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November 2012

Rich Hornbeck and Dan Keniston: Creative Destruction from the Great Boston Fire of 1872: Barriers to Urban Growth Illuminated

Rich Hornbeck and Dan Keniston: Creative Destruction from the Great Boston Fire of 1872: Barriers to Urban Growth Illuminated

What can we learn about rigidities and the process of urban transformation?

Chicago 1871, Boston 1872, Baltimore 1904, San Francisco 1906, Chelsea 1908, Salem 1914. Christine Rosen's book The Limits of Power--on the first four--mostly on how opportunities for change were not grasped because of vested political interests.

Model: you overbuild relative to the current neighborhood, you watch over time as the neighborhood gets richer and richer, and then you tear down and build a new building when your building falls below some relative trigger value. The fire disrupts this process, and requires starting over.

By 1894, buildings in the burned area are higher-quality buildings than elsewhere in Boston by about 30%--and buildings outside the burned area up to 800 feet away from the burned area are higher-quality buildings too.

Thus they see urban amenity spillovers having effects on the scale and quality of new construction...

David Beckworth Correctly Says That the Hard-Money Austerians Are Not Entitled to Their Own Facts

He's looking at you, William Poole, David Warsh, Allan Meltzer, Arnold Kling, John Taylor, Michael Panzner, Mickey Levy, and others…

David Beckworth:

Macro and Other Market Musings: The Fed, The Budget Deficit, and The Facts: My last post generated some heated push back from the hard-money types. That post showed the Fed sill has about the same share of treasuries, 15%, as it did before the crisis. Thus, the large run up in public debt over the past four years has been funded mostly by individuals, their financial intermediaries, and foreigners. The Fed has not been the great enabler of the government deficits as claimed by the hard-money types. This fact seems to have been very uncomfortable for them because they largely ignored it.  Instead, they quibbled with my definition of debt monetization and resorted to ad-hominen attacks. 

Given these responses, it is probably too much to hope for further meaningful engagement with them.

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Michael Mann vs. Nate Silver on Global Warming

Ask Nate Silver about global warming skeptics, and he will say something like:

One type of skepticism flows from self-interest. In 2011 alone, the fossil fuel industry spent about $300 million on lobbying activities.... What they say should not be mistaken for an attempt to make accurate predictions.... A second type of skepticism falls into the category of contrarianism. In any contentious debate, some people will find it advantageous to align themselves with the crowd, while a smaller number will come to see themselves as persecuted outsiders.... “If you look at climate, if you look at ozone, if you look at cigarette smoking, there is always a community of people who are skeptical of the science-driven results,” Rood told me.

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jonathan Weisman of the New York Times Is Very Unhappy That the Democratic Plan Is Not a Republican Plan

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Jonathan Weisman: White House Offers New Fiscal Plan, Prodding G.O.P.: WASHINGTON — House Republicans said on Thursday that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner presented the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a detailed proposal to avert the year-end fiscal crisis with $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years, an immediate new round of stimulus spending, home mortgage refinancing and a permanent end to Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits.

The proposal, loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts, was likely to meet strong Republican resistance. In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other entitlements, to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.

He did propose some upfront cuts in programs like farm price supports, but did not specify an amount or any details. And senior Republican aides familiar with the offer said those initial spending cuts might well be outnumbered by upfront spending increases, including at least $50 billion in infrastructure spending, mortgage relief, an extension of unemployment insurance and a deferral of automatic cuts to physician reimbursements under Medicare…

"Might well be outnumbered"? Can't Republicans count.

A real reporter would have asked Boehner: "Where is your plan?"

But not Jonathan Weisman.

The Fiscal Cliff: Project Syndicate

And we are live: America’s Political Recession:

BERKELEY – The odds are now about 36% that the United States will be in a recession next year. The reason is entirely political: partisan polarization has reached levels never before seen, threatening to send the US economy tumbling over the “fiscal cliff” – the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect at the beginning of 2013 unless Democrats and Republicans agree otherwise.

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Can't Any Republicans Play This Game?

