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* Posts by Tim Worstal

607 posts • joined 12 Feb 2008

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DOES buying Apple give Chinese workers cancer?

Tim Worstal
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Re: About time...

Very roughly speaking, and from memory, incidence here seems to be two to three times general population incidence. Don't hold me to that though.....

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Tim Worstal
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Err

Occasional limp dicks in men of a certain age are also a fact of life. I've been known to also consider it a tragedy myself.

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Evil mining firms? Please. Obeying profit motive is KINDER to the environment

Tim Worstal
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Re: environmental cost

Rutile is indeed a good example of that sorting having already been done for us by rivers. Ilmenite is the hard rock equivalent in many cases. Zirconia tends to be mined in the same manner these days.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: environmental cost

I don't, particularly, argue against peak oil. I do argue against the effect of it. Sure, agreed, there's "x" amount of stored sunlight out there. And we're fortunate that technology to extract it seems to be advancing faster that our use of it.

My reference to it here was about that peak oil argument that it will all take more energy to extract in future. As is being said about those minerals. With minerals it ain't true.

With oil? Could be true. Willing to consider that it might be. But, to stick with peak oil, not minerals, so what? Once it becomes ineffective to use fossil fuels we will stop doing so.

Shrug, and?

That's the bit of "peak oil" that I never have got. So, energy becomes more expensive. So we'll use more expensive energy then, won't we?

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Zinc

Your zinc numbers are here:

http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/zinc/

Current mining 13.5 million tonnes a year. Current reserves 250 million tonnes. Looks a bit squeaky at only 20 year's worth left.

Resources: 1.9 billion tonnes. 150 years....not something that should be worried about too much.....and that's "identified" resources, who knows how much there is if we go hunting?

As to it becoming too expensive for coins, well, that does happen. Happened to silver in the 60s in most countries, to copper in most in the 90s ("copper" coins are now plated steel). I've actually bought truck loads of nickel silver (ie, I think at least, Ni and Zn) coins to process for the metals value.

but the reason it happens isn't so much the rise in the price of metals as the fall in the value of money: governments not ecology at fault here. That nickel silver stuff was in the wake of Russia having 3.000 % inflation for a couple of years for example.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: crushed waste, from the ground rock.

Yup, and a vital part of a rock crushing operation's economics is, well, would anyone like to buy my sand?

Can range in value from less than zero (the sand so fine that it is "mud") to $50 a tonne for nice quartz sand for the kiddie's playgrounds.

All I ever wanted was scandium but I've had to find out about tin, tungsten, and yes sand, in pursuit.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: environmental cost

Fair point, I stand corrected.

"Their wet and dry vacuum models are "Charles" and "George". "Henry" is their low-end model and doesn't do wet vacuuming, so I'd not recommend using one for hoovering an Asian beach,"

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Tim Worstal
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Re: environmental cost

Well, that "so little concern" for environmental degradation will bring out a hollow laugh in miners these days.

I do agree with the basic idea: we don't want to go polluting rivers just as we don't want to build roads over mating natterjack toads. But to give you one example from personal experience. I've a little project in development. Processing the crud left over from a previous mining exercise. Rock just sitting on a hillside. And to process it I've got to go through the entire mine permit process as if I was about to blow apart a mountain with dynamite.

Seriously, I want to pick up rock from where it is lying on the ground, grind it and separate it (using electricity and water, no chemicals at all) and the whole thing would take a year, employ maybe 5 people and have a total value of perhaps 3 million euros (gross turnover, not profit at all). License time? 2 years and counting so far.

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Tim Worstal
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A couple of people have emailed me directly.....

....And I'm afraid I can't answer you directly as you've failed to give me an email to do so on. the system doesn't tell me your address....you've got to put it into the body of the mail for me to know where to write back to.

