The Macro-Institutional Delimitation of Economic Complexity

A while back, Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute wrote a short piece on complexity economics (h/t Tom Hickey). I find much of the work Arthur and others have done on increasing returns, path dependence and related phenomena very interesting. My doctoral supervisor’s doctoral supervisor (there has to be a less cumbersome way of expressing that) was Paul David who also had an interest in path dependence and the significance of history in economic development. My supervisor’s influence motivated me to devote chapters in my thesis to, among other things, an application of the theory of path dependence to the distribution of earned income and a consideration of the implications of cognitive limitations within the context of path-dependent economic processes. My (orthodox) postgraduate supervisor’s commitment to cross-disciplinary research also motivated me to integrate insights from liberal moral philosophy, policy history and institutionalism (new and old) into the analysis.

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The Diverse Economy: Part Capitalist, Part Socialist, Part Communist

A diverse culture is best served by an economy that can cater to diverse needs and interests. In our societies, perspectives differ widely when it comes to (among other things) the following five areas:

1. Competition and cooperation. Some people enjoy competition in pursuit of external rewards. Others prefer cooperation and feeling a part of something bigger than themselves. Most enjoy both competition and cooperation, just in varying degrees.

2. Personal motivation. Some people would largely lose interest in productive activity if it were not for the potential of private profit or a high salary. Others prefer to work in a not-for-profit environment and are more or less unmotivated by material gain.

3. Attitudes on inequality. Some people want to have more than others. Some would prefer not to. Some care if others have more than them. Some don’t as long as everyone has enough and the inequality is not so extreme as to undermine democracy.

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MMT is a Good Bet For Progressives and the Left

There has been discussion in the economic blogosphere recently, from a left perspective, about the merits or otherwise of employing an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) in debates over policy and efforts to transform the economic system. There is an interesting post, for example, by Dan at Pruning Shears (h/t Tom Hickey) suggesting that MMT might be a “dicey bet for liberals”. In reading this and similar arguments presented elsewhere, I find myself agreeing on some (though certainly not all) points, but differing in the conclusion to be drawn from them.

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Significance of MMT for Progressives and the Left

Demands on time in the MMT community include (i) providing “simple as possible” explanations of “basic MMT” for public consumption and (ii) exploring theoretical and policy ideas informed by an understanding of those basics together with insights from related approaches to economics. Although the latter task is perhaps more enticing for those who have by now (mostly) absorbed the basics, and is certainly an area worthy of pursuit, the former task remains politically pressing and so equally deserving of time. It doesn’t matter what progressive policies, institutional reforms or plans can be devised if the public believes they are “unaffordable because the nation is bankrupt” or “impossible because capitalists won’t stand for them”. This indoctrination has occurred over decades and clearly many in the community are not freeing themselves of it easily.

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Unearned Income and its Distribution

In any society, there will be real output (real income) and real wealth that is not produced solely by humans. Some real income is due to the contribution of nature – land, natural resources, beneficial weather patterns, animals and so on. Some real income is produced by machines, robots and other means of production that were created by prior applications of labor in combination with nature. In any given accounting period, this real income is ‘unearned’ in the sense that it is not due to human effort exerted within the period. Much of it currently flows to industrial capitalists and rentiers on the basis of property ownership rather than productive contribution. Over time, the real productive contribution of means of production can be expected to rise, due to technical progress. In this post, a framework is tentatively suggested for thinking about the distribution of unearned income, both at a point in time and as it grows over time.

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Approaches to the Reduction of Aggregate Labor Time

Technology has reached the point where nobody should be compelled to spend most of their waking hours working in dangerous, menial or otherwise unpleasant jobs (‘bad jobs’, for short). It is increasingly possible to mechanize most menial and repetitive tasks. But of the bad jobs that continue for a time, there remains the question of how best to share the burden they impose. Even with better jobs, there is the potential to reduce standard working hours and create more free time for those who want it. Here, too, there is the question of how to manage such an overall reduction in working hours. Since some people will desire to maintain or increase their current working hours, ideally there should be latitude for them to do so, just as there should be latitude for others, so inclined, to shorten their labor-time commitment. In this post, three alternative approaches to the problem are briefly considered. They can be labeled ‘universal job sharing’, ‘optional job sharing’ and ‘job or income guarantee’.

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The Free World Charter

A fair amount of computer ink has been spilled on the screen here at heteconomist on the topic of money. For as long as there continues to be a monetary system, this remains an important topic. However, in a better world, which is becoming technically more feasible by the year, perhaps is already feasible, there would be no need for money at all. Accordingly, I have signed The Free World Charter. Well, I would have signed it earlier but became aware of it only now.

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Inviting Visions of a Better World

I spent a lazy hour browsing past discussions in the ‘Future Society’ and ‘Job & Income Guarantee’ categories. A comment by Jim O’Reilly caught my eye. In part, it reads:

[M]ost of us probably spend a fair number of hours regularly thinking on our own about how to advance to a better world. That’s a bit of a waste though as we’d be far stronger if we combined our efforts. Is it absurd to think of combining resources and working together in a project that would try to make a sound case for “utopia”? Or is that madly beyond our pay grade?

I like the idea. The task is daunting, but also exciting. It would be a worthwhile contribution if we could add to the public discourse on this question.

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Proposal for an Interim Society Prior to Utopia

Patience may be a virtue, but frankly I have waited long enough for others – whether the International Working Class, Wall Street Occupiers, the Tea Party, or some other Subset Of Society – to prepare a viable proposal for a better world and put it into action. It seems mother was right. If you want something done in this world, you have to do it yourself. So, I have taken it upon myself to announce the next step in our evolution as a species. If what follows seems too easy to be true, it is only because it still falls far short of where we should be heading. It is, at best, a humble beginning, or perhaps a stepping stone on our way toward liberty, equality, fraternity. The modest proposal is in five parts: 1) The Clean Slate; 2) Temporary Reorganization of Labor; 3) New Currency, Tax Obligation, Basic Income; 4) Free Stuff; 5) Democratic Determination of Priorities, Environmental Standards. I consider it a blight on my character that initially I thought it safer to file this post under ‘Humor’, solely on account of its audacity in stating what is rarely spoken but both simple and obvious. It has now been moved to the more appropriate category of ‘Future Society’. My only consolation is that the enemies of liberty, equality, fraternity will find very little to laugh about in what follows.

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Democratized Money, Sufficiency and Sustainability

Here is a link to an interesting four-part lecture series by Mary Mellor, filmed in February 2012 (h/t Tom Hickey at Mike Norman Economics):

Understanding Money — Prof Mary Mellor (Videos)

The first part traces the historical development of money, emphasizing its social nature. The middle two parts concern money and banking, and the crisis. The fourth part, which most motivated me to link to the lectures, considers the social potential for democratized money to enable sufficiency, sustainability, and social justice.

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