All posts filed under: Economics

Get ‘Em While They’re Young

A review of: Communism for Kids by Bini Adamczak, 2017, MIT Press and Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Brainwashing for the Angry and the Young, by Helen Razer, 2017, Allen & Unwin. A century after the Bolshevik Revolution, and a quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, somehow the Marxist dream is still alive and kicking. There are some who see the fading embers of communism not as a dark reminder of past horrors, but as an opportunity to usher in a new blaze. Keenly aware of millenials’ growing discontent with the status quo, they are reaching for the tinder-box. German writer Bini Adamczak’s Communism for Kids is a paean for the ideology written in the form of a children’s story. As its translator into English noted in the New York Times, the book seeks to convey the virtues of communism in a much simpler way than is usually done by economists, political scientists and policy experts. This involves cute animations of a talking factory, whose obsession with producing more and more stuff makes its workers very unhappy …

Academic Journal Publishing is Headed for a Day of Reckoning

Imagine a researcher working under deadline on a funding proposal for a new project. This is the day she’s dedicated to literature review – pulling examples from existing research in published journals to provide evidence for her great idea. Creating an up-to-date picture of where things stand in this narrow corner of her field involves 30 references, but she has access to only 27 of those via her library’s journal subscriptions. Now what? There isn’t time to contact the three primary authors to get copies directly from them. Interlibrary loan will take too long. She could try other sites that host academic papers – such as ResearchGate and Sci-Hub – but access to particular articles isn’t assured and publishers are cracking down on what they call copyright violations. This fictitious example illustrates the quandary in which many researchers find themselves today. Access to journals is crucial for how they do their work. But few research libraries can afford all the journal subscriptions needed by all of their faculty for all occasions. As the dean of …

Misunderstanding Capitalism

On 3 November, Jacobin magazine hosted a public debate (available here) on the merits of capitalism. Representing Jacobin, Bhaskar Sunkara and Vivek Chibber made the case for the prosecution; representing libertarian magazine Reason, Nick Gillespie and Katherine Mangu-Ward made the case for the defense. Michelle Goldberg, a columnist for the New York Times, served as moderator and opened proceedings by declaring herself persuadable by either side. To the participants’ credit, it was exciting to see people of opposing viewpoints engaging in civil debate during these tribal and polarized times. Podcast: @reason debates @jacobinmag on capitalism, socialism: @nickgillespie and @kmanguward make the case for “free minds and free markets” as the best way to improve the world https://t.co/wGhCixLPDC — reason (@reason) November 16, 2017 This debate offered an opportunity to reflect on the respective merits of capitalism and socialism (the Jacobin representatives’ preferred alternative) and lessons from the past that might help us to build a better tomorrow. It was, however, also a frustrating affair, not least because of persistent misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the subject …

Universal Basic Income and the Threat of Tyranny

Much praise has been heaped on the idea of a universal basic income in recent years. Experiments have begun in many countries, some mainstream politicians are starting to advocate it, and if we listen to many thinkers, especially among the Internet and tech crowds, it seems like our inevitable future. This is quite understandable, as the idea attempts to solve a real problem: with the advance of technology, fewer and fewer people are required to produce the amount of wealth required to sustain more and more people. Rather than invent more and more artificial jobs and scarcities, why not just accept the reality of this changing world, where not all people are needed for working, and instead release them to pursue their hobbies, studies, or charity? There has been criticism of the idea, but so far the debate tends to focus on two issues: the economic reasoning behind a universal basic income, and the ethics of allowing a majority of non-workers to live off the fruits of the labour of a small minority. What is …

An Argument Against Open Borders and Liberal Hubris

No one except a militant nativist would deny that some level of immigration is beneficial and should be accepted. After that, we face a question of scale. There are those, however, on the opposite end of the spectrum, who believe that no level of immigration should ever be denied. These are advocates of “open borders”; an idea as strange as that of the nativist—yet more dangerous for being considered respectable. The liberal Economist magazine contains an essay promoting open borders. It imagines a world in which people are free to live and work wherever they please. It is an astonishingly biased and unreflective piece, which illuminates dangerous extremes of progressive utopianism: Perhaps I sound inhuman. Who could dislike people living and working whereever they please? It can be a splendid thing, but if everybody did it think of what that would entail. The Economist reports that if borders were opened, 630 million people would be likely to migrate. Perhaps 138 million would go to the US, expanding its population by almost a half. About 42 million would join the British, expanding their numbers …

