Tag: Economics


In the long run, we are all dead

Tim Hartford on why the UK is braced for a grim Christmas:

Late in 2019, the British people decided that Chaos Kong would make a good prime minister and elected Boris Johnson by a large margin. Johnson has now decided to make a virtue of his own recklessness. After initially claiming that the shortage of truck drivers in the UK was entirely unconnected to Brexit, the government now boasts that the shortage is indeed Brexit-related and was the plan all along. True to the spirit of Chaos Kong, this tough love for the British economy is the only way to get it to shape up.

In preventing the easy recruitment of truck drivers, abattoir workers and care-home staff from the EU, the UK government is actively blocking the most straightforward way to get the economy running smoothly again. (To ensure everyone got the message, Johnson compared immigrants to heroin, complaining that businesses had been able to “mainline low-wage, low-cost immigration”.) The assertion is that if the government deliberately constricts the supply of essential workers, the economy will come out stronger in the long run. Chaos Kong worked for Netflix. Will it work for the UK? 1

One day, we’ll look back on all this and laugh. Or cry. One of the two, anyway.

[Via Memex 1.1]


Frenemies Forever

Novelist John Lanchester ponders whether economists and humanists can ever be friends?

[Hanson and Simler’s…] emphasis on signalling and unconscious motives suggests that the most important part of our actions is the motives themselves, rather than the things we achieve, such as writing symphonies, curing diseases, building cathedrals, searching into the deepest mysteries of time and space, and so on. The last sentence of the book makes the point that “we may be competitive social animals, self-interested and self-deceived, but we cooperated our way to the god-damned moon.” With that one observation, acknowledging that the consequences of our actions are more important than our motives, the argument of the book implodes.

The issue here is one of overreach: taking an argument that has worthwhile applications and extending it further than it usefully goes. Our motives are often not what they seem: true. This explains everything: not true. After all, it’s not as if the idea that we send signals about ourselves were news; you could argue that there is an entire social science, sociology, dedicated to the subject.

Apparently not.1