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An Introduction to Economics Syllabus

June 7, 2016

1. What is economics? Brief. Explain why it’s important, key questions asked, method of thinking.

2. Economic history – agriculture, industrial revolution, population + wealth increases of the 20th century, Gapminder. Show the incredible journey humanity has had in the last 200 years.

3. Human Action, Choice, opportunity cost, decision making

4. Supply and demand:
How are prices determined
How competition works
Prices as information and incentives

5. Market coordination – Technology as specialization, Markets in Everything, Markets as evolution

6. Unintended consequences – broken window, economics in one lesson
Price controls, the effect of regulation on markets

7. Political economy – People have incentives to reduce supply to increase profits. Petition of the candlemakers, other political stories. Bootleggers and Baptists

8. Basics of game theory – PD, repeated games, signalling, commitment, reputation, etc

9. Basics of industrial organization

Other Reading
Chapters 1-3 TWoN
Economics in One Lesson
I, Pencil
Petition of the Candlemakers, What is Seen and what is not seen
Cartoon Introduction to Economics, Yoram Bauman
Economic Naturalist, Robert Frank
The Use of Knowledge in Society
Theory of the Firm, Problem of Social Costs, Coase

Are Mexicans the Problem?

May 6, 2016

All aspiring fascist demagogues pick an ethnic minority to blame for all of their country’s problems. It looks like Mexican immigrants are the scape goat du jour, although Syrians are a close second.

To some degree this article is useless. The likelihood that a substantial number of people will read it and change their minds is about 0. But the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. If you were living in Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials you had a moral duty to speak out and say that witches aren’t real and these trials are just murdering innocent people. If you were living in Germany during the Holocaust, you had a moral duty to point out that Jews do not poison wells, and are not to blame for Germany’s loss in WW1. If you were living during the Red Scare in America, you had a moral duty to say that Communists are the worst human beings who have ever lived and no one should rest until they are wiped from the face of the earth.

The relationship between immigrants and employment is positive. That is to say, empirically, the more immigrants you have, the less unemployment you have. This could mean that immigrants follow jobs, but the lump of labor based “immigrants take jobs” approach is completely false.

Wages are not negatively affected by immigration, although some studies show a small negative effect on high school dropouts. Generally speaking, admitting higher skilled immigrants is going to have a better positive effect on wages than low skilled, since low skilled workers are substitutes for one another, whereas high skilled workers are complements. Economically speaking, there is no difference between immigration and fertility, except fertility has higher governmental costs, since you have to school children born in your own country. As wages go up in more population dense areas, it makes sense that adding more people would have a net positive effect on wages.

Illegal immigrants don’t get welfare, except their children get schooling and they can get emergency health care. They might not pay income taxes, but they still pay sales and some other miscellaneous taxes. Furthermore, granting amnesty would likely increase the amount of taxes they pay.

Note: Legal immigrants get more welfare than natives, but that’s because they are poor, not because of their ethnicity. The amount of welfare they get is determined by Congress. If you don’t like it, elect someone who changes the law.

Trade – Nafta
The way trade works is that each side gives up something and gets something of equal nominal value in return. If you buy $50 of groceries, you give up $50, and you get that much in food. The value of imports equals the value of exports, overall. Since there are many countries in the world, it is exceedingly unlikely that the payments will balance exactly between any two countries, but there is nothing wrong with this. If Mexicans buy American corn, and Americans use the money to buy German cars, and Germans use the money to buy Mexican gasoline, each country runs a deficit with the next country, but overall the payments still balance.

America actually has a manufacturing surplus with Mexico, and NAFTA has been beneficial to the U.S. automobile sector. This article isn’t trying to be a primer on international trade theory, but the trade related woes about NAFTA are overblown. It was a great deal for the U.S. and ending it would hurt our economy.

