Blog RSS

The Pin Factory Blog

"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

Are the floods down to global warming?

Written by Dr. Eamonn Butler | Friday 21 February 2014

Are this winter's extreme weather, with rain and floods across Southern England, down to global warming? If so, it's been going on for some time. Remember the devastating floods of 1953, or exceptionally cold winter of 1946, followed by an extremely hot summer. Or if you want a real (pre-industrial) extreme, reflect that in the 1680s, the Thames was frozen solid for two months.

The fact is that exteme weather has never been all that unusual. It's just that today, every episode is used to justify the existence of climate change and its allegedly human cause. Melting ice? We're burning too much carbon fuel. Floods? Our warmer atmosphere carries more moisture. Hurricanes? They're created by warmer seas. Droughts? That's warming too. Snow? The Gulf Stream is shifting. Heatwaves? Do you need to ask?

Of course, much of this is based on questionable evidence: global temperature rises have stalled in the last decade; Pacific hurricane intensity has been low since the mid-1980s; Antarctic ice is increasing; atmospheric moisture levels  are no higher. But the real problem is that a theory that supposedly predicts anything in fact tells us absolutely nothing. As the Scientific Alliance puts it:

Overall, the impression is that some people are taking whatever opportunities they see to find examples of what global warming may be doing, which by inference is then due to our carbon dioxide emissions. The purpose is presumably to stiffen political backbones and keep policies aimed at radical decarbonisation on track.

But there is a deeper agenda among some campaigners. The first element of it is to suggest that industrialisation and economic growth are our problem. In fact, they are the solution. The economist Andrew Lilico points out that, even if we assume that global warming is a reality, it is far cheaper and more practical to adapt to it than to try to reverse it. And economic growth makes us rich enough to make those adaptations. For future generations, it will be even easier.

The second element is that, when any sort of problem occurs – and not just some weather event –  people are inclined to say 'the government should do something about it'. So the more problems that campaigners can create, the more pressure there is for government expansion. And, indeed, for political intervention into markets. One can already see the insurance companies being lined up for a beating. Can it be long before they are told they have to provide cheap flood cover to everyone, no matter how often their riverside homes have been inundated before? The result, of course, will be that more people are encouraged to build and live in flood-prone areas – or that insurers simply leave the market and nobody can get bad-weather coverage at all. 

View comments

Amazingly, communism causes malnutrition and stunting

Written by Tim Worstall | Friday 21 February 2014

Isn't it amazing how we keep finding out yet even more about the pernicious effects of communism?

Chinese soldiers have become so much taller and fatter in recent years that they are in danger of outgrowing their equipment, according to a People’s Liberation Army survey. Troopers were on average 0.8 inches taller and two inches fatter around the waist than 20 years ago, the military’s official PLA Daily reported. As a result, it is harder for soldiers to fit into aircraft cockpits and into a tanks designed for smaller personnel 30 years ago, it said. Even the rifle stocks are too short for some, and may need to be lengthened too, so as to not to affect firing accuracy.

When we start to talk about rifle stocks it's obvious that we're talking about something other than people just being a bit porky. And what it is that we're talking about is that nutrition has changed in recent decades.

In fact, the big change stems from the late 1970s as the completely asinine policies of collective farming were overthrown. And in general it's not just the nutrition of a child in its own early years that matters here, there's an influence of the nutrition of its mother in her early years as well.

Do note that there's been no great genetic change in the Chinese population over these years. This is purely an environmental change. They've all, finally, been getting enough to eat as they develop and are thus growing taller.

It is indeed true that we had worries over this sort of thing ourselves, back when we were taking the urban proletariat into the Army in 1914. However, do note that this is something that we solved without slaughtering hundreds of millions and without adopting that, as above, insane method of farming.

In fact, what solved the same problem both times, the nutrition of that working class (which is always going to be the largest portion of the intake of squaddies) was the mechanisation of agriculture in something approaching a free market and private property system. Which leaves us with a question for those who campaign that, for example, African agriculture should not be mechanised, or that private land ownership should not be allowed (as it isn't in some African countries), or even that we should all go back to farming communally ourselves.

Why do they want us all to be both malnourished and shorter?

View comments

The Lego movie is the most libertarian film of the year

Written by Anton Howes | Thursday 20 February 2014

There's one important category missing from all the film awards ceremonies this month: The Most Libertarian Film of the Year. And the winner this year is without a shadow of a doubt The Lego Movie. Setting hilarity and great animation aside (and it has boxes of those), The Lego Movie shows us a compelling dystopian world of conformity, regulation and authority where everyone "must follow the instructions" or be "put to sleep". It is a tale of the battle between the chaotic, creative destruction of freedom, and the rigid, forceful regulation of bureaucracy.

