Friday, 21 July 2017

Mike Munger interview

Dr. Mike Munger (Professor, Political Science & Economics at Duke University) is interviewed by Dave Rubin to discuss political science, the importance of state’s rights, the Republican’s problem with social issues, fact checking in mainstream media, and more.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Towards a political theory of the firm

Towards a Political Theory of the Firm is a new NBER working paper by Luigi Zingales.

Neoclassical theory assumes that firms have no power of fiat any different from ordinary market contracting, thus a fortiori no power to influence the rules of the game. In the real world, firms have such power. I argue that the more firms have market power, the more they have both the ability and the need to gain political power. Thus, market concentration can easily lead to a "Medici vicious circle," where money is used to get political power and political power is used to make money.
I hope when I get the chance to read the paper that there is more to it than this abstract suggests. Many, most, organisations, be they firms, trade unions, churches, not-for-profits, universities, welfare groups, environmental groups etc, will try to get governments to do their bidding. It's just the nature of things and a really good reason for keeping firms etc as far away from government as possible. It is one reason why you want a limited role for government in the economy, the smaller the role, the less government can do to help firms and thus the less firms will try to influence governments. 'Positive non-interventionism' has a lot going for it.

In the neoclassical model its not that firms have no power to influence the rules of the game, its more that there are no firms, or government for that matter, to do the influencing or to be influenced. In a world of zero transaction costs there is no need for firms since consumers can carry out production themselves. "With perfect and costless contracting, it is hard to see room for anything resembling firms (even one-person firms), since consumers could contract directly with owners of factor services and wouldn't need the services of the intermediaries known as firms" (Foss 2000: xxiv).

If you want to see what letting governments and business get together results in check out the history of guilds, they provided money to governments and governments provided protection for them for 800 years! What suffered for this time was economic efficiency, the consumer (as usual) and the economy and society in general.

  • Foss, Nicolai J. (2000). 'The Theory of the Firm: An Introduction to Themes and Contributions'. In Nicolai Foss (ed.), The Theory of the Firm: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management (xv-lxi), London: Routledge.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Ronald Coase a socialist!

I have just come across an article by Per Bylund at the Mises Institute website on the question Was Ronald Coase an Austrian? At one point Bylund answers the question by saying,
He was hardly an Austrian economist. On the contrary, he was a self-declared socialist - at least in his youth.
Let me quote Coase himself on this,
One may ask how I reconciled my socialist sympathies with acceptance of [Arnold] Plant's [free market] approach. The short answer is that I never felt the need to reconcile them. I would only recall that a fellow student, Abba Lerner, who, in the preface to his Economics of Control, acknowledges Plant's influence in the development of his views, went to Mexico to see Trotsky to persuade him that all would be well in a communist state if only it reproduced the results of a competitive system and prices were set equal to marginal cost. In my case my socialist views fell away fairly rapidly without any obvious stage of rejection (Emphasis added).
So the description should be 'he was a self-declared socialist - ONLY in his youth'.  I'm sure that anyone who has read the older Coase will be surprised to see him call a socialist. If fact in an interview Coase tells a story about his wife going to a party while he was at the University of Virginia,
They thought the work we were doing was disreputable. They thought of us as right-wing extremists. My wife was at a cocktail party and heard me described as someone to the right of the John Birch Society. There was a great antagonism in the '50s and '60s to anyone who saw any advantage in a market system or in a nonregulated or relatively economically free system.
Perhaps being both a socialist and to the right of the John Birch Society is an accomplishment worthy of a Nobel Prize!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Minimum wage increases, wages, and low-wage employment: evidence from Seattle

A new NBER working paper looks at the effects of the first and second phase-in of the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance, which raised the minimum wage from $9.47 to $11 per hour in 2015 and to $13 per hour in 2016. The paper is

Minimum Wage Increases, Wages, and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle
Ekaterina Jardim, Mark C. Long, Robert Plotnick, Emma van Inwegen, Jacob Vigdor and Hilary Wething
NBER Working Paper No. 23532.
The absract reads,
This paper evaluates the wage, employment, and hours effects of the first and second phase-in of the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance, which raised the minimum wage from $9.47 to $11 per hour in 2015 and to $13 per hour in 2016. Using a variety of methods to analyze employment in all sectors paying below a specified real hourly rate, we conclude that the second wage increase to $13 reduced hours worked in low-wage jobs by around 9 percent, while hourly wages in such jobs increased by around 3 percent. Consequently, total payroll fell for such jobs, implying that the minimum wage ordinance lowered low-wage employees’ earnings by an average of $125 per month in 2016. Evidence attributes more modest effects to the first wage increase. We estimate an effect of zero when analyzing employment in the restaurant industry at all wage levels, comparable to many prior studies.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Positive v's normative economics

This is a distinction every economics student knows. But where did it originate?

