October 12, 2017

Britain’s Old Boy Network – from “the Establishment” to “the Embarrassment”

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

In the media rounds supporting his new book, The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power, Niall Ferguson discusses the decline and fall of the oldest power network in Britain:

It used to be that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was the United Cronydom of Great Poshhouse and Northern Grousemoor. The only network that mattered was the Old Boy Network. The OBN was formed by men who were the old boys of a tiny elite of boarding schools known as “public schools” because they were closed to the public. Most boys at those schools were scions of the aristocracy or the landed gentry: future barons and baronets.

Even if thick to the point of educational sub-normality, these young gentlemen would attend either Oxford or Cambridge. They would then be given one of the following jobs:

1. Estate manager and courtier (eldest son).

2. Foreign Office or Treasury mandarin (brightest son).

3. Cabinet minister (most extrovert son).

4. Governor of [insert Caribbean island] (youngest son).

5. BBC director-general (Left-wing son).

This is of course a caricature. In reality, there were all kinds of sub-networks — clusters — within the elite network that ran Britain. Sometimes, a brilliant group of talented young men would come together to achieve great things. There was the “Kindergarten” formed by Alfred Milner, which tried (and failed) to transform South Africa into a second Canada or Australia. There were the Apostles — the Cambridge Conversazione, the most exclusive intellectual club of all time — to which the economist John Maynard Keynes belonged.

However, with increasing frequency after 1945, the OBN’s achievements were less than brilliant. Suez. Wilson. Heath. Double-digit inflation. The three-day week. From being the winners of glittering prizes, the OBN degenerated in the eyes of a previously deferential public into the upper-class twits of the year.

In the Sixties the journalists Henry Fairlie and Anthony Sampson popularised the disdainful name that the historian A.J.P. Taylor had given the British elite: “The Establishment”. By the Seventies the Establishment were more like The Embarrassment — objects of sitcom ridicule. By the Eighties they had been almost entirely driven from the corridors of power. Nothing better illustrated this than the Thatcher governments: not only was the prime minister a woman from provincial Lincolnshire (albeit one with an Oxford degree); there were enough ministers in her Cabinet with Jewish backgrounds to inspire off-colour jokes about “Old Estonians”.

September 28, 2017

A very different kind of “hockey stick” – everything sucked until the industrial revolution

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

Steve Kates linked to this post at Luke Muehlhauser’s blog, showing another graph with a hockey stick pattern, but it isn’t one of the IPCC’s misleading bits of propaganda:

In How big a deal was the Industrial Revolution?, I looked for measures (or proxy measures) of human well-being / empowerment for which we have “decent” scholarly estimates of the global average going back thousands of years. For reasons elaborated at some length in the full report, I ended up going with:

  1. Physical health, as measured by life expectancy at birth.
  2. Economic well-being, as measured by GDP per capita (PPP) and percent of people living in extreme poverty.
  3. Energy capture, in kilocalories per person per day.
  4. Technological empowerment, as measured by war-making capacity.
  5. Political freedom to live the kind of life one wants to live, as measured by percent of people living in a democracy.
  6. (I also especially wanted measures of subjective well-being and social well-being, and also of political freedom as measured by global rates of slavery, but these data aren’t available; see the report.)

Anyway, the punchline of the report is that when you chart these six measures over the past few millennia (data; zoomable), you get a chart like this (axes removed for space reasons):

Click to embiggen

(And yes, there’s still a sharp jump around 1800-1870 if you chart this on a log scale.)

Basically, if I help myself to the common (but certainly debatable) assumption that “the industrial revolution” is the primary cause of the dramatic trajectory change in human welfare around 1800-1870, then my one-sentence summary of recorded human history is this:

    Everything was awful for a very long time, and then the industrial revolution happened.

September 17, 2017

QotD: The great enrichment

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

The most fundamental problem in Piketty’s book, then, is that he misses the main act. In focusing solely on the distribution of income, he overlooks the most surprising secular event in history: the Great Enrichment of the average individual on the planet by a factor of 10 and in rich countries by a factor of 30 or more. Many humans are now stunningly better off than their ancestors were.

This includes a gigantic improvement of the poorest — your ancestors and mine. By dramatic increases in the size of the pie, the poor have been lifted to 90 or 95 percent of equal sustenance and dignity, as against the 10 or 5 percent attainable by redistribution without enlarging the pie.

