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Three Reasons Why More Secession Means More Freedom

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When we hear of political movements in favor of decentralization and secession, the word “nationalist” is often used to describe them.

We have seen the word used in both Scottish and Catalonian secession movement, and in the case of Brexit. Sometimes the term is intended to be pejorative. But not always.

When used pejoratively — as was the case with critics of Brexit — the implication is that the separatists seek to exit a larger political entity for the purposes of increasing isolation, throwing up greater barriers to trade, and pursuing a more autarkic economic policy. In other words, we’re supposed to believe that efforts at decentralizing political systems leads to states becoming more oppressive and more protectionist.

But there’s a problem with this claim, and with connecting protectionist nationalism to decentralization and secession: the act of breaking up political bodies into smaller pieces works contrary to the these supposed goals of nationalism.

That is, when a political jurisdiction is broken up into smaller independent units, those new units are likely to become more reliant on economic integration and trade, not less. This dependency increases as the country size becomes smaller. If the goals of the nationalists include economic autarky and isolation, nationalists will quickly find these goals very hard to achieve indeed.

This is true for at least three reasons.

One: Economic Self-Sufficiency Is Costly and Difficult

Economic self-sufficiency — i.e., autarky — has long been a dream of protectionists. The idea here is that the population within a given state benefits when the residents of that state can cut themselves off from other states while still maintaining a high standard of living. Fueled by the false notion that imports represent economic losses for an economy, protectionists seek policies that block or minimize the importation of foreign goods.

Large countries can pull this off — for a little while. For countries with vast agricultural hinterlands, large industrial cities, and innovative service sectors, it is possible to move toward economic reliance on only domestic food stuff, domestic raw materials, and domestic industry.

Over time, however, protectionist states begin to fall behind the rest of the world which is presumably still engaging in international trade. It will become increasingly clear that the protectionist states are not keeping up in terms of their standards of living. This will have geopolitical implications as well, since protectionist countries will become relatively impoverished and relatively less innovative compared to other states. Protectionist states thus lose relative power both economically and militarily. We saw this at work in Latin America, for instance, when it was in the thrall of “Dependency Theory” during the mid-twentieth century. The idea was that countries could become wealthier and more politically independent by reducing trade. The strategy failed miserably.

The process is the same with small countries, but the effects of protectionism become more apparent more quickly. After all, a small country that lacks a diverse economy or a large agricultural sector will quickly find itself running out of food, skilled labor, and raw materials. Moreover, a small country without close ties to other nations will quickly find itself in a very dangerous geopolitical position.

Perhaps not surprisingly, empirical studies have found that small countries tend to be more open to international trade than larger countries, and that “[c]eteris paribus, small nations … become more trade-focused than large ones.”

Indeed, this is the only way for them to prosper. As Gary Becker noted during the period when new post-Soviet states were entering the global marketplace, “[s]mall nations are proliferating because economies can prosper by producing niche goods and services for world markets.”

Small countries can’t offer the world a wide variety of goods and services. But they can specialize and offer at least some goods or services for which there is global demand. Without this, small states have little hope of raising their standards of living. This is why economists Enrico Spolaore and Alberto Alesina concluded in 1995 that “smaller countries will need more economic integration.” in order to benefit from independence.

This all suggests the need to integrate becomes greater the smaller the state, and the need for economic openness and integration are even greater for microstates — the smallest of the small states. William Esterly and Aart Kraay found in 1999, for example, that in spite of the “widely held view that small states suffer from their openness,” financial “openness may help microstates insure against the large shocks they receive.” This is in part due to the fact financial openness “allows countries to share risks with the rest of the world.”

The impetus for small states to pursue open trade policies exists even in the presence of potentially threatening larger states. As noted in his study of how trade is affected by state size, Stephen Krasner notes “[s]mall states are likely to opt for openness because the advantages in terms of aggregate income and growth are so great, and their political power is bound to be restricted regardless of what they do.”

Two: Smaller Countries Seek Tax Competition and Tax Arbitrage

Trade barriers aren’t the only place where small states look to lessen regulatory burdens and tax burdens.

