Tag Archives: Basic Economics

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse lectures on basic economics

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Here is a podcast on basic economics from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse.

About the speaker:

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the founder and President of the Ruth Institute — a project of the National Organization for Marriage — which seeks to promote life-long married love to college students by creating an intellectual and social climate favorable to marriage.

She is also the Senior Research Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

She is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World, (2005) and Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work (2001), recently reissued in paperback, as Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village.

Dr. Morse served as a Research Fellow for Stanford University’s Hoover Institution from 1997-2005. She received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Rochester in 1980 and spent a postdoctoral year at the University of Chicago during 1979-80. She taught economics at Yale University and George Mason University for 15 years.

The MP3 file is here.


  • The study of economics is anti-postmodern – there is objective truth independent of what people think
  • The study of economics believes in fixed principles of human nature
  • Economics studies the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses
  • Economics studies how people exchange resources
  • How both people who engage in a voluntary trade always believe that they will be better off
  • How both people who engage in a voluntary trade both benefit from the exchange
  • How incentives motivate people to act
  • Understanding supply and demand
  • Understanding how “free” government services are rationed
  • Understanding opportunity costs
  • How prices signal producers to produce more or less, and consumers to buy or not buy
  • Market-driven prices versus price controls
  • The role of substitution
  • The necessity of allowing failure in a free market

The requirements of economic growth:

  • private property
  • contracts
  • the profit motive
  • competition
  • free trade
  • entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation
  • the rule of law

If you want to learn more about basic economics, I recommend picking up a book or two by Thomas Sowell – the first book I usually give away is “Intellectuals and Society”, and then next “Basic Economics”.

Do tax hikes, welfare spending and minimum wage hikes lower income inequality?

Here’s Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore to explain.

He writes:

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently appeared on one of the late night talk shows, beating the class warfare drum and arguing for billions of dollars in new social programs paid for with higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires. In recent years, though, blue states such as California, Illinois, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland and Minnesota adopted this very strategy, and they raised taxes on their wealthy residents. How did it work out? Almost all of these states lag behind the national average in growth of jobs and incomes.

So, if income redistribution policies are the solution to shrinking the gap between rich and poor, why do they fail so miserably in the states?

The blue states that try to lift up the poor with high taxes, high welfare benefits, high minimum wages and other Robin Hood policies tend to be the places where the rich end up the richest and the poor the poorest.

California is the prototypical example. It has the highest tax rates of any state. It has very generous welfare benefits. Many of its cities have a high minimum wage. But day after day, the middle class keeps leaving. The wealthy areas such as San Francisco and the Silicon Valley boom. Yet the state has nearly the highest poverty rate in the nation. The Golden State, alas, has become the inequality state.

In a new report called “Rich States, Poor States” that I write each year for the American Legislative Exchange Council with Arthur Laffer and Jonathan Williams, we find that five of the highest-tax blue states in the nation—California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois—lost some 4 million more U.S. residents than entered these states over the last decade. Meanwhile, the big low-tax red states—Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia—gained about this many new residents.

What’s wrong? Isn’t raising taxes, growing government and spending more on welfare supposed to make reduce income inequality? Well, the trouble is that you need to think about things from the point of view of the people who create the jobs. People who want to start a business prefer to move to states where they can keep more of the money they earned. So, that’s why there is a mass exodus from states that don’t allow job creators to keep the money they earn. And naturally, they hire workers in their new state once they get there. Eventually people in the high-tax states move to where the jobs are, too.

Stephen Moore has actually measured it:

The least “regressive” tax states [high tax states] had average population growth from 2003 to 2013 that lagged below the national trend. The 10 most highly “regressive” tax states [low tax states], including nine with no state income tax, had population growth on average 4 percent above the U.S. average. Why was that? Because states without income taxes have twice the job growth of states with high tax rates. 

[…]Ohio University economist Richard Vedder and I compared the income gap in states with higher tax rates, higher minimum wages and more welfare benefits with states on the other side of the policy spectrum. There was no evidence that states with these liberal policies had helped the poor much and, in many cases, these states recorded more income inequality than other states as measured by the left’s favorite statistic called the Gini Coefficient.

