The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin makes some interesting points about “globalization.” I actually find the long term history the most interesting aspect. It is very easy for people today to forget the recently rich “West” has not always been so dominant.
That shows how quickly things changed. The industrialization of Europe and the USA was an incredibly powerful global economic force. The rapid economic gains of Japan, Korea, Singapore, China and India in the last 50 years should be understood in the context of the last 200 years not just the last 100 years.
A central point Richard advocates for in the book is realizing that the current conditions are different from the conditions in which traditional economic theory (including comparative advantage) hold. The reasoning and argument for this claim are a bit too complex to make sensibly in this post but the book does that fairly well (not convincingly in my opinion, but enough to make the argument that we can’t assume traditional economic theory for international trade is completely valid given the current conditions).
I don’t expect this blog post to convince people. I don’t even think his book will. But he makes a case that is worth listen to. And I believe he is onto something. I have for years been seeing the strains of “comparative advantage” in our current world economy. That doesn’t mean I am not mainly a fan of freer trade. I am. I don’t think complex trade deals such as TPP are the right move. And I do think more care needs to be taken to consider current economic conditions and factor that into our trade policies.
Richard Baldwin uses 3 costs and the economic consequences of those changing over time to show globalizations history, where we are today and where we are going.
It isn’t very easy to follow but the book provides lots of explanation for the dramatic consequences of these costs changing over time.
One of his themes is that mobility of labor is still fairly costly. It isn’t easy to move people from one place to another. Though he does discuss how alternatives that are similar to this (for example telepresence and remote controlled robots to allow a highly technical person to operate remotely) without actually do moving the person are going to have huge economic consequences.
The “high spillovers” are the positive externalities that spin off of a highly knowledgable workforce.
Even though there are plenty of ways to improve the economic conditions for most people today is very good compared to similar people 50 years ago. There are a few, small population segments that there are arguments for being worse off, but these are a tiny percentage of the global population.
However, we humans often compare ourselves to whoever is better off than us and feel jealous. So instead of appreciating good roads, food, shelter, health care, etc. we see where things could be better (either our parents had it a bit better or these people I see on TV or in this other country, etc.). It is good to see how we could improve if we then take action to improve. To just be frustrated that others have it better doesn’t do any good, it doesn’t seem to me.
There are significant ways governments can help or hinder the economic well being of their citizens. I am a big believer in the power of capitalism to provide wealth to society. That isn’t the same as supporting the huge push to “crony capitalism” that many of the political parties throughout the world are promoting. The “capitalism” in that phrase exists for alliteration, the real meaning is the word crony.
These type of rankings are far from accurate, what does most innovative really mean? But they do provide some insight and I think those at the top of the list do have practices worth examining. And I do believe those near the top of this list are doing a better job of providing for the economic future of their citizens than other countries. But the reality is much messier than a ranking illustrates.
With that in mind the ranking shows
One thing that is obvious is the ranking is very biased toward already rich countries. When you look at the measures they use to rank it is easy to see this is a strong bias with their method.
China is 21st. Malaysia is 23rd and an interesting country doing very well compared to median income (I am just guessing without actually plotting data). Hong Kong is 35th, which is lower than I imagine most people would have predicted. Thailand is 44th. Brazil is 46th and even with their problems seems low. Brazil has a great deal of potential if they can take care of serious problems that their economy faces.
In a previous post I examined the GDP Growth Per Capita for Selected Countries from 1970 to 2010, Korea is the country that grew the most (not China, Japan, Singapore…).
Related: Leading Countries for Economic Freedom: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland – Economic Consequences Flow from Failing to Follow Real Capitalist Model and Living Beyond Our Means – Easiest Countries in Which to Operate a Businesses (2011)
We have tax plans from the major USA Presidential candidates. I don’t like any of them, though I actually like Ted Cruz’s plan more than the others, but it has a huge problem. His plan doesn’t fund the government he wants, not even just as poorly as we have been doing. He would increase the debt substantially.
My plan would have 3 parts. I like a flat tax, I doubt it will ever happen, but if we could get one I would be happy. Cruz proposes that (at 10%). I am fine with his proposal to eliminate all deductions but mortgage interest and charity. I would definitely tweak that some – no more than $50,000 in mortgage interest deduction a year and the same for charity. Basically subsidizing it a bit for the non-rich is fine. Subsidizing these for the rich seems silly so I would cap the deductions in some way. I also wouldn’t mind an almost flat tax, say 12% up to $200,000 and 15% after that (or some such rates).
Cruz’s rate is far too low given the government he wants. The government budget is largely: Social Security, Medicare and Military. Then you also have debt payment which have to be paid. Those 4 things are over 80% of the spending. All the other things are just in the last 20%, you can cut some of that but realistically you can’t cut much (in percentage terms – you can cut hundreds of billions theoretically but it is unlikely and even if you did it isn’t a huge change).
