Friday, August 21, 2015

Trade-offs for humane investment

In Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play, J.C. Scott, like many skeptics of markets, laments the loss of autonomy for wage labourers who left their smallholder farms to work in factories where employers dictated the terms of their work.

Today we're celebrating increasing autonomy in the workforce. But if it's what we've been seeking all along, why did so many give up owning their productive resources in the first place? The question is similar to the question of why, if we're so much richer today, many of us have gone back to eating what our grandparents used to eat. Understanding the answers means thinking about investment.

When we suspect something can make us better off, we’re willing to give up some stuff we'd like to have or do now and put those resources toward its acquisition. Near-subsistence farmers might take leaner meals until they can buy a plow or fertilizer that will allow them to grow more food with less effort, while in a modern economy investment could be a car to travel reliably or education to increase earning potential.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Preferences, not poverty.

Economics is tricky business. It seems straightforward to apply simple rules like supply and demand, but unless we understand how markets reveal information, some economic conclusions can seem counterintuitive.

People are wary of data that says that the cost of living has fallen, even for the poor. If we take today's standards and apply them backwards, it can seem like we've stagnated. But prices and purchasing decisions of the past are full of information about the people who made them, not guidelines for measuring the lives of (very different) people today.

Are food prices rising? In the 1970s while today's trendier meat, like oxtails, would have been pretty cheap, you could have a helluva time getting fresh asparagus in January. Canned vegetables, or maybe frozen as more households purchased freezers, were more likely on the menu. Technology (shipping, preserving, refrigeration) had something to do with the different food people wanted, but the real key is understanding how preferences have changed with income.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

More on modern-day fascism

People who liked my post about the current popularity of many of the tenents of fascism in mainstream politics are likely to enjoy Steve Hortwitz's latest column at The Freeman about why politicians are making us use 'the F-word' so much these days. An excerpt:
Today we use the word fascism as an epithet, especially for bossy people. We associate it with dictatorships, and especially with Nazism. It turns out that fascism was a fairly well-worked-out theory of how to organize a society, and in its original form was not about racism or anti-Semitism directly. Fascism was an attempt to combine what people saw as the best parts of capitalism and socialism, and then to do so in the context of putting nationality before class.


So what does this have to do with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump?

I would argue that they are both “nationalist socialists.” That is, they both embody key elements of fascism. They both think the nation comes first, and they both think the United States is an organization (not a spontaneous order) that should be under someone’s control.
Read it all here!