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Archive for June 12th, 2011

There are lots of things that are important for a good life and a prosperous, well-functioning society, including family and community. But something else that belongs on the list, at least if you want more growth, is individualism.

Here’s an excerpt from a new study by two scholars at the University of California at Berkeley.

The model shows that individualism has a dynamic advantage leading to a higher economic growth rate… We provided empirical evidence of a causal effect of individualism on measures of long run growth (output per capita, productivity) and innovation by instrumenting individualism scores with the frequency of blood types which are neutral genetic markers and plausibly satisfy the exclusion restriction. Parents transmit their culture as well as their genes to their children so that genetic data can serve as proxies for vertical cultural transmission and it is unlikely that there is a direct feedback from e.g. output per capita to genes. Since that research shows a powerful effect of culture on long run growth, the key question is what dimensions of culture other than individualism/collectivism matter for long run growth. In this paper, we look at the main existing cross-country measures of culture and analyze their effect on output per capita. We find essentially that only individualism has a robust effect. …We conclude from this exercise that the individualism-collectivism dimension is the central cultural variable that matters for long run growth.

(h/t: Garett Jones)

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It doesn’t get much attention, but one of the most interesting economic experiments in American history occurred right after World War II. Despite warnings of Armageddon from Keynesian economists, government spending was slashed as the United States demobilized from the war.

This was the opposite of the failed Keynesian experiment of the 1930s, when massive increases in government spending failed to boost economic growth.

So how did this experiment is smaller government work? Well, here’s some of what Jeff Jacoby wrote on the subject.

Writing last year in the Cato Policy Report, economists Jason Taylor and Richard Vedder showed that the great post-World War II economic boom was ushered in by the swift rollback of what had been the largest economic “stimulus” in US history. At the time, leading Keynesians cautioned that the abrupt withdrawal of federal dollars would plunge the economy into a new depression. Their warnings were ignored. “Government canceled war contracts, and its spending fell from $84 billion in 1945 to under $30 billion in 1946,” Taylor and Vedder wrote. “By 1947, the government was . . . running a budget surplus of close to 6 percent of GDP. The military released around 10 million Americans back into civilian life. Most economic controls were lifted, and all were gone less than a year after V-J Day. In short, the economy underwent . . . the ‘shock of de-stimulus.’” Fearful predictions of massive unemployment — 14 percent, Business Week said — never materialized. Far from collapsing, “labor markets adjusted quickly and efficiently once they were finally unfettered.” Even with millions of demobilized soldiers re-entering the workforce, “unemployment rates . . . remained under 4.5 percent in the first three postwar years.” Workers who lost government-funded jobs quickly replaced them in the surging private sector. “In fact,” Taylor and Vedder add, “civilian employment grew, on net, by over 4 million between 1945 and 1947 when so many pundits were predicting economic Armageddon. Household consumption, business investment, and net exports all boomed as government spending receded.” America’s postwar experience indicates that vibrant growth is generated not by massive government interference in the economy, but by the reverse. The way to revive a gasping private sector is for government to get out of its way, not to choke it with trillions of dollars in new spending.

Not surprisingly, Reagan understood this issue, as he said in this video. Also, here’s one of my videos, which looks more broadly at the issue of whether government spending is a help or hindrance to economic growth.

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