#highlighted Feed

Lecture Notes: Malthusian Agricultural Economies

Th Feb 6: 2.1. Malthusian Agricultural Economies

Continue reading "Lecture Notes: Malthusian Agricultural Economies" »

Lecture Notes: A Brief Cheat-Sheet Note: On the Solow-Malthus Model for Understanding Pre-Industrial Economies

What you need to know:

  1. The Malthusian equilibrium level of productivity and income is (a) the zpg subsistence level of necessities consumption (b) times the taste for luxuries (including urbanization and an upper class, as well as middle-class conveniences) (c) bumped up to make the economy prosperous enough to support population growth at the rate (d) warranted by progress in technology and organization.

  2. The Malthusian equilibrium level of population is (a) the quotient of useful ideas divided by the zpg subsistence level of necessities consumption, (b) times the ratio of the savings rate (boosted by law-and-order and by any imperial peace) to the depreciation rate raised to the elasticity of production with respect to capital intensity, (c) divided by the taste for luxuries, (d) all raised to the salience γ of ideas as opposed to resources in productivity, with (e) two nuisance terms tagging along.

GitHub: https://github.com/braddelong/lecture-support-2020/blob/master/brief-note-solow-malthus.ipynb

This File: https://www.bradford-delong.com/2020/01/a-brief-cheat-sheet-note-on-the-solow-malthus-model-for-understanding-pre-industrial-economies.html
Edit This File: https://www.typepad.com/site/blogs/6a00e551f08003883400e551f080068834/post/6a00e551f0800388340240a5067c53200b/edit
Up a Level: Malthusian Perspectives https://delong.typepad.com/teaching_economics/malthus.htm
#ancienteconomies #economicgrowth #economichistory #highlighted #lecturenotes #teachinggrowth #teachinghistory #2020-01-30

Lecture Notes: Simulating the Solow Growth Model

How does an economy well-approximated by the Solow growth model—one that has a constant labor-force growth rate n and labor-efficiency growth rate g; a constant savings-investment share of production s and capital deprecation rate δ; and a constant elasticity θ of production Y with respect to the economy's capital intensity κ, where capital intensity is defined as κ = K/Y, the quotient of the economy's capital stock K and its production level Y—behave? What does it do? How are you—if you are a student—to understand it? And to use it?

Standard explanations often focus on graphs like:


which are often unhelpful.

With this class I would like—if I can get it working—to take another tack. If you have a Berkeley CalNet account, click on this link: https://datahub.berkeley.edu/hub/user-redirect/git-pull?repo=https%3A%2F%2Fgithub.com%2Fbraddelong%2Flecture-support-2020&urlpath=tree%2Flecture-support-2020%2F. If you have access to another Jupyter notebook server, go to https://github.com/braddelong/lecture-support-2020. In either case, then open the file: lecture-support-solow-2020-01-23.ipynb. You should then have, open, my Solow Growth Model Simulator. Click in the second code cell—the one whose first line is—"# SET PARAMETERS, INITIAL CONDITIONS, AND SCENARIO LENGTH IN THIS CELL". You can now edit the text in this code cell. Do so in order to either accept defaults or change the variable assignment statements (those with no "#" in the first column and an "=" sign in them to set values for the model parameter in the lines:

  • n = 0.01 # the labor-force L proportional growth rate
  • g = 0.02 # the labor-efficiency E proportional growth rate
  • s = 0.12 # the share of production Y that is saved and invested
  • δ = 0.03 # the capital depreciation rate
  • θ = 1.09 # the elasticity of production Y with respect to capital intensity κ

Then click lower down and edit in order to accept default or choose alternative starting values L_0, E_0, and κ_0 for the initial values as of time 0 for the labor force, labor efficiency, and capital intensity in the lines:

  • L_0 = 1
  • E_0 = 1
  • κ_0 = 8

Then click lower down again and either accept the default or choose the length of time for which the simulation will run in the lines:

  • T = 100

Then go up to the top of your environment. In the "Kernel" drop down menu click on "Restart Kernel and Run All Cells"

Then scroll down the webpage. If all has gone well you should see, interspersed among the code, ten graphs showing how each of and some combinations of the model variables behave over time.

Note what looks interesting. Then go back to the top, and change something in the second code cell. Once again, go up to the top of your environment, and in the "Kernel" drop down menu click on "Restart Kernel and Run All Cells". What has changed? What strikes you as interesting? Take notes.

Repeat until you think you have an understanding of how an economy that happened to be well-modeled by the Solow growth model would behave.

The assignment? Write 200-300 words on the simulations you carried out, why you chose the parameter values and starting conditions you did, what (if anything) you learned from this exercise, and how useful you think models and exercises like this are in understanding economic growth out there in the real world.


Continue reading "Lecture Notes: Simulating the Solow Growth Model" »

Reading Notes on Dasgupta's "Economics: A Very Short Introduction"

why would one want to think like an economist? What is thinking like an economist—rather than like a sociologist (looking for the webs of human connections and common belief), a political scientist (looking at power and at authority both given and taken), or a historian (looking at origins and development)? One wants to think like an economist because it is an especially useful way of thinking about the economy. What, then, is the economy? And why is “thinking like an economist”—marginal, interdependence, benefit-cost, and opportunity cost calculations—a good way of understanding it?

Partha Dasgupta provides the best short answer to those two linked questions, and in the process of doing so provides the best introduction to economics, that I have seen



Partha Dasgupta: Economics: A Very Short Introduction https://delong.typepad.com/files/dasgupta-economics.pdf

Continue reading "Reading Notes on Dasgupta's "Economics: A Very Short Introduction"" »

Reading Notes on Book I of Aristotle's "Politics"

Let me remind you about Aristoteles son of Nikomakhos of Stagira:

He lived from -384 to -322, in the Greek-speaking communities around the Aegean Sea. He spent most of his time in Athens. For the two millennia following his death, he would be, for a large chunk of the world, THE Philosopher: capital “P” and capital “THE”. 1650 years after his death, poet Dante Alighieri would call him “the Master… of those who know”, “il Maestro di color che sanno”. Aristotle’s was, even at so long a distance in time, the most powerful intellectual name that one could conjure with...



Aristotle: Politics, Book I https://delong.typepad.com/files/aristotle-politics-book-i.pdf

Continue reading "Reading Notes on Book I of Aristotle's "Politics"" »

Scheduled for Squawk Box: January 2, 2020 6:50 AM EST: Talking Points


From: xxxx@nbcuni.com
Subject: Your Squawk Box segment this Thursday, January 2: Please get to the studio at UC Berkley by 6:40am est
Body: The anchors will be Joe and Becky. You’ll share the segment with Shermichael Singleton, political consultant, contributor at The Hill. The discussion will be about "running against the Trump economy". Trump has had the best 3 year performance out of every president since Reagan, since being elected. How does one run against this? Who has the potential to compete? Can Trump keep it up, how? Please send thoughts and talking points.