But re asteroid mining there's at least one piece here in the archives on exactly that. Top right search box "worstall asteroid" should get you to it.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Ok, how about some calculations Tim

Oh sure, I know that ore goes bulk, not TEU (well, iron ore does, the ores I deal with go in containers, but then we tend to deal with 40 or 80 tonnes a month sort of levels). It's just a quick Google gave me a container ship fuel consumption first which I thought was good enough for a quick and dirty.

BTW, my definition of "quick and dirty" here is the hope that we end up with the correct number of digits and the first of them correct. Every thing after we've established the order of magnitude and that first digit I take to be detail.

Which brings me onto two bugbears of mine. The first being that this is usually good enough for any economic purpose (obvs not for finance, but for thinking about economies etc) simply because it's all such a vast and chaotic system that we're just being spurious in looking for greater accuracy. If you're trying to actually manage something perhaps greater detail might be useful, but in just trying to get an idea of theory, of what's important and what isn't, I take that quick and dirty to be good enough.

And my real rant is reserved for all too many people who share this joyous job of writing about the world. All too many on the broadsheets just don't have basic numbers in their heads. The EU economy is around $15 trillion a year, US $16 or 17 trillion, UK some £1.5 trillion. There's 30 million jobs in the UK, 10% of which get destroyed each year, 10% of which get newly created (jobs churn). And so on and so on. Yes, Exxon is the same size as a country: but the country is Luxembourg which has 400,000 people, or perhaps 200,000 workers, in it, and Exxon employs about 200,000 people. Not a great surprise that they've got about the same value added or GDP really.

I admit that I have to look up the relationship between a Watt and a Joule, every single time (and to work out what a calorie is I need to read it all several times): that marks me out as ignorant to all around here, good engineering types that you are. But I am essentially numerate in my field, the economy etc. And it really is one of my bugbears that all too many who write about the same sort of subjects that I do aren't numerate in that manner, just don't have that basic mental arithmetic.

Perhaps I shouldn't whine though: while the quality of economic commentary would be much better if they all did I'd get fewer gigs if they all did.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: environmental cost

"That does not change that everytime one of those is found and used there is one less of those easily discovered and devoloped resources to be used by future generations."

Yes, obviously, but if we adhere to that strictly then no generation can ever use anything. For no generation can ever be allowed to use anything that might reduce the ability of a future generation to use what has been used.

That's a sufficiently strict standard that there's no way we can hold a society to it. It would, obviously, mean that no generation could ever use any mineral at all. Not even those future generations that we're leaving them for, because there will be generations after them.

If the "running out" date were in 50 years time I might even sign up to such a plan. But even the earliest of such running out dates are thousands of years in the future (and some appear to extend to the heat death of the universe, for aluminium or iron for example) and who in buggery knows what society, technology or price are going to be like then?

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Ok, how about some calculations Tim

150 million tonnes of ore a quarter (last quarter 2013 actually). Call it 600 million a year. 2/3 is to China but let's call it all.

Fuel consumption? Well: "around 8,000 TEU would consume about 225 tons of bunker fuel per day at 24 knots"

Call that 300,000 tonne for 8,000 TEU (roughly 40 tonnes per container). That's not right for there's no way you run an iron ore ship at that sort of high speed. But for ballpark reasons only we'll take it.

Call it 4,000 miles Pilbara to China. Knots are different from miles but what the hell: 8 days travel for our iron ore ship (ignore returning empty, fuel use much less).

So 600 million divided by 300,000 to give number of ship movements. Each ship movement uses 225 tonnes bunker fuel per day times 8 days, 2,000 x 8 x 225 = 3.6 million tonnes fuel?

C to CO2 is something like 2.5 or so isn't it? So 10 million tonnes CO 2 emissions?

I find it very easy for zeroes to go walkabout in these sorts of numbers so do check this.

But as against 5 GT CO2 emissions globally, it's a very small part of the problem.

Do also note that the cost of that fuel is already included in the calculations of "cheaper". The emissions (because bunker fuel pays no tax) are not. The solution to which is of course that a proper carbon tax should be instituted.