The run-of-the-mill protagonist Emmet is blatantly shown to be brainwashed by repetitive and generic tv shows, corporatist celebration days like Taco Tuesdays, and a perpetually playing propaganda anthem called "Everything is Awesome" with clearly collectivist undertones: "everything is cool when you're part of a team". He works with other construction workers to tear down the "weird" and diverse buildings and replace them with generic ones.

But it gets so much better. The dystopian dictator's position as both the CEO of the Octan Corporation and President of the World perfectly encapsulates the problems with corporatism and monopolies on force. Indeed, his evil plan is stultifying regulation taken to the extreme: he wants to use superglue to literally stick everything permanently into the "perfect" position, relying on a robotic army of "micro-managers" to make sure that everything is exactly how he wants it to be before being stuck into place. There could be no clearer metaphor for the perils of intruding technocrats.

The evil Lord President Business wishes to destroy the chaos of innovation, hunting down and killing or imprisoning all the talented and resourceful master builders, and even erecting closely guarded borders between the different worlds in order to prevent the free movement of minifigures and their mixing of cultures into more interesting and diverse configurations.

At the same time, the resistance's enclave, Cloud Cuckoo Land is an anarchist utopia. As the UniKitty tells the heroes, "There is no government, no bedtime, no baby-sitters", though others have suggested this is also a subtle critique of the slightly creepy anti-freedom parts of modern tolerance culture: "Any idea is a good idea ...Except the not-happy ones." The dichotomy is later qualified when it turns out that creativity can work better when constrained within some rules that don't try to curtail it completely. You'd be challenged to find a simpler, more personal and appealing defence of the rule of law as conducive to freedom and human flourishing.

Above all, however, The Lego Movie is a story about the beauty of creative destruction, and how the battle between our fearful controlling impulses and our acceptance of the uncertainty of freedom is a profoundly personal one. It is an enjoyable must-watch for fans of free markets.

View comments

Why is Oxfam lying to us about the Financial Transactions Tax?

Written by Tim Worstall | Thursday 20 February 2014

It's a sad thing to have to say but, sadly, every single word in that video above is a lie. And this is not just to say that of course all acting is a lie: it is to say that the entire basis upon which Oxfam is operating here is incorrect and also that they know that they are incorrect.

Here is their briefing paper which accompanies that video.

A tiny tax could raise as much as €37bn and would be a heroic victory for people and planet above the special interests of the financial sector.

The lie is in there, in that one single sentence.

The Financial Transactions Tax, as proposed, will raise no revenue at all. Indeed, it will lead to a reduction in revenue collected.

Leave aside all the wittering about the evils of HFT (that did not, in any manner, cause the financial crisis). Leave aside their seeming hatred of derivatives trading (none of which had anything at all to do with the financial crisis). Leave aside their ignorance of the fact that it was mortgages which did cause the crisis: and mortgages tend, even when packaged into bonds, not to get traded very much so a transactions tax is going to have no effect on this market. We can even leave aside the views of this year's Nobel Laureate, Robert Shiller, who insists that it was the absence of trade in derivatives on mortgages that aided the bubble in expanding to the point of collapse. And we can even leave aside the views of Diamond and Mirrlees, Laureates both for their studies of taxation, who point out that transactions taxes are a very bad form of taxation indeed.

We can, instead, simply turn to the European Union itself and its own study of the effects of such a financial transactions tax. As I've pointed out before:

No net revenue will be raised by the specific proposals that have been put forward. This will sound strange to those who can see that there will indeed be revenue coming from the tax, but that is because while there will indeed be revenue from the tax itself there will also be falls in revenue from other taxes. The net effect of this is that there will be less revenue in total as a result of an FTT. But of course, do not just take our word for it. That of the European Commission should be sufficient1:

‘With a tax rate of 0.1% the model shows drops in GDP (-1.76%) in the long-run. It should be noted that these strong results are related to the fact that the tax is cumulative and cascading which leads to rather strong economic reactions in the model.’ (Vol. 1 (Summary), p. 50)

Revenue estimates are as follows: ‘[A] stylised transaction tax on securities (STT), where it is assumed that all investment in the economy are financed with the help of securities (shares and bonds) at 0.1% is simulated to cause output losses (i.e. deviation of GDP from its long-run baseline level) of up to 1.76% in the long run, while yielding annual revenues of less than 0.1% of GDP.’ (Vol. 1 (Summary), p. 33)

A reasonable estimate of the marginal rate of taxation for EU countries is 40-50% of any increase in GDP. That is, that from all of the various taxes levied, 40-50% of any increase in GDP ends up as tax revenues to the respective governments. Thus if we have a fall of 1.76% in GDP we have a fall in tax revenues of 0.7-0.9% of GDP. The proposed FTT is a tax which collects 0.1% of GDP while other tax collections fall by 0.7-0.9% of GDP. It is very difficult indeed to describe this as an increase in tax revenue.