  • Jump in the S&P over the past eight years from 1300 to 2600 3200 [1]

    • A 1.5x 1.8x in the valuation ratio
    • A 1.16x due to inflation
    • A 1.15x due to an increase in the fundamental earning power underpinning each share of stock
      • All of that is due to buybacks. None of that is due to greater business earning power
      • Thus the optimism with respect to the valuation ratio—even given limited opportunities to earn money elsewhere—somewhat puzzles me
      • Plus there is the joker in the deck: will the wage share remain depressed indefinitely?
      • Usually I'm a "150% of your net worth in stocks" guy
      • Now we are moving money out, and I'm a "50% of your net worth in stocks" guy
  • The talk I hear about the "strong Trump economy" makes no allowance for the difficulty of the dive he has faced relative to that that other presidents face...

    • Trump was handed very good cards
    • Taking account of the difficulty of the dive, I think you have to say that:
      • The Clinton economy turned out much better than expected (due to good policy)
      • The Obama economy turned out better than expected (due to good but inadequate policy)
      • The Trump economy has turned out as expected—but with extra damage done by the trade war, which has on net hurt manufacturing and agriculture, and with no investment boom
      • The Reagan economy turned out somewhat worse than expected—policy incoherence between the tax cutter, the defense spenders, and Paul Volcker really stomped the entire economy over 1981-3 and the Midwest over 1981-1987.
      • The George H.W. Bush economy turned out worse than expected—they took their eye off the ball on the S&L crisis
      • The George W. Bush administration really _ _ the pooch...
  • It looks like we have dodged a recession...

    • We have had a manufacturing recession, but domestic manufacturing is no longer an important enough sector for a manufacturing recession to bring down the economy as a whole...
    • The Trump economy is very weak in productivity growth and the wage share, and those are very worrisome for long-term trends.
  • The most striking aspect of the political situation is the strong divergence between Trump's good unemployment and inflation numbers and his lousy approval numbers

    • Yet perhaps what should surprise me the most is that his approval numbers are so high
    • Policy incoherence while you insult people on Twitter would not have seemed to me to be a governing strategy that many Americans would approve of...
    • It's not just not doing your job...
    • It's undignified
    • Yet he has his fans—and very few of them are beneficiaries of his tax cut, and there are no beneficiaries of his trade war or his foreign-born sliming...
      • Perhaps all his fans think they will benefit from his tax cut?
      • Recall John Steinbeck: "We didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist..."
      • A new paper out by Alberto Alesina and Stephanie Stantcheva on how Americans think there is much more and Europeans think there is substantially less upward mobility than in fact there is—and how in real life there is more in Europe than in America

Continue reading "Scheduled for Squawk Box: January 2, 2020 6:50 AM EST: Talking Points" »

Feminism: I Need to Include Something Like This in My Twentieth Century History Book. But I Would Like Something from 1870-1950—Not Something from 1776 and 1700 and Before...


Plus I am worried that I am, somewhere in here, striking the wrong tone. Yes, many people will find what is below annoying. But will the people annoyed be the people I want this to annoy, or will they be people whom I desperately do not want to read my work and then be annoyed?

2.5: The Arrival of Feminism: In 1764 in Britain’s Massachusetts colony Abigail Smith was 20, and had had no formal education at all: girls weren’t worth it. In that year married a man she had known for five years: the up-and-coming 30-year-old lawyer John Adams. Their daughter Nabby was born the following year, in 1765. There followed John Quincy (1767), Suky (1768, who died at the age of 2), Charles (1770, who died at the age of 10), Thomas (1772), with high probability a couple of (very early) miscarriages from 1774-6, then the stillborn Elizabeth (1777), and (perhaps) another miscarriage afterwards—but I suspect not. She ran their Boston-Braintree household and property operations while he played his role on the large political-intellectual stage, becoming second president of the United States.

Death and disease were, as was the case in the Agrarian Age, omnipresent. Her most famous letter to her husband was written in 1776. A part of it that is rarely—I would say never—excerpted contains these: “our Neighbour Trot whose affliction I most sensibly feel but cannot discribe, striped of two lovely children in one week…”, “Betsy Cranch has been very bad…”, “Becky Peck they do not expect will live out the day…”, “The Mumps… Isaac is now confined with it…”, and “your Brothers youngest child lies bad with convulsion fitts…”

Her letters tell us that she badly wanted to know what was going on in the world outside her household and the Boston-Braintree circle:

I wish you would ever write me a Letter half as long as I write you; and tell me if you may: Where your Fleet are gone? What sort of Defence Virginia can make against our common Enemy? Whether it is so situated as to make an able Defence? Are not the Gentery Lords and the common people vassals? Are they not like the uncivilized Natives Brittain represents us to be?…” and “I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot be Eaquelly Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs…”

And note how she cannot say "I think...", even to her ten-years-older husband: she has to say "I have sometimes been ready to think..."

Continue reading "Feminism: I Need to Include Something Like This in My Twentieth Century History Book. But I Would Like Something from 1870-1950—Not Something from 1776 and 1700 and Before..." »

Neoliberalism: Are We Sure That's the Right Word?: Talking to Noah Smith

Noah Smith and Bradford DeLong: Neoliberalism: Are We Sure That's the Right Word? http://www.pairagraph.com/dialogue/6420f501123b4520892978e93565cff9/1: Noah Smith: 'So we're supposed to be discussing neoliberalism, are we? Well, I was elected "Chief Neoliberal Shill of 2018" in a rigged joke online poll, so I spent a year looking around for reasons to think that "neoliberalism" might describe a good and useful policy outlook instead of Reagan/Thatcher/Milton Friedman libertarian dogma. I remembered that you had penned a defense of something called "neoliberalism" a while back: You framed "neoliberalism" as basically a program that protected markets as the basic engine of production and then tried to add a welfare state on top of those markets. And you depicted the main benefits of this system as being poor-country growth and global convergence. That strikes me as a useful definition and a solid assessment of its benefits...

Continue reading "Neoliberalism: Are We Sure That's the Right Word?: Talking to Noah Smith" »

A Note on Reading Big, Difficult Books...


Knowledge system and cognitive science guru Andy Matuschak writes a rant called Why Books Don’t Work https://andymatuschak.org/books/, about big, difficult books that take him six to nine hours each to read:

Have you ever had a book… come up… [and] discover[ed] that you’d absorbed what amounts to a few sentences?… It happens to me regularly…. Someone asks a basic probing question… [and] I simply can’t recall the relevant details… [or] I’ll realize I had never really understood the idea… though I’d certainly thought I understood…. I’ll realize that I had barely noticed how little I’d absorbed until that very moment…

However, he goes on to say:

Some people do absorb knowledge from books… the people who really do think about what they’re reading.… These readers’ inner monologues have sounds like: “This idea reminds me of…,” “This point conflicts with…,” “I don’t really understand how…,” etc. If they take some notes, they’re not simply transcribing the author’s words: they’re summarizing, synthesizing, analyzing…

Continue reading "A Note on Reading Big, Difficult Books..." »

Blogging: What to Expect Here...

Preview of REMIND YOURSELF Blogging What to Expect Here

The purpose of this weblog is to be the best possible portal into what I am thinking, what I am reading, what I think about what I am reading, and what other smart people think about what I am reading...

