The Captured Economy: Book Talk at U.C. Berkeley | Tu Apr 10 @ 2 PM | Blum Hall Plaza Level | 2018-04-10

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“The best attempt so far at a social democratic–libertarian synthesis of the origins and cure of our current political-economic ills…”—Brad DeLong

The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality

Brink Lindsey and Steve Teles

Niskanen Center:

“A compelling and original argument about one of the most pressing issues of our time, The Captured Economy challenges readers to break out of traditional ideological and partisan silos and confront the hidden forces that are strangling opportunity in the contemporary United States.”—Matthew Yglesias

“Are you looking for how to get out of our current mess? The Captured Economy is perhaps the very best place to start.”—Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics, George Mason University

“American politics is mired in endless arguments about how much downward redistribution we want and how to provide it. But as Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles point out in this engaging, powerfully argued book, the reality of our political economy often looks much more like upward redistribution. In one arena after another, public policy enriches the already rich and advantages the already advantaged.”—Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs

“Steven Teles and Brink Lindsey ask one of the most important questions of our times: What are the political reforms we need to reduce the ability of the wealthy to maintain their capture of our government? Combining the analytic forces of liberalism and libertarianism, they provide a much-needed investigation into why the U.S. government works on behalf of the powerful and the steps we can take to address rising inequality and regressive regulation so that it instead acts in the public interest.”—Heather Boushey, Democratic Economic Policy Director, 2016

Available at Powell’s:

Available at Google Books:


  • Today: a stagnating economy and sky-high inequality
  • Breakdowns in democratic governance: wealthy special interests capture the policymaking process
  • Regressive regulations that redistribute wealth and income up the economic scale
  • Stifling entrepreneurship and innovation
  • New regulatory barriers shield the powerful from competition inflating their incomes extravagantly:
    1. Subsidies for finance’s excessive risk taking
    2. Overprotection of copyrights and patents
    3. Favoritism toward incumbents through occupational licensing schemes
    4. The NIMBY-led escalation of land use controls that drive up rents for everyone else.
  • Needed: improve democratic deliberation to open pathways for meaningful change


For years, America has been plagued by slow economic growth and increasing inequality. Yet economists have long taught that there is a tradeoff between equity and efficiency-that is, between making a bigger pie and dividing it more fairly. That is why our current predicament is so puzzling: today, we are faced with both a stagnating economy and sky-high inequality.

In The Captured Economy , Brink Lindsey and Steven M. Teles identify a common factor behind these twin ills: breakdowns in democratic governance that allow wealthy special interests to capture the policymaking process for their own benefit. They document the proliferation of regressive regulations that redistribute wealth and income up the economic scale while stifling entrepreneurship and innovation. When the state entrenches privilege by subverting market competition, the tradeoff between equity and efficiency no longer holds.

Over the past four decades, new regulatory barriers have worked to shield the powerful from the rigors of competition, thereby inflating their incomes-sometimes to an extravagant degree. Lindsey and Teles detail four of the most important cases: subsidies for the financial sector’s excessive risk taking, overprotection of copyrights and patents, favoritism toward incumbent businesses through occupational licensing schemes, and the NIMBY-led escalation of land use controls that drive up rents for everyone else.

Freeing the economy from regressive regulatory capture will be difficult. Lindsey and Teles are realistic about the chances for reform, but they offer a set of promising strategies to improve democratic deliberation and open pathways for meaningful policy change. An original and counterintuitive interpretation of the forces driving inequality and stagnation, The Captured Economy will be necessary reading for anyone concerned about America’s mounting economic problems and the social tensions they are sparking.

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Economic Methodology: Thinking Math Can Substitute for Economics Turns Economists Into Real Morons Department


The highly estimable Tim Taylor wrote:

Tim Taylor: Some Thoughts About Economic Exposition in Math and Words: “[Paul Romer’s] notion that math is ‘both more precise and more opaque’ than words is an insight worth keeping…”

And he recommends Alfred Marshall’s workflow checklist:

  1. Use mathematics as a shorthand language; rather than as an engine of inquiry.
  2. Keep to them till you have done.
  3. Translate into English.
  4. Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life.
  5. Burn the mathematics.
  6. If you can’t succeed in 4, burn 3.

This is sage advice.

And to underscore the importance of this advice, I think it is time to hoist the best example I have seen in a while of people with no knowledge of the economics and no control over their models using—simple—math to be idiots: Per Krusell and Tony Smith trying and failing to criticize Thomas Piketty.

(2015) The Theory of Growth and Inequality: Piketty, Zucman, Krusell, Smith, and “Mathiness”: It is Krusell and Smith (2014) that suffers from “mathiness”–people not in control of their models deploying algebra untethered to the real world in a manner that approaches gibberish.

I wrote about this last summer, several times:

  • Department of “Huh?!”–I Don’t Understand More and More of Piketty’s Critics: Per Krusell and Tony Smith
  • The Daily Piketty: Ryan Avent on Housing in the Twenty-First Century: Wednesday Focus for June 18, 2014
  • In Which I Continue to Fail to Understand Why Critics of Piketty Say What They Say: (Late) Friday Focus for June 6, 2014
  • Depreciation Rates on Wealth in Thomas Piketty’s Database

This time, [it was a] reply… to Paul Romer… with a Tweetstorm. Here it is, collected, with paragraphs added and redundancy deleted:

My objection to Krusell and Smith (2014) was that it seemed to me to suffer much more from what you call “mathiness” than does Piketty or Piketty and Zucman. Recall that Krusell and Smith began by saying that they:

do not quite recognize… k/y=s/g…

But k/y=s/g is Harrod (1939) and Domar (1946). How can they fail to recognize it? And then their calibration–n+g=.02, δ=.10–not only fails to acknowledge Piketty’s estimates of economy-wide depreciation rate as between .01 and .02, but leads to absolutely absurd results:

  • For a country with a K/Y=4, δ=.10 -> depreciation is 40% of gross output.
  • For a country like Belle Époque France with a K/Y=7, δ=.10 -> depreciation is 70% of gross output….

Krusell and Smith had no control whatsoever over the calibration of their model at all. Note that I am working from notes here, because no longer points to Krusell and Smith (2014). It points, instead, to Krusell and Smith (2015), a revised version. In the revised version, the calibration differs. It differs in:

  • raising (n+g) from .02 to .03,
  • lowering δ from .10 or .05 (still more than twice Piketty’s historical estimates), and
  • changing the claim that as n+g->0 K/Y increases “only very marginally” to the claim that it increases “only modestly”. The right thing to do, of course, would be to take economy-wide δ=.02 and say that k/y increases “substantially”.)

If Krusell and Smith (2015) offer any reference to Piketty’s historical depreciation estimates, I missed it. If it offers any explanation of why they decided to raise their calibration of n+g when they lowered their δ, I missed that too.

Piketty has flaws, but it does not seem to me that working in a net rather than a gross production function framework is one of them.

And Krusell and Smith’s continued attempts to demonstrate otherwise seem to me to suffer from “mathiness” to a high degree.

Here are the earlier pieces:

DEPARTMENT OF “HUH?!”–I DON’T UNDERSTAND MORE AND MORE OF PIKETTY’S CRITICS: PER KRUSELL AND TONY SMITH: As time passes, it seems to me that a larger and larger fraction of Piketty’s critics are making arguments that really make no sense at all–that I really do not understand how people can believe them, or why anybody would think that anybody else would believe them. Today we have Per Krusell and Tony Smith assuming that the economy-wide capital depreciation rate δ is not 0.03 or 0.05 but 0.1–and it does make a huge difference…

Per Krusell and Tony Smith: Piketty’s ‘Second Law of Capitalism’ vs. standard macro theory: “Piketty’s forecast does not rest primarily on an extrapolation of recent trends…

…[which] is what one might have expected, given that so much of the book is devoted to digging up and displaying reliable time series…. Piketty’s forecast rests primarily on economic theory. We take issue…. Two ‘fundamental laws’, as Piketty dubs them… asserts that K/Y will, in the long run, equal s[net]/g…. Piketty… argues… s[net]/g… will rise rapidly in the future…. Neither the textbook Solow model nor a ‘microfounded’ model of growth predicts anything like the drama implied by Piketty’s theory…. Theory suggests that the wealth–income ratio would increase only modestly as growth falls…

And if we go looking for why they believe that “theory suggests that the wealth–income ratio would increase only modestly as growth falls”, we find:

Per Krusell and Tony Smith: Is Piketty’s “Second Law of Capitalism” Fundamental? : “In the textbook model…

…the capital- to-income ratio is not s[net]/g but rather s[gross]/(g+δ), where δ is the rate at which capital depreciates. With the textbook formula, growth approaching zero would increase the capital-output ratio but only very marginally; when growth falls all the way to zero, the denominator would not go to zero but instead would go from, say 0.12–with g around 0.02 and δ=0.1 as reasonable estimates–to 0.1.

But with an economy-wide capital output ratio of 4-6 and a depreciation rate of 0.1, total depreciation–the gap between NDP and GDP–is not its actual 15% of GDP, but rather 40%-60% of GDP. If the actual depreciation rate were what Krussall and Smith say it is, fully half of our economy would be focused on replacing worn-out capital.

It isn’t:


That makes no sense at all.

For the entire economy, one picks a depreciation rate of 0.02 or 0.03 or 0.05, rather than 0.10.

I cannot understand how anybody who has ever looked at the NIPA, or thought about what our capital stock is made of, would ever get the idea that the economy-wide depreciation rate δ=0.1.

And if you did think that for an instant, you would then recognize that you have just committed yourself to the belief that NDP is only half of GDP, and nobody thinks that–except Krusall and Smith. Why do they think that? Where did their δ=0.1 estimate come from? Why didn’t they immediately recognize that that deprecation estimate was in error, and correct it?

