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Tackle this!

October 16, 2017 8 comments

from David Ruccio

Inequality

The latest IMF Fiscal Monitor, “Tackling Inequality,” is out and it represents a direct challenge to the United States.

Read more…

Nobel economics: the behaviorism of economic decisions and its secret

October 12, 2017 10 comments

from David Ruccio

Lots of folks have been asking me about the significance of the so-called Nobel Prize in economics that was awarded yesterday to Richard Thaler.

They’re interested because they’ve read or heard about the large catalog of exceptions to the usual neoclassical rule of rational decision-making that has been compiled by Thaler and other behavioral economists.

One of my favorites is the “ultimatum game,” in which a player proposes an allocation of an endowment (say $5) and the second player can accept or reject the proposal. If the proposal is accepted, both players get paid according to the proposal; if the proposal is rejected, both players get nothing. What Thaler and his coauthors found is that most of the second players would reject proposals that would give them less than 25 percent of the endowment—even though, rationally, they’d be better off with even one penny in the initial offer. In other words, many individuals are willing to pay a cost (i.e., get nothing) in order to punish individuals who make an “unfair” proposal to them. Such a notion of fairness is anathema to the kind of self-interested, rational decision-making that is central to neoclassical economic theory.  Read more…

Inequality and immiseration (4 graphs)

October 9, 2017 3 comments

from David Ruccio

It’s clear that, for decades now, American workers have been falling further and further behind. And there’s simply no justification for this sorry state of affairs—nothing that can rationalize or excuse the growing gap between the majority of people who work for a living and the tiny group at the top.

But that doesn’t stop mainstream economists from trying.

fredgraph

Look, they say, American workers are clearly better off than they were before. Both real weekly earnings (the blue line in the chart) and the median household income (the red line) are higher than they were thirty years ago.   Read more…

Promises, promises (3 graphs)

October 6, 2017 5 comments

from David Ruccio

They keep promising, ever since the recovery from the Great Recession started more than eight years ago, that workers’ wages will finally begin to increase. But they’re not.

Sure, profits continue to rise. And so is the stock market. But not wages. And mainstream economists can’t come up with an adequate explanation of why that’s the case.

U3-wages

We’ve all heard or read the story. According to mainstream economists, as the unemployment rate falls (the blue line in the chart above), a labor shortage will be created and workers’ wages (the red line) will begin to rise.   Read more…

Mo’ better inequality blues

October 4, 2017 2 comments

from David Ruccio

Income shares

The latest Federal Reserve Board’s triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (pdf) is out and the news is not good—at least for the majority of Americans. They’re falling further and further behind those at the top.

Sure, on the surface, the results for the latest period of recovery from the Second Great Depression appear to be positive. Between 2013 and 2016, real gross domestic product in the United States grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent, the civilian unemployment rate fell from 7.5 percent to 5 percent, and the annual rate of inflation averaged only 0.8 percent.   Read more…

From highway to master

September 28, 2017 5 comments

from David Ruccio

Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations makes for uncomfortable reading these days. That’s because, as my students this semester have learned, the father of modern mainstream economics—who has become so closely (and mistakenly) identified with the invisible hand—held a narrow theory of money and advocated extensive regulation of the banking sector.

This is contrast to the obscene growth of banking in recent decades, which Rana Foroohar reminds “isn’t serving us, we’re serving it.”

According to Smith, the “judicious operations of banking” did nothing more than convert dead stock into active and productive stock—”into stock which produces something to the country.”

The gold and silver money which circulates in any country may very properly be compared to a highway, which, while it circulates and carries to market all the grass and corn of the country, produces itself not a single pile of either. The judicious operations of banking, by providing, if I may be allowed so violent a metaphor, a sort of waggon-way through the air, enable the country to convert, as it were, a great part of its highways into good pastures and corn-fields, and thereby to increase very considerably the annual produce of its land and labour.

Moreover, Smith also argued, banks were susceptible to speculative crises. Thus, even in his system of “natural liberty,” the banking sector needed to be regulated, in order to lessen the likelihood of such crises and to minimize the suffering of the poor when they did happen.  Read more…

Golden Age for American workers?!

September 27, 2017 Leave a comment

from David Ruccio

wage share-growth

We’ve been hearing this since the recovery from the Second Great Depression began: it’s going to be a Golden Age for workers!   Read more…

Protest this!

