All posts filed under: Economics

Common-Good Capitalism: Populism With a Twist

“Despite three years of robust economic growth, millions are unable to find dignified work; they feel forgotten and left behind. We are left with a society with which no one is happy.” This is Senator Marco Rubio’s assessment of our current socioeconomic situation as a nation—and it’s bleak. Rubio believes that most Americans today have lost sight of the American Dream. They are struggling to find dignified work; a direct result of a modern economic system that no longer serves its people. Rubio contends that many Americans feel alienated by our current economic system, as evidently reflected by rising suicide rates, declining birth and marriage rates, and the opioid epidemic. This unhappy society was the subject of a speech that Rubio gave earlier this month at the Catholic University of America. There can be no doubt, based on the content and tenor of his speech, that Rubio certainly fears for the fate of our nation and its people; it’s clear in his earnest presentation of the issues as he sees them. His love of country shines through, as does his fear …

Something for Nothing—The Importance of Mindful Volunteering

Every day we receive fresh solicitations requesting our time, our money, and our attention to various causes. It is not enough simply to live our lives, we must somehow justify our existence beyond earning a living and paying our taxes. According to a VolunteerHub estimate, one out of four people in the U.S. volunteer their time and effort with an average value of $24.14 per hour. The average is 22–23 percent in Europe and 19 percent in Australia. The site states that volunteering improves health and chances of gaining employment by 27 percent. So it is not an entirely selfless act. I come not to praise volunteering but to consider its benefits and our motivations; to reflect on my experience that has led me to question what we are giving and what we are getting as volunteers. Such an assessment becomes more urgent as groups and individuals face decisions about where to invest limited resources in resolving crises such as global warming and inequities of wealth, freedom, and opportunity. For some, volunteering is an anodyne …

Corbynite Economics

A review of Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialisation by Grace Blakeley, Repeater Books (September 2019) 300 pages. It is tempting for Jeremy Corbyn’s critics to write off his electoral promises as bribes—a last-ditch attempt from the most unpopular major party leader in memory to buy his way to victory. There’s some truth to this when it comes to pledged levels of public spending. But Corbynism is not an opportunistic ideology. He and the people around him have a set of beliefs about the economy that they take very seriously, and it’s worth trying to understand them. Stolen: How To Save The World From Financialisation, by New Statesman columnist and socialist campaigner Grace Blakeley, is one of the more serious attempts to set out a version of Corbynism (compared to, say, Aaron Bastani’s buffoonish Fully Automated Luxury Communism). Blakeley, who recently tweeted that reading the Labour manifesto had moved her to tears, has tried to put modern leftism in a post-financial crisis context. Her book hopes to explain why she believes the crisis …

The Price of Sex

Working as a photographer for a charity a few years back, I was travelling through Malawi and stopped overnight in a mining town. It was a Wednesday, and I headed out to a bar. Other than a woman serving, everyone else there was male. Some were playing pool. Some were drinking, but most were doing neither. I asked the bargirl why there were no women in the place. With a look that suggested I was being dim, she explained: “The men get paid on Friday.” On the surface, in a mining town, the gender pay gap is huge, with the vast majority of money officially going to men. And yet, by Saturday morning, much of the cash has been transferred to bar owners, prostitutes, girlfriends, and wives. A privileged observer might suggest that women in such a town ought to be liberated to earn their own money. But the point is that they already are. While most fair-minded people would no doubt agree that women should be free to take mining jobs if they choose, …

Andrew Yang—Technocratic Populist

Andrew Yang is a peculiar candidate for the presidency; not only has he no previous political experience, but he has also placed great emphasis on issues that have been on the fringes of mainstream media political discourse usually examined by academics or YouTube personalities. It is a credit to him that topics like automation, the meaning and value of work, the concentration of elite talent in to narrow career paths, and of course, UBI, have had a chance to be touched upon during this campaign cycle. Nonetheless, the most provocative aspect of the Yang campaign, and of the man himself, is the unusual tension between a technocratic emphasis on expertise and efficiency, and the populist rhetoric he uses to denounce remote elite enclaves, and to call for a revolution that, in the words of Bismarck, we undertake rather than undergo.1 Yang views himself—or at least projects himself as—the people’s technocrat. An expert that the average Joe can trust. Yang as Technocrat Technocracy is government by experts. The term is Greek in origin, fusing tekhne (describing …

What Comes After Capitalism?

