Weekend Reading: Dietz Vollrath: Deep Roots of Development

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Dietz Vollrath: The Deep Roots of Development: "Think statistically, rather than in absolutes.... It is plausible that ethnic groups in areas where there were large returns to long-run investment in agricultural production may end up more patient in the long-run as well.... There is a significant relationship of productivity with patience... but the R-squared is about 10%.... [And] the results don’t mean that ethnic group A with higher productivity had to have higher patience than group B with lower productivity.... Lots of other things affect the patience of an ethnic group over and above the productivity level, and hence lots of things could have changed over the course of history to explain patience.... The findings... do not mean it is impossible to change the development level of countries or groups today. But the deep-rooted nature of development may mean we have to find other policy levers to push, as we cannot go back in time and roll back colonization, or change inherent agricultural productivity...

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Comment of the Day: Harold Carmel https://www.bradford-delong.com/2019/09/march-of-the-peacocks-the-new-york-times.html?cid=6a00e551f0800388340240a4b269b1200d#comment-6a00e551f0800388340240a4b269b1200d in Paul Krugman: March of the Peacocks: "As Prof. DeLong has often pointed out, Obama's turn toward austerity in that SOTU was a very dumb policy idea. Obama's negotiating style was to split the difference with the GOP in his initial offer, assuming the Republicans were bargaining in good faith. Of course, they weren't. Obama presented himself as post-partisan and thought the Republicans would reciprocate. How did that work out? An important lesson for the current Democratic presidential race....

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Why am I hearing "very fine people on both sides!"? here: Robert Knight: Letters · LRB: Globalists: "Alexander Zevin writes that Friedrich Hayek opposed the use of sanctions against apartheid, and ‘confided to his secretary that he liked blacks no better than Jews’ (LRB, 15 August). The antisemitic antecedents of National Socialism are conspicuous by their absence in The Road to Serfdom; if we assume the manuscript was completed in 1943, it almost completely ignores a decade of antisemitic persecution and four years of Nazi war crimes and atrocities. In the Spectator in January 1947 Hayek attacked the ‘blunders’ of denazification in Austria, including the suspension of violinists from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra because they had been Nazi party members. It was, he wrote, ‘scarcely easier to justify the prevention of a person from fiddling because he was a Nazi than the prevention because he is a Jew’...

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Jennifer Ouellette: New research on Tunguska finds such events happen less often than we thought: "Eyewitness: 'Suddenly the sky appeared like it was split in two, high above the forest.'... scientists deduced that the Chelyabinsk object was most likely a stony asteroid the size of a five-story building that broke apart 15 miles (24km) above the ground. The resulting shock wave was as powerful as a 550 kiloton nuclear explosion—and the Tunguska object was probably much larger. Based on the Chelyabinsk models—augmented with survey records from the Tunguska region shortly after the event—the scientists concluded the Tunguska object was probably stony (rather than icy), and measured between 164 and 262 feet in diameter (about 50 to 80 meters). It whipped through the atmosphere at 34,000 miles per hour (about 54,700km/h), and produced an amount of energy equivalent to the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens. Those models, plus current data on the asteroid population, also enabled researchers to calculate how frequently such impact events are likely to occur. The good news is that this research suggests mid-size rocky bodies like the one that likely caused the damage at Tunguska occur less frequently than previously thought—on the order of millennia, rather than centuries...

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Very few of those who read this weblog would be attracted to this, or, indeed, find it anything other than a very hard slog. But those who do tackle it will, I think, be very well rewarded. Adam Kotsko is a smart, honorable, very insightful person who thinks very differently from us—and that is the kind of person we can potentially learn the most from: Adam Kotsko: Neoliberalism's Demons: On the Political Theology of Late Capital https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1503607135: "Neoliberalism makes demons of us all, confronting us with forced choices that serve to redirect the blame for social problems onto the ostensible poor decision-making of individuals...

