one day start atoning for his past life by volunteering at the Small Mammals Nursing Home. This chicanery is the essence of Keynesianism, and there is no way to prescribe the doctrine without also administering the “fatal conceit” that goes along with it.

Fortunately, there is a “reasonably stable standard” which has long proven capable of thwarting the designs of evil men “enamored with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government”: gold. Gold is real money. Gold works as money precisely because nobody can make gold but God. (The reason Isaac Newton spent so much time on alchemy experiments was not because he was kooky, but because as the Master of the Royal Mint he spent decades fighting counterfeiters and wanted to be sure that they could not reproduce the coin of the realm.) Government bankers, who have never been known to scruple about any possible differences between themselves and the Deity, elide this one sticking point and end up running a nationwide—even, in the case of the Fed, a worldwide—counterfeiting scheme of their very own, to enormous profits for themselves. But with gold, this is not possible. Governments and their bankers are kept on a gilded leash. The bad that a state would do—and, boy, would it do it if it could—is caged up by an eternally sound currency. Keynesianism is the Houdini act that lets governments wriggle out of this pen and do whatever they please with the people’s cash.

But Otaki is having none of this. He wants Keynesianism both ways. For example, he compares the collapse of the Japanese bubble economy in the early 90s and the subsequent lost decades to the Showa Depression, when the Great Depression in the United States began to affect the Japanese economy in the early 1930s. Otaki attributes the worsening of the Showa Depression to the return to the gold standard, something that Otaki says was “genetically infeasible for Japan judging from the incessant current account deficits adjacent to huge fiscal deficits.” Investors saw the return to gold coming and cashed out, thus triggering an avalanche of defaults and business closings.

[…] the rejoining at the excessively high parity only triggered the tremendous outflow of the fiducial currency. Every subtle speculator foresaw the embargo in the near future (December 1931) at the very beginning of return to gold standard. They purchased huge amounts of USD in exchange for fiducial currency, and thus severe domestic monetary contraction occurred.

To summarize, the most prominent feature of the Showa Depression is the appalling domestic monetary contraction owing to the unreasonable return to gold standard. Such contraction choked bank loans especially towards small and fragile firms in the fabric industry. [Japan’s economy had relied especially heavily on silk production in the early days of Meiji industrialization.] Facing the hardship, these entrepreneurs were forced to sell their products at damping prices, cut wages and fire some parts of their employees. Consequently, prominent deflation progressed.

Otaki sees the return to the gold standard as the problem, then. Like Keynes quoted above, Otaki is half right. Yes, returning to the gold standard can wreak havoc on an economy, but only in the way that restoring law and order occasionally wreaked havoc in Tombstone. Wyatt Earp had to crack a few heads to get folks to settle down. When “subtle investors” saw the sheriff on the horizon, they stuffed their carpetbags full of the locals’ flatware and hightailed it out of town. But this is hardly the sheriff’s fault.

Amazingly, in the very next paragraph after the one quoted above, Otaki blames the “current prolonged stagnation” in Japan on “easy monetary policy.” Otaki wants to contrast this with the Showa Depression, but on closer analysis it is obvious that the two things are the same. Keynesianism is the hocus pocus that seeks to cover over naked theft with highfalutin words. It is hard to see how Otaki can reconcile his support for Keynes with statements such as this:

The stimulations to the economy, which only involve the maintenance of the current spurious prosperity, are immoral, because such policies and projects gravely disturb the income distribution of the future generations via the debt-management policy. The imprudence in the fiscal policy and the huge scale project of the private sector stems [sic] not only from moral hazard in the limited liability but also from the illusion based on the rootless expansionism [emphasis in original] that is a negative inheritance of the High Growth Era.

Otaki seeks to accomplish this with an appeal to Burke, and to measured reform overall. But as Otaki’s own telling of just recent Japanese history makes clear (and as a wider survey of Japanese history, or of any other country’s history, will confirm), it is not reform that is the problem, but the so-called reformers. The weakness of any economy boils down essentially to just this: some people will try to hijack it via its money system and turn the entire thing to their own ends. There is no way to prevent this with laws and policies. There must be a sound currency, impregnable to human folly. That currency is gold.

A Japanese economy on the gold standard would be insulated from the endless boom-and-bust cycle of the Keynesian shell game. There would have been no bubble, no collapse, and no lost decades. Japanese firms would be healthy and diversified, and there would be no tax-guzzling boondoggles like World’s Fairs and Olympic Games to dazzle the very populace which has been railroaded by the captains of crony capitalism, who always grow rich while the economy and everyone else within it grow poor.

The Origin of the Prolonged Economic Stagnation in Japan is a very good overview of one theory of why the Japanese economy has been in the doldrums for so long. Masayuki Otaki is certainly sincere in his belief that Keynesianism is the cure for what ails Japan. But he is also wrong. I recommend this book as a very helpful primer on some of the more esoteric aspects of Japanese economics, and also as a foil for figuring out what Keynesianism is, and why it offers no future for any economy besides more of the same.

Categories: Current Affairs

How to Avoid Secular Stagnation

Mises Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 12:00

In his January 10 interview on Bloomberg TV, former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers expressed concern that despite the aggressive lowering of interest rates by major central banks, economic activity does not appear to be responding.

Summers suggested that something is not quite right. He is of the view that the Alvin Hansen’s secular stagnation theory might explain the present economic climate.

