What I am reading now: Trumponomics – Causes and Consequences

TrumponomicsThis tome (at about 500 pages), recently published by the World Economics Association, is my current summer reading! The WEA champions economic pluralism and aims to ‘increase the relevance, breadth and depth of economic thought’.

Most of the thinking covered by the book lies on the political left and centre left. Trumponomics, to quote reviewer Bob Jessop, demonstrates ‘the explanatory power of a pluralistic heterodox political economy and its contribution to the critique of power and domination in an increasingly authoritarian and financialized age.’

It covers everything from post-Keynesian and Marxist to feminist and development perspectives, so there is plenty of variety to keep the interested reader going.

I hope to review some of the book in a week or two. For those who want to explore some of the individual papers, they are available for free download in two parts here.

Are CEOs paid to excess?

A short but lively debate between right and left on executive pay. The Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman and Professor Mariana Mazzucato of UCL argue over whether it has become excessive relative to the pay of the rest of the workforce.

The Adam Smith Institute is proudly neoliberal (formerly libertarian), while Mazzucato believes strongly in state industrial and technology policy, as well as in the benefits of ‘stakeholder capitalism‘ as opposed to shareholder capitalism.

The stakeholder approach aims to balance the interests of different groups affected by the operations of firms, from CEOs to trade unions and customers, via particular forms of corporate governance. The aim of such a framework is to achieve both greater efficiency and a more equitable society.

Understanding the ‘Three Balances’

This 14 minute animated video is a nice introduction to the Three Sectoral Financial Balances, which are an important part of macroeconomics, or the study of the economy as a whole. The dialogue sounds a little odd, but stick with it.

The video helps to dispel some myths about the desirability or otherwise of government budget deficits and surpluses, and how the associated money flows interact with the rest of the economy: the private sector (firms and households) and the foreign sector (the rest of the world).

In particular, the discussion outlines how the US government ran budget surpluses in the late 1990s, but also how this was more than offset by the private sector deficit, and the resultant accumulation of private debt, which ultimately proved unsustainable.

The post-Keynesian economist Wynne Godley, originator of the Three Balances approach, warned about this in 1999 here, and forecast a recession, accompanied by rising unemployment and government deficits, as these trends necessarily began to unwind over the medium term.

Free-market policies rarely make poor countries rich (Ha-Joon Chang’s Thing 7)

23-things-they-don-t-tell-you-about-capitalismThese telling extracts from Ha-Joon Chang‘s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism come from ‘Thing 7’ (p.63-5):

“Contrary to what is commonly believed, the performance of developing countries in the period of state-led development was superior to what they have achieved during the subsequent period of market-oriented reform. There were some spectacular failures of state intervention, but most of these countries grew much faster, with more equitable income distribution and far fewer financial crises, during the ‘bad old days’ than they have done in the period of market-oriented reforms. Moreover, it is also not true that almost all rich countries have become rich through free-market policies. The truth is more or less the opposite. With only a few exceptions, all of today’s rich countries, including Britain and the US – the supposed homes of free trade and free markets – have become rich through the combinations of protectionism, subsidies and other policies that today they advise the developing countries not to adopt. Free-market policies have made few countries rich so far and they will make few rich in the future.”

To illustrate the above, a brief country case study:

“[This] country’s trade policy has literally been the most protectionist in the world for the last few decades, with an average industrial tariff rate at 40-55 per cent. The majority of the population cannot vote, and vote-buying and electoral fraud are widespread. Corruption is rampant, with political parties selling government jobs to their financial backers. The country has never recruited a single civil servant through an open, competitive process. Its public finances are precarious, with records of government loan defaults that worry foreign investors. Especially in the banking sector, foreigners are prohibited from becoming directors while foreign shareholders cannot even exercise their voting rights unless they are resident in the country. It does not have a competition law, permitting cartels and other forms of monopoly to grow unchecked. Its protection of intellectual property rights is patchy, particularly marred by its refusal to protect foreigners’ copyrights…

…[the country described above]…is the USA, around 1880…one of the fastest-growing – and rapidly becoming one of the richest – countries in the world…[following] policy recipes that go almost totally against today’s neo-liberal free-market orthodoxy.”

Interview with Costas Lapavitsas: Strategies for the renaissance of the left in Europe — Radical Political Economy

Costas Lapavitsas, a Professor of economics at SOAS, and briefly a Greek MP in the Syriza government, discusses the causes and evolution of the eurozone crisis, and potential strategies for the left in Europe. While I am sympathetic to his explanation of the crisis, his solution, especially for Greece, are for a new leftist nationalism in opposition to the EU. Perhaps in the absence of EU and eurozone reform this would be desirable, but it remains controversial.

The interview is at the link below, via the Radical Political Economy website.

The following interview, conducted by Darko Vujica was originally published by prometej.ba on June 10th 2017.

via Interview with Costas Lapavitsas: Strategies for the renaissance of the left in Europe — Radical Political Economy

Economic ‘distortions’, ideology and the role of government

HudsonTradeDevFDebtMichael Hudson, the heterodox economics Professor whose work I have featured on this blog quite a bit this year, wrote a history and critique of theories of trade and development back in 1992. It was reissued in 2009 and I have just finished reading it.

His central thesis is that, to quote the subtitle, “trade and development concentrate economic power in the hands of dominant nations”. I will not be reviewing the book here, but here is an extract, the gist of which I have agreed with since I was a graduate student (p.169-70): Continue reading

Minsky on stagflation and the limits to state intervention

MinskyCanItHappenAgainGovernment can be a major force for promoting progressive economic and social development. History tells us that this is rarely sustained indefinitely: the political pendulum swings back and forth, and development proceeds unevenly across space and time.

I was reminded of some of the potential limits to state intervention by the quote below from Hyman Minsky in his collection of essays Can “It” Happen Again? , published in 1982. “It” refers to the Great Depression of the 1930s. His Financial Instability Hypothesis argued that ‘stability is destabilising’: periods of successful economic performance tend to encourage an increasingly risky financial structure, leading eventually to a financial crisis. This outcome could take decades to occur, but it seems that he was proved right by the crisis and recession of 2008-9. Continue reading