Three Revolutions

Today it has been two years since my first post: “What is a Supply-Side Liberal?"  My first anniversary post, ”A Year in the Life of a Supply-Side Liberal,“ provides an introduction to this blog and tells of the exhilarating experience of my first year of blogging. Today, I wanted to talk about some of the pictures in my mind of possible futures that keep me going.  

As for the blog itself, one of my standards of excellence for an independent economics blog is Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok's Marginal Revolution blog. Day after day, Tyler and Alex give people reason to come back and learn more. Their tagline to explain their title "Marginal Revolution” is “Small Steps Toward a Much Better World.” Although there would have to be many small steps along the way to each of these, I tend to think of the revolutions I want to see happen in a more discrete way. Let me talk about three revolutions I hope to see, in order of how fast I think they could happen. 

1. The Electronic Money Revolution. The world’s attempts at economic stabilization since 2008 have left much to be desired. The main reason has been the partial crippling of monetary policy due to the difficulties of making interest rates negative when paper currency guarantees to all an interest rate of at last zero (minus storage costs). This difficulty is called the zero lower bound. Since I published “How Subordinating Paper Currency to Electronic Money Can End Recessions and End Inflation” in November 2012, I have been writing and traveling the world speaking to spread the word that the zero lower bound is a policy choice, not a law of nature. I argue that it is a bad policy choice. The benefits of economic stabilization without needing to have long-run inflation far outweigh the inconveniences of dealing with negative interest rates and an exchange rate between paper currency and electronic money that is sometimes away from 1-for-1.

I have collected links to everything I have written about eliminating the zero lower bound in my post “How and Why to Eliminate the Zero Lower Bound: A Reader’s Guide.” On why to eliminate the zero lower bound, let me recommend

On how to eliminate the zero lower bound, let me recommend this presentation that I have given in various versions at the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, Japan’s Ministry of Finance, Danmarks Nationalbank, the Banque de France, the Federal Reserve Board, and the US Treasury:

I have seminars scheduled in July at the ECB, the Bundesbank, the Banca D'Italia and the Swiss National Bank. In addition to the posts above, this presentation relies on what I say in these fairly technical posts:

I believe a transition to a monetary system based on electronic money that avoids creating a zero lower bound is almost inevitable. The electronic money revolution will happen. The question is when. The more people there are who understand the principles and reasoning involved, the quicker that day will come. Some countries may lag behind, but some country will lead the way.

2. The Supply-Side Liberal Revolution.  Posts about policies to foster economic growth, while taking care of the poor, are the heart of this blog, as you can see from looking down my list of most popular columns and posts. For economic growth, beyond the basics I wrote about in “The Government and the Mob,” the key policies are those I wrote about with Noah Smith in “One of the Biggest Threats to America’s Future Has the Easiest Fix” (followed up by “Capital Budgeting: The Powerpoint File”), the kind of individual effort Noah and I recommended in “There’s One Key Difference Between Kids Who Excel at Math and Those Who Don’t” and blocking attempts to squash the kind of disruptive innovation that Clay Christensen talks about. (See my post on Monday: “Saint Clay.”)  It also doesn’t hurt to understand the key role that knowledge plays in economic growth, something I talk about in my post “Two Types of Knowledge: Human Capital and Information." 

For taking care of the poor, many of the key issues are political. First, as I argue in "Inequality Aversion Utility Functions: Would $1000 Mean More to a Poorer Family than $4000 to One Twice as Rich?” it is crucial not to be distracted by a fascination with the division of wealth and income between the middle class and the rich from the primary task of taking care of the poor. Besides a safety net focused on helping the poor rather than unsustainably trying to give large amounts of money to the middle class, key policies to help the poor are 1. more open immigration, 2. job freedom, and 3. school reform:

  1. The Hunger Games is Hardly Our Future: It’s Already Here
  2. When the Government Says “You May Not Have a Job”
  3. Magic Ingredient 1: More K-12 School.

One key to sustainably getting resources for helping the poor is to do it in a way that causes the fewest economic distortions. In addition to focusing on the right kinds of taxes, to the extent that there must be taxes, I believe that there is great potential in the kind of public contribution system that I talk about in the links in my post “The Red Banker on Supply-Side Liberalism."  People often hate taxes, so they try to avoid them. Those efforts at tax avoidance are a social waste. So it makes sense to get many of the resources for helping the poor from public contributions that people won’t want to avoid as much as taxes, and that allow those contributing to be creative in making the world a better place. The creativity and flexibility fostered by a public contribution system are also bound to lead to technological progress in ways to help the poor. 

3. The Heroic Revolution. By making the right choices, anyone can be a hero in the sense of making the world of the future a significantly better place than it otherwise would have been. For many, the objective of making the world a better place takes on a religious flavor, as it does for me (though for me in a resolutely non-supernaturalist way). See for example my sermons

 and see Noah’s wonderful religion guest post

But regardless of one’s views on religion, hope and faith that one can make things better is the key to actually making things better. This is a principle I write about in

There are reasons to have hope that one can make the world a better place. The most basic is the argument that all it takes is to durably convince the younger generation that there is a better way:

But there also the power of gratitude, as I write of in

However, in the end, our success at making the world a better place will depend crucially on our ability to see clearly what is better and what is worse. Whatever its flaws, and despite all the ways it goes astray, religion has something to say about this. But so does the economics of happiness–in particular the work drawing on the intuitions of many people about what "better” means that I write of in

Summing Up. I believe in the potential of the blogosphere to change the world. I hope my view of the good of our noble species and the rest of the universe is clear enough that I am pushing in the right direction rather than in the wrong direction. My gut-level reaction to partisan politics in the United States is that enormous time and effort is wasted by Republicans and Democrats as they cancel each other out in opposition to one another. A key source of this wasted effort is that people are much too quick to assume they know the right direction to go. Many partisans assume they know the right direction to go, despite failing to undertake thoroughgoing discussions according to the principles of open, heated, but respectful discussion laid out by John Stuart Mill. (Those principles are familiar to those of you who follow my every-other-week series of posts on John’s book On Liberty, such as "John Stuart Mill’s Brief for Freedom of Speech.“) The blogosphere can help forward that kind of discussion, and get us a little closer to the truth.