June 24, 2016

The Brexit surprise

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Europe, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:05

I had expected a narrow Remain victory in yesterday’s referendum, but had I been eligible to vote, I’d have voted to Leave. The initial reports I saw certainly made it seem as if Remain had squeaked out a narrow victory, but I was delighted to see my hometown voting convincingly to Leave at over 65%. The revolt of Labour voters probably was the deciding factor in the final result … the Tories had been having trouble for years trying to keep their EU skeptic wing quiet for fear they’d decamp to UKIP, but Labour seemed to have their supporters well in hand. Yet Middlesbrough and many other Labour ridings in the North East were the ones who came out most strongly for Brexit.

David Cameron has announced that he’ll be resigning (as is proper, under the circumstances), so it might be former London mayor Boris Johnson who ends up leading the negotiations with the EU. Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t indicated whether he will also resign over the result, but it would be difficult for him to continue to lead Labour after Labour’s voters came down for the Leave side against their own party’s recommendations. At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait shared some thoughts:

Re the Jo Cox murder. Many Remainers used this horror to imply that voting Leave was like voting in favour of MPs being murdered. (The Remainers who refrained from using this argument were not so audible.) I surmise that (a) some potential Leavers were persuaded, (b) some potential Leavers were angered and caused to vote Leave having only previously been thinking about it, and (c) quite a few continued to move towards Leave for reasons unrelated to the Jo Cox murder, but in silence. When the Cox murder happened, there was a shift towards Leave taking place. I surmise that this continued to flow, but underground, so to speak. Minds continued to move, but people stopped telling the pollsters. But, they’ve told them now.


Next, I refer honorable readers to these graphs (which I also wrote about in this posting here). These graphs say: (1) that when the government takes charge of something the immediate effects are often quite good, but in the long run less good, and then bad, and then very bad; and (2) that a piece of market liberalisation has the opposite effect, disruptive and unsettling at first, but then better, and in the long run unimaginably better. This explains why people so often vote for the government arrangement, against their long-term interests. Voters often have a short-term problem and are begging for a short-term fix. But these “Alpha Graphs” also explain something else, which is that when voters think that they are choosing between (1) bad now and bad in the future, or (2) bad now and better in the future, they are capable of voting in their long-term interest because long-term interest is all that there is on offer. Once governmentalism, so to speak, gets towards the far end of its graph and things are getting worse, really quite fast, and will go on getting worse no matter what, the decision changes radically. The only question is: Will the bad news ever stop? All of this now seems relevant to the Referendum debate. “Europe” was, for many, bad and getting worse. Brexit will also be bad, but eventually, better. If you think those two things, Brexit wins. And Brexit did win, with the people in a terminally bad way voting for it most heavily, and the people, like these people, who are now getting by or better voting for Remain, because they have something or a lot to lose.

It was assumed by Remainers that every time another London and/or Global Grandee came out for Remain, that helped the Remain cause. But for many, the unhappiness of such persons about the idea of Leave was a Leave feature rather than a Leave bug.

Speaking of London grandees, Eddie Izzard, dressed like a loon on Question Time, did not, I surmise, help the Remain cause. I mean, he really didn’t help. Imagine (as lucky old libertarian me living comfortably in London only can imagine) being staunch Labour but long-term unemployed, in Wigan or some such place. And you see on your TV some London Labour-Luvvie comedian, cross-dressed like a cross between Margaret Thatcher, Victoria Wood and Benny Hill, arguing for Remain. You’d vote Leave just to shove a stick up this thoughtless, frivolous, openly-contemptuous-of-everything-you-believe-in idiot’s arse, no matter how much more unemployed it might make you. (See above about not having anything to lose. If you have nothing left to lose, or if you merely feel this, punitive voting becomes one of your few remaining pleasures. (More Izzard related ruminations by me here.))

Tim Worstall on the economic implications of Brexit now that it’s a reality:

As to the longer term economic impact there’s all sorts of dire predictions of imminent recession. And this really just doesn’t ring true. The last time sterling fell like this, in 1993, it set off Britain’s longest ever peacetime economic boom. A lower exchange rate is generally taken to be stimulatory to an economy. Sure, there’s something called the J-Curve which means that it might not be immediately so (the idea being that it takes time for people to change their trade habits, meaning that higher import prices and lower export ones might take 18 months to work through into the real economy) but it really is the standard economic position that a decline in the exchange rate boosts the domestic economy. That’s why the IMF always recommends it for economies in trouble.