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Limits to Growth is a pile of steaming doggy-doo based on total cobblers

Tim Worstal
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Depends on what you mean by growth

Can we have an infinite amount of stuff for an infinite amount of people?

No, clearly not.

There are indeed limits to that.

Are those limits anything that our current society should be worrying about for the next few thousand years?

Yes, some are. I'd put over fishing and climate change as two that require at least serious consideration (fishing needs to be sorted out very quickly indeed, climate change not so much).

But actual physical limits to the growth of the economy over anything like a reasonable timescale for us to worry about?

No.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Watch the Funny Man!

Weird:

"It is true that making use of mineral resources isn't as easy as it once was; this is why people are looking for minerals in places like Africa instead of just getting them from easy places closer to home."

I'm working on the Czech/German border these days. Looking at mines that have been worked since, oooh, 1400 AD or so. Closed in 1992 most of them (1945, 1950 others of them).

They did not close because they were exhausted. Rather, they closed because the richer mines in Africa were *easier*.

Same is true of Cornish tin mines. Entirely possible to extract loads more tin there. But why bother when it's *easier* to do so in Indonesia?

What you're getting wrong is this idea that the *easy* minerals are at home. If that were true then we'd all still be digging them up. The *easy* minerals are right where people are mining them right now. The reason they're doing so? Because that's where the easy minerals are.

As an example, Cornish (or Czech) tin requires a stamping mill. You have to crush the granite to small enough pieces that you can wash the tin ore out of it. In Indonesia the rivers have done this for you over the millennia. You can use a Mr Henry (no, really!) to suck the tin out of the sand on the beach.

We've not abandoned the easy mines, we've gone to them.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Watch the Funny Man!

"When people like Worstall start telling us explicitly how they will maintain endless "growth," while simultaneously reducing the amount of pollutants generated, and how they will deal with the eventual loss of resources, I'll bother to read their articles."

Fair enough. Economic growth is defined as increasing value added. It is *not* increasing consumption of resources, it is increasing value add. As technology marches on we can add more value to whatever resources we have available.

So, as long as technology advances we can have growth. Pollutants? Tax the shit out of those who express them. I'm, for example, a supporter of the carbon tax. And the eventual loss of resources? Something that may or may not happen in 1,500, 7,500 years, well, that's a problem for the future. I'd note blame someone in 500 AD for immigrating to England because the oak trees might run out when Nelson needs a fleet. Should you?

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Doing More With Less

"It is not obvious to me that society has continuously to have more to do better."

Wayull......to an economist not quite so. More "stuff" entirely true. But we do want more value added. That can be more value added in services, in mothers' smiles, in vaccines given to those who would die without them, in just in general more and better calories. But more "value added" is the name of the game.

For the simple reason that how well anyone lives their life (um, OK, the standard of living they have while living that life) is determined by how much of the value added by other people they get to consume.

We want economic growth simply because GDP is a measure of the value added. The more of that there is the more people get to consume. But note, it's "value added" not "stuff".

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Enery is the secret

There's actually an ecologist out there who insists that humans having energy is a really bad idea:

"Giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point,” says Paul Ehrlich, “would be the moral equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun."

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Added to my Lexicon of Useful Phases

Sadly, that one "policy based evidence making" isn't original to me even though I love using it. Can't though recall who used it first.

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Quit drooling, fanbois - haven't you SEEN what the iPhone 6 costs?

Tim Worstal
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Re: At first, I'd thought this might be a sensible article.

Shhh,

I'm trying to win El Reg's unannounced competition for most synonyms of "Jesusmobe" used in an article. Free half of shandy at the Crimble booze up for the winner. So don't tell anyone....

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Err...

A very small and gentle request that you do a quick rereading?

