Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America

By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst, Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Nobel laureate James Buchanan is the intellectual lynchpin of the Koch-funded attack on democratic institutions, argues Duke historian Nancy MacLean

Ask people to name the key minds that have shaped America’s burst of radical right-wing attacks on working conditions, consumer rights and public services, and they will typically mention figures like free market-champion Milton Friedman, libertarian guru Ayn Rand, and laissez-faire economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if the Tennessee-born Nobel laureate were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work.

The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.

That is a dangerous blind spot, MacLean argues in a meticulously researched book, Democracy in Chains, a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. While Americans grapple with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, we may be missing the key to changes that are taking place far beyond the level of mere politics. Once these changes are locked into place, there may be no going back.
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The misleading UK official unemployement numbers

This is almost unheard of. Unemployment was most recently this low in December 1973, when the UK set an unrepeated record of just 3.4%.

The problem with this record is that the statistical definition of “unemployment” relies on a fiction that economists tell themselves about the nature of work. As the rate gets lower and lower, it tests that lie. Because – as anyone who has studied basic economics knows – the official definition of unemployment disguises the true rate. In reality, about 21.5% of all working-age people (defined as ages 16 to 64) are without jobs, or 8.83 million people, according to the Office for National Statistics. Continue reading

Deficit hawks are destroying our children’s future

The combined impact of fewer workers and lower productivity is enormous. In 2008, before the true extent of the recession was known, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that by 2017 the economy’s potential would be 29 percent larger than it had been in 2007. In its most recent report, the CBO puts the economy’s potential for 2017 at just 16 percent more than its 2007 level. This difference of 13 percentage points translates into more than $2 trillion a year in today’s economy.

It’s also well worth noting that this lost output is income that disproportionately would have gone to those at the middle and bottom of the income ladder. The people who don’t get employed in a weak economy are overwhelmingly African Americans, Hispanics, and workers with less education. Furthermore, in a weak labor market, workers at the middle and bottom of the wage ladder aren’t well positioned to get wage increases. The weakness of the labor market in the Great Recession and the anemic recovery that followed were both associated with a large shift in national income from wages to profits. In short, this was a hard punch to the belly for large segments of the working population.

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Antitrust in the era of Amazon

This Note argues that the current framework in antitrust—specifically its pegging competition to “consumer welfare,” defined as short-term price effects—is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy. We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon’s dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output. Specifically, current doctrine underappreciates the risk of predatory pricing and how integration across distinct business lines may prove anticompetitive. These concerns are heightened in the context of online platforms for two reasons. First, the economics of platform markets create incentives for a company to pursue growth over profits, a strategy that investors have rewarded. Under these conditions, predatory pricing becomes highly rational—even as existing doctrine treats it as irrational and therefore implausible. Second, because online platforms serve as critical intermediaries, integrating across business lines positions these platforms to control the essential infrastructure on which their rivals depend. This dual role also enables a platform to exploit information collected on companies using its services to undermine them as competitors.

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Share of economic growth enjoyed by workers is at its lowest since the second world war

And the longer the slump goes on, the more the public tumbles to the fact that not only has growth been feebler, but ordinary workers have enjoyed much less of its benefits. Last year the rich countries’ thinktank, the OECD, made aremarkable concession. It acknowledged that the share of UK economic growth enjoyed by workers is now at its lowest since the second world war. Even more remarkably, it said the same or worse applied to workers across the capitalist west.

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Negative Interest Rates

“Negative interest rate” is a phrase seemingly designed to confuse all but the experts. Instead of paying interest on commercial banks’ “excess” reserves held by the central bank, the central bank taxes these deposits. The idea is to impel the banks to reduce their unspent balances and increase their lending or investments. In the case of the European Central Bank, there is a technical reason: to increase the supply of high-class bonds for President Mario Draghi’s ongoing program of quantitative easing. Continue reading

IMF: Neoliberalism and austerity policies don’t work

Osborne said his austerity programme would give the government more flexibility in the event of a future crisis, but the IMF said taking out this sort of insurance policy would only be worth it if the benefits exceeded the costs.

“It turns out, however, that the cost could be large – much larger than the benefit. The reason is that, to get to a lower debt level, taxes that distort economic behaviour need to be raised temporarily or productive spending needs to be cut – or both. The costs of the tax increases or expenditure cuts required to bring down the debt may be much larger than the reduced crisis risk engendered by the lower debt.”

The economists rejected the notion that austerity could be good for growth by boosting the confidence of the private sector to invest. It said that in practice, “episodes of fiscal consolidation have been followed, on average, by drops rather than by expansions in output. On average, a consolidation of 1% of GDP increases the long-term unemployment rate by 0.6 percentage points.” Continue reading