Hansen introduced his theory in the 1930s to provide an explanation for the Great Depression. Hansen's explanation of the Great Depression of the 1930s was that the US had become mired in permanent stagnation from which it could not be lifted by free market capitalism. In his presidential address to the American Economic Association in 1938, Hansen asserted that the US was a mature economy that was stuck in a setup that it could not escape from. According to Hansen technological innovations had come to an end and population growth was stagnating. Hence, investment opportunities would be scarce, and there would be nothing ahead except secular economic stagnation.

As a result of insufficient aggregate demand, this theory holds, the private sector of the economy is likely to remain in a permanent stagnation over a prolonged period unless fiscal policy is implemented to boost investment via public works projects. In this way of thinking, demand is the key to economic growth, and there is the urgent need to start boosting the inadequate aggregate demand by increasing government outlays on capital investments. This, it is held, could lift the economy out of the permanently stagnant configuration.

Since individuals are goal seeking, they are constantly striving to achieve as many goals as possible. What limits their ability to achieve various goals are means. Means have to be generated in order to serve in the achievement of various goals or ends.

For instance, an individual who sets a goal of building a house would have to organize the necessary materials and tools for this. These materials and tools would have to be produced, i.e., there is the requirement of having a suitable infrastructure to generate all the materials and tools.

This goal also implies that various individuals who are engaged in the making and the enhancement of the infrastructure must be supported in terms of various goods that are required to support their lives and well-being.

The goods that are provided to them in exchange for doing this do not emerge out of the blue. Those individuals who are producing final goods must allocate a portion of their final product to various individuals who are engaged in the enhancement and the expansion of the infrastructure.

The final goods that are provided to them are real savings. (The producers of final goods, rather than consuming them entirely, may decide to channel (invest) them to individuals who are expanding and enhancing the infrastructure.)

For both Hansen and Summers, savings is considered bad news since it is regarded as undermining the aggregate demand.

What commentators such as Summers are saying is that the underlying fundaments of the economy are not in a good shape. However, they are blaming the wrong causes for the underlying economic weakness. For them, weak population growth is an important factor because it undermines aggregate demand and hence economic growth. Unfortunately, none of the commentators emphasize that at the heart of economic growth is the pool of real savings. Given that savings are seen as bad for the economy, one is not surprised that Summers advocates for the strengthening of fiscal and monetary policy, which he believes will place the economy on a trajectory of strong economic growth.

But all that these loose policies are going to do is set in motion a further diversion of real savings from wealth generating activities to non-wealth generating activities. This is likely to undermine the pool of real savings and will definitely set the foundations for prolonged stagnation.

Also, both supply and demand must work in harmony. In a market economy, the purpose of production is consumption. People produce and exchange goods and services with each other in order to promote their lives and well-being — their ultimate purpose. This means that consumption cannot arise without production, while production without consumption would be meaningless.

In a market economy, both consumption and production are in harmony with each other, and consumption is fully backed by production.

In order to remove the threat of secular stagnation what is required is to shrink government outlays and to close all the loopholes for the creation of money out of thin air.

Contrary to the assertions of Hansen and various Keynesian commentators, wealth can only be generated by wealth producers, and not by government and central bank bureaucrats.

Categories: Current Affairs

We'd call this from Joe Stiglitz propaganda, not economics

Adam Smith Institute - Tue, 21/01/2020 - 07:01

It is, of course, possible to argue about the effects of economic changes. But we do think it helps to be reasonable about this. Which isn’t quite how we’d describe this assertion from Joe Stiglitz:

Given tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the ultra-rich and corporations, it should come as no surprise that there was no significant change in the median US household’s disposable income between 2017 and 2018 (again, the most recent year with good data).

The tax cuts were signed into law in late December 2017 and took effect for the tax year (which is in the US the calendar year) 2018. Now we do indeed believe in the healing power of money fructifying in the pockets of the populace but we’d perhaps think that that effects of a 1% of GDP change in tax revenues might take a teeny bit longer than that to come through.

Especially as the claimed and planned route is to be through higher business investment.

It’s possible to note that we lack the Nobel Joe has so whadda we know but a more reasonable conclusion here would be that Professor Stiglitz is indulging in a little bit of propaganda rather than economics. After all the standard New Keynesian models all do conclude that fiscal policy does take a finite amount of time to take effect.

Categories: Current Affairs

Privatizing the NHS: Who Profits?

Mises Institute - Mon, 20/01/2020 - 23:30

Dr. Bob Gill, producer of the documentary The Great NHS Heist, discusses what life in the National Health Service is like, how it differs from practice in the United States, and most importantly, his fears of what is undermining the mission of the NHS — a hostile takeover by American corporate interests.

Categories: Current Affairs

Lindsay Goldwert on Stand-up Comedy

Mises Institute - Mon, 20/01/2020 - 19:30

Bob Murphy interviews Lindsay Goldwert on her years performing at and organizing stand-up comedy shows in NYC, the interaction between comedy and finance, and her new book, BOW DOWN.

For more information, see BobMurphyShow.com. The Bob Murphy Show is also available on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, and via RSS.

Categories: Current Affairs

29. Rhode Island Holds Out

Mises Institute - Mon, 20/01/2020 - 18:45

Part V: The Nationalists Triumph: The Constitution Ratified.

Narrated by Millian Quinteros.

Categories: Current Affairs

33. The Battle for New York and the Twilight

Mises Institute - Mon, 20/01/2020 - 18:45

Part V: The Nationalists Triumph: The Constitution Ratified.

Narrated by Millian Quinteros.

Categories: Current Affairs

12. The Annapolis Convention

Mises Institute - Mon, 20/01/2020 - 18:45

Part III: The Nationalists Triumph: The Constitutional Convention.

Narrated by Millian Quinteros.

Categories: Current Affairs

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