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Recent Posts

Here are the 10 latest posts from EconLog.

EconLog June 27, 2017

Yudkowsky on My Simplistic Theory of Left and Right, by Bryan Caplan

Noted rationalist Eliezer Yudkowsky has written a response to my Simplistic Theory of Left and Right.  With his kind permission, Eliezer speaks:


Bryan Caplan's Simplistic Theory of Left and Right says "The Left is anti-market and the Right is anti-Left". This theory is half wrong, and will for this reason confuse the Left in particular. It ought to be a clue that if you ask the Left whether they're anti-market, most of the Left will answer, "Of course not," whereas if you ask the Right whether they're anti-Left, they'll answer "Hell yes we are." People may understand themselves poorly a lot of the time, but they often know what they hate.

My "Human Theory of the Left" is as follows: The Left holds markets to the same standards as human beings.

Consider a small group of 50 people disconnected from the outside world, as in the world where humans evolved. When you offer somebody fifty carrots for an antelope haunch, that price carries with it a great array of judgments and considerations, like whether that person has done you any favors in the past, and how much effort it took them to hunt the antelope, and how much effort it took you to gather the carrots. If you offer them an unusually generous price, you'd expect them to give good prices in return in the future. A low price is either a status-lowering insult, or carries with it a judgment that the other person already has lower status than you.

And that's what the Left sees when they look at somebody being paid $8/hour. They don't see a supply curve, or a demand curve; or a tautology that for every loaf of bread bought there must be a loaf of bread sold, and therefore supply is always and everywhere equal to demand; they don't see a price as the input to the supply function and demand function which makes their output be equal. They see a judgment about how hard an employee works, and how much they need and deserve.

So of course they hate whatever looks at a poor starving mother and says "$8/hour". Who wouldn't?

Ask them and they'll *tell you*: They don't *hate* markets. They just think that the prices and outcomes aren't fair, and that tribal action is required for everyone to get together and decide that the prices and outcomes should be fairer.

If this post gets shared outside my own feed, some people will be reading this and wondering why I *wouldn't* want prices to be fair.

And they'll suspect that I must worship the Holy Market and believe *its* prices to be wise and fair; and that if I object to any regulation it's because I want the holy, wise and fair Market Price to be undisturbed.

This incidentally is what your non-economist friends hear you saying whenever you use the phrase "efficient markets". They think you are talking about market prices being, maybe not fair, but the most efficient thing for society; and they're wondering what you mean by "efficiency", and who benefits from that, and whether it's worth it, and whether the goods being produced by all this efficiency are actually flowing to the people making $8/hour.

You reply, "What the hell that is not even remotely anything the efficient markets hypothesis is talking about at all, you're not even in the right genre of thoughts, the weak form of the EMH says that the supply/demand-intersecting price for a highly-liquid well-traded financial asset is a rational subjective estimate of the expectation of its supply/demand-intersecting price two years later taking into account all public information, because otherwise it would be possible to pump money out of the predictable price changes. The EMH is a descriptive statement about price changes over time, not a normative statement about the relation of asset prices to anything else in the outside world."

This is not a short paragraph in the standard human ontology.

"So you think that $8/hour wages are efficient?" they say.

"No," you reply, "that's just not remotely what the word efficient *means at all*. The EMH is about price changes, not prices, and it has nothing to do with this. But I do think that $8/hour is balancing the supply function and the demand function for that kind of labor."

"And you think it's good for society for these functions to be balanced?" they inquire.

The one is willing to consider the force of the argument they think they're hearing--that the market is a weird and foreign god which will nonetheless bring us the right benefits if we make it the right sacrifices. But, they respond, *is* the market god really bringing us these benefits? Aren't some people getting shafted? Aren't some people being sacrificed to save others, maybe a lot of people being sacrificed to save a few others, and isn't that worth the tribe getting together and deciding to change things?

And you clutch your hair and say, "No, you don't get it, you know the market is doing something important but you don't understand what that thing *is*, you think the markets are like arteries carrying goods around and they can get blocked and starve some tissues, and you want to perform surgery on the arteries to unblock them, but actually THE MARKETS ARE RIBOSOMES AND YOU'RE TRYING TO EDIT THE DNA CODE AND EVERYTHING WILL BREAK SIMULTANEOUSLY LIKE IT DID IN VENEZUELA."

