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8 days

Some Facts on Global Current Account Balances

I'm the sort of joyless and soul-killing conversationalist who likes to use facts as the background for arguments. In that spirit, here's an overview of some facts about global trade balances, taken from the IMF External Sector Report: Tackling Global Imbalances and Rising Trade Tensions (July 2018).

8 days

The Emergence and Erosion of the Retail Sales Tax

About 160 countries around the world, including all the other high-income countries of the world, use a value-added tax. The US has no value added tax, but 45 states and several thousand cities, use a sales tax as an alternative method of taxing consumption. John L. Mikesell and Sharon N. Kioko provide a useful overview of the issues in "The Retail Sales Tax in a New Economy," written for the 7th Annual Municipal Finance Conference, which was held on July 16-17, 2018, at the Brookings Institution. Video of the conference presentation of the paper, with comments and discussion, is available here.

11 days

David Ricardo's Comparative Advantage After Two Centuries

Two centuries ago in 1817, the great economist David Ricardo published his most prominent work: "On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation."Among many other insights, it's the book that introduced the idea of "comparative advantage" (especially in Chapter 7) and thus offered a way of thinking about the potential for gains from trade -- both between countries and within areas of a single country -- that has been central to economic thinking on these topics ever since. In Cloth for Wine? The Relevance of Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage in the 21st Century, Simon Evenett has edited a collection of 15 short essays thinking through how and when comparative advantage applies to modern economies. The book is published by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) Press, in association with the UK government Department for International Trade.

13 days

Migration from a Global Perspective

International migration is one of the hot-button subjects everywhere. The World Migration Report 2018 from the International Organization for Migration (the UN Migration Agency) provides a wealth of facts and background not just about the economics, which is my focus here, but also about regional aspects of migration, international frameworks governing migration, media coverage of migration, how potential migrants perceive their choices, and more.

14 days

How Coalitional Instincts Make Weird Groups and Stupid People

I like to think of myself as an individual who makes up his own mind, but that's almost certainly wrong for me, and you, gentle reader, as well. A vast literature in psychology points out that, in effect, a number of separate personalities live in each of our brains. Which decision gets made at a certain time is determined in part by how issues of reward and risk are framed and communicated to us. Moreover, we are members of groups. If my wife or one of my children is in a serious dispute, I will lose some degree of my sunny disposition and rational fair-mindedness. Probably I won't lose all of it. Maybe I'll lose less of it than a typical person in a similar situation. But I'll lose some of it. 

15 days

India: Headed Toward Most Populous Country

Throughout my lifetime, China has been the most populous country in the world. But India has nearly caught up, and should overtake China in the next couple of years.

18 days

Difficulties of Making Predictions: Global Power Politics Edition

Making predictions is hard, especially about the future. It's a comment that seems to have been attributed to everyone from Nostradamus to Niels Bohr to Yogi Berra. But it's deeply true. Most of us have a tendency to make statements about the future with a high level of self-belief, avoid later reconsidering how wrong we were, and then make more statements.