Wednesday, 24 May 2017

4 Years as an UoG Student

Trying to summarise four of the most formative years of one's life in a brief blog post must be some form of hubris. What follows is precisely that: a present-biased backward look at what has been four remarkable years of mine. My time as a University of Glasgow student has been incredible, challenging, fantastic and every feeling in-between  a story of permanent scars and lifelong memories.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Humility and Pretty Awful University Courses

Exam periods make people grumpy. I'm no exception. The motivation to study, learn, write, work-out  all the things that brought me on to this path in the first place  or basically anything but mindlessly snoozing, is completely gone. Soul-wreckingly awful things, exams. Whereas writing essays and researching amazing topics is pretty much pure bliss, at least in comparison. And I'm gonna take out this anger on the unsuspecting and probably innocent lecturers of this semester's courses. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

In Defense of White Men

My constant source of entertainment these days, (re-)published this incredible article a while back about how friendly males can contribute to The Cause. In the midst of their normal and exhaustingly repetitive content, ('toxic masculinity', accusations of 'misogyny', calls for 'intersectionality' and so on  you know the story), I found a pretty interesting challenge I thought to briefly take on.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Austerity Again

As I pointed out a few months ago while ranting over "Austerity" in Britain, people driving the Austerity Thesis ("The Austerity Crowd", as I like to call them) is largely immune to facts. That there's a narrative about spending cuts is enough for them to cry 'Wolf' (or well, 'Austerity') and consign the Conservative Government to the dustbin of poor-hating evil politicians together with everyone else who ever opposed the brilliance of the enlightened left.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Promoting the Wealth of Nations before Adam Smith

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an economics students at the University of Glasgow at some point has to discuss and research Adam Smith. Preparing for this weekend at the Austrian Economics Meeting in Europe (AEME) in Krakow, Poland, I did precisely that. The result of this little project is available as an essay here (‘Promoting the Wealth of Nations Before Adam Smith’). The work was not as comprehensive as I would have liked, but then again the literature on Adam Smith is a black hole, an endeavour which I had neither time nor motivation to pursue.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Assar Lindbeck On How To Be An Economist

Continuing my tradition of reviewing books years after everyone else, I recently picked up Assar Lindbeck's biography of his life as an economist, Ekonomi Är Att Välja (Eng: "Economics is about choosing"). Lindbeck, who turned 87 a few months back, is one of Sweden's most prolific and well-known economists (even my dad, who's only vaguely heard of Keynes and may have been somewhat familiar with Piketty or Krugman from some of my rants, instantly recognised Lindbeck's name and photo on the front cover: "I know this guy. Economist, pretty famous!"). He's been involved in almost much every major event in modern Swedish economic history, frequently features in major newspapers and TV debates. For over 60 years he has, both in public and in academic outlets, argued for a reform and repeal of rent control. Safe to say, this is one great economist I wanted to know more about.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Are Conservative Politicians Prettier?

In my job-hunting for the Swedish Research Institute of Industrial Economics (abbreviated IFN in Swedish), I stumbled across what seems like a legit article that made me laugh as much as Nicolson's The Romantic Economist or Messerli's infamous correlation between Nobel Prizes and chocolate consumption. I mean, the kind of research that comes out of IFN in the first place is jaw-dropping, ranging from the Swedish equivalent of Thomas Piketty  Daniel Waldenström  to one of my favourite Swedish economists Andreas Bergh (check out his Sweden and the Revival of the Capitalist Welfare State for a great and balanced view on the Swedish welfare state). And now there's another triumph to add to IFN's list: 'The Right Look: Conservative Politicians Look Better and Voters Reward It', recently published in Journal of Public Economics in February this year, by Niclas Berggren, Henrik Jordahl and Panu Poutvaara.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

I Love Tax Season!

