Medieval England was better off than many countries today

More stereotype-busting about the Middle Ages.  From Science Daily:

New research led by economists at the University of Warwick reveals that medieval England was not only far more prosperous than previously believed, it also actually boasted an average income that would be more than double the average per capita income of the world’s poorest nations today.

In a paper entitled British Economic Growth 1270-1870 published by the University of Warwick’s Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) the researchers find that living standards in medieval England were far above the “bare bones subsistence” experience of people in many of today’s poor countries.

The figure of $400 annually (as expressed in 1990 international dollars) is commonly is used as a measure of “bare bones subsistence” and was previously believed to be the average income in England in the middle ages.

However the University of Warwick led researchers found that English per capita incomes in the late Middle Ages were actually of the order of $1,000 (again as expressed in 1990 dollars). Even on the eve of the Black Death, which first struck in 1348/49, the researchers found per capita incomes in England of more than $800 using the same 1990 dollar measure. Their estimates for other European countries also suggest late medieval living standards well above $400.

This new figure of $1,000 is not only significantly higher than previous estimates for that period in England — it also indicates that on average medieval England was better off than some of the world’s poorest nations today including the following (again average annual income as expressed in 1990 dollars).

Zaire $249

Burundi $479

Niger $514

Central African Republic $536

Comoro Islands $549

Togo $606

Guinea Bissau $617

Guinea $628

Sierra Leone $686

Haiti at $686

Chad $706

Zimbabwe $779

Afghanistan $869

via Medieval England twice as well off as today’s poorest nations.

HT:Joe Carter

Laws that expire

Philip K. Howard argues that many of our national problems are the result of too many laws, which go back for generations and that gum up our ability to respond to current conditions.  He argues that we need a “sunset provision” that makes all laws expire eventually, requiring that the legislature periodically revisit them:

Once a law is in place in the United States, it’s almost impossible to dislodge. Our political class assumes that, after a law is forged in the crucible of democracy, it should be honored as if it’s one of the Ten Commandments – except it’s more like one of 10 million.

We even have a hard time modifying laws that were explicitly designed to be temporary. Just look at the current battle over the Bush-era tax cuts.

Having that debate at all is unusual. Once enacted, most laws are ignored for generations, allowed to take on a life of their own without meaningful review. Decade after decade, they pile up like sediment in a harbor, bogging the country down – in dense regulation, unaffordable health care, and higher taxes and public debt.

A healthy democracy must make fresh choices. This requires not mindless deregulation but continual adjustment of laws. Congress could take on this responsibility if it followed a simple proposal: Every law should automatically expire after 10 or 15 years. Such a universal sunset provision would force Congress and the president to justify the status quo and give political reformers an opening to reexamine trade-offs and public priorities.

via To cut the deficit, get rid of our surplus of laws.

He goes on to show how outdated laws contribute to the deficit, complicate health care, and hurt business.

The idea seems to have merit, and yet what legislature would have time to reconsider the whole record of national legislation every ten years or so?

Revolt of the children

A 16-year-old boy in the Netherlands was arrested for bringing down the MasterCard and Visa websites in retaliation for their refusing to process payments for Wikileaks. More young hackers are promising more attacks.

In the meantime, British university students have been rioting in protest of that country’s new austerity program, which includes raising tuition rates to a fraction of what American students pay. The British students, notorious for their political apathy previously, are breaking windows, smashing shops, burning cars, and assaulting police officers. They even attacked Prince Charles and his wife as they were driving by, smashing a window in their car. See TUITION FEES VOTE PROTEST: Charles and Camilla’s car attacked as thousands of students descend on Parliament | Mail Online.

So will young people–unused to any kind of austerity, indignant at established authority,and able to use the internet really well–rise up and overthrow the adult world?

Obama accepts Bush tax cuts

President Obama has agreed with Congressional Republicans to extend all of the  Bush-era tax cuts in exchange for extending unemployment benefits.  The package includes some other interesting details:

President Obama and congressional Republicans have reached a tentative accord on a far-reaching economic package that would preserve George W. Bush administration tax breaks for families at all income levels for two years, extend emergency jobless benefits through 2011 and cut payroll taxes by 2 percent for every American worker through the end of next year.

The scope of the agreement, announced by the White House late Monday, was far broader than lawmakers in either party had been expecting. The deal would extend a college tuition tax credit and other breaks for middle-class families that were due to expire New Year’s Eve. And it would revive the inheritance tax after a year-long lapse, imposing a 35 percent rate on estates worth more than $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples.

The package would add more than $700 billion to the rising national debt, said congressional sources who were briefed on the deal. But with the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent, the White House was focused on winning a compromise that could boost the fragile recovery while preventing the economic damage that could result from letting the expiring tax breaks affect paychecks next month.

