February 23, 2017

Words & Numbers: The CBO Can’t Count

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 22 Feb 2017

In this episode, Dr. Antony Davies, Professor of Economics of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and Dr. James R. Harrigan, Senior Research Fellow at Strata, in Logan, Utah discuss the way the Congressional Budget Office works, and outline its history of failure at accurately forecasting increases in the national debt.

Find out more about the CBO and debt projections here:


and here:

Plus, check out this great 360 Video from Learn Liberty with Antony Daves that helps put the massive scale of the current US Federal debt into perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErUZjM16r1M

And track the National Debt in real time here:

February 19, 2017

Nominal vs. Real GDP

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 19 Nov 2015

“Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago? What about 40 years ago?”

These sorts of questions invite a different kind of query: what exactly do we mean, when we say “better off?” And more importantly, how do we know if we’re better off or not?

To those questions, there’s one figure that can shed at least a partial light: real GDP.

In the previous video, you learned about how to compute GDP. But what you learned to compute was a very particular kind: the nominal GDP, which isn’t adjusted for inflation, and doesn’t account for increases in the population.

A lack of these controls produces a kind of mirage.

For example, compare the US nominal GDP in 1950. It was roughly $320 billion. Pretty good, right? Now compare that with 2015’s nominal GDP: over $17 trillion.

That’s 55 times bigger than in 1950!

But wait. Prices have also increased since 1950. A loaf of bread, which used to cost a dime, now costs a couple dollars. Think back to how GDP is computed. Do you see how price increases impact GDP?

When prices go up, nominal GDP might go up, even if there hasn’t been any real growth in the production of goods and services. Not to mention, the US population has also increased since 1950.

As we said before: without proper controls in place, even if you know how to compute for nominal GDP, all you get is a mirage.

So, how do you calculate real GDP? That’s what you’ll learn today.

In this video, we’ll walk you through the factors that go into the computation of real GDP.

We’ll show you how to distinguish between nominal GDP, which can balloon via rising prices, and real GDP—a figure built on the production of either more goods and services, or more valuable kinds of them. This way, you’ll learn to distinguish between inflation-driven GDP, and improvement-driven GDP.

Oh, and we’ll also show you a handy little tool named FRED — the Federal Reserve Economic Data website.

FRED will help you study how real GDP has changed over the years. It’ll show you what it looks like during healthy times, and during recessions. FRED will help you answer the question, “If prices hadn’t changed, how much would GDP truly have increased?”

FRED will also show you how to account for population, by helping you compute a key figure: real GDP per capita. Once you learn all this, not only will you see past the the nominal GDP-mirage, but you’ll also get an idea of how to answer our central question:

“Are we better off than we were all those years ago?”

NFL tries to bully Texas … here’s how Texas should respond

Filed under: Economics, Football, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Ace offers some advice to Texas or to any other state on the receiving end of some NFL “persuasion”:

Texas Governor to NFL: Worry About Your Own Spousal Abuse Scandals Before You Go Dictating to Us That We Need to Allow Penises in the Ladies’ Rooms

The NFL warned a Texas that a bill proposed in its senate — which would reserve bathroom use to the “biological sex” indicated on the door — might jeopardize Texas from getting to host any future Super Bowls.

Governor Greg Abbot had some words for the NFL.

However, if Texas, or any other state, wishes to bar professional sports teams from ever attempting to blackmail them into what laws they can and cannot pass or enforce, I have a much more powerful corrective.

States should begin proposing this law:

No municipality shall have the authority to issue any bonds, or direct any public monies, towards the construction of any arena, stadium, or venue of any type intended partially for use by a private company, unless permission to do so is first granted by an act of the state legislature itself or a statewide referendum affirmatively permitting such a corporate-enrichment boondoggle.

Municipalities are delegated whatever powers of the state the state wishes to confer upon them. Municipalities, you may or may not know, act with the power of the state when they pass ordinances and tax bills and such — but that power derives from the reservoir of powers the state possesses, and which the state has conferred upon them via charters of incorporation.

Those powers can be circumscribed, expanded, limited, or cancelled.

