Princes of the Yen

POTY_BOJ

A most excellent documentary on how the Japanese became an economic miracle thanks to their economic planning —  via Window Guidance, a process by which the Bank of Japan imposed where the credit went, and what quantity of it. It also shows how unbridled capitalism, which took hold of the country in the 80s, made it prey to boom and bust cycles and caused it to become the most indebted country in the world.

You can watch it in YouTube.

Corrientes adversas al libre mercado

The New York Times habla en un reciente artículo de la creciente consciencia sobre la espada de doble filo que es el libre mercado. La teoría económica más básica permite entender que unir dos territorios en un mismo mercado económico, sin divisiones, implica cambios para ambos territorios. No es, por tanto, algo que quienes han impulsado uniones económicas y tratados de libre comercio hayan descubierto ahora: quien ha defendido un tratado de estas características lo ha hecho porque se sabe parte de los que saldrían beneficiados de ello, y sabiendo que habría perjudicados. Hay una mayoría de ciudadanos que, sin embargo, no eran conscientes de que las atractivas rebajas en productos de consumo significarían, al cabo de no demasiado tiempo, unas difícilmente evitables rebajas en sus condiciones laborales.
La defensa del libre mercado se apoya, dice el artículo, en la identificación de los ciudadanos de países occidentales (Estados Unidos en el original) como consumidores. Si se consigue que la discusión se centre en los precios de los productos, y no en los salarios de los trabajadores, es difícil resistirse a lo que nos ofrece derribar fronteras y aranceles. Se ha intentado sugerir en campañas políticas alrededor del mundo que los tratados de libre comercio brindarían nuevas oportunidades de negocio y que todos saldríamos beneficiados, pero las pruebas nos dicen lo contrario. Quien ha podido –y, por supuesto, sabido– beneficiarse de esta expansión del mercado ha visto como su público potencial se multiplicaba y sus proveedores le ofrecían condiciones y precios cada vez mejores debido a la competencia. El problema radica en que el trabajador es un proveedor más, y también debe enfrentarse a una competencia mucho mayor. Esto ha tardado más tiempo a llegar, pero ha llegado y la política se ha empezado a hacer eco de ello.
Las campañas políticas en el período reciente han buscado maneras de justificar y soluciones que ofrecer a los salarios estancados, cuando no en recesión, y a las pésimas perspectivas para las clases trabajadoras que ofrece el panorama laboral del momento. Por primera vez en mucho tiempo hemos oído mensajes en contra de los tratados de libre comercio y la libre circulación de capitales, si bien no en estas palabras. Si bien es muy posible que hablen únicamente en clave electoral, estos conceptos permean y llegan hasta los ciudadanos menos interesados en economía, que al oír algo distinto a lo habitual empiezan a pensar en qué posición es la mejor. En muchos casos seguirán lo que su grupo, o partido político, defienda. En otros, sin embargo, habrá un análisis de pros y contras. Que no haya un mensaje homogéneo es siempre favorable.

Model economics

Not knowing about economics is hard. This is the main reason I want to start a degree in economy next year: I am going to absorb that knowledge and spread it as fast and wide as possible. The Foundation for Economic Education (fee.org) has the right name but, sadly, it turns out not to live up to it.

This article in the web page defends government regulation of the economy is unnecessary, as the market will self-regulate thanks to boycotts and consumers making the right moral choices (“Moral outrage makes markets work: social signaling makes top-down regulation irrelevant”). It is an extremely attractive theory, and it looks like it should work, all the more in a society where social networks and wide access to the internet makes it easier for citizens to share information. This is the kind of model economics taught in universities: they make for very nice and clean explanations.

There are two fundamental flaws, however: first, assuming consumers are absolutely free to choose and, second, that they have perfect access to information. This is so much not the case it really surprises me the author was able to ignore reality long enough for him to be able to finish the article. We are not free to choose. Our salaries, to start with, condition what we can buy. It would be absolutely in our best interest to buy free trade products, to only buy from companies that do not participate in human rights violations and do not exploit the poor. It’s just that we cannot. The price attached to those products makes it impossible. Furthermore, not everyone knows what is in their best interest, as even when the information is available it takes time and a previous education to be able to understand certain facts. What’s more, we are still influenced in a great deal by what the mass media say. These media know how to explain better, make it sound more convincing, influence more.

The consumer is seldom perfect, and this makes top-down regulation not only a good idea but a necessity for society to thrive.

Who are the top 1%

A recent article -calling it an article is a bit of a stretch actually,  as it is an extremely short text- by the CATO institute tries to put the recent protests against inequality in the USA by trying to make middle class citizens feel they are privileged in relation to the rest of the world. The writer looks at some annual income data and reaches the conclusion that making more than 32k $ a year places an individual in the top 1% of the world’s population. This got a fair amount of comments in the economy Reddit,  where some defended this article made many protests invalid or self-centered.

The CATO institute is a right-wing think tank created to fight any kind of push towards regulation or redistribution. This allows us some perspective on what the text is trying to achieve, but it is an interesting piece nonetheless. Are we being selfish? Are we actually privileged and shouldn’t be protesting? Let us analyze that, check some data, and see what is really happening.

Free market Capitalism has become the dominant economic doctrine and is the way global economy is run. In this system, a capitalist -someone who has a certain capital, that is, money or means of production- can invest it in an enterprise, be successful, and expand their capital. They can also be unsuccessful and lose part of their capital, in which case they could become dependent on their labour alone. Capital acts as a multiplier of sorts: a sufficient amount of capital will make any small effort enough to achieve success. What we earn every year can have an effect on our capital, of course, but what really places us in a better or worse place in a capitalist system is the capital we have accumulated. The top 1% is determined by what a person has, not by what a person makes. The question, therefore is what we should possess to be part of this minority. This is a piece of data the article fails to mention. I was able to find the reason without having to look that hard, and it speaks loud enough to be a good way to end this post:

The threshold to be part of the global one percent is having 770k$.