Unhealthy healthcare

from David Ruccio



While I was finishing up the latest right-wing libertarian dystopian finance novel, I was also trying to figure out the dystopia that the U.S. healthcare system has become.

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Open Ended [A note to myself]

August 23, 2016 11 comments

from Peter Radford

One of the major reasons, perhaps the major reason, economics is oftentimes irrelevant to our understanding of economies is that it fails to notice a rather salient fact: economies have no end. They have no beginning either. Or, rather, the choice of an ending or a beginning are merely arbitrary selections by an analyst needing to close up the system for analytical purposes. But this act of closure destroys the validity of any results from the subsequent analysis.


Precisely because economies have no end. They have no end as in purpose. They have no end as in time. They just are. They emerge from the myriad interactions of however many people exist at any point in time, they are channeled along a path highly dependent upon whatever happened recently, they are in constant turmoil and evolution, and they are driven by the availability of information and energy sufficient to do work and create local order. That’s it.

They don’t inevitably move towards equilibrium because it is impossible ever to reach such a point. Let me put that differently: even were the economy miraculously to arrive at some sort of equilibrium no one would know because the task of calculating whether or not it was is impossibly complex. So an equilibrium is unrecognizable. Besides, given the inexorable change, any possible equilibrium is so ephemeral as to be irrelevant. Instead of moving an economy towards equilibrium the twin pressures of supply and demand simply contrive to move it into tomorrow. Whatever that is. The economy is a process or a perpetual unfolding without end. It is in a constant state of becoming, but never actually of being.

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Employment and the labour force in the EU, 1992 (2000) – 2016. 4 graphs.

August 22, 2016 Leave a comment

1How are the EU and the Euro Area doing? some graphs about the labour force. Main points:

Very fast employment and labour force growth in Germany during the last year (‘despite’ the new the minimum wage in many sectors). The labour force is increase is not just about refugees but to quite an extent about non-German inhabitants of the EU. Mind the employment decline after the Harz reform’ around 2001. I’m not sure if the fast increase also shows in the data of the Statistisches Bundesamt.
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Steve Keen, Noah Smith and heterodox ‘anti-math’ economics

August 22, 2016 1 comment

from Lars Syll

4816e5631fdce0191e6f8ba67d81758dResponding to the critique of his Bloomberg View post on heterodox economics and its alleged anti-math position, Noah Smith approvingly cites Steve Keen telling us there is

a wing of heterodox economics that is anti-mathematical. Known as “Critical Realism” and centred on the work of Tony Lawson at Cambridge UK, it attributes the failings of economics to the use of mathematics itself…

Although yours truly appreciate much of Steve Keen’s debunking of mainstream economics, onthis issue he is, however, just plain wrong! For a more truthful characterization of Tony Lawson’s position, here’s what Axel Leijonhufvud has to say: Read more…

Food and Justice – The next WEA Conference

August 21, 2016 Leave a comment

from Maria Alejandra Madi

The Call for papers for the current conference Food and Justice is now open.

We invite you to submit a paper to weafoodconference@gmail.com by 15th  September, 2016. 

A paperback, Food and Justice, of conference papers will be published by WEA Books in the new year.

Visit the Conference website http://foodandjustice2016.weaconferences.net/

Food production has always been present in the economic debate because of the concern about population growth and demographic changes. In spite of the Malthusian concern, new methods of food production have emerged which allowed the increase in food supply. Technological changes, however, have not occurred uniformly throughout the world. Indeed, some countries have managed to expand their production and trade surpluses while situations of hunger remained a reality in many parts of the world.

In addition to technological factors in food production, other political and economic issues are involved in the access to food. In the 21st century, the scenario of changes in food production means that even with a larger supply of food, many people, mainly the poor ones, still live in a situation of starvation. In addition to the challenges in food access, other relevant issue is food waste. Actually, a large percentage of the world food production is lost throughout the different stages of production, transportation, processing and consumption. Indeed, among the current concerns, there is the need to search for actions that can reduce the food losses that could face the situation of hunger of millions of people.

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Not so fast!

August 20, 2016 2 comments

from David Ruccio

real wages-revised

Everyone has read or heard the story: the labor market has rebounded and workers, finally, are “getting a little bigger piece of the pie” (according to President Obama, back in June).