The point wasn't so much about actual prices as how is purchasing behaviour going to change when those prices are more obvious? For we do see different behaviour ins subsidy and non-subsidy markets. So, as the subsidy ones become more like the non-subsidy ones then are we going to see general behaviour moving from one to t'other?

By the way, far from wanting to bash Apple for their pricing policies I'm in awe of their ability in this field. Seriously, out here in finance and economics land, rather than tech-land, the ability of the company to maintain its margins is by far the most impressive thing it does. Every other businessman on the planet would kill to be able to do the same.

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Jony Ive: Apple iWatch will SCREW UP Switzerland's economy

Tim Worstal
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Re: Joking

Well, yes, obviously, but where's the article in that?

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Switzerland still has plenty of other industries...

"Mind you, I think buying a watch that costs as much as a car is a very strange way to blow one's money. But I guess if you're at that end of the market and you already have everything else, why not go for it?"

Agreed and yet.....human beings are hugely status conscious creatures. And alpha males really do get more legover than the rest of us. One friend worked in SE Asia for a number of years and he said that his (real, gold) Rolex was the best investment he'd ever made.

Doesn't wear it anymore now he's married, of course.

Of course, not even when the wife's out of town.

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The IT kit revolution's OVER, say beancounters - but how do they know?

Tim Worstal
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Re: "there's four parts to national income"

Your four and five there are regarded as one item:

4) subsidies to consumption minus taxes on consumption.

The net figure is our fourth.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: That's not quite what my original said @Tim Worstal

This is the parenthesis that got dropped: (and let's not get into the argument about whether or not it was well spent now, shall we?).

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Tim Worstal
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Re: With you there Tim

If everyone's doing as you are then that section of the GDP figures would be zero. So obviously not everyone is but nice to see that there's at least something to the intuition/suspicion.

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Tim Worstal
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That's not quite what my original said

I followed that remark with a parenthesis (and let's not get into the argument about whether or not it was well spent now, shall we?).

Editors edit, as they should do, and that part they, quite rightly (for Editors are editors), dropped.

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Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?

Tim Worstal
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Re: Build council houses

To do that you've got to issue more planning chittys, don't you? So at root it's the same answer.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Supply and demand anomally

"In the article it considers rent fixing below the current "equilibrium" to be a cause for greater demand, which in custard doughnuts case is true, but people will generally only rent one house, while I would eat 1p custard doughnuts to an early grave.

Demand is inelastic, as in, rent fluctuations have little effect on rental demand."

That is to consider the two bed apartment as the same thing as the 4 bed house. And also to assume that a place with small rooms is equal to a place with large rooms. SE England has some of the highest housing prices in Europe. It also has some of the smallest (in sq foot) new build sizes in Europe. There is a connection between these two points: that being that while you're right that most people only have one dwelling not all dwellings are equal.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: "there is no housing shortage outside of the South East of England. "

"A house is not, in any real terms, an investment."

Quite true, and the house itself doesn't particularly change in value either. However, the value of that planning chitty, subject as it is to artificial scarcity, does change and so can be considered as an investment. Which is, again, somewhat my point. Issue more chittys and the value of them comes down.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Economists solving the problems the last one caused

Err, yes, that's what I'm saying.

Currently we have "a house to cost more than the materials used to make it / cost of the land / cost of building it." plus the scarcity value of the planning chitty. So, issue more planning chittys and the total price of housing comes down. Issue enough of them (as in the 1930s) and houses will cost "no more than the materials used to make it / cost of the land / cost of building it."

Where I work in Bohemia houses are actually less than the build cost because there is a surplus. These markets things really do work, even for houses.

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Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE

Tim Worstal
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Re: hmmm

To disappoint: no costume. I even fail the "economists do it with models" test. Although I have mocked up one of those economists' secret decoder rings out of some left over gold foil from a choccie bar.

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Tim Worstal
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Well, quite

Capitalism is a description of who owns the productive assets. Just as socialism is.

Markets are a description of how we exchange things.