Econ lends itself very naturally to personal finance. People with above-average economic literacy and some insight into the world of finance tend to take better care of their own personal finances. Or so I claim with absolutely no empirical data to support it. However, according to Charlie Söderberg  the famous Swedish personal finance-guy whose lecture I attended last summer  people spend more time brushing their teeth than pondering their financial decisions, let alone system-wide things like economics or taxation. Tax season is, consequently, most people's nightmare, whereas I kinda love it. This year I decided to report my result, which gives me a good entry to discuss some pros and cons with the Swedish system of taxation.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Caldwell on Economics and Hayek

Bruce Caldwell is a well-known historian of economics, professor of Economics as Duke University, but perhaps most associated with running the Centre for the History of Political Economy at Duke. Since 2003 he has been the editor of the collected works of FA Hayek and safe to say, he is the go-to-guy for knowledge about Hayek, his life and his ideas. A few weeks back, while attending events in Prague I had the great pleasure of meeting him, chatting a bit (read: fangirling) and take a few compulsory photos. He gave us a heads-up about his own major biography of Hayek coming out soon enough, which I am very much looking forward to.

Monday, 3 April 2017

What Commodity Would You Pick In a Doomsday Scenario?

I'm fairly sure that most of my late-night discussions with my flatmate are superior to most university classes (perhaps we should invite people along and start charging for the privilege?). About a week ago, we celebrated several good news with a 3-hour discussion beginning somewhere around governments' ability to ensure stable CPI-inflation, ending in the emergence of one-cell organisms, with many fascinating arguments in between. The most exciting of which is this one: if faced with some doomsday scenario (breakdown of civilisation, Day After Tomorrow or I Am Legend style), what commodity would you want to hold?

My intuitive response is gold; after all, throughout human civilisation precious metals have quite often ended up being currency (even though salt and hides and grains and weapons have occassionaly held the status of money), and so sitting on a pile of currency in a doomsday scenario would be insanely useful (even though the capital loss from holding it would be quite large). Máté's intuitive response: seeds or furnaces. Let me walk you through the various cases and then tell you why my choice is better than Máté's (note that the example we discussed goes much beyond the standard "hedge against equity market declines" most gold-bugs advance as rationales for holding gold)

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Can Moral Psychology Explain Our Political Convictions?

In these times of hostile political discussions, with the rise of far-right movements on one side of the spectra and increasingly intolerant privilege-obsessed SJW on another, bridging ideological gaps between groups has become incredibly important: Trump and Brexit shocked more than one poll, pundit or political group, and not for lack of trying to get different messages across, but for lack of receiving them. In the field of politics and philosophy (and, of course, economics) I sometimes rant about those who believe different things from me: ignoring, overlooking, strawmanning, insulting, patronising  which perhaps contributes to the problem. During my most happy moments, this is all done with a friendly smile on my face; when I'm upset or particularly annoyed about something, I wish to go much further in my attacks. Let me spend the next few paragraphs on the content of a book that so radically changed my perception and understanding of moral opinions themselves, answering the basic question of why "it's so hard for us to get along" (p. xviii).

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Ha Joon Chang: Clueless and Important

One of the projects I had imagined for this year was titled "23 ways Ha Joon Chang is wrong about Capitalism". Monday's talk at Edinburgh University greatly reminded me of the reasons behind this project: Ha Joon Chang has gained rockstar status among many of my heterodox friends by making incoherent and unsubstantiated arguments that suit their political convictions, with nothing more than mistaken cherry-picked data behind them. In Monday's talk he spoke for almost two hours, making some very strange arguments leading up to how production needs to be at the center of developmental economics. Let me discuss some of the most eye-wateringly silly stuff.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Dear Taxi Driver Who Hates Uber

This letter is intended to a particular upset bald Glaswegian in his 50s, but applies equally well to most taxi drivers I have had the great misfortune to meet:

I am writing to you regarding the trip I took Sunday night, which I only took because Uber was price surging 1.6x and I was feeling cheap. I had forgotten that when deciding to save some money and go with the regular, non-price surging taxis such as yourself, I also seriously trade down in quality.