We are piling on more debt than we should. Therefore we should increase revenue, not reduce it. But if we can’t increase it (for political reasons) we definitely should not reduce it until we have shown that we have cut spending below revenue for 2 full years. After that, great, then decrease rates.
The VAT tax on businesses replacing the corporate tax system is in Cruz’s plan and this is the best option for corporate taxes in my opinion. Another decent option is just to pass through all the earnings to the owners (I first heard this proposal from my Economics professor in College) and tax them on the earnings.
Increasing the giveaways to trust-fund baby as Cruz and Trump propose is the single worst tax policy change that can be made. I have explained previously how bad an idea this is: The estate tax is the most capitalist tax that exists. The trust-fund-baby favors should be reduced not increased. I would roll back to the Reagan Administration policy on estate tax rates.
When I lived in Malaysia I learned that the residential electricity rates were very low for the low levels of use and climbed fairly rapidly as you used a lot of electricity (say running your air conditioner a lot). I think this is a very good idea (especially for the not yet rich countries). In rich countries even most of the “poor” have high use of electricity and it isn’t a huge economic hardship to pay the costs.
Effectively the rich end up subsidizing the low rates for the poor, which is a very sensible setup it seems to me. The market functions fairly well even though it is distorted a bit to let the poor (or anyone that uses very little electricity) to pay low rates.
In a country like Malaysia as people become rich they may well decide to use a great deal of electricity for air conditioning (it is in the tropics). But their ancestors didn’t have that luxury and having that be costly seems sensible to me. Allowing the poor to have access to cheap electricity is a very good thing with many positive externalities. And subsidizing the rate seems to be a good idea to me.
Often you get bad distortions in how markets work when you try to use things like subsidies (this post is expanded from a comment I made on Reddit discussing massive bad investments created by free electricity from the power company to city governments – including free electricity to their profit making enterprises, such as ice rinks in Puerto Rico).
With the model of low residential rates for low usage you encourage people to use less electricity but you allow everyone to have access at a low cost (which is important in poor or medium income countries). And as people use more they have to pay higher rates (per kwh) and those rates allow the power company to make a profit and fund expansion. Often in developing countries the power company will be semi-private so the government is involved in providing capital and sharing in profits (as well as stockholders).
The USA mainly uses central air conditioning everywhere. In Malaysia, and most of the world actually, normally they just have AC units in some of the rooms. In poor houses they may well have none. In middle class houses they may have a one or a couple rooms with AC units.
Even in luxury condos (and houses) they will have some rooms without AC at all. I never saw a condo or house with AC for the kitchen or bathrooms. The design was definitely setup to use AC in fairly minimal ways. The hallways, stairways etc. for the “interior” of the high rise condos were also not air conditioned (they were open to the outside to get good air flow). Of course as more people become rich there is more and more use of AC.
Related: Traveling for Health Care – Expectations – Looking at the Malaysian Economy (2013) – Pursuing a Growing Economy While Avoiding the Pitfalls That Befall to Many Middle Income Countries – Singapore and Iskandar Malaysia – Looking at GDP Growth Per Capita for Selected Countries from 1970 to 2010 – Malaysian Economy Continues to Expand, Budget Deficits Remain High (2012) – Iskandar Malaysia Housing Real Estate Investment Considerations (2011)
The most popular posts on the Curious Cat Investing and Economics blog in 2014 (by page views).
- Top 10 Countries for Manufacturing Production in 2010: China, USA, Japan, Germany… (posted in 2011)
- Manufacturing Output as a Percent of GDP by Country (1980 to 2008) (2010)
- Nuclear Power Generation by Country from 1985-2010 (2012)
- Government Debt as Percentage of GDP 1990-2009: USA, Japan, Germany, China… (2010)
- Stock Market Capitalization by Country from 1990 to 2010 (2012)
- Global Stock Market Capitalization from 2000 to 2012 (2013)
- The 20 Most Valuable Companies in the World – October 2015
- Manufacturing Output as Percent of GDP from 1980 to 2010 by Country (2012)
- USA Individual Earnings Levels: Top 1% $343,000, 5% $154,000, 10% $112,000, 25% $66,000 (2012)
- Manufacturing Output by Country 1999-2011: China, USA, Japan, Germany (2013)
- Chart of Largest Petroleum Consuming Countries from 1980 to 2010 (2011)
- The USA Doesn’t Understand that the 1950s and 1960s are Not a Reasonable Basis for Setting Expectations (2011)
- Oil Production by Country 1999-2009 (2011)
- Monopolies and Oligopolies do not a Free Market Make (2008)
- Investing in Peer to Peer Loans (2015)
- Cockroach Portfolio (2014)
- USA Health Care Spending 2013: $2.9 trillion $9,255 per person and 17.4% of GDP (2015) (
- Long Term View of Manufacturing Employment in the USA (2012)
- Solar Energy Capacity by Country (2015)
- Chart of Global Wind Energy Capacity by Country 2005 to 2013 (2014)
As with my other blogs the most popular posts show that old posts stay popular for a long time. Number of top 20 posts by year of publication:
Related: 20 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog in 2014 – 20 Most Popular Post on Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 2014 – 10 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Blog in 2014 – Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Comments Blog – Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Comments Blog
The USA economy is far from strong. The global economy seems even weaker. Inflation is not an imminent risk. Under such conditions the USA Federal Reserve adding gasoline to the economy via low interest rates makes sense.