Two entirely different axes of the economy.

My own continual bugbear is the way that all too many socialists (an idea for which I've much sympathy, I like John Lewis, the Co Op, Friendly and Building Societies and all those other worker and customer owned organisations) think that to have socialism you need to do away with markets.

If we assume that (and there are many more options than this, obviously) we can have a capitalist/market economy, a capitalist/non-market one, a socialist/market one and a socialist/non-market one I'll take either of the market ones and capitalism is a very much less important part of how well we'll all live.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: hmmm

As I've said here before I'm not even an economist, I just play one on the web.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Cimrman...

Indeed he is fascinating. I'd never heard of him until I started working in Bohemia a year or so ago. Quite the cultural icon. When they had one of those contests where people vote for "Greatest Czech Ever" he was winning handily until they insisted that it had to be a real person.

Not quite an invention of Vaclav Havel and the Plastic People of the Universe crowd but contemporary with and part of roughly the same movement.

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My big reveal as macro-economics analyst: It's a load of COBBLERS

Tim Worstal
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Re: "Dean Baker (a lefty but still a good economist)"

What it really details is my admiration for his technical skills while deploring his political ones.

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SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk

Tim Worstal
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I had that Elon Musk on the email once

"Tim, would scandium make my rockets better?"

"No, but it would make them more expensive".

"Hmm, thanks....."

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The Register to boldly go where no Vulture has gone before: The WEEKEND

Tim Worstal
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Re: phwoar

Well, the fewer cheeseburgers and no soda pop diet has made Worstall about 3 stone more buff......although I'd hesitate to claim that being "more buff" equates to "being buff". Having fewer chins but still multiple ones probably doesn't qualify for the state of buffness even if the direction of travel is right.....

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Govt control? Hah! It's IMPOSSIBLE to have a successful command economy

Tim Worstal
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Re: Command economies 'don't work'

There's two ways to get economic growth. One is use more resources. Put in more raw materials, more labour (some part of 20 the cent. economic growth was women doing less housework and more paid labour) and output will rise. The other way is to become more productive in the use of those raw materials and labour. In the jargon this is known as increasing "total factor productivity".

A slightly extreme claim is that the Soviet Union managed no total factor productivity growth in its entire 70 years of existence (from a Nobel Laureate). A less extreme claim is that 80 % of growth in the market economies in the 20 th cent. came from increases in total factor productivity (Bob Solow, another Laureate).

There is a difference in performance there.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Red Plenty...

The Cosma Shalizi essay which I link to, and even point to as the source of the first three quarters of this piece, is part of a book club discussion of, umm, "Red Plenty" by Francis Spufford.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: yeah but what about the jobs...?

"And what about your other inputs that aren't labour based, such as raw materials."

Why aren't raw materials labour based? The cost of getting them is just labour plus capital, capital being only saved labour.

Give me unlimited labour and I could give you (virtually, certainly vastly more than the demand for them) unlimited amounts of any raw material you care to mention.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: yeah but what about the jobs...?

"Current capitalist theory precludes taking the surplus from second group to give to the first"

It does? I rather missed that complete absence of a tax and benefit system. Even over with the libertoons the argument is about how to have a more efficient one rather than the complete absence of one (and it is the libertoons in the US who think that a universal basic income would be a good idea, strangely, the Greens in the UK. And me.)

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Tim Worstal
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Re: yeah but what about the jobs...?

"The introduction of machinery made ordinary working people poorer,"

What?

Before the industrial revolution the average wage afforded one 2,000 wheat calories a day and a hovel. England in 1600 AD had GDP per capita of $1,000 a year. Yes, modern dollars (1992 actually) adjusted for inflation. With higher inequality that means the majority were living on what, $2 a day? £1 a day maybe?

We're poorer than that now, after the introduction of machinery?

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Tim Worstal
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Re: yeah but what about the jobs...?