Friday, 24 March 2017

In Defense of the Great Disruption

One of the most important talks at LibertyCon17 was given by the Swedish entrepreneur Henrik Jönsson, with the great title 'Everything you know is Dead or Dying: How to thrive after the E-pocalypse'. The topic is one that has been challenging economically illiterate people's beliefs since time immemorial and we've been pretty good at giving them various names: luddites, protectionists, conservatives, neophobes. It has to do with the most fundamental economic mechanism, call it development, dynamics or perhaps the name Schumpeter once coined: Creative Destruction. And knowledge of history and economics is key to understand why this development is beneficial.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Enemies of Liberty: The Authoritarian Right and The Intolerant Left

My reflections of academic conferences continue; Glasgow Economic Forum last weekend, followed by Lithuanian Free Market Institute's second Colloquium on Scarcity (where I learned an important lesson for behavioural economics), and the heighpoint of the this weekend: European Students for Liberty's LibertyCon2017. The great sessions included beer as a metaphor for economic life, Wolf von Laer's very inspiration rants, Enrique Fonseca's enthusiastic tips on communication, as well as great writing tips from Bill Wirtz. The main attractions of the conference (Jeffrey Tucker, Bruce Caldwell and Tom Palmer) were even better still!

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Blind Spots of Behavioural Economics and Paternalism

The hectic Life of an Econ Student continues; last weekend saw the incredibly successful Glasgow Economic Forum, followed by a rushed econometrics assignment and an intership proposal deadline on Monday. A few days of catch-up, before I was off to the massive SFL LibertyCon 2017 in Prague preceeded by the Lithuanian Free Market Institute's Colloquium on Scarcity, Morality and Public Policy. My first time to the reknowned Cevro Institute and an entire day of conversations and debates with brilliant minds. Here's the most mindblowing revelation one of the sessions (on Entitlement) gave rise to: Behavioural Economics has some serious blind spots. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Reflections of a Forum

And then it was suddenly over. Months of work, planning, emailing, applying for funds, booking trips, selling tickets and coming up with witty, interesting questions and themes for our incredible speakers. Always in the back of my head, nagging, pondering, visualising what it would be like. This last weekend, Glasgow Economic Foru 2017 was finally here, a little project I got involved with in early second-year that has now developed into quite something. A bold and interesting idea by upset and naïve students about bringing cool speakers to the University, expanding the very narrow (read: boring) view of what economics is/ought to be, and it has become the highlight of the year. After this intense weekend, there are so many things I wanna read, so much I want to follow up on and and so much sleep to regain. Do bear with me while I indulge in this sentimental reflection. After all, I won't be involved in organising our beautiful GEF again, as I'm spreading my wings to go elsewhere in a few months.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Statistical Fairy Tale They Call The Gender Pay Gap

The worst time of year for anyone with an intense allergy for abused statistics is election times: of all the many things economists and math teachers have failed to convey to the public, the difference between percent and percentage points must be the worst and most prevalent one  the amount of headache I suffer from listening to journalists reporting election outcomes or polling results is incredible! Below in occurance, but definitely equalled in annoyance, are the hopelessly repeated claims about a gender pay gap. They generally occur around March 8 (or October/November, after which women apparently work for free), when good virtue signalling commentators across the political spectrum try to illustrate how women are oppressed, by reaching for the alleged Gender Pay Gap. So, pre-empting all those sensationalist claims you are about to witness tomorrow, here is a critical refutation. Similar to debates over 'Austerity', you have to see the simple truth: there is no gender pay gap.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Boy Who Cried Austerity

You have all heard it  and most of you believe it: in its blatant disregard for the poor, always championing the capitalists' interest, the Coalition (and now the disgraceful Tories) have sought to violently cut back government spending, cut welfare provisions and raise taxes to reduce the budget deficit, ultimately reducing the government's debt. This 'Austerity Delusion' is allegedly hurting the poor, the disabled and anyone else I'm supposed to care for.

