Tag Archives: Imported

Kuttner: rising wages, rising employment vs. falling wages, falling employment

Robert Kuttner notes an interesting tidbit from, wouldn’t you know it, the Wall Street Journal: since 2001, wages in Europe have been keeping up with inflation and the employment rate has also been rising. Yet in the US, wages have been falling behind the inflation rate and the employment rate has also been sagging. This flies in the face of the conventional economic “wisdom,” which assumes that businesses will hire more workers when the (real, i.e., adjusted-for-inflation) wage is lower. Oh that wacky reality!

[Conflict of interest alert: Kuttner’s post is on his blog promoting his new book, Obama’s Challenge. I work for the publisher of the book.]

The free-market myth that wouldn’t die

[First posted to Chelseagreen.com. Go to that version for links.]

Proponents of the “free market” have a tendency to ignore one inconvenient fact: there is no such thing as a free market in reality. Never has been one. Never will be one. The “free market” is a myth, a fairy tale told over and over by newspaper columnists and TV pundits and quite a few professional economists. I’ve come across a few declarations of this myth lately that irked me (for example this infuriatingly ignorant and ignorizing dreck), and so I’d like to rant for a moment.

This is not to say that markets, as a system for organizing economic activity, are no good. There are some good things about markets, flawed as they always are. There are also bad things about them. Sometimes, the flaws are their saving grace! That’s because some “flaws” in what might otherwise be a fully “free” market (theoretically, that is, but only in theory since it simply cannot exist in reality) make the results of the market activity more socially beneficial. The opposite is also true: some flaws lead to worse social results, relative to what might happen if the markets were to be fully “free.” But again, that’s all pie-in-the-sky philosophizing, because markets are never, ever fully free.

Here’s photographic proof!

One result of a free market, proven beyond any doubt in multitudes of Econ 101 courses for the past century, is the so-called “law of one price.” As Wikipedia states,

The law of one price is an economic law stated as: “In an efficient market all identical goods must have only one price.”

(Where “efficient” is econo-speak for what laymen call “free.”)

Now even in the Econ 101 courses, the professors will mention some nuances to this blanket statement, for example to account for the difference in shipping costs to deliver an otherwise identical product from different locations. Similarly, as Wikipedia notes

The law also need not apply if buyers have less than perfect information about where to find the lowest price.

Yet here we are in the brave new 21st century, equipped with the world’s greatest information tools in history, and even still, prices for identical products differ by enormous magnitudes. An example: this Samsung 32-inch flat-panel TV, as shown through Google shopping.


Check it out”¦ the lowest price shown is $382 and the highest price shown is 149% higher at $950. The screenshot doesn’t capture all the offers that the Google search unearthed, but obviously prices vary widely within those two outliers.

How can this be? How can there be so much difference in prices for an identical product? Well, economists and business analysts can probably offer quite a few explanations, but they all boil down to this: the market is not free. It is not efficient.

So keep that in mind next time someone says that all we need to do to solve some problem is to “set the market free,” “get rid of government interference,” or “blah blah blah.” As I implied above, sometimes it will make sense to reduce the government’s influence on a particular aspect of some particular market, but too many people have adopted a blindered ideology that the “free/efficient/unfettered” market represents an ideal that we should be always and everywhere be pursuing. Not only is that doubtful that the ideal is actually ideal, but it simply cannot be achieved, nunca. And as the “theory of the second best” teaches us, that means there is no good reason whatsoever to think that the best alternative is to move as close as possible to this unachievable so-called ideal.

Class dismissed!

McCain v. Obama on taxes

As discouraging as votes on things like FISA and telecom immunity have been, there are still some enormous differences between the two major party candidates. For example, there’s the distributional impacts of their tax policy proposals, as well-illustrated in the figure below from the Tax Policy Center’s newly updated analysis (click on image to enlarge).


Figure 2 from Updated Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates

(Tip of the Econ-Atrocity chapeau to Paul Krugman)

Good News! Drilling ANWR would save $0.02 per gallon, 10 years from now!

Just when you thought there would never be any good news about the economy, oil, or anything along comes this. McClatchey reports that a new report commissioned by Ted (“the internet is a series of tubes“) Stevens (R, Alaska) finds that drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska would, in ten years, bring the price of a barrel of oil down by $0.75. Wow. At today’s prices ($135 per barrel and $4 per gallon) that gives us a 2-cent reduction in prices at the pump. In ten years. Seems well worth it to me (in opposite-world; for fans of Superman, that’s Bizarro World [thanks Bob!]).

What’s the economy for, anyway? (An online course on the topic)

If you have ever asked yourself…

What’s the Economy For, Anyway?
What should a well-functioning economy do?
What’s behind lower wages and longer working hours?
Should we, ordinary folk have any say in running our own economy?
How do we build a more just and sustainable economy?

…then this course is for you!

What’s The Economy For, Anyway? The Case for a Solidarity Economy and Social Wealth
An Online Course offered by the Center for Popular Economics
Summer Session I (June 2 – July 10, 2008)
Course Fee: $900 for THREE Univ. of Massachusetts Credits or $400 for non-credit students.
40-60 Professional Development Points (in MA) or 3.6 Continuing Education Credits (outside MA) available.
Limited scholarships available for non-credit students.

