Tag Archives: economics

Book Review: The Spirit Level. Why greater equality makes societies stronger

The book: RIchard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, 2010. The Spirit Level: Why greater equality makes societies stronger. Bloomsbury Press. Foreword by Robert B. Reich.

I knew already that absolute poverty leads to higher health care and policing/justice system costs. What I didn’t know is that relative poverty also does this. This book sets out a strong case for income inequality being bad for society and for everyone in it, not just the poorer members. Continue reading

Speenhamland: An early experiment in basic income

Sources: Karl Polanyi, 1944. The Great Transformation.; Fred Block and Margaret Somers, 2003. In the Shadow of Speenhamland: Social Policy and the Old Poor Law.

Late 18th century Southern England was having a hard time of it. Rural labourers were losing access to land to support themselves because of enclosures. Cottage craft industries were losing ground to manufactured goods from the North. And grain prices spiked due to the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1795, authorities introduced the Speenhamland Law to help workers cope with all this, implemented at the parish level. Some parishes provided a basic income, with a 100% clawback. Others provided workfare, unemployment insurance, and other variations. Support was geared to the price of wheat, going up and down with wheat or bread prices. It went on until 1834, then was replaced with the workhouse – an institution that separated families and gave them make-work projects for their survival.
Continue reading

The Body Economic video

This talk by David Stuckler goes over some of the same information in the book I reviewed yesterday here, with some of the same figures. There is an additional figure in the talk (at the 20 minute mark) that is taken from a paper* they published the same year. It looks at the return on investment of various types of government spending. Government spending in general tends to lead to economic growth, but it depends on what it is spent on, with defense spending actually shrinking the economy but spending on health, social protection, and education leading to significant economic growth. (“Community” means things like housing, water, street lights. These numbers are averages for 25 countries.)

The sound in the video isn’t the greatest, but it’s relatively short (24 minutes) and covers the same territory as the book. There are other videos as well if you want more details and don’t want to read.

*Does investment in the health sector promote or inhibit economic growth? Aaron Reeves, Sanjay Basu, Martin McKee, Christopher Meissner and David Stuckler. Globalization and Health 2013(9):43. You can find it online fairly easily if you want the details of how they came up with the numbers.

Book Review: The Body Economic: Why austerity kills

The body economic: Why austerity kills. Recessions, budget battles, and the politics of life and death. David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, 2013. Basic Books.

The authors are public health experts who study how social and economic policies affect our health. I first read this book in 2013 when it came out, and was blown away, mostly because I was not aware of the effects of austerity vs government spending.

It’s unethical for researchers to conduct austerity experiments on populations to see what happens, but there are plenty of austerity experiments out there already, enacted by governments, that researchers can study to see what the effects are. This book is a plain language translation of their scientific research.

According to the authors, economic policy affects who lives and dies more than medical care does; in the US, zip code is a top predictor of life expectancy. Continue reading

Basic Income – Beyond Left and Right?

Today’s video is a panel of four economists at the conference in Switzerland in the spring of 2016, chaired by a journalist. The economists are Michael Tanner (USA), CATO Institute; Daniel J. Mitchell (USA), CATO Institute; Robert B. Reich (USA), UC, Berkeley; and Reiner Eichenberger (Switzerland), Ökonom. Moderation: Alexandra Borchardt (D), a German journalist.

The video is 45 minutes. Among other things, they discuss the loss of jobs to automation, the need for welfare reform, and issues around financing and implementation. The last 15 minutes they take questions from the audience. One tidbit: the smallest government spending (e.g. Hong Kong, Singapore) is about 20% of their GDP. Switzerland’s government spends 34% of their GDP; France’s government spends 57% of their GDP. (By my calculations Canada’s governments, all levels combined, spend a combined 25% of our GDP, but I could be wrong.) One of them asks if taxpayers in any of these countries are getting their money’s worth. How do you decide?

If you like this video, head on over to YouTube and give it a thumbs up. None of these videos are getting many views.

Dr. Evelyn Forget: It’s 2016, do we still need a B.I.G.?

This was a talk given at the Northern Policy Institute BIG Conference 2016, October 5-6, 2016. Dr. Forget is the researcher who dug into the files from Mincome and started analyzing the data. The video is 26 minutes long. You can see her slides here.

If you like this video, head on over to YouTube and give it a thumbs up.

Robert B. Reich: Technological Change and the Inevitability of Unconditional Basic Income

Robert B. Reich is professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. He was Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997. I think this talk was to promote BI in Switzerland before their vote on it last summer. He talks for about 20 minutes then takes questions. Among other things, he talks about how people want to work and a BI would free them up do to the kind of work they want. In the Q&A he suggests reducing business subsidies to help fund BI. I LIKE THAT IDEA!

If you like these videos, please go to Youtube and give them a thumbs up. They are not getting nearly enough views.