Tag Archives: Social economy

The Greatest Balancing Act

Nature and the global economy
By David Attenborough and Christine Lagarde – In nature, everything is connected. This is equally true of a healthy environment and a healthy economy. We cannot hope to sustain life without taking care of nature. And we need healthy economies to lift people out of poverty and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

In our current model these goals sometimes seem to collide, and our economic pursuits encroach too closely on nature. But nature—a stable climate, reliable freshwater, forests, and other natural resources—is what makes industry possible. It is not one or the other. We cannot have long-term human development without a steady climate and a healthy natural world.

The bottom line is that when we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves. The impact of our growing economic footprint threatens our own future directly. By some estimates, more than 50 percent of the world’s population is now urbanized, increasing the likelihood of people losing touch with nature.

With the projected rise in ocean levels and increase in the average temperature of the planet, large swaths of land, even whole countries, will become uninhabitable, triggering mass climate-induced migration. Never has it been more important to understand how the natural world works and what we must do to preserve it.

A necessary first step is to recognize that waste is the enemy. Wasting food, energy, or materials flies in the face of sustainability. Producing plastics fated to end up as litter is a waste, especially when these plastics pollute our oceans. If we could live by the simple injunction to “do no harm,” both individually and as businesses and economies, we could all make a difference. Overconsumption and unsustainable production have put the planet in peril.

Since the natural and economic worlds are linked, similar principles apply to both.

In the financial world, for example, we would not eat into capital to the point of depletion because that would bring about financial ruin. Yet in the natural world, we have done this repeatedly with fish stocks and forests, among many other resources—in some cases to the point of decimation. We must treat the natural world as we would the economic world—protecting natural capital so that it can continue to provide benefits well into the future. more>

Updates from McKinsey

How purpose-led missions can help Europe innovate at scale
By Ilan Rozenkopf, Pal Erik Sjatil, and Sebastian Stern – Europe is at an important economic inflection point. The continent has the required assets for future prosperity, including leading economically in worldwide sectors such as automotive and pharmaceuticals, and is making progress in important innovations that will help it compete. Nonetheless, European business faces a challenge that is eroding its economic position relative to other global powers: building new leading clusters or companies that can innovate at scale. Addressing this challenge is vital to the continent’s economic future.

We suggest building on Europe’s economic strengths and social capital to tackle the challenge. European business leaders should raise their sights and set new ambitions, both for their own organizations and for collaboration across private and public sectors on fundamentally important projects for the future. Building on a concept originally proposed by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, we call these “missions”—bold and inspirational initiatives to collaborate at scale on socially and economically important topics capable of attracting public support.

This approach can help Europe address its innovation challenge in its own distinctive way, marshalling resources and harnessing ideas and diverse cultures in a set of common ambitions. It could also compensate for structural disadvantages relative to China and the United States, such as a comparatively fragmented domestic market and a less cohesive system of government action.

In sum, missions offer a significant opportunity for European business leaders to take an even stronger lead for more innovation at scale in Europe. Fostering ambition-led collaboration enables scaling of disruptive innovation and proven ideas in a way that leverages Europe’s strength in diversity and, thus, the harmony underpinning its social market economy. more>

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There is No Economics without Politics

Every economic model is built on political assumptions
By Anat Admati – There is absolutely no way to understand events before, during, and since the financial crisis of 2007-2009 while ignoring the powerful political forces that have shaped them. Yet, remarkably, much of the economics and finance literature about financial crises focuses on studying unspecified “shocks” to a system that it largely accepts as inevitable while ignoring critical governance frictions and failures. Removing blind spots would offer economists and other academics rich opportunities to leverage their expertise to benefit society.

The history of financial economics is revealing in this regard. By the second half of the 20th century, when modern finance emerged as part of economics, the holistic approach of early thinkers such as Adam Smith—which combined economics, moral philosophy, and politics—was long gone. Narrow social-science disciplines replaced the holistic approach by the end of the 19th century. In the 20th century, economists sought to make economics formal, precise, and elegant, similar to Newton’s 17th-century physics.