Ezra Klein looks at the dirigible explosion in bemusement:

The GOP’s Medicare confusion: The austerity crisis talks have hit a peculiar impasse. The problem isn’t, as most analysts expected, taxes…. And the particular Medicare problem isn’t that Democrats are refusing the GOP’s proposed Medicare cuts. It’s that Republicans are refusing to name their Medicare cuts.

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May I Say That I Really Have Absolutely No Idea What Robert Lucas Is Talking About...

FRED Graph  St Louis Fed 5

…when he claims that the post-World War II evidence "overwhelmingly supports the dominant importance of real shocks" to tastes and technologies in explaining fluctuations in unemployment at frequencies higher than 1/10yr?

What is that evidence?

Where is it? What shocks to tastes drove the unemployment rate up from 5.3% in 1989 to 7.6% in 1992? What shocks to technologies did so?

Continue reading "May I Say That I Really Have Absolutely No Idea What Robert Lucas Is Talking About..." »

Karl Smith Sends Us to Simon Blackburn on Thomas Nagel on Materialism

Simon Blackburn: Nagel’s central idea is that there are things that science, as it is presently conceived, cannot possibly explain. The current conception is that, given a purely physical beginning, everything else – chemistry, biology, life, mind, consciousness, intelligence, values, understandings, even science – follows on by natural processes. Particles beget atoms beget molecules beget enzymes beget proteins beget life begets Homo sapiens who begets the Royal Society and the rules of tennis. We do not understand every step in this process, naturally, but we can be reasonably confident of its overall shape and confident, too, that any remaining gaps that can be closed will be closed only by more understanding of the same broad kind that we already have….


Karl Smith: I hesitate to contradict Simon Blackburn, but I am not sure his description of the “current conception” does it justice.

Continue reading "Karl Smith Sends Us to Simon Blackburn on Thomas Nagel on Materialism" »

Romney Adviser Stuart Stevens Brags About Losing Poor Voters

Romney Advisor Stuart Stevens:

On Nov. 6, Mitt Romney carried the majority of every economic group except those with less than $50,000 a year in household income. That means he carried the majority of middle-class voters. While John McCain lost white voters under 30 by 10 points, Romney won those voters by seven points, a 17-point shift…. The Republican Party has problems, but as we go forward, let’s remember that any party that captures the majority of the middle class must be doing something right. Republican ideals — Mitt Romney — carried the day.

Benjy Sarlin of Talking Points Memo comment:

Unfortunately for Romney, poor and minority votes counted just the same as the allegedly superior votes Stevens favored. The result was an electoral college blowout for the president powered by strong turnout and margins among young voters, Latinos, African Americans, and women. But Stevens had an explanation for that, too. Obama was “a charismatic African American president with a billion dollars, no primary and a media that often felt morally conflicted about being critical. How easy is that to replicate?”

Ezra Klein: Mitch McConnell’s five biggest whoppers on the filibuster

Ezra Klein:

Mitch McConnell’s five biggest whoppers on the filibuster: The specific changes [to Senate rules] Reid envisions aren’t particularly dramatic: He wants to be able to make the motion to debate a bill — but not the vote to pass it — immune to the filibuster; he wants the time it would take to break a filibuster to be shorter; and he wants whoever is filibustering to have to hold the floor of the Senate and talk. None of these changes would alter the basic reality of the modern U.S. Senate, which is that it takes 60 votes to get almost anything done. In my view, that means they wouldn’t do much to fix the Senate at all. Nevertheless, McConnell is furious. But many of the arguments he was making on the floor Monday don’t hold up to even the barest scrutiny.

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Liveblogging World War II: November 29, 1942

402745 Pilot Officer Rawdon Hume MIDDLETON R.A.A.F.:

Attached to 149 Squadron, R.A.F.

Night of 28th-29th November, 1942, in raid on Turin, Italy

Flight Sergeant Middleton was captain and first pilot of a Stirling aircraft detailed to attack the Fiat works at Turin in November 1942. Great difficulty was experienced on the way to the target and while over the target the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Flight Sergeant Middleton was badly wounded and his right eye was destroyed. The second pilot was also badly wounded. The possibilities of abandoning the aircraft or landing in northern France were discussed but Flight Sergeant Middleton stated his intention to attempt to reach the English coast.

