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    Micro Matters

    Feb 25 • Thinking Economically • 267 Views

    Listening to recent podcasts on Haiti from NPR’s Planet Money,  I started thinking about the large impact that something very little can have.
    The first story involved a small loan through which a Haitian woman had created a “consignment” business.  With $5000 Haitian dollars ($600 US) of micro credit, she purchased items at the Dominican Republic border.  Then, transporting the goods by bus, she brought them to Haitian shopkeepers. Fifteen days later, the shopkeepers paid her. Until the earthquake destroyed her customers’ inventory, her business was successful.
    The second story was about the difference a small plastic crate could make.  If Haiti produced more mangoes, the U.S. would buy them.  Haiti’s mango growers are small farmers, each with three or four trees.  If a farmer piles mangoes outdoors and it rains, the fruit gets damaged.  If the ride from the farm is too bumpy, more damage.  Because of damage, forty percent of Haiti’s mango crop is unusable.  Not as simple as it sounds, the solution is to put the mangoes in crates.

    The Economic Life

    Muhammad Yunus and the bank he founded won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.  An economics professor and a Bangladeshi banker, Dr. Yunus developed the concept of microcredit.

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    Snow Storm Stats

    Feb 24 • Thinking Economically • 294 Views

    According to Floyd Norris, snowy weather can affect job numbers. He explained that while the February employment report appears to represent the month of February, actually, it reflects one week in February—a week with horrible weather. Between February seven and thirteen, the East Coast was hit by blizzards so severe that they shut down Washington, D.C. For that week, fewer people will report that they were working. And, that is the week on which the employment numbers will be based.

    Interestingly, Norris cited January, 1996 for a similar scenario. Then, because of the days affected by severe weather, the economy lost 206,000 jobs. At the time, no one was sure whether it was weather or an impending recession.

    The Economic Life
    You can refer to the alphabet when describing your economic prediction. A “V”? You are an optimist. A “W”? Double dip as we experienced in 1980 and 1982. Or, are you a pessimist? Then select an “L”.

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    California and Greece

    Feb 23 • Thinking Economically • 256 Views

    An SAT question:
    California: US = Greece: EU.

    California and Greece are similar because…
    1. California and Greece have debt problems.
    2. Both have government employees with salaries and massive pension liabilities that they have to cover.
    3. Both would benefit from a central authority guaranteeing any future borrowing.

    When California asked the Obama administration for guarantees in order to borrow more money, they said no. As a result, last July, California had to issue IOUs temporarily to pay some of its obligations.

    Similarly, Greece would benefit from financial assistance. Most expect Greece will receive support from other EU countries.

    Saying that, “we already share: our Mediterranean climate, our spectacular wines and our Austrian-born governor,” the LA Times suggested that California try to join the EU.

    The Economic Life
    The dilemma is timeless. The questions are the same. How can we enforce central monetary power when fiscal authority is decentralized?

    In 1787, functioning under the Articles of Confederation, we had thirteen states with individual currencies and governments and taxing authority. If a state wanted to borrow more than it could afford, no one could stop it. If a state did not want to collect its federal taxes, no one could make them. If they did not want to contribute to payments on the national debt (from the Revolutionary War) they did not have to. And yet, the actions of individual states affected everyone else. Believing we needed a stronger central government, Alexander Hamilton and others like him convened a constitutional convention during a very hot summer in Philadelphia. We wound up with our Constitution and a powerful central government.
    Now when California has a major debt problem, central monetary and fiscal power can be used. As a result, on an SAT, while we probably should not equate California and Greece, the issues are similar.

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    The Significance of the Frisbee

    Feb 22 • Thinking Economically • 245 Views

    Last week, just after listening to the Schumpeter lecture from Dr. Timothy Taylor in a (very good) Teaching Company course on the history of economic thought, I read in the N.Y. Times that the inventor of the Frisbee had died. Joseph Schumpeter focused on the role of the entrepreneur within the evolution of capitalism. Fred Morrison, the inventor of the Frisbee was an entrepreneur.
    Morrison called his innovation the Pluto Platter and sold it at toy fairs. In 1957, when toymaker Wham-O was looking for a new generation of toys beyond the doll and toy soldier, they decided that Morrison’s flying disc seemed to be what they were looking for. Reminiscent of a flying saucer, inexpensive, a family type of toy, the Pluto Platter just needed a new name. Wham-O called it the Frisbee because it reminded them of a New England Frisbie pie.
    Schumpeter said that entrepreneurs propelled capitalism through creative destruction. New ideas destroyed the status quo but led to economic growth. The auto killed the buggy whip. The transistor replaced the vacuum tube. I am not sure what the Frisbee replaced.

    The Economic Life
    In Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942), Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) explained what propelled capitalism and what would destroy it. Entrepreneurs sparked capitalism’s ability to grow and provide better standards of living. Ultimately though, Schumpeter predicted capitalism would die because an affluent intellectual class would emerge that challenged its existence.
    Interesting: Joseph Schumpeter and John Maynard Keynes were born during the same year that Karl Marx died.

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    The Doomsters or the Boomsters?

    Feb 21 • Thinking Economically • 1238 Views

    Thirty years ago, an environmentalist and a business professor made a bet. In The Population Bomb (1968), Paul Ehrlich predicted global ecological calamity. Saying that free markets would solve environmental problems, Julian Simon, a University of Maryland business professor, disagreed.
    The bet involved the prices of five commodities (chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten). Ehrlich said prices would rise during the next ten years because of shortages and Simon said they would fall because of the market’s response. The winner would receive the total change in price from the loser. Simon won. In 1990, Paul Ehrlich gave Julian Simon $576.07.

    But, it is not over until it is over…
    A TED speaker, Paul Kedrosky, returned to “The Most Important Bet in History” to see how each would have fared more recently. The results? It all depends on the starting year. With starting dates during the 1980s, Simon wins most of the time. Using starting dates during the 1990s, then Ehrlich wins.

    The Economic Life
    Fundamentally economics is about scarcity and opportunity cost. All of our land, labor, and capital are scarce because their quantity is limited. Looking at limited quantities environmentalists suggest conservation. Others believe that because the opportunity cost of using a resource rises when shortages are imminent, innovators develop more efficient alternatives. Then the shortage is no longer a problem.

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