The issue I see is that a .25% Fed Funds rate is adding gasoline to the economy via low interest rates. Many people are saying an increase is like taking away the gasoline and taking out a fire extinguisher. But it really isn’t. Raising the rate to .25% is slightly decrease the amount of gas you are adding to the fire. A .25% Federal Funds rate is pouring nearly as much gas on as you are able to but not quite the absolute most you are able to.
It is also true that the Fed bailing out the too-big-to-fail bankers and banks resulted in them not only opening up the gasoline as much as possible (taking rates to 0) they even went far beyond that with new methods of pouring on gasoline that hadn’t even been considered until the bankers’ risk-taking doomed the economy (and bankrupted their institutions – without government bailouts propping them up).
The Federal Reserve has finally turned off the massive extraordinary dumping of gasoline onto the economic fire (via quantitative easing). But they have kept not only dumping lots of gasoline on the economy but doing so to the absolute maximum possible via a 0% Fed Funds rate.
Arguing for slowing the amount of fuel you are dumping into the economy is not the same as saying you are constricting the economy. We have been put into a crazy global economic condition by the too-big-to-fail bankers and the massive amounts of government and personal debt taken out. So simple analogies are not effective in making policy.
The analogies can help explain what the intent and expectation of the policy is. It is true we have created a very tenuous economic foundation (and we haven’t in any way substantial way addressed the risk too-big-to-fail bankers can throw the global economy into and we still have massive debt problems). The main beneficiaries of the central banker’s policies the last nearly 10 years are too-big-to-fail bankers and those borrowing huge amounts of money.
Those suffering from the policy are savers and I fear those that have to cope with the aftermath of this massive intervention with likely bubbles (government debt, personal debt [including education debt in the USA, etc.]). The main reason I believe rates should be raised are to begin the path to stop transferring wealth from savers to too-big-to-fail bankers and those with massive debt problems.
I was recently interviewed on equities.com, read the full interview – Financial Blogger Profile: John Hunter. Some quotes from the interview:
John Hunter: I look for good individual investments, but I also weigh my guesses about long term macroeconomic conditions in making investment commitments. I think there is much more risk to the drastic measures central banks have been making for the past few years than the market is factoring in. I think the poor job regulating risk in the financial system is also very risky at the macroeconomic level.
I don’t have any real idea of what the chance of massive economic failure is, but I am much more worried today than I have been. Pretty much, my worry has remained the same over the last few years. We did avoid an immediate meltdown, though we still had plenty of economic pain. Yet, in my opinion, the risk has remained very high for the last few years, but people seem to think central banks can continue this extraordinary behavior without consequences; I see a great deal of risk in the economy.
Three macro-economic factors make healthcare an appealing investment. First, the aging population should provide a booming market. Second, the huge increase in rich people globally that can afford very expensive medicine again provides an ever-growing market. Third, the broken healthcare system in the USA results in exceedingly high-priced medical care in a very large and rich market.
I also close out the interview with some tips I have shared on this blog over the years
John Hunter: I can’t pick one, but I can pick a few short pieces of advice:
- Save 15%, or more, of your income and invest it wisely. If you want to buy more, then earn more, or save extra until you can pay for it with the extra savings.
- Minimize costs on investments, use Vanguard or similar low fee funds. Buying individual stocks reduces even the costs of Vanguard. There are tradeoffs to diversity of your portfolio when buying individual stocks.
- Pay attention to the overall risk of the portfolio, and even beyond that, your entire financial picture. For example, in the USA we have extra healthcare expense risk that is outside our portfolio risk, but is part of our entire financial picture. Building your portfolio with extra-portfolio risks in mind is wise. Don’t get fooled into thinking about the risks of investments taken individually, even though that is what you will continually be bombarded with.
I think those that find this blog worthwhile will also enjoy the interview so I hope you read the full interview.