"Bring expertise, bring a willingness to learn, bring good humor, bring a desire to improve the world—and also bring a low tolerance for lies and bullshit..." — Brad DeLong

"I have never subscribed to the notion that someone can unilaterally impose an obligation of confidentiality onto me simply by sending me an unsolicited letter—or an email..." — Patrick Nielsen Hayden

"I can safely say that I have learned more than I ever would have imagined doing this.... I also have a much better sense of how the public views what we do. Every economist should have to sell ideas to the public once in awhile and listen to what they say. There's a lot to learn..." — Mark Thoma

"Tone, engagement, cooperation, taking an interest in what others are saying, how the other commenters are reacting, the overall health of the conversation, and whether you're being a bore..." — Teresa Nielsen Hayden

"With the arrival of Web logging... my invisible college is paradise squared, for an academic at least. Plus, web logging is an excellent procrastination tool.... Plus, every legitimate economist who has worked in government has left swearing to do everything possible to raise the level of debate and to communicate with a mass audience.... Web logging is a promising way to do that..." — Brad DeLong

"Blogs are an outlet for unexpurgated, unreviewed, and occasionally unprofessional musings.... At Chicago, I found that some of my colleagues overestimated the time and effort I put into my blog—which led them to overestimate lost opportunities for scholarship. Other colleagues maintained that they never read blogs—and yet, without fail, they come into my office once every two weeks to talk about a post of mine..." — Daniel Drezner

Continue reading "Blogging: What to Expect Here..." »

What Is the Political-Economic Agenda After Piketty?

Introduction: Let me write, overwhelmingly, about inequality understood as inequality between people who regard themselves as members of a common culture, economy, nation. There is the separate issue of inequality between the different cultures, economies, nations that make up the world, but let me leave that for the very end, and then deal with it only briefly.

History of Inequality: For most of human history since the invention of agriculture, typical settled human societies have been about 80% as unequal as they could possibly be: were anything to stretch out the distribution of income and wealth by more than an additional 20%, and working-class women would have become too skinny to ovulate regularity and working-class children would have had compromised immune systems, and so the population would have failed to reproduce itself. The typical economy's Gini index was about 45 or so (the same Gini value as if 72% of wealth and income were evenly divided among the top 28%, and the rest evenly among the rest)—with New Spain in the eighteenth century estimated up at above 60 (the same Gini value as if 4/5 were evenly divided among the top 1/5, and the rest evenly among the rest) and the Kingdom of Naples and China estimated down below 30 (the same Gini value as if 65% were evenly divided among the top 35%, and the rest of income evenly among the rest).

Continue reading "What Is the Political-Economic Agenda After Piketty?" »

If You Are So Rich, Why Aren't You Smart?: Hoisted from the Archives from Ten Years Ago

Hoisted from the Archives: If You Are So Rich, Why Aren't You Smart? http://www.bradford-delong.com/2009/08/if-you-are-so-rich-why-arent-you-smart.html: A correspondent emails me a link to https://web.archive.org/web/20090830190212/http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2009/08/least-surprising-correlation-of-all.html... Greg Mankiw looks at:


And says:

The Least Surprising Correlation of All Time: So what? This fact tells us nothing about the causal impact of income on test scores.... This graph is a good example of omitted variable bias, a statistical issue discussed in Chapter 2 of my favorite textbook. The key omitted variable here is parents' IQ. Smart parents make more money and pass those good genes on to their offspring.... Suppose we were to graph average SAT scores by the number of bathrooms a student has in his or her family home. That curve would also likely slope upward.... But it would be a mistake to conclude that installing an extra toilet raises yours kids' SAT scores. It would be interesting to see the above graph reproduced for adopted children only. I bet that the curve would be a lot flatter...

The explicit argument, of course, is that the parents are rich because they are genetically smart, and that the children test well because they have inherited smartness genes from their parents, and all is good because it is right that the worthy should be rich and the most important part of being worthy is being smart. And Mankiw drops it there—without even acknowledging that, say, being able to afford an extra bathroom is a good signal that you can afford to spend more money on your children's education. Without trying to do a quantitative calculation of the expected slope. But, rather, hingeing the entire thing on "good genes".

IMHO, merely saying that correlation is not always causation and dropping the issue is profoundly unhelpful—moreover, it shows a... certain lack of work ethic as well. Off the top of my head...

Continue reading "If You Are So Rich, Why Aren't You Smart?: Hoisted from the Archives from Ten Years Ago" »

Brad DeLong Says More...: Project Syndicate

Project Syndicate: [Brad DeLong Says More...](htt*PS*: //us10.campaign-archive.com/?u=9116789a51839e0f88fa29b83&id=646c7b19aa&e=a7192bc790): Project Syndicate: One forgotten lesson of the Great Depression, you wrote last month, is that “persistent ultra-low interest rates mean the economy is still short of safe, liquid stores of value, and thus in need of further monetary expansion”...

...Since then, the US Federal Reserve has cut the federal funds rate – a move that you argued in March could either stave off a recession or drastically undermine the Fed’s capacity to respond to one. What steps should the Fed take to help encourage the former and prevent the latter? At a time of growing political pressure on the Fed, what approach is it likely to take?

Brad DeLong: Back in 1992, Larry Summers and I warned participants at the Fed’s annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that low inflation and high equity-return and bond-risk premiums do not play well together. Dealing with a typical recession had, historically, required that the Fed cut the federal funds rate by five full percentage points. A large recession would require even larger cuts.

Continue reading "Brad DeLong Says More...: Project Syndicate" »

Eternal September: How Trolls Overran the Public Square: Project Syndicate


Project Syndicate: How Trolls Overran the Public Square https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trolls-win-control-of-the-public-square-by-j-bradford-delong-2019-12: Since the invention of writing, human innovation has transformed how we formulate new ideas, organize our societies, and communicate with one another. But in an age of rapid-fire social media and nonstop algorithm-generated outrage, technology is no longer helping to expand or enrich the public sphere: Every year since 1900 we have had change in human technology and organization at a blistering pace: human productivity, organization, and technological capabilities now change at a rate that packs into one year what would have been 50 years of change back before 1500. It used to be that culture, war, the rise and fall of individuals' statuses, and politics were the meat of human history, with technology and organization much of an unchanging background, and productivity growing only very slowly on average. But that is not the world we live in today.

Continue reading "Eternal September: How Trolls Overran the Public Square: Project Syndicate" »

Stop Inflating the Inflation Threat: Project Syndicate


Project Syndicate: Stop Inflating the Inflation Threat https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/us-inflation-flat-phillips-curve-by-j-bradford-delong-2019-10: Given the scale and severity of inflation in America in the 1970s, it is understandable that US monetary policymakers developed a deep-seated fear of it. But, nearly a half-century later, the conditions that justified such worries no longer apply, and it is past time that we stopped denying what the data are telling us.: I remember September 2014: That month the U.S. unemployment rate dropped below 6%, and I was assured by very many that that meant that the Phillips Curve predicted that inflation would soon be on the rise, and that it was time for the Federal Reserve to begin to—rapidly—normalize monetary policy—to begin shrinking the monetary base, and raising interest rates back into a "normal" range. Today unemployment is 2.5%-points lower than what I was then assured was the "natural" rate of unemployment. According to the rule-of-thumb as they stood back when I was an assistant professor in 1990, such a low unemployment rate should lead annual inflation to climb by 1.3%-points every year: if this year inflation were to be 2.0%, next year's would be 3.3%, and—if unemployment stayed this low—the year after that's would be 4.6%, and the year after that 5.9%.

