Thursday, 30 June 2016
Wednesday, 29 June 2016
Tuesday, 28 June 2016
Monday, 27 June 2016
Sunday, 19 June 2016
Wednesday, 15 June 2016
It was Matt Ridley in his excellent book The Evolution of Everything who talked of the Internet as being a living example of the phenomenon of evolutionary emergence - a thing of complexity and order spontaneously created in a decentralised fashion without a designer. What he means is, nobody sat down one day and planned the Internet as a fait accompli phenomenon - it is a global system of interconnected computer networks that evolved over time, and is still evolving, in a cumulative step by step process of trial and error that tailors to our tastes and needs.
The emergence of the Internet - like cities, cars, houses, clothes, supermarkets, science and medicine - was driven by consumer demand, be it for global communication, widespread knowledge, online shopping, social networking and the countless other benefits it brings to human beings all across the world. It provides a microcosmic example of markets in general - where the complex emergence of order occurs not from being designed top down, but by a long natural selection-type process of good and useful ideas surviving, and bad ones being weeded out.
Given the foregoing, I find the irony of people on Facebook bemoaning the mega-rich's wealth quite amusing. Because it ought to be remembered that making people rich is rather like how an electorate votes people into power in government - in a way that slightly resembles a democracy. Most of the mega rich - Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, etc - get rich by people voting with their wallets.
The same is true of film stars, musicians, authors and painters - it is democratic in the sense that when a lot of people buy what they have on offer, be it computer products, films, or whatever, they are voting to make those pioneers and innovators richer than the average person. They are doing so because they recognise that value is being provided in the shape of consumer surplus and producer surplus.
Mark Zuckerberg is the most obvious case here as we discuss this matter on Facebook. Zuckerberg is one of the mega-rich people - richer than most people in the
Tuesday, 14 June 2016
Monday, 13 June 2016
What gives humans excellence of life is excellence of mind, but not merely at an academic or logical level; excellence of mind is about pursuing love, grace, kindness, generosity, solicitude – and dovetailing them through knowledge, wisdom and intelligence. When you see people courting fame or material wealth or career success for the sake of status, or people looking to build themselves up at the expense of the feelings of others, or people desperate for admiration, kudos, or the opportunity to control others, you know that all these things give exhibition to the fact that such people haven’t developed their minds to a level that will free them from the burden of what will turn out to be mediocre pursuits.
Friday, 10 June 2016
If you're paying attention, you should already be able to spot the anomaly - families are not the same as individuals. A quick Google search tells me that the average household size is 2.4 people, which means the figure of £4300 per household is down to £1791 per head. But then you'd have to reduce the number further still because there will be far more households in the
Even aside from that, trying to measure our nation's future well-being (let alone present well-being) by our GDP is a bit like trying to count the number of ants in an ant colony - you're just never going to capture all the data, and you are bound to miss loads. The crux of the matter is that we are a lot better off than mere GDP numbers suggest, just as all the things in a happy marriage amount to more than the sum of the couple's joint bank account.
Because GDP only factors in monetised exchanges, it doesn't factor in all the consumer surplus, and nor does it by equal measure factor in the proportion of profligate government expenditure that robs the nation of value. GDP only factors in the cost of what the government provides (education, health, social services, roads, defence, wars in other countries, etc) not the efficacy or desirability of those provisions.
If there are no affordable competitive providers for most of the country on many of the things the public sector provides, it is fairly safe to assume that the costs of those provisions are more than we'd pay for them. In a free market we know how much people in the
Not only that but in the absence of free market benefits, the government is bound to provide things that we don't even want. Naturally a full cost-benefit analysis would be too time consuming, but there are a few indicators - and we can arrive at them by asking if we'd pay for these things - many high-level public sector wages, extra police officers, renewable energy quotas, and so on - out of our own pockets or go without.
If the government wastes £500 million on a failed highways project then there is an awful lot of value lost in opportunity costs. On the other hand If you buy a laptop for £250 you are signalling that you value it more than the £250, otherwise you'd buy something else, which means value is not being recorded.