Smaller states also have a habit of competing with larger states by lowering tax rates. As recounted by Gideon Rachman in The Financial Times, numerous small states were integrating into the European economy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Accoridng to Rachman:

Small and nimble nations slashed taxes and regulation to attract foreign capital and business. The Irish set some of the lowest corporation tax rates in Europe; the Balts and Slovaks went for flat taxes; Iceland became an improbable financial centre. International capital flooded into the smalls.”

Did this mean smaller states in general — at least those with easy access to Europe — tended to embrace lower tax tax rates? The answer appears to be yes. In a 2012 study author Franto Ricka concludes “capital tax rates in the EU countries are positively related to their size partly because small countries “choose a lower tax on capital than larger countries, with which they compete.” While large states can rely on economies of scale to keep capital from defecting in response to tax incrases, small states have no such advantage. Thus, small states, must be, as Ricka puts it “tougher competitors for scarce capital.”

Moreover, Ricka found that the presence of small countries — and the tax competition they provided — drove down tax rates in the larger countries.

Not surpringly, large states have attempted to pressure small states into raising tax rates and embracing so-called “tax harmonization.” In early 2019, for example, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker pushed the idea of ending the ability of EU members to veto changes in tax policy so as to make tax rates across EU countries more equal. The relatively small states of Ireland and Hungary have long opposed such efforts . Malta has vehemently objected as well.

Europe isn’t the only place with small states looking to attract capital with low tax rates. Small island nations in the Caribbean also function as tax havens and have earned the ire of the European Union’s leadership.

When it comes to tax rates, it’s the large states — and especially unions of large states like the EU — that are the drivers behind efforts to raise global taxes worldwide.  The efforts threaten to end the havens offered by smaller states looking to attract capital that would likely ignore small states otherwise.

Three: Small States Actually Perform Better

Finally, as an added motivation to small states to lower trade barriers and tax rates, there is the empirical evidence showing that small states can achieve higher growth rates and higher standards of living through more liberal economic policy.

Economist Gary Becker noted in 1998, ” since 1950 real per capita GDP has risen somewhat faster in smaller nations than it has in bigger ones .” Becker concluded that “the statistics on actual performance show that dire warnings about the economic price suffered by small nations are not all warranted….Smallness can be an asset in the division of labor in the modern world, where economies are linked through international transactions.” Of the fourteen countries with populations over 100 million, only the US and Japan are wealthy .

Moreover, Easterly and Kraay write:

controlling for location, smaller states are actually richer than other states in per capita GDP. … microstates have on average higher income and productivity levels than small states, and grow no more slowly than large states”, the only “penalty of smallness” being the relatively higher GDP growth rates volatility due to trade exposure.

Nor are the indicators favoring small states based only on numbers like income and productivity. Nick Slater at Current Affairs observes

[People] tend to live longer [in microstates]: out of the top ten countries in terms of life expectancy , nine could be considered microstates (of these, Switzerland is a bit of a stretch, but its population is still smaller than New York City’s). It can also be good for your bank account: the quality of life in European microstates like Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, and San Marino is perhaps the highest in the world.

Now, this isn’t to say smallness is a foolproof strategy for economic success. There’s a reason Easterly and Kraay control for location in their comparisons. Other research suggests that small and remote countries tend to be uncompetitive.

But even in Africa, small states outperformed large states in economic growth. According to a 2007 report from the World Bank, the resilience of small states was likely due to greater economic flexibility observed in small states, and thanks to political stability. This stability, it is believed, stemmed in part from the fact smaller African countries are less “ethnically fractionalized.”

Unilateralism Doesn’t Mean Protectionism

All too often, opponents of decentralization and secession insist that whenever a region, member state, or nation is allowed to go its own way, it will immediately raise trade barriers, raise taxes, and pursue forget the benefits of international cooperation. Yet, in recent decades, there is scant evidence to suggest this is a likely outcome in practice. It appears far more likely that seceding countries and territories are more likely to move away from economic nationalism and toward a more open economy.



