Sunday, 18 September 2016 - 6:08pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 18/09/2016 - 6:08pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • The German current account surplus requires deficits elsewhere — Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns Pro: With the periphery’s downturn came austerity and internal devaluation. And this has meant two adjustments. First, the EU as a whole has moved from a roughly balanced external position to a net creditor position as the German and Dutch export-led model is forced onto the periphery via internal devaluation used to achieve export competitiveness. Second, the Germans and Dutch have been forced to turn elsewhere to maintain their mercantilist trading stance. And they have found willing buyers in Asia and the emerging markets writ large. […] there is no mechanism in the current global currency system to correct these imbalances except through balance of payments crisis and the rise of protectionist populist politicians.
  • Monopoly’s New Era — Joe Stiglitz in Project Syndicate: Today’s markets are characterized by the persistence of high monopoly profits. The implications of this are profound. Many of the assumptions about market economies are based on acceptance of the competitive model, with marginal returns commensurate with social contributions. This view has led to hesitancy about official intervention: If markets are fundamentally efficient and fair, there is little that even the best of governments could do to improve matters. But if markets are based on exploitation, the rationale for laissez-faire disappears. Indeed, in that case, the battle against entrenched power is not only a battle for democracy; it is also a battle for efficiency and shared prosperity.
  • ‘Smart’ Dildo Company Sued For Tracking Users’ Habits — Sara Morrison at Vocative chronicles a new low in the Internet of Things: A few weeks ago, two researchers told the Defcon hacking convention audience that We-Vibe “smart” sex toys send a lot of data about their users back to the company that makes them. According to Courthouse News, one We-Viber took this news hard. A woman known only as “N.P.” filed a class action civil suit in a federal court in Illinois against Standard Innovation, which makes the We Vibe line of sex toys and corresponding app.
  • The Free Market Isn’t Really Free — Robert Reich in Literary Hub: In the United States, those with power and resources rarely directly bribe public officials in order to receive specific and visible favors, such as advantageous government contracts. Instead, they make campaign contributions and occasionally hold out the promise of lucrative jobs at the end of government careers. And the most valuable things they get in exchange are market rules that seem to apply to everyone and appear to be neutral, but that systematically and disproportionately benefit them. To state the matter another way, it is not the unique and perceptible government “intrusions” into the market that have the greatest effect on who wins and who loses; it is the way government organizes the market.
  • Trending News — Nick Anderson, Truthdig:
  • Isn’t it Time to Stop Calling it “The National Debt”? How about Government-Issued Assets instead? — Steve Roth at Evonomics: The government has committed itself to issuing bonds for archaic reasons, so it needs to roll over its “debt.” Old bonds mature, the government pays them off and issues new ones to replace them. Unendingly, for decades and centuries. But the stock of government-issued assets just keeps growing — as it should and must in a growing economy. Those government-issued assets are a necessary lubricant for the operation of the private-sector economy. As the economy gets bigger, more of those assets are needed, as a kind of giant “pool” or buffer stock to avoid transactional lockups.
  • Robert Samuelson Is Right on GDP — Dean Baker: The measure of GDP is useful in assessing the health of an economy and society in the same way that weight is a useful measure in assessing a person's health. If a person is five feet and ten inches and weighs 300 pounds, then it is likely they have a problem. On the other hand, they can weigh 160 pounds and still have an inoperable tumor. We would want to know the person's weight to assess their condition, but it will not tell us everything we need to know to evaluate their health. In the same vein, we identify countries with high per capita GDP, but enormous inequality. It is hard to view these as success stories, since most of the population would not be benefiting from the strength of the economy.
  • What Can Donald Trump Teach Us About the National Debt? — Dean Baker again: Another much larger form of commitment is the rents that private individuals and corporations will earn from the patent and copyright monopolies that the government granted them. These rents are the difference between the monopoly price and free market price. In the case of prescription drugs alone, the rents are now in the neighborhood of $380 billion annually, or more than 2.0 percent of GDP. This is effectively the money the government paid the drug companies to do research. Add in the higher price for patents in other areas and copyrights on everything from software to computer games, and we may be talking about more than $1 trillion a year ( at 5.5 percent of GDP). That is a huge burden that we are passing on to our children.
  • All of the problems Universal Basic Income can solve that have nothing to do with unemployment — Olivia Goldhill at Quartz: There’s also some hope that UBI would allow both our employment and leisure time to become more fulfilling. Currently, millions of people are employed in what anthropologist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”—work that serves no real purpose, and is simply a way to fill time and provide salaries. One YouGov survey found that 37% of Brits think their jobs are meaningless. But under UBI, Bregman believes we would have the financial freedom to pursue useful and worthwhile work.
  • Surviving Climate Change — Ian Welsh: Make sure you have friends, locally, and that your neighbours know and like you. People who are well-liked by a lot of people are far more likely to survive bad times than those who aren’t. And having really good friends wherever you may have to flee to, if it comes to that, is wise.
  • After Distancing Herself From Bill Clinton’s Economic Policies, Hillary Wants Him as Mr. Economic Fix It — Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism: Needless to say, if Hillary doubts she can get the job done with her Cabinet and if needed, a czar here or there, and needs to bring in Bill too, this is an admission that her vaunted experience is not what it is cracked up to be. Hillary has the classic resume of someone who has failed upward: a series of every-splashier job titles, but with no or negative accomplishments.
  • Trumping the critics — David F. Ruccio: The only real issues from the government creation of money are (1) timing and (2) who benefits. Obviously, creating more money under conditions at or close to full employment has implications that are very different from a situation characterized by less than full employment (as has been the case for the past eight years). If resources are not being fully utilized, more money (helicopter or otherwise) does not lead to hyper-inflation. So, the critics who claim that, under current conditions (with millions of people who are unemployed or underemployed), creating more money is inflationary are simply wrong. As for who benefits, that’s the real controversy—and the issue that is rarely discussed. Creating money to finance purchases of private debt from banks obviously improves bank balance sheets (and the incomes of their owners and the power wielded by the boards of directors) but it doesn’t necessarily stimulate economic growth (if banks are unwilling to lend, because for them it’s not profitable), and it doesn’t help homeowners and others who are drowning in debt.