You don’t have to include that last part, the part about the legislative or popular referendum override of the general forbiddance, but that could be thrown in there for RINOs who really do want to do favors for corporate bullies and who therefore won’t vote for such a bill without an escape clause.

When the states get serious about simply cutting off cities’ rights to issue bonds or directly subsidize, with taxpayer money, the new stadiums these free-riding vulture socialists are always demanding, then you’ll see the NFL and NBA adopt a much less high-handed tone.

Previous posts about the economic idiocy of local or state governments subsidizing billionaire sports team owners here, here, and here.

February 16, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Customer is Always Taxed

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 15 Feb 2017

We’re really excited to present the first episode of what will be an on-going video podcast featuring Dr. Antony Davies, Professor of Economics of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and Dr. James R. Harrigan, Senior Research Fellow at Strata, in Logan, Utah.

Each Wednesday we’ll be sharing a new short video featuring Antony and James talking about the economics and political science of current events. We hope you enjoy the show and look forward to your input on what topics Antony and James should cover in the future.

Today’s episode is about everybody’s favorite subject: Taxes!

February 15, 2017

CANZUK gets a boost from the Financial Post

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Andrew Lilico discusses the potential benefits to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK if these countries work on forming a four-way free trade deal:

The idea of CANZUK begins with a free-trade agreement, free-movement area (the freedom to live and work in each others’ countries) and defence-partnership agreement. O’Toole favours all three of these main planks, and he’s right that it all makes perfect sense.

The CANZUK countries, working closely together, would make a formidable contribution to world affairs. They would have the largest total landmass of any free-trade zone. They would collectively constitute the fourth-largest market in the world, after the U.S., EU and China.

Their combined military spending would be the world’s third largest, well ahead of Russia, and on European Geostrategy’s geopolitical power index, the CANZUK countries collectively have a strength around 70 per cent of that of the U.S. — and nearly twice that of China or France. With a combined global trade footprint nearly twice as big as Japan’s, the CANZUK countries would have substantial influence in opening up global markets and guiding global regulation across a range of issues from banking to shipping to the environment.

What makes CANZUK a natural union is perhaps self-evident. Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand share a similar culture, similar values, and analogous legal, business and social systems that allow us to get along easily and interchangeably. (The term CANZUK was originally a term diplomats used to refer to these four countries because of how frequently they would vote the same way at the UN.)

Most of the main issues our political parties focus upon are instantly comprehensible to anyone from another CANZUK state. Our laws and constitutions share many features, making trade deals and mutual regulatory recognition a relatively straightforward matter. Our citizens enjoy a roughly similar per capita GDP (which is just not true of the other Commonwealth nations with similar constitutions) and face few hurdles in integrating into another CANZUK country’s labour market. Our societies are peaceful and orderly.

February 13, 2017

What is Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 18 Nov 2015

Picture the economy as a giant supermarket, with billions of goods and services inside. At the checkout line, you watch as the cashier rings up the price for each finished good or service sold. What have you just observed?

The cashier is computing a very important number: gross domestic product, or GDP.

GDP is the market value of all finished goods and services, produced within a country in a year.

But, what does “market value” mean? And what defines a “finished good”?

These, and more questions, percolate inside your head. Meanwhile, the cashier starts ringing up the total, and you’re left confused. An array of things pass by you — A bottle of wine. A carton of eggs. A cake from the local bakers. A tractor, of all things. A bunch of ballpens. A bag of flour.

In this video, join us as we show you how to make sense of this important economic indicator. You’ll learn how GDP is computed, and you’ll get answers to some pretty interesting questions along the way.

Questions like, “Why are the eggs in my homemade omelet part of the GDP, but the eggs my baker uses are not? Why does my bottle of French wine contribute to France’s GDP, even if I bought it in the United States?”

Most importantly, you’ll also learn why polar bears aren’t part of the GDP computation, even if they’re incredibly cute.

So, buckle in for a bit—in the following videos we’ll dive into specifics on GDP.

February 11, 2017

Ici Londres: Protectionism never works

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Feb 8, 2017

February 10, 2017

Gadzooks! It’s CANZUK!

