Thursday, December 22, 2022

No, Prof. Mankiw, Better Social Insurance Would Not Kill American Prosperity

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw asks, “Can America Afford to Become a Major Social Welfare State?” By welfare state, he has in mind the Biden administration’s plan for better child benefits, improved healthcare, extending free public education to preschool and community college, and the rest.

From a “narrow budgetary standpoint,” Mankiw agrees that these things are affordable. But he is concerned about the larger question of whether stronger social protections are consistent with prosperity and with our aspirations for the “kind of nation we want to be.” Let’s take each of those in turn.

Prosperity, for Mankiw, means GDP. Yes, America has lots of that. He points out that as of 2019, GDP per capita was 14 percent lower in Germany than in the United States, 24 percent lower in France, and 26 percent lower in the United Kingdom.

But GDP per capita has its limits as a measure of prosperity. It is, after all, an average whose numerator lumps together the incomes of billionaires and the incomes of the poor. True, the United States does pretty well in the billionaire sweepstakes. It has 19 percent more billionaires per capita than Germany, 2.7 times as many as the UK, and 3.2 times as many as France. But most people don’t count the “prosperity” of their city or town by the number of billionaires who live there. They are more interested in whether their neighbors, the people they stand in line with at their local supermarkets, can maintain a decent standard of living.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Four Perspectives on Individual Freedoms and Climate Change

On April 12, 2022, the University of British Columbia, Okanagen, sponsored an on-line symposium, "A Wicked Problem: Individual Freedoms and Climate Change." Here is a link to the slideshow of my presentation at the conference, which discusses four perspectives on the problem:

  • Carbon pollution as a violation of the nonaggression principle
  • Applying Lockean property rights to the climate problem
  • Climate change as a coordination problem
  • A Hayekian perspective: Prices without markets or markets without prices?