And what they hear you saying is "The markets are wise, and their prices carry wisdom you knoweth not; do you have an arm like the Lord, and can your voice thunder like His?"

Because, they know in their bones, when a corporation pays an employee $8/hour, it means something. It means something about the employer and it says something about what the employer believes about the employee. And if you say "WAIT DON'T MESS WITH THAT" there's a lot of things you might mean that have short sentences in their ontology: you could mean that you believe $8/hour is the fair price; you could mean you believe the price is unfair but that it's worth throwing the employees under the bus so that society keeps functioning; you could believe that maybe the market knows something you don't.

And all of those things, one way or another, are saying that you believe there's some virtue in that $8/hour price, some virtue transmitted to it by the virtue you think is present within the market that assigns it. And that's a cruel thing to say to someone getting $8/hour, isn't it?

Just look at what the market does. How can you believe that it's wise, or right, or fair?

And they can't believe that you *don't* think that--even though you'll very loudly tell them you don't think that--when you are being like "IF YOU WANT THEM TO HAVE MORE MONEY THEN JUST GIVE THEM MONEY BUT FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T MESS WITH THE NUMBER THAT SAYS 8."

This by the way is another example of why it's an important meta-conversational principle to pay a lot of attention to what people say they believe and want, and what they tell you they *don't* believe and want. And that if nothing else should give you pause in saying that the Left is anti-market when so many moderate leftists would immediately say "But that's not what I believe!"

Maybe we'd have an easier time explaining economics if we deleted every appearance of the words "price" and "wage" and substituted "supply-demand equilibrator". A national $15/hour minimum supply-demand equilibrator sounds a bit more dangerous, doesn't it? Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, or better yet use hourly wage subsidies. Establish a land value tax and give the money to poor people, while being careful not to establish new paperwork requirements that exclude busy or struggling people and being careful about phaseout thresholds. Or if you really insist on looking at things in the simplest possible way, then take money away from rich people and give it to poor people. It'll do less damage than messing with the supply-demand equilibrators.

I feel like I'm at a banquet watching people trying to eat the plates and they're like "No, no, I understand what food does, you're just not familiar with the studies showing that eating small amounts of ceramic doesn't hurt much" and I'm like "If you knew what food does and what the plates do then you would not be TRYING to eat the plates."

I honestly wonder if we'd have better luck explaining economics if we used the metaphor of a terrifying and incomprehensible alien deity that is kept barely contained by a complicated and humanly meaningless ritual, and that if somebody upsets the ritual prices then It will break loose and all the electrical plants will simultaneously catch fire. Because that probably *is* the closest translation of the math we believe into a native human ontology.

Want to help the bottom 30%? Don't scribble over the mad inscriptions that are closest to them, trying to prettify the blood-drawn curves. Mess with any other numbers than those, move money around in any other way than that, because It is standing very near to them already.

People like Bryan Caplan see people in 6000BC wearing animal skins as the native state of affairs without the Market. People like Bryan keep trying to explain how the Market got us away from that, hoping to foster some good feelings about the Market that will lead people to maybe have some respect for its $8/hour figure.

If my Human Theory of the Left is true, then this is exactly the wrong thing to say, and eternally doomed to failure. To praise that which would offer $8/hour to a struggling family, is directly an insult to that family, by the humanly standard codes of honor. If you want people to leave the $8/hour price alone, and you want to make the point about 6000BC, you could maybe try saying, "And that's what Tekram does if you have no price rituals at all."

But don't try to tell them that the Market is good, or wise, or kind. They can see with their own eyes that's false.

(5 COMMENTS)

EconLog June 27, 2017

Nancy MacLean's Distortion of James Buchanan's Statement, by David Henderson

My Econlib colleague Russ Roberts has pointed to a passage of Nancy MacLean's recent book, Democracy in Chains: A Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, in which Professor MacLean left key words out of a quote from Tyler Cowen, thus seriously distorting his meaning.

A Facebook friend, Christopher Fleming, has pointed out that she has done the same thing with a quote from James Buchanan, the main player in her book. See if you can tell the difference between what he says and what she claims he says.