A clear distinction between positive and normative economics goes back at least as far as John Neville Keynes (father of Maynard). Keynes wrote,
"[a]s the terms are here used, a positive science may be defined as a body of systematized knowledge concerning what is ; a normative or regulative science as a body of systematized knowledge relating to criteria of what ought to be, and concerned therefore with the ideal as distinguished from the actual ; an art as a system of rules for the attainment of a given end. The object of a positive science is the establishment of uniformities, of a normative science the determination of ideals, of an art the formulation of precepts" (Keynes 1917: 34-5).
Carl Menger also saw a difference, with regard to ethical considerations, between theoretical economics (positive economics) and economic policy (normative economics). In Menger (1883: 235) Menger criticises what he calls the "ethical orientation" of the German historical school. He writes with regard to theoretical economics that
"[w]hat we should like to stress here particularly is the fact that we cannot rationally speak of an ethical orientation of theoretical economics either in respect to the exact orientation of theoretical research or to the empirical-realistic orientation". But normative consideration do enter into economic policy: ``Economic policy, the science of the basic principles for suitable advancement (appropriate to conditions) of ``national economy" on the part of the public authorities" (Menger 1883: 211).
The important word here is suitable. You can not determine what is suitable without value judgements.

John Stuart Mill makes a similar distinction when he differentiates between science and art.
"These two ideas [science and art] differ from one another as the understanding differs from the will, or as the indicative mood in grammar differs from the imperative. The one deals in facts, the other in precepts. Science is a collection of truths ; art, a body of rules, or directions for conduct. The language of science is, This is, or, This is not ; This does, or does not, happen. The language of art is, Do this ; Avoid that. Science takes cognizance of a phenomenon, and endeavours to discover its law ; art proposes to itself an end, and looks out for means to effect it" (Mill 1844: 124).
So 1844 is as far back as I've found the distinction going, so far.

  • Keynes, John Neville (1917). The Scope and Method of Political Economy 4th edition, New York: Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, 1986.
  • Menger, Carl (1883). Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences with Special Reference to Economics, formerly published under the title: Problems of Economics and Sociology (Untersuchungen uber die Methode der Socialwissenschaften und der Politischen Oekonomie insbesondere), with a new introduction by Lawrence H. White, edited by Louis Schneider, translated by Francis J. Nock, New York: New York University Press, 1985.
  • Mill, John Stuart (1844). Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy, London: John W. Parker.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The emergence of the corporate form

An interesting new article from the Journal of Law, Economics and Organisation -- Volume 33, Issue 2 May 2017: 193-236.
The Emergence of the Corporate Form
Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci; Oscar Gelderblom; Joost Jonker; Enrico C. Perotti
We describe how, during the 17th century, the business corporation gradually emerged in response to the need to lock in long-term capital to profit from trade opportunities with Asia. Since contractual commitments to lock in capital were not fully enforceable in partnerships, this evolution required a legal innovation, essentially granting the corporation a property right over capital. Locked-in capital exposed investors to a significant loss of control, and could only emerge where and when political institutions limited the risk of expropriation. The Dutch East India Company (VOC, chartered in 1602) benefited from the restrained executive power of the Dutch Republic and was the first business corporation with permanent capital. The English East India Company (EIC, chartered in 1600) kept the traditional cycle of liquidation and refinancing until, in 1657, the English Civil War put the crown under strong parliamentary control. We show how the time advantage in the organizational form had a profound effect on the ability of the two companies to make long-term investments and consequently on their relative performance, ensuring a Dutch head start in Asian trade that persisted for two centuries. We also show how other features of the corporate form emerged progressively once the capital became permanent. (JEL: G30, K22, N24).