Results for “piketty”
171 found

Most of the 19th century was a good time for equality (Department of Ahem…)

From “Real Inequality in Europe Since 1500,” (pdf) by Philip T. Hoffman, David Jacks, Patricia A. Levin, and Peter H. Lindert:

Introducing a concept of real, as opposed to nominal, inequality of income or wealth suggests some historical reinterpretations, buttressed by a closer look at consumption by the rich. The purchasing powers of different income classes depend on how relative prices move. Relative prices affected real inequality more strongly in earlier centuries than in the twentieth. Between 1500 and about 1800, staple food and fuels became dearer, while luxury goods, especially servants, became cheaper, greatly widening the inequality of lifestyles. Peace, industrialization, and globalization reversed this inegalitarian price effect in the nineteenth century, at least for England.

If you have been following the recent debates over Thomas Piketty, you might have come away with…um…the opposite impression.  The emphasis there is added by this blogger. As for other countries:

Thus the great grain globalization of the late nineteenth century favored workers’ relative purchasing power in food-importing Western Europe, though not in food-exporting areas.

By the way here is Scott Sumner on consumption inequality.

For the pointer I thank John Nye.

Assorted links

1. Do customer ratings of restaurants award authenticity for its own sake?  And negative reviews as a way of coping with service-related trauma.

2. A criticism of Kurzweil.

3. Korean food in old Seoul.

4. How economically geared up is Russia for war?

5. UK housing prices are looking scary.

6. Do not ban chocolate milk.  And claims about cat cognition (speculative).

7. Robert Solow’s guide to Piketty.  And Kling on Solow on Piketty is completely correct.

Copyright is Out of Control

I have written about patent and copyright law primarily from the perspective of an economist interested in the institutions and incentives that maximize innovation. As a textbook author, however, I must deal with copyright law in practice. Dealing with copyright law on the ground hasn’t caused me to change my views but it has made me more frustrated. I have also come to appreciate some of the subtler costs of the system. Two cases in point.

A lot of textbooks hire a photo editor to pick generic stock photos, this simplifies things because the bundlers pre-authorize permissions and prices. But we hand picked every photo in our book to illustrate a point which means that our permissions and legal staff often have to find owners and clear permissions on an individual basis. We are grateful that our publisher is willing to do this to produce a quality product but it sometimes leads to absurdities. For example, the publisher doesn’t like to use public domain images. Why not? What could be better than free? The problem is that the bundlers insulate a publisher from lawsuits but when we use a public domain image the publisher is open to lawsuit if a mistake has been made and that makes them fearful.

The general lesson is that strong IP shrinks the public domain not just because it keeps things out of the public domain but also because it makes the public domain appear to be uncertain and dangerous. It’s as if clean, mountain spring water were freely available but people bought from the bottlers instead out of fear of contamination.

Copyright law is one of the forces behind the rise of the mega-bundlers. Mega-bundlers benefit from economies of scale in cataloging IP but there are also economies of scale in dealing with the legal system and insuring against/for lawsuit. It’s probably no accident that two of the largest bundlers, Corbis and Getty, are owned by Bill Gates and (Getty heir), Mark Getty respectively. (FYI, Piketty should have said more about this kind of 21st century rentier in Capital).

Here is another example. To illustrate the point that, contrary to what is often argued, a rich person might get more from another dollar than a poor person we have in Modern Principles a movie still of Scrooge McDuck swimming in money. We think the image speaks for itself but apparently that is a problem. The rights to the photo are–we are told–not the same as the rights to the characters shown within the photo. Thus, even though we have bought and paid for the right to print the photo, to ensure that the use of the characters within the photo falls under fair use we must discuss, comment on and critique the content of the photo in the text. 

The distinction between the photo IP and the what’s in the photo IP is one only a lawyer could appreciate, as is the solution. And I mean that without irony. I am not critiquing our publisher or their lawyers. Bear in mind that this is coming to us from the very highest legal counsel of a multi-billion dollar firm. Thus, I do not doubt that the dangers are real and the legal analysis acute. The problem is copyright law itself.

The episode illustrates more generally how the complexity of copyright law has greatly elevated the power of lawyers. It’s no accident that the permissions director is one of the few people at our publisher whose signature is absolutely necessary before our book, or any book, can be published. 