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Miles Kimball: Adding a Variable Measured with Error to a Regression Only Partially Controls for that Variable https://blog.supplysideliberal.com/post/2019/10/10/adding-a-variable-measured-with-error-to-a-regression-only-partially-controls-for-that-variable: "Compare the coefficient estimates in a large-sample, ordinary-least-squares, multiple regression with (a) an accurately measured statistical control variable, (b) instead only that statistical control variable measured with error and (c) without the statistical control variable at all. Then all coefficient estimates with the statistical control variable measured with error (b) will be a weighted average of (a) the coefficient estimates with that statistical control variable measured accurately and (c) that statistical control variable excluded. The weight showing how far inclusion of the error-ridden statistical control variable moves the results toward what they would be with an accurate measure of that variable is equal to the fraction of signal in (signal + noise), where “signal” is the variance of the accurately measured control variable that is not explained by variables that were already in the regression, and “noise” is the variance of the measurement error....

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Comment of the Day: Phil Koop https://www.bradford-delong.com/2019/09/quantum-supremacy.html#tpe-action-resize-355 on Quantum Supremacy in reply to Kaleberg: "Your objection is mistaken, as Scott Aaronson explains:

Q12. Even so, there are countless examples of materials and chemical reactions that are hard to classically simulate, as well as special-purpose quantum simulators (like those of Lukin’s group at Harvard). Why don’t these already count as quantum computational supremacy?

Under some people’s definitions of “quantum computational supremacy,” they do! The key difference with Google’s effort is that they have a fully programmable device—one that you can program with an arbitrary sequence of nearest-neighbor 2-qubit gates, just by sending the appropriate signals from your classical computer. In other words, it’s no longer open to the QC skeptics to sneer that, sure, there are quantum systems that are hard to simulate classically, but that’s just because nature is hard to simulate, and you don’t get to arbitrarily redefine whatever random chemical you find in the wild to be a “computer for simulating itself.” Under any sane definition, the superconducting devices that Google, IBM, and others are now building are indeed “computers.”...

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This, from the smart Nick Rowe, is just misleading from any sensible point of view. The burden of a debt on a generation in any sensible social welfare function is proportional to the proportional reduction in that generation's consumption needed to finance the debt, and all generations are on an equal footing. When r < g, you can boost the relative well-being of a current generation at a very low cost in terms of the reduced well-being of a far-future generation. So even though debt is not a free lunch when r < g, it is a very, very cheap lunch indeed:

Nick Rowe: Hilbert's Hotel and the National Debt when r < g https://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2019/10/hilberts-hotel-and-the-national-debt-when-rg.html: "Hilbert's Hotel has infinitely many rooms. Even if every room is full, you can still make room for one more guest in room 1, by moving the guest currently in room 1 to room 2, moving the guest currently in room 2 to room 3, and so on forever. When the rate of interest r is less than the growth rate of GDP g ("r < g"), the national debt in an infinitely-lived economy is a bit like Hilbert's Hotel. The government prints some bonds, which it gives (as a freebie) to generation 1 (this is like giving generation 1 a deficit-financed transfer payment, or tax cut). When they get old, generation 1 sells those bonds to the young in generation 2, in exchange for apples. So generation 1 eats more apples when old, and generation 2 eats fewer apples when young.... If r < g, the government never needs to raise taxes to service the debt.... A national debt makes all generations better off.... But it won't work if the economy has a finite life.... The last generation is stuck with bonds it can't sell, and no compensation for consuming fewer apples when old. So they wouldn't buy the bonds... unless the government raises taxes to retire the debt before the economy ends, but then those taxes would make the generations that pay them worse off...

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Interstate 80 is the wrong way to go from San Francisco to Chicago. Vastly superior, scenery wise, is 580-205-120-6-305-93-319-50-70-55:

San Francisco CA to Chicago IL Google Maps

Kevin Drum: Friday Cat Blogging https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2019/10/friday-cat-blogging-11-october-2019/: "I’m on the road today... helping Dr. Marc drive his cats to Chicago..... Interstate 80 Isn’t Very Interesting https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2019/10/interstate-80-isnt-very-interesting/: "Our mission to get Professor M’s cats to Chicago proceeds apace. We’re basically covering one state per day, and today we drove across Wyoming...