Everybody knows the fable (or ancient story) of a boy who cried wolf; after a few times of crying wolf nobody would believe him anymore, whether or not there was an actual wolf. We have now reached the exact opposite point: the boy yet again cries 'austerity', and everyone believes him, irrespective of whether there is any cutting of government spending going on.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Affirming Affection: John Weeks and Despising Markets

Sometimes I wonder if I live in a parallel universe, separated from the realities of my friends and peer group and most people's normal experiences. In the present world of alternative facts and intellectual echo chambers, where the social and cultural divide between, say, hip liberal world citizens in inner-city New York and traditionalist Midwest sports fan in a way is larger than perhaps ever, these kinds of experiences are to be expected. But they never cease to amaze me.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

When Do You Become An Economist?

On a regular Sunday evening, sitting across from me, my flatmate is reading Friedman's Optimum Quantity of Money. All of a sudden, he bursts out laughing. In between his strained attempts of catching his breath he jokingly says "This is the best sentence is all of economics! If anybody asks me what economics is about, I'll read them this sentence".

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Central Bank Independence Cannot Survive a Crisis

For once my university curriculum was enough in-sync with world events around us to provide some relevant and interesting readings. The essay I just finished dealt with central bank independence, a fairly modern invention to these rather old institutions: most of them used to be another sub-departments under direct control of a Treasury. The idea behind an independent central bank, one that makes its decisions about monetary policy and target rates underlying most interest rates in the economy without influence by politicians or current policy-makers is as follows: since the result of monetary policy operates with a certain lag, a sitting government in direct control of the central bank can lower the target rate before an election – an action that will spur investments and increase economic activity in the short run – which lowers unemployment, and may help the sitting government to victory. This action has longer-term consequences in higher price inflation, which will not be apparent until later; to bring that price inflation down, rates have to be increased again, often causing (slight) recessions.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

How Scotland Caused the American Revolution

When I first read Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money a few years ago I was mesmerized not only by the brilliant clarity of his writing, but the underlying theme throughout that work, well captured on the back cover of the book itself: "[Ferguson] reveals financial history as the essential back-story behind all history." It's in line with what I've argued on numerous occassions: doing history without recourse to financial or economic reality is rather pointless  or at least seriously limited in scope. Penguin books, Ferguson's publisher, did a great job for Ascent of Money in getting potential readers hooked by listing quite a fascinating intro:

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Noah Smith says Stuff

Say what you will about Noah Smith, the former econ professor at Stony Brook Uni and prolific blogger, now continuing his writing for Bloomberg View. His well-formulated articles and succint blog posts have always resonated with me, causing a reaction (mostly negative, however...) and inspired me to read, write and argue. In other words, Noah's writing brings out the very purpose of economists, Paul Romer-style; in September last year, Paul Romer made a fuzz with his article The Trouble With Macroeconomics, in which there was a quote I instantly pulled to place on my wall of inspirational quotes: 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Turner and Banking Crises

I adore John Turner, not only from the fact that he’s coming to Glasgow Economic Forum in four weeks (get your tickets here!), but for his great work in financial and economic history. Honestly, until April last year I didn’t even know he existed  borderline treason for those of us with an academic interest in financial history. As I stumbled upon his award-winning book, Banking in Crisis: The Rise and Fall of British Banking Stability, 1800 to the Present, I added it to my very long dissertation reading list. The extra push given by my advisor in September was enough for me to order it and read it. And what a read it was. Although the book is relatively short – 220 pages – it took me weeks to finish, for the simple fact that every single page contains valuable lessons, amazing reasoning and breath-taking insights that I simply had to jot down; my OneNote entry on the book is one of the largest I have and there are countless of individual entries in my vast Google Keep archive.