The payroll tax holiday, in particular, is striking for its universal application. Unlike most tax breaks, it would be available to taxpayers at every income level, letting consumers keep an extra $120 billion in their pockets next year. For a couple making $70,000 a year, the holiday would provide a tax savings of $1,400.

via Obama and GOP strike tax accord.

This description of the payroll tax, which goes for Social Security, is unclear.  It doesn’t cut them by a measly 2%, which would hardly mean anything.  Rather, it cuts the tax rate from 6% of the paycheck to 4%, so that all workers will get to keep a third of what they used to pay.  That’s a pretty significant raise.

Now all the President has to do is persuade the Democrats, many of whom are reportedly livid at the deal, which keeps the tax cuts even for those who make $250,000 and up.

What should the government do?

Economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson points out that before we can cut government spending, we need to arrive at a philosophy of government:

Modern democracies have created a new morality. Government benefits, once conferred, cannot be revoked. People expect them and consider them property rights. Just as government cannot randomly confiscate property, it cannot withdraw benefits without violating a moral code. The old-fashioned idea that government policies should serve the “national interest” has given way to inertia and squatters’ rights.

One task of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – co-chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson – was to discredit this self-serving morality. Otherwise, changing the budget will be hard, maybe impossible. If everyone feels morally entitled to existing benefits and tax breaks, public opinion will remain hopelessly muddled: desirous in the abstract of curbing budget deficits but adamant about keeping all of Social Security, Medicare and everything else. Politicians will be scared to make tough decisions for fear of voter reprisals.

Unfortunately, Bowles and Simpson ducked this political challenge. They performed an accounting exercise to shrink the deficit without trying to define what government should do and why. . . .

It’s not in the national interest to subsidize farmers, because food would be produced at low cost without subsidies. It’s not in the national interest to subsidize Americans, through Social Security and Medicare, for the last 20 or 25 years of their lives because healthier people live longer and the huge costs make the budget unmanageable. It’s not in the national interest to subsidize mass transit, because most benefits are enjoyed locally: If the locals want mass transit, they should pay for it. As we debate these questions, groups will inevitably promote their self-interest. But in doing so, they should have to meet exacting standards that their self-interest also serves the broader national interest. . . .

The biggest blunder of their approach involved huge proposed cuts in defense, about a fifth of federal spending. National security is government’s first job. Bowles and Simpson reduced it proportionately with all other discretionary spending as if there’s no difference between a dollar for defense and a dollar for art subsidies. Nor was there much effort to identify programs that should be eliminated because they fail the national need test. . . .

This was a formula for changing government without a philosophy of government.

via Robert J. Samuelson – What the Bowles-Simpson plan left out.

OK, let’s help formulate a philosophy of government that could set some priorities and thus help us make decisions about the national budget.  (That’s what I have to as a college administrator, come to think of it!  We set priorities and then we work out the budget accordingly.)

What do you think the government should do?  What difference would that make in what gets budgeted and what gets cut?

Stimulus jobs are just about over

An illustration of the futility of creating jobs by just spending government money for construction projects.  Once the projects are finished, we are back to unemployment.  And all of those “shovel-ready” construction jobs are just about finished.  From The Washington Post:

The stimulus was here.

Those words should be embossed on a stretch of Route 29 outside of Charlottesville, where paver operator Clifford Carter poured hot asphalt one year ago.

The $885,000 project, funded by federal stimulus dollars, took two days in November 2009. A few weeks later, he was laid off – temporarily, he thought, until paving season resumed in the spring. But in April, he received his first permanent layoff notice. Without a job, he couldn’t afford to keep paying for life or health insurance, so he let both lapse.

“When they kicked me out the door, I lost everything,” he said.

The end of the stimulus – the $787 billion that Washington approved last year in an effort to forestall another Great Depression – is more than a year away. But for Carter and thousands of other workers in the road construction industry, it has already arrived.

Road construction workers were among the first to benefit from the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into “shovel-ready” road resurfacing projects in order to save or create millions of jobs.

The bulk of highway-related work will be done within a year and more than half of the funds for it have been paid out, said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, an Arlington County-based trade group.

But with the economy continuing to lag, private-sector work has all but disappeared, and many states have cut back on road work in an effort to plug gaping deficits.

Without the stimulus, thousands of workers who build and maintain America’s roadways could soon join the 1.6 million construction workers who are unemployed. The construction industry lost an additional 5,000 jobs in November, the latest U.S. Labor Department data show, bringing the sector’s unemployment rate to 18.8 percent.

via After stimulus, construction industry seeing private-sector and state projects drying up.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X