[…]The 19 states with minimum wages above the $7.25 per hour federal minimum do not have lower income inequality. States with a super minimum wage—such as Connecticut ($9.15), California ($9.00), New York ($8.75), and Vermont ($9.15)—have significantly wider gaps between rich and poor than states without a super minimum wage.

No, I am not an economist, but I think that this is because the real minimum wage is ZERO, and that’s what more people in high minimum wage states make compared to people in low minimum wage states. If Seattle raises the minimum wage to $15 and the workers end up making the real minimum wage (ZERO) because job creators can’t pay them, then naturally the gap between rich and poor increases.

I think it’s always a good idea for people to think about things from the point of view of the small business job creator, and it all makes sense. If you want to get trained in how to do this, I recommend picking up introductory books by economists like Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman or even F.A. Hayek. The goal here is to achieve good results, not to have good intentions.

Good news: Venezuelan President complains that fracking is “flooding” oil markets

Gas prices vs domestic oil production
Gas prices vs domestic oil production

(Click for larger image. Source)

Why are gas prices so low all of a sudden?

Well, let’s ask the communist President of Venezuela:

The broadcast networks may not want to give credit to hydraulic fracturing for increasing U.S. oil production and lowering global oil prices, but at least one angry world leader did just that.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained that fracking in the U.S. has “flooded” the world market and contributed to lower oil prices, a connection that broadcast networks’ evening news reports barely made recently.

“The oil they’re taking from (shale deposits) and the gas. They’ve flooded the international market to batter the Russian economy …, Iran and to hurt us, Venezuela,” Maduro said in a broadcast on VTV, a state-run TV channel in Venezuela, according to Fox News Latino.

Fracking has been one cause of increased oil production in the U.S. That increased production helped lower oil prices by more than 30 percent since September 29. The decline in oil prices since June has severely impacted Venezuela, since oil exports were a major source of government income. “Some estimates put the break-even price for Venezuela to balance its budget at around $121 a barrel,” CNBC reported on December 7. That’s more than double current oil prices. Oil closed at $59.15-per-barrel on December 11.

As of January 2014, Venezuela’s state-run oil company brought in 96 percent of foreign earnings, according to The Economist. Maduro announced on December 2 that the government would cut spending by 20 percent.

[…]Venezuela was experiencing particular difficulties. That economy was on the verge of collapsing, CNBC said on Dec. 1. If low oil prices continued, Venezuela may face a “game over” situation and “barbarity and people looting.”

Do you know who else is hurt by this? Russia. I sure hope they don’t do anything aggressive to their neighbors while their economy feels the pinch of lower gas prices.

It’s a good thing when villains shake their fists at us, but it’s a better thing when consumers pay less for gas:

Thanks in part to the widespread use of technologies like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, global oil prices plummeted in 2014. Energy experts even predicted the U.S. could be the top oil producer in the next several years.

[…]Fracking and other advanced technologies helped the U.S. nearly double its average daily output of oil, from 5 million barrels in 2008 to an expected 9.42 million barrels in 2015. The huge supply increase was one factor sending crude oil prices down. Crude fell by more than 32 percent, from $93 to $63 just since Sept. 29. This already drove gas prices down to a national average of $2.66 for regular on Dec. 9, according to AAA.

This is great news for consumers and businesses which could save as much as $1.3 trillion worldwide because of lower oil prices, according to Julian Jessop, chief global economist at Capital Economics in London. Here in the U.S., Americans could save $230 billion if prices remain low for the next year, The Washington Post said on Dec. 1.

The only bad side to this story is that fracking is an expensive way of drilling, so as the price of oil drops, energy companies will be scaling back fracking until it becomes profitable again.

I think this story is important, because it helps to explain what the people who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline are concerned about. They know that there are two results to allowing that pipeline to be built. First, a hell of a lot of jobs will be created, reducing dependency on government. Second, the price of gas at the pump will go down further. That’s what the environmentalists (and their Democrat allies in Washington) are seeking to avoid. They want more government dependency, and higher gas prices.

