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Category Archives: Economics

Decency, righteousness and the add-more-morality error

Having what we might call a moral sense, but which is better called a normative sense, has been basic to the evolutionary success of homo sapiens. The ability to accept, and internalise, constraints on behaviour hugely expands the range of practicable social interactions. Particularly important over the longer run in “scaling up” human social interaction has been the […]

Against Austrian business cycle theory

Former Austrian school economist Bryan Caplan recently won a bet against Austrian school economist Bob Murphy on the path of US inflation. Caplan won by betting with the key market indicator (TIPS), Murphy lost by betting against it. At first glance, that the ex-Austrian won by following the market while the Austrian lost by not doing so might seem strange, but it […]

Why gold/currency ratios mattered in the interwar period

This is based on a comment I made here. I have been enjoying Scott Sumner‘s history of the Great Depression, The Midas Paradox: Financial Markets, Government Policy Shocks, and the Great Depression. Sumner provides a key ideas summary for the book here. The book is an examination of dramatic macroeconomic instability under a gold standard. In The Midas Paradox, Sumner gives the […]

The EU’s downward spiral

Econblogger Bryan Caplan is rightly sceptical of “it will end in civil war(s)” claims about the European Union‘s (EU) current travails, and is moreover prepared to put his money where his blogging is; hence he will accept bets on the issue. Nobel memorial laureate and economic historian Robert Fogel argued that pressures over mass immigration were a significant aggravating factor in the lead […]

States start with violence and expropriation

I came across this passage in a collection entitled States and Development: Historical Antecedents of Stagnation and Advance (pdf): A realistic, even if stylized, account begins with the coalition building in which the elites of an emergent state are likely to engage, both with other power holders and with economically successful interests (p.11). It is in a similar […]

History and surplus: 10,000 years in one blog post

Human history has largely been driven by the creation and use of surplus production — that is, production beyond subsistence. (Subsistence meaning sufficient to sustain life and reproduction.) The change from prehistory to history is very much a matter of the generation and use of surplus production. There are essentially only three ways for such surplus […]

Open and closed state systems: the geography of regional unification

Recurring periods of unification were a notable feature of the history of China; notably the Qin-Han (221BC-220), Sui-Tang (589-907), and Yuan-Ming-Qing (1271-1912) periods of unification. (The Northern Song [959-1126] arguably do not count as a full unification, since they never controlled the northern regions, which was under the control of the Liao dynasty [907-1125].) Indeed, of all the major civilisation centres, China was unified more […]

Lenin, Luxemburg and Gorbachev’s failure (a Vladimir, Rosa and Mikhail story)

Vladimir Lenin gave his name to Leninism, a way of operationalising revolutionary socialism. In fact, essentially the only way that has proved effective, based on adopting the Jacobin model of political action. That is, totalist politics–no limit on the range, or means, of political action in pursuit of a specific political project. Lenin was happy to adopt the title of Jacobin: A Jacobin […]

Serfdom versus slavery

Slavery remains a live issue, as discussed in the Global Slavery Index. The Index uses the following operational definition of slavery: Slavery is the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, […]

Frustrated status and bigotry

Bigotry (in the sense of prejudice-by-category) is a form of moral exclusion–one excludes some group from the moral consideration and standing given to other people. As I have noted before, bigotry is always and everywhere a moral claim–a claim about some category of people’s moral status or standing. A claim not based on specific individual actions against others, […]