We do not live in a post-industrial age (Ha-Joon Chang’s Thing 9)

23-things-they-don-t-tell-you-about-capitalismFrom Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism:

“We may be living in a post-industrial society in the sense that most of us work in shops and offices rather than in factories. But we have not entered a post-industrial stage of development in the sense that industry has become unimportant. Most (although not all) of the shrinkage in the share of manufacturing in total output is not due to the fall in the absolute quantity of manufactured goods produced but due to the fall in their prices relative to those for services, which is caused by their faster growth in productivity (output per unit of input). Now, even though de-industrialization is mainly due to this differential productivity growth across sectors, and thus may not be something negative in itself, it has negative consequences for economy-wide productivity growth and for the balance of payments, which cannot be ignored. As for the idea that developing countries can largely skip industrialization and enter the post-industrial phase directly, it is a fantasy. Their limited scope for productivity growth makes services a poor engine of growth. The low tradability of services means that a more service-based economy will have a lower ability to export. Lower export earnings means a weaker ability to buy advanced technologies from abroad, which in turn leads to slower growth. (p.88-9)

…[E]ven the rich countries have not become unequivocally post-industrial. While most people in those countries do not work in factories any more, the manufacturing sector’s importance in their production systems has not fallen very much, once we take in to account the relative price effects. But even if de-industrialization is not necessarily a symptom of industrial decline (although it often is), it has negative effects for long-term productivity growth and the balance of payments, both of which need reckoning. The myth that we now live in a post-industrial age has made many governments ignore the negative consequences of de-industrialization.

As for the developing countries, it is a fantasy to think that they can skip industrialization and build prosperity on the basis of service industries. Most services have slow productivity growth and most of those services that have high productivity growth are services that cannot be developed without a strong manufacturing sector. Low tradability of services means that a developing country specializing in services will face a bigger balance of payments problem, which for a developing country means a reduction in its ability to upgrade its economy. Post-industrial fantasies are bad enough for the rich countries, but they are positively dangerous for developing countries.” (p.101)

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Finance, inequality, ecology – an interview with Steve Keen

A nice interview with post-Keynesian Professor Steve Keen, in which he discusses what are (or should be) some of the most important issues in modern economics.

He covers the role of finance and private debt in generating inequality and what can be done to reduce it; the idea and feasibility of a universal basic income; economics and planetary ecology; and the incorporation of energy into economic models.

Nicholas Kaldor on taxes and the illusion of incentives

Nicholas Kaldor was a post-Keynesian economist at Cambridge University and, during his final years in the 1980s, a devastating critic of the Thatcher government’s adherence to the doctrines of monetarism and ‘supply-side’ reform.

Here he is on tax cuts and incentives, taken from The Economic Consequences of Mrs Thatcher (1983), a collection of speeches made to the House of Lords (p. 9):

“Between 1880 and 1930, excluding the war years, hardly any new money was sunk into the coal industry or the iron and steel industry, and very little money – in comparison with Germany, not to speak of the United States – was put into the new technology industries which arose out of the invention of electricity, the motor car, heavy machinery, synthetic dye stuffs and other chemicals. Instead, vast sums were invested abroad. In some years during the Edwardian period, when home investment in manufacturing industry was almost zero, no less than 10 percent of our national income was invested abroad.

In those days there were incentives galore. However much Ministers may try to revive incentives through tax reductions, they can never hope to achieve the Victorian or Edwardian peaks in fiscal incentives, when income tax was not progressive and it was seven old pence in the pound or 3 percent instead of the present 33 percent. Yet with all those incentives, the economy was stagnating. If people think that we will now see miracles as a result of cutting income tax by, say, 3p or 6p in the pound, I can regretfully prophesy that it is more likely to make no difference whatever.

I have no doubt that without nationalisation we should have had the same situation after World War II as we had for 40 years before World War I and throughout a larger part of the inter-war years, and if one thinks that the period after World War II was bad, I can only say that in the opinion of all economic historians who have studied this matter seriously, the 20 years of the 1950s and 1960s showed more rapid economic progress and more rapid growth of productivity than any comparable 20 years in previous British history. That that was not just a reflection of a world trend is shown by the fact that while it was true of Britain, it was not true of Germany or the United States; in other words, their post-war record of productivity growth was no higher than had been achieved in previous periods. It was true in our case, and it is only in the last 10 years that our economic progress has broken down, for the reasons I mentioned (sic).”