Here's Buchanan, unedited, from "Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative":

The classical liberal is necessarily vulnerable to the charge that he lacks compassion in behavior toward fellow human beings - a quality that may describe the conservative position, along with others that involve paternalism on any grounds. George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" can be articulated and defended as a meaningful normative stance. The comparable term "compassionate classical liberalism" would approach oxymoronic classification. There is no halfway house here; other persons are to be treated as natural equals, deserving of equal respect and individually responsible for their actions, or they are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to that accorded animals who are dependent. In a very early comment, Dennis Mueller noted that there was nothing in the Rawlsian principles of justice that would condemn a person for beating his dog. Nor should there have been. The Rawlsian discourse was strictly within the classical liberal framework, with natural equality among persons remaining a basic presupposition of the whole enterprise.

EconLog June 26, 2017

Bret Stephens's Attack on Ron Paul, by David Henderson

As I noted last week, I was at an event at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco to discuss a forthcoming documentary called "Is America in Retreat?" (The video should be available in a few weeks.) The inspiration for documentary is a book with the same title written by Bret Stephens, currently a New York Times columnist and before that a foreign policy columnist with the Wall Street Journal and, before that, the editor in chief at the Jerusalem Post.

The organizers told me to focus on the documentary in preparing my comments, and so that's what I did. Since then, though, I've paged through Stephens's book. He has one mention of Ron Paul. It is this:

[Rand] Paul's foreign policy is often viewed as an effort to water down and make palatable the moonshine that is the worldview of his father, former Texas congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian who thinks America had it coming on 9/11 because we were "occupying" Muslim territories. Perhaps.
Had it coming? To say that someone "had it coming" means that the person or country deserved it. I'm sure Bret Stephens understands that. I've followed Ron Paul's foreign policy statements closely over the years and I can't find him ever saying that. I can find him often saying that the 9/11 attack occurred as a response to U.S. foreign policy. But that doesn't mean that we "had it coming."

Does Stephens do a similarly bad job in characterizing the views of others who disagree with him? I hope not, but I'll see.

(1 COMMENTS)

EconLog June 26, 2017

How should we measure productivity?, by Scott Sumner

The Financial Times has an article claiming that Japanese construction workers are far more productive than American workers. But the data they provide seems to suggest the exact opposite:

Reality is the other way around. Despite radically different demographics and essentially no immigration, Japan has consistently employed a much larger share of its workers in the construction industry than the US, although the share has dropped over time. Even at the peak of America's housing bubble, only about 5.5 per cent of workers were employed in construction. In Japan last year, more than 7 per cent of employees worked in constructionSo how can they claim that Japanese workers are more productive than American workers? The article points out that Japan builds far more houses per capita than the US, indeed almost as many houses in total, despite a population only 40% of the US. But why is that? Given that Japan's population is falling, one might expect exactly the opposite. The article attributes the difference to cultural preferences:> My colleague Robin Harding has elegantly explained that much of the robust demand for new housing can be attributed to the Japanese preference for tearing down and replacing old homes, with the expectation those too will be replaced in short order.Why are these old homes replaced so often? I live in a home built in 1930, which certainly does not need to be torn down and replaced, indeed any replacement would likely be of lower quality.

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EconLog June 26, 2017

Boudreaux on the Progressive Mentality, by Bryan Caplan

My dear colleague Don Boudreaux comments on my recent questions about the absence of libertarian/progressive cooperation:

As he so frequently does, Bryan here hits on its head an important nail solidly, cleanly, and with impressive force.

I suspect that the single biggest factor that distinguishes "Progressives" from libertarians and free-market conservatives is the simple fact that "Progressives" do not begin to grasp the reality of spontaneous order.  "Progressives" seem unable to appreciate the reality that productive and complex economic and social orders not only can, but do, emerge unplanned from the countless local decisions of individuals each pursuing his or her own individual plans.

Therefore, "Progressives" naturally adopt a creationist view of society and of the economy: without a conscious and visible (and well-intentioned) guiding hand, society and the economy cannot possibly work very well.  Indeed, it seems that for many (most?) "Progressives," the idea that a spontaneously ordered economy can work better than one directed consciously from above - or, indeed, that a spontaneously ordered economy can work at all - is so absurd that when "Progressives" encounter people who oppose "Progressive" schemes for regulating the economy, "Progressives" instantly and with great confidence conclude that their opponents are either stupid or, more often, evil cronies for the rich and the powerful.

EconLog June 25, 2017

Are the Savings from Cutting Medicaid Illusory?, by David Henderson

Answer: It depends.

Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, and also my long-time friend, reminds us of one of the most important principles in economics: There's no such thing as a free lunch. Indeed, this principle is so important that I've made it Numero Uno in my Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom. Steve makes his point in "The Illusory Savings from Cutting Medicaid," June 25, 2017.

Steve thinks that if we apply that principle to the Senate Republicans' plans for cutting the federal government's subsidies to Medicaid, we must conclude that others will pay more. His key bottom line:

Cutting back Medicaid coverage would save taxpayers some cash, but only by taking it from others. The reduction would raise costs for low-income people and most likely degrade their health.
He's almost certainly right that it would mean taking more cash from taxpayers at the state level, since the Senate Republican plan would change the current federal subsidy to state Medicaid plans to a block grant to states. But would it save taxpayers cash only by taking it from others?

That depends. One argument for turning over Medicaid to state governments and letting them set the terms is that state governments can try different methods. Some will work better, some worse, and then state governments that want to can imitate the ones that work better. Is there a way to have Medicaid work better? There certainly is. It is to have small co-payments for medical services: say $5 for a doctor visit and $50 for a day in the hospital. The purpose of such copayments is not to, green eyeshade style, extract small amounts of money from poor and near-poor people. The purpose is to have them put "skin in the game" so that their use of health care costs them something and they don't treat an incredibly expensive resource as a free resource. With a smaller federal role in setting the rules for Medicaid, surely some states would experiment with small co-payments. This could save substantial money without increasing taxes.

Another way state governments could save money without making health care worse is to let the Walmarts of the world deliver low-cost but high quality care using people who are health care professionals but not high-cost doctors. Some state governments allow this; others don't. But if state governments had to bear more of the cost of Medicaid, some of them would likely respond to this incentive by allowing more such innovation.

And that might also mean that poor people's health would not be degraded. We already know from the Oregon Medicaid study that Amy Finkelstein et al have written about that Oregon's Medicaid doesn't seem to have done much for the physical health of Medicaid beneficiaries there. (See Megan McArdle's article for a very nice treatment of the issues.) And even if the effects are positive but too small to detect, the odds are good that those positive effects would still occur if poor people, responding to co-pays, dropped the marginal uses and kept the important ones.

The above paragraph is an application of two other important pillars of economic wisdom: Pillar #2--incentives matter--and Pillar #3--economic thinking is thinking on the margin.

Steve also writes:

Some recipients would get cut off under the GOP plans, and some would get less coverage. That--surprise!--would leave them worse off, because comprehensive health insurance is a good thing to have.
He and I probably think of health insurance the same way: it's really good to have. But another important Pillar of Economic Wisdom is Pillar #7: The value of a good or service is subjective. I might think you should have health insurance but you might think you should not. If you lose health insurance solely because of a reduction in subsidy, then Steve is right: by your own standards, you are worse off. But the Congressional Budget Office, whom Steve quotes about the number of people who will lose health insurance due to Republicans' proposed plans, found in its study of the House Republicans' bill that a substantial number will lose Medicaid not because they will lose eligibility for Medicaid--many won't lose eligibility--but because they will no longer be forced by law--the individual mandate--to sign up for it. The same is likely to be true of the Senate Republicans' plan. So, whatever Steve or you or I think of the wisdom of their decision, by their standards, losing Medicaid means they are better off: they choose to lose it.

Steve Chapman is right: there is no such thing as a free lunch. But sometimes there are more efficient ways of delivering subsidized lunches.

(15 COMMENTS)

EconLog June 24, 2017

James Buchanan's Work, by David Henderson

There's a lot of buzz on the Internet lately (see here for my recent commentary on Sam Tanenhaus's review) about the recent book by Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. MacLean sees economist James M. Buchanan as the key figure in the rise of the "radical right." One of the things that those of us who know Buchanan's work well have been saying, on Facebook and elsewhere, is that Ms. MacLean doesn't seem to know his work well. Which is a pity because she presumably spent at least months and probably years researching his work.

If only there were a way for people to read some of Jim's many books without having to spend a small fortune.

Fortunately, there is. Liberty Fund has made many of his books available electronically for free. See here, browse through, and enjoy reading the works of this remarkable man.

HT2 Art Carden.

P.S. For a quick look at who James Buchanan was, see my brief bio of him in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.