After crossing the Channel there was only sufficient fuel for five minutes flying. Flight Sergeant Middleton flew the aircraft parallel with the coast and ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. Five of the crew left the aircraft and two remained to assist him. The aircraft crashed into the sea and all remaining onboard were killed.

Flight Sergeant Middleton was determined to attack the target regardless of the consequences and not to allow his crew to fall into enemy hands. While all the crew displayed heroism of a high order, the urge to do so came from Flight Sergeant Middleton, whose fortitude and strength of will made possible the completion of the mission. His devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds is unsurpassed in the annals of the Royal Air Force

Things I Forgot to Note at the Time: Eschaton Memories

Barack Obama's greatest unforced error, via Duncan Black:

Eschaton: Memories: SOTU 2010.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will. ... I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger. But understand – if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery – all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.

We had recovery summer and then it was all better.

DeLong Smackdown Watch: Winged Angelic Reasoning Beings vs. Jumped-Up Monkeys with Evolved Humean Heuristics Weblogging: Lee Arnold Summons the Ghost of Kurt Gödel

Lee Arnold summons the ghost of Kurt Gödel to make the careful argument that are minds might not be "mechanical": after all

Lee Arnold: It could remain problematic. There is also the possibility that if reason is an evolutionary development, we still may not be able to describe how it happened, nor run a Turing machine to evolve it again in silico. Consider Kurt Gödel's remarks on several consequences of his own theorem, quoted in Hao Wang, A Logical Journey: From Gödel to Philosophy (MIT Press, 1996):

The human mind is incapable of formulating (or mechanizing) all its mathematical intuitions. That is, if it has succeeded in formulating some of them, this very fact yields new intuitive knowledge, for example the consistency of this formalism. This fact may be called the 'incompletability' of mathematics. On the other hand, on the basis of what has been proved so far [1972], it remains possible that there may exist (and even be empirically discoverable) a theorem-proving machine which in fact IS equivalent to mathematical intuition, but cannot be PROVED to be so, nor even be proved to yield only CORRECT theorems of finitary number theory. (pp.184-5)

Either the human mind surpasses all machines (to be more precise: it can decide more number-theoretical questions than any machine) or else there exist number-theoretical questions undecidable for the human mind. [It is not excluded that both alternatives may be true. -- Wang] (p.185)

My incompleteness theorem makes it likely that mind is not mechanical, or else mind cannot understand its own mechanism. If my result is taken together with the rationalistic attitude which Hilbert had and which was not refuted by my results, then [we can infer] the sharp result that mind is not mechanical. This is so, because, if the mind were a machine, there would, contrary to this rationalistic attitude, exist number-theoretic questions undecidable for the human mind. (p.186-7)

Continue reading "DeLong Smackdown Watch: Winged Angelic Reasoning Beings vs. Jumped-Up Monkeys with Evolved Humean Heuristics Weblogging: Lee Arnold Summons the Ghost of Kurt Gödel" »

Ezra Klein Pleads with Republicans to Be Not-Insane


Ezra Klein: Presidential campaigns… usually focus on… hope and change. The candidates promise big grand new policies and how everything's going to be different and then they get elected and they go to Congress, and Congress usually just says no. This time… is different. Candidate Obama in 2008 promised universal health care. And shockingly, unlike the many, many presidents who had run for office and been elected promising that before him, President Obama was pretty much able to get it passed into law. But though the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, it wasn't scheduled to actually begin until 2014…. You might have heard the old saw that elections have consequences. This election had real, completely life changing consequences for the 30 million uninsured people and maybe millions more who will get health care coverage because President Obama [has been] re-elected and… the Affordable Care Act will take effect. That is not just change you can believe in, or change you can hope for. It is change that is actually happening. It is happening even as we speak right now. It doesn't need another vote in Congress or to clear another challenge before the Supreme Court. It is law and even John Boehner knows it.