Continue reading "Stop Inflating the Inflation Threat: Project Syndicate" »

No, We Don’t “Need” a Recession


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.

Continue reading "No, We Don’t “Need” a Recession" »

The Vexing Question of Prussia

For a bit over the first half of the 1860s-2010s Long 20th Century, global history was profoundly shaped by the peculiarity of Prussia. The standard account of this peculiarity—this sonderweg, sundered way, separate Prussian path—has traditionally seen it has having four aspects. Prussia—and the “small German” national state of which it was the nucleus—managed to simultaneously, over 1865-1945: (1) wage individual military campaigns with extraordinary success; (2) wage wars no sane statesman would have entered; (3) via the role, authority and interests of the military-service nobility societal caste, divert the currents of political development from the expected channel into a sonderweg; (4) engage in continent-spanning systematic patterns and campaigns of terror, destruction, murder, and genocide that went far beyond anything other European powers engaged in within Europe, and even went far beyond the brutalities of colonial conquest and rule. Did Prussia—and the “small German” national state of which it became the core—in fact follow a separate and unusual path, with respect to economic, political, cultural, social development, relative to other western European national states in the arc from France to Sweden? Do these four aspects as components rightly summarize the sonderweg? What is their origin, and what is the relation between them?...


Continue reading "The Vexing Question of Prussia" »

Marx's Capital: Part VII: The Accumulation of Capital

4.3) Part VII: The Accumulation of Capital: 4.3.1. The Bourgeoisie Is the Ruling Class: This is where the book starts to sing (to me, at least).

The first important thing I get out of Part VII is that, to quote from the Communist Manifesto, “the executive of the modern state is a committee for managing the affairs of the _business class”. Wealth speaks loudly, and influences the government to arrange things for the convenience of wealth—to keep wages low, and workers available.

Continue reading "Marx's Capital: Part VII: The Accumulation of Capital" »

Lecture Notes: Smith, Marx, Keynes: Thanksgiving 2019 DRAFT

I have finished (a draft of) my "Smith, Marx, Keynes" lecture notes—well, I have not written 7.6 and 8.2. For 7.6, I have simply dumped in (much of) Paul Krugman's Mr. Keynes and the Moderns. 8.2 I have not written anything on. But what it is, it is...


Continue reading "Lecture Notes: Smith, Marx, Keynes: Thanksgiving 2019 DRAFT" »

Karl Marx’s Analytical System

4) Karl Marx’s Analytical System: 4.1. On Reading Capital: 4.1.1. Why Are We Making You Do This?: Marx spent the next 20 years of his life after writing On the Jewish Question trying to figure out the economics, and then write it down. And in 1867 he published Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. (Or, at least, he published volume I. He died before he finished volumes II and III to his satisfaction.) Capital is a big and difficult book. And we have set you to read it in order to gain a sense of what answers Marx arrived at: what he concluded and why, and whether his conclusions are correct.

Why have we set you to read it? We could, after all, digest it into twenty bullet points and say “these will be on the exam”.

4.1.2) The Skill of Reading Difficult Books: One answer is that the skill of reading difficult books is something we have to teach. The labor economists tell us that going to Berkeley, or to other elite American universities, is very good for you not just in terms of making you a more knowledgeable, thoughtful, and well-rounded person, but also in terms of inculcating you a lot of skills that give you many, many extra life choices. Chief among these skills are: presenting yourself in English in person; presenting yourself in English on paper; and figuring out how to get information out of all the written English words that appear before your eyes. Thus one thing we are here to do is to teach the valuable skill of reading hard and difficult but valuable books. And reading hard and difficult but valuable books with us on the teaching staff coaching you through the process is the best way to do that.

Continue reading "Karl Marx’s Analytical System" »

Smith, Marx, Keynes: Cement Your Knowledge

Knowledge system and cognitive science guru Andy Matuschak writes a rant called Why Books Don’t Work https://andymatuschak.org/books/, about big, difficult books that take him six to nine hours each to read.... [His] points have strong relevance for students in U.C. Berkeley’s Econ 105: History of Economic Thought: Do we live in a Smithian, Marxian or Keynesian World?. The core of the course is an assisted reading of three big books that are d—-ably difficult.... To assist you in this process, we have compiled 150 questions-and-answers—50 about Smith, 50 about Marx, and 50 about Keynes—that we think you should review and learn as part of your active-learning incorporation of the thought of these three authors into your own minds.... For those of you reading this who are in the intended audience of Econ 105 students in the fall of 2019, here is an incentive.... Some of these questions will be on the exam...


Continue reading "Smith, Marx, Keynes: Cement Your Knowledge" »

Adam Smith & Inequality: Inequality Generated Outside the Market

2.5) Adam Smith & Inequality: 2.5.1. Inequality Generated Outside the Market: Smith’s first way of minimizing the importance of inequality—or at least minimizing the responsibility of the market and of the economy for fighting inequality—is to argue that inequality springs from politics and sociology rather than from market economics. Inequality arises from the role that hierarchy and command-and-control play in the mixed-up processes that are human society. The society of England becomes more unequal because William the Bastard from Normandy and his thugs with spears—300 families, plus their retainers—kill King Harold Godwinson, and declare that everyone in England owes him and his retainers 1/3 of their crop. The society of England becomes more unequal because Queen Elizabeth I Tudor grants a monopoly over trade with America to Sir Walter Raleigh. Why? Because he had successfully flirted with her. These are not economic processes. These are not closely connected with the “system of natural liberty” than is the market economy.

Indeed, the system of natural liberty is only one way you can organize society. Societies can be organized as ones of feudal lords and peasants, as priests and worshippers, robbers bands and their victims. But these ways of organizing society are impoverishing and, Smith claims in his very naming of his system the “System of Natural Liberty”—unnatural. Dugald Stewart quotes from one of Smith’s lectures that, at least in the lecture hall at Glasgow in 1749, Smith was blunt:

Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of affluence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things…

I believe that the later Adam Smith would note that “tolerable administration of justice” covers a lot of ground: the later books of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations are very long indeed: Book III on how the historical development of Europe has let it to deviate from the System of Natural Liberty is 43 pages, Book IV on errors being made in 1776 by the governments of Europe is 273 pages, and Book V on what governments should and should not do is 276 pages—a total of 592 pages on what governments should, should not, and have unfortunately done, with only a total of 346 pages laying out Smith’s analytical system and its conclusions, among them that:

All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavor to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and, to support themselves, are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical…

As Heilbroner puts it:

The great enemy to Adam Smith's system is not so much government per se as monopoly—in any form. “People… meet[ing] together… [and] the conversation ends in… some diversion to raise prices.”… If the working of the market is trusted… anything that interferes… lowers social welfare. If, as in Smith’s time, no master hatter anywhere in England could employ more than two apprentices or no master cutler in Sheffield more than one, the market system cannot possibly yield its full benefits…. If, as in Smith's time, great companies are given monopolies of foreign trade, the public cannot realize the full benefits of cheaper foreign produce. Hence, says Smith, all these impediments must go…