"To put it crudely, in a world where all desires are met, human ingenuity will invent new desires."

Great, so everyone still has a job then satisfying those new desires then.

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Tim Worstal
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Why expect downvotes for that? Of course markets don't solve everything. We even have a word (a phrase and a word actually) to describe two sorts of problems that markets don't solve. Public goods and externalities. Both of which are central to any study of when the market might be a viable solution and when it won't be.

I am very much a free market extremist but even I'll agree that there are problems they just won't solve.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: Inefficiency

"So while creating the health service, "

Well, not so much. They nationalised what existed which is a little different from creation. The first NHS built hospital opened in 1963.

May or may not have been a good idea, the NHS, leave that aside. But changing the method of ownership and financing of an extant health care system really is a little different from "creating" one.

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Tim Worstal
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Re: yeah but what about the jobs...?

I've argued directly with Ford on this very point. He fails to close the loop.

If the robots are making everything then those things don't cost anything. And it's no use insisting that the capitalists who own the robots will just take all the money. Because a truly robotic economy would mean that one robot could build another, they could build two more and so on. It would only require one robot, once, to be built and given away for that idea of the capitalists owning them all to fail.

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The Register is HIRING technology hacks for the WORLD

Tim Worstal
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Re: I'd love to...

Terrible idea. Would be muscling in on my gig, wouldn't it?

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YES, iPhones ARE getting slower with each new release of iOS

Tim Worstal
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Re: Finally!

Well, I'm not an economist. Which is probably why I can explain it because I had to break it down into simple bits so that I could grok it in the first place.

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Tim Worstal
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There's two versions of the Laffer Curve. The actual one and the one that people claim to have debunked.

The actual one is simply the observation that there is some tax rate that maximises tax revenue. It's not a very sophisticated claim it's true, but we do see it in the real world. New York's latest cigarette tax rise reduced cigarette tax revenues as everyone bought smuggled ciggies instead.

So, if there's some rate which maximises revenue then it must be possible to go over that rate and thus leave open the opportunity that lowering the rate would increase collections.

For income tax where that rate is is obviously open to question. One recent paper (think it was Diamond and Saez) put it somewhere between 54% and 80%, depending on what assumptions you made about allowances, people being able to emigrate and so on.

That Laffer Curve hasn't been debunked.

The one that has is the caricature one, that all tax cuts always pay for themselves. That's not only wrong it's obviously so: for it's ignoring the very point of the original story, that there's a revenue maximising rate.

There is actually some real world use to this as well, it's not just a piece of abstract theorising. The TUC budget submission a couple of years back was written by the egregious Richard Murphy. And he assumed that a rise in the income tax rate to 75% would call forth more labour. Digging into it he had assumed that married women were particularly subject to the income effect. They'd see family income falling as a result of higher taxes and thus flood into the labour market to raise it back to target.

Unfortunately for that plan we know that married women are particularly subject to the substitution effect, not the income one. For the fairly obvious reason that they've got a career alternative ready to hand: why go out to work if the tax rates mean you can't pay for the childcare you've got to buy sort of thing.

So we could reject that TUC submission simply because it made the wrong assumptions about the different bits that make up that Laffer Curve. All of which comes from the obvious fact that Murphy entirely rejects the even possible existence of the Curve and is therefore deaf to the point that it's actually making.

Insisting that it doesn't exist is therefore likely to bring you into this sort of error.

All tax cuts do not pay for themselves: true.

There is a revenue maximising rate of tax: true.

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FREE PARTY for TEN lucky Australian Reg readers

Tim Worstal
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There's nothing in those rules that says the limerick has to be about El Reg or the party (unless I'm being particularly stupid today). So here's one I did earlier:

"There was a young lady named Beth

who swore to be virgin 'till death.

Then she lost her front teeth

while fighting a thief

and finally learnt to say yeth."

If the plane ticket was going to be part of the prize I might even write a new one.....

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