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From 2011: Matthew Yglesias is trying to understand how there can be an ethnicism that calls itself "Christian". In the4 United States you can trace it to the emergence of the Peculiar Institution. In Britain—and among Britons and ex-Britons—I confess I am at a loss:

Matthew Yglesias (2011): John Derbyshire of National Review Wants To ‘Let Britain Burn’: "It’s one thing if you want to call 'deracinated moral universalism' a 'sick' principle. But it’s very strange to combine this with table-pounding about Christianity. I’m no Christian, personally, but deracinated moral universalism is one of Christianity’s best and most worthy contributions to human thought. I, for example, am not British nor am I descended from British people. But despite the lack of ties of blood, it seems to me that it’s sad if British people get hurt or killed or have their property damaged in rioting. You can see that as being because we’re all God’s children and equal in His eyes, or as a non-theological statement of human equality. In either case, I think it would be very sad for the country to burn...

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In addition to today's American conservatives regarding politics not as the enactment of policies but rather the identification of enemies, there is also this strange current which seems aimed at convincing people that high ideals are only for fools. Once again, our politics does not know how to deal with this. One again, our role is to play our position. But that does not make this less disturbing:

Jacob Levy: The Weight of the Words: "The power of elite speech in a democracy is only partly that of giving partisan cues to one’s supporters. It’s also the power to channel and direct the dangerous but real desire for collective national direction and aspiration. Humans are tribal animals, and our tribal psychology is a political resource.... Whether... presidents are named 'Reagan and George W. Bush' or 'JFK and Barack Obama'... all... put forward a public rhetorical face that was better than their worst acts.... They kept the public aspirations of American political culture pointed toward Reagan’s 'shining city on a hill'... a free and fair liberal democratic order, the protection of civil liberties, openness toward the world, rejection of racism at home, and defiance against tyranny abroad. And their words were part of the process of persuading each generation of Americans that those were constitutively American ideals. Trump’s apologists are now reduced to saying that his speech has been worse than his actions so far, the reverse of this usual pattern. The effect is the reverse, too.... The norm against publicly legitimizing Klan-type explicit racism was built up over a long time, calling on white Americans to be better than they were, partly by convincing them that they were better. The norm is still strong enough that Trump grudgingly kind of walked back his comments after the Charlottesville protests last year. But a norm that was built up through speech, persuasion, and belief can be undermined the same way. Trump’s own racism, his embrace of white nationalist discourse, and his encouragement of the alt-right over the past two years have, through words, made a start on that transformation...

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Aristotle: The Necessity of Slavery: "Let us first speak of master and slave, looking to the needs of practical life.... [Some] affirm that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to nature.... Property is a part of the household... no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be provided with necessaries.... [T]he workers must have their own proper instruments... of various sorts; some are living, others lifeless; in the rudder, the pilot of a ship has a lifeless, in the look-out man, a living instrument.... [I]f every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus... the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.... But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right?... There is no difficulty in answering this question... that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule...

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Diane Coyle: The Puzzle of Economic Progress: "Do we know how economies develop? Obviously not, it seems, or otherwise every country would be doing better than it currently is in these low-growth times.... Yet when Patrick Collison of software infrastructure company Stripe and Tyler Cowen of George Mason University recently wrote an article in The Atlantic calling for a bold new interdisciplinary 'science of progress', they stirred up a flurry of righteous indignation among academics. Many pointed to the vast amount of academic and applied research that already addresses what Collison and Cowen propose to include in a new discipline.... Gina Neff... remarked... [that] the Industrial Revolution even gave birth to sociology, or what she called 'Progress Studies 1.0'. This is all true, and yet Collison and Cowen are on to something. Academic researchers clearly find it hard to work together across disciplinary boundaries, despite repeated calls for them to do so more often. This is largely the result of incentives that encourage academics to specialize....