One thing for investors consulting historical data to remember is we may have had fundamental changes in stock valuations over the decades (and I suspect they have). Just to over simplify the idea if lets say the market valued the average stock at a PE of 11 and everyone found stocks a wonderful investment. And so more and more people buy stocks and with everyone finding stocks wonderful they keep buying and after awhile the market is valuing the average stock at a PE of 14.
Within the market there is tons of variation those things of course are not nearly that simple, but the idea I think holds. Well if you look back at historical data the returns will include the adjustment of going from a PE of 11 to a PE of 14. Now maybe the new few decades would adjust from PE of 14 to PE of 17 but maybe not. At some point that fundamental re-adjustment will stop.
And therefore future returns would be expected to be lower than historically due to this one factor. Now maybe other factors will increase returns to compensate but if not the historical returns may well provide an overly optimistic view.
And if there is a short term bubble that lets say pushes the PR to 16 while the “fair” long term value is 14, then there will be a negative impact on the returns going forward bringing the PE from 16 to 14. That isn’t necessarily a drop (though it could be) in stock prices, it could just be very slow increases as earning growth slowly pushes PE back to 14.
Another thing to consider is another long term macro-economic factor may also be giving long term historical returns an extra boost. The type of economic growth from the end of World War I to 1973 (just to pick a specific time, there was a big economic slowdown after OPEC drastically increased the price of oil). While that period includes the great depression and World War II, which massively distorts figures, from the end of WW I through the 1960s Europe and the USA went through an amazing amount of economic growth.
A reasonable amount of government debt is not a problem in a strong economy. If countries take on debt wisely and grow their economy paying the interest on that debt isn’t a problem. But as that debt grows as a portion of GDP risks grow.
Debt borrowed in other currencies is extremely risky, for substantial amounts. When things go bad they snowball. So if your economy suffers, your currency often suffers and then the repayment terms drastically become more difficult (you have to pay back the debt with your lower valued currency). And the economy was already suffering which is why the currency decreased and this makes it worse and they feed on each other and defaults have resulted in small economies over and over from this pattern.
If a government borrows in their currency they can always pay it back as the government can just print money. They may pay back money not worth very much but they can pay it back. Of course investors see this risk and depending on your economy and history demand high interest to compensate for this risk (of being paid back worthless currency). And so countries are tempted to borrow in another currency where rates are often much lower.
If you owe debts to other countries you have to pay that money outside the system. So it takes a certain percentage of production (GDP) and pays the benefit of that production to people in other countries. This is what has been going on in the USA for a long time (paying benefits to those holding our debt). Ironically the economic mess created by central banks and too-big-to-fail banks has resulted in a super low interest rate environment which is lousy for lenders and great for debtors (of which the USA and Japanese government are likely the 2 largest in the world).
The benefits to the USA and Japan government of super low interest rates is huge. It makes tolerating huge debt loads much easier. When interest rates rise it is going to create great problems for their economies if they haven’t grown their economies enough to reduce the debt to GDP levels (the USA is doing much better in this regard than Japan).
Japan has a much bigger debt problem than the USA in percentage terms. Nearly all their debt is owed to those in Japan so when it is paid it merely redistributes wealth (rather than losing it to those overseas). It is much better to redistribute wealth within your country than lose it to others (you can always change the laws to redistribute it again, if needed, as long as it is within your economy).
Monsters Inc received power from children’s screams. So the company hired monsters to go scare children to get more screams and create more power.
The current political parties in the USA (Republicans and Democrats) seek to scare their donors into providing cash “donations.” It is even worse, in many ways, than if those parties sold favors to get things done. At least then there would be an incentive for the parties to deliver successful prizes to those paying for influence.
But the parties have become like Monsters Inc. They only seek to increase suffering in order to get what they want (in the case of the Republican and Democrats, cash, and in the case of Monsters Inc, screams).
The damage to the economy from decades of two political parties seeking to increase fear so they can get more cash while neither cares about the damage they do is enormous. We really need to throw out those that have been destroying the country for their own petty interests.
Throwing out the parties that have proven they don’t care about the country won’t result in people that agree on tactics but at least we should elect people that seek to aid the country and refuse to destroy the country in order to hope in doing so they can hurt the other political party more than they are hurt. As long as we keep electing the type of people that don’t care about the damage they do we are going to keep paying a high price.
Occasionally (and much more than occasionally at the state level, it is harder to make excuses about failing to deliver on what people paid for at the state and local level) they do give in and give those paying them lots of cash what those that paid thought they bought. But most of the time they try to avoid doing so as that slows down the flow of money.
Related: USA Congress Further Aids Those Giving Them Cash and Risks Economic Calamity Again – Adding More Bailouts for Politicians and Bankers is Not the Correct Strategy – Anti-Market Policies from Our Talking Heads and Politicians – We Need to be More Capitalist and Less Cronyist