What caused the Great Enrichment? It cannot be explained by the accumulation of capital, as the very name “capitalism” implies. Our riches were not made by piling brick upon brick, bachelor’s degree upon bachelor’s degree, bank balance upon bank balance, but by piling idea upon idea. The bricks, BAs, and bank balances were of course necessary. Oxygen is necessary for a fire. But it would be unenlightening to explain the Chicago Fire of 1871 by the presence of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere.

The original and sustaining causes of the modern world were indeed ethical, not material. They were the widening adoption of two new ideas: the liberal economic idea of liberty for ordinary people and the democratic social idea of dignity for them. This, in turn, released human creativity from its ancient trammels. Radically creative destruction piled up ideas, such as the railways creatively destroying walking and the stage coaches, or electricity creatively destroying kerosene lighting and the hand washing of clothes, or universities creatively destroying literary ignorance and low productivity in agriculture. The Great Enrichment requires not accumulation of capital or the exploitation of workers but what I call the Bourgeois Deal. In the historical lottery the idea of an equalizing liberty and dignity was the winning ticket, and the bourgeoisie held it.

That even over the long run there remain some poor people does not mean the system is not working for the poor, so long as their condition is continuing to improve, as it is, and so long as the percentage of the desperately poor is heading toward zero, as it is. That people still sometimes die in hospitals does not mean that medicine is to be replaced by witch doctors, so long as death rates are falling and so long as the death rate would not fall under the care of the witch doctors. It is a brave book Thomas Piketty has written. But it is mistaken.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

September 11, 2017

QotD: Does inequality matter?

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

The central problem with the book, however, is an ethical one. Piketty does not reflect on why inequality by itself would be bad. To be sure, it’s irritating that a super rich woman buys a $40,000 watch. The purchase is ethically objectionable. She should be giving her income in excess of an ample level of 2 cars, say, not 20; 2 houses, not 7; 1 yacht, not 5 — to effective charities. Andrew Carnegie enunciated in 1889 the principle that “a man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” Carnegie gave away his entire fortune. (Well, he gave it at death, after enjoying a castle in his native Scotland and a few other baubles.) But the fact that many rich people act in a disgraceful fashion does not automatically imply that the government should intervene to stop it. People act disgracefully in all sorts of ways. If our rulers were assigned the task in a fallen world of keeping us all wholly ethical, the government would bring all our lives under its fatherly tutelage, a nightmare achieved approximately before 1989 in East Germany and now in North Korea.

Notice that in Piketty’s tale the rest of us fall only relatively behind the ravenous capitalists. The focus on relative wealth or income or consumption is one serious problem in the book. Piketty’s vision of apocalypse leaves room for the rest of us to do very well indeed — rather non-apocalyptically — as in fact since 1800 we have. What is worrying Piketty is that the rich might possibly get richer, even though the poor get richer, too. His worry is purely about difference, about a vague feeling of envy raised to a theoretical and ethical proposition.

But our real concern should be with raising up the poor to a condition of dignity, a level at which they can function in a democratic society and lead full lives. It doesn’t matter ethically whether the poor have the same number of diamond bracelets and Porsche automobiles as do owners of hedge funds. But it does indeed matter whether they have the same opportunities to vote or to learn to read or to have a roof over their heads.

Adam Smith once described the Scottish idea as “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.” It would be a good thing, of course, if a free and rich society following Smithian liberalism produced a Pikettyan equality. In fact, it largely has, by the only ethically relevant standard of basic human rights and basic comforts. Introducing liberalism in Hong Kong and Norway and France, for instance, has regularly led to an astounding betterment and to a real equality of outcome — with the poor acquiring automobiles and hot-and-cold water at the tap that were denied in earlier times even to the rich, and acquiring political rights and social dignity that were denied in earlier times to everyone except the rich.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

September 9, 2017

QotD: Picketty’s unsupported inequality claims

Filed under: Books, Britain, Cancon, Economics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Piketty’s definition of wealth does not include human capital, owned by the workers, which has grown in rich countries to be the main source of income, when it is combined with the immense accumulation since 1800 of capital in knowledge and social habits, owned by everyone with access to them. Once upon a time, Piketty’s world without human capital was approximately our world, that of Ricardo and Marx, with workers owning only their hands and backs, and the bosses and landlords owning all the other means of production. But since 1848 the world has been transformed by what sits between the workers’ ears.

