Wednesday, July 18, 2018

July rants

1. Ocasio-Cortez
Trump says nonsense daily. Obama tells flat out lies. Yet a passionate new political player can send the 'twitter leftie economists’ crazy simply by answering an interview question about the unemployment rate in an ambiguous way (despite the answer as a whole having merit).

If you want to give a free pass to your enemies then keep attacking your allies.

2. Capitalism vs socialism
This whole debate is a waste of time. There is already extensive social control and ownership of the ‘means of production’ in all 'capitalist' countries (see video below). The public sector component of GDP is more than 37% in the ‘ultra capitalist’ US, while it is over 50% in many European countries. Even the apparently capitalist Singapore is, in reality, a massive socialist experiment.

Capitalism and socialism are just words you use to signal loyalty to your group, who will interpret them however they like. They don't help you lobby for specific policy changes that you think will make the world better.

3. Job guarantee vs basic income
Another case of groups with basically the same agenda undermining each other. There is nothing incompatible, technically, about these ideas. You can give everyone money unconditionally and offer anyone a job who wants it so they can earn even more money. This is what I think should be done, and we should make a big push, politically, in that direction.

One’s position on this often comes down to their moral philosophy about the value of work. Or in other words, is poverty the result of not having money, or not working for money?

This moral distinction is also important for related social questions. Do job guarantee advocates also think that offering our elderly a job is better than offering them money? Why not both?

4. Plastic straws
If our problem is plastic in the ocean making it uninhabitable of many species, I don’t see how banning straws is the solution. At best it is a distraction, and could just be an excuse for those companies or individuals going ‘strawless’ to feel good (moral licensing anyone?).

If your backyard was full of plastic would you stop buying straws? Would that fix it? Or would you get cracking on cleaning it up?

We put men on the moon. Some crazy billionaires are in a race to put us on Mars. We can spend trillions on military weapons suitable for fighting the last wars, not the next ones. How about a few billion dollars spent on ships, equipment, and manpower, to clean up our oceans and rivers? Call it ‘Ocean Force’ if it makes you feel better.

The environmental movement is plagued by these dilemmas. Should we reduce meat consumption because of the land use conflicts between grazing and native wildlife habitats? It’s easy, not effective, but provides a sense of moral superiority. Or should we organise to protect important wildlife habitats from being cleared for farming, but allow people to eat whatever they like? It’s not easy, but it’s the only thing that will work.


  1. The environmental arguments against meat eating that people make are almost always around issues other than persecuted wildlife.

    Meat a) produces more greenhouse gasses and b) uses more water for each kilojoule or gram of protein than plant based alternatives.

    Stopping a piece of plastic entering the oceans (say by not producing it) is much easier than removing it from the ocean once there. That's no to say that a plastic free ocean won't require an "Ocean Force", but it's more economically efficient to focus efforts on prevention rather than cure.

  2. I think I was being generous by talking about land use rather the greenhouse gas emissions, because it is actually not clear that producing meat is related to more greenhouse gasses than producing many vegetables on a per calorie basis (especially at the margin).

    Also, spending the money saved by not eating meat on other goods and services will also involve greenhouse gas emissions. It's just not that simple (I did a masters degree on the embodied greenhouse gas emissions from consumption choices)

    The same goes for water. A lot of meat (cattle in particular) is raised in places that simply don't have the water to support other types of agriculture. We need to think about the margins when we talk of substituting one for another - is the marginal land that would need to be used grow crops better used to raise cattle? Which is the more efficient way to use THAT water and THAT land?

  3. Job guarantee vs basic income:
    There is nothing incompatible, technically, about these ideas.

    The MMT position is that they are very different and that any income guarantee which is more than just another name for welfare is incompatible. Basically all MMT supporters are bleeding heart liberals who want to give people who need it welfare. But "giving everyone money" is very inflationary. Guaranteed jobs is if anything deflationary.

    The assertion is that theory and experience clearly demonstrates this, and that it is not a primarily a matter of moral philosophy about the value of work to the worker. I mean it is important to be clear about what the arguments of JG supporters are, why they think basic income is a foolish, at best pointless idea, even if you disagree.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      To be honest, I'm not really sure of the motivations of most MMT JG supporters. There seem to be many, with little of their economics informing their politics.

      Some make your point about inflation. But there isn't really a strong economic argument behind this for two reasons. 1) It rests on the assumption that significantly large share of people will stop working due to a basic income, and 2) if you predominantly tax rich people who already have the money the inflationary effects will be minimised.

      But many others are motivated by political economy concerns, or about the morality of work, or other reasons (such as identifying the problem they want to address as not a lack of money, but as a lack of a job, for some reason).

      The JG seems to mean many things to many people.

    2. Some make your point about inflation. But there isn't really a strong economic argument behind this for two reasons.

      Well, no. MMTers sometimes make that point (first), but they shouldn't, because it distracts too much from other extremely strong arguments that (universal) basic income is extremely inflationary, and if it is to be meaningful or honestly basic income, taxation cannot control it. That's what logic and universal experience show. #1: It is just too frigging much money. It would be nice if people could accept what is being said (though not often enough), even if they disagree. To be forthright the other way: The economic arguments that you seem to accept, that basic income is not inflationary, are specious.

      And the JG imho means exactly what it says, basically to everyone. It is "logically absurd" (Mosler) for a country to not have one. It is a very obvious human right, and the parallel institutions are universal features of all human societies except modern national capitalist states. People have made and forgotten Mosler's obvious argument that a Job Guarantee logically follows from universally accepted legal and logical principles and rights, for centuries.

      So again, the assertion is that the economics entirely informs the politics, that it is not a matter of politics or preferences. UBI-supporters or tepid JG supporters just don't understand the economics. Not having a JG is insane. Having a UBI is almost as insane. A JG is a pro-freedom bottom-up policy that puts the ordinary citizen in control as much as possible. Basic income is a top down authoritarian idea that can not and never will work. People get this backwards. There is nothing that basic income can do that cannot be done much better by other policies. And much that it does that is quite destructive.

  4. Job guarantee vs basic income:
    There is nothing incompatible, technically, about these ideas.

    Agreed, and I continue to advocate that the two strategies can be mutually reinforcing, and have an important role in creating an economy that works for people not corporations.

    As you may recall I have been a strong advocate of MMT for the last few years, but see no reason these policies cannot work together. The let question is how to integrate, how to ensure people unable to work are provided with a decent living, while also providing an incentive to work as this is crucial to building economic capacity, while also building longer term economic sustainability by creating an economy where resources are fully and sustainably utilised.

    The details of how this could work are still a work in progress but this link provides a starting point:

    Keep up your thinking and sharing...I for one have already learned a great deal from you.