Cook, Elcano, and Circumnavigation

New Zealand is in the process of commemorating, commiserating and/or celebrating James Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. New Zealand was merely one stop on his trip, albeit a lengthy one, which proceeded onwards to Australia, Java (where nearly a third of the crew died from dysentery), Cape Town and back to England.  It was the 25th circumnavigation of the world.

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Are real wages lower than 40 years ago

While rolling around the internet I found the following:

Lets have a look shall we.

Interesting!  But something seems a bit off – surely this can’t be true!?  Let us investigate.

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10 years after Lehman

I have been enjoying the live tweeting of the Lehman Brothers failure – with a 10 year delay.

On the day I had this to say.

Then 10 years ago today I tried to provide some predictions.  The terms of trade fell a little more than I expected (to their 2005 levels rather than to their 2007 level), but otherwise they weren’t that bad – credit rationing was predominantly in the construction sector, mortgage rates fell, and in NZ the crisis was nothing like the Great Depression.  But this:

As long as the information transfer between market participants begins to improve again this crisis will be a historical point of interest in a years time – rather than the beginning of the end.

Glad I conditioned it on the idea that there were be a recognition of loss between debtors and creditors – because once that didn’t happen in Europe the crisis just kept on trucking.  With everything calming down by mid-2009 the world was recovering.  Then Greece in May 2010.  Then my goodness just look at this this cluster.  Finally in 2012 there was a recognition of the need for a lender of last resort in Europe.

If you want a retrospective I did one back in 2014 😉

Christmas reading: McCloskey on Piketty

It’s taken me a month to read it but Deirdre McCloskey’s essay on Piketty’s Capital is just as persuasive as you’d expect. Print it and read it with your family over Christmas!

The review doesn’t break any new ground but it is eloquent and engaging. Her central themes are: Read more

A (very) short history of UK fiscal rules

Earlier this week the UK Government announced its new fiscal rule, which defines the fiscal envelope. For those of you who aren’t British, the deficit exceeded 10% of GDP during the recession and fiscal sustainability has become an important political issue, even for people who aren’t econ junkies! Unfortunately, this new rule is unlikely to encourage the sort of sustainability that the Government is hoping for. To understand why, I’m going to write a short series of posts on fiscal rules. This first post will briefly review the history of fiscal rules in the UK. For people who love technical details, this paper by Simon Wren-Lewis and Jonathan Portes is a great review and I’ll be coming back to it later.

A fiscal rule is simply a set of objectives that guide and constrain the Government as it makes policy. The rule usually comprises targets for debt and the deficit, with many variations in the details. Rules were introduced to the UK in 1997 by the then-Chancellor, Gordon Brown. Since then they have had a rocky history, as the chart shows:

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Common sense, economics, and beliefs

I see Scott Sumner has come out saying that we shouldn’t necessarily judge economic outcomes on whether they meet a “common sense” test, giving the example of an individual looking at social security.  Bryan Caplan has criticised this, claiming the common sense is the foundation of all reason and stating that in the example Scott gives by stating the Scott is only making the argument by making the assumptions sound more plausible.

I’m not going to come down the middle in this, I’m going to disagree with both of them.  The focus on an individual decision regarding something that effects only the individual (superannuation) misses the point of common sense beliefs – and isn’t the best way for Scott to make his claim regarding the difference between “truth” and “plausibility”.  Remember, beliefs include our beliefs about others – and how this corresponds to (and can be valued as) aggregate action.

I’ve written about common sense and economics before. To quote wikipedia.

Common sense is a basic ability to perceiveunderstand, and judge things which is shared by (“common to”) nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate

As a result, common sense is a theory of belief formation – not just beliefs regarding your own actions, but beliefs regarding the actions of those around you.

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