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Economics, Pacific — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ted Campbell is touting the benefits of a trade pact among the “other” Anglosphere nations (Canada-Australia-New Zealand-United Kingdom):

First, I am a committed free(er) trader. My reading of history is that free(er) trade always leads to greater peace and prosperity and that, conversely, protectionism usually paves the way for recessions, depressions and wars.

Second, the time seems ripe. Given the global trade situation ~ Brexit, Trump, the demise of the TPP, etc ~ and given that Canada (and Australia and New Zealand, too, I guess) and Britain are interested in a free(er) trade deal it might be an opportune moment to hit the pause button, briefly, and engage in four way negotiation since we are, all four, likely to have very similar aims. Canada has, probably, reached tentative and tentatively acceptable agreements with Australia and New Zealand in the TPP negotiations and we have made equally tentative and acceptable agreements with Britain during the CETA negotiations. It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of men and women of good-will to broaden and deepen those agreement for the mutual benefit of all four partners. (Although Mr O’Toole’s professed support for supply management may be a problem as it is, I think, one of the things we agreed to sacrifice for the TPP and it, ending supply management of the egg and dairy sector, is a long standing Australian/NZ demand.) It might make it easier for all four of us to deal with America, the ASEAN nations, China, the European Union and India, amongst others if we are reasonably united, homogeneous trade block of four friendly nations with a population of (Dr Lilico’s figures) 128 million people, a combined GDP of $(US) 6.5 Trillion, and global trade worth more than US$3.5 Trillion (versus around US$4.8 T for the U.S., US$4.2 T for China, or US$1.7 T for Japan).

Militarily, the four might find some grounds for further and even deeper cooperation ~ ideally, in the long term, on shared defence requirements definition … deciding, in advance, to harmonize operational requirements for “big ticket” items like ships, aircraft, tanks and electronics … and then, whenever politically possible, to enter into combined, multinational procurement exercises to leverage the advantages of the greater size of the combined requirement for lower prices. This is a possibility that is fraught with political difficulty but which could deliver real, measurable financial benefits to all four countries.

Equally, the four nations, acting in concert, perhaps with Singapore added, too, might be able to exert more and better influence on e.g. United Nations peacekeeping operations.

QotD: “First world problems” used to be just “very rich people’s problems”

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… my bathroom book (bathroom books are essays or short stories, because if you have never gotten trapped by a novel someone had forgotten in the bathroom and lost the entire morning as well as all circulation in your legs, I can’t explain it to you) is a Daily Life In Medieval England thing. And most of the time I read something that I’m sure the authors thought was new and exotic and think “Well, heck, it was like that in the village.”


Which brings us back, through back roads to the main point of this post. I was (being evil) reading some of the entries in the medieval life book to older son (having brought the book out of the bathroom to pontificate) and I said “bah, it was like that for us, too. It wasn’t that bad.” And son said “mom, it sounds horrific.” And I said “that’s because you grew up in a superabundant society, overflowing at both property and entertainment, which is why the problems we suffer from are problems that only affected the very rich in the past” (Crisis of identity, extreme sensitivity to suffering, etc.)

Which is also true. And note kindly, that though we’re overflowing at the seams with material goods, property crimes we still have with us, not counting on anything else.

But for my child this is the normal world and it doesn’t occur to him to think of it as superabundant. He just thinks of the conditions I grew up under (I think it was the “most people only had one change of clothes, including underwear” that got him) as barbaric and horrible.

I’ve long since realized that I grew up somewhere between medieval England and Victorian England. Tudor England feels about as familiar to me as the present day which is why I like visiting now and then.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Time Zones”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-23.

February 8, 2017

Seeing the elephant (economic edition)

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Stephen Gordon says it’s a dangerous fantasy to think that the Canadian economy could cope with a Prime Minister who tries to “get tough” over Il Donalduce‘s trade concerns:

Pierre Trudeau once described the Canadian relationship with the United States as “like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast … one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” It is now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bad luck – and ours – to be bunking down with a surly and irascible elephant.

It’s worth dwelling on just how asymmetric the economic relationship is between Canada and the United States. It’s sometimes pointed out that Canada is the largest market for U.S. exports, and that’s true as far as it goes. But U.S. dependence on the Canadian export market is an order of magnitude smaller than Canadian dependence on exports to the U.S. Exports of goods and services to the U.S. accounted for 22.8 per cent of Canadian GDP in 2015; U.S. exports to Canada were only 1.9 per cent of U.S. GDP.