Why would anyone imagine that any growth model should ever be calibrated to such an extraordinarily high depreciation rate?

And why, when Krusell and Smith snark:

we do not quite recognize [Piketty’s] second law K/Y = s/g. Did we miss something quite fundamental[?]… The capital-income ratio is not s/g but rather s/(g+δ) no reference to Piketty’s own explication of s/(n+δ), where δ is the rate at which capital depreciates…

do they imply that this is a point that Piketty has missed, rather than a point that Piketty explicitly discusses at Kindle location 10674?

?One can also write the law β=s/g with s standing for the total [gross] rather than the net rate of saving. In that case the law becomes β=s/(g+δ) (where δ now stands for the rate of depreciation of capital expressed as a percentage of the capital stock)…

I mean, when the thing you are snarking at Piketty for missing is in the book, shouldn’t you tell your readers that it is explicitly in the book rather than allowing them to believe that it is not?

I really do not understand what is going on here at all…

In Which I Continue to Fail to Understand Why Critics of Piketty Say What They Say: “Per Krusell II: So I wrote this on Friday, and put it aside because I feared that it might be intemperate, and I do not want to post intemperate things in this space.

Today, Sunday, I cannot see a thing I want to change–save that I am, once again, disappointed by the quality of critics of Piketty: please step up your game, people!

In response to my Department of “Huh?!”–I Don’t Understand More and More of Piketty’s Critics: Per Krusell and Tony Smith, Per Krusell unfortunately writes:

Brad DeLong has written an aggressive answer to our short note…. Worry about increasing inequality… is no excuse for [Thomas Piketty’s] using inadequate methodology or misleading arguments…. We provided an example calculation where we assigned values to parameters—among them the rate of depreciation. DeLong’s main point is that the [10%] rate we are using is too high…. Our main quantitative points are robust to rates that are considerably lower…. DeLong’s main point is a detail in an example aimed mainly, it seems, at discrediting us by making us look like incompetent macroeconomists. He does not even comment on our main point; maybe he hopes that his point about the depreciation rate will draw attention away from the main point. Too bad if that happens, but what can we do…

Let me assure one and all that I focused–and focus–on the depreciation assumption because it is an important and central assumption. It plays a very large role in whether reductions in trend real GDP growth rates (and shifts in the incentive to save driven by shifts in tax regimes, revolutionary confiscation probabilities, and war) can plausibly drive large shifts in wealth-to-annual-income ratios. The intention is not to distract with inessentials. The attention is to focus attention on what is a key factor, as is well-understood by anyone who has control over their use of the Solow growth model.

Consider the Solow growth model Krusell and Smith deploy, calibrated to what Piketty thinks of as typical values for the 1914-80 Social Democratic Era: a population trend growth rate n=1%/yr, a labor-productivity trend growth rate g=2%/yr, W/Y=3.

Adding in the totally ludicrous Krusell-Smith depreciation assumption of 10%/yr means (always assuming I have not made any arithmetic errors) that a fall in n+g from 3%/yr to 1%/yr, holding the gross savings rate constant, generates a rise in the steady-state wealth-to-annual-net-income ratio from 3 to 3.75–not a very big jump for a very large shift in economic growth: the total rate of growth n+g has fallen by 2/3, but W/Y has only jumped by a quarter.

Adopting a less ludicrously-awry “Piketty” depreciation assumption of 3%/yr generates quantitatively (and qualitatively!) different results: a rise in the steady-state wealth-to-annual-net-income ratio from 3 to 4.708–the channel is more than twice has powerful.


We have a very large drop in Piketty’s calculations of northwest European economy-wide wealth-to-annual-net-income ratios from the Belle Époque Era that ended in 1914 to the Social Democratic Era of 1914-1980 to account for. How would we account for this other than by (a) reduced incentives for wealthholders to save and reinvest and (b) shifts in trend rates of population and labor-productivity growth? We are now in a new era, with rising wealth-to-annual-net-income ratios. We would like to be able to forecast how far W/Y will rise given the expected evolution of demography and technology and given expectations about incentives for wealthholders to save and reinvest.

How do Krusell and Smith aid us in our quest to do that?

Depreciation Rates on Wealth in Thomas Piketty’s Database:: Thomas Piketty emails:

We do provide long run series on capital depreciation in the “Capital Is Back” paper with Gabriel [Zucman] (see, appendix country tables US.8, JP.8, etc.). The series are imperfect and incomplete, but they show that in pretty much every country capital depreciation has risen from 5-8% of GDP in the 19th century and early 20th century to 10-13% of GDP in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, i.e. from about 1%[/year] of capital stock to about 2%[/year].

Of course there are huge variations across industries and across assets, and depreciation rates could be a lot higher in some sectors. Same thing for capital intensity.

The problem with taking away the housing sector (a particularly capital-intensive sector) from the aggregate capital stock is that once you start to do that it’s not clear where to stop (e.g., energy is another capital intensive sector). So we prefer to start from an aggregate macro perspective (including housing). Here it is clear that 10% or 5% depreciation rates do not make sense.

No, James Hamilton, it is not the case that the fact that “rates of 10-20%[/year] are quite common for most forms of producers’ machinery and equipment” means that 10%/year is a reasonable depreciation rate for the economy as a whole–and especially not for Piketty’s concept of wealth, which is much broader than simply produced means of production.

No, Pers Krusell and Anthony Smith, the fact that:

[you] conducted a quick survey among macroeconomists at the London School of Economics, where Tony and I happen to be right now, and the average answer was 7%[/year…

for “the” depreciation rate does not mean that you have any business using a 10%/year economy-wide depreciation rate in trying to assess how the net savings share would respond to increases in Piketty’s wealth-to-annual-net-income ratio.

Who are these London School of Economics economists who think that 7%/year is a reasonable depreciation rate for a wealth concept that attains a pre-World War I level of 7 times a year’s net national income? I cannot imagine any of the LSE economists signing on to the claim that back before WWI capital consumption in northwest European economies was equal to 50% of net income–that depreciation was a third of gross economic product.

One more remark: if more than half LSE macroeconomists really do believe that net domestic product is 28% lower than gross domestic product—for that is what a depreciation rate of 7% per year gets you with an aggregate capital-output ratio of 4—then more than half of LSE macroeconomists need to be in a different profession. I don’t believe Krusell and Smith’s survey. I don’t believe their LSE colleagues told them what they claimed they had…

When “Globalization” is Public Enemy Number One

Globalization over the centuries

*Milken Institute Review: When Globalization is Public Enemy Number One: The first 30 years after World War II saw the recovery and reintegration of the world economy (the “Thirty Glorious Years,” in the words of French economist Jean Fourastié). Yet after a troubled decade — one in which oil shocks, inflation, near-depression and asset bubbles temporarily left us demoralized — the subsequent 23 years (1984-2007) of perky growth and stable prices were even more impressive as far as the growth of the world’s median income were concerned.

This period, dubbed the “Great Moderation,” was by most economists’ reckoning largely the consequence of the process of knitting the world together. The mechanism (and impact) was largely economic. But the consequences of globalization were also felt in cultural and political terms, accelerating the tides of change that have roughly tripled global output and lifted more than a billion people from poverty since 1990.

So why is globalization now widely viewed as the tool of the sorcerer’s apprentice? I am somewhat flummoxed by the fact that a process playing such an important role in giving the world the best two-thirds of a century ever has fallen out of favor. But I believe that most of the answer can be laid out in three steps:

  • The past 40 years have not been bad years, but they have been disappointing ones for the working and middle classes of what we now call the “Global North” (northwestern Europe, America north of the Rio Grande and Japan).
  • There is a prima facie not implausible argument linking those disappointing outcomes for blue-collar workers to ongoing globalization.
    * In any complicated policy debate that becomes politicized, the side that blames foreigners has a very powerful edge. Politicians have a strong incentive to pin it on people other than themselves or those who voted for them. The media, including the more fact-based media, tend to let elected officials set the agenda.

Hence it doesn’t take much of a crystal ball to foresee a few decades of backlash to globalization in our future. More of what is made will probably be consumed at home rather than linked into global supply chains. Businesses, ideas and people seeking to cross borders will face more daunting barriers.

Some of the consequences are predictable. The losses to income created by cross-border barriers to competition will grow. And more of the focus of economic policy will be on the division of the proverbial pie rather than how to make it larger. Small groups of well-organized winners will take income away from diffuse and unorganized groups of losers.

Measured in absolute numbers, an awful lot of wealth will be lost. But those losses won’t approach, say, the scale of the output foregone in the Great Recession. Figure on a 3 percent reduction in income, equivalent to the loss of two years’ worth of growth in the advanced industrialized economies.

Most well-educated Americans, I suspect, will either be net beneficiaries of the reshuffling of income or won’t lose enough to notice. Disruption often redounds to the benefit of the sophisticated who can see it coming in time to get out of the way or turn it to their own advantage. But that’s a minority of the population, even in rich countries. Real fear about where next week’s mac and cheese is going to come from applies for a tenth, while fear about survival through the hard times is still a thing for a quarter of humanity.

Why do I believe all this? Bear with me, for my explanation demands an excursion down the long and winding road of centuries of globalization.

Globalization in Historical Perspective: On the brilliant date-visualization website, Our World in Data, Oxford researcher Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, along with site founder Max Roser, has plotted best estimates of the relative international “trade intensity” of the world economy — the sum of exports and imports divided by total output over a very long time. In my reproduction I have divided the years since 1800 into four periods and drawn beginning- to end-of-period arrows for each.

