“People think the world is in chaos. People think that the world is on fire right now for all the wrong reasons,” says author and Cato Institute senior fellow Johan Norberg. “There is a segment of politicians who try to scare us to death, because then we clamber for safety we need the strong man in a way.”
But despite the political situation in Europe and America, Norberg remains optimistic. His new book, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, shows what humans are capable of when given freedom and the ability to exchange new ideas. “In the 25 years that have been considered neo-liberalism and capitalism run amok what has happened? Well, we’ve reduced chronic undernourishment around the world by 40 percent, child mortality and illiteracy by half, and extreme poverty from 37 to 10 percent,” explains Norberg. Read the rest of this entry »
Since October, the government has acted to slow outflows by tightening existing measures, such as approvals for foreign currency transfers, and has leant on banks to be stricter, making it harder for companies and individuals to change money and transfer money abroad.
SHANGHAI: Zhang Yuting lives and works in Shanghai, has only visited the United States once, and rarely needs to use foreign currency. But that hasn’t stopped the 29-year-old accountant from putting a slice of her bank savings into the greenback.
“Expectations of capital flight are clear. I might exchange more yuan early next year, as long as I’ve got money.”
She is not alone. In the first 11 months of 2016, official figures show that foreign currency bank deposits owned by Chinese households rose by almost 32 per cent, propelled by the yuan’s recent fall to eight-year lows against the dollar.
The rapid rise – almost four times the growth rate for total deposits in the yuan and other currencies as recorded in central bank data – comes at a time when the yuan is under intense pressure from capital outflows.
The outflows are partially a result of concerns that the yuan is going to weaken further as US interest rates rise, and because of lingering concerns about the health of the Chinese economy.
US President-elect Donald Trump’s threats to declare China a currency manipulator and to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports into the US, as well as tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea, have only added to the fears.
“Expectations of capital flight are clear,” said Zhang, who used her yuan savings to buy US$10,000 this year. “I might exchange more yuan early next year, as long as I’ve got money.”
Household foreign currency deposits in China are not huge compared to the money that companies, banks and wealthy individuals have been directing into foreign currency accounts and other assets offshore.
All up, households had US$118.72 billion of foreign money in their bank accounts at the end of November, while total foreign currency deposits were US$702.56 billion.
But the high growth rate in the household forex holdings are symbolic of a growing headache for the government as it struggles to counter the yuan’s weakness.
Since October, the government has acted to slow outflows by tightening existing measures, such as approvals for foreign currency transfers, and has leant on banks to be stricter, making it harder for companies and individuals to change money and transfer money abroad. Read the rest of this entry »
Smith was a hugely influential Scottish political economist and philosopher, best known for his book ‘The Wealth of Nations’.
Adam Smith’s exact date of birth is unknown, but he was baptised on 5 June 1723. His father, a customs officer in Kirkcaldy, died before he was born. He studied at Glasgow and Oxford Universities. He returned to Kircaldy in 1746 and two years later he was asked to give a series of public lectures in Edinburgh, which established his reputation.
In 1751, Smith was appointed professor of logic at Glasgow University and a year later professor of moral philosophy. He became part of a brilliant intellectual circle that included David Hume, John Home, Lord Hailes and William Robertson.
In 1764, Smith left Glasgow to travel on the Continent as a tutor to Henry, the future Duke of Buccleuch. While travelling, Smith met a number of leading European intellectuals including Voltaire, Rousseau and Quesnay.
In 1776, Smith moved to London. He published a volume which he intended to be the first part of a complete
theory of society, covering theology, ethics, politics and law. This volume, ‘Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations‘, was the first major work of political economy. Smith argued forcefully against the regulation of commerce and trade, and wrote that if people were set free to better themselves, it would produce economic prosperity for all. Read the rest of this entry »
James Pethokoukis writes: To back two centuries and the average world income per human was about $3 a day, notes economist Deirdre McCloskey in the Wall Street Journal. Now it’s $33 a day, and four times higher than that in advanced economies like the United States, Germany, and Japan. And those numbers — even with the usual inflation adjustment — may well understate things.
