Category: Economics

imagesCAOWWLJWWhen the economy takes a downturn and unemployment rises, more people rely on the social safety net and programs like the recently renamed food stamp program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). As the economy improves and employment increases, people need to rely less on government provided support.

At least that’s what used to happen. But something has changed.

From 1969 until 2003, SNAP has been very responsive to changes in the unemployment rate. But from 2003 to 2007, the number of SNAP recipients kept increasing even as unemployment declined. And the number of SNAP recipients has barely come off its all-time peak of 47.8 million recipients hit in December 2012. Since then, the number of SNAP recipients has only declined by 2.7 percent and started increasing again in the months of April and June 2014.

So why, asks AEI’s poverty scholar Robert Doar, is the number of SNAP recipients staying near record highs even as the economy strengthens? A still-weak economy is part of the answer, says Doar, but not a sufficient explanation:

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, October 16, 2014

currencyIf money didn’t exist, would God have ordained that we invent it? Theologian Wayne Grudem says he would since money is simply a tool for our use that makes voluntary exchanges possible:

Money makes voluntary exchanges more fair, less wasteful, and far more extensive. We need money in the world in order for us to be good stewards of the earth and to glorify God through using it wisely. If money were evil in itself, then God would not have any. But he says, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag. 2:8). It all belongs to him, and he entrusts it to us so that through it we would glorify him.

Money provides many opportunities to glorify God: through investing and expanding our stewardship and thus imitating God’s sovereignty and wisdom; through meeting our own needs and thus imitating God’s independence; through giving to others and thus imitating God’s mercy and love; or through giving to the church and to evangelism and thus bringing others into the kingdom.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jsunde
Monday, October 13, 2014

capterrorismThe Middle East is enduring yet another wave of terror and political change, spurring countless Western analysts and elites to offer their preferred strategies and solutions, most of which involve military force, foreign aid, or some mixture of the two.

In last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto sets forth a less predictable path, arguing for “an aggressive agenda for economic empowerment,” similar to that which was promoted in Peru during the 1990s.

I know something about this. A generation ago, much of Latin America was in turmoil. By 1990, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization called Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, had seized control of most of my home country, Peru, where I served as the president’s principal adviser. Fashionable opinion held that the people rebelling were the impoverished or underemployed wage slaves of Latin America, that capitalism couldn’t work outside the West and that Latin cultures didn’t really understand market economics.

The conventional wisdom proved to be wrong, however. Reforms in Peru gave indigenous entrepreneurs and farmers control over their assets and a new, more accessible legal framework in which to run businesses, make contracts and borrow—spurring an unprecedented rise in living standards… Over the next two decades, Peru’s gross national product per capita grew twice as fast as the average in the rest of Latin America, with its middle class growing four times faster.


farm-subsidy-column-imageHave you ever listened to a classical symphony and thought the music needed more distortion? Or have you ever read a newspaper and believed it would have been improved if it had more disinformation? Most of us don’t appreciate distortion in our music or disinformation in our news. Yet far too many do favor distortion and disinformation when it comes to pricing.

Prices signal information in markets. A “market” is a summary term for a variety of voluntary exchange for tangible commodities or nontangible services. In fact, one of the most important functions of a market is to use pricing to serve as an information system (creating, collecting, filtering, processing, and distributing information). When we describe a market as a “free market” one of things meant is the prices are largely free of distortions and disinformation.

This is one of the main reasons free market advocates oppose government subsidies: they inject distortions and disinformation into the pricing system. Almost always, the distortions result in an advantage of the strong over the weak, the big over the small, and the rich over the poor.

A prime example is government subsidies to farmers. During the Depression, the government began subsidizing crops to save family farms. But now the program costs billions, benefits big agricultural companies, and can even harm family farms.

job seekerAccording to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment across the country is at about 6.1 percent (here in Michigan, it’s at 7.4 percent, which puts us in the bottom 10 states.) That means a lot of folks are still struggling to find a job, or a job where they are not underemployed.

Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland give 5 reasons for this. Have all the “good” jobs moved overseas? Do we need to raise the minimum wage? Are we Americans lagging behind in math and science? Here are Morici’s thoughts: (more…)

baby-boomersIn the nineteenth century, fertility in Europe began to drop — and it never rose again. Of all the explanations given for the change (e.g., increase in birth control technology), there is one that is often overlooked: public pension systems.

Does knowing you’ll get a social security check at 70 limit the number of children you have in your 30s? Most people would say it wouldn’t (or, at least, shouldn’t). But a new study finds that in the past there is a strong correlation between state-provided pensions and fertility. The working paper produced by the European Central Bank finds,

Thomas-Piketty-014Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has created quite the stir, and with its overwhelming size (700 pages) and corresponding array of commentaries and critiques, it’s tough to know where to start.

Cutting through such noise, Russ Roberts provides his usual service on EconTalk, chatting one-on-one with Piketty about the key themes, strengths, and weaknesses of the book. The interview is just over an hour, and I encourage you to listen to the whole thing.

Piketty lays out his argument quite concisely in the beginning, followed by a fruitful back-and-forth led by Roberts. For those who aren’t aware, the book chronicles a recent rise in economic inequality, wherein, by Piketty’s account, wealthy elites sit on their stashes while those at the bottom increasingly struggle to keep pace. His solution: Tax, baby, tax.

In response to such an approach, there are many areas to poke and prod, but Roberts zeroes in on one of the more fundamental and overarching questions: What about those who accumulate their wealth by helping those at “the bottom”?  (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, September 25, 2014

marriageeconomyFor the past three decades, there has been an attempt by the political class to divide conservatism into two main branches: social and economic. The two are often pitted against each other despite the fact that most conservatives in America would identify with both sides. Mainstream conservatives realize what the elite class does not: economic and social factors are inextricably linked together.

Consider, for example, the connection between the economy and marriage. According to a new report by the Pew Research Center, the share of American adults who have never been married is at an historic high. In 2012, one-in-five adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married; in 1960, only about one-in-ten adults (9 percent) in that age range had never been married.

About half of all never-married adults (53 percent) say they would like to marry eventually. Out of that group, three-in-ten say the main reason they are not married is that they have not found someone who has what they are looking for in a spouse. So what’s holding them back? For women, the reason seems to be primarily economic. More than two-thirds (78 percent) of never-married women say finding someone who has a steady job would be very important to them in choosing a spouse or partner.

doctor_clipartIn helping developing countries to increase their economic prosperity, says Acton’s Jordan Ballor, we must remember that human welfare cannot be reduced to material realities.

If a nation were to pursue GDP growth as its highest goal, it would probably institute policies and incentives to induce women to work outside the home and professionalize child care. GDP incentivizes specialization and the division of labor, since such transactions are the only things taken into account. As Ritenour concludes, “We ought not give into the temptation that all of human welfare is encapsulated in GDP.” Or in other words, man does not live on GDP per capita alone.

In a subtle way, measuring GDP can give the illusion that human flourishing is identical to economic growth and that economic growth is reducible to GDP. GDP is a useful, if limited, measure. But it should never be seen as a direct proxy for economic development, much less human flourishing.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, September 18, 2014

bible-studyMost Christians recognize that the Bible has lot to say about economic topics, such as money and poverty. Yet there is a paradoxical assumption, whether stated or unspoken, that these passages don’t speak to larger economic issues. Occasionally this is true, but more often than not, we can find principles from Scripture that can help us discern how we should think about matters related to economics.

Consider, for example, the issue of economic systems. The Bible doesn’t claim to favor any particular nation-based economic system, such as American-style capitalism or the old Soviet-style communism. But Scripture does seem to have a clear preference for the economic activities that underpin the free market. As David Kotter explains,