Suppose you value the laptop at £350, then the £100 difference between what you would maximally pay and what it costs is what is known in economics as your consumer surplus. That's £100 of value that's not being recorded. GDP only measures the equilibrium price in the market (as illustrated by the chart below).
The other point to factor in is that if John's cleaner becomes his wife, and Rita's gardener becomes her husband, then cleaning and gardening in those respective households may no longer show up on the GDP statistics, but that doesn't mean the two households are worse off (quite the opposite).
One of the many problems with Communism is that it erodes away almost all value for services, skills, products and human ambition. To keep the matter simple, suppose there was an island nation that was entirely self-sufficient because the government had closed itself off from all outside trading. If the ruling powers set the prices of everything; apples, wood, clothes, cars, paint, and so on, the nation would be robbed of something vital (this did happen to some extent in the old Soviet Union, in
In a supply and demand free market, prices are dictated by consumer value - so that if apples are too overpriced people will buy oranges until the price of apples come down, and if Jaguars are too expensive people will but BMWs until they come down. This happens in wages too - if a hotel porter earns as much as a heart surgeon then either the incentive to be a heart surgeon diminishes, or the proper value placed on specialised skills is diluted.
Given the foregoing, just like above, it is clear that the GDP of the old Soviet Union or Zimbabwe or Cuba only tells a bit of the story of the plight- it is an unreliable statistic in measuring human qualities, well-being and standard of living because it fails to factor in the value of lots of the economic output. Even though the
The final thing to mention is that even our free market spending on consumption isn't always a measure of a positive action; if I have to pay to have the wing mirror on my car replaced after a vandal broke it, or buy a burglar alarm, or paint to cover up some graffiti, then these are not examples of good voluntary spending on my part.
The upshot is, GDP is in itself an inadequate measure of value in our country, so projecting a cost per head by dividing a future GDP projection by the current household numbers is about as misleading as it gets.
Thursday, 9 June 2016
Tuesday, 7 June 2016
You’ve probably heard of Schrodinger’s immigrant – the person who migrates to Britain to simultaneously steal your job and cause a drain on the economy by being a benefit claimant. Although in reality few people actually believe in the existence of Schrodinger’s immigrant (for obvious reasons), there is an awful lot of nonsense spoken about immigration. It’s quite easy to see why. Unless you think about immigration by considering the whole picture, your analysis will be partial, and skewed in an unhelpful way. Let me try to help.
First, are immigrants a net gain on our society? It's tempting to say yes, as many people do, because, so the narrative goes, most immigrants work, and therefore bring gains to our economy. True, but that's not the best way to look at the net contribution question. Over a lifetime some UK citizens will pay more in tax than they get out of the system in terms of public services, and some will pay less. Long term welfare claimants tend be net beneficiaries, lower earners will tend to be a mixture, but most are not net beneficiaries, and higher earners will all tend to be net contributors. When you consider that the poorest 50% of the population pay only 5% of the total tax collected, it's clear that most people do not get much more out of the system than they put in.
Further, given that most immigrants tend to be among the poorest 50% of the population, then on those figures alone (stress 'alone') technically immigration may not constitute much of a net gain on our society, but it is a gain nonetheless. The graph below shows the fiscal impact of migration on countries in Europe – and as you can see, migrants in the UK are net contributors.
But that's only one corner of the picture, because we have to also factor in the people who gain most from immigration - the immigrants themselves. I think it’s a shame that whenever the subject of immigration comes up (recent Middle East crisis excepted) most people seem to primarily think of the matter in terms of how it affects ‘our country’ by which they usually seem to mean the people already here, by which they usually mean Brits. It’s rare that they think of the effects of immigration from the perspective of the individual immigrants themselves, not the immigrants already here. But, still, there are plenty of people around that are able to think beyond how immigration affects Brits to how it affects immigrants (of which more in a moment).