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Economy

Inequality, morals & Marxism

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One thing this crisis is demonstrating is that there are plenty of bad employers: the Guardian and Labour List both have lists of them. Another is that, as Sarah O’Connor says, “the people we need the most are often the ones we value the least.” As Paulo dos Santos says, society “grossly undervalues” care work and other jobs essential to fighting the pandemic.

Both these facts show the need for a Marxian perspective.

First, we must ask: why are care workers and others so underpaid? It is certainly not because they lack moral desert. Nor is it because they lack skills: caring demands immense “soft skills” such as patience, discipline and an ability to get on with people as well as physical ones. From a purely technical point of view – that is, one divorced from socio-economic factors – it would be cretinous to claim that a nurse is less skilled than the grifter opinion-mongers who pollute the media.

Instead, care workers are badly paid because they lack power. Some of this is the result of longstanding norms: work done by women and immigrants has long been stigmatized, devalued and regarded as “unskilled.” But another part of it is simply a lack of outside options and hence of bargaining power. As Paulo says:

Market wages and conditions reflect the precarious social positions and sometimes utter desperation of those who typically perform them.

The point, of course, broadens. As Rick said, “all pay is, ultimately, a function of power.” It is trivially true that labour is the source of value, as this lockdown is reminding us. But how that value is distributed depends upon power. Your “skills” are only one element in your power: parlaying these into a decent income is another matter.

Power also lies behind the fact of bad employees. Big firms have a degree of monopoly power: they wouldn’t be profitable if they did not. Good employers use this power to share rents with workers. Bad ones, however, use their monopsony power to jack up the rate of exploitation.

What should be done about this? Some leftists think we need to make a moral case for paying key workers more and that we need to shame bad employers into improving.

Moral exhortation, however, might work sometimes but it is not enough. We do not reduce burglary or murder merely by appealing to criminals’ better nature. We use force as well. Similarly, we won’t abolish poverty pay and bad working conditions merely by asking nicely.

We must instead realize, as Marxists do, that material conditions matter. As the late great Norman Geras wrote in his essay Marxism and Moral Advocacy, ethical analysis and advocacy:

Need to be done with some thought for the social and material conditions of attaining any given ideals, the means of and agencies for attaining them, [and] the social interests and movements that can conceivably be coupled with or become attached to the ideals and imperatives in question.  

It is easy to see how we might abolish the material conditions that give rise to inequality, bad employers and poverty wages. Macroeconomic policy must be aimed at ensuring over-full employment. We need strong trades unions and a high citizens basic income to empower workers to reject bad pay and conditions. And government (and local authority) procurement should be used to encourage coops. 

Most social democrats would agree with this. We Marxists, however, have two doubts.

The first concerns how to get there. How do we mobilize the social movements and interests that would deliver a government committed to these, and weaken those that would prevent such a thing? 

The second is that these policies are only stepping stones, part of what Erik Olin Wright called an interstitial transformation (pdf). They will lead to a squeeze on profits. When this happened in the 70s, it led to a backlash against social democracy and to Thatcherism. The challenge is to ensure that it leads instead to socialistic forms of ownership. Historically, social democrats have resiled from this challenge.

This crisis has increased the salience of inequality and injustice. But there’s a huge distance between an issue being salient and it actually being properly addressed. We have little hope of closing this distance without a Marxian perspective.



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Economy

Links

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From Torsten Slok’s excellent email links:

Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman: The places hardest hit by the virus are also the places where most jobs can be done at home.

Also the highest wage occupations are easiest to do at home. Good for GDP, bad for people with low wages.

New York Fed Weekly Economic Index

But it’s not just a fall, it’s also a radical shift in demand. A list of lots and lots of job openings, in all the places you’d guess. The instinct to just pay people to sit at home has downsides.

LA times via Marginal Revolution

They were ready to roll whenever disaster struck California: three 200-bed mobile hospitals that could be deployed to the scene of a crisis on flatbed trucks and provide advanced medical care to the injured and sick within 72 hours.

