History

Chinese authorities in the restive western region of Xinjiang have begun offering large cash incentives for interracial marriages in the latest attempt to quell growing unrest among the mainly Muslim Uighur ethnic group that inhabit the region.

The policy, celebrated by local Communist party officials as advancing the “great cause of assimilation” and “ethnic unity”, offers couples entering into mixed marriages an annual bonus of Rmb10,000 ($1,600), equivalent to 135 per cent of average annual rural incomes.

Uighurs, Mongolians and other ethnic minorities who marry people from the dominant Han race, which makes up more than 90 per cent of China’s 1.36bn population, will also be eligible for a broad range of medical, schooling and housing benefits.

There is more here, via Fabrizo Goria.

1. Bolivia became a semi-stable democracy in the early 1980s and it has stayed that way.

2. For all the rhetoric to the contrary, the current regime is a mix of 1990s-era market-oriented reforms and Evo Morales.  Probably you like one of these, though perhaps not both.

3. Many more Bolivian children go to school than before, and the incidence of malnutrition has been plummeting, with longer-run benefits for IQ.  You will read many fabricated or non-causally-backed claims about the connection between inequality and growth, but for Bolivia I believe these arguments.

4. Bolivia has done so many things wrong in the past, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit through purely internal improvements.  For instance the country is a fantastic tourist destination, but would not at this moment be experienced that way by mainstream American tourists, due to language, hotel, and infrastructure shortcomings.  Eventually those problems can be and will be solved.  Eventually.

5. Bolivia does not have much export exposure to China, and does not face much geopolitical risk.

6. Of all commodities, hydrocarbons may be relatively protected in price through the forthcoming global turmoil, because the Middle East implosion will make Bolivia’s current main resource more valuable.

7. Bolivia’s fiscal situation is surprisingly sound.

The three main reasons to be pessimistic about Bolivia are:

1. Most of their economic policy is quite bad, especially when it concerns the nationalization of foreign direct investment.  The FDI future of Bolivia will be extremely unfavorable.  The rhetoric and indeed the behavior of the government sometimes is like a villain from an Ayn Rand novel.

2. Their main trading partner is Brazil, a country which will have gone from eight percent growth to near-zero growth in but a few years time.  Argentina is either the number two or number three trade partner, along with the U.S., depending on the year in question.

3. Bolivia hasn’t done that well in the past.

Of those three reasons, #1 probably matters a bit less than you might think, and #3 a bit more.

It is much debated in Bolivia whether corruption is going up or down.  I believe it is going up, but partially for good reasons.  For instance the construction sector is doing well, and construction tends to be corrupt in many countries, for reasons intrinsic to the activity itself (e.g., lots of big contracts, easy to claim invisible expenses, etc.).  That means higher corruption but also a better corruption than the penny ante bribes of a shrinking economy.

Right now Bolivia is growing at a rate of above six percent.

By Lilia Shevtsova, this is the best essay I have read on Russia, Ukraine, and Putin.  It is difficult to excerpt, but here is one short bit:

Having flipped the global chessboard with his annexation of the Crimea and an undeclared war against Ukraine, Putin effectively ended the most recent period of interregnum and inaugurated a new era in global politics. However, no one yet knows what this era will bring. The global community is still reeling in shock, when it isn’t trying to pretend that nothing extraordinary has in fact occurred. This denial of the fact that the Kremlin has dealt a blow to conventional ideas, stable geopolitical constructs, and (supposedly) successful policies proceeds from the natural instinct for self-preservation. It is also quite natural that the political forces that have grown accustomed to the status quo will try to look to the past for answers to new challenges—this is precisely what those who were unprepared for a challenge always do. It was easy enough to predict that many politicians and political analysts would explain what Putin has done to the global order by using Cold War analogies. Drawing these historical parallels is potentially useful in only one respect: if they help us to see what is truly new about the current situation, and the scale of the risks involved.

Read the whole thing.

