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Daily Archives: September 3, 2022

In Pictures: 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350

Source : Bring A Trailer

Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Economics

David Gordon wrote . . . . . . . . .

Like Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, Tom DiLorenzo is an economist with an extraordinary knowledge of history, and this shows to great advantage in his brilliant new book. In it, he stresses that economists who fail to grasp how the free market works often devise elaborate theories to show “market failures,” but when examined in the light of historical evidence, these theories fall to the ground.

As a prime example of this, Paul Samuelson in his Economics, for decades the most influential university textbook, indicted the market for its failure to conform to the welfare ideal of “perfect competition.” Concerning this, DiLorenzo says:

That never-to-be-realized-anywhere-on-earth state of perfect competition is one where all products in every industry are identical; they are produced by “many” business firms; everyone charges the same price; everyone has perfect information … and there is free or costless entry into every industry and every exit out of it. Several other equally unrealistic assumptions were added over the years, but these were always the main ones. This pipe dream became the new understanding of what constituted “competition,” at least among academic economists. (pp. 30–31)

Supporters of this view used the perfect competition model to demand that large firms be broken up. Couldn’t “monopolists” engage in “predatory pricing” to secure their position against competitors? DiLorenzo finds no historical evidence that such a thing has ever taken place.

In fact, to this day there is no record of any business achieving a monopoly through predatory pricing! There have nevertheless been hundreds of antitrust lawsuits based on this theory, most of them private lawsuits with one company suing a competitor for lowering its prices. Think about that: in the name of protecting the consumer, antitrust regulation allows businesses to sue to “protect” customers from their competitors’ lower prices. (p. 38)

Unfortunately, perfect competition is far from the only case of an alleged “market failure.” Critics charge that “public goods,” goods that are both nonrival and nonexcludable, cannot be adequately supplied in the free market. As an example, a guided-missile defense system protects everyone within a territory, not just customers willing to pay for it; and, given the large numbers of consumers of this good, people could in a free market “free ride,” imagining that others would bear the burden. General awareness of this phenomenon will make everyone reluctant to pay, since even those who want the good would rather not pay for it.

“Away with this flimsy theory!” says DiLorenzo: it too lacks historical support.

Another problem with the theory of the “free-rider problem” is that there are examples all around us of private individuals and groups providing myriad types of goods and services that are “nonrival” and “nonexcludable.” Americans are probably the most charitable people in the world…. The very existence of the many privately funded charities proves that the free-rider problem is not nearly as severe a problem as students of economics are led to believe…. Especially at the state and local levels of government, it is hard to think of any service provided by governments that is not also provided by private businesses (or private nonprofit organizations), usually at a fraction of the cost and with higher quality and customer service to boot. (pp. 67–69)

DiLorenzo finds a general pattern that underlies the failure of all the various attacks on the free market. In the free market, entrepreneurs have an incentive to satisfy consumers, as that is the path to profit. Government bureaucrats have no such incentive; to the contrary, they are free to seek “power and pelf,” as Murray Rothbard used to say. DiLorenzo puts this key insight in this way:

Profits and losses are the measuring rods of how good a job a business is doing with regard to serving its customers. Growing profits mean that a better and better job is being done in that regard; losses mean the opposite. No one is forced to buy anything from anyone in a free market…. In government bureaucracies, failure is success. The worse the public schools get, the more money they get in next year’s budget. The longer government fails in the War on Poverty, the more money the poverty agencies get. The longer the failed wars that are never won go on, the more enriched is the Pentagon and the military-industrial establishment. And on and on. (pp. 121–23)

If the free market is better than a centrally directed economy, we must in choosing proper policy beware that we have the genuine article, not a counterfeit. As an example, DiLorenzo first aptly brings out the fallacies of protectionism. “Chief among them is the ‘Buy American’ scam designed to make people believe that protectionism will somehow save American jobs. The truth is that protectionism may temporarily preserve some jobs in the protected industry, but always at the expense of destroying other American jobs elsewhere and plundering American consumers with higher prices” (p. 178).

But, he says, international trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) do not in fact promote free trade but subject it to government control.

Just because politicians call something a “free trade agreement” doesn’t make it one. They always choose wonderful-sounding names for their legislation, which in reality is usually the work of scores of greedy plunder-seeking lobbyists. This was the case with NAFTA, which was some 2,400 pages of bureaucratic regulation and central planning of the trade between the United States, Canada, and Mexico and the rest of the world. It contained nine hundred pages of tariffs, the opposite of free trade. (pp. 181–82)

As mentioned above, DiLorenzo has a wide knowledge of history, and this he puts to exemplary use in his discussion of the federal income tax, which, he aptly reminds us, the great Old Right author Frank Chodorov called “the root of all evil.” However much we hate to pay taxes, Chodorov’s phrase may seem exaggerated, but, DiLorenzo reminds us, he had a point.