Each hospital would be the size of a football field, with a surgery ward, intensive care unit and X-ray equipment. Medical response teams would also have access to a massive stockpile of emergency supplies: 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators and kits to set up 21,000 additional patient beds wherever they were needed.

…in 2011, the administration of a fiscally minded Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who came into office facing a $26-billion deficit. And so, that year, the state cut off the money to store and maintain the stockpile of supplies and the mobile hospitals. 

… The annual savings for eliminating both programs? No more than $5.8 million per year, according to state budget records, a tiny fraction of the 2011 budget, which totaled $129 billion.

My emphasis. 50 million is a lot. A lesson in what government can do, and I hope will do next time.

Not to rub it in, but Gov. Brown did want to spend $80,000 million on a high speed train, all to lower the average global temperature by about 0.0001 (?) degree in the year 2100. Which is not a personal observation so much as an observation about the probabilities of various events that all of our elite intelligentsia assumed.

Amit Seru and Luigi Zingales want to save capitalism from the cares act. Besides the prospect of direct bailouts to big business, the Fed’s actions are truly gargantuan and under reported. Vastly oversimplifying,  the Fed is prepared to lend about $4 trillion dollars of newly printed money (really newly printed government debt) directly to businesses, and to backstop the entire non-bank financial system. Good or bad? Let us hope it doesn’t come to that.



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Economy

Cases and Deaths from Coronavirus Doubling Every Three Days Is Very Bad News Indeed

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I confess I am positively unmanned by the every-three-days doubling of reported cases and deaths here in the United States. I had thought that we would see true cases doubling every seven days. And back when reported cases started doubling every three days, I was encouraged, because I thought it meant that we were catching up on testing, and so getting closer to detecting the bulk of the symptomatic cases.

But now it looks like that was wrong: reported cases were doubling every three days because true cases were doubling every three days—that is what deaths tell us was happening to true cases up until three weeks ago. The lack of case curve-bending makes me think that testing is not improving. It makes me think that reported cases are doubling every three days because true cases are doubling every three days.

That means that the Trump administration has only 40% as much time to get its ass in gear as I thought it did.

And that means the chances it will are very very low indeed:

I must confess it had never occurred to me back when China shut down Wuhan that we would simply not test everyone who presented with symptoms—and then backtrace their contacts. It is really looking now as though China—even with its authoritarian blindness fumbling of the intitial response (see Zeynep Tufekci: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/02/coronavirus-and-blindness-authoritarianism/606922/ is going to be studied in the future as a positive model of public health in the 21st century, while the Trump Administration’s reaction—currently on track as the worst in the world in handling coronavirus <https://www.evernote.com/l/AAFzPq9AJoFHFr_nrTPi1QyseD8WSAe0y00B/image.png>—will be studied in the future as a negative example: Brad DeLong: The Trump Administration’s Epic COVID-19 Failure https://www.bradford-delong.com/2020/03/the-trump-administrations-epic-covid-19-failure-project-syndicate.html: 'As officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and other public-health bodies surely must have recognized, asymptomatic transmission means that the standard method of quarantining symptomatic travelers when they cross national (or provincial) borders is insufficient. It also means that we have known for almost two months that we were playing a long game against the virus. With its spread more or less inevitable, the primary task was always to reduce the pace of community transmission as much as possible, so that health-care systems would not be overwhelmed before a vaccine could be developed, tested, and deployed. In the long game against a contagious virus, how to mitigate transmission is no secret. In Singapore, which has largely contained the outbreak within its borders, all travelers from abroad have been required to self-quarantine for 14 days, regardless of whether they have symptoms. In Japan, South Korea, and other countries, testing for COVID-19 has been conducted on a massive scale. These are the measures that responsible governments take. You test as many people as you can, and when you locate areas of community transmission, you lock them down. At the same time, you build a database of all those who have already developed immunity and thus may safely resume their normal routine…


#coronavirus #highlighted #orangehairedbaboons #publichealth #2020-03-27



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