In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
Kennedy was right - "Much that is valuable is neither tangible nor tradable... Gross domestic product (GDP) is increasingly a poor measure of prosperity. It is not even a reliable gauge of production."* [more inside]
World After Capital by Albert Wenger [Work in Progress; GitHub; GitBook; PDF; FAQ] - "Technological progress has shifted scarcity for humanity. When we were foragers, food was scarce. During the agrarian age, it was land. Following the industrial revolution, capital became scarce. With digital technologies scarcity is shifting from capital to attention. World After Capital suggests ways to expand economic, informational and psychological freedom to go from an industrial to a knowledge society." (previously)
Elizabeth Warren has a great idea for making Tax Day less painful - "She's taking on TurboTax and other predatory companies." [more inside]
an introduction to fiat money (pdf) by Steve Randy Waldman:* - "Self-reinforcing bootstrap dynamics hold as strongly for a king's token as it would for any other thing, but much more stably so, since the king can reinforce and assure the stability of his token so long as he retains the political capacity to coerce or persuade payment of tax." (via) [more inside]
How do you make a secure record of a debt or exchange if you can't read or write? Cut a number of notches across a stick to symbolize the assets involved, then split the wood lengthwise: you now have two tamper-proof receipts, one for each party to the transaction. The split tally method formed the basis for much of European bookkeeping between medieval times and the modern era. [more inside]
Helicopter drops might not be far away - "Central banks could be given the power to send money, ideally in electronic form, to every adult citizen. Would this add to demand? Absolutely."
A Reddit thread recently broke down the exchange rate between Wizard and Muggle money, and in doing so shed some interesting light on the financial disparity between many of the characters in the Harry Potter universe. [more inside]
For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions -"The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income." (via) [more inside]
Venture capitalist Paul Graham starts 2016 with an essay on Economic Inequality
Since the 1970s, economic inequality in the US has increased dramatically. And in particular, the rich have gotten a lot richer. Some worry this is a sign the country is broken. I'm interested in the topic because I am a manufacturer of economic inequality. I've become an expert on how to increase economic inequality, and I've spent the past decade working hard to do it.[more inside]
Rewrite the rules to benefit everyone, not just the wealthy - "If there's one thing Joseph Stiglitz wants to say about inequality, it's that it has been a choice, not an unexpected, unfortunate economic outcome. That's unnerving, but it also means that citizens and politicians have the opportunity to fix the problem before it gets worse." (via) [more inside]
The Future of (Post)Capitalism - "Paul Mason shows how, from the ashes of the recent financial crisis, we have the chance to create a more socially just and sustainable global economy." (previously; via) [more inside]
Breaking the Tragedy of the Horizon – climate change and financial stability: Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warns investors face 'huge' climate change losses - "The Financial Stability Board, an international body monitoring the global financial system that Mr Carney chairs, may recommend G20 countries make it easier for investors to compare the 'carbon intensity' of different assets." [more inside]
FINLAND: New Government Commits to a Basic Income Experiment - "The Finnish government of Juha Sipilä is considering a pilot project that would give everyone of working age a basic income."[1,2,3] (via) [more inside]
In case you missed it Ethereum announced its first developer release a week ago. What is Ethereum? According to the video it's a "planetary scale computer powered by blockchain technology." Given the breathlessness, some skepticism is in order, but what if it purports to do on the tin is true? [more inside]
Joe Stiglitz on Inequality, Wealth, and Growth: Why Capitalism is Failing (video; if you don't have 30m, skip to 20m for discussion of political inequality, wealth, credit and monetary policy) - "If the very rich can use their position to get higher returns, more investment information, more extraction of rents, and if the very rich have equal or higher savings rates, then wealth will become more concentrated... economic inequality inevitably gets translated into political inequality, and political inequality gets translated into more economic inequality. The basic and really important idea here is that markets don't exist in a vacuum, that market economies operate according to certain rules, certain regulations that specify how they work. And those effect the efficiency of those markets, but they also effect how the fruits of the benefits of those markets are distributed and the result of that is there are large numbers of aspects of our basic economic framework that in recent years have worked to increase the inequality of wealth and income in our society... leading to a society which can be better described, increasingly, as an inherited plutocracy." [more inside]
The top 25 hedge fund managers earn more than all kindergarten teachers in U.S. combined. "'Last year turned out to be the worst one for this elite group of investors since the stock market meltdown of 2008,' Institutional Investors' Stephen Taub writes, adding, 'How bad was it?' apparently without irony." [more inside]
China rates its own citizens - including online behaviour: "The Chinese government is currently implementing a nationwide electronic system, called the Social Credit System, attributing to each of its 1,3 billion citizens a score for his or her behavior. The system will be based on various criteria, ranging from financial credibility and criminal record to social media behavior. From 2020 onwards each adult citizen should, besides his identity card, have such a credit code." [more inside]
Foundation: Public Goods and Options for the Bottom Billions - "Human beings just don't handle the very long run well" and that's where government increasingly comes in... (via) [more inside]
Imagine you could invest in the stock market last week, with perfect knowledge of how it will move this week. 25 year old Frenchman Max-Hervé George does not need a Delorean, he is the beneficiary of a very unusual 8000 euro life insurance policy that lets him do just that. He could be a billionaire by the end of this decade and, by the end of the next, his contract would be worth more than the insurance company which stands behind it, Aviva France.