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Is Taxing Capital OK?

Miles Kimball: Is Taxing Capital OK?:

In simple economic models taxing capital has one of the biggest long-run negative effects on the economy of any tax. It looks OK in the short run, but with lower investment, the capital stock gradually declines. In this spirit you would be better off taxing land a la Henry George, since the amount of land won’t decline even if you tax it…. One way to tax capital some in a way that won’t hurt capital formation is to shift from labor taxation (such as Social Security taxes) to consumption taxation, since in the long run the shift to consumption taxation increases taxes on people who have the wealth to consume more than they earn…. [T]he short-run temptation is much like the short-run temptation to have rent control…. If the government taxes capital now and promises never to tax it again, the story gets more interesting. In theory, forcing all companies to issue non-voting stock to the government worth 90% of a firm’s value would have no distorting effects, and so would be the perfect tax as long as people believed the government would never do it again…. Getting government institutions set up to block the recurrence of this ultimately self-contradictory logic behind taxing capital a lot now and promising never to do it again is actually one of the trickiest problems….

Robert Waldmann

Abstract: It is well known that, in standard growth models, the optimal tax on capital income goes to zero asymptotically. Even some serious economists (cough Glenn Hubbard cough) seem to have decided this means that capital income taxes should be eliminated right now….

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Economist's View: Fed Watch: Fiscal Madness

Tim Duy:

Economist's View: Fed Watch: Fiscal Madness: What is it about fiscal policy that brings out the crazy? Because it all seems pretty simple. Joe Weisenthal hits the nail on the head:

The U.S. recovery has been remarkable on a comparative basis precisely for one reason: Because despite all of the rhetoric, the U.S. has completely avoided the austerity madness that's gripped much of the world.

Weisenthal points us to Ryan Avent and Josh Lehner, both showing in different ways the better post-recession outcomes experienced by the US compared to other economies....

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John Podhoretz: My Columns Were Perfect, Perfect! If Not for That Meddling Electorate!

John Podhoretz:

Jonathan Chait… had a good deal of sport at my expense…. [My] article[s]… after Election Day sounded an entirely different note about the technical brilliance of the Obama campaign than columns I’d written before Nov. 6…. But does Obama’s victory suggest… that I and others were simply… unprincipled right-wing hacks and cheerleaders?… I genuinely believed over the spring and summer that the economic news would make the president’s re-election nearly impossible…. Chait also quotes me changing my tune on Romney’s vague general-election strategy…. The problem here is that there could have been no other strategy…. [P]olls feature wildly varying results that serve to support wildly opposing points of view. So all we’re left with are subjective observations…. This year I argued Barack Obama wouldn’t win… based on experience… knowledge — years of study of electoral and presidential politics… common sense… [and] conviction…. I was wrong this year not only about the technical superiority of the Obama campaign but also about the nature of the American electorate…. That was not hackery. It was, alas, misplaced idealism.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Jumped-Up Monkeys with Darwinian Heuristics vs. Angelic Reasoning Beings with Direct Unmediated Access to Objective Reality Sun-Sets-But-Sun-Also-Rises Cage Match Smackdown Weblogging

UPDATED: To keep commenters from going down blind bypaths due to my imprecision. Bear with me: I am just a jumped-up monkey, after all...

Thomas Nagel argued that his reason could not have been the result of blind Darwinian evolution. He said:

  • My reason tells me that if the sun is rising on my right then I am going north then.
  • I believe I am going south.
  • I believe I see the sun rising on my right
  • My reason tells me that I must reject one of these two beliefs because they are inconsistent--either I must conclude that I am hallucinating, or I must conclude that I am not going south.
  • Et cetera…
  • This kind of transcendent access to truths of objective reality is not something that a jumped-up monkey with Darwinian heuristics can have.
  • Therefore I am more than a jumped-up monkey with Darwinian heuristics: I am angelic reasoning being with direct unmediated access to objective reality.