There are, however, bureaucratic reasons why the European Commission might still suggest such a tax move. The revenues from the FTT would be designated as the EU’s ‘own resources’, that is, money which comes to the centre to be spent as of right; not, as with the current system, money begrudgingly handed over by national governments. The EU bureaucracy therefore has a strong interest in promoting such a change. What’s in it for the rest of society is harder to spot.

This result is not unexpected. When the Institute for Fiscal Studies looked at the impacts of the UK’s own FTT, Stamp Duty upon shares2, they found much the same result – from the same cause too. Such a transactions tax upon securities lowers securities prices. This then makes the issuance of new securities more expensive for those wishing to raise capital. More expensive capital leads, inexorably, to less of it being used and thus less growth in the economy.

Please note that this is not some strange application of the Laffer Curve argument. It is not to say that lowering all taxes, or any tax, leads to such extra growth that revenues increase. Rather, it is derived from Diamond and Mirrlees (1971)3 that transactions taxes multiply then cascade through the economy. They are therefore best avoided if another method of achieving the same end is available. Indeed, they point out that taxation of intermediate inputs is to be avoided if possible – better by far to tax final consumption or some other final result of the economy. This very point is acknowledged in the way VAT is structured. Rather than a series of sales taxes which accumulate as one company sells to another along the production chain, there is a value added tax which amounts to one single rate at the point of final consumption. That this point is recognised in a major part of our taxation system suggests that it might be wise to recognise it with regard to the FTT.

1 http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/resources/documents/taxation/other_...

2 http://www.ifs.org.uk/wps/wp0411.pdf

3 Diamond, P. A. and J. A. Mirrlees (1971) ‘Optimal Taxation and Public Production II: Tax Rules’, American Economic Review, 61, 3, 261-78.

And yes, I do know that Oxfam are aware of this paper and of the basic truth contained within it. For I have discussed it with them. And their response is, well, umm........*crickets*.

An FTT would raise no net revenue: therefore all tales about how lovely things have been done with the revenue it will not raise are, well, what do you want to call it? Untruths? Misleading? Something stronger?

I would point out that that paper of mine above has been peer reviewed: something I doubt has happened to Oxfam's press release or video. Perhaps that's why the House of Lords Sub-Committee that looked at this proposal believed me not them.

Just as an interesting little update to this story I posted from this same paper in the comments section of The Guardian. On a Bill Nighy piece commending the FTT. Indeed, I used exactly the same quote. And of course the moderators deleted it near immediately.

Comment is free indeed.

View comments

Unemployment pay increases unemployment

Written by Tim Worstall | Wednesday 19 February 2014

One of the sadder things I've seen over the past few years has come from a coterie of left leaning US economists. They have been insisting that the extension of unemployment benefits (usually in the US they are only payable for 26 weeks, it was extended to 99) has had no effect on the unemployment rate. This is of course untrue:

Extending the maximum length of benefits beyond 26 weeks made highly educated unemployed people “more ‘relaxed’ and more patient in selecting jobs,” wrote Lei Fang and Jun Nie in a new working paper, “Human Capital Dynamics and the U.S. Labor Market.” Had unemployment benefits not been extended, they estimated, “the unemployment rate during the 2010-2012 period would have been 0.5 percentage point lower than the actual level.”

The full paper is here.