A very nice talk by Robert Litan on the contributions of economists and economic ideas to the internet economy:

Love in the old East Germany

by on August 30, 2014 at 2:14 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

The East German woman had a job, was economically independent, self-confident, and divorce-happy; at a time when only 50 percent of West German women made their own money, 90 percent of women in East Germany were employed.

…the East German woman didn’t consider her male partner an enemy but rather a partner who, economically speaking, had little or nothig on her.  Indeed, the average East German man, unless he had managed to gin a foothold in the regime’s upper echelons — but what woman would want a man like that? — wasn’t in a position to boast any typically macho privileges.  He couldn’t show off with money, fast cars, or a house on Ibiza.  he had to rely on his potential talent as a lover and his qualities as a father and partner.  As a result, he tended to cultivate a rather “soft” masculine image.

…And, on top of all this: the suppression of free movement in public in East Germany had led both sexes to develop a relatively uninhibited attitude toward sex.  What other unregulatable pastime did East Germany have to offer its citizens?

That is from the newly translated book by Peter Schneider, Berlin Now: The City After the Wall.  Much of that passage makes sense, but one part confuses me:  does “rely on his potential talent as a lover” support or contradict “cultivate a “soft” masculine image”?

It seems to be economic policy orientation toward Europe or Russia, and not either language or ethnicity.  Here is a new paper by Timothy Frye:

Language, ethnicity, and policy orientation toward Europe are key cleavages in Ukrainian politics, but there is much debate about their relative importance. To isolate the impact of candidate ethnicity, candidate native language, and candidate policy orientation on a hypothetical vote choice, I conducted a survey experiment of 1000 residents of Ukraine in June 2014 that manipulated three features of a fictional candidate running for parliament: 1) ethnicity as revealed by either a Russian or Ukrainian name 2) native language of Russian or Ukrainian and 3) support for closer economic ties with Russia or with Europe. The results reveal little difference in the average response to these 8 fictitious candidates despite the candidate’s different ethnicities, native language, and economic policy orientations. This seeming homogeneity masks vast differences in the responses of self-reported native speakers of Russian and Ukrainian. Analyzing the responses among Ukrainian and among Russian speakers yields considerable differences in the responses to the different candidates. Perhaps most striking is that among both native speakers of Russian and native speakers of Ukrainian a candidate’s economic policy orientation toward Europe or Russia appears to be a more important determinant of vote choice than a candidate’s language or ethnicity. That policy retains its importance for voters despite the intense politicization of both ethnicity and language and ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine suggests that vote choice in Ukraine has not been reduced to an ethnic or linguistic census.

Hat tip goes to www.bookforum.com.

David M. Levy and Sandra J. Peart have unearthed some very valuable, hitherto undiscovered material in the history of economic and political thought, as well as the history of American philanthropy.  I have followed this paper through several drafts, with great enthusiasm, and am pleased to report it is now on-line.  The abstract is here:

In 1960 the Thomas Jefferson Center [TJC] of the University of Virginia applied for a “massive” grant from the Ford Foundation. Although James Buchanan, Warren Nutter and Ronald Coase had all received grants from Ford, Ford turned down their proposal because of the Center’s unified “point of view.” We report on correspondence and private discussions of the events. Following the submission of their proposal, Buchanan, Nutter and then President of UVA, Edgar Shannon met with representatives of the Ford Foundation, Tom Carroll and Kermit Gordon. Buchanan concluded that the “reaction of the Ford representatives must be considered to have been almost wholly negative.” The crux of the matter, in Gordon’s assessment was the TJC reflected “a single ‘point of view’.” As the conversation unfolded, it became clear to the UVA representatives that by this the Foundation officials meant a narrow ideological perspective, one in line with Chicago-style economics. Buchanan attempted to dispel this conclusion, arguing that the program was “sufficiently broad” to “encompass wide and divergent points of view.” Coase was particularly incensed by allegation of ideological narrowness since, as he explained, he had close ties to the Fabian Society. Despite the attempts of both Coase and Buchanan to defend their proposal, Ford officials turned down the application and the TJC never fully recovered.

