Friday, September 25, 2009

Moralismo o capacità

Il buon filosofo Benedetto Croce calato nella cronaca a (presunte) luci rosse di questa primavera/estate
Charles de Gaulle  - "The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs."

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

11 settembre (con un po' di ritardo)

Causa insonnia, mi sono imbattuto in questo bel post del blog Oggettivista a proposito dell'11 settembre. Di seguito riport l'incipit

La guerra contro il terrorismo, incominciata in risposta all’attacco di New York e Washington l’11 settembre del 2001, non è uno scontro fra civiltà diverse. Non è una guerra di religione, né una guerra tra ricchi del mondo contro poveri del mondo. E nemmeno un pretesto preso dagli Stati Uniti per espandersi in tutto il mondo e sedare il dissenso interno. E’ una guerra dichiarata contro un nemico che, per sua scelta, odia la modernità. Il Rinascimento e poi l’Illuminismo hanno dato il via a una profonda trasformazione della civiltà umana: da società chiuse, tecnologicamente statiche, caratterizzate da un’attribuzione di ruoli rigida e immutabile, l’umanità ha incominciato a muoversi verso un’unica società aperta, in cui ogni individuo può determinare il suo futuro e decidere il suo ruolo, secondo la sua, personale, volontà. Una trasformazione traumatica della vita aggregata di fronte alla quale le religioni tradizionali si sono adattate o, spaventandosi, hanno reagito con la forza.

Il resto su

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Austriaco al 90%

Sul sito del Mises Institute ho fatto un test sul mio approccio all'economia in ottica di Scuoal Austriaca:
Mi ha fregato all'ultima domanda in cui risulta che seguo l'impostazione della Scuola di Chicago: vabbè, se non è zuppa è pan bagnato..

La morale è


Your score is: 90/100

Are You an Austrian? (Short Version)

Thank you for taking the Mises Quiz, Your results will be emailed to you.
1. What is the correct economic status of private property?

A. Property is at the heart of most serious inequalities and oppressions in modern civilization. Only by regulation, transfer payments,  redistribution of property, and common ownership can society arrive at fairness, justice, and human dignity for all.
B. Property is a naturally arising relationship between human beings and material things. Property and enforceable property rights make possible economic calculation, a wider and more productive division of labor, and therefore increasing levels of prosperity. Indeed, civilization itself is inconceivable in absence of private property. Any encroachment on property results in loss of freedom and prosperity.
C. Property is central to prosperity and economic growth. Accordingly, it is of the utmost importance that the state, or more abstractly the law, maintain and modify the bundle of property rights in such a way as to allocate transactions costs in such a way as to promote maximum growth and economic efficiency. Property does not arise naturally, but is the end product of the legal system.
D. Property is an important component of our social system but its status as a "right" is contingent. It must be subject to regulation and modification for the general good. The state must intervene to prevent abuses of economic power, even at the cost of reducing traditional prerogatives of owners.

Your answer:B.
The Austrian answer.

2. What is the proper method to conduct research in economic science?

A. The economist should not mimic the behavior of the natural scientists, because the social sciences involve human beings. Human action is characterized by intentional behavior, which involves the rational use of means to achieve desired ends.  The very subject matter of economics—capital goods, money, wage rates, etc.—is not defined by physical or chemical properties, but instead by the mental or subjective attitudes that human minds take toward these things. Consequently, the proper method for an economist is to start with self-evident axioms—such as that people try to achieve the highest utility at the lowest cost—and logically deduce conclusions from them.
B. Like the physicist, the economist (if he wants to be scientific) should construct a precise model that yields quantitative predictions about economic variables, such as GDP and unemployment. Then the economist should test those predictions against the actual data as collected by statistical researchers. At any given time, the best explanation or "theory" of a certain economic phenomenon is that model which yields the best fit between predictions and actual data.
C. The question is misleading; economics cannot really be scientific in the conventional sense of the term.  In physics we have fixed "laws" that are the same in every society and every time period.  In contrast, there are no fixed laws in economics.  The economist might study a certain historical episode and conclude that, say, rent control didn't achieve its objectives when it was tried in Manhattan after World War II.  Nonetheless, it may still be true that rent control could work in Paris in 2004 if the people in charge take care to avoid the mistakes of the past.
D. To be scientific, we need to modify the traditional economistic approach of viewing society as nothing but a collection of atomistic, egoistic individuals.  In reality, human beings consider themselves to be part of a greater social whole.  A more fruitful avenue of research would be to study the complex groups with which people identify, whether class, race, or sex.  Such an analysis would reveal the undeniable power of relationships in society, and give a much better understanding of economic events than typical, simplistic economic models.

Your answer:A.
The Austrian answer.

