Politics and economics overlap

I am very much in favour of interdisciplinarity when it comes to economics and the richer insights it provides of the economy and society. Here is Mark Blyth on how it is misleading to separate the economic from the political. Doing so neglects a proper incorporation of such factors as distribution, power and vested interests:

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Large-scale immigration: the costs and benefits

workersImmigration can be a divisive but also a sensitive issue. Arguments surrounding last year’s referendum here in the UK on EU membership could not avoid it. Media hysteria, particularly from the right, has focused mainly on the negative impacts, and rational debate has been drowned out. The right seemed to shout loudest, and the left often ended up talking to itself.

This post aims to make a small contribution to rational debate, drawing mainly on an interesting little book by Cambridge Professor Robert Rowthorn, published in 2015 by the think tank Civitas.

The overall findings of the study suggest that, at least in the UK, the overall net economic and fiscal (tax and public spending) outcomes from large-scale immigration are small when compared with the effects of more rapid population growth. Rowthorn argues that considerations of the latter should play a more important role when deciding future government policy. Continue reading

Mark Blyth on Bernie and Scandinavian welfare

Another clip from the engaging Professor Mark Blyth. Here he shares his thoughts on taxes, public spending and welfare in Scandinavia. He paints a positive picture, but admits that he wouldn’t want to live there and finds it ‘boring’, because ‘everything works!’

Oil and industrial policy in Venezuela: what went wrong?

Nodding-Donkey-pump-Venezuela-By-Rjcastillo-CC-BY-SA-3.0Marxist economist Michael Roberts recently posted on the dire economic and social situation in Venezuela. An oil price boom in the 2000s allowed the government of Hugo Chavez to pour the resultant tax revenues into boosting the incomes and welfare of the poor. Significant progress was made with poverty reduction during this period and the economy grew relatively rapidly for a number of years.

All that is now going into reverse as the economy experiences a deep contraction, galloping inflation, and shortages of basic goods in the shops, alongside a consolidation of anti-democratic forces. With oil prices subdued and a lack of industrial diversification, the sources of any future economic recovery remain unclear.

As he has often argued when confronting the downsides of capitalism, Roberts argues that the problem is ‘not enough socialism’. His favoured policy response would be increased government ownership and direction of the economy via central planning, in order to boost investment and diversify the structure of the economy.

The intended ends of such a response are indeed laudable: during the boom years, the government relied on oil revenues to reduce poverty, as already mentioned. But it failed to encourage the diversification of production into higher value-added goods and services. Continue reading

J is for Junk Economics – Michael Hudson on the Real News Network

This year I have been regularly posting excerpts from Michael Hudson’s new book J is for Junk Economics. Below is Part One of his interview with The Real News Network, in which he discusses his reasons for writing this iconoclastic ‘dictionary’ of economic thought. In his words, it is a guide to how the economy really works and seeks to overturn a misleading orthodoxy propagated by the media and many academics, not least economists!

Michael Hudson on Class Consciousness

Here is another extract from Michael Hudson‘s excellent J is for Junk Economics (p.57-8):

Class Consciousness: This term has been associated mainly with the working class, but the elites may have an even stronger feeling of solidarity as a cohesive class. Their view of their place in the economy is much like that of England’s Norman conquerors, who extracted rental and tax tribute. The medieval Arab historian Ibn Khaldun attributed the conquests by pastoral nomads such as Genghis Kahn and Turkish tribes moving into Europe to the binding force of asabiyyah (asabiya), or social cohesiveness. His Muqaddimah, an introduction to a history of the world published in 1377, explained the rise and fall of nations and empires as reflecting the degree to which marauding tribes held together as an ethnic unit, whose mutual aid and shared goals spanned economic classes. Today’s financial class is cosmopolitan rather than ethnic or nationalist, absorbing client oligarchies into its ranks.

What is needed for economic success as a class is self-consciousness of common interests. Labor has won concessions from industry, but has not deterred finance from exploiting wage earners via mortgage lending, personal debt and pension-fund capitalism. Wealth is concentrated at the top of the economic pyramid as banks and bondholders gain control of industry and move to take over governments. Their political aim is to shift taxes off finance and its major clients, and to force taxpayers to pay interest to private bondholders. It seems as if today’s working class (the 99 percent) does not realize that a class war is being waged against them – or that as Warren Buffett said of his own One Percent, “we are winning it.”

The financial strategy in this class war is to popularize “identity politics” prompting voters to think of themselves as women, ethnic or racial minorities, or sexual categories (LBGTQ) instead of economic categories such as wage earners, debtors and/or renters. True identity politics should begin with economic class consciousness, solidarity and mutual aid. There can be little promotion of group self-interest without this.”

Trumponomics Part 3: Alternatives

TrumponomicsHere is Part 3 of my series on the book Trumponomics – Causes and Consequences. As it is an early assessment of the economics of the Trump presidency, concrete left policy alternatives do not take up much of the content, but there are some ideas to draw on.

Central to the aim of making the left ‘great again’, to quote one of the authors, is a political programme which pivots away from the dominant liberal, politically correct agenda, and which serves the interests of the masses.

This would be a social democratic platform, offering a radical alternative to the neoliberal ideology which has captured both major parties in the US. Bernie Sanders, despite failing to win the Democratic nomination, gave many a taste of what could be achieved.

Sanders styled himself a ‘socialist’, but by the standards of Europe, his policy proposals were far more social democratic. He certainly was not calling for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, but merely a larger role for government in the economy. Continue reading