And that’s the way it looked—until the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised its data. What was originally reported as a 4.2 percent increase in the first quarter of 2016 now seems to be a 0.4 decline (a difference of 4.6 percentage points, in the wrong direction).

What’s more, real hourly compensation for the second quarter (in the nonfarm business sector) is down another 1.1 percent.

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On the irrelevance of Milton Friedman

August 19, 2016 3 comments

from Lars Syll

In producing theories couched in terms of isolated atoms that are quite at odds with social reality, modellers are actually compelled to make substantive claims that are wildly unrealistic. And because social reality does not conform to systems of isolated atoms, there is no guarantee that event regularities of the sort pursued will occur. Indeed, they are found not to …

milton_friedman_1Friedman enters this scene arguing that all we need to do is predict successfully, that this can be done even without realistic theories, and that unrealistic theories are to be preferred to realistic ones, essentially because they can usually be more parsimonious.

The first thing to note about this response is that Friedman is attempting to turn inevitable failure into a virtue. In the context of economic modelling, the need to produce formulations in terms of systems of isolated atoms, where these are not characteristic of social reality, means that unrealistic formulations are more or less unavoidable. Arguing that they are to be preferred to realistic ones in this context belies the fact that there is not a choice.

What amazed me about the initial responses to Friedman by numerous philosophers and others is that they mostly took the form: prediction is not enough, we need explanation too. Rarely, if ever, was it pointed out that because the social world is open, we cannot have successful prediction anyway.

So my own response to Friedman’s intervention is that it was mostly an irrelevancy, but one that has been opportunistically grasped by some as a supposed defence of the profusion of unrealistic assumptions in economics. This would work if successful prediction were possible. But usually it is not.

Tony Lawson

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Trade, Truth and Trump

August 18, 2016 45 comments

from Dean Baker

Donald Trump seems to have driven a substantial portion of the media into a frenzy with his anti-trade rhetoric. While much of what Trump says is wrong, and his solutions are at best ill-defined, the response in the press has largely been dishonest.

For example, a New York Times editorial tried to imply that there was an ambiguous relationship between the size of the trade deficit and employment in manufacturing. It pointed out that Japan and Germany, both countries with trade surpluses, had seen a comparable percentage decline in the number of workers employed in manufacturing as the United States over the last quarter-century.

What the editorial for some reason chose to ignore was that Japan and Germany have seen near-stagnant labor force growth over the last quarter-century. Other things equal, we should therefore expect to see a smaller increase or larger percentage point decline in manufacturing jobs in these countries than in the United States, where the labor force has grown by more than 25 percent over this period.

The editorial also neglected to mention that Japan now has just under 17 percent of its workforce employed in manufacturing, while in Germany the share is almost 20 percent. This compares to 8.6 percent in the United States. If the United States had the same share of its workforce employed in manufacturing as Japan, we would have another 11 million manufacturing jobs. If we had the same share as Germany, we would have another 16 million manufacturing jobs. That would make a huge difference in the US labor market.   Read more…

Education, inequality, and power

August 17, 2016 7 comments

from David Ruccio

Is education the solution to the problem of growing inequality?

As I wrote in early 2015,

Americans like to think that education is the solution to all economic and social problems. Including, of course, growing inequality.

Why? Because focusing on education—encouraging people to get more higher education—involves no particular tradeoffs. More education for some doesn’t mean less education for others (at least in principle). And providing more education doesn’t involve any structural changes in society—just more funding. (Of course, suggesting more education under current conditions—when public financing of higher education continues to decline, and students and their families are forced to take on more and more debt—is itself disingenuous).

As a result, there’s a broad consensus in the middle—among conservatives and liberals alike—that encouraging more young people who have yet to enter the labor market and existing workers who want to get ahead to obtain a college education will solve the problem of inequality.

And I proceeded to show how, in terms of declining wages for workers at various levels of education and increasing inequality within the top 1 percent, more education does not actually solve the problem of inequality.

But education is still the preferred solution of mainstream Democrats, and inequality itself is receiving less attention. And Thomas Frank [ht: sm] (in an interview with Jennifer Berkshire aka EduShyster) explains why:  Read more…

Financialization of corporate behaviour

August 16, 2016 Leave a comment

from Maria Alejandra Madi

The global scenario has restated the menace of deep depressions among the economic challenges. Indeed, in the current setting, the principles of corporate behaviour have reinforced the lack of commitment to long-run social and economic sustainability.