(2 COMMENTS)

EconLog June 23, 2017

Both Sides Gain from Exchange, by David Henderson

My friend and blogging competitor Don Boudreaux writes:

You say that China's agreement to buy more beef from America is "a big win for us." Well, these beef exports from the U.S. are mostly a win for the Chinese people. From the perspective of us Americans, the beef that we export is a cost. That beef is part of what we give up in exchange for whatever it is we'll import with the earnings that we receive on the beef sales. Our true benefit from this trade deal is chiefly in the additional Chinese chickens that we'll now be allowed to import. Yet that's a benefit that we could have - and should have - enjoyed even without Beijing's agreement to let the Chinese people enjoy greater access to American beef.
It's true that the beef exports are a win for the Chinese people. But I don't think we have fine enough tools to know whether most of the benefits are to Chinese people or most are to U.S. beef producers.

Imagine that the Chinese have very close substitutes for our beef at comparable prices. Then their being allowed to buy U.S. beef benefits them but not by a lot. Their gain is called consumer surplus. Imagine (probably contrary to fact) that U.S. beef producers have few options for selling their beef to people other than the Chinese. Then the U.S. beef producers' gain, called producer surplus, is quite large.

I have no prior view on which is larger. I do know, though, that both sides gain from exchange and so when they're allowed to exchange more due to a reduction in the Chinese government's barrier to exchange, that's a win for both sides. So it's not out of line for the person he's responding to to celebrate the win for the U.S. producers.

EconLog June 23, 2017

Nominal exchange rates, real exchange rates and protectionism, by Scott Sumner

The three concepts mentioned in the title of the post are completely unrelated to each other. So unrelated that the subjects ought not even be taught in the same course. The nominal exchange rate is a monetary concept. Real exchange rates belong in course on the real side of macro, perhaps including public finance. And protectionism belongs in a (micro) trade course.

The nominal exchange rate is the relative price of two monies. It's determined by the monetary policies of the two countries in question. It plays no role in trade.

Protectionism is a set of policies (such as tariffs and quotas) that drives a wedge between domestic and foreign prices. Protectionist policies reduce both imports and exports. They might also slightly affect the current account balance, but that's a second order effect.

Real exchange rates influence the trade balance. When there is a change in either domestic saving or domestic investment, the real exchange rate must adjust to produce an equivalent change in the current account balance. A policy aimed at a bigger current account surplus is not "protectionist", as it does not generally reduce imports and exports, nor does it drive a wedge between domestic and foreign prices. It affects the gap between imports and exports. Here are some policies that can lead to a lower real exchange rate and a bigger current account surplus:

  1. The central bank can accumulate lots of foreign assets, increasing national saving.

  2. The government can run a budget surplus.

  3. The government can create a sovereign wealth fund.

  4. The government can encourage private savings, via a pay as you go retirement system.

EconLog June 22, 2017

Is America in Retreat?, by David Henderson

america_retreat_hero.jpg

This evening Johan Norberg, who, with Free to Choose Media, put together a one-hour video on foreign policy, will be presenting a segment of the video at the Commonwealth Club. There will be a panel discussion after. I will be one of the panelists.

The gist of the video is that the U.S. government is in retreat from commitments around the world and shouldn't be.

Here are the details:

Location: 555 Post St., San Francisco
Time: 5:45 p.m. check-in, 6:30-8:15 p.m. film screening and discussion

This link gives the fees for non-members.

(6 COMMENTS)

Here are the 10 latest posts from EconTalk.

EconTalk June 26, 2017

Robin Feldman on Drug Patents, Generics, and Drug Wars

Drug%20Wars.jpgRobin Feldman of the University of California Hastings College of Law and author of Drug Wars talks about her book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Feldman explores the various ways that pharmaceutical companies try to reduce competition from generic drugs. The conversation includes a discussion of the Hatch-Waxman Act and the sometimes crazy world of patent protection.

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Time: 1:05:22

EconTalk June 21, 2017

Just the Facts

1984.jpg EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomed historian Thomas Ricks to the program this week to discuss his new book, Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom. While these two figures might not seem to have much in common at first glance, Ricks persuades otherwise, and that both played an important role in the post-War preservation of individual liberty. Ricks initially saw Orwell as a "left-wing parallel" to his hero, Winston Churchill, but he soon discovered they had much more in common than he had thought. How much do you think the two share? Help us continue this week's conversation, and share your thoughts with us.

