Fri, 24 November 2017
My guest today is Frank Milne of Queen's University.
Our topic for today will be unintended consequences. Frank has written a paper directed at policymakers to help them understand some of the pitfalls that economists have identified. The paper is directed at Australian policymakers, so some of the examples are Australia specific, though they generalize quite well to other countries.
We start where the paper starts, with a discussion of Australia's heavy investment in commodity exports to China in the wake of the 2008 crisis. Many people mistook the temporary increase in demand for Australian mineral exports for a permanent change, leading them to over-invest in developing the Australian mining industry.
We go on to discuss many topics, with a particular focus on housing. We also touch on Frank's work on Systemically Important Real Sectors (SIRS), which he is working on with co-author John F. Crean. SIRS are sectors with the potential to cause systemic problems in the banking sector. They feature high volatility of costs and revenues, which create the potential for large losses to lenders.
Fri, 17 November 2017
Today's guest is Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution. We discuss infrastructure, particularly roads and airports, and the incentives faced by their users. Bad incentives create congestion problems that can't be solved by simply throwing more money into infrastructure; you need to fix the incentives! Clifford's work on privatization shows how it could improve incentives and reduce the costs of congestion.
Clifford argues that self-driving cars will fix some of the problems created by bad policy. We also discuss the letter grades issued for infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers and what they do and don't tell us about the quality of American infrastructure.
Fri, 10 November 2017
We discuss the economic reasoning behind some of history's strangest practices: ordeals that were used to determine innocence or guilt in medieval Europe, trials by battle that were used to settle land disputes in Norman England, wife auctions that happened during the Industrial Revolution, and the criminal prosecution of insects and rodents by ecclesiastical courts in Renaissance Italy.
Also check out Peter's previous book, The Invisible Hook, about the economics of pirates. You won't regret it!
Fri, 3 November 2017
My guest today is Jared Rubin of Chapman University. He is the author of Rulers, Religion, and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not, which is our topic for today.
The book deals with the question of why Western Europe became wealthier than the Middle East after centuries of being poorer. The book is part game theoretic model of society, part historical narrative through the lens of that model.
The model considers two main factors: the state's power to coerce and its need for political legitimacy granted by elites. Importantly, different groups have been the ones to grant legitimacy to the state in different times and places. In the Muslim world, religious leaders primarily played this role, as they did in Europe prior to the Reformation.
After the Reformation, however, the power of the Catholic Church was much diminished in many parts of Europe. Rulers in places like England and the Dutch Republic turned to economic elites to grant them legitimacy. This gave the merchant and capitalist classes a seat at the bargaining table, setting the stage for the Industrial Revolution.