The only reason in the book to exclude human capital from capital appears to be to force the conclusion Piketty wants to achieve. One of the headings in Chapter 7 declares that “capital [is] always more unequally distributed than labor.” No it isn’t. If human capital is included — the ordinary factory worker’s literacy, the nurse’s educated skill, the professional manager’s command of complex systems, the economist’s understanding of supply responses — the workers themselves, in the correct accounting, own most of the nation’s capital — and Piketty’s drama falls to the ground.

Finally, as he candidly admits, Piketty’s own research suggests that only in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada has income inequality increased much, and only recently. In other words, his fears were not confirmed anywhere from 1910 to 1980; nor anywhere in the long run at any time before 1800; nor anywhere in Continental Europe and Japan since World War II; and only recently, a little, in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. That is a very great puzzle if money tends to reproduce itself as a general law. The truth is that inequality goes up and down in great waves, for which we have evidence from many centuries ago down to the present, which also doesn’t figure in such a tale.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

September 4, 2017

QotD: Even a world of perfect abundance would not be a crime-free world

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

So, when I woke up this morning I woke up thinking of how time is different in different parts of the world, which is what the people (Heinlein and Simak included) who pushed for the UN and thought it was the way of the future didn’t seem to get (to be fair, in Tramp Royale it becomes obvious Heinlein got it when he traveled there, and realized it was impossible to bring such a disparate world under one government.)

A minor side note, while listening to City, there is a point at which Simak describes what he might or might not have realized was Marx’s concept of “perfect communism” where the state withers away because there’s no need for it.

Simak thought this would be brought about by perfect abundance. There are no crimes of property when everyone has too much. There are no crimes of violence either, because he seems to think those come from property. (Hits head gently on desk.)

This must have seemed profound to me when I first read the book at 12, but right now I just stared at the mp3 player thinking “what about people who capture other people as sex slaves?” “What about people who covet something someone else made, including the life someone made for themselves? Just because everyone has too much, it doesn’t mean that they don’t covet what someone else made of their too much.”

Which is why I’m not a believer in either Communism or for that matter big L Libertarianism. I don’t believe that humans are only a sum of their material needs and crime the result of the unequal distribution of property. (There is also the unequal distribution of talent, or simply the unequal distribution of happiness, all of which can lead to crime — after all Cain didn’t off Abel because he was starving.) And I don’t believe humans are ever going to become so perfect we can get away with no government, because humans will always (being at heart social apes) lust for power, recognition and heck simply control over others (which is subtly different from power.) So we’re stuck with our good servant but bad master.

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

August 27, 2017

Why The Rich Like High Taxes

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

Published on 16 Aug 2017

When politicians raise taxes on the rich, what do the rich do to protect their $$$? This Prof. shows how high taxes actually made America less equal.

The Myth of Equality in the 1950s (video): Another myth of the 1950s is that there was economic equality. Prof. Brian Domitrovic explains why this is a myth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLl9wOivHdc
How Cronyism is Hurting the Economy (video): Prof. Jason Brennan explains why cronyism, like the tax cuts for certain businesses in the 1950s, is bad for the economy and argues why limiting the government’s power would help solve the problem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSgUENZ9O94
The Good Ol’ Days: When Tax Rates Were 90 Percent (article): Andrew Syrios compares the tax rates in the 1950s to those of the 1980s and today https://mises.org/library/good-ol-days-when-tax-rates-were-90-percent

For a full transcript please visit: http://www.learnliberty.org/videos/why-the-rich-like-high-taxes/

August 20, 2017

QotD: The rich

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

During his visit to the U.S., the pope will probably talk about income inequality, and many reporters will nod approvingly, write down the quotes, and then hand them off to the unpaid intern to be transcribed. It’s a big issue. An important one. In the view of many progressives, the ultra-super-rich extracted all their money from the poor. Think of Bill Gates in a homeless shelter, kicking over cots at 2 a.m. and blackjacking transients, demanding they fork over $49.99 for a Windows 95 license, and you get the idea. The ultra-rich have probably pooled their money to develop space-based matter-dematerialization beams just so they can transport the coins from the “have a penny, take a penny” trays at the gas station.