The World in Data

In the years from 1800 to 1914, which I call the First Globalization, world trade intensity tripled, driven mostly by exchange between capital-rich, labor-intensive and resource-rich regions. Countries with both sorts of endowments benefit by specializing production in their areas of comparative advantage. Meanwhile, huge migrations of (primarily) people and (secondarily) financial capital to resource-rich regions established a truly integrated global economy for the first time in history.

The period from 1914 to 1945 saw a dramatic retreat, with the relative intensity of international trade slipping back to little more than its level in 1800. There are multiple, complementary explanations for this setback. Faster progress in mass production than in long-distance transport made it efficient to bring production back home to where the demand was. The Great Depression created a path of least political resistance in which governments sought to save jobs at home at the expense of trading partners. And wars both blocked trade and made governments leery of an economic structure in which they had to rely on others.

This retrenchment, however, was reversed after World War II. The years 1945 to 1985 saw the Second Globalization, which carried trade intensity well above its previous high tide in the years before World War I. But this time, the bulk of trade growth was not among resource-rich, capital-rich and labor-intensive economies exchanging the goods that were their comparative advantage in production. It largely took place within the rich Global North, as industrialized countries developed communities of engineering expertise that gave them powerful comparative advantages in relatively narrow slices of manufacturing production in everything from machine tools (Germany) to consumer electronics (Japan) to commercial aircraft (the United States).

After 1985, however, there was a marked shift to what Ortiz-Ospina calls “hyperglobalization.” Multinational corporations began building their international value chains across crazy quilts of countries. The Global South’s low wages gave it an opportunity to bid for the business of running the assembly lines for products designed and engineered in the Global North. Complementing this value-chain-fueled boost to world trade came the other aspects of hyperglobalization: a global market in entertainment that created the beginnings of a shared popular culture; a wave of mass international migration and the extension of northern financial markets to the Global South, cutting the cost of capital and increasing its volatility even as it facilitated portfolio diversification across continents.

Hyperglobalization, Up Close and Personal: Of these value-chain-fueled boosts to international trade, perhaps the first example was the U.S.-Mexico division of labor in the automobile industry enabled by the North American Free Trade Agreement of the early 1990s. The benefits were joined to the more standard comparative-advantage-based benefits of reduced trade barriers. At the 2017 Milken Institute Global Conference, Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, the founder of Cinépolis, the giant Mexican theater group that is investing heavily in the United States, summed up the views of nearly all the economists and business analysts in attendance:

Between the U.S. and Mexico, trade has grown by more than six-fold since 1994 … 6 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico. Of course, Mexico has also enormously benefited from trade with the U.S.… We are actually exporting very intelligently according to the relative comparative advantage of each country. Nafta has allowed us to strengthen the supply chains of North America, and strengthened the competitiveness of the region…

Focus on the reference to “supply chains”. Back in 1992, my friends on both the political right and left feared—really feared—that Nafta would kill the U.S. auto industry. Assembly-line labor in Hermosillo, Mexico had such an enormous cost advantage over assembly-line labor in Detroit or even Nashville that the bulk of automobile manufacturing labor and value added was, they claimed, destined to move to Mexico. There would be, in the words of 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot, “a giant sucking sound,” as factories, jobs and prosperity decamped for Mexico.

But that did not happen. Only the most labor-intensive portions of automobile assembly moved to Mexico. And by moving those segments, GM, Ford and Chrysler found themselves in much more competitive positions vis-a-vis Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen and the other global giants.

Fear of Globalization: Barry Eichengreen, my colleague in the economics department at Berkeley, wrote that there is unlikely to be a second retreat from globalization:

U.S. business is deeply invested in globalization and would push back hard against anything the Trump administration did that seriously jeopardized Nafta or globalization more broadly. And other parts of the world remain committed to openness, even if they are concerned about managing openness in a way that benefits everyone and limits stability risks that openness creates…

But I see another retreat as more likely than not. For one thing, anti-globalization forces have expanded to include the populist right as well as the more familiar populist left. It was no surprise when primary contender Bernie Sanders struck a chord by condemning Nafta and the opening of mass trade with China as “the death blow for American manufacturing.” But it was quite another matter when the leading Republican candidate (and now president) claimed that globalization would leave “millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache” and that Nafta was “the worst deal ever” for the United States.

The line of argument is clear enough. Globalization, at least in its current form, has greatly expanded trade. This has decimated good (high-paying) jobs for blue-collar workers, which has led to a socioeconomic crisis for America’s lower-middle class. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer buys this:

Nafta has fundamentally failed many, many Americans. … [Trump] is not interested in a mere tweaking of a few provisions and a couple of updated chapters. … We need to ensure that the huge [bilateral trade] deficits do not continue, and we have balance and reciprocity…

It’s conceivable that the Trump administration will yet pay homage to the post-World War II Republican Party’s devotion to open trade. But it seems unlikely in light of the resonance protectionism has had with Trump supporters. And if the Trump administration proves not to be a bellwether on globalization, it is surely a weathervane.

When Globalization is Public Enemy Number One

The Real Impact of Globalization: Portions of the case against globalization have some traction. It is, indeed, the case that the share of employment in the sectors we think of as typically male and typically blue-collar has been on a long downward trend. Manufacturing, construction, mining, transportation and warehousing constituted nearly one-half of nonfarm employment way back in 1947. By 1972, the fraction had slipped to one-third, and it is just one-sixth today.

But consider what the graph does not show: the decline (from about 45 percent to 30 percent) in the share of these jobs from 1947 to 1980 was proceeding at a good clip before U.S. manufacturing faced any threat from foreigners. And the subsequent fall to about 23 percent by the mid-1990s took place without any “bad trade deals” in the picture. The narrative that blames declining blue-collar job opportunities on globalization does not fit the timing of what looks like a steady process over nearly three-quarters of the last century.

Wait, there’s a second disconnect. Look at the way the declines in output divide among the sub-sectors (see page 29). Manufacturing was about 15 percent of nonfarm production in the mid-1990s and was still about 14 percent at the end of 2000, even as trade with Mexico and China accelerated into hyperdrive. Indeed, the bulk of the fall in “men’s work” has been in construction, which represented 7 percent of private industry production in 1997 and represents just 4 percent today. Warehousing and transportation have also taken a big hit in terms of proportion.

The biggest factors on the real production side over the past 20 years have not been the out-migration of manufacturing, but the depression of 2007-10 and the dysfunction of the construction finance market that continues to this day.

The China Shock: The case that the workings of globalization have had a major destructive effect on the employment opportunities of blue-collar men over the past two decades received a major intellectual boost from the research of David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson on the impact of the “China shock.”

One of their bottom lines is that the loss of some 2.4 million American manufacturing jobs “would have been averted without further increases in Chinese import competition after 1999.” Moreover, the effects on workers and their communities were dislocating in a way in which manufacturing job loss generated by incremental improvements in productivity not associated with factory closings was not.

The China shock was very real and very large: its significance shouldn’t be discounted, especially in the context of a close presidential election whose outcome may have a large, enduring impact on the United States — and, for that matter, the world. But some perspective is needed if one is to allow the tale of the China shock to influence thinking about globalization.

Start with the fact that, in most ways, this is a familiar story in the American economy that long preceded the rise of China. Dislocation associated with the relocation of production facilities is more damaging to people and places than incremental changes in production processes, whether the movement is across state lines or across continents.

When my grandfather and his brothers closed down the Lord Bros. Tannery in Brockton, Massachusetts to reopen in lower-wage South Paris, Maine, the move was a disaster for the workers and the community of Brockton — and a major boost for South Paris. When, a decade and a half later, my grandfather found he could not make a go of it in South Paris and started a new business in Lakeland, Florida, it was the workers and the community of South Paris who suffered.

The fact that, in the case of globalization-driven dislocation, the jobs cross international borders adds some wrinkles, but not all of them are obvious. As demand shifts, jobs vanish for some in some locations and open for others in other locations. Dollars that in the past were spent purchasing manufactures from Wisconsin and Illinois and are now spent purchasing manufactured imports from China do not vanish from the circular flow of economic activity. The dollars received by the Chinese still exist and have value to their owners only when they are used to buy American-made goods and services.

Demand shifts, yes — but the dollars paid to Chinese manufacturing companies eventually reappear as financing for, say, new apartment buildings in California or to pay for a visit to a dude ranch in Montana or even to buy an American business that otherwise might close. GE, which had been openly seeking a way to offload its household appliance division for many years, sold the business to the Chinese firm Haier, the largest maker of appliances in the world. How different might the world have been for the employees of White-Westinghouse who were making appliances if a Chinese firm had been trolling the waters for an acquisition before the brand disappeared for good in 2006?

Only with the coming of the Great Recession do we see not blue-collar job churn but net blue-collar job loss in America. And that was due to the government’s failure to properly regulate finance to head off the housing meltdown, the subsequent failure to properly intervene in financial markets to prevent depression, and the still later failure to pursue policies to rapidly repair the damage.

All that said, the connection between the China shock in the 2000s and increasing blue-collar distress in the 2000s on its face lends some plausibility to the idea that globalization bears responsibility for most of their distress, and needs to be stopped.

The Globalization Balance Sheet: Last winter, in a piece for, I made my own rough assessment of the factors responsible for the 28 percentage point decline in the share of sectors primarily employing blue-collar men since 1947. I attributed just 0.1 percentage points to our “trade deals,” 0.3 points to changing patterns of trade in recent years (primarily the rise of China), 2 percentage points to the impact of dysfunctional fiscal and monetary policies on trade, and 4.5 percent to the recovery of the North Atlantic and Japanese economies from the devastation of World War II. I attributed the remaining 21 percentage points to labor-saving technological change.

