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→  settembre 14, 2014


House of Debt
How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It From Happening again

by Atif Mian e Amir Sufi
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London,
pagg. 220

La Grande Recessione come crisi bancaria: è la spiegazione standard. Che variamente combina eccesso di mutui garantiti dal Governo, cartolarizzazione che riduce il premio al rischio, tassi di interesse troppo bassi, mancato salvataggio della Lehman; e, per i moralisti, avidità dei banchieri e conflitto di interesse delle agenzie di rating.

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→  agosto 17, 2014


By Stefan Wagstyl
Most Europeans think their societies are far less equal than they are, while Americans are unusual in believing that their country is somewhat more equal than it really is.
A German report sheds new light on the political challenges involved in tax, income distribution and social fairness and raises fresh questions in the equality debate recently revived by French economist Thomas Piketty.
“The results of the study suggest that, in the political debate on income distribution, it is often not the facts that count but [perceptions],” says Professor Michael Hüther, director of the Cologne-based IW economic institute, which carried out the research.
Judith Niehues is due to present her findings this week at Germany’s Lindau economic conference, attended by Nobel laureates. She compared actual and perceived income levels in the US and 23 EU countries, using economic data and an international social attitudes study based on polling about 1,000 people in each country.
She found that people in Europe underestimate the proportion of middle-income earners and overestimate the proportion of the poor, commonly defined as people on incomes of 60 per cent or less of the median.
Only the US has a more unequal income distribution than its citizens imagined, with many more poor people.

In Europe, people on middle incomes are far more numerous than those at the bottom or the top of the pay ladder. So a European income distribution chart resembles a barrel, with a bulge in the middle. But many people see it as a tower standing on a broad plinth, with a small elite, a modest middle-class and a big base of low earners.

This is particularly true in Germany and France, where people see income distribution as far more unequal than it really is. By contrast in Britain and Spain, where income distribution is somewhat less equal than in France and Germany, people’s perceptions are more accurate.
In the US, more than 30 per cent of Americans have incomes of 60 per cent or less of the median. But most people think that only 24 per cent of their fellow citizens are at this level. “The middle class is truly smaller in the USA and the lower income group considerably more numerous than its citizens suppose,” says a summary of the study.
The report suggests this might be partly linked to social mobility in the US – people may be less focused on inequality if they think they are climbing the income ladder. The relative lack of concern about inequality could explain why pressure for redistributive taxation is lower in the US than on the other side of the Atlantic.
In Europe, the gap between perception and reality is particularly wide in the former Communist states, with citizens convinced their countries are far less equal than they are.
In addition to perceptions of income distribution, the report also looks at levels of concern about inequality. This tends to be greater in countries with higher levels of perceived inequality – such as France and Germany – than in countries with higher levels of actual inequality – such as the UK and Spain. More than 50 per cent of Germans and 79 per cent of French think income differentials are too great, compared with around 30 per cent of Britons and Spaniards.
The report suggests that all this should matter to policymakers designing tax and social transfer systems because actual levels of inequality seem less important to voters than perceived levels of inequality.
But it does not address the core argument in Mr Piketty’s book, which focused on inequalities of wealth rather than income, and argued that wealth inequalities are more significant in driving overall social inequality.

Subjective Perceptions of Inequality and Redistributive Preferences: An International Comparison, by Judith Niehues, Cologne Institute for Economic Research