Americans were literally turned into slaves of the state, said Chodorov, for what the government was now saying to its citizens was: “Your earnings are not exclusively your own. We have a claim on them, and our claim precedes yours. We will allow you to keep some of it, because we recognize your need, but not your right … The amount of your earnings that you may retain for yourself is determined by the needs of the government, and you have nothing to say about it.” In other words, the income tax was the biggest attack on the principle of private property in American history. (p. 163)

Relying on the great book of Felix Morley, Freedom and Federalism, which he calls “the best book ever written about American federalism” (p. 165), DiLorenzo says that the federal income tax bypassed the authority of the states over their citizens. Further, “it essentially turned most state governments into puppets of the ‘federal’ government once the federal government had enough funds with which to bribe or threaten the states to bend to its will by either granting or withholding ‘aid to the states’” (p. 165).

Tom DiLorenzo’s masterful book brings out in unsurpassed fashion that the free market rests on mutually beneficial exchange. He quotes Adam Smith: “Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind proposes to do this: Give me that which I want, and you shall have that which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of” (p. 5). (Smith, by the way, here alludes to the Latin do ut des, “I give that you may give,” important in the Roman religion and civil law.). The book is, as David Stockman says, a worthy successor to Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.


Source : Mises Institue

China’s Biggest Developer Says Property Crisis Has Yet to Bottom

China’s biggest property developer by sales is predicting more pain for the real estate industry after posting a record drop in first-half profit.

“The home market hasn’t entirely bottomed out, and the sector’s consolidation isn’t over,” Country Garden Holdings Co. Chief Financial Officer Wu Bijun said at an earnings briefing on Tuesday afternoon. “Property sales nationwide still haven’t stabilized.”

China’s developers are grappling with a yearlong sales slump, as homebuyer confidence evaporates during a liquidity crunch that’s stalled projects and triggered a wave of debt defaults.

Country Garden’s net profit slumped 96% to 612 million yuan ($88 million) in the six months ended June, the Foshan-based company said. That was the sharpest decline since its 2007 listing in Hong Kong.

Wu said that while a trough of corporate profit has “started to emerge,” the developer’s income statement will remain under pressure in the near future. “No one had envisioned such a cold market environment earlier,” she said.

Speaking at the same online briefing, President Mo Bin said the housing market is likely to return to normal by June next year.


Source : BNN Bloomberg


Read also at Fortune

Chinese property developers slump 87% in the first half of 2022—and it’s possible the housing market still hasn’t ‘bottomed out’ . . . . .

應對氣候變化不能靠抑制電力需求

作者: 何國俊 . . . . . . . . .

氣候變化威脅地球食水供應、減少農業生產、危及沿海地區、損害人類健康,並使生態系統惡化。極端天氣造成的過度死亡,更被認為是一大災難性後果。據2017年發表於《科學》(Science)期刊的一篇文章估計,到二十一世紀末,極端氣候帶來的超額死亡成本可能佔美國氣候災難損失總額約70%之多。

決策者的困局

為了應對極端氣候勢將帶來的超額死亡,政策制定者有兩大核心工具可用:一、減緩氣候變化政策(climate change mitigation policy),即通過降低能源的生產和消耗來減少溫室氣體排放。二、適應氣候變化政策(climate change adaptation policy),比如天氣寒冷之際,提供廉價取暖能源;夏季時則在公共場所和家居進一步普及空調等。2016年,《政治經濟學期刊》(Journal of Political Economy)的一篇文章估計,近半個多世紀以來,隨着空調的普及,美國人死於酷熱的風險下降了75%。

然而,若把這兩大政策一併檢視,就會發現一個兩難局面。為了緩解氣候變化,決策者通常認為必須減少能源和電力消耗,很多國家亦採取了相關政策,包括階梯電價(電價隨用電量遞增)、節能補貼和拉閘限電。然而,消耗能源和電力亦是適應極端氣候的必要手段,因此那些抑制能源、電力消耗的政策,可能會帶來意想不到的健康成本。筆者在近期一項研究中,聚焦日本在福島核事故後的大規模節能政策如何影響死亡率,並探討決策者在「適應氣候變化」和「減緩氣候變化」兩大政策目標之間應如何取捨。

可供參考福島核災經驗

日本是一個極度依賴核電的國家,在福島核事故前,全國約30%電力是核電。在核洩漏災難發生以後,由於公眾對核電的恐慌加劇,日本政府逐漸關停所有核電站,結果導致電力嚴重短缺;再者,為了防止大規模停電,在不同地區制定相應的節電目標,鼓勵市民減少用電。由於不同地區對核電站的依賴程度和關閉時段不同,因此節電目標也因地區和時間而異。例如,由福島發電廠供電的東京地區,政府在2011年定下15%的節能目標。相比之下,由於沖繩群島不使用核電,因此並無相應節能目標。