So why are we so much, much richer today? After dismissing some alternative explanations, McCloskey arrives at this one:
The answer, in a word, is “liberty.” Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated.
From Luther’s reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England’s turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go…(read more)
Most Americans think that the federal government is incompetent and wasteful. What causes all the failures? A new study from Cato scholar Chris Edwards examines views on government failure, and outlines five key sources of federal failure. Edwards concludes that the only way to substantially reduce failure is to downsize the federal government: “Political and bureaucratic incentives and the huge size of the federal government are causing endemic failure. The causes of federal failure are deeply structural, and they will not be solved by appointing more competent officials or putting a different party in charge.”
FREEDOM OF THOUGHT: Religious Freedom More Important Founding Achievement than Being President of the United StatesPosted: April 3, 2015
“Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness…”
Before his death, Thomas Jefferson left explicit instructions regarding the monument to be erected over his grave. In this document (undated), Jefferson supplied a sketch of the shape of the marker, and the epitaph with which he wanted it to be inscribed:
“…on the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more:
Here was buried
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia
What’s missing here? Jefferson declined to include, among his most treasured achievements, his own ascent to the highest office in the land. Thomas Jefferson was elected twice, served two terms as president of the United States. Why did Jefferson consider his own presidency to be unimportant, or not important enough to include in his list of achievements? Much as been written about this, including by Jefferson himself, but my own summary is this: A free people govern themselves. A self-governing society doesn’t celebrate its leaders, or rulers, it celebrates its own freedom.
The most important of these freedoms being freedom of thought. Freedom to think, or not think, whatever the hell you want. To worship, or not worship, whatever deity you want, it’s your business. The freedom to subscribe to–or reject–whatever philosophy you want. The freedom to participate, or refrain from participating in, whatever way of life you chose. An individual is free to worship as he pleases with no discrimination. And has the inherent (not state-given) freedom to not be compelled by another to do otherwise.
Without this, the “habits of hypocrisy and meanness” undermine pluralism, and threaten the foundations of the civil society that his generation fought so hard to build.
Do Jefferson’s successors understand this?
Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was prevented by illness from attending the Virginia Convention of 1774 that met to discuss what to do in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party and the closing of the port of Boston by the British. But Jefferson sent a paper to the convention, later published as A Summary View of the Rights of British America. The force of its arguments and its literary quality led the Convention to elect Jefferson to serve in the Continental Congress.
He was too anti-British to be made use of until a total break with Great Britain had become inevitable. Then he was entrusted with drafting the Declaration of Independence. This assignment, and what he made of it, ensured Jefferson’s place as an apostle of liberty. In the Declaration, and in his other writings, Jefferson was perhaps the best spokesman we have had for the American ideals of liberty, equality, faith in education, and in the wisdom of the common man. But what Jefferson wanted to be remembered for, besides writing the Declaration of Independence, was writing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and founding the University of Virginia.
Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom
The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is a statement about both freedom of conscience and the principle of separation of church and state. Written by Thomas Jefferson and passed by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786, it is the forerunner of the first amendment protections for religious freedom. Divided into three paragraphs, the statute is rooted in Jefferson’s philosophy. It could be passed in Virginia because Dissenting sects there (particularly Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists) had petitioned strongly during the preceding decade for religious liberty, including the separation of church and state.
Jefferson had argued in the Declaration of Independence that “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle [man]….” The first paragraph of the religious statute proclaims one of those entitlements, freedom of thought. To Jefferson, “Nature’s God,” who is undeniably visible in the workings of the universe, gives man the freedom to choose his religious beliefs. This is the divinity whom deists of the time accepted—a God who created the world and is the final judge of man, but who does not intervene in the affairs of man. This God who gives man the freedom to believe or not to believe is also the God of the Christian sects.
I. Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was his Almighty power to do . . .