That is, the very thing that people are worrying about, a Brexit induced recession, is dealt with by the very thing that people are worrying about, a decline in the sterling exchange rate. These markets things do in fact work.

As to what happens in the near future in proper economic terms the answer is, well, nothing. Since the last revision of the European Treaty there is a procedure laid out for how a country leaves the EU. And it is that everything remains exactly as it was yesterday for the two years it takes to negotiate what will happen next. The only thing that will be influencing things is uncertainty about how those negotiations will pan out. That uncertainty being something which, again, is rather well dealt with by this current fall in sterling. Make investing in British assets cheap enough and people will continue to do it.

And to that long term. I think the long term effects are going to be, as long as we follow sensible economic policies post-Brexit, beneficial to the UK economy. Partly on the Patrick Minford grounds, that leaving the EU allows us to take that one sensible trade stance, unilateral free trade, which being in the EU prevents us from taking. But more than that I am absolutely convinced that the generally slow growth of the advanced economies is nothing to do with Larry Summers’ secular stagnation. Nothing to do with inadequate demand, with slow technological growth, not Robert Gordon’s analysis. Rather, it is the accretion of regulation of the economy that is responsible. And leaving the EU means that Britain can free itself from much to all of that – if it so desires of course.

This does not mean getting rid of the welfare state, doesn’t mean some laissez faire capitalism red in tooth and claw. Just very much less paper pushing and the asking of bureaucratic permission to do things. Just rather more of that Uber idea, move fast and break things. If you prefer, economic growth depends not so much on people innovating but there being space not controlled by the previous rules for people to innovate into. And recreating that space is something that Brexit will allow us to do.

June 18, 2016

QotD: The origin of the push for a minimum wage

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

Few policies have origins as ugly as that of the minimum wage. “Progressive” intellectuals in the early 20th century supported the minimum wage because they believed it to be an effective policy detergent to help cleanse the gene pool of ‘undesirables.’ By pricing low-skilled, ‘undesirable’ workers out of jobs, ‘undesirables’ are less likely to successfully pro-create and to immigrate. The fact that the minimum wage, by pricing ‘undesirables’ out of work, thereby artificially raises the incomes of white workers was considered to be an added benefit of this social-engineering device.

Business owners and labor unions in higher-wage regions of the United States supported the minimum wage because it would dampen the competition they were under from businesses and workers in lower-wage regions of the United States.

The ethics of these early supporters of the minimum wage were despicable. But say this much for these racist, protectionist creeps: they understood economics better than do many people today (including some economists) who believe either that the law of demand is uniquely inoperative in the market for low-skilled workers or that the American market for low-skilled workers is monopsonized.* Each belief is as inexplicable as it is unsupportable.

* And monopsonization of the labor market is only a necessary condition for a minimum wage to not destroy employment opportunities for some workers; it is not a sufficient condition.

Don Boudreaux, “Quotation of the Day…”, Café Hayek, 2016-06-01.

June 8, 2016

WW2: The Resource War – IV: Strategic Bombing – Extra History

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

Published on 26 Apr 2016

*Sponsored* Hearts of Iron IV comes out on June 6!

A series of missed airstrikes resulting in the death of civilians sparked the no-holds-barred Battle of Britain. Germany launched a Blitz to bomb London into submission, but inadvertantly sparked more resistance and gave British industry a chance to bounce back.

On August 25, 1940, a group of German bomber planes got lost on a night-time mission over England. They wound up dropping bombs not on their industrial target, but on the city of London itself. Winston Churchill ordered a retaliatory strike against Germany, but this time it was the RAF who missed their target and hit civilians. Hitler was convinced this was intentional, so he rescinded his prohibition against targeting civilians. The Luftwaffe organized a massive attack against London, intending to break the British people’s will to fight. The Blitz backfired in several respects. First, it diverted Germany’s attention from strategic targets, which meant they were no longer putting real pressure on the British industrial war efforts. Second, they wound up bringing the British together and strengthening their will to fight on in the names of those who’d been lost to German bombs. Ultimately, the cost in men and material for Germany to wage the Battle of Britain exceeded the cost of damage they inflicted.

