The least desirable way to handle this situation is to play ‘let’s make a deal’ with the rental agency once you’re at your destination ‘ you’d be at a total disadvantage and there may be no acceptably safe cars in the lot anyway. If your machine doesn’t have a 12V DC input jack, then you can still use a battery, but you’ll have to use an inverter. Later on, people feel great when they see their pictures

April 25, 2014 § Leave a comment


Piketty wants to provide a theory relevant to growth, which requires physical capital as its input. And yet he deploys an empirical measure that is unrelated to productive physical capital and whose dollar value depends, in part, on the return on capital. Where does the rate of return come from? Piketty never says. He merely asserts that the return on capital has usually averaged a certain value, say 5 percent on land in the nineteenth century, and higher in the twentieth.

The basic neoclassical theory holds that the rate of return on capital depends on its (marginal) productivity. In that case, we must be thinking of physical capital—and this (again) appears to be Piketty’s view. But the effort to build a theory of physical capital with a technological rate-of-return collapsed long ago, under a withering challenge from critics based in Cambridge, England in the 1950s and 1960s, notably Joan Robinson, Piero Sraffa, and Luigi Pasinetti.

Piketty devotes just three pages to the “Cambridge-Cambridge” controversies, but they are important because they are wildly misleading. He writes:

Controversy continued… between economists based primarily in Cambridge, Massachusetts (including [Robert] Solow and [Paul] Samuelson) . . . and economists working in Cambridge, England . . . who (not without a certain confusion at times) saw in Solow’s model a claim that growth is always perfectly balanced, thus negating the importance Keynes had attributed to short-term fluctuations. It was not until the 1970s that Solow’s so-called neoclassical growth model definitively carried the day.

But the argument of the critics was not about Keynes, or fluctuations. It was about the concept of physical capital and whether profit can be derived from a production function. In desperate summary, the case was three-fold. First: one cannot add up the values of capital objects to get a common quantity without a prior rate of interest, which (since it is prior) must come from the financial and not the physical world. Second, if the actual interest rate is a financial variable, varying for financial reasons, the physical interpretation of a dollar-valued capital stock is meaningless. Third, a more subtle point: as the rate of interest falls, there is no systematic tendency to adopt a more “capital-intensive” technology, as the neoclassical model supposed.

In short, the Cambridge critique made meaningless the claim that richer countries got that way by using “more” capital. In fact, richer countries often use less apparent capital; they have a larger share of services in their output and of labor in their exports—the “Leontief paradox.” Instead, these countries became rich—as Pasinetti later argued—by learning, by improving technique, by installing infrastructure, with education, and—as I have argued—by implementing thoroughgoing regulation and social insurance. None of this has any necessary relation to Solow’s physical concept of capital, and still less to a measure of the capitalization of wealth in financial markets.

There is no reason to think that financial capitalization bears any close relationship to economic development. Most of the Asian countries, including Korea, Japan, and China, did very well for decades without financialization; so did continental Europe in the postwar years, and for that matter so did the United States before 1970…

To summarize so far, Thomas Piketty’s book about capital is neither about capital in the sense used by Marx nor about the physical capital that serves as a factor of production in the neoclassical model of economic growth. It is a book mainly about the valuation placed on tangible and financial assets, the distribution of those assets through time, and the inheritance of wealth from one generation to the next.

Why is this interesting? Adam Smith wrote the definitive one-sentence treatment: “Wealth, as Mr. Hobbes says, is power.” Private financial valuation measures power, including political power, even if the holder plays no active economic role. Absentee landlords and the Koch brothers have power of this type. Piketty calls it “patrimonial capitalism”—in other words, not the real thing.

Thanks to the French Revolution, registry of wealth and inheritance has been good in Piketty’s homeland for a long time. This allows Piketty to show how the simple determinants of the concentration of wealth are the rate of return on assets and the rates of economic and population growth. If the rate of return exceeds the growth rate, then the rich and the elderly gain in relation to everyone else. Meanwhile, inheritances depend on the extent to which the elderly accumulate—which is greater the longer they live—and on the rate at which they die. These two forces yield a flow of inheritances that Piketty estimates to be about 15 percent of annual income presently in France—astonishingly high for a factor that gets no attention at all in newspapers or textbooks.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Mie Prefecture Fisheries Research Institute


The cessation was glibly attributed to the Great Fire: but in every other city in England the Plague ceased at about the same time

November 21, 2013 § Leave a comment


While virtually all mainstream economists believe in a long-term Say’s Law (supply creates demand, so the ultimate constraint on long term growth comes from the supply side), the real constraint on long-term growth in a developed capitalist economy is always on the demand side. (Note that there’s nothing new in the Summers/Krugman recognition of secular stagnation; David Levy called it a “contained depression” in 1991; Wallace Peterson announced a “silent depression” in 1994; and I demonstrated in 1999 that the problem is chronically constrained demand. At a recent Levy Institute conference in Rio, Paul McCulley laid out what he called a fundamental economic principle: Microeconomics and Macroeconomics are inherently different disciplines. Macro is demand-side; micro is supply-side. For any practical time horizon, demand always drives supply.)

I know what I’m saying is heretical, even though it is fully backed by all the data. And this stagnation is not due to a liquidity trap, or to a negative “natural” rate of interest. It is in the nature of the productivity of capitalist investment in plant and equipment. To put it in simple terms, the problem is that investment is just too damned productive.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Antonio Olmos

If the revolution ain’t gonna be televised then, fuck, I’ll probably miss it

May 7, 2013 § Leave a comment


Niall Ferguson has apologized for his offensive suggestion that Keynes’ phrase on being dead in the long run was somehow related to his sexuality or the fact that he was childless. Good for him. Note, however, that in that famous phrase from the Tract on Monetary Reform, from 1923, Keynes was still very much a conventional Marshallian author who thought that full employment would reassert itself, and that the Quantity Theory of Money (QTM) worked pretty well. In fact, it is often said that the Tract was Milton Friedman’s favorite among all of Keynes’ books.

The full quote says:

“But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”

The point of the quote is that in the long run everything would be fine, since markets do get to full employment, and so, even without intervention, deflation and inflation do its magic, but the process is too long and painful, so it would be more reasonable to act in the short run. This was typical of the Cambridge version of Marginalism, which was very much in favor of government intervention to deal with market imperfections in the short run. This is true of Marshal and Pigou, as well as Robertson, and certainly Keynes, before the General Theory. Note that this does not mean, as most people think, that one should only be concerned with the short run. The point is that action in the short run facilitates the road towards the fully adjusted equilibrium in the long run.

This was still essentially Keynes’ view by 1930, when he published the Treatise on Money, a book that is essentially Wicksellian [so at least he got rid of the QTM in this book], and that suggests that unemployment results from a monetary rate of interest that is too high with respect to the natural rate, in practice as a result from the Gold Standard rules, which Keynes wanted to abandon. [This precedes the modern views that the Gold Standard caused the Depression, by the way, as say defended by Barry Eichengreen]. This was a cyclical crisis that could be solved by reducing the monetary rate of interest, and in the short run employment programs, something Keynes defended in Can Lloyd George Do It?

The point of the General Theory (GT) is that there is no natural rate of interest, meaning that reducing the rate of interest would not bring investment to the full employment level of savings, and that the crisis was caused by lack of demand. The equilibrium between investment and savings was determined by variations in the level of output, and in the long run we are not self adjusted to full employment. Hence, the very logic of the phrase above is debunked by Keynes, when he became Keynesian, so to speak, and got rid of the old modes of thinking.  read more


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