What you hardly ever find, however, or at least find too infrequently, is a Brit thinking of the effects of immigration from the perspective of the people left in the immigrants’ country of origin. Given that in most cases when it comes to the poorest countries it is often the poorest people that cannot leave, how much of a negative impact does it have on them when they lose many of their brightest people with the most potential to countries already much more advanced and developed than them (this is what they call the ‘brain drain’)?
It's quite easy to see why immigrants gain so much from immigration by seeing the situation in reverse - when investment is made in their countries. Developing countries don't have much material prosperity compared to wealthy countries like ours, but they do often have resources and labour to sell. Depending on the nature of their government and the internal civil set-up, what most people in developing nations have as their only genuine chance of working their way to prosperity is their opportunity to sell labour. Because those countries are usually rich in labour (and often in natural resources) but poor in capital they often only get the chance to increase their prosperity with outside investment from large corporations.
That is why it is important to see that corporate investors are about as attractive to impoverished nations as impoverished nations are to corporate investors, as long as the nation is question has the requisite stability, basic human rights and rule of law to facilitate economic growth. So, far from being the capitalist bogeys that lefties love to excoriate, foreign investors are actually the main drivers of increased capital in developing countries, as well as, along the line, higher wages and increased human rights. In calling for less foreign investment by corporations lefties are also calling for fewer opportunities for many of their citizens by holding down their earning potential.
For balance, the gains for immigrants have to be measured against the losses felt by their countries of provenance, because if the most skilled people from Africa, Europe and Asia are flocking to more prosperous countries, then our gain is their countries' loss. Given the intrinsic gains by those going to better themselves, all the inward investment in their countries of origin by entrepreneurs, and the benefit of experience they can offer their country by benefiting their own lives (called the 'reverse brain drain'), it's probable that the overall the economic gains outweigh the losses, particularly when you consider that according to the World Bank, migrants will send back well over $400 billion in remittances to developing countries this year, which is triple what the developed world gives in development aid and, because it goes straight to immigrants’ families, avoids some of the corruption problems that bedevil aid money.
Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia are thought to be three of the countries worst affected an exodus of skills and intelligence through human capital flight, which has been very damaging to their nations. But on the other hand, China and India have recently topped the list of those nations experiencing the biggest exodus of human talent, yet not only are they two of the world's fastest growing economies, they are two of Africa's biggest investors too, so to the largest extent it probably plays out that when skills and intelligence leave a country to become more prosperous, some of that prosperity finds its way back into those nations still ripe for overseas investment.
Besides, even if we could enumerate all the cases in which the human capital flight has drained a developing country of important skills and talent, we really just have to take that as a given that humans are naturally primed to look after themselves and their family first, and that the drive to better their situation will always come first. It's not as though we'd ever want any restrictions on people's ability to move upwards on the economic ladder.
Returning to the economic benefits of immigration to a place like the UK, on top of all the intrinsic benefits we've talked about, there is also the additional benefits immigrants bring in terms of job creation. As we’ve seen, in terms of the economy immigrants bring net benefits to the UK, but a lot of people don’t seem to understand why. This lack of understanding is down to something called ‘the lump of labour fallacy’, which is the mistaken belief that allowing immigrants in to work reduces the availability of work for native born workers. But, of course, this isn’t the case.
Not only do immigrants brings many skills not available in the indigenous workforce, not to mention a work ethic, they also bring with them additional job-creation and also consumer needs too, as well as a rich diversity of culture to enrich indigenous folk. In other words, when immigrants work they create jobs for other people, both in the people they employ directly, but also in the consumer demands they bring with their wants and needs (clothes, groceries, cuisine, mobile phone contacts, haircuts, books).
The lump of labour fallacy mistakenly asserts that jobs are zero sum, in that there is a fixed amount of work to be done and once the right quotient of people have those jobs there are no more to go round. But a simple look at the history of the UK would tell anyone that this isn’t so, so quite why they fall for it with the immigration issue is beyond me. If you think about it carefully, then by the same logic all school leavers who get work must be stealing jobs – but of course we know that isn’t true. In reality, of course, the opposite happens – when school-leavers get jobs they make the economy larger and the nation more prosperous.