June 6, 2016

QotD: What really ended the Great Depression in the United States?

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

The Great Depression was the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. From 1931 to 1940 unemployment was always in double digits. In April 1939, almost ten years after the crisis began, more than one in five Americans still could not find work.

On the surface, World War II seems to mark the end of the Great Depression. During the war more than 12 million Americans were sent into the military, and a similar number toiled in defense-related jobs. Those war jobs seemingly took care of the 17 million unemployed in 1939. Most historians have therefore cited the massive spending during wartime as the event that ended the Great Depression.

Some economists — especially Robert Higgs […] challenged that conclusion. Let’s be blunt. If the recipe for economic recovery is putting tens of millions of people in defense plants or military marches, then having them make or drop bombs on our enemies overseas, the value of world peace is called into question. In truth, building tanks and feeding soldiers — necessary as it was to winning the war — became a crushing financial burden. We merely traded debt for unemployment. The expense of funding World War II hiked the national debt from $49 billion in 1941 to almost $260 billion in 1945. In other words, the war had only postponed the issue of recovery.

Even President Roosevelt and his New Dealers sensed that war spending was not the ultimate solution; they feared that the Great Depression — with more unemployment than ever — would resume after Hitler and Hirohito surrendered. Yet FDR’s team was blindly wedded to the federal spending that (as I argue in my 2009 book New Deal or Raw Deal?) had perpetuated the Great Depression during the 1930s.

FDR had halted many of his New Deal programs during the war — and he allowed Congress to kill the WPA, the CCC, the NYA, and others — because winning the war came first. In 1944, however, as it became apparent that the Allies would prevail, he and his New Dealers prepared the country for his New Deal revival by promising a second bill of rights. Included in the President’s package of new entitlements was the right to “adequate medical care,” a “decent home,” and a “useful and remunerative job.” These rights (unlike free speech and freedom of religion) imposed obligations on other Americans to pay taxes for eyeglasses, “decent” houses, and “useful” jobs, but FDR believed his second bill of rights was an advance in thinking from what the Founders had conceived.

Burton Folsom, “If FDR’s New Deal Didn’t End the Depression, Then It Was World War II that Did”, The Freeman, 2014-12-26.

June 1, 2016

The Tradeoff Between Fun and Wages: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

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

Published on 7 Apr 2015

If you had to choose, would you rather be a sewer inspector spending your days underground or a lifeguard on the beach? Most would say that being a lifeguard is a more fun job, but a sewer inspector has higher wages to compensate for the less-fun aspects of the job. In this video, we discuss the tradeoff between fun and wages and show how this illustrates that “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!”

May 31, 2016

Trump is [gasp! shock! horror!] right about California’s water problems

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

Anyone who reads the blog knows I’m not a Trump fan, so it might seem a bit odd that I’m in full agreement with Tim Worstall that Trump is actually right about fixing California’s chronic water shortages:

Much amusement around and about the place as Donald Trump tells California that there is no drought and that when he’s President then there will be plenty of water for everyone. The amusement being that of course, how could anyone spout such nonsense, everyone knows that California’s had a drought for years now!?! Except, of course, that Trump is actually correct here. There is no existential shortage of water in the state, not at all. What there is is misallocation of water and that misallocation is because water is incorrectly priced there. The solution therefore is to get the pricing right: then the allocation will be. We also know something more about this: it doesn’t matter what the current or original allocations are. Getting the price right will solve the problem.


The answer is, as any passing economist would tell you, that water has to be priced and priced properly. Those activities that do not cover the cost of water will not be done. That frees up water to do the things that add more value than the cost of the water. And that’s it, that’s all that needs to be done. Yes, it will mean radical changes in farming practices for some people: almost certainly a reallocation of water away from alfalfa, rice and almonds over to higher value added crops like vegetables and other fruits. More importantly, water pricing that actually bites will free up vast amounts of water for both industry and domestic use.

Changing the price system will mean that people stop doing the things which are worth less to do than the value of the water needed to do them. Thus, by definition, there’s enough water to do everything that people want to do with the amount of water that is available. It’s a cute system, it works really well. So, obviously, that is what should be done. Whoever owns water rights now (and I’m aware that water rights out West can be a nightmare) should be allowed to sell it to whoever at whatever price anyone offers. That’s all we need do.