Let Us Face the Future - "All parties pay lip service to the idea of jobs for all. All parties are ready to promise to achieve that end by keeping up the national purchasing power and controlling changes in the national expenditure through Government action. Where agreement ceases is in the degree of control of private industry that is necessary to achieve the desired end. In hard fact, the success of a full employment programme will certainly turn upon the firmness and success with which the Government fits into that programme the investment and development policies of private as well as public industry." [more inside]
The End of Banking: Money, Credit, and the Digital Revolution - "Unregulated banking with access to government guarantees is an enticing business model. It offers the profits of excessive risk-taking in good times, and allows passing on the inevitable losses to taxpayers in bad times." [more inside]
The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States (PDF); prospectus (PDF); press coverage (YT) - "The signature effects of human-induced climate change—rising seas, increased damage from storm surge, more frequent bouts of extreme heat—all have specific, measurable impacts on our nation's current assets and ongoing economic activity. [The report] uses a standard risk-assessment approach to determine the range of potential consequences for each region of the U.S.—as well as for selected sectors of the economy—if we continue on our current path..." [more inside]
Free Money for Everyone - "A wacky-sounding idea with surprisingly conservative roots may be our best hope for escaping endless, grinding economic stagnation." (via) [more inside]
There is another bubble. Before it's burned, Coal, Oil and Gas sit for years on the balance sheets of private (and national) resource companies, as "known reserve" assets. Assets that, someday, will become revenues. Or will they? And if they won't, what will the balance sheets of ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Petrochina, and Gazprom actually look like? [more inside]
This shift in how companies are governed and raise money is bringing with it a structural change in American capitalism. That should be a matter of great debate. Are these new businesses, with their ability to circumvent rules that apply to conventional public companies, merely adroit exploiters of loopholes for the benefit of a plutocratic few? Or do they reflect the adaptability on which America’s vitality has always been based? - Rise of the distorporation - how changes in the way companies are financed and managed is changing the wealth distribution of America.
"... and so I took an economics course and I loved it," during a phone interview in the early morning today. Likewise, conversations with Robert Shiller and Lars Peter Hansen, shortly after the 2013 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded jointly to them for their academic contributions to the field of asset pricing. UChicago News, Yale News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Bloomberg report. [more inside]
How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio actually makes a case against austerity and for redistribution, but also for money printing (and, arguably, for bailouts), while stressing the need to keep making productivity-improving public and private investments. However, it could be equally entitled: How The Industrial Age Political-Economy Doesn't Work Anymore, viz. Surviving Progress (2011)... [more inside]
PayPal locked down the developer’s account, and said it could only have 50% of the funds. The rest would be released as development continued, based on PayPal’s assessment of the situation. PayPal was, essentially, going to become a producer going forward. Crowdfunding's Secret Enemy is PayPal
"Gold's crash this weekend is, as Oprah might say, a teachable moment. Crashes like this are a good way to find out how markets work. It's like a game of financial Clue, a way to keep sharp your skills of deduction. You don't have to be a stock investor or a math whiz to figure it out, either – you just have to have a good grasp of news and human psychology." - the Guardian on this week's crash in gold commodity prices.