This is what they call “real history.”  In my version of this story, of course, the Virginia School, Coase, Buchanan, and Tullock were the good guys, as was demonstrated by their subsequent research record.

The actual title is Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae: A Biography.  I enjoyed this book and learned a good deal from it, here is one excerpt:

…understanding the Summa as based on the cycle of emanation and return helps tie much of Thomas’s theological work together, from the Writing on the Sentences to the Summa.  In his earliest synthesis Thomas had already referred to the coming forth from and return of all things to God as a key theological principle…

For Thomas this circular motion reveals god’s sapiential ordering on the most universal level.  To think of the exitus-reditus model as primarily philosophical and Neoplatonic, as some have argued, is a modern view that Thomas would not have shared.  What else does scripture teach but how all things were created by God and are directed back to him as their final goal?

You can order the book here.

Not just an economic slowdown, but actual, ongoing consistent negative economic growth.  In my latest NYT column at The Upshot, I argue for some economies it may happen that living standards fall over the course of a few decades:

In 1750, India accounted for one-quarter of the world’s manufacturing output, but by 1900 that was down to 2 percent. The West became more productive as a result of the Industrial Revolution, and India lost much of its leading export sector, textiles. While the data is fragmentary, the best estimates show that India’s living standards declined through the middle of the 19th century and that its economy retrogressed, even as it borrowed some technological improvements from the West. India just didn’t do enough to move toward production on a larger scale or with better machines.

This story of India’s loss to foreign competition is documented in “Deindustrialization in 18th and 19th Century India,” a paper by David Clingingsmith, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University, and Jeffrey G. Williamson, an emeritus professor of economics at Harvard.

Economists are accustomed to emphasizing the benefits of international trade, and these arguments are largely correct. But in India, internal regulations and underdevelopment, combined with British colonial depredations, prevented Indian resources from being redeployed productively. The lesson is that a sufficiently large international trade shock can lead to decades of economic decline in a major economy, especially if that economy isn’t geared to mounting a flexible response.

As I explain in the piece, the most likely economies to undergo sustained negative growth today are Italy, France, Croatia, Greece, Portugal, and possibly Taiwan.  We should be more optimistic about the United States, but still a similar logic is applying to some parts of our middle class.

Here is my concluding paragraph:

India’s economy started to reindustrialize in the late 19th century, but growth remained subpar until the 1990s — a truly long recovery lag. This may sound strange to say, but when it comes to some parts of the Western world, the Great Depression may offer the cheerier analogy.

Read the whole thing.

From The Growth Economics Blog:

There’s a recent working paper by Alexandra de Pleijt and Jacob Weisdorf that looks at skill composition of the English workforce from 1550 through 1850. They do this by looking at the occupational titles recorded in English parish records over that period, and code each observed worker by the skill associated with their occupation. They use the standardized Dictionary of Occupational Titles to infer the skill level for any given occupation. For example, a wright is a high-skilled manual laborer, a tailor is medium-skilled, while a weaver is a low-skilled manual laborer.

The big upshot to their paper is that there was substantial de-skilling over this period, driven mainly by a shift in the composition of manual laborers. In 1550, only about 25% of all manual laborers are unskilled (think ditch-diggers), while 75% are either low- or medium-skilled (weavers or tailors). However, over time there is a distinct growth in the the unskilled as a fraction of manual laborers, reaching 45% by 1850, while the low- and medium-skilled fall to 55% in the same period. You can see in their figure 10 that this shift really starts to take place by 1650, while before the traditional start of the Industrial Revolution.

Looking at more refined measures, de Pleijt and Weisdorf find that the fraction of workers classified as “high-quality workmen” – carpenters, joiners, wrights, turners – rose only from 3.9% to 4.9% of the workforce between 1550 and 1850.

Adjustment to major technological shocks takes a long time…

*Gaza: A History*

by on August 22, 2014 at 12:27 pm in Books, History | Permalink

That is the new book by Jean-Pierre Filiu, Oxford University Press.  It would not have come right now unless I were supposed to read it on the plane, so I will.