The high U.S. unemployment rate after the Great Recession is usually considered to be a result of changes in factors influencing either the demand side or the supply side of the labor market. However, no matter what factors have caused the changes in the unemployment rate, these factors should have influenced workers’ and firms’ decisions. Therefore, it is important to take into account workers’ endogenous responses to changes in various factors when seeking to understand how these factors affect the unemployment rate. To address this issue, we estimate a Mortensen-Pissarides style of labor-market matching model with endogenous separation decisions and stochastic changes in workers’ human capital. We study how agents’ endogenous choices vary with changes in the exogenous shocks and changes in labor-market policy in the context of human capital dynamics. We reach four main findings. First, once workers have accounted for and are able to optimally respond to possible human capital loss, the unemployment rate in an economy with human capital loss during unemployment will not be higher than in an economy with no human capital loss. The reason is that the increase in the unemployment rate led by human capital loss is more than offset by workers’ endogenous responses to prevent them from being unemployed. Second, human capital accumulation on the job is more important than human capital loss during unemployment for both the unemployment rate and output. Third, workers’ endogenous separation rates will decline when job-finding rates fall. Fourth, taking into account the endogenous responses, unemployment insurance extensions contributed 0.5 percentage point to the increase in the aggregate unemployment rate in the 2008–12 period.

There really shouldn't be any surprise at all about this as Richard Layard has been pointing out for decades now:

There is ample evidence that unemployment (and employment) is affected by how the unemployed are treated. Other things equal, countries that offer unemployment benefits of long duration have more unemployment (and less employment). This is because employment depends on the effective supply of labour.

Extending the period of time for which unemployment benefits are paid is quite obviously going to increase the amount of unemployment that there is.

This does not, in any manner, mean that those benefits should not have been extended. It's entirely possible, for example, to claim that the pain and grief prevented by the extension is greater than that caused by that uptick in the unemployment rate caused by it. It's possible to make the opposite argument as well and your conclusion should at least depend upon a combination of your priors and the evidence put in front of you.

But my complaint is that that certain set of economists has been ludly proclaiming to the world that the extension cannot increase unemployment. Therefore no one has been working with the correct facts about the problem under discussion. And I'm afraid that I regard that as more than a little sad. Yes, I know, I'm just showing how naive I am even at my advanced age: but I really would prefer it that professional knowledge was deployed as professional knowledge, not twisted to feed the rabble in politics.

View comments

Think piece: cryptocurrency gets real

Written by Blog Editor | Tuesday 18 February 2014

ASI fellow Preston Byrne explains why bitcoin's recent problems do not mean the cryptocurrency-cum-payments-system is over. In fact, the promise of cryptography in payments and contracts is as exciting as ever.

Last week was a horrible week for Bitcoin: as "transaction malleability" (in effect, a form of distributed denial of service attack) entered the lexicon, $2.7 million of Bitcoins were stolen from Silk Road 2, Russia banned it and the App Store followed suit, the value of a single Bitcoin fell to roughly half – as against USD – as it was 14 days ago.

One could be forgiven for thinking it is "all over" for cryptocurrency; the sector is more than just Bitcoin, however, and as a whole the market tells a very different story. Slowly but surely, the one-trick crypto pony is becoming a multilateral ecosystem and one of the more interesting of these developments was the establishment of Ethereum, a project to build a platform to run smart contract protocols.

“What the hell is a smart contract?” You ask.

Read more here.

View comments

The Scottish independence debate just got interesting

Written by Dr. Eamonn Butler | Tuesday 18 February 2014

The Scottish independence debate just got interesting. Not over the future of North Sea oil or nuclear submarine bases, but on the dull matter of monetary policy.

In September, Scotland holds a referendum on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or go solo. So far, many people just assumed that a 'Yes' vote would be crazy. Scotland already has devolved government, with its own Parliament in Edinburgh deciding matters such as health, education and welfare policy. Scotland has more than its share of MPs in the UK Parliament in London, who even get to vote on exclusively English matters. It also enjoys a higher share of UK public spending. Devolved powers and English subsidies...seems like paradise.

The polls reflected the strength of this 'No' case – but things are narrowing. The Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond is a wily politician. His party won a majority in the Scottish Parliament despite an electoral system designed to keep them out. He tells Scots not to throw away their one chance of doing something extraordinary. He affirms Scotland's proven ability to run its own affairs. And he makes the point that an independent Scotland would never have to endure a Conservative government ever again.

By contrast the 'No' campaign looks unambitious and condescending, suggesting that Scots aren't up to governing themselves. And the Conservatives, mostly pro-union, have such a polluted brand in Scotland that they kept quiet rather than adding weight to the 'No' lobby.

Brave, then, for Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer to enter the fray, saying that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to keep the pound sterling. Nonsense of course: only draconian laws preventing cross-border sterling business could stop that. And with so much cross-border trade, forcing Scotland into a new currency helps neither country – though that is what Osborne is trying to imply.