The focus in much of economics, particularly in finance, is on markets. Even when economists postulate a “social planner” and discuss policy, they rarely consider how this social planner gets to know what is needed or the process by which policy decisions are made and implemented. Collective action and politics are messy. Neat and elegant models are more fun and easier to market to editors and colleagues.

Lobbyists, who engage in “marketing” ideas to policymakers and to the public, are actually influential. They know how to work the system and can dismiss, take out of context, misquote, misuse, or promote research as needed. If policymakers or the public are unable or unwilling to evaluate the claims people make, lobbyists and others can create confusion and promote misleading narratives if it benefits them. In the real political economy, good ideas and worthy research can fail to gain traction while bad ideas and flawed research can succeed and have an impact.

Having observed governance and policy failures in banking, I realized that the focus on shareholder-manager conflicts is far too narrow and often misses the most important problems. We must also worry about the governance of the institutions that create and enforce the rules for all. How power structures and information asymmetries play out within and between institutions in the private and public sectors is critical. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Does America have an antitrust problem?
Markets are becoming more concentrated—and, arguably, less competitive
By Jeff Cockrell – To those who are worried about the state of contemporary American politics—those who are concerned about the historically high levels of polarization between the two main political parties, who despair of the disappearance of anything that could be called common ground, who bristle at the apparent unwillingness of any occupant of national, state, or local office to recognize the common sense or basic human decency of any proposal coming from the opposite side of the aisle—we offer you this single harmonious word of relief: antitrust.

A vocal concern for the power held by some of the United States’ most dominant companies—especially tech giants such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google—may be the only shared material among the talking points of President Donald Trump and the Democrats vying to run against him in 2020. Trump has asserted that the US should follow the European Union’s lead in handing down large fines to big tech companies for antitrust violations, and during his presidential campaign, he charged that Amazon has a “huge antitrust problem.” A number of prominent Democrats, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are on the same page, having suggested that many such companies may need to be broken up. In July, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it was “reviewing whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.”

Concerns about competition are not unique to the tech industry. Aggregate levels of US industrial concentration—or how market share is divided among manufacturing companies—began to increase in the early 1980s after decades of relatively little change, according to research by Chicago Booth’s Sam Peltzman. The trend continued into the 21st century. Between 1987 and 2007, average concentration—as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman index, a commonly used gauge of market concentration—within the 386 industries included in his analysis increased by 32 percent.

If this trend toward more-concentrated industries has been accompanied by a small number of companies expanding their market power as a result of diminished competitive pressures, the effects could be momentous. In fact, some research suggests the exercise of market power could be responsible for everything from higher prices to reduced investment to the steadily diminishing share of the US economy that’s enjoyed by the labor force. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

How smart choices on taxation can help close the growing fiscal gap
The growing fiscal gap has policy makers in a difficult position. Swift action in a few areas can help them improve the operational efficiency of fiscal systems.
By Aurélie Barnay, Jonathan Davis, Jonathan Dimson, and Marco Dondi – Governments around the world have implemented a range of fiscal and debt measures to fund policy initiatives over recent decades. As a result, tax revenues as a proportion of GDP have risen four percentage points across Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries since 1980. However, many governments remain inadequately funded. Despite higher tax revenues, spending is rising faster than income, leading to widening budget deficits and higher levels of debt.

Four distinct trends are playing out: increasing automation in the workplace, leading to pressure on employment; the evolution of global trade through the proliferation of e-commerce and digital business, raising questions over cross-border taxation; rising self-employment; and an aging population. Each of these could further widen the fiscal deficit in the years ahead. Moreover, we see all four accelerating, placing policy makers in an ever-tightening fiscal bind.

Basic economics provides two options for balancing the books: either increase revenues or decrease spending.

The bottom line for governments is that there are no easy answers. Whether they seek to increase taxation or boost efficiency, they are likely to face headwinds. Still, decisive and rapid action is essential to optimize tax collections and keep pace with an inevitable rise in demand for services.