I am reminded of Mancur Olson’s 9th implication in The Rise and Decline of Nations:

The accumulation of distributional coalitions increases the complexity of regulation, the role of government, and the complexity of understandings, and changes the direction of social evolution.

Assorted links

1. Do you beam with pride or get upset at this article about young, rich philanthropists being courted by the White House?

2. Profile of Thomas Piketty.

3. As a kid I enjoyed Dodgeball.  I still remember me and Jimmy Wainwright being the last two guys on the floor.  (Sadly, Jimmy caught my rather unconvincing fifth grade toss.)   This article calls it “America’s most demonized sport,” but they don’t seem to have heard of the game we used to call “Kill the guy with the ball.”

4. CDs vs. vinyl, I say CDs have higher average quality but vinyl has higher peaks for the very best classical music.

5. Why do economics majors earn so much?  And economics humor.

6. Are babies a performance-enhancing drug?

How to read (any book like) Capital in the Twenty-First Century?

Mike, a loyal MR reader, asks me:

How do you recommend approaching a book like Capital in the Twenty-First Century?  I’m a reasonably smart guy, undergrad econ, ee, mba from good schools, somewhat well read, etc., but the density, length and relative subjectivity(?) of Piketty’s topic has me hesitant.

Do I start with the reviews or another book(s), dive right in or find a discussion group (usually lucky if anyone actually reads even part it).  Maybe I approach it like the bible, one paragraph at a time over several years 🙂

For truly serious books, I recommend the following.  Read it once, straight through, with a minimum of fuss.  If you get truly, totally stuck on some point, which the rest of the book depends upon, find somebody to ask.  Otherwise just keep on plowing straight through.

Then write a review of the book.  Or jot down your notes, but in any case force yourself to take definite stances by putting words down on paper (or screen).

Then reread the book carefully, because now you know what you are looking for.  Revise what you wrote.

Of course only a few books a year (if that many) need to be read this way.

Starting by reading reviews of the book is fine for most people, but usually I prefer not to.  I read just enough of reviews to discern whether I wish to read the book (or watch the movie) at all.  Then I stop reading the review, as I do not wish to be contaminated by the reviewer’s perspective and I feel I usually have enough background to make sense of the book without the assistance.  I intend no slight toward reviewers, but the whole point of the reading/review process is to get some independent draws from the urn rather than a cascade of overly mutually influenced opinion.  That said, I recommend this “skip reviews” approach only to people who read a great deal very seriously.

Reading groups can be useful to either a) force you to read a book you won’t otherwise pick up, b) force you to defend your point of view on a book, or c) induct you into knowing a book really really well when currently you only know the book well.  Or, most of all, d) bond a group of people together.  All that is fine.  But I don’t see readings groups as very useful for simply “reading books.”  As Robin Hanson might say, readings groups aren’t about reading, or for that matter books.

Few people can stay interested reading one paragraph a day from a book.  One underrated virtue of fast reading is that you make enough progress to keep yourself interested and this also can improve comprehension.

Assorted links

1. Scott Winship reviews Piketty.  And Kevin Hassett on Piketty.

2. Why should there be deflation in Sweden?

3. Why is the singing of the national anthem so much better for hockey?

4. Liberalism unrelinquished, a project headed by Daniel Klein to reclaim the use of this word.  They are looking for signers.

5. Professional actor reading a Yelp review.

6. Will health care spending balloon again?

Assorted links

1. Praying and fasting at high latitudes.  And how charismatic was Jesus?

2. A brief look at Modinomics.  And here.  And how can we reduce deaths on Indian railway tracks? (scroll down a bit to reach that discussion)

3. Modern Russian cancer ward?  The general topic of pain relief is one of the most neglected in public policy and it requires more deregulation in the United States as well.

4. Dutch “glow in the dark” roads.

5. Amazon seems to be proceeding with drone plans.  And what are the best options for regulatory reform?, by Philip A. Wallach.