This 21 percentage points has very little to do with globalization. Yes, with low barriers to trade, technology allows foreign exporters to make better stuff at lower cost. But American producers have the parallel option to sell them better stuff for less. And thanks to technology, consumers on both sides get more good stuff cheap. Economists slaving away in musty offices can invent scenarios in which technological change favors foreign producers over their American counterparts and thereby directly costs blue-collar jobs. But the assumptions needed to get that result are highly unrealistic.

To repeat, because it bears repeating: globalization in general and the rise of the Chinese export economy have cost some blue-collar jobs for Americans. But globalization has had only a minor impact on the long decline in the portion of the economy that makes use of high-paying blue-collar labor traditionally associated with men.

Why is this View so Hard to Sell?: Pascal Lamy, the former head of the World Trade Organization, likes to quote China’s sixth Buddhist patriarch: “When the wise man points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger.” Market capitalism, he says, is the moon. Globalization is the finger.

In a market economy, the only rights universally assured by law are property rights, and your property rights are only worth something if they give you control of resources (capital, land, etc.) — and not just any resources, but scarce resources that others are willing to pay for. Yet most people living in market economies believe their rights extend far beyond their property rights.

The way mid-20th century sociologist Karl Polanyi put it, people believe that they have rights to land whether they own the land or not — that the preservation and stability of their community is their right. People believe that they have rights to the fruits of labor — that if they work hard and play by the rules they should be able to reach the standard of living they expected. People believe that they have rights to a stable financial order — that their employers and jobs should not suddenly disappear because financial flows have been withdrawn at the behest of the sinister gnomes of Zurich or some other tribe of rootless cosmopolites.

Dealing with these hard to define, sometimes conflicting claims to rights beyond property is one of the major political-rhetorical-economic challenges of every society that is not stagnant. And blaming globalization for the unfulfilled claims of this group or that is a very handy way to pass the buck.

The good news is that, whatever the merits of the grievances of those who see themselves as losers in a globalizing economy, sensible public policy could go a long way to making them whole. Three keys would open the lock:

  • The failure of regional markets to sustain good jobs could be managed by much more aggressive social-insurance — unemployment, moving allowances, retraining and the like — along with the redistribution of government resources to create jobs where they have been lost.
  • More aggressive fiscal measures to keep job markets tight.
  • Karl Polanyi’s key remains at hand, too. While many Americans claim to worship at the altar of free markets, they still believe that they have all kinds of extra socioeconomic rights — to healthy communities, to stable occupations, to appropriate and rising incomes — that are not backed up by property rights. Governments could intervene on their behalf.

That way lies tyranny, we’ve been told, but also very high-functioning social democracies like Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands.

The bad news, of course, is that the public policies needed to soothe the grievances blamed on globalization seem further out of reach today than they were decades ago. Probably the best one can hope for is that the fever subsides sufficiently to allow for a realistic debate over who owes what to whom.

Determining Bargaining Power in the Platform Economy: Reinvent Full Transcript

Reinvent: Determining Bargaining Power in the Platform Economy: Our political system has been hacked by time, circumstance, chaos, and disaster…

…The failings of the electoral college, the fact that small states hacked the constitution in 1787, so we now have a world in which the minority in the Senate represents 175 million people, while the majority represents 145 million people, and the gerrymandering after the 2010 census are primary examples of this dysfunction.

Fixes for the economy?:

  • A 4 percent inflation target from the Federal Reserve, * Incentivizing businesses to invest in workers,
  • Reinvigorating the idea that technology should be used to augment workers, not replace them.

The possibilities for positive human flourishing from the platform economy are immense, provided the platforms actually work. Uber’s investors are currently paying 40 percent of Uber’s costs. What happens when these investors start wanting their money back? The platform economy moves bargaining power away from the service providers and from the customers, and into the hands of the platforms. This is a problem for both consumers and independent workers. What bargaining power workers will have will be correlated to the time and resources devoted to training them: when you walk, you disrupt a general production value chain, and it is expensive to figure out how to replace you, even if there’s someone else who certainly could do the job just as well. But if it is not very expensive, you have little power.

Nevertheless, here in California it is hard not to be a techno-optimist—especially if you are an curious infovore…says…

Full Transcript:

Pete Leyden: Hello. I’m Pete Leyden. Today, we have Brad DeLong with us. He is an economics professor here at U.C. Berkeley. He’s also the recently installed chief economist of the Blum Center for Developing Economy.

Pete Leyden: It’s good to have you here.

Brad DeLong: Great to be here.

Pete Leyden: We’re here at this moment with all these folks from the OECD, the economists from the United States here, and the technologists. If you had to think about the kind of moment we’re in right now, how would you characterize where we are as far as the evolution of the global economy and our technologies are? Is there anything special about this moment? Anything critical about it? Any ways you think about this juncture?

Brad DeLong: Let me give you a three-part answer to that: a 50-year horizon answer, a 15-year horizon answer, and then a 0-5-year horizon answer.

Brad DeLong: The 0-5-year horizon answer is: America has been deeply scarred by the financial crisis that started in 2007, the deep recession that followed, and the extraordinarily anemic recovery since. That still leaves us with four million people fewer in the labor force and looking for jobs than we ought to have. We are not sure what all of them are doing. Many are living in their sisters’ basements playing video games. The economy and people’s expectations of how it works have been shocked. How well our society functions is still deeply scarred. We are recovering only slowly, if at all, back to what we used to think was normal. that is the 0-5-year horizon answer.

Brad DeLong: The 50-year horizon answer is: Expect the collapse of the need for people to do a great many tasks that people used to do and are still doing that provide value. In the next 50 years an awful lot of paper-shuffling tasks are going to be taken over by software bots. An awful lot of blue-caller, traditionally male, tasks are going to be taken over by robots. Few occupations will disappear. But many occupations will be transformed. And many will shrink. The income and wealth distribution will be upset—either in a positive or a negative direction. These 50-year horizon processes are what most of us upstairs at this conference are worrying about.

Brad DeLong: Then there’s a 10- to 15-year horizon. How much of this transformation is going to happen in the next 15 years, as opposed to the rest of the next 50? How fast is the 50-year horizon process going to come upon us? Where exactly will be the first sectors and first places in which the coming of—call it the “Rise of the Machines”—the replacement not just of blue-color manufacturing but also construction and transportation and distribution and warehouse workers will be hit by technology, and who? Where and when will a good deal of standard white-color paper-shuffling work start to disappear as expert systems and software bots take it over?

Pete Leyden: In your career, is this about as momentous a time as you’ve seen? Or is that overhyping it?

Brad DeLong: That we are recovering from the macroeconomic catastrophe that started in 2007 has definitely made it very, very fraught. The failure of our Electoral College to deliver us a competent president in 2016 has definitely made it very, very fraught. Our political system was hacked partially by malevolent people, but mostly by time, circumstance, chaos, and disaster. It has been hacked in three ways.

Brad DeLong: The first way it has been hacked is the Electoral College failure; that gave us a president who really is not up to the job in practically any dimension. The second way is that small states hacked the constitution in 1787, so today the 49-seat minority in the senate represents 175 million people, while the 51-seat majority represents 145 million people. The desperately minority congressional government understands it is a minority government. It is acting oddly as a result. Third, the state-level Republican gerrymandering after the 2010 censushas given us House of Representatives is extraordinarily unrepresentative of the median American voter. These have created a time of great political fraughtness. We clearly have a very badly broken political system. That greatly deepens and increased the dangers of managing what I call the 50-year transition. And on top of that is the economic fraughtness left from 2007.

Brad DeLong: The 50-year transition has been going on since Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak began building personal computers in the garage. It has been going on at a more less constant pace. We see a little bit more about where it’s heading with each passing year. It really has not sped up much. What has made this moment fraught is the political disaster of 2016 and the echoing effects of the economic disaster of 2007.

Pete Leyden: There are three challenges we’ve been wrestling with here. You mentioned one of them—the robots and AI. But there’s this idea that the economy is moving towards more and more independent workers. There’s also this rise of the “platform economy”. How do you think of those other two challenges? How important developments are they? How much do they concern you—or actually encourage you as good thing?

Brad DeLong: The platform economy has a number of dimensions. One is what Hal Varian was talking about at the conference yesterday—the “end of the need for scale”. With Amazon Web Services and with Google anyone with a good idea can launch their website at scale for pennies, providing through the web whatever service or commodity they want to provide. And if demand is there they can scale up as far as they need to using very cheap world class-efficiency systems to support their businesses. You no longer need a large initial lump of capital of any. You just soft launch and look for demand. You use the web and search to attract customers. You use AWS and Google to provide your back end. This should be the cause of an enormous upward surge in entrepreneurship and enterprise, and a great flourishing of creativity. Whether it’s individuals with an extra four hours a week making extra money by driving for Lyft, or whether it’s writers saying, “I don’t want to have to sell books at 20 bucks and get only a $1.50 in royalties. I want to establish my own Patreon and have my fans pay me directly”, or any of a whole bunch of other things.

Brad DeLong: The possibilities for positive human flourishing from the platform economy are immense—if the platforms actually work. Right now we find ourselves in a world in which riders are paying essentially 60% of Uber’s costs. Uber’s investors are paying 40% of Uber’s costs. What happens when the investors begin wanting their money back? Do we find that Uber has enough economies of scale, and scope, and enough of a brand and a first mover advantage, that it’s a profitable business? Or do we find that the business gets taken over by somebody else? What if Google puts a little taxi ride button on every Google Map screen, saying: “We’ll only charge you a $1.50 as a handling fee”? Uber will have charge you considerably more if it wants to repay its investors. Uber may turn out to have done the trail-breaking thing. Uber may suffer the fate of most pioneers—arrows in their back, and face down. Or perhaps the platform economy will not be a good thing. Perhaps it moves bargaining power away from the real producers, who are doing the work, and also away from the customers, and into the hands of that one large company in the middle that controls the information. That’s still up for grabs.