Tax revenues in OECD countries have risen slightly over the past 35 years. However, spending has risen more, leading to widening deficits that governments have bridged with debt. OECD tax revenues were 34 percent of GDP in 2017. Because of tax deficits and the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, the average ratio of gross debt to GDP rose from 66 percent of GDP in 1995 to 88 percent in 2017.

Sources of tax revenue have remained stable over time. Over three decades, personal income and consumption together accounted for 82 to 89 percent of revenues. The biggest single contributor was payroll and income tax, accounting for 50 to 55 percent of revenues (even though the contribution of personal income tax declined by nearly 7 percentage points). Consumption and excise duties remain little changed at 32 to 34 percent of revenues.

More people are working for themselves, either as a contractor to several companies or a single company. This emerging gig economy accounts for an estimated 28 percent of EU and US employment. The proportion would rise to 46 percent if everyone had their preferred working arrangement, according to MGI research.

However, the gig economy creates challenges for tax authorities. First, independent workers are generally less compliant than their employed peers, and in some countries are required to pay less taxes. Evidence from the US suggests that workers subject to limited information reporting, such as the self-employed, have an around 50 percentage point lower rate of tax compliance than traditional workers. There are also ongoing legal debates in some jurisdictions over whether gig economy workers are employees for the purposes of worker classification and social security contributions.

Governments can close the widening gap between revenues and expenditures in a variety of ways through tax revenues, nontax revenues, and spending optimization. In addition, some governments are either implementing or considering approaches based on monetary finance.

The gap between government revenues and spending has widened and is likely to continue to do so. The onus, then, is on tax authorities to act now. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Want to be happier? Give more to others
By Alice G. Walton – There’s scientific evidence, it turns out, to back up centuries-old religious teachings that it’s better to give than to receive. Chicago Booth’s Ed O’Brien and Northwestern PhD candidate Samantha Kassirer find that giving to others might make you happier in the long run and has staying power, whereas the joy of receiving fades quickly.

In an experiment, the researchers gave college students $5 for five days in a row and told them to spend it the same way each day. Half of the students were instructed to spend the money on themselves, say by buying a coffee daily. The other half were told to spend the money on others, for example by donating to a single charity or leaving a tip in the same coffee shop each day. Every night, the participants completed a survey in which they reported how they felt overall that day.

The happiness level of the students who spent money on themselves declined over the five days, the researchers find. But for those who donated the money, their happiness level on the fifth day was similarly high as on the first. more>

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Why Corporations Can No Longer Avoid Politics

By Alana Semuels – For decades, most companies went to great lengths to avoid opining on social issues. No longer.

What’s changed? Frustrated with political gridlock, consumers have turned to business for leadership. “I think business has to pick up the mantle when governments fail you,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario told TIME earlier this year. Young consumers are also more likely to patronize brands whose business models claim to include social change.

Nine in 10 members of Generation Z, who account for as much as $150 billion in spending power globally, believe that companies have a responsibility to social and environmental issues, according to McKinsey. In an age when companies have detailed information on customers’ ages, incomes and political persuasions, they’re calculating that these socially aware consumers are more lucrative than those who might be put off by social-justice campaigns.

“In a politically polarized world that is saturated in social media, you’re not going to escape politics,” says Jerry Davis, a professor of management and sociology at the University of Michigan. “This is a sea change–in the past, companies kept their heads down and did their best to never be seen.” more>

We’re All Free Riders. Get over It!

By Nicholas Gruen – Anathematized and stigmatized today, free-riders built the lion’s share of the prosperity we enjoy today.

Does that mean we should ‘share’ or ‘pirate’ more copyrighted things on the internet? Not necessarily. The free rider problem is real enough.

But here’s the thing. In addition to the free rider problem, which we should solve as best we can, there’s a free rider opportunity. And while we whine about the problem, the opportunity has always been far larger and its value grows with every passing day.

The American economist Robert Solow demonstrated in the 1950s that nearly all of the productivity growth in history – particularly our rise from subsistence to affluence since the industrial revolution – was a result not of increasing capital investment, but of people finding better ways of working and playing, and then being copied. A little of this innovation was fostered by intellectual property rights which give temporary monopolies in technology. But much less than you’d think.