Continue reading "Adam Smith & Inequality: Inequality Generated Outside the Market" »

Karl Marx’s Intuitions: Marx’s Enthusiasm for the Market

3) Karl Marx’s Intuitions: Marx’s Enthusiasm for the Market: But back up. First, note that Karl Marx was much more enthusiastic about the market economy and the prospects for the societal division of labor than Smith had been. This enthusiasm had multiple causes:

  • Marx lived 75 years later, in a time of much more rapid economic growth.
  • Marx saw, much more clearly, technology as the magic force that it was going to be.
  • Smith wanted to make his way in the world as an upwardly mobile outsider intellectual taking a measured view of things and entertaining his potential audience; Marx wanted to leave his mark upon the world—hence all his enthusiasms, and all his hates, were outsized.
  • Marx was, in a very strange way, a Fundamentalist Christian—albeit a massively heretical one: a firm believer in the redemption and total transformation not of an individual soul bur of humanity at the hands of a benevolent power. As American literary critic Edmund Wilson was to write in 1940: a lot of Marx’s and Marxist writing makes no sense unless you replace phrases like “progress of history” and “dialectic of history” with “Providence” and “God”.

We see this enthusiasm show through in the passages of Capital in which Marx talks about the transformative work that is being done by the capitalist market economy. But it shines through much more clearly in Marx and Engels’s 1848 Communist Manifesto, in an extended passage that outstrips pretty much anything ever written by capitalism’s friends:

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part…. The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.

The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?…

“What earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?”

The bourgeoisie —the market economic system in which the capitalists, the business class, hold the reins and have the wealth—has, is, and will create the material abundance needed for humanity to pass through the gates of history and enter its proper destiny of utopia.

Continue reading "Karl Marx’s Intuitions: Marx’s Enthusiasm for the Market" »

On Inequality, Adam Smith Gets Snarky, Stoic, and Cynical

Smith Gets Snarky, Stoic, and Cynical: Snarkism: Adam Smith’s third way of minimizing the importance of economic inequality is to snark. The aim of wealth is to make you happy. Smith thinks that what wealthy women wish they could buy is beauty, and what wealthy men wish they could buy is strength. But who are the beautiful and strong in England? Adam Smith tells us in an aside on nutrition on the good qualities of the potato:

The chairmen, porters, and coal-heavers in London, and those unfortunate women who live by prostitution, the strongest men and the most beautiful women perhaps in the British dominions, are said to be, the greater part of them, from the lowest rank of people in Ireland, who are generally fed with this root [the potato]…

The rich aren’t doing a terribly good job of using their wealth to promote human flourishing, are they? And there is the implication that the rich are none too happy. We see Smith, and what he is doing here, I think.

Stoicism: Adam Smith’s fourth way of minimizing the importance of economic inequality is to assume the philosophical pose of the stoic. One works hard. One sacrifices one’s peace and leisure in order to get rich. And what does that get you as you age? Adam Smith writes that to the aging, looking back at a life in which they have sacrificed their ease and their happiness in order to gain wealth:

Power and riches appear then to be, what they are, enormous and operose machines contrived to produce a few trifling conveniencies to the body, consisting of springs the most nice and delicate, which must be kept in order with the most anxious attention, and which in spite of all our care are ready every moment to burst into pieces, and to crush in their ruins their unfortunate possessor. They are immense fabrics, which it requires the labour of a life to raise, which threaten every moment to overwhelm the person that dwells in them, and which while they stand, though they may save him from some smaller inconveniencies, can protect him from none of the severer inclemencies of the season. They keep off the summer shower, not the winter storm, but leave him always as much, and sometimes more, exposed than before, to anxiety, to fear, and to sorrow; to diseases, to danger, and to death…

Who then benefits from all the industry and toil of the upwardly-mobile? Adam Smith argues that it was, somewhat paradoxically, the poor. The rich sacrifice their true happiness to set in motion enterprises. And the commodities produced by those enterprises are principally consumed by the poor:

The earth by these labours of mankind has been obliged to redouble her natural fertility, and to maintain a greater multitude of inhabitants…. The proud and unfeeling landlord…. The capacity of his stomach bears no proportion to the immensity of his desires, and will receive no more than that of the meanest peasant. The rest he is obliged to distribute among those, who prepare, in the nicest manner, that little which he himself makes use of… all of whom thus derive from his luxury and caprice, that share of the necessaries of life, which they would in vain have expected from his humanity or his justice…

Cynicism: Fifth and last, Adam Smith minimizes the importance of economic inequality by claiming that there is little or nothing to be done about it. Human nature is such that people will seek to create, and then to obey, those whom they will call their superiors. It is the view expressed by Calvera in the movie The Magnificent Seven. Chico asks Calvera:

And the people of the village? What about them?

Calvera responds:

I leave that to you. Can men of our profession worry about that? If God did not want them to be sheared, he would not have made them sheep!

As Adam Smith puts it in his Theory of Moral Sentiments:

A stranger to human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine, that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulsions of death more terrible to persons of higher rank, than they are to those of meaner stations.

Upon this disposition… is founded the distinction of ranks, and the order of society. Our obsequiousness to our superiors more frequently arises from our admiration for the advantages of their situation, than from any private expectations of benefit from their goodwill…. We desire to serve them for their own sake, without any recompense but the vanity or the honour of obliging them…

To attempt to eliminate inequality is, for Smith in his cynical mode, like trying to bail out the sea: make society equal, and people will find somebody to look up to, and then figure out a way to give their money away to the rich.

So that is Adam Smith: worry about prosperity and wealth, yes; worry about poverty and want, yes; worry about inequality, not so much.

Needless to say, Karl Marx did not agree that income inequality is not worth a great deal of concern. He saw inequality as a necessary product of the market economy, a necessary product that poisoned all of its fruits, and one that made hopes of eliminating or even reducing poverty and dire poverty vain.

Continue reading "On Inequality, Adam Smith Gets Snarky, Stoic, and Cynical" »

Adam Smith & Poverty

2.4) Adam Smith & Poverty: Adam Smith loathes poverty.

Adam Smith is eager to create a society in which there is no poverty.