QotD: The minimum wage

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

In truth, there is only one way to regard a minimum wage law: it is compulsory unemployment, period. The law says: it is illegal, and therefore criminal, for anyone to hire anyone else below the level of X dollars an hour. This means, plainly and simply, that a large number of free and voluntary wage contracts are now outlawed and hence that there will be a large amount of unemployment. Remember that the minimum wage law provides no jobs; it only outlaws them; and outlawed jobs are the inevitable result.

Murray Rothbard, “Outlawing Jobs: The Minimum Wage”, 1998.

May 30, 2016

WW2: The Resource War – III: The Engines of War – Extra History

Filed under: Economics, Europe, History, Japan — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 19 Apr 2016

*Sponsored* Hearts of Iron IV comes out on June 6!

The armies and technology of World War II required a vast supply of resources. A close look at Germany and Japan shows how the need to secure those resources played a significent role in determining strategy throughout the war.

The armies of World War II needed a vast supply and variety of resources. The Allies had many of those resources on their side, but the Axis powers did not. Germany imported many of its resources from countries it would soon be fighting, and needed their war strategy to account for the acquisition of those resources. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed with the USSR set up a trade agreement to bring them oil from Russia for a while, in addition to establishing temporary non-aggression with the Soviets. When the war began in earnest, Germany targeted Norway with its supply of aluminum and iron as well as its access to the even more resource-rich Sweden. Conquering France also gave them access to rich farmland to feed the troops. But even though they had gained control of the oil fields in Romania, it wasn’t enough to power their war machine. Many Nazi generals wanted to target North Africa for this, but Hitler had his sights set on the Soviet Union and wound up squandering much of Germany’s reserves in a fruitless effort there. Meanwhile, Japan’s entrance into the war had cost them their primary trading partner: the United States. The Japanese army wanted to pursue the Northern Expansion Doctrine (Hokushin-Ron) and push through China into Siberia, wounding the USSR in the process. They attempted this strategy, but the Soviets met them in Mongolia and pushed them back in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. So they turned to the Southern Expansion Doctrine (Nanshin-Ron) advocated by the navy, and began to sweep up islands in the Pacific. They planned to strip the European colonial powers of their holdings, and they succeeded in capturing 90% of the world’s rubber production. But the US responded by synthesizing rubber, and built an industry so large that even today, more rubber is synthesized than harvested. If World War I was the first industrial war, marked by mass production and industrial capacity, then World War II was the first scientific war, marked by advancements like synthesis, radar, and jet engines.

The greatest German philanthropist you’ve never heard of

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

At the Cobden Centre, Alasdair Macleod explains how the sensible reforms of one man rescued the West German economy from rationing, inflation, and deprivation:

Anyone who favours regulation needs to explain away Germany’s post-war success. Her economy had been destroyed, firstly by the Nazi war machine, and then by Allied bombing. We easily forget the state of ruin the country was in, with people in the towns and cities actually starving in the post-war aftermath. The joint British and American military solution was to extend and intensify war-time rationing and throw Marshall aid at the problem.

Then a man called Ludwig Erhard was appointed director of economics by the Bizonal Economic Council, in effect he became finance minister. He decided, against British and American misgivings, as well as opposition from the newly-recreated Social Democrats, to do away with price controls and rationing, which he did in 1948. These moves followed his currency reform that June, which contracted the money supply by about 90%. He also slashed income tax from 85% to 18% on annual incomes over Dm2,500 (US$595 equivalent).

Economists of the Austrian school would comprehend and recommend this strategy, but it goes wholly against the bureaucratic grain. General Lucius Clay, who was the military governor of the US Zone, and to whom Erhard reported, is said to have asked him, “Herr Erhard, my advisers tell me what you have done is a terrible mistake. What do you say to that?”

Erhard replied, “Herr General, pay no attention to them! My advisers tell me the same thing.”

About the same time, a US Colonel confronted Erhard: “How dare you relax our rationing system, when there is a widespread food shortage?”

