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Category Archives: Economics

Ethos and welfare

The OECD Secretariat released recently (November 2014) a revealing summary (pdf) of public social expenditure by OECD countries. The database the study is based on is available online. (Private social expenditure–i.e. private charity–is not covered by this post.) Social expenditure being defined as: Social expenditure comprises cash benefits, direct in-kind provision of goods and services, and tax breaks with social purposes. … To […]

The Rotten Heart of Europe

Bernard Connolly‘s The Rotten Heart of Europe: Dirty War for Money is a jeremiad against European monetary union first published in 1995. Its publication led to the author’s sacking from the European Commission, where he had been senior monetary and foreign exchange economist. This is not, as Connolly a matter of saying the “Emperor has no clothes” but […]

When the three languages of US politics get in the way

Economist Arnold Kling, who blogs here, has provided a useful framing of American political debate as divided into three languages of politics. He discusses his framing with economist Russ Roberts here, and his analysis is usefully discussed here. The three languages are: the conservative barbarism-civilisation axis, the progressive oppressors-oppressed axis, and the libertarian freedom-coercion axis. None of them provide a useful way of thinking about […]

The poisonous legacy of slavery and the US race tangle

In his book War, Peace, War: The Life Cycle of Imperial Nations, historical demographer Peter Turchin argues that the mass slavery of the Roman Empire–which was at is most intense in Sicily and Southern Italy–is still depressing the social capital of the area centuries later; that the socially disintegrative effects of mass slavery can persist long after the […]

Thinking about states

While writing a paper on state dynamics in Latin Christendom, it was useful to try and think (think out aloud indeed) coherently about states as historical entities. State understood as an institutionalised structure of expropriation and coercion dominant in a particular territory. The notion that a state has to have, or even aspire to, a monopoly of coercion does not make […]

Fancy maths and data series are no reason to ignore supply and demand

Came across a 2014 NBER paper Betting The House (pdf) by Òscar Jordà, Moritz H.P. Schularick & Alan M. Taylor. I was wildly unimpressed. I am not quite sure whether I am willing to use the tag line of “numbers make smart people stupid”–as per this wonderful post on the adoption of farming, criticising an attempted cliometric study of said transition […]

“Over-valued” is the wrong metric about “bubbles”–housing or otherwise.

Thinking about asset price stability is pervaded by incorrect framings. Particularly if folk start throwing around the term “bubble”. Not the fault of the central banks One incorrect framing is “the central banks did it”; with the finger usually pointed at low interest rates and clams of “easy money” fuelling “bubbles”.  Low interest rates are […]

The revolutionary status quo Power

Based on a comment I originally made here. The US is at once both a revolutionary and a status quo Power. It is a revolutionary Power in the straightforward sense that it is the only contemporary state seriously trying to export its revolution, apart from the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is also a revolutionary Power […]

Plan or strategy?

In Austrian school economics, and economics influenced by the same, there is often talk of entrepreneurs as making plans. This turns up, for example, in Mark Casson’s entrepreneurial theory of the firm (pdf). As someone who is actually in business, I find the notion of plan somewhat problematic. The business I am a principal of does not make plans in […]

Culture and rationality: or why South Asian call centres can be so infuriating

I recently read Kenneth Pollack’s Ph.D dissertation on The Influence of Arab culture on Arab Military Effectiveness (which later became a book). It is a very fine piece of social science which, alas, I doubt any important member of either the Obama or Bush II Administrations has read. The burden of his analysis is that Arab culture strongly […]