Posts tagged with: economics

Blog author: johnteevan
posted by on Monday, October 7, 2013
Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

This first appeared in my newsletter, Economic Prospect, in late 2008. Looking back after five years I still like it.

The American failure to save is matched by our insistence on spending to have it all. One part of the problem is the consumer’s love of debt. The other part is the government’s love of debt. Both love debt to enjoy things now and to put off the day of reckoning. How did we get so far from the idea of being content with having enough food, clothing, and shelter?

  1. This is a complex issue based at first in ‘scarcity’ which leads people to create products to fill real needs. When these products are produced people have jobs and can afford more products. Say’s Law says that production creates its own demand.
  2. There comes a point where we move beyond some invisible line and marketing takes over to create imagined needs in people. These needs are filled by more products creating more jobs. This happened after WW2 and made us very prosperous.
  3. Then there is a third stage when the credit industry takes over and tries to convince people to borrow not just for houses or cars (durables) but for anything to enhance their way of life. This started in the 1970s. Consumer debt is $2 trillion but this kind of borrowing creates still more jobs at least for as long as the party lasts.

But the day of reckoning has arrived. Will we get the point and change our behavior? Apparently not. First, the government sold bonds, then raided the trust funds (Social Security), then we borrow to stimulate the economy…then we just borrow without limit.

If Americans are not saving, who will loan us all this money? The answer is the Chinese and Asians who are amazing savers. They will loan us the money. China already owns nearly $2 trillion in U.S. government bonds. This is not a small issue.

Economics in One Lesson : The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

Economics in One Lesson : The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

This classic work provides the layman with a clear understanding of the economic way of thinking. A must-read for the beginner!
$14.00

Wilkins Micawber from David Copperfield art by Frank Reynolds (2)

Wilkins Micawber, the namesake for the Micawber Principle.

Joe Carter points to a Lifehacker article that sums up two basic equations that lead to the creation of wealth (with what I consider to be a clarifying correction applied in the first formula):

Income > spending = surplus

Surplus x time = wealth

Likewise, Wilhelm Röpke, in his A Humane Economy, points to two equations arising from classical literature that connect surplus with happiness and deficit to misery (the Micawber Principle).

According to Mr. Micawber from Dickens’ David Copperfield:

Annual income £20, annual expenditure £19.975 = happiness

Annual income £20, annual expenditure £20.025 = misery
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DollarSignCapitalism is routinely castigated as an enemy of the arts, with much of the finger-pointing bent toward monsters of profit and efficiency — drooling only for money, caring nothing for beauty, and so on. Other critiques take aim at more systemic features, fearing that the type of industrialization that markets sometimes tend toward will inevitably detach artists from healthy social contexts, sucking dry any potential for flourishing as a result.

Yet while free economies certainly introduce a unique series of challenges for artists and consumers alike, and despite the wide array of bottom-dollar record-company execs and merchandising-obsessed Hollywood crackpots that demonstrate such obstacles, recent increases in economic empowerment have also led to plenty of artistic empowerment in turn.

Empowered to Create

The more obvious and overarching examples of this have to do with the simple ways in which widespread prosperity has freed up our time, energy, and resources. As collaboration and innovation accelerate, folks are continuing to discover new ways of doing more with less. As result, the tools and time needed to participate in a variety of artistic ventures, from hand-painting to stage acting to music production, are closer to common fingers than ever before.

Of course, market forces aren’t perfect. As channels of culture, they mostly funnel what they funnel, and that includes squalid appeals to the lowest common denominator. But neither are such forces limited to the hands of the tasteless and trite. Indeed, despite the best efforts of the powerful and privileged, many artists are now finding themselves increasingly equipped to bypass the big shots altogether, taking their art and their audiences with them, from the purchase of their paintbrushes to the publication of their portrait.

As a young boy, I dreamed of one day becoming a filmmaker. After working only two summers at minimum wage, I was able to save up enough cash to put that dream to the test, purchasing a-state of-the-art video camera and my very own digital editing equipment. Thanks to the innovations of others, and the basic freedoms that unleashed it all in the first place, at the age of 16, I was able to secure the tools needed to begin my work — tools that, only a decade prior, were confined to the hands of Hollywood bigwigs. (more…)

polish moneyPoland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, announced Wednesday that the government would attempt to cut government debt by taking money from its citizens’ private pension funds. Poland currently has a two-fold pension system: mandatory contributions are made to the state pension fund and then to private funds. It is the state funds, known as ZUS, that the Polish government plans to “transfer” money from. According to Reuters:

…Prime Minister Donald Tusk said private funds within the state-guaranteed system would have their bond holdings transferred to a state pension vehicle, but keep their equity holdings.

He said that what remained in citizens’ pension pots in the private funds will be gradually transferred into the state vehicle over the last 10 years before savers hit retirement age.

