Current Affairs

This is perhaps today’s underreported news story:

Catalonia’s regional government said Tuesday it was suspending its promotion of an independence referendum, a day after a decision by Spain’s Constitutional Court blocking the nonbinding vote.

Catalonia’s leaders still hoped to hold the vote on Nov. 9, said spokesman Francesc Homs, but meanwhile they are halting the campaign for the referendum to avoid subjecting public servants to possible legal liability for defying the court.

There is more here.  Here is an El Pais in English story about how they hope to fight back and continue anyway, but it sounds like a losing cause.  Here is a story on a protest march to defend the referendum idea.  Developing…

I see a whole bunch of candidates here, each backed by a broadly plausible psychological story:

1. They are more ruthless than we realize.

2. They are more like us than we realize.

2b. #1 and #2.

3. They have longer time horizons than we imagine.

4. Due to extreme political constraints, they have far shorter time horizons than we think.

5. They are more inured to the risk of economic depression and hardship than we grasp.

6. They are more obsessed with parallels to earlier Chinese history than a typical Westerner would find natural.

7. They are less rational than social science rational choice models would predict, having one or two major blind spots on matters of critical importance.

8. The Chinese see themselves as weaker and less stable than we see them.

9. All of the above.

10. Good luck.

A poll last week by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed that 46.3% of the city’s residents opposed Occupy Central while 31.3% supported it. But the group has more support among the young. According to the poll, 47% of people under 24 back Occupy Central compared with 20.9% of those ages 40-59.

There is more here.

Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a plan to ditch the country’s all-private health insurance system and create a state-run scheme, exit polls showed.

Some 64 percent of the electorate shot down a plan pushed by left-leaning parties who say the current system is busting the budgets of ordinary residents, figures from polling agency gfs.bern showed.

Going public would have been a seismic shift for a country whose health system is often hailed abroad as a model of efficiency, but is a growing source of frustration at home because of soaring costs.

“Over the past 20 years in Switzerland, health costs have grown 80 percent and insurance premiums 125 percent,” ophthalmologist Michel Matter told AFP.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Samir Varma.

HongKongshare

That is from Ian Bremmer on Twitter.

The game-theoretic dynamic of such situations is of course not always a happy one.  Pro-semi-autonomy views in Hong Kong feel desperate and are losing leverage.  China feels it can play tough, because it sees it is gaining influence.  And the equilibrium is…?

We’re again seeing the return of magical thinking in the economics profession and elsewhere.  Limiting climate change is indeed worth doing, but it is not close to a free lunch.  Eduardo Porter makes the relevant point quite nicely:

“If the Chinese and the Indians found it much more economically efficient to build out solar, nuclear and wind, why are they still building all these coal plants?” asked Ted Nordhaus, chairman of the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank focused on development and the environment.

China’s CO2 emissions increased 4.2 percent last year, according to the Global Carbon Project, helping drive a global increase of 2.3 percent. China now accounts for 28 percent of the world’s total emissions, more than the United States and the European Union combined.

“I don’t think the Chinese and the Indians are stupid,” Mr. Nordhaus told me. “They are looking at their indigenous energy resources and energy demand and making fairly reasonable decisions.”

For them, combating climate change does not look at all like a free lunch.

Note that doing something about air pollution and doing something about carbon emissions are two distinct issues.  America did a great deal to clean up its air, for instance when it comes to the dangerous Total Particulate Matter, but has done much less to lower its carbon emissions.  It is no accident that the former is a national public good, the latter is mainly a global public good.  China, India, and other developing nations may well go a similar route and simply keep emitting carbon at high and perhaps even growing rates.   If you lump everything together into a general “the benefits of getting rid of air pollution,” you will be missing that nations can and probably will make targeted clean-up attempts that leave carbon emissions largely intact.

By the way, here is yesterday’s report from India:

“India’s first task is eradication of poverty,” Mr. Javadekar said, speaking in a New York hotel suite a day after a United Nations climate summit. “Twenty percent of our population doesn’t have access to electricity, and that’s our top priority. We will grow faster, and our emissions will rise.”

India is the world’s third-largest carbon polluter, behind China and the United States, and Mr. Javadekar’s comments are a first indication of the direction of the environmental policies of the new prime minister, Narendra Modi…

In coming decades, as India works to provide access to electricity to more than 300 million people, its emissions are projected to double, surpassing those of the United States and China.