"Trusting your child with someone else is one of the hardest things that a parent has to do — and in the United States, it’s harder still, because American day care is a mess. About 8.2 million kids—about 40 percent of children under five — spend at least part of their week in the care of somebody other than a parent. Most of them are in centers, although a sizable minority attend home day cares.... In other countries, such services are subsidized and well-regulated. In the United States, despite the fact that work and family life has changed profoundly in recent decades, we lack anything resembling an actual child care system. Excellent day cares are available, of course, if you have the money to pay for them and the luck to secure a spot. But the overall quality is wildly uneven and barely monitored, and at the lower end, it’s Dickensian."
"Maybe it's a sore point: your field should have an answer (people think you do) but there isn't one yet. Perhaps it's simple to pose but hard to answer. Or it's a question that belies a deep misunderstanding: the best answer is to question the question."
Economists and the theory of politics - "why unions were often well worth any deadweight cost" [more inside]
"We decided to go on an adventure through the financial statements of one bank [Wells Fargo], to explore exactly what they do and do not show, and to gauge whether it is possible to make informed judgments about the risks the bank may be carrying. We chose a bank that is thought to be a conservative financial institution, and an exemplar of what a large modern bank should be."
What's Going On In Japan? "Really Japan is quite a remarkable case, since neither fiscal nor monetary policy seems to be working to achieve the anticipated results. This year Japan will have a fiscal deficit of around 10% of GDP and gross government debt will hit 235% of GDP, yet the country is still struggling to find growth. Instead of reiterating old dogmas (whether they come from Keynes or from Hayek) more people should be asking themselves what is happening here. This is not a simple repetition of something which was first time tragedy and is now second time tragedy, it is something new, and could well be a harbinger for more that is to come, elsewhere. Oh, why oh why are economists not more curious?" [more inside]
The complete guide to America's jobs crisis and the failure of monetary policy using animated gifs
Financial Markets, Politics and the New Reality: "Louis M. Bacon is the head of Moore Capital Management, one of the largest and most influential hedge funds in the world. Last week, he announced that he was returning one quarter of his largest fund, about $2 billion, to his investors, [saying] it is impossible to make money when there is heavy political involvement, because political involvement introduces unpredictability in the market… Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who modern investors so admire, [never] used the term "economics" by itself, but only in conjunction with politics; they called it political economy… The investors' problem is that they mistake the period between 1991 and 2008 as the norm and keep waiting for it to return."
Tails of the Unexpected: "Normality has been an accepted wisdom in economics and finance for a century or more. Yet in real-world systems, nothing could be less normal than normality. Tails should not be unexpected, for they are the rule." An eminently human-readable explanation of why normal models fail to describe the uncertainties of our abnormal world. [more inside]
The Incentive Bubble (ungated pdf) - "The fraying of the compact of American capitalism by rising income inequality and repeated governance crises is disturbing. But misallocations of financial, real, and human capital arising from the financial-incentive bubble are much more worrisome to those concerned with the competitiveness of the American economy." [more inside]
The New Priesthood - "The hapless economist uses the same tools as acclaimed physicists and astronomers. She has trained for years to speak precisely the same language as them, to understand the same advanced mathematics, to deploy most complex statistical methods which are an essential part of the scientific toolbox. It is, understandably, incredibly difficult to accept that her work is a form of higher order superstition; a religion couched in the language of mathematics and statistics. Tragically, this is precisely what it is." [more inside]
The Control Revolution And Its Discontents - "the long process of algorithmisation over the last 150 years has also, wherever possible, replaced implicit rules/contracts and principal-agent relationships with explicit processes and rules."
The seven biggest economic lies with Robert Reich.
Counterparties is a nice little collection of curated and tagged economic news stories, 5-8 every day. It is edited in part by the admirable (and MetaFave) financial journalist Felix Salmon.
Economics blog VoxEU debates Why do we need a financial sector? Serious, important and very dull articles discuss the trade-offs and myths of innovation, and whether the sector is overrated, critical or a contributor to the wider economy.