6. The earnings of economics majors.

7. James K. Galbraith writes a Cambridge critique of Piketty.  A good and interesting piece, one of the best reviews.

Assorted links

1. How the Japanese are reengineering (and improving) on American culture.

2. Viagra ice cream markets in everything.

3. Insights into Vox.com and how it views its competitors.  And here is Joshua Gans on Vox.

4. Philippe Legrain, European Spring, a useful and well-written popular look at the European economic mess, $2.99 on Kindle.

5. I call it the Thomas Piketty clothing line.  (The important point, however, is that Zara is much more important these days and that militates against Piketty.)  Here Diane Coyle reviews Piketty.

6. Chrystia Freeland dialogue with Larry Summers, starts at about 40:00.  It is the best Larry video I have viewed.  Here is a Sendhil Mullainathan talk on machine learning which I have not viewed.

7. Mohamed El-Arian is now writing for Bloomberg.

8. The new academic celebrity.

Matt Rognlie on secular stagnation

In the comments of Askblog, Matt writes:

…the “secular stagnation” hypothesis is in dire need of some cogent back-of-the-envelope estimates, and I don’t think it holds up very well. A long-term fall in the average real interest rate from, say, 2% to -1%, would be absolutely extraordinary. It would imply massive increases in the valuation of long-lived, inelastically supplied assets like land, and massive increases in the quantity of long-lived, elastically supplied capital like structures.

Just to illustrate how extreme the implications can be, consider the following (sloppy) calculation. The BEA’s average depreciation rate for private structures is currently about 2.5%. A decline in the real interest rate from 2% to -1% implies a decline in user cost r+delta from 4.5% to 1.5%, of a factor of three. If the demand for structures is unit elastic (as economists, unjustifiably from an empirical standpoint, tend to assume with Cobb-Douglas functional forms), this would imply a threefold increase in the steady-state quantity. Since structures are already 175% of GDP, this would imply an additional increase of 350% of GDP, more than doubling the overall private capital stock and nearly doubling national net worth. The transition to this level would require such an extraordinary, prolonged investment boom that we would not face slack demand for many, many years.

(There are many things wrong with this calculation, but even an effect a fraction of this size serves my point, especially when you keep in mind that land values would be skyrocketing as well. The bottom line is that proponents of secular stagnation have not yet contended with some of the basic numbers.)

There is more here.  That is via David Beckworth.

I am still waiting for a model of secular stagnation that rationalizes both a negative real interest rate and positive investment, which indeed we are observing in most countries circa 2014.  That means, by the way, I don’t quite agree with Matt’s sentence “The transition to this level would require such an extraordinary, prolonged investment boom that we would not face slack demand for many, many years.”  There are some “reasoning from a price change” issues floating around in the background here.  Is it the productivity of just new capital that has fallen to bring the natural interest rate to negative one?  Or the rate of return on old capital too, in which case the value of the extant capital stock is not given by the calculation in question?  Tough stuff, but you know where the burden of proof lies.  Can this all fit together with the fact that nominal gdp is now well above its pre-crash peak?  And that we are seeing positive net investment?  In any case I agree with Matt’s broader point that the implied magnitudes here don’t seem to fit the facts or even to come close.

Speaking of Piketty (or did I mean to write “speaking of Scott Sumner?”), Scott has a question:

…here’s what confuses me.  Some of the reviews seem to imply that Piketty argues that real rate of return on capital represents the rate at which the wealth of the upper classes grow.  Is that right?  If so, what is the basis of that argument?  I don’t think anyone seriously expects the grandchildren of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett to be 10 times as wealthy as they are.

*The Transformation of the World*

The author is Jürgen Osterhammel and the subtitle is A Global History of the Nineteenth Century.  The book’s home page is here.  Piketty’s tome is French and this one is…um…German.  Very German.  Translated from the German.  Imagine a 1165 pp. German Braudel-like take on the importance of the 19th century and here you go.

I was expecting a review copy but I saw a bookstore which put it out prematurely and so I spent $40 to give you all advance notice and read it sooner myself.  That is an endorsement of sorts, but also a confession of my own weak discipline.

So far I am on p.44 and I plan to continue.  I learned for instance that:

In continental Europe, Norway was the first country to have a free press (from 1814); Belgium and Switzerland joined it around 1830, and Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands by 1848.

My final verdict is not yet in, but I suppose the bottom line is that I expect to have a final verdict.