The second paragraph is the act itself, which states that no person can be compelled to attend any church or support it with his taxes. It says that an individual is free to worship as he pleases with no discrimination. Read the rest of this entry »
Though these two articles aren’t directly related, they share a common theme: “Girl Power”!
First, commenting on the real vs. unreal-proportions Barbie debate, is author Virginia Postrel, in an essay provocatively titled called ‘Average’ Barbie Is Just as Fake’, Postrel begins with reflections drawn from her own childhood experiences with dolls:
“When I was a little girl, my favorite dolls came from Mattel and had wildly inhuman proportions. To me, they were magical and special and didn’t look the least bit strange…”
Then gets into the business with Mattel:
“…As a mass-produced product, a doll represents a single version of female proportions. Taken as a role model, any single standard excludes those with a different build. Celebrating “average” doesn’t solve the problem. Instead of trying to create a plastic role model, it’s both kinder and more honest to treat a doll as an object of escapist fantasy — a plaything.
Barbie’s popularity is waning, a fact Lammily boosters rarely fail to mention. But Mattel is in the business of selling play, not social commentary…”
Like most guys, other than G.I. Joes (and nobody really talked much about the Joe’s body image) I have no experience with dolls (honest!) and defer to thinkers like Postrel for insights. Put those dolls away and read the whole thing.
The second article involves the recent “Ban Bossy” campaign — featuring the comments of a author Jonah Goldberg, who I’m sure would agree is equally knowlegable discussing Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, or Foghorn Leghorn — and who also draws from personal experience.
“…It seems patently untrue that a) Bossiness is the same thing as “leadership,” b) That bossiness is a gender-specific issue for kids, c) That girls are falling behind in leadership nationally or in schools. Some of my views are based on the fact that I am the father of a little girl and some of it is based on informed common sense…”
And questions the premise that girls are disproportionately disadvantaged in the first place:
“In every conceivable way women are doing better and better. Sheryl Sandberg is herself proof of that. No rational or objective person believes that things aren’t getting better for women in the workplace or the executive suite.
This is either a misguided exercise, with the well-intended aim of illustrating complex economic theory, or a refreshingly inventive way to combine pop culture and economics. I can’t tell, I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. It’s definitely worth a look. Personally, I think Adam Smith would have approved.
Longwood University music teacher Chris Kjorness writes:
It has been 50 years since the Beatles arrived in the United States, forever altering the landscape of popular music. But contrary to the general notion that the mop-tops hopped off a plane in 1964 and were just so talented and lovable that they took the states by storm, the Beatles’ conquering of America was actually the result of a long and complex struggle. It was the end result of the actions of numerous people acting in their own interests, with little knowledge of or concern about what the other was up to.
While the Brits are credited with giving the world the idea of popular music through the comic operettas of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, after World War II British popular music was in a creative slump. Weak transnational relationships between record labels and the dominance of state-controlled media tended to keep out foreign records (particularly American ones), leaving British audiences to make do with British artists’ covers of American hits. As a result, recordings of American folk and rhythm and blues artists became almost contraband, complete with all of the cool rebelliousness the black market can provide.
Private enterprise does more for the national good than it gets credit for
James Huffman writes: Alexis de Tocqueville reported that “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. . . . Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.”
Tocqueville went on to observe that these civil associations serving every imaginable end were the product of what he called “self-interest well understood.” Tocqueville reflected that “the beauties of virtue were constantly spoken of” in “aristocratic centuries,” but he doubted that men were more virtuous in those times than in others.
In the United States, he had observed, “it is almost never said that virtue is beautiful.” Rather Americans “maintain that . . . [virtue] is useful and they prove it every day.” This is what Tocqueville meant by “self-interest well understood,” which he illustrated with this quotation from Montaigne: “When I do not follow the right path for the sake of righteousness, I follow it for having found by experience that all things considered, it is commonly the happiest and most useful.”
“self-interest well understood” “forms a multitude of citizens who are regulated, temperate, moderate, farsighted, masters of themselves; and if it does not lead directly to virtue through will, it brings them near to it insensibly through habits.”