The “rich” are never people like the Clintons, who acquired their wealth by the sweat of their brows, toiling in the harsh icy policy-mines of Davos. They’re not the guys who make a bundle off some clever bit of tech, sell the company, then pledge to spend a fraction of their fortune on outfitting polar bears with inflatable vests to help them survive their imminent inundation in the boiling waters of the Arctic. They’re not people like John Kerry, who married his way into a pile of money derived from a ubiquitous condiment; they’re not people like Apple CEO Tim Cook, because c’mon, he’s gay. They’re not the Kennedys, because the Kennedys could strike oil on their Hyannis Port compound, pay African orphans a dollar a day to work the pumps by hand, build a pipeline that ran through a protected Monarch-butterfly preserve, and the media would still hang halos over their heads because JFK was martyred in Dallas by a free-floating toxic cloud of right-wing hatred that inhabited the brain of a well-meaning Marxist.

These are rich people, but they’re good rich people, because you can imagine any one of them writing a check to Planned Parenthood with the words “keep up the excellent mammograms” in the memo line.

No, the bad rich people are hedge-fund managers, people who inherited something, and well-paid CEOs of companies that make things we don’t like or resent having to pay too much to get. They need to be taxed good and hard, according to advocates of the confiscatory state such as the nimbus-haired Bernie Sanders. Nothing says “the future and its bright new ideas” like the image of a liver-spotted limb thrusting deep into someone else’s pocket and pulling out the guts of a golden goose. Sanders’s proposals were estimated to cost $18 trillion over ten years, an amusing projection — apparently after a decade the economy just seizes up and we’re reduced to paying for our bread with chickens or bits of ironmongery.

James Lileks, “It’s Time to Fix America’s Income-Inequality Crisis Once and for All!”, National Review, 2015-09-24.

August 17, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Illusion of School Choice

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Education — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 16 Aug 2017

In private schools, as in private enterprise in general, poor performance drives funding away by driving paying customers away. Yet in public schools, poor performance is used as an excuse for increased funding. With incentives like these, is it any wonder that public schools are failing our children so badly? Isn’t it time to inject some competition into the system?

Education for all is a worthy wish. So is food for all. But we don’t force poor people to eat state-produced food. Even food stamp recipients get to choose where to shop. Why shouldn’t beneficiaries of public education spending get to choose where to send their kids?

Our hosts James R. Harrigan and Antony Davies want to know…

July 27, 2017

Words & Numbers: Is Income Inequality Real?

Filed under: Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 26 Jul 2017

Income inequality has been in the news more and more, and it doesn’t look good. It’s aggravating to see people making more money than you, and we’re told all the time that income inequality is on the rise. But is it? And even if it is, is it actually a bad thing? This week on Words and Numbers, Antony Davies​ and James R. Harrigan​ talk about how income inequality plays out in the real world.

Learn more: https://fee.org/articles/is-income-inequality-real/

July 11, 2017

QotD: The non-profit scam

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

Oddly, another form of this non-profit scam exists in my industry. As a reminder, my company privately operates public recreation areas. Several folks have tried to set up what I call for-profit non-profits. An individual will create a non-profit, and then pay themselves some salary that is equal to or even greater than the profits they would get as an owner. They are not avoiding taxes — they still have to pay taxes on that salary just like I have to pay taxes (at the same individual tax rates) on my pass-through profits.

What they are seeking are two advantages:

  • They are hoping to avoid some expensive labor law. In most cases, these folks over-estimate how much a non-profit shell shelters them from labor law, but there are certain regulations (like the new regulations by the Obama Administration that force junior managers to be paid by the hour rather than be salaried) that do apply differently or not at all to a non-profit.
  • They are seeking to take advantage of a bias among many government employees, specifically that these government employees are skeptical of, or even despise, for-profit private enterprise. As a result, when seeking to outsource certain operations on public lands, some individual decision-makers in government will have a preference for giving the contract to a nominal non-profit. In California, there is even legislation that gives this bias a force of law, opening certain government contracting opportunities only to non-profits and not for-profits.

The latter can have hilarious results. There is one non-profit I know of that is a total dodge, but the “owner” is really good at piously talking about his organization being “cleaner” because it is a non-profit, while all the while paying himself a salary higher than my last year’s profits.