Adam Smith spends a substantial amount of time investigating the course of poverty over time. For example, he takes time and care to write:

During the course of the last century, taking one year with another, grain was dearer in both parts of the united kingdom than during that of the present…. It is equally certain that labour was much cheaper. If the labouring poor, therefore, could bring up their families then, they must be much more at their ease now. In the last century, the most usual day-wages of common labour through the greater part of Scotland were sixpence in summer, and fivepence in winter.… Through the greater part of the Low country, the most usual wages of common labour are now eight pence a-day; tenpence, sometimes a shilling, about Edinburgh…. In England, the improvements of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, began much earlier than in Scotland. The demand for labour, and consequently its price, must necessarily have increased with those improvements. In the last century, accordingly, as well as in the present, the wages of labour were higher in England than in Scotland. They have risen, too, considerably since that time, though, on account of the greater variety of wages paid there in different places, it is more difficult to ascertain how much…. Not only grain has become somewhat cheaper, but many other things from which the industrious poor derive an agreeable and wholesome variety of food have become a great deal cheaper. Potatoes… cost half the price which they used to do thirty or forty years ago. The same thing may be said of turnips, carrots, cabbages; things which were formerly never raised but by the spade, but which are now commonly raised by the plough. All sort of garden stuff, too, has become cheaper…. The great improvements in the coarser manufactories of both linen and woollen cloth furnish the labourers with cheaper and better clothing; and those in the manufactories of the coarser metals, with cheaper and better instruments of trade, as well as with many agreeable and convenient pieces of household furniture…

Which he then cross-checks with elite gossip:

The common complaint that luxury extends itself even to the lowest ranks of the people, and that the labouring poor will not now be contented with the same food, clothing, and lodging which satisfied them in former times, may convince us that it is not the money price of labour only, but its real recompense, which has augmented…

Having established that poverty has diminished, he next launches a full-bore attack on all those who claim this is a bad thing:

Is this… to be regarded as an advantage or as an inconveniency?… Servants, labourers, and workmen… make up the far greater part…. What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable…

And then he makes a strong appeal to human solidarity, and to the reciprocal obligations humans undertake by entering into the gift-exchange relationships that knit society together:

It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged…

“It is but equity, besides…” This is a very strong appeal to human solidarity. It is coming from someone often seen as and sometimes dismissed as an apostle of human self-interest.

Continue reading "Adam Smith & Poverty" »

Lecture Notes: Adam Smith


Adam Smith starts with the observation that humans are largely but not exclusively self-interested creatures: we are, largely but not exclusively greedy. Yet we have a complex and sophisticated societal division of labor. And that division of labor is essential to our prosperity. Indeed, it is essential to our survival: drop one or two of us into the Sierra Nevada, even in summer, and we will quite likely die. Drop 100 of us, and we will quite likely survive, and even flourish. How can animals that are by nature greedy nevertheless cooperate on a large scale? That is the deep moral-philosophical question that we can see in both of Smith’s big books...

pages: https://www.icloud.com/pages/0DimW1dRNmxkH9qXpOdbHyOjw
latest pdf: http://delong.typepad.com/files/lectureadam-smith-2019-11-21-1.pdf

this html: https://www.bradford-delong.com/2019/11/lecture-notes-adam-smith.html
edit html: https://www.typepad.com/site/blogs/6a00e551f08003883400e551f080068834/post/6a00e551f0800388340240a4c8cd8e200d/edit
#berkeley #economics #highighted #historyofeconomicthought #lecturenotes #moralphilosophy #politicaleconomy #2019-11-21

Three Great Books to Have Read—But Not Nefessarily to Read

I have been remiss in posting here because I have had the unexpected load of getting together lectures for the last 40% of: Economics 105: The History of Economic Thought: Smith, Marx, Keynes.

So let me apologize for the dearth of material by stepping through my lecture notes:

1) Smith, Marx, Keynes: The aim of this course it to examine the history of economic thought through the lens of three major economic thinkers: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes, each of whom wrote one long, difficult, but undeniably great book. Adam Smith in 1776 published his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Karl Marx in 1867 published his Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (volume 1). John Maynard Keynes in 1936 published his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (note the absence of the Oxford comma from Keynes’s title: Keynes was a British academic but not one from Oxford but rather from the University of Cambridge). In addition, read Robert Heilbroner’s excellent (if old) The Worldly Philosophers, a short survey of the history of economic thought, for context and background.

Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, and Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money are great books to have read, if not easy books to read. They are, in fact, downright painful. (Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers is, by contrast, painless, easy, and still great.) Learning how to read great but difficult books and make sense of them on your own is a very valuable skill to learn, but a difficult one to teach in any way but by doing it. Moreover, a great book is a great book only if the reader is ready and prepared to read it—and so learning to figure out how to become the kind of reader to appreciate a particular great book is another important skill to learn as well.

Continue reading "Three Great Books to Have Read—But Not Nefessarily to Read" »

Lecture Notes: Smith, Marx, Keynes: A View of the History of Economic Thought (UNFINISHED)

Well, I have wound up, by surprise, giving the last third of the lectures in Economics 105: The History of Economic Thought: Smith, Marx, Keynes. I admit I was not as averse to being imposed on by the Department as I might have been because I thought it might push me to get my head and my thoughts together.

Here they are—unfinished. But I should give the students an opportunity to see how I think about these thinkers and their works: https://www.icloud.com/pages/0howtV7CndvjkSCCLmtjmq_SA

Continue reading "Lecture Notes: Smith, Marx, Keynes: A View of the History of Economic Thought (UNFINISHED)" »

Ricardo's Big Idea, and Its Vicissitudes: Hoisted from the Archives

Hoisted from the Archives: Ricardo's Big Idea, and Its Vicissitudes https://www.bradford-delong.com/2017/10/ricardos-big-idea-and-its-vicissitudes-inet-edinburgh-comparative-advantage-panel.html:

INET Edinburgh Comparative Advantage Panel

Ricardo's Big Idea, and Its Vicissitudes


Continue reading "Ricardo's Big Idea, and Its Vicissitudes: Hoisted from the Archives" »

Hoisted from the Archives: From Eight Years Ago: The Way the World Looked to Me in the Summer of 2011

Hoisted from the Archives: The Way the World Looked to Me in the Summer of 2011: Back in the summer of 2009, Barack Obama had five economic policy principals on the Treasury Bench:

Continue reading "Hoisted from the Archives: From Eight Years Ago: The Way the World Looked to Me in the Summer of 2011" »

On the Word "Growth"...


"Growth" is a word borrowed from the Norse groði, the process of vegetation becoming green and becoming larger. In the later 800s, you see, England was invaded by an army of Danes. This Great Heathen Army's leaders wanted to avenge the execution by being thrown into a pit of poisonous snakes of their father Ragnar Lothbrok—Ragnar "Furry Pants", supposedly because he had successfully fought a giant snake while wearing furry pants that the snake could not bite through. The sons of Ragnar were: Ivar the Boneless (or Legless?), Björn Ironside, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Halfdan Ragnarsson King of Dublin, Hvitserk, and Ubba. (Halfdan and Hvitserk may have been the same person—Hvitserk means "white shirt" and would thus be much more appropriate as a nickname like "Boneless", "Ironside" or "Snake-in-the-Eye".

Continue reading "On the Word "Growth"..." »

Perhaps. And Sometimes: Hoisted from the Archives from 2010


Hoisted from the Archives: Perhaps. And Sometimes https://www.cato-unbound.org/2010/09/16/j-bradford-delong/perhaps-sometimes: In 542 AD the late Roman (early Byzantine?) Emperor Justinian I wrote to his Praetorian Prefect concerning the army — trained and equipped and paid for by the Roman State to control the barbarians and to “increase the state.” Justinian was, Peter Sarris reports in his Economy and Society in the Age of Justinian, upset that:

certain individuals had been daring to draw away soldiers and foederati from their duties, occupying such troops entirely with their own private business…. The emperor… prohibit[ed] such individuals from drawing to themselves or diverting troops… having them in their household… on their property or estates…. [A]ny individual who, after thirty days, continues to employ soldiers to meet his private needs and does not return them to their units will face confiscation of property… “and those soldiers and foederati who remain in paramonar attendance upon them… will not only be deprived of their rank, but also undergo punishments up to and including capital punishment.