Researchers need to distill their findings.... Most academics are poor communicators.... Today, the role of research in changing behavior–whether that of government officials or of businesses and citizens–is part of the broader crisis of legitimacy in Western democracies.... With real incomes stagnating for many, and “deaths of despair” increasing, it is not surprising that expertise has lost its luster for much of the public...

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Weekend Reading: Harry S Truman: Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces (1948)

Harry Truman (1948): Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces: "Establishing the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity In the Armed Forces...

...WHEREAS it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country's defense:

NOW THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States, and as Commander in Chief of the armed services, it is hereby ordered as follows:

  1. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale...

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Very Briefly Noted 2019-10-13:

  1. Scott Waldman: POLITICS: Cato Closes Its Climate Shop; Pat Michaels Is Out https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060419123_: "The Cato Institute quietly shut down a program that for years sought to raise uncertainty about climate science, leaving the libertarian think tank co-founded by Charles Koch without an office dedicated to global warming...

  2. Li Yang, Filip Novokmet, and Branko Milanovic: Chinese Urban Elite Transformation between 1988 and 2013 https://voxeu.org/article/chinese-urban-elite-transformation-between-1988-and-2013_: "Compared to the 1980s, the elite today consists mainly of professionals, self-employed, and smaller and larger business people, they are much better educated, and they receive a much greater share of total urban income. This is reflected also in the composition of the Communist Party of China...

  3. Bloomberg: Guohui Shi and his Lesotho Wool Centre were awarded a monopoly over the wool and mohair trade in the Southern African mountain kingdom, meaning Moteane and other small brokers would have to shut down. Since then, thousands of farmers have had to wait a year or more to be paid by Shi’s brokerage; some say they’ve been underpaid, and others not paid at all. Approximately 75% of Lesotho’s population lives in rural areas and relies on wool and mohair for income. Some herders have been forced to eat their flocks to survive...

  4. Colin Marshall: Where Did Human Beings Come From? 7 Million Years of Human Evolution Visualized in Six Minutes http://www.openculture.com/2019/10/7-million-years-of-human-evolution-visualized-in-six-minutes.html...

5.Open Culture: The Best Free Cultural & Educational Media on the Web http://www.openculture.com/...

  1. Thomas J. Sargent, John Stachurski, and Brandon Kaplowit: The Cass-Koopmans Optimal Growth Model https://python.quantecon.org/cass_koopmans.html...

  2. Thomas J. Sargent and John Stachurski: Linear Regression in Python https://python.quantecon.org/ols.html...

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No, We Don’t “Need” a Recession

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Project Syndicate: No, We Don’t “Need” a Recession https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/myth-of-needed-recession-by-j-bradford-delong-2019-10: Business cycles can end with a "rolling readjustment" in which asset values are marked back down to reflect underlying fundamentals, or they can end in depression and mass unemployment. There is never any good reason why the second option should prevail: BERKELEY – I recently received an email from my friend Mark Thoma of the University of Oregon, asking if I had noticed an increase in commentaries suggesting that a recession would be a good and healthy purge for the economy (or something along those lines). In fact, I, too, have noticed more commentators expressing the view that “recessions, painful as they are, are a necessary growth input.” I am rather surprised by it.

Of course, it was not uncommon for commentators to argue for a “needed” recession before the big one hit in 2008-2010. But I, for one, assumed that this claim was a decade dead. Who in 2019 could say with a straight face that a recession and high unemployment under conditions of low inflation would be a good thing?