Looking backward, in the context of the 1930 Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes pointed out that the evolution of capital markets increases the risk of speculation and instability since these markets are mostly based upon conventions whose precariousness affects the rhythm of investment and employment. Keynes called attention to the fact that the capitalist system has endogenous mechanisms capable of destabilizing the levels of spending, income and employment. He suggested a reconsideration of the understanding of the relations among individuals, society and governments within the market where institutions and conventions could shape human behaviour. Aware of the need to overcome the concept of rationality that overwhelms the homo oeconomicus, his contribution enhances a more extended understanding of the entrepreneurs’ and investors’ behaviour, as well as of their strategies and decisions.   read more

Noah Smith — ill-informed and misleading

August 16, 2016 3 comments

from Lars Syll

Yours truly is far from being alone in criticising Noah Smith’s article on heterodox economics and mathematics (on which I commented yesterday). Tom Palley writes:

(1) Pretty much everything Smith charges heterodox economics with can be said about orthodox economics. That’s OK, but in that case we should open the classroom and op-ed pages to a variety of points of view and abandon the neoclassical monopoly.

IGLTA-misinform(2) Smith’s views on mathematical models come close to fetishism. Models have use value but they do not define economics (think of a paper with just math and no words vs. a paper with just words), and models are easily pushed into the realm of “negative” marginal returns.

Furthermore, Smith appears ignorant of the fact that mathematical modelling is very widespread in heterodox economics.

(3) Smith’s comments about predicting the crisis are facile. It’s not about predicting “dates”, but about having a sense of imminent developments and a sense of the deep-seated nature of the problems (i.e. demand shortage, income inequality, financial fragility, and tendency to stagnation). If orthodoxy had anticipated a fraction of what heterodoxy has, it would be trumpeting its achievements.

(4) In sum, this is an ill-informed article that aims to defend the economics status quo with unwarranted claims about the weaknesses of heterodox economics and strengths of orthodox economics.

The Paradox of People

August 15, 2016 2 comments

from Peter Radford

Last week I stirred up a certain curiosity as to why I had lumped Peter Drucker into the same bag as both von Mises and Hayek.

Well, simply put, the three of them, along with Karl Popper and Joesph Schumpeter, had an enormous, even oversized, impact on modern economics. Yes economics. Let’s not fall into the same trap as economists do when they, with a sweep of their hands, dismiss business theory as not an aspect of economics. Of course it is. After all if business is not an aspect of the economy, what is?

In any case, the general point is that there is a distinct Austrian flavor to modern economic/business theory that can be traced back to the work of that group. More importantly, the influence of that group, particularly Hayek, was to emphasize the terrors and the tyranny of socialism to a degree that precludes social democracy as well. In the hands of their various followers that emphasis became exaggerated eventually emerging as doctrinaire anti-government theory.

We thus end up with a profound ideological stance as we enter economic thought: anything the government does almost invariably dilutes or pollutes the so-called perfection of the market. So deeply is this stance accepted that most economists fail to realize its political import: that the democratic expression of the people’s will through their elected representatives is viewed negatively automatically in economic thinking. What economists are saying is that the people are entirely rational in their economic dealings, thus producing the perfection of markets, but are irrational in their political dealings thus mucking up that same perfection. The contradiction is exquisite. The paradox unresolved. Read more…

Noah Smith — confusing mathematical masturbation with intercourse between research and reality

August 15, 2016 12 comments

from Lars Syll

There’s no question that mainstream academic macroeconomics failed pretty spectacularly in 2008 …

Many among the heterodox would have us believe that their paradigm worked perfectly well in 2008 and after … This is dramatically overselling the product. First, heterodox models didn’t “predict” the crisis in the sense of an actual quantitative forecast.

64f5d94d9836c6a09b5d2009f0d4634a845bb2d7ba56bbaa16176c2fd0e958c0This is because much of heterodox theory is non-quantitative. Basically, people write down English words explaining their conceptual ideas about how the economy works. This describes the ideas of mid-20th-century economist Hyman Minsky, who wrote books and essays about the instability of the financial system. Minsky, though trained in math, chose not to use equations to model the economy — instead, he sketched broad ideas in plain English …

At the end of the day, policymakers and investors need to make quantitative decisions — how much to raise or lower interest rates, how big of a deficit to run, or how much wealth to allocate to Treasury bonds.

