Above a certain level of income, the relative value of material consumption vis-a-vis leisure time is diminished, so earning a higher income at the cost of working longer hours may reduce the quality of your life. More importantly, the fact that the citizens of a country work longer than others in comparable countries does not necessarily mean that they like working longer hours. They may be compelled to work long hours, even if they actually want to take longer holidays.
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Since the 1980s, we have given the rich a bigger slice of our pie in the belief that they would create more wealth, making the pie bigger than otherwise possible in the long run. The rich got the bigger slice of the pie all right, but they have actually reduced the pace at which the pie is growing.
All the alleged key causes of SOE [State-Owned Enterprise] inefficiency the principal-agent problem, the free-rider problem and the soft budget constraint are, while real, not unique to state-owned enterprises. Large private-sector firms with dispersed ownership also suffer from the principal-agent problem and the free-rider problem. So, in these two areas, forms of ownership do matter, but the critical divide is not between state and private ownership it is between concentrated and dispersed ownerships.
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Self-interest, to be sure, is one of the most important, but we have many other motives - honesty, self-respect, altruism, love, sympathy, faith, sense of duty, solidarity, loyalty, public-spiritedness, patriotism, and so on - that are sometimes even more important than self-seeking as the driver of our behaviors.
If the world were full of the self-seeking individuals found in economics textbooks, it would grind to a halt because we would be spending most of our time cheating, trying to catch the cheaters, and punishing the caught. The world works as it does only because people are not the totally self seeking agents that free-market economics believes them to be. We need to design an economic system that, while acknowledging that people are often selfish, exploits other human motives to the full and gets the best out of people. The likelihood is that, if we assume the worst about people, we will get the worst out of them.
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Equality of opportunity is not enough. Unless we create an environment where everyone is guaranteed some minimum capabilities through some guarantee of minimum income, education, and healthcare, we cannot say that we have fair competition. When some people have to run a 100 metre race with sandbags on their legs, the fact that no one is allowed to have a head start does not make the race fair. Equality of opportunity is absolutely necessary but not sufficient in building a genuinely fair and efficient society.
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Between the Great Depression and the 1970s, private business was viewed with suspicion even in most capitalist economies. Businesses were, so the story goes, seen as anti-social agents whose profit-seeking needed to be restrained for other, supposedly loftier, goals, such as justice, social harmony, protection of the weak and even national glory.
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In manufacturing, where mechanization and the use of chemical processes are much easier, it is easier to raise productivity than in services. In contrast, by their very nature, many service activities are inherently impervious to productivity increase without diluting the quality of the product.
As South Korea shows, active participation in international trade does not require free trade. Indeed, had South Korea pursued free trade and not promoted infant industries, it would not have become a major trading nation. It would still be exporting raw materials (e.g., tungsten ore, fish, seaweed) or low-technology, low-price products (e.g., textiles, garments, wigs made with human hair) that used to be its main export items in the 1960s.
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The danger is not only that these austerity measures are killing the European economies but also that they threaten the very legitimacy of European democracies - not just directly by threatening the livelihoods of so many people and pushing the economy into a downward spiral, but also indirectly by undermining the legitimacy of the political system through this backdoor rewriting of the social contract.
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If we are really serious about preventing another crisis like the 2008 meltdown we should simply ban complex financial instruments, unless they can be unambiguously shown to benefit society in the long run. This is what we do all the time with other products-drugs, cars, electrical products and many others.
The widely accepted assertion that, only if you let markets be will everyone be paid correctly and thus fairly, according to his worth, is a myth. Only when we part with this myth and grasp the political nature of the market and the collective nature of individual productivity will we be able to build a more just society in which historical legacies and collective actions, and not just individual talents and efforts, are properly taken into account in deciding how to reward people.
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The days are over when technology can be advanced in laboratories by individual scientists alone. Now you need an army of lawyers to negotiate the hazardous terrain of interlocking patents. Unless we find a solution to the problem of interlocking patents, the patent system may actually impede the very innovation it was designed to encourage.
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It takes time and experience to absorb new technologies, so technologically backward producers need a period of protection from international competition during this period of learning. Such protection is costly, because the country is giving up the chance to import better and cheaper products. However, it is a price that has to be paid if it wants to develop advanced industries.
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Patent monopoly creates a lot of problems. It allows the patentee to charge the maximum to consumers. This may not be a problem if the patented product is a luxury item, like parts that go into a smartphone, but can violate basic human rights if it involves things such as life-saving drugs.
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Imagine if all those kings and dukes hadn't commissioned those crazy cathedrals, paintings and music... we'd still be living in sticks and mud. Because none of those things made any economic sense. Human beings' capacity to 'waste time' is a miracle - but that's exactly what art is for.
A lot of things that we cannot buy and sell in markets used to be totally legal objects of market exchange - human beings when we had slavery, child labour, human organs, and so on. So there is no economic theory that actually says that you shouldn't have slavery or child labour because all these are political, ethical judgments.
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Economics should be defined in terms of what it is about. It should be about how people produce things, how people exchange them, how people earn income, how they pay taxes, how the government provides infrastructure with tax revenue, and how it conducts monetary policy. The subject has to be defined in terms of the object of inquiry.