I responded that he knew nothing of the kind:

His Darwinian heuristics had made a Humean guess that because the sun had risen on his right if he was facing north every single previous day, that the same held true today. I pointed out that this might be wrong--that he did not know that because the sun was rising on his right he was facing north, and did not know that he knew that he was facing north, and did not know that he knew that he knew he was facing north, but that he was just guessing.

And, to underscore this, I pointed out that I had once seen the sun rise due south, in which case if I had put the sun on my right I would have been facing not north but east. (I did not point out--but could have--that the claim that if you are facing north east is on your right fails at the South Pole: at the South Pole east is not on your right, north is on your right.)

This seemed to me to be conclusive: what Thomas Nagel took as a canonical example of an angelic reasoning being with direct unmediated access to objective reality was, when examined, nothing of the kind--but rather merely another example of the sad delusions to which jumped-up monkeys operating on error-prone Darwinian heuristics are liable.

Now Gene Callahan enters the ring on the side of the angelic reasoning beings with direct unmediated access to objective reality. I don't think he does any better than Nagel.

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DeLong Smackdown Watch: Health Care Diplomat Says That Demand for Treatment Is Supply-Driven

Health Diplomat:

Health Diplomat: Will the ACA increase waiting lines for patients?: Brad DeLong has a question on ACA implementation:

What is your guess as to what will happen if the ACA works for access, works for quality, works for coverage--but the extra health-care workforce needed isn't there, and the lines start to get longer?…

[T]o answer the question directly: looking at the issue from a market-based standpoint, if his scenario comes true, I think the obvious answer would be that we need to graduate more doctors… there are loads of people who would like to be doctors, but can't get into medical school because there are not enough spots. The problem, in my opinion, is that a lot of healthcare seems supply-sensitive… the more available doctors or hospital beds, the more doctors will prescribe more treatment, despite the fact that a lot of this treatment has very little effect…. It's possible that lines will start to get longer as a result of the ACA's provisions on access, quality and coverage, but it's possible that demand-side is a less significant factor than we believe it will be….

A better solution, as my doctor friend Dylan notes, is to expand the Nurse Practitioner workforce: "Non-urgent medical screening can be handled by NPs, and physicians can see sicker patients. Many clinics already do this. There's no reason a doctor has to perform a screening pap-smear for example." 

Livelbogging World War II: November 27, 1942

Scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

On 8 November 1942 the Allies invaded French North Africa (Operation Torch). General Dwight Eisenhower, with the support of Roosevelt and Churchill, made a secret agreement with Admiral François Darlan, commander of Vichy Naval forces, that Darlan would be given control of French North Africa if he joined the Allied side. When Adolf Hitler discovered this plan, he immediately triggered Case Anton, the occupation of Vichy France, and reinforced German forces in Africa.

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Erik Loomis Muses on Southern Whites as an Ethnos

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Erik Loomis:

Southern Demographics: Growing Latino and black populations in Virginia and North Carolina have turned those states into Florida, meaning Republicans have to fight…. What blew me away though was…:

[A]long the Mississippi River — where Bill Clinton polled most strongly — the GOP remains largely unchallenged and the voting divide between blacks and whites is deepening. Nearly nine of 10 of white voters in Mississippi, for instance, went for Republican nominee Mitt Romney this year, according to exit polls. About 96 percent of black voters in the state supported Obama.

90% for Romney among Mississippi whites? That’s amazing and disturbing.

I understand why 96% of blacks would vote for the Democrats--the Republicans are a party of institutionalized racism.

But that 90% of Mississippi whites would essentially accept that racism and identify with the white man’s party… it wasn’t just a few white yahoos rioting at the University of Mississippi on election night…

You, Richard Cohen of the *Washington Post*, Are No Gary Cooper: Cary Cooper Was a Friend of Mine Weblogging

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Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? The Washington Post's Richard Cohen:

James Bond and the new sex appeal: Daniel Craig takes off his shirt…. Bond is in pain from his wounds. I am in pain from all the hours he has spent in the gym. This Bond ripples with muscles. Craig is 44, but neither gravity nor age has done its evil work on him. Nothing about him looks natural, relaxed — a man in the prime of his life and enjoying it. Instead, I see a man chasing youth on a treadmill…. In “North by Northwest” and other movies, Grant — for all his good looks — represented the triumph of the sexual meritocracy — a sex appeal won by experience and savoir-faire, not delts and pecs and other such things that any kid can have. He was not alone in this. Gary Cooper in “High Noon” wins Grace Kelly by strength of character, not muscles. He was about 50, and Kelly was a mere 23…

"[She] was… a mere 23." Where have I seen that before?