Brad DeLong: Most people who fear that we are, as the extremely sharp Zeyneb Tufekci of Duke University says, “building a dystopia one brick at a time in order to trigger people to click on ads”, greatly fear that individual humans, given our cognitive disabilities, will be no match for the informational middleman organization using deep learning and information to figure out how to trigger and control us. Others are much more optimistic—although not necessarily much more optimistic about the prospects of individual platform pioneers like Uber. They are, however, more optimistic about the prospects of the large companies that have entrenched dominant positions: companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook—not that they are optimistic about any one of them, but rather they are optimistic about the prospects for profits for all of them put together, because what opportunities one of them fumbles another one is likely to recover.

Pete Leyden: They will do well for everybody, or do good for themselves?

Brad DeLong: They will well, and they will do good.

Pete Leyden: Do good. And where do you find that, actually?

Brad DeLong: I’m basically a techno-optimist. It’s hard not to be a techno-optimist in California—especially if you’re an intellectual, a data loving infovore.

Pete Leyden: You think even though there are all these challenges, the platform economy is something we could get behind?

Brad DeLong: Yes.

Pete Leyden: What about speaking as an economist now? This other thread: independent workers playing an increasing role in the economy. There’s a positive way to see that. There are also challenges in that. I’m curious to how you see that challenge.

Brad DeLong: Independent workers have, by their nature, very little bargaining power over what economists call “rents embedded in the system”. Your bargaining power is limited by what you could charge if you walked away from the relationship and went out on your own, and by what your counterparty would have to pay in order to get someone else to step up in your place. You have bargaining power if, when you walk, you disrupt a complex and valuable general production value chain, and your counterparts finds it expensive to figure out how to replace you. You have bargaining power even if there is someone else who could fill your job just as well if and only if it is difficult to find that person. A lot of successful middle-class societies have been based on situations in which relatively low-skill workers have bargaining power and share big time in economic rents, either because there aren’t that many replacements in the area or because they threaten to walk as a group.

Brad DeLong: Yesterday at the conference, ex-governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan told a heartbreaking story about a town in central Michigan: 8,000 people, of whom 3,000 work edin the refrigerator plant. Those 3,000 workers made a very good living for Michigan at the start of the 2000s—some 35 buck an hour, I think, in wages and benefits. But the refrigerator plant goes. And after it leaves they are lucky to make $12 or $15 an hour. And then all those who worked to satisfy their demands find their markets have halved in value. The refrigerator plant workers’ skills, machines, lifetime of experience bashing metal and operating things that form refrigerator coils—there’s really not much demand for those skills in central Michigan, and they find that they can’t transfer their skills to do anything else of great value. The principal source of their income was sharing in the rents created by the refrigeration value chain: their dominant market positions and imbedded technology. That kind of danger faces a lot of people who become independent workers. And the middleman firm does not have to close. All the middleman firm has to do is say: “I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it any further”.

Brad DeLong: On the other hand, an independent worker economy is not bound to be destructive. As long as we have a middle-class society, these are immense amounts of work to be done for one another. And replacing any of us with somebody else will be expensive. Think of the typical job in the economy going from being a manufacturing worker to being a barista at a coffee shop or a teacher at a yoga studio. As long as you have a middle-class society, there’ll be a lot of people who will be willing to pay handsomely for yoga lessons or for a particular espresso beverage brewed exactly the way they like it with a smile, a handshake, and a friendly three-minute conversation about how they’re doing, while the thing brews.

Brad DeLong: On the other hand, if we have plutocracy, in which the only people who have a lot of money are the rich, then the potential customers for the yoga studio won’t be able to pay very much and your fancy expresso drink won’t command very much. The only people who’ll have middle-class lives will be those who control resources that are useful for making things for which rich people have a serious Jones. There’ll be relatively few of those as well. Thus most of it is the shape of what the income distribution will be. That is ultimately a political choice about the distribution of wealth. An unequal distribution of wealth will drive an unequal distribution of income. That will then reproduce itself. And an equal distribution of wealth will drive a more equal distribution of income, which will also reproduce itself.

Pete Leyden: You’ve kind of given—this is probably right that could go this way, could go that way, could be positive, could be negative—I get that and that’s good choices here but…

Brad DeLong: …This is why we economists want not to have just two hands, but a prehensile tail as well…

Pete Leyden: But in that respect, what do you see is the most promising ways forward to kind of deal with this juncture we’re in—tip the balance? What are the things that you’d like to see happen soon here that would evolve this economy in the direction to make it healthy?

Brad DeLong: Am I allowed to say a 4% inflation target from the Federal Reserve? A Federal Reserve that is less focused on keeping inflation very low, more focused on keeping employment high, and more focused on making sure that there’s enough inflation in the system that the Federal Reserve can maintain interest rates at a level at which it will have the power to stabilize the economy? Businesses are not going to want to train their workers unless workers are scarce. Workers tend to be scarce only in what we call a “high-pressure economy.” The first and most important thing would be to change the calculations of those businesses that might be willing to invest in training workers. They need to feel that workers are valuable commodities under their control that they need to boost the value of. It has been totally the case since 2008, and largely the case since 2001, that businesses think there are plenty of workers out there, and we really don’t care about them, because the bottlenecks keeping us from being more profitable are elsewhere. Making labor a serious bottleneck for business so that business focuses on helping workers become more productive and more useful is, I think, the first thing we could do.

Brad DeLong: The second thing would be to repeat what Silicone Valley did in the 1980s and 1990s, that is you’re old enough to remember the coming of the Macintosh computer in 1984…

Pete Leyden: …Indeed…

Brad DeLong: …Apple bought Super Bowl time for a dystopian 1984 TV commercial. It was all about how important the Macintosh computer would be as an engine of freedom. They really believed that the personal computer was an engine of freedom. It allowed you to control and access your own information, rather than having to rely on some human resource or IT department backed by some large mainframe that had lots of data that you weren’t allowed to access and controlled your life. The fear back then was that people would become information serfs: the valuable parts of the enterprise and the value chain would be kept under lock-and-key in the hands of the priests of IT and HR. It was a world in which people would take their draft cards and burn them, in which your information would come on five IBM cards which would all say, “Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate”, and which you would feed into the machine face down, nine-edge first. The vibe was that those cards produced decisions over which you had no control or knowledge. Thus making information technology tools to augment people’s abilities to figure out and maneuver in the world that they were in, rather than information technology being a tool for supervision and control—“you’re 15% less productive at processing claims, so we don’t need you around anymore, and you have no skills or information that can be transferred elsewhere.”

Brad DeLong: The idea of Apple Macintosh 1984 was of information technology as a way of augmenting human intelligence and boosting productivity—rather than information technology as a way that we can substitute capital for labor, and getting these annoying workers out of the factory or office while still producing as much. That was a key and a revolutionary social goal of Silicon Valley as it existed in the 1980s and 1990s, from the coming of the personal computer to the flourishing of the internet. In some sense, Silicon Valley has to figure out how to do this again. Organizations like, say, Berkeley’s engineering school have to help. Large companies tend to be much more interested in figuring out how to use information technology to shed annoying and expensive workers, rather than how to give those annoying and expensive workers more control over their lives.

Pete Leyden: Well, that’s fascinating. It’s a big challenge to the tech world as well as a challenge to policy makers. I wish we had more time to kind of go deeper into many, many possible solutions there. But just to wind up here, big challenges, possible big solutions shift, how confident are you that we’re going to manage this transition here? Whether it’s the five-year, the 15-year transition, how confident are you going to do it and how worried are you?

Brad DeLong: I would say I’m not confident at all.I would say that our income and wealth distribution now has managed to tilt itself in a bad way. If you want the economy to pay attention to you, you better have money. And the money is too concentrated now. If you want the polity to pay attention to you, you better have a movement. Yet somehow it seems that the age of the internet and of the decline of manufacturing has made it harder rather than easier to create durable social movements. At the same time it has made it much easier to create the appearance of a social movement via software bots controlled by some server in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And that crowds the information flow. What is the cartoon? “1980: my incandescent light bulb produces ten times as much heat as light. 2017: my LED light bulb has been taken over and is now running a button out of 50,000 Twitter followers controlled via a server on another continent.” That that seems to be the world we’re moving into. It’s not terribly a reassuring one.

Pete Leyden: Well, that’s a good place to end. At least that’s a sobering thought, and thanks so much for joining us here and giving us your thoughts.

Brad DeLong: You’re very welcome. It’s a great pleasure. Bring me back again.

Pete Leyden: I will.

Tax Foundation Score of the Tax “Reform” Conference Report


Alan Cole: @AlanMCole on Twitter: “Don’t think this one’s gonna pay for itself, guys:”

John Buhl: @jbuhl35 on Twitter: “Because of the nonstop work of @ScottElliotG @NKaeding and others, we have a dynamic score of the conference committee version of the #TaxReformBill Full report to come later today.”

Alan Cole: @AlanMCole on Twitter: “1.7% change in long-run GDP is a pretty bad score from @taxfoundation all things considered, given how large the tax cut is. One problem is they got rid of the shortened asset life for structures in conference…”

The rules of thumb I find myself applying to Tax Foundation numbers these days are:

  1. Their “small open economy with perfect capital mobility” assumptions together bias and triple the long run boost to the level of GDP relative to the baseline. The US is a large economy: global interest rates are not unaffected by it. International capital mobility is not perfect: home bias is a huge thing.

  2. Their “1/e time to the long run is 10 years” assumption biases and doubles their estimate of the initial growth rate boost..

  3. Their failure to distinguish between Gross Domestic Product and national income causes an additional substantial bias that depends sensitively on the details.