September 23, 2017 6 comments

from David Ruccio

Back in 2011, thousands of Chilean students participated in protests against the high cost of higher education. The most famous took place in front of La Moneda, the president’s palace, dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

According to the latest statistics from the OECD report, “Education at a Glance 2017,” the costs of a college education in Chile were still very high in 2015-16.

But they’re still not as high as in the United States, where it costs more to go to college than anywhere else in the world.

Of the 35 member countries in the OECD, the United States has the highest average tuition at both public and private colleges, for Bachelor’s as well as Master’s degrees.

Public-B

Average public tuition in the United States for a Bachelor’s degree is $8,202 annually, compared to Chile’s $7,654, the country with the second-highest tuition cost.  Read more…

Break this!

September 20, 2017 12 comments

from David Ruccio

wages-productivity

David Brooks should have left well enough alone.

Read more…

“Profits above morals and humanity”

September 17, 2017 4 comments

from David Ruccio

fredgraph

Back in June, Kim Hemphill, in her letter to the editor of the Washington Post, challenged pharmaceutical industry claims that it must charge high prices on lifesaving drugs to recover research and development costs.

The case detailed in the June 11 Business article “Max’s best hope costs $750,000” was yet another example of how the pharmaceutical industry continues to put profits above morals and humanity. . .

Research and development costs are a part of the business pharmaceutical companies are in and should have little, if any, bearing on the ultimate price of a drug. What they charge for these specialty drugs is profit-motivated price gouging, plain and simple.

The fact is, as is clear from the chart above, pharmaceutical prices (at the wholesale level) have risen since 1981 at a much faster rate than for all commodities—more than 7 times compared to just two.

Most people, like Ms. Hemphill, think this is a case of “profit-motivated price gouging” on the part of drug companies. But it’s a difficult charge to prove.

Until now.  Read more…

How do you like them facts?

September 15, 2017 Leave a comment

from David Ruccio

wage-inequality

Apologists for mainstream economics (such as Noah Smith) like to claim that things are OK because good empirical research is crowding out bad theory.  Read more…

Economics and the new history of capitalism

September 13, 2017 5 comments

from David Ruccio

As I tell my students, nothing gets a mainstream economist frothing at the mouth quite like mentioning Karl Polanyi.

Or at least it used to, when mainstream economists actually knew who Polanyi was and grasped—however dismissively—what he wrote about the history of capitalism.

To his credit, Eric Hilt (pdf) appears to know something about the author of The Great Transformation and how his work influenced the new history of capitalism. And his review of ten recent books, including Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told and Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global Historyis not as dismissive as those of other mainstream economists, such as Alan L. Olmstead.

Much of the research of economic historians focuses on questions originating in economic theory, which tend to be quite narrow. In contrast, these book present expansive narratives and explore questions that may not be amenable to the analytical tools of economists. The authors’ critical perspectives also distinguish their work from that of economic historians and make it relevant to the concerns of many popular readers. The historians of capitalism rightly remind us that economic growth and development can have human costs not captured in average incomes; that our economic history includes no small measure of cruelty, coercion, and expropriation, rather than free exchanges occurring in the context of secure property rights; and that the economic system we have today is not a natural condition, but the outcome of policy choices that could have been made differently.

Hilt is, I think, correct: the new history of capitalism does represent a reminder to—and thus an indictment of—contemporary mainstream economics, precisely because it includes an analysis of the “cruelty, coercion, and expropriation” of the emergence and development of capitalism and the idea that contemporary capitalism is “not a natural condition.”  Read more…

Who’s working for Facebook?

September 11, 2017 2 comments

from David Ruccio

There are plenty of reasons to be interested in—and, even more, concerned about—Facebook. Many of them are raised in the recent review of Facebook-related books by John Lanchester [ht: db]: the fragmentation of the polity (via the targeting of posts), the dissemination of “fake news” (which played an important role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election), the undermining of other livelihoods (such as journalism and music), the level of surveillance of users (much more than any national government), the violation of anti-monopoly rules (via individualized pricing), and so on.

All of them are important—and they get at what the Facebook business model is all about:

For all the talk about connecting people, building community, and believing in people, Facebook is an advertising company.

That’s right. That’s how the owners of Facebook make their money: they track users, collect information, and then sell that to advertisers.*

But it still doesn’t get at the issue of who works for Facebook, who creates that value, what the class structure of Facebook (and Google and other such companies) is.