Noah Smith

Noah Smith — like so many other mainstream economists — obviously has the unfounded and ridiculous idea that because heterodox people like yours truly, Hyman Minsky, Steve Keen, or Tony Lawson, often criticize the application of mathematics in mainstream economics, we are critical of math. Read more…

“Wealth helps accumulate more wealth”

August 12, 2016 7 comments

from David Ruccio

The world economy only grew by 3.1 percent in 2015. But the world’s billionaires did much better. As David Barks, associate director of custom research for Wealth-X, understands, “Wealth helps accumulate more wealth.”

According to the latest Wealth-X report on the global billionaire population, the world’s billionaire population grew by 6.4 percent, to 2,473, last year. And their combined wealth increased by 5.4 percent, to a record $7.7 trillion.   Read more…

Trump, denial and the end of normal

August 11, 2016 6 comments

from Peter Radford

Shocking is an understatement. Donald Trump is unfit for public office, be it town clerk or president of the US. He’s an unbalanced egomaniac. He’s a racist. He’s an immature misogynist. He’s many other awful things. Presidential, he is not.

How did we get here?

Failure. But a particular kind of failure. Failure dressed as success. A success so sweeping and deep that we hardly recognize the extent of the change that it wrought. Naturally I am speaking of the victory of neoliberal thought. Perhaps you were thinking of something else.

For a brief moment after World War II, for a generation and a bit, the western world basked in a quiescence of steady growth, political solidarity, industrial calm, and rising living standards. That much of this was an illusion, or rather a reflection of the prior chaos of the spasmodic ending of the elongated nineteenth century, we ignored. Instead we imagined that a new normal had emerged. Economic depressions had been defeated. Western Europe had settled its ancient scores. And America had emerged as a beacon of democratic freedom, albeit one willing to exert quasi-imperial tendencies in its foreign dealings. Compared with the authoritarian alternative of the Marxist east, America’s heavy hand was tolerable for a generation able to recall the terrors of 1914 through 1945.

This period, though, was bound to end. Within its fabric was an unrest bound to tear at the fragility of the apparent unity. Read more…

Trickle-up healthcare

August 10, 2016 2 comments

from David Ruccio

We’re all familiar with the usual indictment of the U.S. healthcare system: we pay much more and we get much less.

For example, according to the Commonwealth Fund:

Data from the OECD show that the U.S. spent 17.1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care in 2013. This was almost 50 percent more than the next-highest spender (France, 11.6% of GDP) and almost double what was spent in the U.K. (8.8%).

Since 2009, health care spending growth has slowed in the U.S. and most other countries. The real growth rate per capita in the U.S. declined from 2.47 percent between 2003 and 2009 to 1.50 percent between 2009 and 2013. In Denmark and the United Kingdom, the growth rate actually became negative. The timing and cross-national nature of the slowdown suggest a connection to the 2007–2009 global financial crisis and its aftereffects, though additional factors also may be at play. . .

On several measures of population health, Americans had worse outcomes than their international peers. The U.S. had the lowest life expectancy at birth of the countries studied, at 78.8 years in 2013, compared with the OECD median of 81.2 years. Additionally, the U.S. had the highest infant mortality rate among the countries studied, at 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011; the rate in the OECD median country was 3.5 deaths.

That alone is an argument in favor of Medicare for all. Read more…

Getting the story straight

August 9, 2016 16 comments

from Robert Locke

In the Collapse of the American Management Mystique, Oxford UP 1996, I wrote about the rapid decline in American staple industries,  “in automobiles and in the related industries of steel, glass, and tires.  The total number of workers in the automobile industry declined from 802,800 in December 1978 to 478,000 in January 1983.  By 1980 Japan had become the world’s major automobile producing nation.  As Japanese replaced American, American automakers world market share decline from 27.9 percent in 1970 to 19 percent in 1982.  That’s a crisis.  The story in steel was even worse.  In 1982 eighteen major steel companies recorded a combined loss in that year of $3.2 billion.  American steel was an industry in crisis.  Half of the routine steelmakers jobs vanished between 1977 and 1988 (from 489,000 to 260,000.)  To these horror stories could be added many others about American failure in mass-production industries – transistor radios , cameras, binoculars, sewing machines, color televisions, VCRs, CD compact discs, as well as in glass and tire manufacturing…..” p.160