Most innovation can’t be patented. And after patents expire in 20 years (it used to be less) it’s open slather. We’re not paying royalties to the estates of Matthew Bolton and James Watt for their refinements to the piston engine. But we’re still free riding on their work. In other words, free-riding made us what we are today.

At the birth of modernity Thomas Jefferson spoke of the free rider opportunity more eloquently than any statesman then or since:

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

Far from wanting to ignore the free rider problem, Jefferson was on top of that too, spearheading the institutionalization of intellectual property. But having done so, throughout his life, including in his administration of patents, he sought balance between dealing with the problems and seizing the opportunities presented by free riding. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How racial bias infected a major health-care algorithm
By Jeff Cockrell – As data science has developed in recent decades, algorithms have come to play a role in assisting decision-making in a wide variety of contexts, making predictions that in some cases have enormous human consequences. Algorithms may help decide who is admitted to an elite school, approved for a mortgage, or allowed to await trial from home rather than behind bars.

But there are well-publicized concerns that algorithms may perpetuate or systematize biases. And research by University of California at Berkeley’s Ziad Obermeyer, Brian Powers of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Christine Vogeli of Partners HealthCare, and Chicago Booth’s Sendhil Mullainathan finds that one algorithm, used to make an important health-care determination for millions of patients in the United States, produces racially biased results.

The algorithm in question is used to help identify candidates for enrollment in “high-risk care management” programs, which provide additional resources and attention to patients with complex health needs. Such programs, which can improve patient outcomes and reduce costs, are employed by many large US health systems, and therefore the decision of whom to enroll affects tens of millions of people. The algorithm assigns each patient a risk score that is used to guide enrollment decisions: a patient with a risk score in the 97th percentile and above is automatically identified for enrollment, while one with a score from the 55th to 96th percentiles is flagged for possible enrollment depending on input from the patient’s doctor.

Obermeyer, Powers, Vogeli, and Mullainathan find that black patients are on average far less healthy than white patients assigned the same score. For instance, for patients with risk scores in the 97th percentile of the researchers’ sample, black patients had on average 26 percent more chronic illnesses than white patients did. The result of this bias: black patients were significantly less likely to be identified for program enrollment than they would have been otherwise. Due to algorithmic bias, 17.7 percent of patients automatically identified for enrollment were black; without it, the researchers calculate, 46.5 percent would have been black.

The bias stems from what the algorithm is being asked to predict. more>

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The planet is burning

By Stephen J Pyne – From the Arctic to the Amazon, from California to Gran Canaria, from Borneo to India to Angola to Australia – the fires seem everywhere. Their smoke obscures subcontinents by day; their lights dapple continents at night, like a Milky Way of flame-stars. Rather than catalogue what is burning, one might more aptly ask: what isn’t? Where flames are not visible, the lights of cities and of gas flares are: combustion via the transubstantiation of coal and oil into electricity. To many observers, they appear as the pilot flames of an advancing apocalypse. Even Greenland is burning.

But the fires we see are only part of our disturbed pyrogeography. Of perhaps equal magnitude is a parallel world of lost, missing and sublimated fires. The landscapes that should have fire and don’t. The marinating of the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. The sites where traditional flame has been replaced by combustion in machines. The Earth’s biota is disintegrating as much by tame fire’s absence as by feral fire’s outbreaks. The scene is not just about the bad burns that trash countrysides and crash into towns; it’s equally about the good fires that have vanished because they are suppressed or no longer lit. Looming over it all is a planetary warming from fossil-fuel combustion that acts as a performance enhancer on all aspects of fire on Earth.

So dire is the picture that some observers argue that the past is irrelevant. We are headed into a no-narrative, no-analogue future. So immense and unimaginable are the coming upheavals that the arc of inherited knowledge that joins us to the past has broken. There is no precedent for what we are about to experience, no means by which to triangulate from accumulated human wisdom into a future unlike anything we have known before. more>