Justinian is worried because what is going on in the country he rules is not legible to him. Soldiers — soldiers whom he has trained, equipped, and paid for — have been hired away from their frontier duties by the great landlords of the Empire and employed on their estates and in the areas they dominate as bully-boys. One such great landlord was Justinian’s own sometime Praefectus Praetorio per Orientem Flavius Apion, to whom one of Flavius’s tenants and debtors, one Anoup, wrote:

Continue reading "Perhaps. And Sometimes: Hoisted from the Archives from 2010" »

Income and Wealth Distribution, or, Watching Professional Republicans Sell Their Souls Back in 1992: Hoisted from the Archives

Inbox 31 brad delong gmail com Gmail

I have long wanted an undergraduate to write a senior thesis about this episode. I have never found one to advise to do so:

Hoisted from the Archives: The income distribution came on to the stage that is America's public sphere between February 14 and December 12, 1992. And the rhetoric of "X% of gains in per capita income over years Y-Z went to the top W%-iles of the income distribution" became a one in American political-economic discourse over that time period as well. Over those ten months then-New York Times economics reporter Sylvia Nasar wrote eight stories about income inequality in America. All of them were pitched at a high substantive and intellectual level—they would have fit into the New York Times's later Upshot (which has recently refocused at a less analytically-substantive level as concerned with "politics, policy, and everyday life"). This was, needless to say, very unusual for the New York Times.

Sylvia's first story addressed the peculiar fact that the "80's Boom", as Reagan Republicans and the New York Times called it, had seen the poverty rate not diminish but rise. Sylvia attributed that rise to union-busting, and a growing disparity between high- and low-wage jobs springing from a decline in relative manufacturing employment and possibly from boosted high-wage white-collar productivity from computerization. Her second story, on March 5, took a turn. Instead of continuing to investigate the causes of rising poverty and wage stagnation in a decade of supposed boom, it focused on "who had reaped the gains" from "the prosperity of the last decade and a half". It highlighted the "Krugman calculation". It began:

Populist politicians, economists and ordinary citizens have long suspected that the rich have been getting richer. What is making people sit up now is recent evidence that the richest 1 percent of American families appears to have reaped most of the gains from the prosperity of the last decade and a half. An outsized 60 percent of the growth in the average after-tax income of all American families between 1977 and 1989—and an even heftier three-fourths of the gain in average pretax income—went to the wealthiest 660,000 families, each of which had an annual income of at least $310,000 a year...

Continue reading "Income and Wealth Distribution, or, Watching Professional Republicans Sell Their Souls Back in 1992: Hoisted from the Archives" »

My Job as the Economist Here Is to Do the Numbers...


Council on Foreign Relations: The Future of Democracy Symposium: Session Two: Economics, Identity, and the Democratic Recession: My job as the economist here is to do the numbers.

Over the past forty, fifty years we’ve seen some alleviation of—call them gender hierarchies. Women, even women who are high school dropouts are making more money adjusted for inflation now than women were back in 1981. And that progress spreads up the distribution, so that the group that’s done at least as well as anyone else are women with advanced degrees in America. For them, America is fulfilling the promise that people thought or expect to have of it...

Continue reading "My Job as the Economist Here Is to Do the Numbers..." »

Listening to Arsonists

No Longer Fresh at Project Syndicate: Listening to Arsonists: Barack Obama made a significant mistake in naming the Republican ex-senator Alan Simpson to co-chair the president’s deficit-reduction commission. Simpson was a noted budget arsonist when he was in the Senate, and he has recently expressed views that make no sense whatsoever: Simpson was a noted budget arsonist when he was in the Senate. Indeed, he never met a budget-busting, deficit-increasing initiative from a Republican president that he would not lead the charge to pass. Nor did he ever meet a sober deficit-reducing initiative from a Democratic president that he did not oppose with every fiber of his being...

Continue reading "Listening to Arsonists" »

How Damaging Is Plutocracy for Economic Policy?

Is Plutocracy Really the Problem by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

No Longer Fresh at Project Syndicate: Is Plutocracy Really the Problem?: After the 2008 financial crisis, economic policymakers in the United States did enough to avert another Great Depression, but fell far short of what was needed to ensure a strong recovery. Attributing that failure to the malign influence of the plutocracy is tempting, but it misses the root of the problem.... In fact, big money does not always find a way, nor does its influence necessarily increase as the top 0.01% captures a larger share of total income.... The larger issue...is an absence of alternative voices. If the 2010s had been anything like the 1930s, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Conference Board would have been aggressively calling for more investment in America, and these arguments would have commanded the attention of the press. Labor unions would have had a prominent voice as advocates for a high-pressure economy. Both would have had very powerful voices inside the political process through their support of candidates. Did the top 0.01% put something in the water to make the media freeze out such voices after 2008?... Read MOAR at Project Syndicate

Continue reading "How Damaging Is Plutocracy for Economic Policy?" »

Podcast: Trump's Impact on the Economy

Cotto/Gottfried: What Happens to America's Economy If Trump Is Reelected? Brad DeLong Explains https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZZEI4jRqEo&feature=youtu.be: "Donald Trump... if he manages to secure a second term, what would four more years of his presidency mean for America's economy? Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury Brad DeLong, who now is an economics professor at UC Berkeley, addresses this hugely important question¸—and much more—on 'Cotto/Gottfried.'... See more episodes here: https://wtcgcottogottfried.blogspot.com/. San Francisco Review of Books main page: http://www.sanfranciscoreviewofbooks.com...

Continue reading "Podcast: Trump's Impact on the Economy" »

Unstructured Procrastination: Hoisted from the Archives

stacks and stacks of books

Hoisted from the Archives (2005): Unstructured Procrastination https://www.bradford-delong.com/2005/08/unstructured_pr.html: I usually am quite good at structured procrastination—working not on the thing that is most immediate and imminent on my calendar, but on the priority #3 or #4 that is actually more important in the long run and that excites me at the moment. But today this system has broken down. I have done something nobody should ever do: I have spent an hour thinking about Louis Althusser.

It's all Michael Berube's fault, but its worth it, for (highlighted below) he has the best paragraph on Louis Althusser ever written. The rest is (or ought to be) silence:

Michael Berube: "The otherwise incomprehensible question of why anyone would think it necessary to devise a 'structuralist Marxism'. Structuralism is so antipathetic to all questions of hermeneutics and historicity that one might imagine the desire for a structuralist Marxism to be something like a hankering for really spicy ice cream. And yet, in the work of Louis Althusser, spicy ice cream is exactly what we have. I don’t like it myself. But because it’s an important byway in the history of ice cream...