  4. Their failure to take account of how the tax “reform” is going to be financed—what will be the effects on economic growth of the services and public investments cut, or of the additional taxes elsewhere in the economy that will be levied—causes an additional substantial bias that depends sensitively on the details.

So if you are talking about the impact on the growth rate of national income, divide the Tax Foundation by more than six and you have what is probably a sensible estimate.

Thus take the Tax Foundation’s 0.17%/year. Cut it down. To less than 0.03% per year. Not 0.3%. Less than 0.03%.

The claim was the 0.4% per year on the growth rate would get you 1 trillion dollars in revenue over 10 years. That was always stretching it: it was 0.5% per year. But we do not have that. Even if we were a small open economy in a world with perfect capital mobility–which we are most definitely not–the Tax Foundation grants you only 350 billion dollars over 10 years. And applying my rule of thumb haircuts makes me expect 60 billion.

You Just Cannot Be an Honest Neoclassical Economist and Make the Trumpublican Tax “Reform” a Winner for U.S. National Income Growth…

…or, especially, after-tax real median growth. Or even 2%-ile income growth. Let alone well-being after cuts in public services.

You just can’t.

It doesn’t add up at any level. As a matter of arithmetic…

Just too much of existing capital income flows to foreigners. Too much of extra production generated by a capital inflow would be credited to foreigners. And domestic savings supply is relatively inelastic. Even if you put both hands on the scale and lean hard, it just doesn’t work, even without noting how much of payments to capital are monopoly rents and payments to other forms of capital that are not interest sensitive…

And Paul Krugman has been on fire this fall:

Figure 2 Accurate Diagram

(Plus the salmon (on my machine) rectangle, minus the… what color is that? (on my machine) brownish-gold rectangle—that’s the long-run change in U.S. national income from a budget neutral tax “reform” like that Trumpublicans are proposing. The effects of a deficit-increasing one are… less favorable.)

Krugman this fall:

  • (2017-10-05) Paul Krugman: The Transfer Problem and Tax Incidence: “Assuming I’ve done the algebra right, I get a rate of convergence of .059–that is, about 6 percent of the deviation from the long run eliminated each year. That’s pretty slow: it will take a dozen years to achieve even half the adjustment to the long run. What this says to me is that openness to world capital markets makes a lot less difference to tax incidence than people seem to think in the short run, and even in the medium run…”

  • (2017-10-21) Paul Krugman: Some Misleading Geometry on Corporate Taxes: “What’s wrong with this picture?… Four reasons I can think of…. A lot of what we tax with the corporate profits tax is… monopoly profits and other kinds of rents…. Capital mobility is far from perfect…. The US isn’t a small open economy…. Finally… capital inflows… have to be created by a temporarily overvalued real exchange rate… meaning very big trade deficits, meaning a strongly overvalued dollar…”

  • (2017-10-24) Paul Krugman: The Simple and Misleading Analytics of a Corporate Tax Cut: “The claim here is that the wage gains from a corporate tax cut exceed the revenue loss by a ratio that depends only on the initial tax rate, not at all on the degree to which capital can be substituted for labor, which in turn should (in this model) determine how much additional capital is drawn in by the tax cut. This feels wrong–and it is…”

  • (2017-10-25) Paul Krugan: Trump’s $700 Billion Foreign Aid Program: “A simple point, but one everyone—myself included—somehow missed: the Trump tax plan is a huge giveaway to foreigners. Among other things, this means that the tax plan almost certainly reduces U.S. welfare even if you ignore distributional issues…”

  • (2017-10-29) Pul Krugman: Tax Cut Fraudulence: The Usual Suspects: “A revival of some more traditional, Bush-era fraudulence…. In particular: First, the claim that the rich pay practically all the taxes, so that of course they have to get the bulk of the tax cut. Second, claims of vast growth, because Reagan…”

  • (2017-11-01) Paul Krugman: The Gravelle Geardown: “Why does Gravelle-type analysis ‘gear down’ the wage effects of lower corporate taxes so much?…. Four reasons, three of which are conceptually easy…. First, a lot of the profits we tax are rents…. Second, corporate capital is only part of the U.S. capital stock; half of fixed assets are residential, and a lot of the rest isn’t corporate…. Third, America isn’t small…. Finally, and this is the one that I find takes some work, we’re very far from having perfectly integrated markets for goods and services…. So how great an idea is cutting corporate taxes? About as great as Dow 36,000…”

  • (2017-11-08) Paul Krugman: Leprechaun Economics and Neo-Lafferism: “Not incidentally, Kevin Hassett appears to be confused about the economics here, imagining that a paper reduction in the US trade deficit due to changes in transfer pricing would bring in real jobs. It wouldn’t. There are really two bottom lines…. The true growth impacts of Cut Cut Cut would be even more pathetic than the numbers you’ve been hearing. The other is that if you’re going to make international capital flows central to your arguments, you really need to think about the implications for future investment income…”

  • (2017-11-09) Paul Krugman: Leprechaun Economics, With Numbers: “The TF model… I don’t believe for a minute…. Tax Foundation asserts that capital inflows will be enough to raise GDP more than 3%, which is wildly implausible. But let’s go with it…. The true gain to the US is 1.05%, not 3.45%. That’s a big difference, and not in a good way…. Even if you believe the whole ‘we’re a small open economy so capital will come flooding in’ argument, it buys you a lot less economic optimism than its proponents imagine…”

  • (2017-11-11) Paul Krugman: The Tax Foundation Has Some Explaining To Do: “I’m hearing from various sources that the Tax Foundation’s assessment of the Senate plan… is actually having an impact on debate in Washington. So we need to talk about TF’s model…. During… large-scale capital inflow, you must have correspondingly large trade deficits…. Second… foreigners aren’t investing in America for their health…. Most of any gain in GDP accrues to foreigners, not U.S. national income. So how does the TF model deal with these issues? They have never provided full documentation (which is in itself a bad sign), but the answer appears to be—it doesn’t…”

  • (2017-11-14) Paul Krugman: Tax Cuts And The Trade Deficit: “If you believe the TF analysis, you also have to believe that the Senate bill would lead to enormous trade deficits—and massive loss of manufacturing jobs. What would adding $600 billion per year to the trade deficit do?… The U.S. manufacturing sector would be around 20% smaller than it would have been otherwise. How would this happen? Huge capital inflows would drive up the dollar, making U.S. manufacturing much less competitive…”

The Page Which All Discussion of the Trumpublican Tax… “Reform”? “Cut”? “Giveway”? Should Start from…

Information from the very sharp Eric Toder: The House Ways and Means Tax Bill Would Raise the National Debt to 123 percent of GDP by 2037: “The Tax Policy Center estimates that the House Ways and Means Committee’s version of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA)…

…over the first decade… increases the deficit by $1.7 trillion…. Between 2028 and 2037, the TCJA would reduce net receipts by $1.6 trillion and add $920 billion in additional interest costs. Over the entire 20-year period, the combination of reduced revenues and higher interest payments would raise the federal debt held by the public by $4.2 trillion…

This is based on:

the baseline economic and budget estimates in the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) March, 2017 long-term and June, 2017 updated 10-year budget projections…

But, of course, if the Trumpublican plan is passed, the best forecast of how the economy would evolve would not be the baseline CBO spring 2017 projections, but would be different. How different, and in which direction?

The best way to explain what professional economists think is to follow turn-of-the-twentieth-century British economist Alfred Marshall and divided the analysis up into four “runs”, each of which corresponds to a different forecast horizon, and in each of which the dominant economic factors at work are different. Call these the “short run”, “medium run”, “long run”, and “very long run”. And be aware that this separation is a heuristic device to aid in understanding. In the real world, all of the factors are operating all at once over time, so that even in the “short run” it is the case that “long run” factors will have a (small) influence. Moreover, the “runs” do not always come in sequence: sometimes the “long run” is right now.

With that caveat, the “runs” are:

  1. The “short run”, usually of zero to four years. In the short run, the economy is not or is not necessarily at “full employment”. Production can be below or above the current value of its sustainable productive potential, and changes in policy can either kick spending down (in which case production falls, unemployment rises, and inflation slows), or kick spending up (in which case production rises, unemployment falls, and inflation speeds up). Over the short run these effects of policy changes on the level of production, employment, and inflation are the dominant impacts.

  2. The “medium run”, usually of one to fifteen years, in which price levels and standard policy reactions have had time to adjust and so match production to the economy’s sustainable potential and match inflation to its generally-expected value, but in which there has not yet been time for stocks of productive resources to substantially adjust to policies. Over this medium run, the dominant effects of policy changes are on the division of production and spending between consumption, investment, government purchases, and net exports, plus the concomitant effect of those shifts in the distribution of production on the medium-run rate of economic growth.

  3. The “long run”, typically of ten to thirty years, in which stocks of productive resources have adjusted to changed incentives. Price levels and standard policy reactions have adjusted and matched production to potential and inflation to expectations. Adjustment has taken place so that government budget and international balance conditions are no longer out of whack with unsustainable deficits or surpluses. Shifts in the distribution of production have raised or lowered relative resource stocks so that they are no longer changing relative to the economy. s a result, in the long run the value of the economy’s productive potential has jumped up or down relative to its previous baseline growth path.

  4. The “very long run”, in which demographic and technological change factors that determine not jumps up or down in the level of sustainable productive capacity but rather the evolution of the economy over generations.

What are the likely effects of the Trumpublican plan, if implemented, in these four “runs”?

First, there is no short run argument that the bigger government deficits produced by Trumpublican plan will boost the economy. In order for a plan that increases deficits to boost the economy, three things would have to all be true:

  1. The larger deficits must either generate more purchases of goods and services directly—by the government buying more stuff—or get more purchasing power into the hands of people who have a high propensity to spend extra cash because they feel short of cash. The Trumpublican plan gets many into the hands of the rich, who do not feel short of cash.

