What if the Government is Just Another Firm? (Part 1)

September 17, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. I have a confession. I’m a political economist by trade, but I spend most of my time reading outside my discipline. I read about physics, cosmology, biology … the list goes on. Basically, if it’s not political economy, I read it. Usually this reading doesn’t relate to … Read more

Understanding Income: You Can’t Get There from Here

September 5, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. You can’t get the right answer when you ask the wrong question. This truism, I’ve come to believe, explains much of what is wrong with economics. When it comes to studying income, economists ask the wrong question. Economists, I argue, have mostly asked: is income fair? The … Read more

How Do You Spot a Crank?

August 19, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. I confess that I have a recurring nightmare. In it, I realize that everything I’ve ever written about economics is wrong. Neoclassical economics is not, as I’ve repeatedly claimed, a pile of bullshit. In this nightmare, neoclassical economics is correct. And as a strident critic of neoclassical … Read more

Some Sunshine on the Ontario Job Hierarchy

August 11, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. Income, I’ve come to believe, is shaped largely by rank within a hierarchy. If you’re at the top of a hierarchy, you’ll earn a handsome sum. But if you’re at the bottom of a hierarchy, you’ll earn a pittance. As a hard-nosed scientist, I’m always looking for … Read more

Death Anxiety and the Political Economy of Power

August 11, 2020

THINKING ABOUT DEATH I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. No, it’s not something that came about because of the global pandemic and my new daily ritual of checking graphs on COVID-19 death tolls around the world. It started a few years back when I became interested in the philosophy of consciousness and thinking about consciousness served … Read more

The Productivity of Bullshit Jobs

July 25, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. I recently read David Graeber’s book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. If you’re not familiar, David Graeber is the anthropologist who wrote Debt: The First 5000 Years, a seminal book on the history of money and credit. In Bullshit Jobs, Graeber takes aim at pointless work. Graeber describes … Read more

The Power Ethos in the US Military

July 19, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. In How Hierarchy Can Mediate the Returns to Education I examined the pay structure of the US military. I found that hierarchical rank is (by far) the strongest determinant of military pay. Here I want to show you that there is a regularity to military pay. In … Read more

How Hierarchy Can Mediate the Returns to Education

July 12, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. In The Social Environment as a Cause in Economics I argued that human behavior has two parts: Individual variation An environment that acts on this variation To illustrate these two parts, I used the example of the peppered moth. This species comes in two colors — black … Read more

The Social Environment as a Cause in Economics

July 4, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. Have you noticed that economists are missing a word in their vocabulary? In microeconomics you’ll see words like ‘individual’, ‘utility’ and ‘maximize’. But you won’t see the word ‘environment’ anywhere. It seems that in microeconomics, individuals maximize their utility in a void. [1] This lobotomy of the … Read more

Ten Tips For Doing Open Science

June 23, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. Science is the quintessential public good. It’s an iterative process in which new knowledge builds on previous knowledge. For this process to work, science needs to be ‘open’. Both the results and methods of scientific research need to be freely available for all. The open science movement … Read more

Productivity Does Not Explain Wages

June 14, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. Does productivity explain income? I asked this question in a previous post. My answer was a bombastic no. In this post, I’ll dig deeper into the reasons that productivity doesn’t explain income. I’ll focus on wages. The evidence Let’s start with the evidence trumpeted as proof that … Read more

The Tyranny of Meritocracy

June 6, 2020

Originally published on Economics from the Top Down. Like many Canadians, I grew up with a faith in meritocracy. Do your best, I believed, and the world would reward you. In school, this idea seemed self-evidently true. I worked hard, and was rewarded with good grades and praise from teachers. And those students who didn’t … Read more