3. What is the reason for the interest rate, and should it be regulated?

A. Interest payments compensate investors for their loss of liquidity when they sink cash into a business project or lend it out for a certain period; the interest rate is the price of liquidity. Interest is a monetary phenomenon, not a "real" one (as the classical economists thought).  Modern economics recognizes the role of expectations or what might generically be called "confidence in the future."  For example, if the interest rate jumps from 5% to 10%, this does not mean that people have become more oriented towards present consumption; it could simply reflect heightened anxiety about the economy. Government manipulation of the interest rate is certainly one of several tools needed to smooth economic fluctuations, but by itself this approach is relatively impotent. If everyone fears a worsening recession, employers will not hire more workers or build more factories, no matter how low the interest rate is pushed.
B. Interest payments are a return on capital, and the interest rate in equilibrium equals the marginal product of capital. The situation is perfectly analogous to labor, where the wage rate equals the marginal product of labor.  There are various technological recipes yielding output at various future dates, and consumers have preferences for consumption at various future dates. On the margin, present consumption will be preferred to future consumption, and an extra unit of capital invested will yield an increment in output (available in the future) that just makes the consumer indifferent between consuming now or waiting an additional unit of time and consuming the higher yield made possible by the productivity of capital. The government should not meddle with interest rates, for the same reasons that the government should not meddle with wage rates.
C. "Interest" is just a codeword for profit; a capitalist earns interest when he spends less on wages and raw materials than he earns from selling the final product.  This surplus value arises from the exploited workers hired by the capitalist.  Under the wage system, workers are paid the bare minimum they need to survive, even though the full product of their labor far exceeds their compensation from the employer. In this respect, the wage system is no different from traditional slavery, where the slave owner keeps the product yielded by his slaves' toil, and from this fund only "pays" them enough to maintain their bare survival. Obviously interest is a barbaric feature of capitalist societies, and will disappear once the system of wage slavery is overturned.
D. Interest payments reflect the higher value of present goods over future goods. Other things equal, everyone wants to consume sooner rather than later. The current price of a computer might be $1,000, but the price of a claim to a computer delivered in one year would currently sell for less than that, say $900. An entrepreneur might invest $900 in labor and raw materials in order to sell a product next year for $1,000; his implicit interest return is due to the fact that the factors of production represent technological "claims" on future consumption goods, and thus their current price (the $900) is less than their ultimate sale price ($1,000).  Obviously the government need not interfere with the market interest rate, since it merely reflects the subjective premium individuals place on a marginal present good over a marginal future good.

Your answer:D.
The Austrian answer.

4. What is the economic impact of saving?

A. In normal times, saving is not economically harmful but in a recessionary environment it can cause the economy to spiral downward. Saving reduces consumer spending and may not be translated into investment spending because of investor pessimism. This will reduce total demand in the economy and lead to unemployment. One way of

B. The vast accumulation of wealth within select classes and families creates an economic oligarchy that shuts out those who cannot gain a foothold within the economic system. Inheritance taxes, and taxes on dividends, are essential to a society that values equality. After all, the yield from vast bank accounts really amounts to unearned income. No society can tolerate some people living off interest while others live paycheck-to-paycheck off the meager sums offered by minimum wages.
C. Saving (which means forestalling current consumption) is essential for capital formation, but there is no socially optimal ratio of consumption to saving that should predominate in society. It all depends on the social rate of time preference, that is, the extent to which people prefer goods sooner to later. Individuals may choose consumption over investment or vice-versa. Government intervention can skew these choices, subsidizing or taxing savings or consumption or both. In order to have the mix reflect the most economical choices, government should have no policy toward saving, even in the case of saving for old age.
D. There is no investment, and hence no economic growth, without saving. For this reason, the encouragement of saving should be an economic priority. Inflation discourages savings, which is a major reason why a policy of stable money should be the central-banking policy. Empirical studies show that saving takes place over the life-cycle of individuals. Miscalculations can occur, which is why the government might need to encourage private retirement accounts, a system that is more efficient than Social Security because it yields higher returns.

Your answer:D.
The Chicago answer.