There’s not much that could or should have been done to reduce this dependence on the U.S. market. All the factors that determine the volume of trade flows — physical proximity, market size, linguistic and cultural ties, similar legal systems and so forth — all point to the U.S. It’s always been a good idea to promote trade links with other countries, but the U.S. would still be our dominant export market even in a world in which the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership were already in place.

So it really doesn’t make sense to think that a Canadian Prime Minister can “stand up” and “fight back” against U.S. sanctions, or that Canada’s bargaining position would be somehow strengthened if another person were running the government. The trade numbers would still be the same.

February 4, 2017

“Buy American!” is great politics, but terrible economics

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colin McNickle explains why protectionist policies like “Buy American” are good for politicians but bad for producers and consumers:

Lost in all the rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-ing of President Trump wanting to use American steel only in the Keystone XL, Dakota Access and other U.S. oil pipelines is this fundamental economic fact:

The price of that steel will be higher. In some cases, markedly so. And we all will be made poorer. Not in effect, but actually.

How so?

As Hoover Institution scholar David R. Henderson once explained it:

“Almost all economists say [‘Buy American’ is] nonsense. And the reason is: We should buy things where they’re the cheapest. That frees up more of our resources to buy other things, and other Americans get jobs producing those things.”

The “problem” of other countries selling goods at or below cost (in other words, making part of the value of the good a gift to the purchaser) is only a problem for uneconomic domestic producers … it’s great for consumers of that good:

… as Tori K. Whiting, a trade and economics scholar at the Heritage Foundation, reminded in September:

“In response to alleged unfair trade practices, domestic steel producers are advocating for broad import restraints and immediate action by the U.S. government to protect the domestic industry. …

“The U.S. manufacturing and construction industries rely on domestic and foreign steel to create finished products. Tariffs on steel imports limit choices and increase costs for these industries. Those costs are ultimately borne by American consumers and act as a tax on everyday goods made from steel,” she reminded.

And as fellow Heritage legal scholar Alden Abbott added, “(A)nti-dumping is in fact a form of special interest cronyism that imposes high costs on Americans and thwarts beneficial competition.”

“Buy American” makes for great political rhetoric. But the reality is that most Americans would find their pocketbooks heavily pinched if the practice became pervasive and America’s overall standard of living would fall.

February 3, 2017

Here are some tax cuts that would actually hurt the wealthy

Filed under: Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Last week, Kevin Williamson outlined a couple of tax reforms that really would make a difference, being both more fair to all taxpayers and appealing (in theory) to both left and right:

Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration will disagree about many things, but it is rare to find a Republican of almost any description who will turn his nose up at a tax cut of almost any description. As Robert Novak put it: “God put the Republican Party on earth to cut taxes. If they don’t do that, they have no useful function.” And tax cuts are coming. But there are two proposals in circulation that would constitute significant tax increases — tax increases that would fall most heavily on upper-income Americans in high-tax progressive states such as California and New York. The first is a proposal to reduce or eliminate the mortgage-interest deduction, a tax subsidy that makes having a big mortgage on an expensive house relatively attractive to affluent households; the second is to reduce or eliminate the deduction for state income taxes, a provision that takes some of the sting out of living in a high-tax jurisdiction such as New York City (which has both state and local income taxes) or California, home to the nation’s highest state-tax burden.

Do not hold your breath waiting for the inequality warriors to congratulate Republicans for proposing these significant tax increases on the rich. Expect lamentations and the rending of garments, instead.

Slate economics editor Jordan Weissmann, who is not exactly Grover Norquist on the question of taxes, describes the mortgage-interest deduction as “an objectively horrible piece of public policy that should be reformed,” and it is difficult to disagree with him. It distorts the housing market in favor of higher prices, which is great if you are old and rich and own a house or three like Bernie Sanders but stinks if you are young and strapped and looking to buy a house. It encourages buyers to take on more debt at higher interest rates than they probably would without the deduction, and almost all of the benefits go to well-off households in the top income quintile. It is the classic example of upper-class welfare. And it has a nasty side, too: Those sky-high housing prices in California’s most desirable communities serve roughly the same function as the walls of a gated community or the tuition at Choate: keeping the riff-raff out. Pacific Heights is famous for its diversity: They have all kinds of multimillionaires there.