Ah. Here: Warren St. John:

Mr. Cohen… accused of engaging in “inappropriate behavior” toward Devon Spurgeon, a 23-year-old editorial aide…. Post management went into… crisis mode: Staff members… forbidden to discuss the matter….

Continue reading "You, Richard Cohen of the *Washington Post*, Are No Gary Cooper: Cary Cooper Was a Friend of Mine Weblogging" »

Antonio Fatas Scolds Greg Mankiw, Aparna Mathur, Sita Slavov, and Michael R. Strain

Antonia Fatas:

Ignorance as an excuse: Via Greg Mankiw I read a response to the argument by Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez that the top marginal tax rate in the US should be raised to about 73%…. The authors… present a contrast between the willingness of Peter Diamond to offer a concrete policy recommendation with the answers that two other Nobel Prize winners (Tom Sargent and Chris Sims) gave after receiving their prize. When asked in 2011 what should the government do to help growth, Sims answered…. "If I had a simple answer, I would have been spreading it around the world."

The authors praised Sims' answers as the "model of how academic economists should behave when facing questions about specific policy."… [T]his [is]… an odd and depressing conclusion…. I understand that some of what we do as academics is not useful enough for policy makers…. But, as Sims points out in his statement, one can find answers to those questions after careful thinking and a lot of data analysis. That's what Diamond and Saez have done…. The authors of the response… [say] "they can be pretty sure that the answer if significantly lower than 73%". Isn't this a simple answer?…

Diamond and Saez presents their arguments and data analysis in a way that is at least as competent as any other analysis on the same subject. They can be criticized on their assumptions or calculations, but not on their willingness to advance the knowledge on an issue of great policy relevance. If any, they should be praised.

Liveblogging World War II: November 26, 1942

Roy Lower: Luftwaffe Tactical Operations at Stalingrad:

Wild rumors were the least cf Generalleutnant Fiebig's problems at Oblivskaya. Between 22 and 24 November Soviet tank columns spearheading the Russian drive to encircle the Sixth Army had already covered over 50 miles. Behind them came seven Soviet Rifle Armies and nearly 60 divisions pouring through the gaping holes created by the first echelon on either side of Stalingrad. On the night of 23 November the converging Soviet columns linked up to capture the vital bridgehead at Kalach. With the trap closed, Russian attention now shifted to the exposed airfield at Oblivskaya.

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Brad DeLong: Three Dimensions of Inequality: Global, Educational/Technological, and Plutocratic


There are, broadly speaking, three dimensions of Inequality.

The first dimension is global inequality between nations. The fact is that the technologies of the industrial revolution--which are now the common heritage of all humankind--have been successfully implemented much much much much more in some parts of the world than in others. Up until 1975 I would say that the relative gap was growing. The rich North Atlantic plus Japan was successfully adapting these technologies extraordinarily rapidly. But by and large the rest of the world was adopting these technologies significantly more slowly,. Thus the relative gap between the North Atlantic core and the rest was in almost all cases growing rapidly, with the exception of the Southern Cone of South America which played a unique and puzzling role that shifted from decade to decade.

Since 1975, we have become much more optimistic. Our statistics about global inequality since 1975 have shown rapid increases in equality. They have shown an end to the 1800-1975 trend of rising inequality, whereby if you picked two people at random across the globe you would find the relative gap between their standards of living more unequal at later dates than earlier dates.

A potential problem with this shift is that this is entirely due to good growth performance over the past generation in two countries: China and India. That they have had a good generation is wonderful. Will they have another good generation? We hope so.

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