Jason Hickel is an anthropologist who has written extensively on global poverty and inequality, as well as political economy. Here is a recent post of his, discussing the nature and measurement of, and trends in, global poverty, as a response to a critique by Steven Pinker.
Hickel strongly disputes the idea that falling poverty, where it has occurred, has been due to neoliberal globalisation. Rather, the successful industrialisation and economic development that are necessary for sustained poverty reduction have been achieved with state intervention, industrial policies, and strategic integration with the global economy in countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and China.
There is a huge literature on this, but Ha-Joon Chang is perhaps one of the best known academics to have written popular books on how particular forms of state intervention have promoted capitalist development. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism is the easiest read and I have posted a number of excerpts from it over the last few years. Bad Samaritans is also good value. For a more academic discussion see Kicking Away the Ladder.
2018 marks 24 years since I first took an interest in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘dismal science’. Not a particularly notable landmark, though it is more than half my life. And I certainly have not spent all that time with my nose in books about economics, although I have spent quite a bit of it like that, maybe more than is good for me.
Apparently it was the Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle who coined the phrase dismal science in the 19th century. I am sometimes inclined to agree, when observing a malfunctioning economy and its malfunctioning stewards in government and business. But more often I am prepared to be optimistic that we can find solutions to the problems of humanity. Some of them might even come from studying economics!
Keynes looked forward to a time when the economist’s role in society would be akin to that of dentists, as humble, competent fixers of minor problems. Notwithstanding a call from the UK’s current environment secretary during the campaign for Brexit to pay less attention to experts, economists and their ideological categories of supply, demand and growth have become extremely powerful and accepted, even if with passivity, resignation or incomprehension. Continue reading →
From 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)
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.
Continuing the occasional series of excerpts from Professor Michael Hudson’sJ is for Junk Economics (2017, p.178). See also my post quoting Ha-Joon Chang here on the same issue:
“Planned Economy: Every economy since the Neolithic has been planned in one way or another. That is why calendar keeping and seasonal rhythms based on the weather and the harvest became the foundation of economic accounting in the Neolithic and Bronze Age for fiscal and trade policy and for land tenure.
At issue in any epoch is who will do the planning and what its aims will be. The ostensible aim of democratic planning is to design tax and regulatory systems to promote economic growth and sustainability, preferably with a fair distribution of income and wealth. For the classical economists this involved taxing or discouraging rentier income, and subsidizing socially desirable investment and basic needs.
Today’s epoch is seeing financial managers replace rulers and elected government representatives as planners of economies. Financial planning is at least as centralized as government planning, but its aims are different: namely, to concentrate income growth and asset-price gains in the hands of the One Percent.
The financial time frame is short-term and extractive. And fiscally, financial planning seeks to shift taxes off unearned income and financial returns onto wages and profits. Most fatally, it favors debt leveraging, leading ultimately to debt deflation and austerity. The main issue in today’s planning debate is thus whether democratic politics can recover the classical public steering and regulatory mechanisms that have been relinquished to the financial sector.”
Another golden nugget from development economist Ha-Joon Chang‘s book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You AboutCapitalism, continuing this occasional series:
“There is remarkably little evidence showing that more education leads to greater national prosperity. Much of the knowledge gained in education is actually not relevant for productivity enhancement, even though it enables people to lead a more fulfilling and independent life. Also, the view that the rise of the knowledge economy has critically increased the importance of education is misleading. To begin with, the idea of the knowledge economy itself is problematic, as knowledge has always been the main source of wealth. Moreover, with increasing de-industrialization and mechanization, the knowledge requirements may even have fallen for most jobs in the rich countries. Even when it comes to higher education, which is supposed to matter more in the knowledge economy, there is no simple relationship between it and economic growth. What really matters in the determination of national prosperity is not the educational levels of individuals but the nation’s ability to organize individuals into enterprises with high productivity (p.178-9).
…take the case of the East Asian miracle economies, in whose development education is supposed to have played a critical role. In 1960, Taiwan had a literacy rate of only 54 per cent, while the Philippines’ was 72 per cent. Despite its lower education level, Taiwan has since then notched up one of the best economic growth performances in human history, while the Philippines has done rather poorly. In 1960, the Philippines had almost double the per capita income of Taiwan ($200 vs. $122), but today Taiwan’s per capita income is around ten times that of the Philippines ($18,000 vs. $1,800). In the same year, Korea had a 71 percent literacy rate – comparable to that of the Philippines but still well below Argentina’s 91 per cent. Despite the significantly lower literacy rate, Korea has since grown much faster than Argentina. Korea’s per capita income was just over one-fifth that of Argentina’s in 1960 ($82 vs. $378). Today it is three times higher (around $21,000 vs. around $7,000) (p.180-1)…
What really distinguishes the rich countries from the poorer ones is much less how well-educated their individual citizens are than how well their citizens are organized into collective entities with high productivity…[d]evelopment of such firms needs to be supported by a range of institutions that encourage investment and risk-taking – a trade regime that protects and nurtures firms in ‘infant industries’, a financial system that provides ‘patient capital’ necessary for long-term productivity-enhancing investments, institutions that provide second chances for both the capitalists (a good bankruptcy law) and for the workers (a good welfare state), public subsidies and regulation regarding R&D and training, and so on.
Education is valuable, but its main value is not in raising productivity. It lies in its ability to help us develop our potentials and live a more fulfilling and independent life…the link between education and national productivity is rather tenuous and complicated. Our overenthusiasm with education should be tamed, and, especially in developing countries, far greater attention needs to be paid to the issue of establishing and upgrading productive enterprises and institutions that support them” (p.189).