Lanchester’s answer is that we, the two billion or so of us who use Facebook, actually work for the social-media giant.  Read more…

Beyond the trinity formula

September 7, 2017 5 comments

from David Ruccio

labor-income

John Hatgioannides, Marika Karanassou, and Hector Sala are absolutely right: mainstream macroeconomists and policymakers never venture beyond the “holy trinity” of economic growth, inflation, and unemployment.* Everything else, including the distribution of income and wealth, is relegated to the fringes.  Read more…

Stocks and wages

September 6, 2017 4 comments

from David Ruccio

DJIA-wages

The new jobs report is out and, once again, little has changed—including wage growth (the blue line in the chart above), which for production and nonsupervisory workers was only 2.3 percent.  Read more…

Economics in Wonderland

September 4, 2017 5 comments

from David Ruccio

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Alice in Wonderland (pdf) is the key to understanding much of what is happening in the world today—especially the language of economics.

For example, we’re going to hear and read a great deal about tax reform in the days and weeks ahead. But, based on the proposals I’ve seen, nothing in the way of tax reform is being proposed.

The usual meaning of reform is that it involves changes for the better. Most of the so-called reforms that are being proposed by the Trump administration—including the vague speech by Donald Trump yesterday—are just cuts in the tax rates that will directly benefit wealthy individuals and large corporations.

fredgraph

Supposedly, the rest of us will eventually benefit because of increased investment. However, as is clear from the chart above, both corporate profits and private domestic investment are doing just fine without a cut in tax rates. But the benefits to the rest of us simply haven’t appeared.  Read more…

Slick maneuvers

September 1, 2017 14 comments

from David Ruccio

Corporate duplicity, it seems, knows no bounds.

First, ExxonMobil misled the public about climate change for years, even as its research echoed the growing scientific consensus that global warming is real and caused by human activity. Then, while various states attorneys-general launched investigations of whether Exxon deceived shareholders and the public to protect its profits, the Wall Street Journal published 21 opinion pieces about current or potential Exxon investigations, all of which were critical of government entities investigating Exxon.

We now know, thanks to a study by two Harvard University researchers, Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, that Exxon acknowledged that climate change is real and human-caused in 83 percent of peer-reviewed papers and 80 percent of internal documents. Yet, 81 percent of editorial-style advertisements it placed in the New York Times from 1989 to 2004 expressed considerable doubt.

Their conclusion?   Read more…

Slick maneuvers

August 29, 2017 3 comments

from David Ruccio

Corporate duplicity, it seems, knows no bounds.

First, ExxonMobil misled the public about climate change for years, even as its research echoed the growing scientific consensus that global warming is real and caused by human activity. Then, while various states attorneys-general launched investigations of whether Exxon deceived shareholders and the public to protect its profits, the Wall Street Journal published 21 opinion pieces about current or potential Exxon investigations, all of which were critical of government entities investigating Exxon.

We now know, thanks to a study by two Harvard University researchers, Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, that Exxon acknowledged that climate change is real and human-caused in 83 percent of peer-reviewed papers and 80 percent of internal documents. Yet, 81 percent of editorial-style advertisements it placed in the New York Times from 1989 to 2004 expressed considerable doubt.

Their conclusion?   Read more…

Time to dethrone economists

August 26, 2017 2 comments

from David Ruccio

penis-size-statue-2011-03-23The election and administration of Donald Trump have focused attention on the many symbols of racism and white supremacy that still exist across the United States. They’re a national disgrace. Fortunately, we’re also witnessing renewed efforts to dethrone Confederate monuments and other such symbols as part of a long-overdue campaign to rethink Americans’ history as a nation.

In economics, the problem is not monuments but the discipline itself. It’s the most disgraceful discipline in the academy. Therefore, we should dethrone ourselves.  Read more…

Condition of the workplace in the United States

from David Ruccio

Last fall, just before the presidential election, I posted a report on the perilous condition of the American working-class.

Now, thanks to the Rand Corporation [ht: ja], we have a report on how terrible working conditions are in the United States.

Most Americans between the ages of 25 and 71 spend most of their available time in a given day, week, or year forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work to a small group of employers. Thus, as the authors of the study note,

The characteristics of jobs and workplaces—including wages, hours worked, and benefits, as well as the physical demands and risk of injury, the pace of work, the degree of autonomy, prospects for advancement, and the social work environment, to name a few—are important determinants of American workers’ well-being. Some of these job characteristics also affect workers’ social and family lives.

Here are some of the major findings, which paint a picture of a work environment that is often stressful, taxing—both physically and mentally—and demeaning:  Read more…