日本節能政策涵蓋各個方面,從而推動了整體社會的廣泛參與。地方政府、公用事業機構、家庭、企業和學校等都有參與政策的實行。鼓勵節電節能的指引由中央政府直接向各方發布,並通過電視頻道、新聞媒體和政府網站進行廣泛宣傳。值得一提的是,由於夏季期間市民使用空調的用電量佔很大部分,為了鼓勵減少使用空調,政府建議盡可能改用風扇;即使必須使用,亦建議將空調溫度維持在攝氏28度。此外,節能措施亦包含鼓勵減少使用其他電子設備,例如將電子馬桶蓋設定為「節能模式」(儘管預計僅能減少1%的家庭用電量)。

雖然上述措施並非強制性,但日本的節能政策成功地改變家庭和個人原有的用電模式。據抽樣調查分析結果顯示,在福島事故發生後的第一個夏季,東京和日本東北地區的空調設定平均溫度從攝氏24.1度上升到26.4度。筆者的研究發現,節能目標較高的地區(如東京),其社會耗電量也會因為更嚴格的節能政策而降幅更大。

日本這次大規模節能政策可視為一次難得的「自然實驗」,以供我們權衡如何在「適應氣候變化」和「減緩氣候變化」兩者之間取捨。從宏觀角度而言,日本能夠大規模減少能源、電力消耗,無疑有助於減緩全球氣候變化。但由於限制了人們適應極端天氣的能力,則可能產生意外的健康成本。

在搜集和分析了日本在2008至2015年間各地區的死亡、天氣、節能目標等資料後,筆者與柏克萊加州大學的合作者Takanao Tanaka在研究中發現,節能政策會加劇極端溫度對死亡率的影響:在節能目標較高的地區,更多人死於極端高溫或低溫。由於日本節能政策主要強調要在夏季節約用電,高溫帶來的死亡風險上升最為明顯。具體來說,我們的測算表明,日本大規模的節能政策造成與高溫相關的死亡風險增加了約3倍,導致每年超過7700人超額死亡。

氣候對策如何取捨

這些研究結果對我國制定氣候變化政策設計和管理有重要啟示。首先,決策者應明白,至少在短期內,氣候減緩政策和減緩氣候變化政策之間存在矛盾。節能政策可以降低未來的氣候災害風險,從而挽救更多未來的生命;然而,即使對於像日本這樣的發達國家,大規模的節能運動也會因為顯著限制個人適應極端氣候事件的能力,而導致當前更多人死亡。筆者認為,決策者應該盡量避免為求減緩未來的氣候變化,就制定現時可能影響市民適應氣候變化的政策。

同樣,其他一些被廣泛接受的節能措施,也會因為同一原因,而造成不可忽視的副作用。這些措施可能包括:階梯電價、拉閘限電、節能補貼、道德規勸(號召減少空調使用的宣傳)等等。近年來,為了實現「碳中和目標」,內地不少城市制定了限制空調使用以及其他能耗的措施,可能會帶來與日本節能政策類似的結果。對比日本,我國很多地區醫療資源還很稀缺,且面對高溫等更加頻繁的氣候災害,如果政策上進一步限制居民的基本能耗需求,不僅可能導致不必要的生產率損失,更可能釀成超額的死亡。

那該如何解決這一困境呢?筆者認為,政策制定者需要把能源電力生產和消耗區分處理,電力需求要少限制,生產則要更清潔。具體來說,在需求方面,政策制定者必須保障並繼續擴大市民的基本能源和電力需求,而不是加以抑制。在供給方面,則應大力推展電力生產結構改革、增加太陽能光伏、風電等綠色能源比重,並配置相應的儲能設施。同時,還要積極推廣和普及高效能生產技術和產品,實現用同額電量以滿足更多需求。

在宏觀層面,氣候變化政策不應該限制市民基本能源、電力消耗,而應該通過大力發展綠色能源來減少發電過程中的碳排放、並降綠色能源成本,讓大眾能更好地適應極端氣候,迎來更舒適的生活。


Source : HKU

中国学界为”闭关锁国”翻案?”义和团”怎成正义之师?