5. What is the source of economic value?

A. Physical objects such as a banana or an automobile do not possess intrinsic economic value. On the contrary, only a human mind can attribute value to such items, and only then do economists classify them as goods. An object is valuable only because there is at least one human being who believes that this object can help satisfy his or her subjective desires. For example, even if a particular root cures cancer, if no one knows this fact, then the root has no economic value, and people will not trade money for it. Consequently, value is caused by an individual's subjective desires and his or her beliefs about the causal properties of a particular item.
B. The value of a commodity is equal to the amount of total labor used in its construction. If one bicycle has the same market value as, say, 500 eggs, then we can write 1 bicycle = 500 eggs. In what does this equality consist? Obviously the bicycle is not "equal" to the eggs because of any of its physical properties. If we examine the matter carefully, we will conclude that the one thing that the two have in common is the amount of labor used in their construction.
C. The value of a good is determined by the interdependence of supply and demand, or what might be called the interaction of cost and utility. In contrast to some schools of thought, which try to explain value on the basis of utility alone, the correct approach is that of Alfred Marshall, who realized that economic value is due to both subjective preferences and to objective technological conditions. To see this most clearly, consider that if the costs of production go up for a particular good, in the new equilibrium its final price must be that much higher.
D. Economic value is a complex matter that cannot be explained through simple formulas. To understand why the people in a particular society value some things more than others, we must study their culture and history. For example, a Native American tribe might have valued a particular animal as sacred. The white Europeans, of course, did not share this value system and thus slaughtered the animals. The same is true of a good or service on the market.

Your answer:A.
The Austrian answer.

6. What is money and how does it originate?

A. Money can emerge from barter, but private interests will probably not develop it to suit the needs of a modern economy. We need central banks to sustain the financial sector. Efforts to manipulate the economy using the money supply will at best fail, and at worst cause severe problems. Monetary authorities should not increase the money supply at their discretion. They should increase it at a steady rate, matching the long term growth rate of the economy.
B. Money is a vehicle for exploitation that distorts real values. Money is neither necessary nor desirable, but is an arbitrary artifact of history. Social progress will lead to revolutionary social changes, including the elimination of money. This will end exploitation and result in a society that aims at satisfying real values, instead of aiming at private financial profit.
C. Money always emerges out of barter. The difficulties of finding trading partners under barter systems results in the emergence of commodity monies. Durable, portable, and divisible commodities, like gold and silver, typically fit the bill as money best. Money and related institutions emerge as an unintended consequence of self interested trading. The evolution of such institutions is best left to the competitive market forces that created them in the first place, as governmental intervention will result in inflation and other distortions.
D. Money is a creature of the state. Sound monetary institutions require planning and a central bank. Central banks can also stabilize markets. Central bankers can counteract booms and busts in the private sector by expanding the money supply during recessions and slowing it during booms. Public control of the institution of money is key to running the economy.

Your answer:C.
Austrian answer.

7. What causes the business cycle?

A. Variations in the money supply cause GDP growth to deviate from its general trend. Absent these variations the economy is relatively stable. Variations in the money supply cause inflationary booms and crashes. Lags in the adjustment of wages with these cycles mean that financial booms and busts will entail significant changes in unemployment rates.
B. Competition in the face of declining profits and increasing monopolization generates increasingly large crises under capitalism. Capitalists invest in labor saving devices to keep unemployment high and wages down. Competition leads to falling profit rates and crashes. Some capitalists will then get good deals on capital from bankrupt capitalists, raising their profitability for the moment. However, the tendency of capitalism to reduce profit rates will lead to further unemployment and another crash.
C. Expansion of the money supply artificially reduces interest rates. This causes a boom in consumer and investor spending. With businesses thinking longer term, and consumer thinking shorter term, a discoordination emerges in the economy. The time relationship between saving and investment, production and consumption, is disrupted. Market processes reveal that many investments are not really profitable but instead are clusters of errors. Businesses then liquidate these investments, causing a recession.
D. Booms begin in excessive optimism, often prompted by technological shifts, resulting in speculative frenzies. Deficient total spending then causes recessions/depressions. When total savings exceed total investment, total spending on goods falls. This decreases the demand for labor to produce these goods. Then pessimism among business investors leads to insufficient aggregate demand and economic hard times.

Your answer:C.
Austrian answer.

8. What causes economic growth?

A. A balanced relationship between aggregate demand and aggregate supply is the leading determinant of economic growth. Because private markets cannot always provide this, stable institutional environments are necessary. The public sector plays a vital role in securing economic growth by providing a framework of legal and financial institutions. A variety of public-sector efforts such as low-interest rates and subsidies may also play a positive role. A limited amount of regulation is necessary, but this is not necessarily true.
B. Private consumer demand is not enough for economic growth. Overall private spending is often too little, too manipulated by business, and rife with choices that overlook social priorities. Consumers may save too little or too much. This sometimes makes public deficit spending necessary to stimulate the economy. Also, private spending fails to supply public goods. Public spending in such areas is necessary for economic growth—particularly in education, infrastructure, and scientific research.
C. The capitalist process causes economic growth, but this is a non sequitur. While capitalism is the most productive system, the distribution of wealth under capitalism is wrong. Whole classes of citizens are left out. Capitalists take advantage of workers by paying them the lowest possible wage instead of the value of their labor. So capitalism delivers the goods, but to the wrong addresses. What we need are workers' democracies where productivity can go hand-in-hand with a more just distribution of wealth.
D. The source of economic growth is mutually beneficial, voluntary exchange. Within the exchange economy, consumers spend part of their income on goods and services to satisfy their most immediate wants. This drives current production. Consumers save part of their income according to their less immediate wants. This drives entrepreneurial investment in future production and leads to the development of sophisticated capital markets. Private contracts, competition in markets, and private institutions that allow for capital investment and accumulation are all you need to attain optimal economic growth.