The reality is that the Scots could use the pound (or for that matter the dollar, euro or yen) but would have no say in the currency's management. But Osborne insists that the Bank of England would set interest rates and create money according to the needs England, Wales and Northern Ireland – not some foreign country called Scotland. Again, that is over-egging it: with so much cross-border trade, the Bank would have to take account of conditions in Scotland when setting its policy.

So the Scots would be like Ecuador, Panama or El Salvador, who use the dollar but who have no voice in US Federal Reserve policy. And just as they have no hope of the Fed bailing them out in a crisis, Scotland cannot expect any Bank bailouts either. That sounds bleak until you remember that Panama's banks are some of the world's soundest. They have to have big reserves precisely because there are no bailouts. So that might even make Scottish banks more attractive in these uncertain times.

Up to a point. The Scottish banks, or government, would still have to create a financial buffer big enough to ensure that Scotland's financial sector can keep standing without Bank of England support. It is a big ask: the Royal Bank of Scotland alone would need billions of new capital to let go of the Bank of England. Where does the money come from? The worry is that Scotland's huge financial sector would up sticks and head south, where it could still cling to nurse. And that anyone left behind would have to offer investors sky-high interest rates to reflect their risky go-it-along policy – which they would in turn have to pass on to borrowers, like people with mortgages.

The wily Salmond will have some answer, of course. The pity is that we have not had this rather critical debate until now. It would certainly have made the whole campaign a lot more interesting.

View comments

Does the NYT actually read its own editorials?

Written by Tim Worstall | Tuesday 18 February 2014

The New York Times is complaining bitterly that the workers at the VW plant in Tennessee didn't do what the NYT think that the auto workers should have done. That is, they voted not to have a union to represent them:

The “I am satisfied with my pay” rationale for voting no is also problematic. Why are VW workers in Chattanooga satisfied with making less than unionized Volkswagen workers in some other countries? Do they work less or contribute less to bottom line? Are they less skilled or less reliable?

By voting no, workers in Chattanooga very likely not only limited their own pay raises, but probably those of their relatives, friends and neighbors. That’s because the higher pay that generally results from collective bargaining at a major employer tends to influence the pay scales at nearby employers, even if those other workplaces are not unionized.

Please note that I've not edited or elided here: these really are the two paragraphs as they first laid them out. And it's things like this that make me wonder whether the people who write these editorials ever bother to read them. For they've used two entirely contradictory arguments about what explains wage rates, one after the other.

That first argument is that workers in different places should be paid according to the productivity of their labour. Doesn't matter what local wage rates are, if you're adding $x to the value of a car then your wage should be $y.

The second argument is very different: it is stating that if local wages are higher in general then your wages, in that locality, will be higher. If car workers in Tennessee are being paid more money then the people who flip hamburgers in Tennessee will also be paid more. Not that there will be any change in the value the flippers are adding, no change in their productivity, just that because local wages are higher then all local wages will be higher.

And that's why those two views conflict. Either wages are determined by productivity, not location, or they're determined by location not productivity. Trying to claim both in the same piece is just a bit much for me.

As it happens it is the second argument that is correct. Wages are determined by the best available alternative job for that skill set in that location. Someone able to make cars productively somewhere there are no cars to make won't get a carmakers' wage. But if carmarkers' wages are high then yes, given that being a carmaker is an alternative to flipping burgers then where there are high carmakers' wages then burger flippers' wages might well rise. Location, not productivity, is the key.

What makes it all so annoying is that one of the very best explanations of all of this is by Paul Krugman. Who is, perceptive readers will note, the economic columnist writer for, umm, the New York Times. You think they'd give a shout out down the corridor or  something when composing these editorials, wouldn't you?

View comments

On why the Club of Rome was wrong

Written by Tim Worstall | Monday 17 February 2014

I think we all recall the Club of Rome report that came out in the early 1970s? That all minerals were going to run out imminently and that therefore by today we'd all be dead?

I've recently found out that it all depended upon an assumption which was questionable to be polite about it. That assumption being that mineral resources were around ten times mineral reserves. Thus we can look at the official numbers for reserves, work out how much is used each year and thus work out when the resources will run out. Add in a bit of growth in consumption and we get to scarily close, in historical terms, numbers for when we are all savages plundering the decayed remnants of our civilisation.

The problem is that this assumption is untrue. Not just a bit off, wildly inaccurate even, but just plain flat out wrong. For there is aboslutely no relationship at all between mineral reserves (the working stock of current mines, largely speaking) and mineral resources (again largely speaking, where we know we could go and open new mines). Simply nothing at all: for metals like germanium, gallium, tellurium, there are no reserves at all, certainly no resources and yet there's vast amounts of these metals lying around all over the place. For the first two we throw away many hundreds of times current snnual usage in minerals that we already process, we just don't bother to extract them. For others like, say, potassium for fertilizers reserves are some 50 odd years while resources are 13,000. To claim a 10:1 ratio is just nonsense.