  2. Production in the economy must be low relative to sustainable potential, so that extra spending actually does put workers without jobs to work in factories currency standing idle. Right now it looks as though the economy is close to if not at its sustainable potential—but there is an ongoing debate about that.

  3. The Federal Reserve must believe that production in the economy is low relative to sustainable potential. It must, then, be willing to cry “Havoc!”, and let slip the dogs of a higher-pressure economy. Right now the Federal Reserve is certain that the economy is very near to if not at “full employment”, and will respond quickly and thoroughly by raising interest rates in order to keep spending on the path it currently envisions.

All of (1), (2), and (3) would have to be true together for there to be a correct argument that the Trumpublican plan would boost economic growth in the short run. (1) and (3) are certainly false. (2) is probably false.

We can, in this case, neglect the short run analysis. It is not there in this case.

Nevertheless, if it were there—if (1), (2), and (3) were true or were to become true—a tax cut would boost production. This short-run argument is completely standard. I see it, for example, on page 319 of my copy of N. Gregory Mankiw: Macroeconomics (9th edition)

Mankiw Short Run Tax Cut

Second, the medium run argument is that the Trumpublican tax ct for the rich will not boost but rather be a drag on the economy. It raises the budget deficit by about 0.7% of GDP. That means that private savings that would have gone to finance private investment spending are diverted to the government instead. That deficit increase shifts about 0.5%-points of production out of investment spending, decreases net exports by about 0.2%-points of production, and raises consumption—elite, upper-class consumption, for the rich are the ones to whom the money is flowing—by 0.7%-points of production.

This medium-run argument is completely standard. I see it, for example, on page 74 of my copy of N. Gregory Mankiw: Macroeconomics (9th edition)

Mankiw A Tax Cut

The 0.5%-point fall in investment in America will slow economic growth by about 0.05%-point per year: we would lose 10 billion dollars a year of economic growth each year over the next ten years. That would leave real production in a decade some 100 billion dollars a year less—about 1000 dollars a year less per family—than in the baseline forecast. In an economy current currently producing 20 trillion dollars worth of goods and services a year, that would not not an economy-shattering deal. But 1000 dollars a year less in income per family—0.5% lower real production in a decade—would hurt: it would be a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Third, the long run argument is that the Trumpublican plan could boost the economy by inducing more investment. It cuts taxes on profits from passive investments, making investing in them more, well, profitable. Thus money should flow in, and some of that money will be used to build buildings and install machines to make workers more productive. This could happen: the right assessment of this argument is “it depends”. For one thing, in the long run the plan is simply one part of the change in the economy and in incentives that the Trumpublican plan will set in motion. The government budget must add up properly in the long run, and so in any long run analysis the tax cuts for the rich must be balanced either now or in the future by spending cuts or tax increases for the non-rich, and those would have their own effects on incentives and thus on productivity. For another thing, who would the increased profits flow to, and who would benefit from increased productivity?

It is possible to roughly and approximately sketch out this long run argument in another standard framework, set out by Paul Krugman in Leprechaun Economics, With Numbers. Assume that we start with an economy with (as the U.S. economy has) 150 million workers, producing 20 trillion dollars of national income each year with the assistance of 80 trillion dollars of capital. Assume further that the pre-corporate-tax rate of return on capital is some 10.0% per year. With a corporate tax rate of 35%, that would give us an after-tax rate of return on capital of 6.5% per year.

Now cut the corporate tax rate to 20%. That would give us an after-tax rate of return on capital of 8% per year if investment and thus the capital stock were to not rise in response to this increase in profitability. But in the long run investment and the capital stock would rise. By how much? Three considerations appear dominant:

  1. Domestic savings are simply not responsive to rates of return. Lots of economists have looked at the question, hoping to find that increases in profitability call forth increases in domestic savings and thus in investment. They haven’t found much.

  2. The U.S. is a huge chunk of the world economy. Figure that changes in after-tax rates of return in the United States drag the required rate of return in the rest of the world up or down in its wake by about 1/3 as much.

  3. International capital does chase higher rates of return. But investors in other countries have a limited desire to commit their wealth far away: there is “home bias”. Figure that half of the gap between changes in rest-of-the-world and U.S. returns is closed by international flows of investment.

Take these three considerations into account, and figure that in the long run the after-tax rate of return would fall by about 1/3 of the initial gap between the 6.5% rate before the tax cut and the 8.0% rate after the tax cut. So foreign investment would flow into the United States and push up the capital stock and productivity until the after-tax rate of return were 7.5%—which means that in the long run the pre-tax rate of return on capital would fall to 9.3% from 10%, a proportional decline of 1/14.

As a rule of thumb, to reduce the rate of return on capital by 1/14 requires an increase in the capital stock of 1/14. But only about half total valued capital is machines and buildings: the rest is market power and market position, intellectual property, and other economic quasi-rents. With 40 trillion dollars of machines and buildings, a 1/14 increase is about 3 trillion additional dollars worth of investment and capital.

That extra 3 trillion of capital would boost total annual production by about 300 billion dollars. Of that 300 billion dollars, 225 billion would flow to the foreigners who provided the investment, leaving a 75 billion dollar boost to Americans’ national income—an 0.35% boost. I would be inclined to then double that number: there are valuable benefits to having more investment and more capital, as workers successfully bargain for a share of economic rents created and as more investment strengthens and makes more productive our communities of engineering practice. If I were working for the CEA or the Treasury, I would be comfortable claiming an 0.7% boost in the long run to national income from this tax cut as long as the other changes in policy that made the government’s accounts add up were something (like, say, a carbon tax) that did not impose their own drag on economic growth and well-being (as, say, spending cuts would.

But the medium run effects would still be there in the long run. We would thus have a -0.5% from the medium run; an +0.7% from the long run; and whatever costs would be imposed on the economy by government-budget-adding-up. That looks like a wash to me.

And, fourth, the very long run effects? Those are highly speculative: nobody is confident that they have the right approach to modeling those. I tend to be on the side of those who believe that making the American distribution of income more unequal is harmful to entrepreneurship, enterprise, and growth. A richer superrich are a more politically powerful superrich. Economic growth comes from creative destruction. And in creative destruction it is the current superrich who are creatively destroyed—and thus they use their power and influence to try to block beneficial change. But such arguments are not ones you can take home.

That is the economic analysis of the Trumpublican plan, in basic and approximate form. Everybody serious and professional who is doing an analysis winds up with these pieces:

  1. A short run near-zero negligible effect.
  2. A medium run drag on the economy from higher deficits the cumulates to around 0.5% of national income.
  3. A possible—but far from certain and maybe not even likely—boost to national income (if there is no drag from the other, currently unspecified policy shifts that arrive with the Trumpublican plan in the long run) of about the same magnitude.
  4. Very long run effects that we do not have a handle on.

If anyone tries to sell you estimates of the impact that differ very much—by orders of magnitude—from those I have just given above, there is something wrong with their model and their analysis. Politely, it is “non-standard”. Impolitely…

Plus, of course: it would be a tax cut for the rich—and by the fact that things add up, a tax increase on and a reduction in useful government services flowing to the nonrich. How big would these effects be? We have estimates from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:


Chye-Ching Huang, Guillermo Herrera, and Brendan Duke: The Bill’s Impact in 2027: “By 2027… the JCT tables show…

…The highest-income groups would still get the largest tax cuts as a share of after-tax income. Millionaires, for example, would see a 0.6 percent ($16,810) increase… the bill’s permanent corporate tax cuts would primarily flow to wealthy investors and highly paid CEOs and other executives.

Every income group below $75,000 would face tax increases, on average. For example, households between $40,000 and $50,000 would see a 0.6 percent ($310) decline in their after-tax incomes. Many millions more families would face a tax increase in 2027 than in 2025 due to the expiration of such provisions as the increases in the Child Tax Credit and standard deduction. Further, the effect of the chained CPI would grow over time as it would fall further and further behind the tax code’s current measure of inflation…

And the CBPP has a very good track record on these matters.

Do “They” Really Say: “Technological Progress Is Slowing Down”?


Consider the 256 GB memory iPhone X: Implemented in vacuum tubes in 1957, the transistors in an iPhoneX alone would have:

  • cost 150 trillion of today’s dollars: one and a half times today’s global annual product
  • taken up a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • drawn 150 terawatts of power—30 times the world’s current generating capacity


  • 4.3 billion transistors in the A-11
  • 2,199,023,255,552 bits in the 256 GB memory—each of which needs a transistor (and a capacitor)
  • Let’s say 2.5 trillion transistors…
  • And you can buy 256 GB of memory for $100—of which, say, 1/4 is the cost of a transistor.
  • So, say, 125 dollars’ worth of transistors in an iPhoneX

How much would it have cost you to buy a vacuum tube sixty years ago, back in 1957?