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noun_project_8671For this week’s Acton Commentary, ahead of Labor Day weekend, I write about “working harder and smarter,” lessons we can learn from Ashton Kutcher and Mike Rowe.

One of the implications of connecting hard work with smart work is that the difficulty of work on its own does not determine its value in the marketplace. It isn’t a question of how hard you are working, but how hard you are working in productive service. This is why Lester DeKoster writes,

The paycheck follows upon work. Often the harder we work, the larger the paycheck—though, as many workers know, this unfortunately is not an invariable law. That is because, as we shall see, work and wage are not related as cause and effect.

He refers to money as the “bait,” which induces us to work and which tends to direct our work in service to others. But the bait can become a “trap” if we conflate the meaning of work with the wage: “Work endows life with meaning because of what work is, not because of what it earns. Paychecks buy goods and services provided to us through the gift of selves by others, but money buys no meaning. Life’s meanings are not for sale!”
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becomingeuropeBecoming Europe, the latest book from Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg, has been reviewed by Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, a research professor at Yale University’s Center for Faith & Culture, begins his review with a series of question, including, “Will entrepreneurship vanish in America, as it has, more or less, in Europe? And what will be the moral and political costs of what Gregg describes as ‘reduced freedoms’?”

Malloch notes how Gregg walks the reader through most of Europe’s long-standing desire to provide full employment and “to preserve the market from its own inherent instabilities“: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 23, 2013

I ran across this video yesterday (courtesy of ESA), which I thought presented some interesting challenges and issues:

The video was presented on Upworthy as an example of something “all white people could do to make the world a better place,” that is, use their white privilege to address injustices.

A number of economists, including Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell, have written about the power of the market economy to overcome racism and discrimination, to put people into relationships on the basis of economic decision-making rather than skin color. As Friedman contended,

the preserves of discrimination in any society are the areas that are most monopolistic in character, whereas discrimination against groups of particular color or religion is least in those areas where there is the greatest freedom of competition.

But as a conversation I had with some others about the video also illustrates, there are times when (at least in the short run interests of the firm), something like profiling can seem to make some economic sense. The successful passing of one bad check can really hurt a store’s margins. Practically speaking the stores often take a complete loss.
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It sounds like a late-night tv scam: make tens of thousands of dollars and don’t work at all! And yet, it turns out that the U.S. government is offering just such a deal. For instance, a welfare recipient in the state of Connecticut can make up to uncle sam's money$38,761, according to a new Cato Institute study. In Hawaii, the figure is $49,175, over 200 percent above the Federal Poverty Level. As The Heritage Foundation has pointed out, nearly half of Americans pay no income tax at this point in history.

Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes have written “Work versus Welfare Trade-off 2013: An Analysis of the Total Level of Welfare Benefits by State.” Tanner has this to say about paying people not to work:

To be clear: There is no evidence that people on welfare are lazy. Indeed, surveys of them consistently show their desire for a job. But they’re also not stupid. If you pay them more not to work than they can earn by working, many will choose not to work.

While this makes sense for them in the short term, it may actually hurt them over the long term. One of the most important steps toward avoiding or getting out of poverty is a job.Only 2.6 percent of full-time workers are poor, vs. 23.9 percent of adults who don’t work. And, while many anti-poverty activists decry low-wage jobs, even starting at a minimum-wage job can be a springboard out of poverty.

Thus, by providing such generous welfare payments, we may actually not be helping recipients.

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Wizard of Id - Minimum WageThe protests organized by labor organizations to advocate for an increase in the minimum wage have garnered attention, most recently from the NYT, which editorialized in favor of such moves. Over at Think Christian, I weigh in with an attempt to provide some more of the complex context behind the moral evaluation of such mandates.

In the piece, I’m really less interested in the plight of current-minimum wage workers relative to those who might become minimum-wage workers with an increase, those who are currently priced-out of labor markets because of minimum-wage legislation, and those who will be priced out with an increase.

Earlier this week, Joseph Sunde discussed the issue with an eye towards the price of labor: “Prices are not play things.” I largely agree with Joseph about the significance of the price associated with various kinds of labor. The signal that minimum-wage workers should be receiving is that their work is not that specialized or valuable in the marketplace. You can rage against the values of the marketplace all you like, but that’s what the prices signal.
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For a limited time, the Acton Book Shop is offering a book by rabbinical scholar Dr. Joseph Isaac Lifshitz for free: Judaism, Law & The Free Market: An Analysis. Acton released this title at an academic conference late last year, and in it, Lifshitz judaism_law_and_free_marketexamines the Jewish treatment of themes such as property rights, social welfare, charity, generosity, competition, and concepts of order.

There are three ways to download this title.

Click here to download this title as ePub.

Click here to download this title for Kindle.

Click here to download as a PDF file.

Again, this is a limited time offer.