Warren Meyer, “The New Rich – Living the High Life Through Your Non-Profit”, Coyote Blog, 2015-09-29.

July 8, 2017

Demonizing the Koch brothers

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

Julian Adorney on the amazing contrast between the way the Koch brothers actually spend their money and the demonic sins they are regularly accused of by progressives:

The Koch Brothers recently announced a $21 million anti-poverty program in Dallas, designed to reduce gang violence and encourage young entrepreneurs. But their efforts to end poverty are unlikely to earn credit from progressives, who frequently demonize the family. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid routinely blasts them for, “crooked works” and “nefarious actions”; and when Charles and David Koch donated $100 million to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, leftists demanded (unsuccessfully) that the hospital return the gift.

Why are the Kochs so often criticized by the left, while far less progressive individuals are given a free pass?

Unlikely Alliances

The Koch brothers have spent at least $1.5 billion working to advance traditionally progressive causes. They have funded public television, museums, and hospitals. They contributed $25 million to the United Negro College Fund, the nation’s largest minority education group. The donation offers scholarships and support for historically black universities.

Politically, the Kochs have pushed for criminal justice reform. The brothers worked with Van Jones on his Cut50 project, which aims to cut America’s incarcerated population in half over the next ten years. The Kochs have partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for American Progress to reduce prison populations and enact more humane criminal sentencing. And in 2011, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers gave Charles Koch its annual Defender of Justice award.

But criminal justice reform is far from the only progressive cause the Kochs have embraced. They publicly oppose corporate tax breaks and subsidies — including the ethanol subsidies that boost their bottom line.

In spite of this, many progressives disdain the Kochs as far-right extremists. On his Senate website, Bernie Sanders claims that the goal of these, “right wing billionaires” is to, “repeal every major piece of legislation … that has protected the middle class, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the most vulnerable in this country.” The Koch’s high-profile efforts to help the most vulnerable population in the nation, those victimized by the criminal justice system, receives no mention.


Progressives vilify the Kochs for the same reason that many venerate FDR: politics encourages black and white formulations. Prominent Democrats lambast the Kochs as ill-intentioned billionaires, and the specter of the Kochs has played heavily in Democratic fundraising attempts. Fear motivates, and boogeymen inspire fiercer opposition than the complicated reality of the Koch brothers.

Similarly, Democrats may turn a blind eye to FDR’s anti-progressive actions because they don’t wish to tarnish one of their own. FDR’s economic policies owe much to fascism: Roosevelt admitted that he was, “deeply impressed by what [Mussolini] has accomplished.” Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration stated it more directly: “The Fascist Principles are very similar to those we have been evolving here in America.”

This similarity is easy to brush off if FDR is perceived as a leftists titan, because in the public eye progressives and fascists are diametrically opposed. It is harder to ignore when one accepts that FDR’s record on human rights was only a few degrees better than Mussolini’s.

June 27, 2017

QotD: The mistakes of the wealthy versus the mistakes of the poor

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

What have been the effects of progressive, centralized control of education, healthcare, and social services? It is true that the backwards practices of a few local school boards have been reformed, but the loss of a rich layer of church and private charity social services has impoverished local social capital. While today’s mass communication and the Internet removed one of the impulses to community (“I’m bored. Let’s go into town and hang out!”), a lot of the loss is due to the crowding out by a monopoly government, which had deep pockets and would use them to continue failed policies, as Microsoft in the 80s used the profits from its near-monopoly OS business to keep creating mediocre applications software until the innovators in applications were destroyed.

Very wealthy people have always been freer than others from the stifling social controls and judgments of bourgeois community standards. The elite of Paris and London in the 1800s often kept mistresses and dabbled in drug use without having their lives destroyed. The lower classes did not have the wealth to recover from errors, and those who did not hew to bourgeois social norms were isolated and damaged.

As the upper middle classes in the US grew as wealthy as the elite had been in the previous century after WWII, the sexual revolution and War on Poverty bestowed more social freedom on everyone — the middle and upper classes got birth control, sexual freedom, and women in the workplace, while the poor got programs to “uplift” them from poverty (a term which exposes the condescension involved). Social workers in vast numbers were hired to distribute assistance, free of any obligation — except for unmarried mothers, who were told their assistance would be cut if they married a working man.