Kaldor was not in favour of very high marginal rates of income tax, and instead favoured a progressive tax on consumption. However he was clear at the time that poor management was holding back British industry, and the problem, compared with our competitors, was ability rather than incentives.

Even today, the ‘burden’ of taxation in a number of European countries is higher than in Britain, and industrial performance has been notably more impressive. So other policies are more important, but successive Conservative and even Labour governments have failed to learn this.

All this remains relevant today, not least in the wake of the Trump tax cuts, and the turn to austerity in many countries in the wake of temporary fiscal stimulus following the 2008 crash. In Britain, cuts to public services were favoured over tax increases in the attempts to reduce the deficit. This surely reached its limit some time ago, with numerous crises across public services, from the health service to prisons.

Ha-Joon Chang on the market and the state

In this short video, Cambridge University’s Ha-Joon Chang, a particularly thoughtful economist whose work I find both interesting and inspiring, discusses the boundaries of the market and the state in modern economies.

He also argues that economic change is inevitably political and makes a strong case against the imposition of ostensibly scientifically derived economic policies on democratic states by unelected technocrats. This happened in nation-states from Greece to Italy in the wake of the eurozone crisis.

Michael Hudson on economics

JisforJunkEconAnother extract, in this occasional series, from Michael Hudson‘s excellent J is for Junk Economics (p.86), this time on the definition of economics itself:

Economics: The linguistic roots of the word “economics” stem from Aristotle’s Greek terms oikos (house or household) and nomos (rule). This often is trivialized as self-sufficient “household management”, in contrast to chrematistics, making money by market exchange and money lending. But economic organization and markets have always been wrapped in a political context as mixed economies. The paradigmatic “household” was the Mesopotamian “large house” (Sumerian and Babylonian é.gal), the temples and later the palaces in which accounting, weights and measures (including the origin of money), standardized interest and wage rates are first documented. Most merchants in Mesopotamia’s takeoff occupied official status in the royal bureaucracy, adopting management techniques from the large institutions. Prices were denominated for accounting purposes and for payment of debts to these large institutions, but were free to fluctuate outside of the city gates and outside of the temple and palace sector.

It thus is a travesty to narrow the study of economics to “markets”, defined simplistically as private sector households earning and spending their income on goods and assets. All markets operate in the context of public regulation, taxation and government spending to provide basic services, including those of the military and religious infrastructure.

Economic theory in modern Europe started as Political Arithmetic for royal management. The key concerns were money, taxes, and the trade policy needed to obtain silver and gold. James Steuart (1713-1780) called the latter “money of the world” and related it to population growth and immigration, colonialism and export production. Classical political economy shifted the focus of economics to domestic value, price and rent theory with a view toward political reform to check the power of landlords and other rent extractors.”

Top ten posts of 2017

It is always interesting to see what topics attract the most interest here. So from one to ten, here are the most viewed posts on this blog in 2017, from those published during the last twelve months:

  1. Modern Monetary Theory and inflation – Anwar Shaikh’s critique
  2. Michael Hudson on Modern Monetary Theory
  3. Karl Marx on utility
  4. Free-market policies rarely make poor countries rich (Ha-Joon Chang’s Thing 7)
  5. Minsky on stagflation and the limits to state intervention
  6. Anwar Shaikh’s Classical theory of wages and unemployment
  7. Stiglitz on inequality and growth
  8. Ha-Joon Chang on inequality and capabilities
  9. Investment-savings, global imbalances and crisis: the economics of Michael Pettis
  10. Moseley’s macro-monetary Marx – a review and partial critique

All of the above were posted in 2017. However, the four most viewed posts of the year were published in previous years and the top two far outstripped the others. Here are the links:

  1. Some macroeconomic paradoxes: part 1
  2. Marx’s labour theory of value and exploitation under capitalism
  3. Keynes on inequality
  4. Holistic theory and political economy

Thanks to all my readers for your interest last year. Wishing you a happy 2018.