Continue reading "Unstructured Procrastination: Hoisted from the Archives" »

Neoliberalism and Its Discontents: Podcast

Brad DeLong, Reed Hundt, and Joshua Cohen: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents: "At the end of the Carter administration and throughout the Reagan Revolution, belief in the power of markets became America's preferred economic policy doctrine. President Bill Clinton all but announced the triumph of free markets when he declared that 'the era of big government is over'. President Barack Obama faced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and pushed a recovery plan that was more limited than many had hoped, seeming to protect the very sectors that had created it.... In his new book, A Crisis Wasted, Reed Hundt... makes the argument that Obama missed an opportunity to push for a new progressive era of governance, a miscalculation that ultimately hobbled his administration.... A very special conversation between Hundt and DeLong about the limits of, and challenges to, free-market economics... in conversation with Joshua Cohen, co-editor of Boston Review...

Continue reading "Neoliberalism and Its Discontents: Podcast" »

Grand Narrative: An Intake from Slouching Towards Utopia?: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century, 1870-2016

Il Quarto Stato

Slouching Towards Utopia?: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century, 1870-2016

I. Grand Narrative

J. Bradford DeLong :: U.C. Berkeley, NBER, WCEG https://www.icloud.com/pages/0TzensY9YyNvqcY8elYagLUnQ https://www.icloud.com/keynote/0_nA1dc3XLgFa_2rEVsk3nuWQ

1.1: The Long 20th Century in Human History

The Long 20th Century began around 1870 and ended in 2016.

Before 1870 humanity was poor, and life was typically nasty, brutish, and short. Before 1870, over and over again, technology lost its race with human fecundity, and greater numbers coupled with resource scarcity to produce a humanity where most people most of the time could not be confident that they and their families would have their 2000 calories, plus essential nutrients, plus a roof over their head in a year. Before 1870 those on the make overwhelmingly focused on how to take from others or keep what they had while maintaining order, rather on how to make more for everyone. It is true that between 1800 and 1870 technology and organization gained a step or two in their race with fecundity. But only a step. Any post-1870 slackening of the pace of technological or organizational progress, or any major redivision of society’s dividends devoting less to the sinews or peace and more to the sinews of war, and “nasty, brutish, and short” would reassert itself.

But starting in 1870 all that changed. Science reached critical mass and gave birth to engineering. A liberal political order gave birth to a market economy. Engineering and the market produced an explosion of economic growth: these days one single year sees as much proportional technological and organizational advance and change in the human economy as a typical fifty years did back before 1800.

Continue reading "Grand Narrative: An Intake from Slouching Towards Utopia?: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century, 1870-2016" »

DevEng 215: Pre-Class Note: Welcome!

Il Quarto Stato

Let us set the scene with an introductory note:

Back in 1800, nearly the entire world lived in dire poverty—what we today see as the dire poverty line of $1.90 a day, a level at which you are spending more than half your income on bare calories and essential nutrients, the minimum of heat and shelter, and the minimum of clothing. Below that line, certainly your health and perhaps your life is impacted: women become too skinny to reliably ovulate, and children become too malnourished to have healthy and effective immune systems. Back in 1800, there were only a few economies where the median household had a standard of living of more than $3 a day: Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, the U.K., the U.S., and that was it.

Continue reading "DevEng 215: Pre-Class Note: Welcome!" »

American Twentieth-Century Exceptionalism: An Outtake from "Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Long Twentieth Century 1870-2016"

Il Quarto Stato

Sources of American Exceptionalism

In 1870 the focus of economic growth crossed the Atlantic to America, where continent-wide scale, a flood of immigration, vast resources, and an open society that made inventors and entrepreneurs culture heroes welcomed economic growth. In the United States the Belle Époque, the Gilded Age, the period of the explosion of prosperity set in motion around 1870 lasted without interruption longer than elsewhere in the world. China collapsed into revolution in 1911. Europe descended into the hell of World War I in 1914. In America the period of progress and industrial development lasted longer—perhaps from when the guns fell silent at the end of America’s Civil War at Appomattox in 1865 until the start of the Great Depression in the summer of 1929.

Continue reading "American Twentieth-Century Exceptionalism: An Outtake from "Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Long Twentieth Century 1870-2016"" »

John Cochrane Prostitutes Himself to Republican Politicians Department: Monday Smackdown/Hoisted from 2015

Clowns (ICP)

Noah Smith: John Cochrane Smackdown: "John writes: 'My surprise in reading Noah is that he provided no alternative numbers. If you don't think Free Market Nirvana will have 4% growth, at least for a decade as we remove all the level inefficiencies, how much do you think it will produce, and how solid is that evidence?...' I don't really feel I need to produce an alternative to a number that was made up as a political talking point. Why 4 percent? Why not 5? Why not 8? Why not 782 percent? Where do we get the number for how good we can expect Free Market Nirvana to be? Is it from the sum of point estimates from a bunch of different meta-analyses of research on various free-market policies? No. It was something Jeb Bush tossed out in a conference call because it was 'a nice round number', after James Glassman had suggested '3 or 3.5'. You want me to give you an alternative number, using the same rigorous methodology? Sure, how about 3.1. Wait, no. 3.3. There we go. 3.3 sounds good. Rolls off the tongue..."

I must say, Cochrane here reminds me of one of my most favorite quotes from tank economist Paul M. Sweezy:

Continue reading "John Cochrane Prostitutes Himself to Republican Politicians Department: Monday Smackdown/Hoisted from 2015" »

Who Are the Tankies, and Why Do They Fight for Dystopia?

Il Quarto Stato

Note to Self: And, of course, the curious thing is that when the chips are down it is the authoritarianism rather than the aolition of private property that is the key: Urban Dictionary: Tankie: "The term derives from the fact that the divisions within the communist movement first arose when the Soviet Union sent tanks into communist Hungary in 1956, to crush an attempt to establish an alternative version of communism which was not embraced by the Russians. Most communists outside the eastern bloc opposed this action and criticised the Soviet Union. The 'tankies' were those who said 'send the tanks in'. The epithet has stuck because tankies also supported 'sending the tanks in' in cases such as Czechoslovakia 1968, Afghanistan 1979, Bosnia and Kosovo/a (in the case of the Serbian state)...

German classical liberal Max Weber... saw that [really existing] socialism could become nothing but a synonym for bureaucratic despotism. For:  

History shows that wherever bureaucracy gained the upper hand, as in China, Egypt, it did not disappear. A progressive elimination of private capitalism is theoretically conceivable. What would be the practical result? The destruction of the [dehumanizing] steel frame of modern industrial work? No! Simply that also the top management of the socialized enterprises would become bureaucratic. There is even less freedom, since every power struggle with a state bureaucracy is hopeless.

Continue reading "Who Are the Tankies, and Why Do They Fight for Dystopia?" »

Migration 1870-1925 and International Economic InequalityOuttake from "Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Long Twentieth Century 1870-2016

Il Quarto Stato

What did matter for inequality and upward mobility in the pre-World War I era was not trade but migration. The descendants of those who lived in Ireland at the start of the nineteenth century are, today, one of the richest groups in the world: less than half of the descendants of the Irish of 1800 live in Ireland today; instead, they are spread throughout America, Britain, and Australia, and they have prospered.

Continue reading "Migration 1870-1925 and International Economic InequalityOuttake from "Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Long Twentieth Century 1870-2016" »