The Center for Popular Economics, in collaboration with the Forum on Social Wealth and the Political Economy Research Institute at Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst is offering a special topics 3-credit online course (Econ 197) this Summer. The course runs from Monday, June 2nd till Thursday July 10th. No background in Economics is required. The course is suited for students as well as activists and community members who want to learn more about the economy. An overview of the course is presented below. For more details contact Amit Basole or Emily Kawano.

Overview: “The Economy” is often portrayed in the media and by politicians as a force of nature that we must adapt to or perish. But we, the ordinary people make our economy tick. Shouldn’t we have a say in how it is run and to what purpose? This online course raises the questions: what purpose do we want our economy to fulfill? Is it fulfilling this purpose today? If not, what can we do about it? What resources do we have available in order to effect our changes?

The course is comprised of three main parts. Part One takes a look at the performance of the current economic model, known to economists as “Neoliberalism.” Although our economic model has allowed unprecedented accumulation of wealth by a few, for the majority of us it has meant falling or stagnant wages, longer work hours, rising healthcare costs, and deterioration of our natural and social environment. We start with a look at the historical roots of neoliberalism and then try to understand the economics behind it.

In Part Two, we start talking about how some of the things that we saw going wrong in Part One can be set right. In the midst of growing inequality and corporate power, many grassroots economic alternatives have been springing up throughout the U.S. as well as the rest of the world. This is the new “Solidarity Economy.” Grounded in principles of economic democracy, social solidarity, cooperation, egalitarianism, and sustainability, this is an alternative to the Neoliberal vision of the economy. In this part of the course we will look at some examples of such alternatives as well as understand the economics behind them.

Building alternatives requires resources. But part of the neoliberal agenda is the diverting of economic resources into fewer and fewer hands. Where will the resources for alternatives come from? In Part Three we talk about a vast store of assets that communities everywhere possess and on which they can draw for constructing alternatives. This store, which we call “social wealth” consists of our cultural and ecological commons and our capacity to work for those we care about. We will also look at how the economics of the care economy or the cultural commons differs from the economics of corporations.

Is the Energy Bill Not-Insane?

J.S. at Environmental Economics seems to think so. Maybe. According to a NY Times piece the bill

would revoke $17 billion in tax breaks extended to big oil companies like Exxon Mobil Corp and slap a 25 percent windfall profits tax on firms that don’t invest in new energy sources.

My question is: will the Democrats grow a spine in time to pass such a bill, even in the face of some opposition?

More unions saving the world

The unions in South Africa seem to have successfully turned back Chinese weapons headed for the Zimbabwe powder keg, and now U.S. longshoremen are taking what may well be the strongest protest action against the Iraq war since it was started five long years ago. Thanks to the always well-informed Juan Cole for the tip. I dare say this is cause for celebration–to be followed by nose-to-the-grindstone protests until the war is over… and then to be followed by more nose-to-the-grindstone efforts to achieve universal, single-payer healthcare coverage, simultaneous with nose-to-the-grindstone action to ratchet down global warming pollution for real. Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty to agitate about once those are dealt with.

How it could have been done if the preachers of the free market had stuck to their principles instead of launching a moronic war

[Originally posted here.]

In my post a moment ago I mentioned how I’d once heard that, for the money the US spent on the war in Vietnam, we could have paid for the installation of an in-ground swimming pool for each and every Vietnamese family instead. What a great way to win the hearts and minds of our enemies, eh? So I decided to try out the math for this stupid, awful, and infuriating Iraq war. What if we had tried to bribe the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam Hussein and install a working democracy instead of imposing these things (rather: trying futilely to do so) by force?

Cost of war to US taxpayers as of March 28, 2008: a bit over $506,359,000,000. Source.

Population of Iraq in July 2008, according to the CIA World Factbook: 27,499,638.

I threw in 2,000,000 extra people to account for the dead and refugees, so the numbers below are based on an estimated population 29.5 million people.

Cost per Iraqi (each man, woman, and child) paid so far by US taxpayers on the war: $17,767.21.

First of all, what if we’d just offered Saddam Hussein and his top leadership only, say, half the total that we’ve spent”“roughly $253 billion”“to leave Iraq and go live in the Bahamas? Well, if he’d refused but the so-called free market loving leadership in the US had pursued this market line of thinking, we could have had Hussein overthrown”“without the loss of a single American life”“by offering each man, woman, and child in Iraq any of the following.

There you have it. The Iraqi people could have had a Saddam Hussein-free Iraq and eaten their apple pie, too. But that’s not the way we did it, because, as usual, the American government tried to do it on the cheap. Haven’t any of these people heard “penny wise, pound foolish” before? And now Bush/Cheney and McCain have got their sights set on going double-or-nothing broke in Iran as well. Will you buy that?

Via DailyKos: Unions Saving the World

Too bad all unions aren’t this bad-ass. But when a union is bad-ass it can make a real difference, and, as DHinMI at DailyKos says, this is “An Example of Why Authoritarians Fear Labor Unions.”

Because they stand up to power:

A Chinese ship carrying arms destined for Zimbabwe was last night forced to turn back after South African unions refused to unload it, claiming that to do so would be “grossly irresponsible”, South African media reported…

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