If you haven’t tried crossing the street in India, you don’t know much about how hard it is to fix the problem of carbon emissions.

Why not just fire them or cut their pay?  As you may know, ESPN just suspended Bill Simmons for three weeks.

One possibility is that a fined but still active worker may continue to “shoot off his mouth” and thus increase the ongoing collateral damage.  (Simmons called the NFL commissioner a “liar” and I believe he works for one of the network’s revenue sources.)  The suspension is a kind of cooling off period.

Another possibility is that ESPN wishes to shift the long-run bargaining equilibrium.  They wish to signal to Simmons that he isn’t as valuable to them as he may think he is, in the hope of either cutting his pay relative to trend or inducing him to be more careful with his future words.  They wish to show they can go without his output for three weeks, without (perhaps) a major loss of business.  Fining him would not shift the long-run balance of power in the same manner because ESPN is continuing to rely on the traffic which Simmons brings in and thus signaling that they really need him.

I do not know if the suspension is with or without pay, but a version of the above argument can work either way, with some modifications required.

If I were the commissioner, I would be insulted by the suspension of Simmons.  It suggests these are words which cannot be said, perhaps because they will elicit audience assent.  The suspension also signals that ESPN regards the commissioner as quite thin-skinned and presumably — especially if he is indeed thin-skinned! — he could be offended by that too.

In sticky nominal wage models, it remains an interesting question why more workers are not suspended rather than fired outright.  Indeed this used to be closer to the norm in many manufacturing labor markets.

Pan-national borrowers such as the European Investment Bank, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank have raised $219bn on global debt markets so far this year, the largest sum raised year to date since records began, according to data from Dealogic.

From Elaine Moore at the FT, there is more here.   The world as a whole of course is richer than ever before, most of all in the emerging economies, so I do not take this borrowing to be an encouraging sign.

Indian average is over

by on September 23, 2014 at 8:28 am in Current Affairs, Data Source, Economics | Permalink

The richer states have, on average, experienced relatively faster per capita GDP growth than the poorer states, despite the strong performance of low income states such as Bihar, Orissa and Uttarakhand. The reality is that the pace at which richer states are pulling away appears to be increasing.

That is from David Keohane at the FT, two excellent maps at the link as well.

Just hours after Scotland voted “no” to independence from the United Kingdom, Catalonia’s regional parliament announced on Friday that it had passed a law, which Catalan leaders say authorizes them to hold a non-binding “consultation” on independence from Spain in November.

The law was passed with a vote of 106 to 28.

Spain’s central government and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, however, categorically oppose Catalonia’s campaign for a referendum, as the Spanish constitution doesn’t allow referendums that don’t include all Spaniards.

There is more here, and much more here.  My view is that we’ve been getting lucky on these European political events — in relative though not absolute terms — and sooner or later that streak of good fortune is bound to end.

The excellent Kevin Lewis points us to a new paper in Science by Patrick Gerland, et.al.:

The United Nations recently released population projections based on data until 2012 and a Bayesian probabilistic methodology. Analysis of these data reveals that, contrary to previous literature, world population is unlikely to stop growing this century. There is an 80% probability that world population, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100. This uncertainty is much smaller than the range from the traditional UN high and low variants. Much of the increase is expected to happen in Africa, in part due to higher fertility and a recent slowdown in the pace of fertility decline. Also, the ratio of working age people to older people is likely to decline substantially in all countries, even those that currently have young populations.

The paper is here, gated for some of you.   A variety of summaries and forms of coverage can be found here.  That is good news for those who buy into Julian Simon, bad news for those worried about environmental sustainability.

The Obama administration on Thursday announced measures to tackle the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, outlining a national strategy that includes incentives to spur the development of new drugs, tighter stewardship of existing ones and a national tracking system for antibiotic-resistant illness. The actions are part of the first major federal effort to confront a public health crisis that takes at least 23,000 lives a year.

The full story is here.

The Hill has more detail.  It is an executive order:

The president’s directive creates the Task Force for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, co-chaired by the secretaries of Defense, Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

The group is charged with implementing a plan to track and prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, promote better practices for the use of current drugs and push for a new generation of antibiotic medications.

To that end, the White House on Thursday announced a $20 million prize “to facilitate the development of rapid, point-of-care diagnostic tests for healthcare providers to identify highly resistant bacterial infections.”

The added incentive and the timeframe given to the task force indicate the urgency with which the administration is acting, said Dr. Eric Lander, who co-chairs the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

“This is a pretty tight timeline to now come up with a national game plan,” Lander said.