Over the course of several generations, the well-off used their freedoms and came out relatively unscathed — families were still largely intact, children were still trained in the arts of civilization and followed the path of university and marriage into professional careers. But the artificial assistance to the poor, with its lack of community obligations and support and its immediate withdrawal in the event of marriage and better work, removed the social incentives that keep healthy communities healthy. Intact families grew less common. Crime and social pathologies became the norm in poor inner-city communities. As conditions worsened, the motivated and organized left for more civilized neighborhoods with better schools. The segregation of cities and even whole regions by income increased. Whole generations of children were poorly raised, poorly schooled, and left to drift without purpose or guidance from now-absent fathers, who were in prison or adrift themselves.

Jeb Kinnison, “Real-life ‘Hunger Games'”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-25.

June 8, 2017

Words & Numbers: Earning Profits is Your Social Responsibility

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

Published on 7 Jun 2017

“We tend to demonize people who make money – how dare they have more than us? But that negative reaction forgets the voluntary role we play in profit-making every day. This week in Words and Numbers, Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan discuss just how good it is to earn a profit, and the vital difference between that and forcing money from people.”

May 26, 2017

Puzzle of Growth: Rich Countries and Poor Countries

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

Published on 16 Feb 2016

Throughout this section of the course, we’ve been trying to solve a complicated economic puzzle — why are some countries rich and others poor?

There are various factors at play, interacting in a dynamic, and changing environment. And the final answer to the puzzle differs depending on the perspective you’re looking from. In this video, you’ll examine different pieces of the wealth puzzle, and learn about how they fit.

The first piece of the puzzle, is about productivity.

You’ll learn how physical capital, human capital, technological knowledge, and entrepreneurs all fit together to spur higher productivity in a population. From this perspective, you’ll see economic growth as a function of a country’s factors of production. You’ll also learn what investments can be made to improve and increase these production factors.

Still, even that is too simplistic to explain everything.

So we’ll also introduce you to another piece of the puzzle: incentives.

In previous videos, you learned about the incentives presented by different economic, cultural, and political models. In this video, we’ll stay on that track, showing how different incentives produce different results.

As an example, you’ll learn why something as simple as agriculture isn’t nearly so simple at all. We’ll put you in the shoes of a hypothetical farmer, for a bit. In those shoes, you’ll see how incentives can mean the difference between getting to keep a whole bag of potatoes from your farm, or just a hundredth of a bag from a collective farm.

(Trust us, the potatoes explain a lot.)

Potatoes aside, you’re also going to see how different incentives shaped China’s economic landscape during the “Great Leap Forward” of the 1950s and 60s. With incentives as a lens, you’ll see why China’s supposed leap forward ended in starvation for tens of millions.

Hold on — incentives still aren’t the end of it. After all, incentives have to come from somewhere.

That “somewhere” is institutions.

As we showed you before, institutions dictate incentives. Things like property rights, cultural norms, honest governments, dependable laws, and political stability, all create incentives of different kinds. Remember our hypothetical farmer? Through that farmer, you’ll learn how different institutions affect all of us. You’ll see how institutions help dictate how hard a person works, and how likely he or she is to invest in the economy, beyond that work.

Then, once you understand the full effect of institutions, you’ll go beyond that, to the final piece of the wealth puzzle. And it’s the most mysterious piece, too.


Because the final piece of the puzzle is the amorphous combination of a country’s history, ideas, culture, geography, and even a little luck. These things aren’t as direct as the previous pieces, but they matter all the same.

You’ll see why the US constitution is the way it is, and you’ll learn about people like Adam Smith and John Locke, whose ideas helped inform it.

And if all this talk of pieces makes you think that the wealth puzzle is a complex one, you’d be right.

Because the truth is, the question of “what creates wealth?” really is complex. Even the puzzle pieces you’ll learn about don’t constitute every variable at play. And as we mentioned earlier, not only are the factors complex, but they’re also constantly changing as they bump against each other.

Luckily, while the quest to finish the wealth puzzle isn’t over, at least we have some of the pieces in hand.

So take the time to dive in and listen to this video and let us know if you have questions along the way. After that, we’ll soon head into a new section of the course: we’ll tackle the factors of production so we can further explore what leads to economic growth.

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