Economics in Two Lessons, Chapter 7

Thanks to everyone who the first six chapters of my book, Economics in Two Lessons. That brings us to the end of Lesson 1: Market prices reflect and determine opportunity costs faced by consumers and producers.

Now its time for Lesson Two: Market prices don’t reflect all the opportunity costs we face as a society.

I’ll start with a brief intro and then the draft of Chapter 7: Property rights, and income distribution

As usual, I welcome comments, criticism and encouragement.
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Fortune favours the brave (updated)

Most of the political commentariat were convinced that Bill Shorten had got things badly wrong by announcing his policy on dividend imputation immediately before the Batman by-election. It was even more striking that, despite the pressure, Shorten didn’t cave into demands for changes to the policy. Michelle Grattan, for example, described the policy as an “own goal“. After Labor’s easy win, she backed off a little bit, but still claimed that Labor “has a selling job“. M

Maybe so, but I’d say the government is the one that has scored goals for the other side.

(Update 27/3) As predicted, Labor has tweaked the policy to exclude pensioners. That blunts the remaining lines of attack, but doesn’t cost much money, since the benefits go primarily to high-wealth self-funded (but massively tax-subsidised) retirees. By waiting until after the Batman by-election and the latest Newspoll, Labor looks gutsy (even Dennis Shanahan in the Oz conceded this) and Turnbull looks even weaker than before

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A sign of the times

Is the ball-tampering crisis:

(a) A sign of our national obsessions with sport, trivia and scandals at the expense of more important issues;
(b) A symbol of the socially corrosive and corrupting effects of neoliberalism;
(c) The End of Western Civilization As We Know It

Vote below

Grattan unreliable on electricity networks

The Grattan Institute has just released a report blaming high electricity network costs on public ownership and excessive reliability standards. I commented on a draft of the report, but there wasn’t much change in relation to my comments.

My comments are over the fold. Let me offer the following, slightly ad hominem argument. Grattan has backed the National Energy Guarantee, a radical change in Australia’s energy policy, which was justified mainly by the occurrence of a single blackout in Adelaide. Yet it asserts (without any evidence I can see) that the responses to earlier blackouts in Queensland and NSW represent unjustified “gold plating”.

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Francis Bator has died

Francis Bator, the economist who popularized the term “market failure”, has died at the age of 92 after being hit by a car. His NY Times obituary is here.

Francis’ passing is a cause of sadness for me as my book, Economics In Two Lessons draws heavily on his work from the 1950s and 1960s. He had read excerpts on Crooked Timber and corresponded with me about it, much to my surprise and delight. I was looking forward to sending him the manuscript but now I won’t get the chance.

Another High Court disaster

The High Court has done a great job in messing up Australian democracy with its absurdly literalistic reading of the Constitutional provisions on dual citizenship. It’s now added another layer of disaster with its refusal to hear Labor’s attempt to have Liberal MP David Gillespie disqualified on the basis that he rented space to an Australia Post outlet.

Of course, this case is utterly lacking in merit. Had the High Court heard it, and thrown it out without retiring for consideration, I’d be cheering them on.

In fact, however, they refused to hear the case because Labor couldn’t get the Parliament to refer the case, relying instead on a “common informer”.

So, we are now in the position where a Parliamentary majority can move to disqualify anyone on the opposing side, and the High Court will assess whether they have breached any of the byzantine rules they have constructed, rules that might potentially disqualify anyone who has ever taken money from the government, or had foreign born parents, or is Jewish, or can’t document every aspect of their ancestry back to the Paelolithic era. But if there is no such majority, it seems that there is no recourse.

What’s worse is my total confidence that there will be lots of comments explaining how the High Court has protected us from the risk that someone might serve in Parliament despite getting their paperwork wrong.

Government report cheers for wage cuts

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about stagnation in real wages and the decline of the labour share of national income. In a recent Senate Submission, I made the point that there is nothing surprising about this

For the last 40 years, changes in labour market regulation have been almost uniformly anti-union and anti-worker, while public policy has been premised on the desirability of reducing wages.

I saw an interesting (and, I suspect, largely unconscious) illustration of this in a recent report from the grandly-titled Office of the Chief Economists. Among the many benefits of economic reform, the report cited the following

How does this relate to the wage share? When real wages are growing faster than GDP per person (and assuming a constant employment/population ratio, which is reasonably accurate), the wage share of GDP is rising. When real wages are growing more slowly than GDP per person, as they have done for the past 25 years or so, the wage share is falling. Looking at the beginning and end points we can see that wage growth has been slower than GDP growth over the period as a whole So, we can restate the conclusion as

Under the labour market institutions that prevailed between 1951 and 1981, the labour share of income increased. Since then, thanks to the adoption of market based approaches, workers have lost all the ground that they gained in the postwar decades, and then some.

Economics in Two Lessons, Chapter 6

Thanks to everyone who the first five chapters of my book, Economics in Two Lessons. Now here’s the draft of Chapter 6: The opportunity cost of destruction This is the last part of the book devoted to Lesson 1 Market prices reflect and determine opportunity costs faced by consumers and producers. and the one where I agree mostly with Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. It seems particularly apposite 15 years after the beginning of the Iraq War.

As usual, I welcome comments, criticism and encouragement. I’d appreciate any comments on/ alternative suggestions for the opening quote – it’s not a perfect fit, but the best I could come up with.

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