A review of Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World, by Branko Milanovic, Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (September 24, 2019), 304 pages “The domination of capitalism as the best, or rather the only, way to organize production and distribution seems absolute,” writes Branko Milanovic in his new book, Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World. With feudal systems demolished, and the ideological battles between fascism and communism resolved, a clear winner has emerged. Capitalism is unrivaled in its ability to produce material abundance and coordinate the use of scarce resources. But above and beyond that functional success, capitalist societies also inculcate a set of commercial values that reinforce its supremacy and reward its expansion into new spheres of life. If capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction, as Marx thought, such forces are overwhelmed by its propensity to spread and self-replicate—at least so far. As a leading scholar on income inequality at the City University of New York, Milanovic is sensitive to …

Rich Like Me: How Assortative Mating Is Driving Income Inequality

It may be useful to open this topic with an anecdote. Some ten years ago, I found myself in an after-dinner conversation, lubricated by wine, with an American who had been educated at an Ivy League college and was then teaching in Europe. As our conversation drifted toward matters of life, marriage and children, I was initially surprised by his statement that whoever he had married, the outcome in terms of where they lived, what type of house they owned, what kind of holidays and entertainment they would enjoy, and even what colleges their children would attend would be practically the same. His reasoning was as follows: “When I went to [Ivy League institution], I knew that I would marry a woman I met there. Women also knew the same thing. We all knew that our pool of desirable marriage candidates would never be as vast again. And then whomever I married would be a specimen of the same genre: They were all well-educated, smart women who came from the same social class, read the …

China’s Looming Class Struggle

Westerners tend to identify China’s coming political crisis with developments such as the brave, educated, and often English-speaking protests in Hong Kong. Although they undoubtably pose an annoyance to Xi Jinping’s regime, the real existential challenge to the regime derives not from China’s middle orders but from the very classes that gave birth to the Communist regime. As someone who has been to China many times over the last 40 years, I acknowledge that the achievements of the reformed socialist regime are nothing short of astounding. Beijing’s streets, once crowded with horse-drawn carts, rickety bicycles, and people dressed in ragged Mao jackets, now accommodate Audis, shopping malls, and slickly attired hipsters. Urban Chinese are no longer so impressed by New York or even Tokyo; their country is home to five of the tallest buildings in the world. Yet this remarkable growth has come at the expense of China’s supposedly egalitarian ethos. Since 1978 the country’s GINI ratings—a system that measures inequality—have gone from highly egalitarian to more unequal than Mexico, Brazil, and Kenya, as well …

Against Research Ethics Committees

Author Note: This article is based on a presentation at the Economic Society of Australia Annual Conference, and draws on an earlier discussion of an incident with an Australian university ethics committee “Why Ethics Committees Are Unethical” Agenda 10/2 2002.  The views expressed here are personal, and should not be attributed to the organisations with which I am affiliated.  Ethics committees have been part of the life of medical researchers for some decades, based on guidelines which flow from the World Medical Association’s 1964 “Declaration of Helsinki.”  This declaration was aimed at physicians and draws heavily on the Nuremberg Code developed during the trials of Nazi doctors after WWII. It has been joined by more recent guidelines such as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects” and many others. In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) issued its first Statement on Human Experimentation in 1966, and the current set of NHMRC guidelines, now issued jointly with the Australian Research Council (ARC) is the National Statement …

Corporate Subservience to China Exposes the Hypocrisy of Woke Capitalism

China’s suppression of political dissent within its borders is old news. But more recently, the Chinese government has managed to project its power across the world—and even into the heart of an iconic American business sector: professional basketball. The saga began when Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey—a well-known figure within the National Basketball Association (NBA)—Tweeted support for ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Chinese consulate in Houston signaled its displeasure, with a statement indicating that it had “lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact.” Morey seemed to receive the message. He hastily deleted his Tweet. But the NBA—which is the most popular sports league in China—paid a price anyway. A series of NBA events in China were abruptly canceled, and a number of firms suspended co-operation with the Rockets. Two days following Morey’s Tweet, the NBA released an official statement distancing itself from the Rockets GM, lamenting that Morey’s pro-democracy statement has …