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One quibble with the sharp Hunter Blair here: the argument that the supply of savings to fund private investment was highly elastic with respect to the after-tax interest rate has never been economically-respectable for anything other than a small open economy with a fixed exchange rate system. It was not respectable back in 2017 when it was made. The solid preponderance of evidence then was that the supply of savings was inelastic. And so it has proved:

Hunter Blair: It’s Not Trickling Down: New Data Provides No Evidence that the TCJA Is Working as Its Proponents Claimed It Would: "The strongest economically-respectable argument from proponents of the Trump administration’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was that... higher dividends incentivize households to save more, or attract more savings from abroad. The increased savings push down interest rates, so that it’s easier for corporations to borrow money to invest in new plants and equipment. And this new capital stock gives workers more and better tools to work with, boosting their productivity, and eventually that increased productivity should boost wages.... We now have 18 months of data on investment since the passage of the TCJA, plenty of time for its increased incentives for private investment to have taken hold. But the data doesn’t come close to supporting the story told by TCJA proponents...

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The "elasticity of substitution" is an emergent property. It has very little to do with "technology" if only because there is not one single technology in the economy. There are lots of different types of machines and lots of ways to use workers and machines to produce things. And "rigid organization" is not quite right either here: Suresh Naidu (2014): Notes from Capital in the 21st Century Panel: "Perhaps a useful analogy is that this is the "Free to Choose" or “Capitalism and Freedom” for our time, from the left. I can’t think of a book that emerged from economics for a mass audience with as much reception since then. And what good news this is for economics! For 50 years Milton Friedman was the public face of partisan economics, and stamped it with a conservative public face that persisted. Maybe now Piketty’s book will give my discipline another public face...

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Ever since I stopped being a wee'un, I have heard that one should not use expansionary fiscal policy to rebalance the economy because of the dangers of public debt accumulation. Somehow, there was never an analogous focus on how rebalancing the economy through monetary policy might produce greater dangers of private debt accumulation. Until now: Martin Wolf: How Our Low Inflation World Was Made: "If we are to make sense of where the world economy is today and might be tomorrow, we need a story about how we got here. By 'here', I mean today’s world of ultra-low real and nominal interest rates, populist politics and hostility to the global market economy. The best story is one about the interaction between real demand and the ups and then downs of global credit. Crucially, this story is not over...

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This is not a paper where I have ever understood what features of the data are interacting with the model to produce the conclusions. It would be nice if I could crack this: Marjorie A. Flavin: The Joint Consumption/Asset Demand Decision: A Case Study in Robust Estimation: "The Michigan Survey of Consumer Finances... whether... consumption tracks current income more closely than is consistent with the permanent income hypothesis can be attributed solely or partially to borrowing constraints.... The paper uses a robust instrumental variables estimator, and argues that achieving robustness with respect to leverage points is actually simpler, both conceptually and computationally, in an instrumental variables context than in the OLS context.... Households do use asset stocks to smooth their consumption.... There is no evidence that the excess sensitivity of consumption to current income is caused by borrowing constraints.... Robust instrumental variables estimates are more stable across different subsamples, more consistent with the theoretical specification of the model, and indicate that some of the most striking findings in the conventional results were attributable to a single, highly unusual observation...

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For the past decade Robert Gordon has written about The Rise and Fall of American Growth, praising the first in our past that was and lamenting the second in our present that is. Now comes Dietz Vollrath with a lively, accurate, and essential corrective to Gordon's pessimism: growth is slow today, he demonstrates, not because our economy is failing but because our economy has succeeded: Dietz Vollrath: Optimal Stagnation: Why Slower Economic Growth Is a Sign of Success: "In 1940 you might have spent your money installing plumbing for running water, or a toilet.... The same went for air conditioning, a TV, or a computer at other points in time during the 20th century. But once we had those goods, then what did we spend our money on?... Goods became cheaper and we filled up our houses with them.... Spending turned towards services... longer and better vacations... classes... medical specialists... physical therapy... data... Netflix and Hulu.... The flow of workers out of producing goods didn’t signal some kind of failure.... In the 21st century... these shifts became a drag on economic growth...[for] most service industries have relatively low productivity growth.... As we shifted our spending from goods to services, this pulled down aggregate productivity growth, which is just a weighted average of productivity growth across different industries.... Baumol.... Labor is necessary to produce goods, but it is not part of the product itself. The person who assembled your fuel injector doesn’t have to be there for you to drive your car. On the other hand, for services labor is part of the product... you need to interact with a doctor, or lawyer, or waiter, or personal trainer, or financial advisor, or teacher.... It isn’t some kind of failure that service productivity growth is low, it is rather an inherent feature of those kinds of activities.... Choices born of success had the unintended consequence of putting a drag on the growth rate in the 21st century...

