If an alien with an accounting degree touched down in America, it might conclude that we’re a weird cult that spends 11 months living frugally and four crazy weeks buying tons of stuff we don’t need. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong, either.
We can fight over what the taxation levels should be, but the tax system should be very, very simple and not distortionary.
Economics is all about consumption. People either spend money now or they use financial instruments – like bonds, stocks and savings accounts – so they can spend more later.
Happiness quantification sounds a bit wishy-washy, sure, and through a series of carefully administered surveys across the globe, economists and psychologists have certainly confronted a fair number of sticky issues around how to measure, and even define, happiness.
Happiness statistics may be most valuable in smaller, local discussions. Understanding how different sorts of programs affect the well-being of citizens would be enormously helpful to a mayor choosing between building a new bridge or offering a tax cut.
Most rich countries have reported increases in happiness as they become richer.
Much of what we consider the American way of life is rooted in the period of remarkably broad, shared economic growth, from around 1900 to about 1978.
The so-called skills gap is really a gap in education, and that affects all of us.
Perhaps concentrated wealth will inspire a nation of innovative problem-solvers. But if the view of many economists is right – that it sometimes discourages innovation – then we should worry.
One of the great political and economic challenges of our time is figuring out the balance between wealth that benefits society and wealth that distorts.
The America that I think most Americans would want, most economists on the right or left would want, is one in which a smart, ambitious, hardworking person without a huge amount of resources has a pretty good shot, in the end, of beating out a less smart, less ambitious, less hardworking rich person.
The economy works best when better ideas win out over worse ideas, harder work wins out over less work, when it’s a fair fight in the marketplace.
Lots of countries have great constitutions, but their leaders have a practice of ignoring the rules whenever they feel like it.
In poor countries, the rich and powerful crush the poor and powerless.
Poverty is not the simple result of bad geography, bad culture, bad history. It’s the result of us: of the ways that people choose to organize their societies.
If large numbers of people believe they have no shot at a better life in the future, they will work less hard and generate fewer new ideas and businesses. The economy, as a whole, will be poorer.
Art is often valuable precisely because it isn’t a sensible way to make money.
It makes me happy to think that this world of art-as-investment is a minuscule fraction of the art world overall. Most people who create, trade and own art do it for a much simpler reason. They just like it.
A healthy economy is largely a result of a reasonable balance between consumption today and consumption deferred, and it’s pretty clear that balance has been ridiculously out of whack for a while.
The economics profession advances by one confusing financial disaster at a time.
If your business is really easy to do, don’t gloat. You might be out of a job soon.
When you cover the economy as a reporter, there’s one part of the job that is always easy: finding economists who disagree.
The idea of confidence, of the emotions of the population, is an incredibly important one in economics. John Maynard Keynes called it ‘animal spirit.’ And if people are feeling generally good about the future, they’re more likely to spend money, to start new companies; companies are more likely to hire people, make investments.
What we want as an economy is companies and people, you know, working hard to come up with creative ways to be more productive. We don’t want companies and people working hard to lobby government for special tax cuts.
What there is no dispute about is whether or not China is a currency manipulator. They are a currency manipulator. They actively intervene every single day to keep the value of their currency less than it would be against the dollar than if it floated freely. We think. Even China barely disputes that.
A rule of thumb: If the company you work for provides a product or service that’s pretty much the same as what was offered last year and a few years before that, it might be time to start looking for something new.
Whenever you hear news about jobless claims or the unemployment rate, you should translate that in your mind to one simple phrase: Stay in school.
If the American government can’t stand behind the dollar, the world’s benchmark currency, then the global financial system will very likely enter a new era in which there is much less trade and much less economic growth. It would be, by most accounts, the largest self-imposed financial disaster in history.
Hating Wall Street is an American tradition that dates back even to the days when Thomas Jefferson cursed that money lover Alexander Hamilton. And for centuries, the complaints about it have largely stayed the same: ‘It does nothing! It creates chaos! It’s a parasite that sucks hardworking Americans dry!’
‘Reinventing the Bazaar,’ by John McMillan, is a great and fun introduction to the wild variety and importance of markets throughout history and around the world. I finally understood how a Middle Eastern souk actually works economically and how to compare that to modern-day telecom-spectrum auctions. I love that book.
‘The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movement in Iraq,’ by Hanna Batatu. Few may wish to take on this massive, obscure work, but it changed my life, and I love it.
We tend in this country to talk about Democrats and Republicans, and think there’s little group over there called Independents that’s maybe 2%. That is not the case, and it has not been the case for most of modern American history.
The Internet is, among other things, a massive, chaotic marketplace. Too much information, it turns out, is a lot like no information.
The cardinal rule of taxation is that whatever you put a levy on, you’ll inevitably get less of. Taxing corporate activity means less investing, less hiring, fewer jobs and a smaller economy, which hurts the rich, the poor and the middle class alike.
Like a bottle of wine or a promising college quarterback turning pro, C.E.O.’s are similar to what economists call experience goods: you commit to a price long before you know if they’re worth it.
Unlike physics, economists don’t settle things. There seems to be plenty of room for different conclusions that are still accepted in the academy.
I don’t think that much change comes from economists. I think it comes more from political realities. Probably the two giants of the 20th century, who actually did shift government policy in the U.S. and around the world, were John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman. I don’t see anybody in our system who is at that level of influence.
To put it simply and a bit crudely: Our economy is demanding more well-educated workers than our schools are providing. To attract this scarce resource, communities have to offer more than just jobs.
The American dream always meant that anybody willing to put in a hard day’s work could make a decent living. That’s just not true anymore for people without at least some post-high school education.
I’m not the first to admit that raising a child in Park Slope, Brooklyn, can bear an embarrassing resemblance to the TV show ‘Portlandia.’ My wife and I try to have some ironic distance from the culture of organic, chemical-free parenting, but we’re often participants.
There is such a polarized discussion of economics among people like analysts, columnists, bloggers; often, they end up just saying that views other than their own should not even be discussed. I find that frustrating. There is no intellectual progress without considering lots and lots of different views.
Economics is not a discipline that comes to correct answers – economies are too complex.
The world I want to live in is a world where everybody is a bit more uncertain about their arguments and is a bit more open to other people’s arguments. I think that we can engage ideas without ad hominem attacks.
A majority of Americans support Social Security and Medicare, a progressive tax system and a government that regulates business in the public interest, but most share deep skepticism about the government’s ability to do all this well.
When you see a merger between two giants in a declining industry, it can look like the financial version of a couple having a baby to save a marriage.
Holiday binge-buying has deep roots in American culture: department stores have been associating turkey gluttony with its spending equivalent since they began sponsoring Thanksgiving Day parades in the early 20th century.