  • Well, in 1959 you could buy a one-byte—8-bit—Phister 366 for 65 dollars
  • So, say, 8 dollars a bit.
    • 8 dollars in 1957 is 60 dollars today via the GDP deflator
    • 8 dollars in 1957 is 160 dollars today as a share of U.S. nominal GDP per capita
    • 8 dollars in 1957 is 320 dollars today as a share of U.S. nominal GDP
Vacuum Tube Assembly

The transistors in an iPhoneX would, back in the late 1950s, implemented in vacuum tubes, have:

  • cost 150 trillion of today’s dollars, which is:
    • one and a half times today’s global annual product,
    • more than seven times today’s U.S. annual national product
    • forty times 1957’s U.S. national product
    • fourteen times 1957’s global annual product
  • taken up 100 billion square meters of floor space
    • that is (with a three-meter ceiling height per floor): a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • drawn 150 terawatts of power—30 times the world’s current generating capacity

Oh. And clock speed. The AN/FSQ-7 operated at 75khz. The A-11 is a 6-core 24 mhz processor:

  • 2000 100 billion square meter buildings, each a hundred-stories—300 meters high—and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • 3000 times today’s global annual product
  • 300 petawatts of power—60,000 time sthe world’s currnet generating capacity

for the late-1950s vacuum tubes to match one iPhoneX…

And we haven’t even gotten started on the hardware architecture, or on the software and maintenance support necessary to emulate an iPhoneX at speed back in the late 1950s…

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Information Technology and the Future of Society (Hoisted from 2001)

Hoisted from 2001: Information Technology and the Future of Society (My Bekeley CITRIS Kickoff Talk) For perhaps 9000 years after the beginnings of agriculture the overwhelming proportion of human work lives were spent making things: growing crops, shearing sheep, spinning yarn, weaving cloth, throwing pots, cutting down trees, copying books, and so on, and so forth.

Technology did improve enormously over those 9000 years: contrast the clothes-making technology at the disposal of Henry VIII of England with that of Rameses II of Egypt three thousand years before; contrast the triple-crop paddy-irrigated rice- and water-control-based agriculture of the Yangtze Delta in eighteenth-century China with the scratch-the-soil-with-a-hoe agriculture of two thousand years before.

But as Thomas Robert Malthus first wrote in the 1790s, rising populations had put enough pressure on scarce natural resources to offset the benefits of better technology and keep living standards nearly constant for the people if not for the elite: American President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 A.D. certainly enjoyed a higher standard of living than Roman Consul Marcus Tullius Cicero in 63 B.C. But did Jefferson’s slaves enjoy a higher standard of living than Cicero’s? A large amount of archeological evidence has not yet found significant differences.

For the past two hundred and fifty years, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the productivity of those workers who make things has exploded. Hand-spinners in the eighteenth century took 50,000 hours–20 full work-years–to spin 100 lbs of cotton into thread (Freeman and Louca (2001), and spinning of one sort or another took up perhaps 5% of total labor-time. Today it takes 40 work hours to spin 100 lbs. of cotton: a more than thousand-fold amplification of productivity in this one task.

As our productivity at growing crops and making things has exploded, demand for the things we make has grown too, but not fast enough to keep the crop-growing, food-cooking, mineral-extracting, clothes-making, box-carrying, and other goods-producing share of our economy’s labor force from falling. Today those who in any earlier age would be classified as “production workers”–and would have been the overwhelming majority of the labor force–are perhaps 20% of our economy, and the bulk of them are better characterized as machine-watchers and machine-fixers. According to Stanford’s Robert Hall, as early as 1980 there were twice as many salesmen in Ford-selling auto dealerships as there were assembly-line workers employed by Ford Motor Company.

So what are the rest of us–the other 80%–doing? In a sense, we all–from U.C. professors to chief technical officers to xerox operators, Ford Salesmen, cashiers, and parking-lot attendants–are and have long been information workers: people whose jobs are, if we examine them closely, largely concerned with determining what exactly the goods-producing sectors should make, how it should be made, where it should go, and to whom it should be distributed–and that is leaving aside the large chunk of our economy that is symbolic communication as an end in itself.

Today we see–not yet sharply, not yet clearly, but no longer dimly–the prospect that the ongoing technological revolutions in data processing and data communications will do for the “information” sectors of the economy something like what the Industrial Revolution did for goods-producing sectors like cotton spinning. As Steve Cohen over in the City Planning department here likes to say, you are now building the equivalent of the industrial-age tools for shaping and handling matter, but you are building tools for thought (Cohen, DeLong, and Zysman (2001)). And if we can figure out how to make these tools for thought fulfill their promise, they should produce a quantum jump in our technological power, economic productivity, and–we hope–quality of life of as many energy levels as the jump of the Industrial Revolution itself.

But there are major problems of social engineering and organizational design that stand in our way. A century or so ago, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, the market economy turned out to have an extraordinarily good fit with the developing industrial technologies of goods-making. It provided a framework of social organization that was extraordinarily effective in providing people with incentives to carry on activities that generated rapid technological development, capital accumulation, and economic growth.

An effective form of social organization faces decision makers with incentives that mirror the impacts of their actions on society as a whole.

Because the goods produced by industrial technologies were rival–that is, could only be of use to one person at one time–each person’s use of such a good diminished the supply available to the rest of society. Thus it made sense from the viewpoint of efficient distribution to require that users pay a price–diminish their ability to acquire and use other resources–for commodities. And those prices paid then gave producing organizations the resources to carry on and expand their activities.

Because the goods produced were excludable–that is, it was by-and-large straightforward to limit control over use to those authorized–it was easy and straightforward to push decision-making outward from the clueless bureaucratic center to the periphery where people on the ground might actually have a good sense of the situation, and of what should be done.

These three advantages–earmarking additional resources for successful and efficient production organizations, providing users with incentives for economically-efficient distribution, and decentralization of decision-making to where the knowledge was likely to be–were delivered by accident by the trade-and-market economic structure of Adam Smith.

But now as we try to realize the technological promise of information technologies, the old forms of economic organization no longer have a natural fit with the requirements of technological development and economic growth. Once an “information good” has been produced, sharing it with another person doesn’t reduce the rest of society’s resources and opportunities. So there is no efficient-distribution reason to charge a price for it.

But where then does the flow of signals to assess which production organizations are efficient come from?

In an earlier age we would be more inclined to rely on government funding, but these days we have a keen awareness of the advantages in applied development at least of semi-Darwinian competitive mechanisms, where investigators are responsible to investors seeking profits and not to committees seeking whatever committees seek.

Moreover, it is only with difficulty that information goods are excludable. But if their use can’t be restricted to authorized users, then the entire market-as-a-social-calculating-and-signalling mechanism simply breaks down. Unfortunately, attempts to make information goods “excludable” by various forms of use protection waste valuable time and energy: I shudder at the memory of having spent two hours on hold during three phone calls, and having spent another two hours of my time rebooting and reading installation error messages the last time I tried to upgrade one of the Adobe programs–GoLive–on this laptop. I doubt I’ll ever be able to face the prospect of buying another Adobe program again.

Two things, however, are clear. First, caught between “government failures” in applied research and the ever-larger “market failures” that will be created as the characteristics of information-age goods clash with the requirements for market efficiency, intermediate forms of organization–like large publicly-funded research universities–need to play an even larger role in research and development in the future than they have in the past.

Projects like CITRIS promise the benefits of government research–the wide distribution of knowledge and the acceleration of cumulative research–and the benefits of private entrepreneurship–the willingness to take risks and investigate large numbers of potential development projects rather than just those that have won the stamp of approval of a single central committee. It is the task of chancellors and deans, of course, to make sure that projects like CITRIS don’t wind up producing the drawbacks of both forms of organization: the strangulation by bureaucratic red-tape and committee infighting of government, combined with the restrictions on the distribution of information and the use of products that make a large share of private-sector development work duplicative of what has already been done.

Second, realizing the promise of the Societal-Scale Information Systems that are the Holy Grails of this quest will turn out to be a problem of social engineering as well as computer science. I have long wondered just why it was that the first half of the 1980s were the era of the IBM PC rather than of the DEC VAX–when the hardware cost of a VAX was, as best as I can guess, no more than 1/5 that of the equivalent number of 8086 machines, and when thanks largely to Berkeley UNIX there was no comparison at all in software. The answer lies somewhere in social engineering–that somehow paying out five times as much for inferior software was worth not having to wrestle with established MIS bureaucracies. But what the answer is I am not sure.

So let me turn this into a sales pitch for the social scientists at Berkeley interested in information technology–from Manuel Castells in sociology to Pam Samuelson and Mark Lemley at the law school to John Zysman and Steve Weber in political science to Hal Varian and his simians to Suzanne Scotchmer at public policy to the industrial organization and antitrust barons of the business school and the economics department–Glenn Woroch, Rich Gilbert, Dan Rubinfeld, Mike Katz, Carl Shapiro–and a host of others. I do not know of a place with a more vibrant and smarter community of scholars interested in the social engineering aspects of information technology.

And I do not know of a better place than this to assemble the resources to build the Societal-Scale Information Systems that can make information technologies realize their promise.

Open Letter from 1,470 Economists on Immigration

Open Letter from 1,470 Economists (Including Me) on Immigration Dear Mr. President, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan, and Minority Leader Pelosi:

The undersigned economists represent a broad swath of political and economic views.

Among us are Republicans and Democrats alike. Some of us favor free markets while others have championed for a larger role for government in the economy. But on some issues there is near universal agreement. One such issue concerns the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring.

As Congress and the Administration prepare to revisit our immigration laws, we write to express our broad consensus that immigration is one of America’s significant competitive advantages in the global economy. With the proper and necessary safeguards in place, immigration represents an opportunity rather than a threat to our economy and to American workers.

We view the benefits of immigration as myriad:

  • Immigration brings entrepreneurs who start new businesses that hire American workers.
  • Immigration brings young workers who help offset the large-scale retirement of baby boomers.
  • Immigration brings diverse skill sets that keep our workforce flexible, help companies grow, and increase the productivity of American workers.
  • Immigrants are far more likely to work in innovative, job-creating fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math that create life-improving products and drive economic growth.

Immigration undoubtedly has economic costs as well, particularly for Americans in certain industries and Americans with lower levels of educational attainment. But the benefits that immigration brings to society far outweigh their costs, and smart immigration policy could better maximize the benefits of immigration while reducing the costs.

We urge Congress to modernize our immigration system in a way that maximizes the opportunity immigration can bring, and reaffirms continuing the rich history of welcoming immigrants to the United States.