Category Archives: Economics

John Robb’s annoying moments

On the whole, I like John Robb, his book Brave New War was thought provoking, and his upcoming book on Resilient Communities looks to be good as well.

But then posts like this one anger me to no end. He goes over current world trends in apocolyptic tones and then closes with

Except for the fanatical optimists, market mystics (the divine invisible hand), and the naive/uninformed, the debates over these trends are over.

He always mentions the broad trends with no real mention of where economics might shift the current, instead he just brushes that off with the thesis (this is what I gather from reading him anyway) that practically all of the benevolent inputs are dynamic, whereas the benevolent inputs are static.

Quote of the moment

I was perusing Marginal Revolution (about vouchers) and came across this comment

In other words, even if a child’s chance of going to the state university is not increased by his new school, the kid’s chance of ending up in the state penitentiary is radically decreased. This consideration might not be of primary concern to many who support vouchers, but to those who live in the ghetto, it is of PRIMARY concern. Schools, more than anything, breed gangs. Like the projects of old, when you are FORCED to a geographical location, you make gang recruiting easier – and your kids chances of entering the prison system that much greater.

I saw a lecture by Nobel Laureate James Buchanan many years ago and before he veered off into pure math he said that there were three types of social organization, which he dubbed (something like this anyway), the closed circle, the open circle, and the broken circle. The closed circle is a prison, the open is free association, specifically where members have the right to exit and the right to exile rouge members and the broken circle, which is no association at all.

The Buchanan point came to mind…

Throwing stuff to the wall

Via Marginal Revolution, here comes today’s quote of the day

Trying stuff is cheaper than deciding whether to try it. (Compare the cost of paying and feeding someone to do a few weeks of [Perl or PHP] hacking to the full cost of the meetings that went into a big company decision.) Don’t overplan something. Just do it half-assed to start with, then throw more people at it to fix it if it works.

The market is a discovery process after all.

Tuesday link roundup

The market has spoken

This editorial from the AJC is an annoying example of the current hysteria about subprime loans

Describing the wreckage of the subprime mortgage collapse as part of the normal business cycle is akin to characterizing the devastation of New Orleans as the aftermath of a seasonal downpour.

In both disasters, human blunders and government inattention played pivotal roles. And the market can no more be counted on to fix the subprime mess than Mother Nature could be trusted to fix up the mess after Hurricane Katrina.

Government must intervene quickly and firmly in the subprime fiasco, in helping desperate borrowers keep their homes if possible and, more important, in ending abusive lending practices that contributed to the national leap in mortgage defaults and foreclosures.

New federal and state laws must couple strong prohibitions against abusive lending with equally strong enforcement and consequences. The pain must be felt by the duplicitous mortgage brokers who talked the homeowners on Elm Street into loans with hidden brokerage fees and unnecessarily high interest rates all the way up to the investors on Wall Street who profited from the bundling and selling of these subprime loans.

The article then goes on to describe several cases of fraud that happened in the Atlanta area, fraud as everyone knows is already illegal. Foreclosure and the denial of credit IS the marketing working, mainly in stopping people from buying homes they can’t afford. Absent fraud, no one is forced into a mortgage, and everyone knows how much they’ll be paying.

I suppose I’m more sensitive to this now (having just bought a house) than most times, but it’s quite maddening.

Tuesday night rapid fire

Economics for five year olds

Arnold Kling has a great post on explaining economic development to five year olds, with the hope that journalists understand it. The version he came up with was this

There are lots of people in the world who will give us things that we want, as long as we give them something they want in return. This is called trading. Some of the things we trade are hard to see–they are like nice thoughts. Other people keep thinking up nicer things to trade with us, and we keep thinking up nicer things to trade with them. We keep trading nicer and nicer things. Many years ago, people had not thought up all of these nice things, so they did not have as much to trade as we do. That is why people who lived back then were poor, and we are not.

Now if he’ll only do one for deadweight loss.