Immigrants are incarcerated at lower rates than natives. It makes sense that if you are an illegal immigrant, you’re going to want to keep your head down so you don’t attract police attention. Perhaps you could argue that by immigrating, they are all criminals by definition. But that seems a circular argument for making immigration illegal to begin with. We could make having blue eyes illegal by noting that if that were the law, the only people hurt would be those evil blue eyed criminals. As Augustine said, an unjust law is no law at all.

Learning English
The vast majority of immigrants learn English. Yes, temporary immigrants on work visas aren’t going to bother, but permanent residents will and their children certainly will. I guess if even hearing a bit of Spanish is painfully grating to you, the fact that the speaker will one day learn English is cold comfort.

Further reading
10 Myths about immigration
Immigration Facts

Assorted Links

April 29, 2016

1. Playing to win

2. Socialism is national suicide

3. Reactionary politics

4. 538 on basic income.

5. Lying and politics

The Problem with Poverty Lines

April 29, 2016

Poverty lines are frequently used to mislead readers. Poverty percents across countries are compared without any reference to the fact that poverty lines in different countries might be different by a factor of ten or more. Furthermore, readers are often left in the dark as to whether the poverty lines are pre- or post-tax and pre- or post-transfers. The official U.S. poverty rate does not include tax breaks such as the EITC, or in kind transfers, like food stamps or Section 8 housing. Since both welfare and tax rates vary greatly between countries, this is vital information to be able to compare the living standards of the poor between countries.

Text: The biggest declines in Chinese poverty were from 1980s to early 90s, well before it became a major trade player.

Well the problem with that is that the Chinese poverty line is based on $1 per day. Once 95% of your population gets over that pitifully small amount, no further income gains are going to be visible by the metric. Here is a more detailed graph of Chinese income over that period:

If you apply the U.S. poverty line to China of around $12,000 per person, China’s poverty rate looks like:
1970: 99%+
1980: 99%+
1990: 99%
2000: 90%
2006: 50%

Now, all of a sudden, there was no change in poverty in China until very recently. If you don’t show the whole distribution, you can be quite misleading.

If all you know is the poverty rates, the U.S. looks horrible compared to other countries:
Relative poverty rates

However, adjusted to purchasing power parity, it’s middle of the pack:
Earnings at tenth percentile

But if you include the costs of health care, the U.S. would start to look worse again, since many of those countries provide government health care which is far more valuable than similar services provided by the U.S. government. If you really want to dig into relative poverty, it takes work and a simple poverty line doesn’t help much.

Further Reading:
American poverty in 5 charts.
America’s poor compared to the rest of the world.
Global Rich list
The poverty rate and consumption

The Best Peppa Pig Episodes

April 27, 2016

Source: xkcd.

Having watched all Peppa Pig episodes a gazillion times because Chelsea likes it, I can say there is truth to the comic above. However, the plus side of the human brain functioning this way is that at least you start to enjoy it. Honestly, if Chelsea is down for a nap, I feel kinda weird if I don’t hear cartoons in the background. Anyway, this show has some good moments and the voice acting is excellent.

The Wishing Well
Ahh, the joys of marriage. The interplay between Peppa, Grandpa and Granny Pig is absolutely hilarious.

The Pet Competition
Mrs. Hamster is really funny. I love the accent and the absurdity of showing up to a children’s pet competition and awarding yourself top prize. At least Peppa calls her out.

Grampy Rabbit’s Dinosaur park
Grampy Rabbit is played by Brian Blessed, who does a fantastic job. “Gym Class” is also quite good.

Bedtime Story
Peppa tells George a bed time story that is silly and fun and continually interrupts with “are you sleepy yet?

International Day
“Umm….. don’t they?” Enough said.

Night Animals
Some animals eat during the day, and some animals eat at night.


Assorted Links

April 27, 2016

1. 40 things Bryan Caplan learned

2. Basic income and prices

3. Autor on Trade with China

4. Aphantasia

Assorted Links

April 7, 2016

1. The rise of Trump

2. Terrorist safe haven

Tyler Cowen interviews Johnathan Haidt