My conversation with a leftist friend about basic economics and rent control

My conversation with a leftist friend about “Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy, 4th Edition“, by Thomas Sowell.

Him: I remember why I stopped reading that book when you asked me to read it.

Me: Why did you stop reading it?

Him: Because of the chapter on rent control.

Me: Chapter 3 is the chapter on price controls. It talks about rent control.

Him: I expect an economist to present both sides of rent control. He has to present the arguments for and against rent control.

Me: There are not two sides to rent control. There is only one side to rent control. He chose that because it is a clear cut example of the problems caused by price controls. Economists universally condemn rent control, across the ideological spectrum.

Him: No they don’t.

Me: The chair of the Department of Economics at Harvard University, Greg Mankiw, reports in his economics textbook that 93% of professional economists agree that rent control reduces housing supply and housing quality. It is the most agreed upon position among economists across the ideological spectrum, number one in his list of facts on which professional economists agree. And obviously they have reasons for agreeing on that, specifically the experience of trying rent control policies in different times and places. It has always failed.

Him: Somebody must like rent control, because they have it in New York city.

Me: Politicians and low-information voters support rent control. It makes politicians feel good, and it gets them elected, too – if the voters are economically illiterate enough, as they are in New York city.

Him: But what about global warming then? Isn’t the consensus against you there?

Me: There has been no global warming in the last 17 years, according to the New York Times. They were reporting on findings by the UN IPCC in 2013.

Him: The UN never said that. The New York Times never wrote that.

Me: Yes, they did. And I have the sources I can send them to you.

Him: I’ll bet you do. (walks away in a huff)

This is the relevant quote from the Greg Mankiw post from his survey of economists that appears in his textbook:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

And this is the relevant quote from the New York Times article, dated September 2013:

The global warming crowd has a problem. For all of its warnings, and despite a steady escalation of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, the planet’s average surface temperature has remained pretty much the same for the last 15 years.

As you might guess, skeptics of warming were in full attack mode as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gathered in Sweden this week to approve its latest findings about our warming planet. The skeptics argue that this recent plateau illustrates what they always knew — that complex global climate models have no predictive capability and that, therefore, there is no proof of global warming, human-caused or not.

The author of the NYT article (a leftist) goes on to attempt to explain he is not concerned by the 17 year period of no significant warming, but the point is that the 17 year (not 15 year) period of no significant warming is A FACT acknowledged by the UN IPCC that has to be explained by those who believe in catastrophic man-made global warming. The IPCC may not like the temperature measurements, but those facts are not in doubt. The global warming crowd might make predictions about the future, but they made predictions about the past before, and we now know for a fact that those predictions (polar ice caps melting, Himalayans melting, significant global warming, etc.) were FALSE. They have been falsified by evidence, and that’s not in doubt.

Economic illiteracy is the problem

When people on the left voted for Barack Obama in 2012, they did not know based on evidence that they could keep their doctors and keep their health plans and that insurance premiums would drop $2500. They did not know it because the economic studies contradicted Obama’s words. They even believed Obama when he said that the Benghazi incident was caused by a Youtube video. Obama-supporters had a sincere belief in the words of his passionate speeches. They were impressed by the visuals of him talking to large crowds of young people. They believed him because they had feelings about him. And voting for him made them have good feelings about themselves. They felt that they were going to achieve good things by voting for this good man. They meant well, but they did not know. They did not have evidence.

Before the 2012 election, people on the right pointed to evidence from studies (like this one) showing that Obama was lying, but his supporters were apparently not interested in economic studies. They want to preserve the feelings of being good people. They want to preserve the belief that you can embrace policies that sound good, and that words that sound good will necessarily lead to good results for people who are at a disadvantage. I don’t question the motives of people on the left – they mean well. But meaning well doesn’t produce good results without knowledge of economics. In economics, policies that sound appealing to well-meaning liberals (rent control, tariffs, protectionism, minimum wage, trillion-dollar deficits) actually produce bad results for poor people. And we know this for a fact from our experience across different times and places.