But it is nonsense that leads to the desired conclusion. For financial reasons reserves are rarely more than 30-50 years' worth of production. So claim that resources are ten times this, add in some growth in consumption and you will always come to the conclusion that there's not that long before we all die AIEEEEE! Thus the conclusion reached by the Club of Rome is something that is baked into their assumptions, not a reflection of anything about the real world that the rest of us inhabit.

There's more though! While reading through these reports to work out what they were really saying I came across this paper, A Comparison of the Limits To Growth With Thirty Years of Reality. Essentially it's a defence of the fact that nothing the Club of Rome predicted actually happened but just you wait, it's about to. And in this paper I came across this delightful point:

First, it is assumed here that metals and minerals will not substitute for bulk energy sources such as fossil fuels.

What? But, but, that's what renewables are! We substitute silicon, gallium, a bit of germanium (other designs use cadmium and tellurium etc) for the fossil fuels we would use to generate electricty by making those metals into solar cells. Wind turbines are using aluminium and rare earth metals to do much the same thing. The entire point of this Great Green Gambit is that we're using metals to substitute for fossil fuels.

The first report got the availability of minerals and metals wrong, howlingly wrong, and that is what would lead to disaster. This second report agrees that metals are easier to find than that but then goes onto state that we won't actually use them and therefore diaster will follow.

Both reports are, therefore, wrong. Unfortunately, the people who rule our world tend to believe the reports.

View comments

So how's this Bolivarian Chavismo working out then?

Written by Tim Worstall | Sunday 16 February 2014

It has to be said that this Bolivarian Chavismo, socialism with a Venezuelan face, really isn't working out all that well. A few months back we had the absolutely absurd story that people were using high tech gadetry like smartphone apps just to work out which shop had toilet paper in stock. Things are going downhill from there:

At least three airlines have grounded flights to and from Venezuela so far this year, in part because the nation's government owed the carriers $3.3 billion in foreign exchange they need to pay operating costs. ........Carmakers are also in trouble. Toyota Motor Corp. is halting production in Venezuela, while Ford Motor Co. is reducing output. A mere 722 vehicles were sold in a country of almost 29 million people last month. Trade group Cavenez reckons this amounts to an 87 percent drop in sales in one year. Ford’s chief financial officer, Robert Shanks, understated the problem when he told Bloomberg last week that “price controls and a very limited and uneven supply of foreign currency to support production, have affected output adversely.” So adversely that Chrysler, Ford and General Motors produced no vehicles in Venezuela last month. Business isn't much better for newspapers. In the last six months 12 papers have shut and more than a dozen might cease publication if the government doesn’t sell the newspapers enough foreign exchange to pay for imported paper. .......A greenback in the black market now goes for 84.2 bolivars, or 13 times the official rate. ......With the highest inflation on earth, rampant violence, declining oil output and a hobbled private sector, Venezuela seems instead to be on a sustainable path to economic ruin.

I'm not sure that anyone would have the chutzpah to claim that that is all a mark of success.

The basic problem was an old one that confronts socialists. Desiring to reduce inequality might be something that I'm not very concerned with but it's a legitimate view to hold. Desiring to improve the position of the poor is one that I do agree with. But either of these things cannot be done by screwing with the market. For doing that is going to, inevitably, lead to the results above.

As I mentioned a couple of days back if you institute price controls then if you set them high, over the market clearing price, then you'll get a surfeit of whatever it is that you've just controlled the price of. If you set it below that market clearing price then you'll suffer a dearth. And if you set it at the market clearing price then why on earth are you bothering to control prices?

There is just no way out of this problem.

Unless, of course, you don't screw with the market as your method of increasing the incomes of the poor or of reducing inequality. And the most obvious method of doing that is to tax and then redistribute that money to said poor. Obviously this can be overdone but it is indeed what every country currently does do and they all manage to keep airlines flying, toilet paper on the shelves and the exchange rate within sight of the official numbers.

That, according to what they said at least, they wanted to move Venezuela a little in the direction of Sweden's icy social democracy isn't something we should condemn them for. For being complete fools about how they went about doing so perhaps is.

View comments

Pages

About the Institute

The Adam Smith Institute is the UK’s leading libertarian think tank...

Read more