An even further benefit can be seen by looking at the chart below.
One final point and then I'm done. The economic analysis may well look at all those benefits for the UK – the jobs, the taxes, the consumer goods, the diversity and the cultural enrichment - but you may argue that what it doesn't do is factor in the negative effects on the home nation, namely the two biggies: increased security threat and increased friction with locals when integration is a problem. I have to say in response that I don't have much sympathy with these views because usually (although not always) the problem is with the people having those views.
On the issue of increased security threat, well yes, immigration may ever so slightly increase threats, but by a similar measure going out in your car increases the risk of car accidents, but no one seriously thinks we should stop driving our cars (while we await driverless cars, that is). Even if we ignore the fact that a lot of the atrocities committed on British soil were not perpetrated by immigrants, it is ludicrous to claim increased security threat as a problem with immigration, because it's not as though a government can stop would-be terrorists in a way that they are not already trying to do.
And on the issue of friction with locals and lack of integration - it may have escaped your notice, or perhaps not, that those indigenous folk that complain about immigrants not assimilating and integrating are almost always the least accepting and most unwelcoming toads in the land. When did they ever extend out a hand to welcome people from a different culture into our own culture of acceptance? When was the last time someone who has issues with immigrants 'not integrating' actually went out of their way to make them feel welcomed and accepted, or perish the thought, stopped and talked to a family from another community and found out about them in a bid to develop a friendship?
I'm not saying the problem is all one-way - far from it - but what I do know is this: the people I know as being the most tolerant, kind and accepting of human beings generally (irrespective of ethnicity), of which I hope I'm one, are never the people bemoaning the lack of integration and assimilation. They are usually the ones who are far and away the least xenophobic, the ones with the most diverse range of friends from a multitude of cultures, ethnicities and nationalities, and the ones doing the most to ensure immigrants get all the help they need in integrating and feeling welcome in our tremendously tolerant nation.
Note: Regarding what politicians could do to help the situation; a good start would be lessening some of the restrictive measures that affect planning and building.
* In 2011 Michael Clemens looked at the economic estimates https://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.25.3.83 of the global GDP growth that would come if every country in the world abolished restrictions on the movement of goods, capital and labour across national borders. According to the papers Clemens looked at, removing all barriers to trade would increase global GDP by between 0.3% and 4.1%; removing all barriers to capital flows by between 0.1% and 1.7%. Those are big gains that would make the world a substantially richer place. Clemens also found that similar estimates suggest that removing all barriers to international migration would increase global GDP by between 67% and 147%.
Thursday, 2 June 2016
The consequences of which, as I illustrated above, means inside the EU bloc we produce more of the goods and services over which we do not have the comparative advantage, and fewer goods and services over which we do. Or to put it in even simpler terms, we produce an excessive amount of the things we are less good at producing, and insufficient amount of the things we are better at producing.
What about a post-Brexit
It’s worth mentioning too that growth of non-EU economies has outpaced the growth of EU economies in recent years, and looks set to continue at an even greater extent, which means future indication is that leaving the EU would free up Britain's non-EU trade potential, enriching us along the way (since we've had a floating exchange rate the balance of trade is less important than it used to be, as a trade deficit simply means we are up on consumption, which is the primary benefit of trade). A situation in which we treat the most emerging countries like China, Brazil, India and Russia less distantly and patronisingly in deference to Brussels is highly likely to be beneficial to the future UK economy, particularly with our proficiency in exporting services such as in education, digital technology, neuroscience, financial and litigation expertise and the sciences as we are well poised to do.
Note: I haven't mentioned immigration, but will do so in an imminent blog post.
* To give you a microcosmic example of the cost of overly-bureaucratic
political interference by looking just at America, Dan Mitchell of
International Liberty (who is about as well researched as anyone on these
matters) shows how Americans spend 8.8
billion hours every year filling
out government forms, how the economy-wide
cost of regulation is now
$1.75 trillion, and how for every bureaucrat at a regulatory agency, 100
jobs are destroyed in the
economy’s productive sector.