If we can get people to accept the authority of our observations of policy experimentation in different times and places over and above their feelings and intuitions, then we can save this country.

New study: Obama’s proposed minimum wage hike could destroy 1 million jobs

Labor Force Participation down to 62.8%
Labor Force Participation down to 62.8%

From the Daily Caller. (H/T Conway)


The Obama administration’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour could result in as many 1,084,000 jobs eliminated from the work force, according to a new study conducted by the Employment Policies Institute (EPI)

“No amount of denial by the president and his political allies — and no number of ‘studies’ published by biased researchers — can change the fact that minimum wage hikes eliminate jobs for low-skill and entry-level employees. Non-partisan economists have agreed on this consensus for decades, and the laws of economics haven’t changed,” Michael Saltsman, research director at EPI, said in a statement.

He offered an alternative to the president’s plan: “Instead of raising small businesses’ labor costs and creating more barriers to entry-level employment, the president and the Senate should focus on policies that help reduce poverty and create jobs.”

The  study was released in the wake of an expected vote on a Senate bill that aims to raise the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour — a nearly 40 percent increase.

Many Democrats argue that increasing the federal minimum will reduce poverty without having an adverse effect on unemployment.

EPI’s report, which used analysis from economists at Miami and Trinity University, reached a different conclusion.

Researchers used recently updated Census Bureau data from 2012 and 2013 to calculate how each individual state would be impacted by the proposed wage hikes. As a lump sum, Americans would see a loss of at least 360,000 jobs, and perhaps even over one million if hourly wages are increased to $10.10.

The number of job losses would be the most dramatic in large states, such as California and Texas. Economists found that California could lose as many as 100,016 jobs and Texas could see up to 128,617 jobs disappear from its economy.

This article from Investors Business Daily, written by the famous economist Thomas Sowell has more on the effects of raising the minimum wage.


Switzerland is one of the few modern nations without a minimum-wage law. In 2003, the Economist magazine reported: “Switzerland’s unemployment neared a five-year high of 3.9% in February.”

In February of this year, Switzerland’s unemployment rate was 3.1%. A recent issue of the Economist showed Switzerland’s unemployment rate as 2.1%.

Most Americans today have never seen unemployment rates that low. However, there was a time when there was no federal minimum-wage law in the United States.

The last time was during the Coolidge administration, when the annual unemployment rate went as low as 1.8%. When Hong Kong was a British colony, it had no minimum-wage law. In 1991 its unemployment rate was under 2%.

[…]Most people in the lower income brackets are not an enduring class. Most working people in the bottom 20% in income at a given time do not stay there over time. More of them end up in the top 20% than remain behind in the bottom 20%.

There is nothing mysterious about the fact that most people start off in entry-level jobs that pay much less than they will earn after they get some work experience.

But when minimum-wage levels are set without regard to their initial productivity, young people are disproportionately unemployed — priced out of jobs.

In European welfare states where minimum wages, and mandated job benefits to be paid for by employers, are more generous than in the United States, unemployment rates for younger workers are often 20% or higher, even when there is no recession.

Unemployed young people lose not only the pay they could have earned but, at least equally important, the work experience that would enable them to earn higher rates of pay later on.

Minorities, like young people, can also be priced out of jobs. In the United States, the last year in which the black unemployment rate was lower than the white unemployment rate — 1930 — was also the last year when there was no federal minimum-wage law.

Inflation in the 1940s raised the pay of even unskilled workers above the minimum wage set in 1938. Economically, it was the same as if there were no minimum-wage law by the late 1940s.

In 1948 the unemployment rate of black 16-year-old and 17-year-old males was 9.4%. This was a fraction of what it would become in even the most prosperous years from 1958 on, as the minimum wage was raised repeatedly to keep up with inflation.

A survey of American economists found that 90% of them regarded minimum-wage laws as increasing the rate of unemployment among low-skilled workers.

Harvard University economist Greg Mankiw puts the level of opposition to minimum wage hikes at 79% among professional economists across the ideological spectrum.