Your answer:D.
Austrian answer.

9. Do markets create and sustain monopolies and what should be done about it?

A. If the history of capitalism shows us anything, it is that it leads to business concentration. With fewer and fewer firms dictating the terms, the result is ever higher prices combined with ever lower wages. Unions and antitrust enforcement have had some measure of success in curbing this, but neither institution goes far enough to counter the trend toward monopoly within market settings. We must also question the idea that competition itself should be a policy goal. Most often, it is socially wasteful and a slogan repeated by monopolists to justify exploitative behavior. The ideal of cooperation between all, a truly democratic economy, should be the ideal.
B. The market tends to generate monopolies of varying sizes and types. Business should not be permitted to exercise monopoly power in pricing. It can be detected by various formulas comparing costs with output price according to a perfectly competitive model. Geographic monopolies may not be as important as they once were due to advances in transportation technology. What we face today are a variety of technologically driven monopolies, such as the example of Microsoft shows. Still, regulators need to be constantly on the lookout for businesses that attempt to employ market power, enriching themselves at consumer expense. Competition needs rigorous enforcement.
C. Economists of the classical school were right to define a monopoly as a government-grant privilege, for gaining legal rights to be a preferred producer is the only way to maintain a monopoly in a market setting. Predatory pricing cannot be sustained over the long haul, and not even the attempt should be regretted since it is a great benefit to consumers. Attempted cartel-type behavior typically collapses, and where it does not, it serves a market function. The term "monopoly price" has no effective meaning in real market settings, which are not snapshots in time but processes of change. A market society needs no antitrust policy at all; indeed, the state is the very source of the remaining monopolies we see in education, law, courts, and other areas.
D. Monopoly regulation has caused more harm than good by protecting particular competitors, not competition. Some types of regulation against trusts are based on flawed models that fail to understand that some firms gain market share solely because of their products' desirability to consumers. Most cited cases of "path dependency" turn out to be mythical. What is left for regulators to do? As Adam Smith said, they should prevent business conspiracy, blatantly predatory behavior, and otherwise assure a level playing field leading toward genuine competition. Finally, some goods lend themselves to being best provided by monopolies, e.g. courts and defense.

Your answer:C.
Austrian answer.

10. What is the role of equality and inequality?

A. Equality is a term that properly relates to mathematics but not to social science. Human beings are unequal in their endowments, opportunities, and will to achieve. Unequal does not mean inferior or superior; it merely means different. Differences are the very source of the division of labor, and, within a market setting, lead not to conflict but cooperation. While differences should be celebrated, property owners have every right to treat people unequally because it is owners that bear responsibility. Legislators, however, should not have any concern for bringing about equality of result or opportunity, either between individuals or groups of individuals classified according to any criterion. The only place for equality concerns the law, which should treat all individuals the same without regard to their station in life.
B. It is a great mistake to make equality of result a policy goal, because egalitarian legislation can kill incentives to improve. Punishing the rich is self defeating, even for the poor striving to make their way. Equality of opportunity, however, is something different. It something everyone merits by their very dignity as a human being. Thus should a nation strive for quality educational institutions, institute a limited inheritance tax, and otherwise assist those who, through no fault of their own, lack the means to gain entry into the division of labor. Once these institutions are in place, we will find that the forces of market competition will achieve egalitarian goals through predominately voluntary means.
C. Inequality is an intrinsic feature of a social structure that is mired in a prejudicial overhang from the long and shameful history of the manner in which Western society has treated women and other minorities. The prejudicial impulse, rooted in the spirit of conquest that gave birth to Western capitalism in the first place, is a form of violence and yet part of the corrupt infrastructure of the market economy itself. If the owners of capital were left to their own devices, excluded groups would remain so in perpetuity, so society had to act to restrain them. Full equality will continue to elude us, so long as we have a society that treats people as goods to be bought and sold, and so long as we make a god out of private property.
D. The modern emphasis on equality is the great policy advance of the last century. No longer does the political and economic system exclude women and minorities from participation but rathers include them as a matter of law. These groups tend to be artificially undervalued by the "invisible hand" of the market, which is why there is a role for anti-discrimination and public-accommodations law. The welfare state, too, has benefited society by insuring that the benefits of rising wealth are spread throughout society, so that the rich do not become richer at the expense of the poor. We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

Your answer:B.
Chicago answer