Why Taxation Is Not Theft

Just as all political debates inevitably end with someone making a Hitler comparison, all debates with libertarians sooner or later involve the claim that taxation is theft. It doesn’t matter whether you are discussing the welfare state, universal healthcare or a TV licence, at some point a libertarian will accuse the government of acting like the mafia and stealing people’s money (just the last day a commenter asked me to “stop promoting the use of force against me or my family“, by which he meant don’t regulate bitcoin). Of course we all know this argument is melodramatic hyperbole, but it would be useful to spell out why. Continue reading “Why Taxation Is Not Theft”

The Case For Capital Controls

The standard economic view used to be that capital controls were a damaging relic from the past. Almost all economists opposed them as they believed they discouraged foreign investment, created barriers to trade and lead to an inefficient allocation of resources. The notion that the government could restrict how people used their money was found abhorrent by many. However, since the Financial Crisis, there has been a shift in opinions. Many economists support some capital controls to reduce instability in the economy, particularly in the financial sector. 250 economists from around the world signed a petition calling on the US government to reconsider its opposition to capital controls. Even major institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, the Federal Reserve and the European Union have admitted that there may be some cases in which capital controls are beneficial. Continue reading “The Case For Capital Controls”

On The Road To Recovery Or The Road To Nowhere?

The government has been celebrating Ireland’s recent exit from the Troika bailout and have proclaimed that Ireland is now on the road to recovery. The Taoiseach addressed the nation to celebrate the regaining of Ireland’s economic sovereignty. But are we out of the woods yet? Is Ireland facing a new dawn that leaves the nightmare of the recession behind or is it only a mirage of false hope while we are still stuck in the mud? Continue reading “On The Road To Recovery Or The Road To Nowhere?”

The Two Types Of Freedom

In debate libertarians argue that their ideology is based on freedom, all they want is to be free of government interference. After all, liberty is so important to them they put it in their name. But how can anyone disagree with that? Do social democrats hate liberty? What I have found is that in the debates between left and right, people are arguing past each other rather than with each other. So the left does believe in freedom, but they just view it differently. In this sense there are two types of freedom. There is negative liberty or freedom from, which is the main principle advocated by the right and there is positive liberty or freedom to, which is the main principle advocated by the left. Continue reading “The Two Types Of Freedom”

Endogenous Money Or How Loans Create Deposits

If you open any economic textbook you will find a standard explanation of how banks operate. The basic story is that a person deposits some money (say €100) into a bank which then saves a percent of this (say 10%) as a reserve and then lends out the rest. This €90 is then deposited by whoever receives the loan, 10% of which is saved and the rest is lent out. This goes on and on until the original €100 has become €1,000. It is easy to see why students are told this story; it is simple, intuitive and gives them a basic idea of banking. Unfortunately, it is wrong.

There is strong evidence that contrary to the above story (known as the loanable funds theory) the banking system works the other way around. Deposits don’t create loans; loans create deposits (this is known as endogenous money). This is a more complicated story but a more realistic one that can better guide our view of the economy. Continue reading “Endogenous Money Or How Loans Create Deposits”

Ireland Is Not An Example Of Expansionary Austerity

Europe is in the grip of austerity fever where all governments are convinced that reducing the budget deficit must be their main priority. However, despite the strong consensus, little thought has been given to whether or not it will work. Some economists have proposed that austerity could improve the economy if businesses and consumers believe are impressed by the government’s action and begin spending of their own. This is called “expansionary austerity” or “expansionary fiscal contraction”. Subsequent research has discredited all examples of expansionary austerity, with Ireland in 1987 being the only exception. But Ireland is no poster child for austerity, but just another example of the harm it does. Continue reading “Ireland Is Not An Example Of Expansionary Austerity”

Do People Really Have Inflation Expectations?

A common feature of macroeconomics is to run models assuming that individuals in the economy have inflation expectations. This flows naturally from assuming that they have rational expectations (can accurately predict the future and fully understand how the economy works). The standard reason for why we need inflation expectations is that during the 70s the government tried to trade off low unemployment in exchange for higher inflation. However, (so the story goes) people got wise to this trick and began to expect higher inflation and demand higher wages to compensate. As a result, government policy lost its effect and unemployment rose. Since then, economic modelling and discussions of unemployment and inflation must contain some provision for what consumers expect inflation to be. Continue reading “Do People Really Have Inflation Expectations?”

Where Does The Price Come From?

Even though prices are an essential part of the economy, surprisingly little effort goes into researching them or attempting to understand how they are set. The standard economics textbook gives only the briefest mention to the factors involved in their level. The standard summary is that prices are set in response to demand and supply. However, lately I’ve been thinking that this doesn’t quite make sense. The price of ice cream is the same in winter (a time of exceptionally low demand) as in summer (a time of exceptionally high demand). Pubs and restaurants usually charge the same prices during the day and mid-week (when they’re quiet) as during the night and on weekends (when they’re packed). In fact they seem to follow a policy of rationing space rather than allowing the price mechanism to adjust and convey information.

My epiphany came to me as I was wedged at the bar where I had been waiting for half an hour trying to order a drink during Black Monday. Why didn’t the student bar just raise its prices to deal with the excess demand which they knew would occur (as it did every year)? Why did they opt for an option that any first year economics student is taught is highly inefficient? Continue reading “Where Does The Price Come From?”

Why Wages Don’t Fall During A Recession

I have finished reading a fascinating book by Truman Bewley called “Why Wages Don’t Fall During A Recession”. It’s an interesting book not only for its topic but also for the way in which the author conducted his research. Unlike most economists who conduct studies based on complicated mathematical models, Bewley did something unusual and interviewed business owners to understand more about how they run their business. Economists traditionally viewed the market as automatically self-adjusting so that wages and prices would easily change to the right level in response to market conditions. However, it has been found that wages are rigid and almost never decline so between 1992 and 1994 Bewley interviewed 336 people in the North East of the United States (the book was published in 1999). The studies were meant to be qualitative and as such are not random or representative. They provide a very interesting insight into the mind of business managers. Continue reading “Why Wages Don’t Fall During A Recession”

The Return Of Bitcoin

Like a movie sequel bitcoin has blasted its way back into the news after being presumed finished after its dramatic crash last April. Like the Death Star it has returned in the exact same way as before and has re-ignited the debate over the value of an uncontrolled currency. As I write this bitcoin is hovering around the price of $450 and it will probably reach $500 soon enough. Its return has surprised commentators (such as myself) who had presumed the currency was done for.  Unfortunately, like the Death Star, it has the exact same flaw that will undo it as before. Bitcoin is soaring high at the moment, but it is only a matter of time before it crashes. Continue reading “The Return Of Bitcoin”