Celebrated economist Thomas Schelling died today at the age of 95. He was the recipient of the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for “having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis”. I note his passing because he was instrumental in my recognizing that I belonged to his tribe — that I was at heart an economist. Mere accident led me to pick up his book Micromotives and Macrobehavior (1978) at the Sunnyvale Public Library sometime back in the early 1990s. He received his bachelors degree in economics in 1944 from UC Berkeley, my alma mater. Continue reading “Thomas Schelling (April 14, 1921 – December 13, 2016) RIP”
Today, Sept 29th, is the 135th birthday of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973).
I consider Mises to be one of my gurus. Just to be sure, I used the word guru very seriously — one who dispels the darkness (gu) of ignorance through the radiance (ru) of knowledge. I have been reading his magnum opus Human Action (1949) and The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science (1962) religiously.
Who was he? “Ludwig von Mises was one of the greatest economists and political scientists of the twentieth century. He revolutionised the understanding of money, inflation and recessions; comprehensively refuted the arguments for socialism; and provided a devastating critique of the methodologies of mainstream economics. His contributions to the Austrian School laid the intellectual groundwork for thinkers such as F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard and Israel Kirzner.” Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Ludwig von Mises”
The economic growth of any economy depends on how much is invested in creating productive assets in it. Factories, buildings, ports, the transportation network, natural resource extraction, manpower training, the use of modern methods of manufacturing, energy production and distribution networks — all require investment. Part of the investment arises from domestic savings, part from foreign borrowings, and part from foreign direct investment (FDI.) Let’s look at how India does in FDI compared to other countries.
Here I will not address what kind of changes need to happen for India to attract, say, 10 times as much FDI as it currently does. That’s feasible but not with the current policies and leadership. Anyway, here are the facts.
This is a continuation of the brief piece about what’s wealth and where does it come from. Wealth, defined broadly, is important to us because it’s useful for our material well-being. Material well-being is not an end in itself but it is instrumental in providing the irreducible basis for our happiness and therefore it is a means to all other higher human aspirations and goals. Without a sufficiently wealthy foundation, it is hard if not impossible to live in peace and harmony with oneself and with others.
Continue reading “Competition and the Creation of Wealth”
10 million years ago, there was no wealth on earth
Wealth comes from human action. It does not exist in nature although the ingredients from which wealth is derived through human action does exist in nature. A simple example illustrative example is hydrocarbons in the ground (coal, crude oil, natural gas, etc.) They simply exist in nature. Whether it is useful or not depends on the user. Primitive life forms on earth had no use for it. Dinosaurs did not dig up coal to use as an energy source. Even primitive hominids had no use for coal. Though coal existed for millions of years, it did not become wealth until modern humans figured out only a few thousand years ago that it was great fuel for fires.
Continue reading “What’s wealth and where does it come from?”
CNN has a nice graph showing the top oil producers of the world. Here’s the data for 2014 and 2015.
You notice two things: the production trend is positive. That partly explains the downward trend in prices over the last year or so. In the not too distant past, I had paid as much as $4.50 per gallon of gas in the SF Bay area. Recently I paid as little as $1.90 per gal at the same pump. It was delightful to pump gas. When I was visiting New Jersey in January, I paid just $1.50 per gal. (For those who are unfamiliar with the archaic system of measurement in the US, a US gallon is 3.78 liters.)
In the US, gas prices move with world prices of crude. No such luck in India. Indians are forced to pay whatever the licence permit quota control raj decrees. Which basically translates into allocative inefficiency, and that means increased poverty. Indians have some seriously shitty karma that they have such worthless governments that don’t understand basic economics.
It’s all karma, neh?
We take it as a given, almost a fact of nature like the seasons or the geography of continents, that different parts of the world enjoy different levels of prosperity. But there’s nothing “natural” about this since this is almost entirely within human control. The differences are stark, and at one end of the scale, heartbreaking. Consider the extremely rich first. Luxembourg has an annual per capita income of over $110,000, Norway over $100,000, Switzerland around $85,000. Those are small countries and outliers with perhaps little to tell us. But the US is large and has an annual per capita income of $53,000. Why is it so rich?
At the other end of the scale are Burundi and Malawi with only $200 or so annual per capita incomes. Why are they so poor? The richest countries are around 500 times richer in per capita terms than the poorest. What accounts for this inequality in incomes of countries? That question has engaged the attention of people for hundreds of years — starting with of course the great Scottish economist Adam Smith who inquired about “The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” in his famous 1776 book.
Continue reading “On Technology, Prosperity and Dysfunctional Ideologies”