I just heard Donald Trump, in his speech about economic policy, blame Hillary Clinton for creating this crisis, with nary a word of clarification raised by commentators on his speech about the fact that this collapse in Detroit and elsewhere had nothing to do with the Clintons.  It occurred during Ronald Reagan’s watch.   Read more…

On the persistence of science-fiction economics

August 8, 2016 3 comments

from Lars Syll

9781107763111iObscurantism is sustained by the self-interest of non-obscurantist scholars. To be effective, an attack on obscurantism has to be well documented and well argued. Mere diatribes are pointless and sometimes counterproductive. Yet scholars have a greater personal interest in achieving positive results than in exposing the flaws of others, not only because of the reward system of science, but also because achieving positive results is intrinsically more satisfying. On grounds of self-interest, therefore, many schoars will hesitate to take time off from their main work and hope that someone else will do the cleaning … The highly regarded economist Ariel Rubinstein has offered rare insider criticism of mainstream economics, commenting, for example, on a ‘as-if-rationality’ that “it ultimately became clear that the phrase ‘as if’ is a way to avoid taking responsibility for the strong assumptions upon which economic models are founded” …

When Joseph Stiglitz was asked at a private dinner party how economists can make repeated falsified claims without having their careers terminated, he reportedly answered: “I agree with you, but I don’t understand why you are so puzzled. What you should be assuming is that — as is done by most economists — economics is really a religion. So why should you be puzzled by the fact that they cling to and never give up their views despite frequent falsification?”

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Map of the Billionairs – 1,826

August 6, 2016 6 comments

from David Ruccio

billionaires Read more…

AD/AS models and the ‘disappearance’ of involuntary unemployment

August 6, 2016 7 comments

from Lars Syll

eco-202-ch-36-unemployment-and-inflation-15-638We have indeed come round in a circle. The whole vision of the working of the macrosystem presented, in terms of the AD/AS model, by far too many contemporary textbooks, is essentially pre-Keynesian. Monetary spending may fluctuate, but whether or not such fluctuations affect employment and output is said to depend on reactions affecting real wages. Slow adjustment of money wages to price changes is held to account for cyclical variations in employment and output. With respect to the longer term, it is presumed that real wages return to their proper full-employment level …

As regards the fundamental elements of the Keynes conception … all have disappeared.

How have we got into this situation? In the 1970s, reflecting a general change in the political and intellectual climate, economic theorists and commentators of a right-wing, free-market persuasion began to advance, with renewed vigour, old ideas which had for the last few decades been put to the side. Under novel labels such as ‘New Classical’ and ‘New Keynesian’ theory, explanations of unemployment being simply of a voluntary or merely frictional character were reasserted, attracted sympathetic listeners and soon found their way into the burgeoning crop of macro textbooks coming on the market. Over the years distinctive features of the Keynes theory – such as the concepts of involuntary unemployment, of the marginal efficiency of capital as distinct from the marginal productivity of capital, of uncertainty as something different from mathematically measurable risk, and the understanding that the macro economy contained within itself, even in the long run, no reliable self-righting mechanism to guarantee the automatic establishment of full employment – tended to slip out of the mainstream picture. Indeed, more than that: the Keynes theory is frequently misrepresented – it is typically asserted that an assumption of wage-stickiness is the critical factor differentiating the Keynes theory from the classical theory. Scholars who should have known better have been all too ready to adopt the old classical labour market theory of unemployment as embodied in the AS curve, apparently seeing the AD/AS model as a convenient and acceptable device for allowing analysis to be extended beyond the fix-price world of IS/LM. The upshot is that mainstream teaching of macroeconomic theory is today typically propounding a view of the working of the economy which is a very long way from the vision presented in the General Theory or from the conventional wisdom of the immediate post-war years, but strikingly similar to views current long ago, before the ‘Keynesian Revolution’. It is not going too far to say that the practical common-sense of the Keynesian perspective has (at least in some not un-influential quarters) been replaced by irrelevance and fantasy.

Roy H. Grieve

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