Erhard replied, “I have not relaxed rationing, I have abolished it. Henceforth the only rationing ticket the people will need will be the deutschemarks. And they will work hard to get those deutschemarks, just wait and see.”

The US Colonel did not have to wait long. According to contemporary accounts, within days of Erhard’s currency reform, shops filled with goods as people realised the money they sold them for would retain its value. People no longer needed to forage for the basics in life, so absenteeism from work halved, and industrial output rose more than 50% in the second half of 1948 alone.

Erhard had spent the war years studying free-market economics, and planning how to structure Germany’s economy for the post-war years. It goes without saying that his free-market approach made him a long-standing and widely recognised opponent of Nazi socialism, a fact that enhanced his credibility with the military authorities tasked with repairing the German economy. He became an early member of the Mont Pelarin Society, a grouping of free-market economists inclined towards the Austrian School, founded in 1947, and whose first President was Hayek.

Erhard simply understood that ending all price regulation, introducing sound money and slashing the burden of taxation, were the basics required to revive the economy, and that the state must resist the temptation to intervene and had to reduce its role in the economy. He remained a highly successful finance minister for fourteen years, before succeeding Adenauer as Chancellor in 1963.

Erhard not only allowed unfettered free markets to rapidly turn Germany around from economic devastation, but being publicly credited with this success he presided over the economy long enough to ensure that bureaucratic meddling was kept at bay subsequently. His legacy served Germany well, despite the generally destructive actions of his successors.

The contrast with Britain’s economic performance was stark, where rationing was not finally lifted until 1954, and her post-war socialist, anti-market government was nationalising key industries. The contrast between Germany’s revival and Britain’s decline could not have been more marked.

May 29, 2016

WW2: The Resource War – II: Lend-Lease – Extra History

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

Published on 12 Apr 2016

*Sponsored* Hearts of Iron IV comes out on June 6!

After Germany’s early push, the situation looked dire in Europe. The United States had resources to help out, but initially clung to an isolationist policy. Gradually, measures like Cash and Carry and the Lend-Lease Act expanded their involvement.

Germany’s blitzkrieg had been largely successful. France fell early, and Great Britain appeared on the verge of collapse. Europe needed more resources to sustain their resistance, but the United States was bound by the Neutrality Act which established a policy of isolationism and forbade the US from supporting foreign wars in any way. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt skirted those restrictions. He lobbied Congress to reinstate a provision in the law called Cash and Carry, which would allow other nations to buy US war materiel with cash and transport it themselves into the warzone. He also established an agreement which allowed him to place American military bases on British colonies in exchange for destroyer ships, thus safeguarding the far reaches of the United Kingdom from possible Axis invasions. When it turned out that the English won the Battle of Britain and successfully staved off the attempted Nazi conquest, America decided to support them in a more substantial, long term way. Thus the Lend-Lease Act was signed: the US would loan equipment to their strategic partners (who were not the Allies yet). Though supposedly the equipment had to be returned, it was pretty obvious that war materiel would not come back in the same shape if at all, so this was really the largest donation of war supplies ever. But it wound up benefiting the US in turn, since the increased production galvanized an economy that had been stagnant since the Great Depression. It also kickstarted the involvement of the US Merchant Marine, who were among the earliest US citizens to give their lives in World War II and suffered the highest casualty percentage of any branch of the service. These unarmed ships navigated U-boat infested waters to bring much needed supplies to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Despite this, their service has gone largely unrecognized and unrewarded as they are still denied many veterans’ benefits and were not even formally thanked by Congress until 2012.

May 25, 2016

WW2: The Resource War – I: Arsenal of Democracy – Extra History

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Europe, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 5 Apr 2016

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To understand nations at war, you have to look at how their economies function. With World War II on the horizon, Europe and Asia dug themselves in for a fight – and a look at each other’s resources told them what to expect.

European economies were so closely connected that some people expected they have to avoid another world war or destroy their finances, but in fact World War I had taught them how to prepare for just such a scenario. Germany, France, and Great Britain all invested in their military before war broke out. When evaluating these economies to see how war would affect them, we look at four main factors: GDP, population, territorial extent, and per capita income. Broadly, this helps us determine how resilient, expansive, self-sufficient, and developed a nation is. All of those factors determine how a nation must conduct its war. For example, the vast territorial holdings of the British Empire meant that they had vast resources to draw upon but needed a long time to mobilize them, which helped Germany determine that they needed to strike fast and win big if they hoped to win the war before Britain’s full resources came into play. Japan also estimated that they could win a war in the Pacific if they managed to win before the US had been involved for more than 6 months. These calculations drove the early strategies of the Axis powers, but the participation of the US would later prove to be a crucial factor.