EconTalk June 19, 2017

Thomas Ricks on Churchill and Orwell

Churchill%20%26%20Orwell.png Author and historian Thomas Ricks talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, Churchill and Orwell. Ricks makes the case that the odd couple of Winston Churchill and George Orwell played and play an important role in preserving individual liberty. Ricks reviews the contributions of these two giants whose lives overlapped and whose legacy remains vibrant.

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Time: 1:05:47

EconTalk June 12, 2017

Don Boudreaux, Michael Munger, and Russ Roberts on Emergent Order

baker.jpg Why is it that people in large cities like Paris or New York City people sleep peacefully, unworried about whether there will be enough bread or other necessities available for purchase the next morning? No one is in charge--no bread czar. No flour czar. And yet it seems to work remarkably well. Don Boudreaux of George Mason University and Michael Munger of Duke University join EconTalk host Russ Roberts to discuss emergent order and markets. The conversation includes a reading of Roberts's poem, "It's a Wonderful Loaf."

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Time: 1:13:39

EconTalk June 9, 2017

Here's to Your Health

helth insurance.jpg In this week's EconTalk episode, host Russ Roberts welcomes historian Christy Ford Chapin to discuss her new book, Ensuring America's Health. Lots of difficult questions were raised, most left unresolved. For example, how has the American health care system become so expensive and so fragmented and hyper-specialized? To what extent health carebe subject to market forces? What should the role of the state be in ensuring adequate health care for its citizens?

I know I felt like I was left with more questions than answers at the end of this episode, and we wonder if you felt the same. Either way, we'd love to hear your reactions to these thorny questions! As always, we love to hear from you.

  1. Among the problems with the US health care system as it is today, Chapin says a big one is that "nobody really owns the patient." What does she mean by that, and why does she consider this such a significant issue?

EconTalk June 3, 2017

Christy Ford Chapin on the Evolution of the American Health Care System

Ensuring%20Health.jpg Historian Christy Ford Chapin of University of Maryland Baltimore County and Johns Hopkins and author of Ensuring America's Health talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book--a history of how America's health care system came to be dominated by insurance companies or government agencies paying doctors per procedure. Chapin explains how this system emerged from efforts by the American Medical Association to stop various reform efforts over the decades. Chapin argues that different models might have emerged that would lead to a more effective health care system.

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Time: 1:05:53

EconTalk June 1, 2017

What Hope for Liberty?

half full.jpg Is the future of liberty in America bright, or in peril? A special live episode filmed at the Cato Institute, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes David Boaz, PJ O'Rourke, and George Will in this week's episode. While some see the glass as half full, you'll definitely hear some pessimism from this week's guests as well. What do you think? And regardless of your own level of optimism, what can be done to ensure liberty remains valued in the United States?

EconTalk May 29, 2017

David Boaz, P.J. O'Rourke, and George Will on the State of Liberty

future.jpg What is the state of liberty in America? Is liberty increasing or decreasing? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future? This week EconTalk features David Boaz, P. J. O'Rourke, and George Will discussing these questions and more with EconTalk host Russ Roberts in front of a live audience at the Cato Institute.

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Time: 1:04:52

EconTalk May 25, 2017

Piling On the Problem of Poverty

gravel pile.jpg What's the best way to help the world's poor? Should we give them cash or chickens? Or is the best way to eradicate poverty something else entirely? This week, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomed back Lant Pritchett, of Harvard's Center for International Development. Their starting point was a series of "letters" attempting to answer these questions, each initially responding to Bill Gates's plan of providing chickens to the global poor.

Just how bad is the world poverty situation today, and what's our best approach to reducing poverty in the world's lowest productivity areas? Pritchett has his ideas, and Roberts is on board with some of them. What about you? We'd love to hear from you.

Why does Pritchett object to giving cash- or chickens- to people in poverty-stricken countries? What does he mean by making an analogy to a cancerous tumor?

EconTalk May 22, 2017

Lant Pritchett on Poverty, Growth, and Experiments

How should we think about growth and poverty? How important is the goal of reducing the proportion of the world's population living on less than a dollar a day? Does poverty persist because people lack skills or because they live in economic systems where skills are not rewarded? What is the role of experimental methods in understanding what reduces poverty? Author and economist Lant Pritchett of Harvard University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about these questions and more in a wide-ranging discussion of how best to help the world's poorest people.

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Time: 1:03:14