近日,中国历史研究院发表的一篇文章《明清时期”闭关锁国”问题新探》在网上疯传。文章认为,明清时期并非”闭关锁国”,而仅仅是为了防范西方殖民侵略的”自主限关”。但文章传开后,舆论却惊呼这是在为”闭关锁国”翻案,带有政治风向。

这篇文章在上个周末通过网络传出后,立即引起中国舆论的高度关注。不少人立即把文章和“清零政策”下,当局限制与外国交流的措施联系起来,并且指责文章的主旨与改革开放相悖。

在美国华盛顿的民间机构“信息与战略研究所”所长李恒青敏锐地抓住了中国民间的这种情绪,“我不相信,我真的不相信。经过了改革开放四十多年,还会有人从心里头认为改革开放是错的?应该回到过去,应该闭关锁国,走到过去的那种封闭、专制的环境中去?”

学界的反驳

《明清时期“闭关锁国”问题新探》(以下简称“新探”)这篇文章发表在中国历史类核心顶级期刊《历史研究》今年的第三期上,署名是隶属于中国社会科学院的中国历史研究院课题组。

作为一篇学术论文,它也引起了海内外学界的重视。推特上一些社科界学者也纷纷转发并对这篇文章作出评述。

该文章认为,明清时期关闭国门的政策没有阻断当时中国对外贸易的发展和中西交流,但造成了消极防御和对西方先进科技的漠视,在一定程度上为近代中国遭到西方侵略埋下了伏笔。文章还强调,明清的闭门政策并非“闭关锁国”,而仅仅是“自主限关”,是为了维护国家主权、防范西方殖民侵略。

英国贝尔法斯特女王大学国际关系学助理教授张晨晨在推特上评论说,中外学者早已对“闭关锁国”的概念提出过挑战,明清时期的闭关政策确实没有阻断中西的贸易往来。但她指出,文章主张的闭关政策是为了维护国家主权、防范西方殖民侵略却并不符合事实,因为现代的主权观念在明清时期尚未形成,而清王朝自身就是一个殖民帝国。她暗示性地说,对闭关政策的这种重新解释更主要是因应目前中国的自身环境,而不是以历史为根据的阐释。

“试水”

她的这种暗示在学界也得到了呼应。新加坡管理大学(Singapore Management University)法学院终身教授高树超(Henry S. Gao)在推特上转发了这篇文章,并评价说,在中国,历史并不仅仅是一些有趣且无用的事实,它往往预示着重大的政治变化。在推文中,他还贴出了作为文革导火索的姚文元文章《评新编历史剧〈海瑞罢官〉》的截图。

美国普林斯顿中国学社执行主席陈奎德则认为,这篇文章的背景是习近平为了谋求连任在政治试水,“如果他抛出来,舆论反应没有这么强烈,党内的反应也没有那么声势浩大,那么他可能进一步组织力量、组织文章,往更高层级的政治宣传部门走。”

陈奎德分析说,习近平上台以来的各项政策在逻辑上必定会走向闭关锁国,“他现在就是为自己的政策正名,寻找理论根据。他要把过去宣传的,改革开放打破了闭关锁国等等这一套逻辑全部打掉,所以他要为闭关锁国翻案。”

类似的文章,陈奎德还提到了李光满去年8月底发表的时评文章《每个人都能感受到,一场深刻的变革正在进行!》。当时就有人警告说,这是文革2.0版的檄文。

除此之外,中国历史研究院主办的学术期刊《历史评论》今年第2期刊发了山东大学彭淑庆的文章《义和团运动不能被“污名化”》,在承认这场运动的局限性的同时,认为它的主旨是农民阶级为了反抗帝国主义侵略,为了中国救亡图存所进行的尝试。

陈奎德分析说,这篇文章出现的时机恰是北戴河会议之后,中共的政治老人很可能在会议中对习近平提出了批评,对他的连任构成了阻力;习近平为此要作舆论准备,“他要放出这些舆论来,说明他还没有完全达到自己的目的,也就是说,目前这场政治斗争还处于胶着的状态。所以,抛出这些东西就是为了作舆论准备。”

再次闭关锁国有可能吗?

中国的改革开放已经走过了四十多年,虽然舆论上可以为“闭关锁国”造势,但实际上能否做到却是另一个问题。

一位身在上海的金融专家向本台记者分析说,这种可能性不大,“假如闭关锁国,这次中美审计监管协议就不会达成。可能只是开放的方式会大不相同而已。”他强调,闭关锁国的最大反对者是权贵阶层,因为这相当于断了他们的财路。出于安全考虑,受访者以匿名接受采访。

“信息与战略研究所”所长李恒青则认为,从习近平掌握的权力看,他是有办法做到闭关锁国的,“因为他掌握着刀把子、枪杆子和笔杆子,这三样东西都在他手里,包括喉舌都在他那里。”

但他强调,从长远看,闭关锁国这类开倒车是不可能得逞的,如果真的得逞,那就是中国的悲哀.


Source : RFA


Read also at 中国历史研究院

中国历史研究院课题组:明清时期“闭关锁国”问题新探 . . . . .