BONUS! Economies of Japan and China before WWII:

GDP (Bn USD-1990)
Japan – 169.4
Japanese Colonies – 62.9
China (exc. Manchuria): 320.5

Japan – 71.9
Japanese Colonies: 59.8
China (exc. Manchuria): 411.7

TERRITORY (thous sq.km)
Japan – 382
Japanese Colonies – 1602
China (exc. Manchuria): 9800

Japan – 2,356
Japanese Colonies – 1,052
China (exc. Manchuria) – 778

From: The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison by Mark Harrison

QotD: Administrative bloat at American universities

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Some commentators blame lazy, overpaid faculty [for the rising cost of tuition]. But while faculty teaching loads are somewhat lower than they were decades ago, faculty-student ratios have been quite stable over the past several decades, while the ratio of administrators and staff to students has become much less favorable. In his book on administrative bloat, The Fall Of The Faculty, Johns Hopkins professor Benjamin Ginsberg reports that although student-faculty ratios fell slightly between 1975 and 2005, from 16-to-1 to 15-to-1, the student-to-administrator ratio fell from 84-to-1 to 68-to-1, and the student-to-professional-staff ratio fell from 50-to-1 to 21-to-1. Ginsberg concludes: “Apparently, when colleges and universities had more money to spend, they chose not to spend it on expanding their instructional resources, i.e. faculty. They chose, instead, to enhance their administrative and staff resources.”


And according to a 2010 study by the Goldwater Institute, administrative bloat is the largest driver of high tuition costs. Using Department of Education figures, the study found administration growing more than twice as fast as instruction: “In terms of growth, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities increased by 39.3% between 1993 and 2007, while the number of employees engaged in teaching research or service only increased by 17.6%.”

Colleges and universities are nonprofits. When extra money comes in — as, until recently, has been the pattern — they can’t pay out excess profits to shareholders. Instead, the money goes to their effective owners, the administrators who hold the reins. As the Goldwater study notes, they get their “dividends” in the form of higher pay and benefits, and “more fellow administrators who can reduce their own workload or expand their empires.”

But with higher education now facing leaner years, and with students and parents unable to keep up with increasing tuition, what should be done? In short, colleges will have to rein in costs.

When asked what single step would do the most good, I’ve often responded semi-jokingly that U.S. News and World Report should adjust its college-ranking formula to reward schools with low costs and lean administrator-to-student ratios. But that’s not really a joke. Given schools’ exquisite sensitivity to the U.S. News rankings, that step would probably have more impact than most imaginable government regulations.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “Beat the tuition bloat”, USA Today, 2014-02-17.

May 24, 2016

The Great Enrichment

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

In the Wall Street Journal, economist Deirdre McCloskey pinpoints the launch point of the greatest increase in global human wealth ever seen:

In the 18th century, liberal thinkers such as Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin courageously advocated liberty in trade. By the 1830s and 1840s, a much enlarged intelligentsia, mostly the sons of bourgeois fathers, commenced sneering loftily at the liberties that had enriched their elders and made possible their own leisure. The sons advocated the vigorous use of the state’s monopoly of violence to achieve one or another utopia, soon.

Intellectuals on the political right, for instance, looked back with nostalgia to an imagined Middle Ages, free from the vulgarity of trade, a nonmarket golden age in which rents and hierarchy ruled. Such a conservative and Romantic vision of olden times fit well with the right’s perch in the ruling class. Later in the 19th century, under the influence of a version of science, the right seized upon social Darwinism and eugenics to devalue the liberty and dignity of ordinary people and to elevate the nation’s mission above the mere individual person, recommending colonialism and compulsory sterilization and the cleansing power of war.