February 1, 2017

“This unapologetic Luddism is what passes for futurism in leftist circles these days, I fear”

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh looks at the tribulations of the French Socialist party (the rough equivalent of Canada’s “Natural Governing Party”) as they scramble to remain meaningful in the upcoming elections:

[Benoît] Hamon’s candidacy will provide a first serious electoral test of the ultra-trendy universal basic income idea. His proposal is for a universal income of €750 a month, or about $1,050 in Canadian currency. This is none too generous an amount to live on, even granting that France is a hell of a nice place to be poor. But without other sources of financing, such a UBI might require nearly an immediate doubling of French state revenue, even if you count the existing welfare programs France could get rid of.

Valls expended a lot of effort challenging Hamon’s math, to little apparent avail. Hamon has “plans” to raise new revenue, mostly of a hand-wavy sort that will be familiar from the worst sort of Canadian provincial election. But his tax on robots and artificial intelligences is certainly a fun new wrinkle.

On hearing of the idea, the advanced, full-blooded nerd will immediately think of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. Herbert, finding it amusing to construct a science-fiction universe without computers, created a backstory in which humans had risen up in an enormous, ultra-violent “Butlerian Jihad” and established a pan-galactic religious taboo: “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

For, after all, any machine that mimics human operations, mechanical or cognitive, takes away a potential job from a human being, or from dozens of them. That is the premise of the “robot tax”, and, by all logic, it should apply to computers. Or, for that matter, to any labour-saving device — any device that multiplies human productivity at all. Pens. Crocs. Red Bull.

This unapologetic Luddism is what passes for futurism in leftist circles these days, I fear. The sense that automation finally went too darn far, in the year 2015 or thereabouts, finds willing hearers everywhere in communities that used to be able to count on beer-bottling plants or fish canneries or automotive assembly lines. The universal basic income is of interest to future-minded politicians because that low-skill mental and physical work seems to be disappearing. Some see an approaching world in which scarcity of goods is transcended, by dint of robots and 3D printing and machine learning, and most humans have no opportunities for productive work.

January 27, 2017

QotD: Greed

Filed under: Economics, Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Well first of all, tell me: Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.

Milton Friedman

January 26, 2017

Autarky is not the answer

Filed under: Economics, History, Japan, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Warren Meyer on the idiocy of Trump’s economic nationalist notions:

Think about the corollary of Trump’s economic nationalism, particularly if everyone followed this same approach. If one skews all the rules and taxes and prohibitions so everything must be sourced domestically, then if a country does not have some particular resource or skill domestically, it is out of luck. No domestic rare earth metals? Sorry.

But governments and powerful people seldom calmly accept that something they critically need is not available. They will be tempted to go and take it. The worst, most violent empire building of the last 100-150 years has occurred when countries have pursued economic nationalism. Think of the colonialism of the late 19th century. Today we happily trade with South Africa and other countries for valuable resources, but in that time of economic nationalism, if a country wanted access to these resources, it felt it had to control the land and the people. Hitler in the 1930’s wanted to make Germany self-sufficient in agricultural goods and certain other resources, and the only way to do that was to go and grab other people’s land and resources.

The best example of all of this phenomenon is, I think, Japan in the 1930’s. Japan felt that it was resource poor and under Trump’s theory of economic nationalism, it felt it had to control oil and other resources it did not have domestically. So it plotted to go take it. When the US instituted a trade embargo in these very goods to punish Japan’s aggressiveness in China, it just accelerated Japan’s thinking in this area, convincing it for good it had to control these resources, and it was soon invading the oil-rich islands of what is now Indonesia. This example is all the more telling because Japan actually found true prosperity after the war when it traded peacefully for these resources. Unfortunately, it adopted economic nationalism, via MITI, of another form and helped manage themselves into a 20-year recession, but that is another trade-related story for another day.

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