Archive for the ‘Political Economy’ Category

Nick Rowe, exemplary professor of economics

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

Carleton University professor Nick Rowe received a well-deserved tribute, on his retirement from teaching, in The Economist magazine. I was fortunate to have known him as a colleague, but regret that I never had the opportunity to enroll in one of his macroeconomics courses. Sadly for me, he completed his PhD in 1985, long after I did. Current and future generations of economists will also miss the opportunity of learning from him. But all of us can continue to benefit from reading his many posts online at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative (WCI).

Professors may find themselves ill-prepared for the macro classroom. To become academics they had to answer erudite questions posed by more senior members of the discipline. To become good teachers of introductory macro, they have to give clear answers to muddled students. That requires an intuitive feel for the subject. It is not enough to crank through the equations.

Indeed, Mr Rowe attributes part of his success as a teacher to his shortcomings as a mathematician. He quotes Joan Robinson, another clear expositor of macroeconomics: “I never learned maths, so I had to think.” Because the answers did not leap out at him from the equations, he had to dwell on the economic behaviour underneath the algebra.

Anonymous, “Mangonomics“, The Economist, 9 August 2018.

universal vs targeted transfers

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

Two Boston economists, Rema Hanna from Harvard and Benjamin A. Olken from MIT, have drafted a paper on basic incomes for the Journal of Economic Perspectives, a publication of the American Economic Association. They argue that, though a universal basic income (UBI) might be appropriate for wealthy countries, it is not appropriate for developing countries.

The paper is well-written, but fails to support their thesis. In fact, drawing on a phrase from William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, they “hoist themselves with their own petard”.  A “petard” is a small bomb. Shakespeare, writing in the singular, referred to a case in which a bomb-maker is blown up (“hoisted”) with his own bomb. The phrase came to be used more generally, to indicate ironic reversal or poetic justice.

My point is simple: the text of the paper provides abundant evidence that universal incomes should be preferred to transfers that are limited to the poor. (more…)

targeting the poor does not work

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

Targeting the poor provides opportunity for corruption in delivery of benefits, even when the beneficiaries are older persons. Here is an example from Nueva Ecija, a province in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines. (more…)

the rise of American authoritarianism

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

More than two years ago Amanda Taub, a journalist and former human rights lawyer, published an amazing article that I somehow missed. Drawing on the work of several political scientists, Ms Taub explains why Donald Trump was elected, and why we can expect US voters to elect authoritarian figures similar him in the future. In other words, Trump is not a passing phenomenon. (more…)

immigration policies of Republican presidents

Monday, June 25th, 2018

FT columnist Edward Luce, in an op-ed last week, highlighted the rise of anti-Americanism in the world. “US pollsters”, he wrote, “routinely find that more of the world trusts China to uphold global stability than America”. What caught my attention, though, was Luce’s point that Trump’s treatment of immigrants is so different from that of his Republican predecessors:

Both Reagan and Bush junior were keen to create new citizens. Reagan gave amnesty to 3m [3 million] illegal immigrants. Mr Bush said if Mexicans could make it across the border, “hell we want ‘em”. Mr Trump called African countries “shitholes” and uses words such as “animals”, “infest” and “criminals” when talking of Central America.

Edward Luce, “The rise of a new generation of anti-Americans“, Financial Times, 22 June 2018 (gated paywall).

Adam Smith for our troubled times

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

An old joke is that a classical book is one that everyone cites, but no-one reads. By this measure, each of the two books that Adam Smith wrote are classics. If his followers today took time to read then, they would disagree with much of what he wrote. (more…)

Italy’s economic woes

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Martin Wolf’s Wednesday column provides an excellent explanation this week of why Italy is in trouble. Italy should never have joined the euro. In theory, countries can avoid devaluation by increasing productivity and lowering wages. In practice, this is politically difficult. In the case of Italy, it is impossible. If Italy had kept the lira, it could easily devalue its currency and regain competitiveness with other countries of the euro zone (primarily Germany). (more…)

New Zealand’s universal pension is in danger

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

New Zealand has a universal pension scheme that is the envy of the world. It is simple, affordable, and eliminates poverty in old age. When a qualified resident reaches the state pension age, he or she receives a basic, flat pension, regardless of income, wealth or employment history. This benefit, called ‘Superannuation’, is financed from general government revenue. Earmarked taxes are not levied to support it, but benefits are taxable as regular income, so net benefits are lower for pensioners who have income from work or from savings. (more…)

the source of US power

Monday, May 28th, 2018

FT columnist Wolfgang Münchau explains that acceptance of the US dollar as a global currency gives the country extraordinary power. The United States alone can impose and enforce extraterritorial sanctions. This privilege is not available to other countries because no currency exists to replace the US dollar. (more…)

China’s view of the world

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

FT columnist Martin Wolf recently participated in an international conference convened by the Tsinghua University Academic Center for Chinese Economic Practice and Thinking. He describes it as “franker than any I have participated in during the 25 years I have been visiting China”, and lists seven propositions that the Chinese elite expressed to their foreign guests:

1. China needs strong central rule.
2. Western models are discredited.
3. China does not want to run the world.
4. China is under attack by the US.
5. US goals in the trade talks are incomprehensible.
6. China will survive these attacks.
7. This will be a testing year.

Martin simply describes these seven propositions, without criticism. I assume that he agrees with them, but perhaps he will express disagreement in a future column. Or, perhaps not. In the meantime, I pass along to you his description of proposition number two, which I found most interesting, and most disturbing for western states: (more…)