Twenty-first century Americans have forgotten this ancestral insight—that “self-interest well understood” “forms a multitude of citizens who are regulated, temperate, moderate, farsighted, masters of themselves; and if it does not lead directly to virtue through will, it brings them near to it insensibly through habits.” Perhaps “self-interest well understood” sounds too much of Adam Smith’s invisible hand for present day Americans whose habit, like the French of Tocqueville’s time, increasingly is to look for solutions not to private collaboration but to an omnipresent government. Nineteenth-century Americans who turned to both neighbors and strangers in pursuit of mutual interests would be puzzled at the hard and fast boundary their twenty-first century descendants draw between public and private interest.
Noah Rothman writes: On Friday, Colorado’s Arapahoe High School was put on lockdown while a student armed with a shotgun took over the school in an attempt to confront a teacher who he believed had wronged him. The student, identified as 18-year-old Karl Pierson, took his own life before he could be taken into custody.
In a profile on the shooter in the Denver Post which focused on his “strong political beliefs,” several of Pierson’s classmates offered their impressions of the shooter. One of the shooter’s classmates described him as a “very opinionated socialist.” Shortly after that post was published, however, that description was edited out. The current copy simply describes him as “very opinionated.”
The gunman’s parents divorced in late 2011, according to court records. The divorce was finalized in August 2012.
Thomas Conrad, who had an economics class with the gunman, described him as a very opinionated Socialist.
“He was exuberant I guess,” Conrad said. “A lot of people picked on him, but it didn’t seem to bother him.”
The new copy, however, edits out the specific political beliefs that Pierson reportedly held so “strongly.”
“Thomas Conrad, who had an economics class with Pierson, described him as very opinionated.”
This is the first installment of a new series: a Frenchman reads Democracy in America and investigates how it applies to the contemporary United States.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes: In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville doesn’t waste any time letting you know what impresses him most about America. To Tocqueville, equality and, to a slightly lesser — but very important — extent, religiosity, are the two foundations of the American experiment. His understanding of them certainly challenges both liberal and conservative sensibilities. But what does it say about America today that these two aspects of the American experience seem to be at all-time lows? And does Tocqueville point to a way forward?
The importance of economic and social equality
Tocqueville praises equality in his very first sentence: “Among the many things which drew my attention during my stay in the United States, none struck me more than the equality of conditions.” Two paragraphs later: “As I went on studying American society, I saw more and more in the equality of conditions the main fact which seemed to cause every other particular fact, and I kept seeing it before me as a central point to which all my observations led.”
Conservatives might not enjoy Tocqueville’s praise of economic and social equality as key to the success of the American experiment, but with some thought, you realize that Tocqueville is giving us a welcome way out of our incredibly dreary debates on the topic. A lot of conservatives claim that while the Left believes equality means equality of outcome, the Right is for equality of opportunity — but that’s a load of hooey. Everyone agrees with equality of opportunity, and all non-communists agree equality of outcomes is not desirable. The question is whether too much inequality of outcome leads to a greater inequality of opportunity. It’s a stubborn fact that, as a matter of dollars and cents, American society has gotten more unequal over the past 30 years. Does it mean that it has also become unequal in other ways? And if so, should we do anything about it? And what? Does Tocqueville show us a way?
1 November 2012
The optimistic sage who wrote The Audacity of Hope is pushing a program of despair, and American voters are catching on. As President Obama struggles in the polls, the country is ever more alive to the gulf between his uplifting rhetoric and the gloomy pessimism of his policies. That’s why the president would rather talk about just about anything these days other than his governing philosophy.
On the campaign trail, President Obama talks about Mitt Romney’s tax proposals, Mitt Romney’s investments, Mitt Romney’s binders, Mitt Romney’s dog. But when it comes to his own thinking, he is curiously laconic, and confines himself to slogans and platitudes. Occasionally, however, the mask slips, and the president tells us what he actually believes…