On the left, meanwhile, a different cadre of intellectuals developed the illiberal idea that ideas don’t matter. What matters to progress, the left declared, was the unstoppable tide of history, aided by protest or strike or revolution directed at the evil bourgeoisie — such thrilling actions to be led, naturally, by themselves. Later, in European socialism and American Progressivism, the left proposed to defeat bourgeois monopolies in meat and sugar and steel by gathering under regulation or syndicalism or central planning or collectivization all the monopolies into one supreme monopoly called the state.

While all this deep thinking was roiling the intelligentsia of Europe, the commercial bourgeoisie — despised by the right and the left, and by many in the middle, too — created the Great Enrichment and the modern world. The Enrichment gigantically improved our lives. In doing so, it proved that both social Darwinism and economic Marxism were mistaken. The supposedly inferior races and classes and ethnicities proved not to be so. The exploited proletariat was not driven into misery; it was enriched. It turned out that ordinary men and women didn’t need to be directed from above, and when honored and left alone, became immensely creative.

The Great Enrichment is the most important secular event since human beings first domesticated wheat and horses. It has been and will continue to be more important historically than the rise and fall of empires or the class struggle in all hitherto existing societies. Empire did not enrich Britain. America’s success did not depend on slavery. Power did not lead to plenty, and exploitation was not plenty’s engine. Progress toward French-style equality of outcome was achieved not by taxation and redistribution but by the Scots’ very different notion of equality. The real engine was the expanding ideology of classical liberalism.

The Great Enrichment has restarted history. It will end poverty. For a good part of humankind, it already has. China and India, which have adopted some of economic liberalism, have exploded in growth. Brazil, Russia and South Africa, not to speak of the European Union — all of them fond of planning and protectionism and level playing fields — have stagnated.

May 18, 2016

Human Capital and Signaling

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

Published on 7 Apr 2015

Wages in America differ greatly among workers. Why is that? One reason includes differences in human capital — tools of the mind. Education is one of the biggest investments people make to increase their human capital. Which college majors offer the greatest returns? And are all returns on education due to human capital? A college degree can “signal” other factors as well, and we discuss what is commonly known as the “sheepskin effect.” In this video, we also discuss how globalization has affected wages in the U.S.

May 13, 2016

QotD: The boring efficiency of North American freight railways

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations, Railways, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The US rail system, unlike nearly every other system in the world, was built (mostly) by private individuals with private capital. It is operated privately, and runs without taxpayer subsidies. And, it is by far the greatest rail system in the world. It has by far the cheapest rates in the world (1/2 of China’s, 1/8 of Germany’s). But here is the real key: it is almost all freight.

As a percentage, far more freight moves in the US by rail (vs. truck) than almost any other country in the world. Europe and Japan are not even close. Specifically, about 40% of US freight moves by rail, vs. just 10% or so in Europe and less than 5% in Japan. As a result, far more of European and Japanese freight jams up the highways in trucks than in the United States. For example, the percentage of freight that hits the roads in Japan is nearly double that of the US.

You see, passenger rail is sexy and pretty and visible. You can build grand stations and entertain visiting dignitaries on your high-speed trains. This is why statist governments have invested so much in passenger rail — not to be more efficient, but to awe their citizens and foreign observers.

But there is little efficiency improvement in moving passengers by rail vs. other modes. Most of the energy consumed goes into hauling not the passengers themselves, but the weight of increasingly plush rail cars. Trains have to be really, really full all the time to make for a net energy savings for high-speed rail vs. cars or even planes, and they seldom are full. I had a lovely trip on the high speed rail last summer between London and Paris and back through the Chunnel — especially nice because my son and I had the rail car entirely to ourselves both ways.

The real rail efficiency comes from moving freight. As compared to passenger rail, more of the total energy budget is used moving the actual freight rather than the cars themselves. Freight is far more efficient to move by rail than by road, but only the US moves a substantial amount of its freight by rail. One reason for this is that freight and high-speed passenger traffic have a variety of problems sharing the same rails, so systems that are optimized for one tend to struggle serving the other.

Freight is boring and un-sexy. Its not a government function in the US. So intellectuals tend to ignore it, even though it is the far more important, from an energy and environmental standpoint, portion of transport to put on the rails.

Warren Meyer, “The US Has The Best Rail System in the World, and Matt Yglesias Actually Pointed Out the Reason”, Coyote Blog, 2016-05-02.

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