→  agosto 11, 2014


By Deirdre McCloskey

Making men and women all equal. That I take to be the gist of our political theory.”
This rejoinder to rightwingers who delight in rank and privilege is spoken by Lady Glencora Palliser, the free-spirited Liberal heroine of Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn. It encapsulates the cardinal error of much of the left.
Joshua Monk, one of the novel’s Radicals, sees through it. “Equality is an ugly word . . . and frightens,” he says. The aim of the true Liberal should not be equality but “lifting up those below him”. It is to be achieved not by redistribution but by free trade, compulsory education and women’s rights.
And so it came to pass. In the UK since 1800, or Italy since 1900, or Hong Kong since 1950, real income per head has increased by a factor of anywhere from 15 to 100, depending on how one allows for the improved quality of steel girders and plate glass, medicine and economics.
In relative terms, the poorest people have been the biggest beneficiaries. The rich became richer, true. But millions more have gas heating, cars, smallpox vaccinations, indoor plumbing, cheap travel, rights for women, lower child mortality, adequate nutrition, taller bodies, doubled life expectancy, schooling for their kids, newspapers, a vote, a shot at university and respect.
Never had anything similar happened, not in the glory of Greece or the grandeur of Rome, not in ancient Egypt or medieval China. What I call The Great Enrichment is the main fact and finding of economic history.
Yet you will have heard that our biggest problem is inequality, and that we must make men and women equal. No, we should not – at least, not if we want to lift up the poor.
Ethically speaking, the true liberal should care only about whether the poorest among us are moving closer to having enough to live with dignity and to participate in a democracy. They are. Even in already rich countries, such as the UK and the US, the real income of the poor has recently risen, not stagnated – if, that is, income is correctly measured to include better healthcare, better working conditions, more years of education, longer retirements and, above all, the rising quality of goods. Admittedly, it is rising at a slower pace than in the 1950s; but that era of rising prosperity followed the wretched setbacks of the Great Depression and the second world war.
It matters ethically, of course, how the rich obtained their wealth – whether from stealing or from choosing the right womb (as the billionaire investor Warren Buffett puts it); or from voluntary exchanges for the cheap cement or the cheap air travel the now-rich had the good sense to provide the once-poor. We should prosecute theft and reintroduce heavy inheritance taxes. But we should not kill the goose that laid the golden eggs.
What does not matter ethically are the routine historical ups and downs of the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, or the excesses of the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent, of a sort one could have seen three centuries ago in Versailles. There are not enough really rich people. If we seized the assets of the 85 wealthiest people in the world to make a fund to give annually to the poorest half, it would raise their spending power by less than 4p a day.
All the foreign aid to Africa or South and Central America, for example, is dwarfed by the amount that nations in these areas would gain if the rich world abandoned tariffs and other protections for their agriculture industries. There are ways to help the poor – let the Great Enrichment proceed, as it has in China and India – but charity or expropriation are not the ways.
The Great Enrichment came from innovation, not from accumulating capital or exploiting the working classes or lording it over the colonies. Capital had little to do with it, despite the unhappy fact that we call the system “capitalism”. Capital is necessary. But so are water, labour, oxygen and pencils. The path to prosperity involves betterment, not piling brick on brick.
Taxing the rich, or capital, does not help the poor. It can throw a spanner into the mightiest engine for lifting up those below us, arising from a new equality, not of material worth but of liberty and dignity. Gini coefficients are not what matter; the Great Enrichment is.

→  luglio 13, 2014


Michael Lewis,
Flash Boys,
W.W. Norton and Company,
New York, pagg. 288.


Nathan Rothschild aveva un’informazione privilegiata: sapeva che Wellington aveva vinto. Ma qualunque cosa avesse fatto, comperare o vendere, sarebbe stata anch’essa un’informazione, che altri avrebbero sfruttato, erodendo il valore della sua. Così quella mattina in Borsa andò al solito posto vicino a una colonna, senza che nulla potesse trasparire dal suo comportamento: quello che poi avvenne fa parte delle leggende della finanza.

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→  giugno 6, 2014


Da quando è stata pubblicata la traduzione inglese di “Le Capital au XXIe Siècle”, le recensioni, i convegni, gli inviti hanno proiettato Thomas Piketty a livelli di notorietà inusuali per un economista. Ragion per cui, quando il Financial Times spara la notizia che ci sono errori nei suoi numeri e nel modo di usarli, il botto è proporzionato al successo. Gli entusiasti tutti dietro a Paul Krugman, a scagliarsi contro i pignoli incompetenti che avevano osato attaccarlo, i critici (quorum ego) a sorridere: che vi dicevo? Thomas Piketty ha scritto 1.000 pagine (dell’edizione originale) corredate da 115 tra grafici e tabelle, sintesi di 15 anni di lavoro accademico, una formidabile cintura protettiva intorno alla tesi che il capitalismo produce diseguaglianza. “Dimostrare” una tesi con una massa intimidente di dati: è il pikettismo. Ragionare sul rapporto tra scelta della tesi e raccolta dei dati: è il metapikettismo.

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→  maggio 29, 2014


Asti, 18 marzo 2014
con Alberto Cavaglion e Paolo De Benedetti

Roma, 15 maggio 2014
con Enrico Mentana, Giovanni Orsina e Nathania Zevi

Milano, 29 maggio 2014
con Ferruccio de Bortoli e Emilio Ottolenghi


Presentazione a Milano,
Libreria claudiana
29 Maggio 2014


L’occasione da cui sarebbe nato questo libro, è legata a un nome. Attaccato o staccato? C’ è un fatto che ancora oggi non riesco a spiegarmi. Il censimento napoleonico del 1808 mette fine alle incertezze consentite dalla traduzione di Le Bet Baruch: i Debenedetti sono “ufficialmente” attaccati. E così restano in tutti i documenti. Finché, credo negli anni ’30, alcuni, ma non tutti, prendono a scriversi staccati. Perché? Debolezze nobiliari? Fa ridere. Nicomedismo per sfuggire alle leggi razziali? Fa piangere. Io mi son costruito l’ipotesi che derivi dall’afflusso di funzionari del Mezzogiorno, dove il De Benedetti in tutte le sue varianti è diffuso, e ha tutta l’aria di essere parente degli Espositi, Diotallevi. Oggi, se non si dice niente, Debenedetti sul computer lo scrivono staccato.

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