There is also this:

In December, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled a plan to phase out the use of antimicrobials for the purpose of fattening chickens, pigs or other animals destined for human consumption. But the plan relies in part on voluntary industry cooperation, and advocates argue the government’s efforts are lagging behind even some industry players.

Here is the new full 78 pp. report to the President on antibiotic resistance (pdf).

This initiative — or its failure — is potentially a more important health issue than Obamacare, yet it will not receive 1/1000th of the attention.  Without reliable antibiotics, a lot of now-routine operations would become a kind of lottery.

Here are previous MR posts on antibiotic resistance.  I would note it is difficult to judge such a plan at the current level of detail.  It is better than nothing, but any initial plan is going to be not nearly enough, relative to an ideal.  By the way, Alex tells me there is also a British prize, discussed here.

Ireland’s economy is now growing at its fastest rate in seven years, according to the latest Quarterly National Accounts.

The figures, published this morning by the Central Statistics Office, show the economy expanded by 7.7 per cent in GDP terms in the year to the end of June.

This is the strongest rate of annualised growth recorded in the economy since early 2007.

The Irish Times story is here, there is more detail here.

Colombia extends its wealth tax

by on September 17, 2014 at 11:03 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Law | Permalink

Colombia is one of the world’s most unequal societies. Last week, the government of Juan Manuel Santos, who began his second term as president in August, announced the extension of a wealth tax introduced in 2002 to pay for the mounting costs of the country’s 50 year drug-fuelled guerrilla war.

“In that sense, we are actually ahead of the curve of what Piketty proposes,” says Mr Cárdenas.

…“This touches only 50,000 Colombians out of the entire population” of 48m people, he says, “that is less than 1 per cent of the population.”

President Santos himself is a product of that 1 per cent. A US-educated economist and member of a wealthy family of the Colombian establishment, he heads up a centrist administration, not a Venezuela-style leftist regime.

Mr Santos has increased rates for various tranches of the levy, in some cases by 50 per cent. Those with a net worth of between $510,000 and $1.5m must pay a 0.4 per cent tax. The rate rises to 2.25 per cent for net worth above $4m. That applies to 45,000 businesses and about 1,000 individuals, Mr Cárdenas said.

Only about five percent of Columbians actually pay into the standard income tax system.  The FT piece by Andres Schipani is here.

Many political unions subsist on creative ambiguity.  That is, if the right question were posed, and the citizenry forced to answer it definitely, political order might spin out of control.

Canada, Belgium, and indeed the entire European Union seem to be organized on this basis.  It’s not quite that everyone thinks they are getting their way, but rather explicit concessions are not demanded for each loss of control embodied in the broader system.  Certain rights are held in reserve, with the expectation that they probably will not be exercised, but they can nonetheless influence the final bargaining equilibrium.

Most international treaties rely on some degree of creative ambiguity, as do most central banks, with their semi-promises of bailouts but “not too much not too certain you know” as the default.  You might like the mandated outcome (or not), but I doubt if it would improve political discourse in the United States to have an explicit thumbs up vs. thumbs down referendum on abortion.

Many partnerships and marriages rely on creative ambiguity too.  Should the Beatles have forced Lennon and McCartney to specify who had the final say over each cut?  That probably would have led to a split in 1968 and there would be no Abbey Road.  Must parties to a marriage specify the entire division of chores and responsibilities in advance?

We find the same in many academic departments.  Things can be going along just fine, but once the department has to write out an explicit plan for future growth and the allocation of slots across different fields or methods, all hell breaks loose.

Question posers and agenda setters have great power.

All praises of democracy must be embedded in a broader understanding that a) formal questions can be destructive, and b) we cannot be allowed to pose questions without limit, at least not questions which require explicit, publicly verifiable, and commonly observed answers.

Once a question is posed very explicitly, and in a manner which requires a clear answer, it is hard to take it off the table.  There is thus an option value to holding these questions in reserve, which means that the expected return from the question has to be pretty high to justify changing the agenda in a hard-to-revoke manner.

I am thus not impressed by claims that a “yes” vote for Scottish independence would represent “the democratic will of the people.”  It might just be a question which should not be asked in such a blatant form.

This article, by the way, argues quite well that the current independence referendum is not really democratic at all.  Who gets to vote, and who not, is quite arbitrary.  Maybe they first should have held a referendum on that?