Immigration, Justice, and Prosperity

Some people argue that even if poverty in some places is mainly the result of poor institutions rather than exploitation, more prosperous nations owe it to less wealthy nations to open their borders. On this view, restrictive immigration policies among rich countries are unjust because they prevent relatively poor people from moving away from bad institutions and toward good ones. To some extent, this is true. Consider Michael Huemer’s case of “Starvin Marvin.”1 Suppose Marvin is starving, and is trying to reach a marketplace in order to access the food he needs to survive. If he could get there, someone would willingly sell him food that he values more than the cash in his pocket. Since immigration restrictions sometimes prevent these kinds of mutually beneficial gains – gains that may spell life or death for some – these restrictions seem to be unjust. Huemer recognizes that a thought experiment like this doesn’t settle the issue, but concludes that “unless there is some crucial disanalogy that I have overlooked…immigration restrictions are seriously wrong.”2 There are, in …

Some Countries Are Much Richer Than Others. Is That Unjust?

Look at the GDP per capita across different countries and you will see staggering differences. The U.S, Denmark and Singapore all have (nominal) per capita GDPs of between US$50,000 and US$60,000 per annum. On the other hand, Ethiopia, Chad, Nepal, Tajikistan, and Niger all fall below $1,000 per annum. The average resident of Denmark produces more than 50 times as much per year, measured in terms of nominal exchange rates, than the average resident of Ethiopia! When we look around the world and observe the massive wealth disparities between citizens in rich and poor countries, many of us are apt to conclude that the differences must have arisen because of colonialism, imperial warfare, or theft of raw materials like gold or oil. Of course, all of these things have happened at various points in time, and they can arguably explain some variation in the standard of living. Colonialism can be especially destructive of institutions that support peace and commerce. But a recent article by the philosopher Dan Moller casts doubt on the view that injustices …

Who Will Make Our Coffee in Pret?

When a BBC Question Time audience member asked “Who will make our coffee in Pret?” she sincerely believed herself to be making an argument in favour of open borders and globalism. Her question is valid. Who would make the coffee in Pret? In London last summer I ate at a couple of Pret A Mangers (for those unfamiliar, Pret is a popular British coffee and sandwich chain), and after seeing the Question Time clip I recalled noting at the time a dearth of London accents in the stores. Not only at Prets; an absence of white Londoners was the norm in all the coffee shops and fast food restaurants I patronised. Not content with having caused a swell of murmured disapprovals in the audience the woman doubled down: “You’re not going to get English people to take those jobs.” On this point she is correct. But why? Why are there, relatively speaking, hardly any white Londoners serving coffee in Pret or flipping burgers at McDonald’s? With mass migration to the west everything works in a …

A Hundred Years of Communism

We must give the Bolsheviks their due. Their success in gaining power was astonishing. A ragtag gang of activists and intellectuals, they seized control of Russia in October, 1917, and defended their rule in a vicious, bloody civil war. No one can deny the force of their conviction, or the scale of their courage, or the keenness of their talents. But wielding power was a different matter. Revolutionaries dream that crops will grow out of their fire but in most cases it leaves scarred and arid earth instead. Collectivisation, with its monstrous violence and inefficiency, left millions dead in Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus. Paranoia and persecution, all too evident in Lenin’s “cleansing” of “harmful insects” — landowners, dissidents and priests the Bolsheviks interned, starved, tortured and killed — reached its absurd apotheosis in Stalin’s purges. Stalin killed so many people in the Great Purge that it is remarkable that anyone was left to do the killing. Former comrades, artists and intellectuals, military officers, clergymen, dissidents, outcasts and normal Russian men and women were slaughtered in a …

How the Social Justice Movement Fuels Corporate Capitalism

Before diving into a topic I’m sure will prove controversial, I want to start by clarifying that, as my other articles or my book Modern Sexuality can attest, I am very much pro-social justice. This piece is about how social justice has gone off the rails and been co-opted by capitalist or, dare I say, corporatist influences. Secondly, I am not anti-capitalist, in the sense of individuals having free rights to produce whatever product or service the market demands and receiving a fair price in return. Rather, I am opposed to unfettered, corporatist capitalism in which corporations create monopolies and influence politics and culture mainly to serve their business interests. With that out of the way, let’s go back to the fall of 2008 to examine how the social justice movement lost its way. On September 24, then-President George Bush made a special appearance on TV to warn the American public that the economy was on the verge of collapse. Several weeks prior, investment bank Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy, producing a domino effect and taking the …