I loved the Michael Hofmann review of Stephen Parker’s Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life in the 15 August 2014 Times Literary Supplement.  Every paragraph of that review is a gem and Hofmann calls the book perhaps the greatest literary biography he has read.  I’ve ordered my copy.

Here is one part of that review, toward the end, which caught my eye:

I’m not really sure what the case against Brecht is.  That he treated women and co-workers badly?  That he played fast and loose with the intellectual property of others, but was litigiously possessive of his own?  That he wrote no more hit shows after The Threepenny Opera?  That he failed to crack America?  That he wouldn’t denounce the Soviet Union?  That he was drab and a killjoy?  That he had it cushy after settling back in East Germany in 1949?  That he was consumed with his own importance?

Perhaps the Parker book will change my mind, but for now file under “All of the Above.”

Addendum: Here is another superb Michael Hofmann review.

There is a new paper out by them:

Thomas Piketty’s recent book, Capital in the Twenty First Century, follows in the tradition of the great classical economists, Malthus, Ricardo and Marx, in formulating “general” laws to diagnose and predict the dynamics of inequality. We argue that all of these general laws are unhelpful as a guide to understand the past or predict the future, because they ignore the central role of political and economic institutions in shaping the evolution of technology and the distribution of resources in a society. Using the economic and political histories of South Africa and Sweden, we illustrate not only that the focus on the share of top incomes gives a misleading characterization of the key determinants of societal inequality, but also that inequality dynamics are closely linked to institutional factors and their endogenous evolution, much more than the forces emphasized in Piketty’s book, such as the gap between the interest rate and the growth rate.

For the pointer I thank Nathaniel Bechhofer.

For context, CAPE is the cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio.  On that topic, 3rdMoment writes:

While I have great respect for Shiller, I don’t understand his confidence that the CAPE is likely to return to it’s historical average of around 16. There are several reasons why we might expect the average CAPE going forward to be higher than in the past:

1. The average levels of CAPE in most of the last century appear, with hindsight, to have been puzzlingly low. This is the well-known “equity premium puzzle.”

2. There has been a large shift in corporate payout mix, from virtually all dividends in the past, to a roughly equal mix of dividends and share repurchases today. This by itself will add a couple of points to CAPE even if nothing else changes, (as shown in this post by the anonymous blogger who tweets as “Jesse Livermore”): http://www.philosophicaleconomics.com/2013/12/Shiller/

3. Some other accounting changes to the definition of profits might raise the CAPE as well, again see the linked blog post above.

4. Lower information and transaction costs and the rise of index investing have dramatically lowered the cost of maintaining a globally diversified portfolio. This decreases the raw rate of return for any given required rate of realized returns. For example if the costs of investing in equities fall by just 50 basis points, this would allow the required raw earnings yield to fall from 5% to 4.5%, corresponding to a rise in CAPE from 20 to 22, without changing realized returns for investors.

5. The real “risk free” return on treasuries seems to be very low by historic standards. Real returns on other forms of debt also appear low. This lowers the return stocks need to be attractive by comparison.

6. Large corporate cash balances, a “global savings glut,” lower rates of real economic growth, possible “secular stagnation,” all seem to point to the idea that real returns are somewhat harder to get than the past.

Some of these reasons are more certain than others, but taken together they seem to show that we have good reason to expect CAPE levels significantly above the historical average going forward.

Are there any countervailing reasons offsetting the list above, factors that would tend to make CAPE lower than in the past? I can’t really think of any. And I haven’t seen anybody else offering any.

Nine million Americans took a week off in July 1976, the peak month each year for summer travel. Yet in July 2014, just seven million did. Keeping in mind that 60 million more Americans have jobs today than in 1976, that adds up to a huge decline in the share of workers taking vacations.

Some rough calculations show, in fact, that about 80 percent of workers once took an annual weeklong vacation — and now, just 56 percent do.

That is from Evan Soltas, there is more here.  And Evan offers a bit more here.