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We have had financial crises for nearly 200 years now. Yet our handling of those of the mid-nineteenth century was certainly no worse, and arguably better, than our handling of 2007-2010. All parts of "lend freely at a penalty rate on collateral that is good in normal times" were understood. Why weren't they understood in 2008?:

Karl Marx: Neue Rheinische Zeitung Revue: "The years 1843-5 were years of industrial and commercial prosperity, a necessary sequel to the almost uninterrupted industrial depression of 1837-42. As is always the case, prosperity very rapidly encouraged speculation. Speculation regularly occurs in periods when overproduction is already in full swing. It provides overproduction with temporary market outlets, while for this very reason precipitating the outbreak of the crisis and increasing its force. The crisis itself first breaks out in the area of speculation; only later does it hit production. What appears to the superficial observer to be the cause of the crisis is not overproduction but excess speculation, but this is itself only a symptom of overproduction. The subsequent disruption of production does not appear as [what it really is,] a consequence of its own previous exuberance, but merely as a setback caused by the collapse of speculation...

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Very good advice for California now—and for future congressional majority leaders and speakers and presidents who might represent the large majorities of American voters who want these problems addressed sensibly and substantially:

Heather Boushey: Equitable Growth CEO's Written Testimony at California Future of Work Commission: "The monopoly power problem... exacerbates inequality, contributes to wage stagnation, limits entrepreneurship, increases the cost of living, and stifles innovation.... Industry concentration and declining economic dynamism reduces wages by limiting workers’ employment options and opportunities for advancement, and allows firms to use their increasing power to squeeze worker compensation in favor of greater profits. Workplace fissuring, through the rise of independent contractors, franchisors, and contingent hiring, prevents workers from accessing career ladders, matching into the jobs they are best suited for, and gaining sufficient bargaining power to unlock wage increases. Persistent historical disparities such as wage discrimination and social norms reinforce occupational segregation into jobs that don’t pay well enough and offer little room for advancement. Yet policymaking over the past several decades has been moving in the wrong direction. Specifically: Antitrust law now allows firms to accrue and abuse monopoly power, not just over consumers but also in many cases over workers. Successive rounds of tax cuts, including the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and several tax cuts under the George W. Bush administration, have lowered the progressivity of the tax code and greatly decreased taxes on wealth, capital, inheritances, and corporate profits. Outdated labor law provides insufficient protection of workers and has facilitated the long decline of unions, traditionally the most vocal and ardent advocates for the middle class. We have an opportunity right now to take a step back to look at the scale and scope of the problems and develop real solutions...

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Always worth reading as a window into sane thinking about national security and related international non-economic plus political-economy thinking and circumstances:

Daniel W. Drezner: Your Interesting Late-Summer Foreign Policy Reads: "Normally when I do this, I recommend books. For a change of pace, however, this time I thought I would recommend some recent articles.... Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan, “Competition Without Catastrophe: How America Can Both Challenge and Coexist With China”.... Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman, “Weaponized Interdependence: How Global Economic Networks Shape State Coercion”.... Mary Sarotte, “How to Enlarge NATO: The Debate inside the Clinton Administration, 1993—95”.... Isaac Chotiner, “A Penn Law Professor Wants to Make America White Again”.... Penn law professor Amy Wax, ostensibly one of the intellectual leaders of 'national conservatism', beclowned herself repeatedly in her conversation with Chotiner. This claim was particularly ludicrous...

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