Beauty and Profit: The Evolution of Beauty (2017) by Richard O. Prum

In 1860 Charles Darwin wrote to a colleague: “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail…makes me sick!” What was Darwin’s problem? He had just published On the Origin of Species, laying out his theory of evolution by natural selection. Yet he worried about seemingly maladaptive features of living organisms–like the peacock’s beautiful but cumbersome tail. In a later book, Darwin would argue that sexual selection also plays a major role in evolution. Yet to this day, as Richard Prum complains in his magnificent new book, The Evolution of Beauty, evolutionary biologists dismiss the possibility of anything besides natural selection. Likewise, mainstream economists dismiss the possibility that anything besides competition for profits could account for the economic world around us… . . . → Read More: Beauty and Profit: The Evolution of Beauty (2017) by Richard O. Prum

Dead Empires: How China May Overtake the U.S.

“The earth is the tomb of dead empires, no less than of dead men.” Thus wrote the American economist and journalist Henry George in his 1879 worldwide bestseller, Progress and Poverty. Adam Smith had identified cooperation and specialization—“the division of labor”—as the forces that generated economic growth and prosperity. George claimed that those same forces led eventually to collapse, as monopolization of land and other natural resources directed more and more wealth into ever fewer hands. Two astute observers have recently offered complementary predictions of the imminent demise of the American empire, and its replacement by China. . . . → Read More: Dead Empires: How China May Overtake the U.S.

The Mouse That Wouldn’t Die: How a Lack of Public Funding Holds Back a Promising Cancer Treatment

Spring 1999. “Professor Cui, this mouse didn’t get cancer. Should I get rid of him?” “There must have been a mistake,” said Cui, “Inject him again.” Two weeks later, still no cancer. “Try again with a higher dose!” Still no cancer. No cancer even at a million times the lethal dose. Cui decided to breed the mutant mouse. . . . → Read More: The Mouse That Wouldn’t Die: How a Lack of Public Funding Holds Back a Promising Cancer Treatment

Increasing the Minimum Wage Can Actually Create Jobs–If It’s Enforced

Back when I studied economics, we “proved” in class that a minimum wage causes unemployment. But that proof depends on assuming a perfectly competitive market. Big low-wage employers like Wal-Mart have substantial market power; they can deliberately under-staff operations to force down wages. In that case, a minimum wage increase can actually create jobs–if it can be enforced. . . . → Read More: Increasing the Minimum Wage Can Actually Create Jobs–If It’s Enforced

Taxing Carbon is Like Taxing Diamonds

A carbon tax would operate much like a diamond tax, for reasons both of demand and supply. . . . → Read More: Taxing Carbon is Like Taxing Diamonds

The Economics Anti-Textbook: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Microeconomics, by Rod Hill and Tony Myatt

It was the perfect “natural experiment:” in April 1992, New Jersey’s minimum-wage was scheduled to rise from $4.25 an hour to $5.05, while neighboring Pennsylvania’s minimum wage remained unchanged. Princeton economists David Card and Alan Krueger surveyed over 400 fast food outlets in both states, before and after the increase, in order to test the conventional economic wisdom that minimum wages cause unemployment. What did they find? No apparent effect on employment. None. Zip. Economic hell broke loose… . . . → Read More: The Economics Anti-Textbook: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Microeconomics, by Rod Hill and Tony Myatt

It Takes Government to Create Markets: Alex Marshall’s The Surprising Design of Market Economies

Conventional economics wittingly or unwittingly provides cover for the One Percent, by professing that “the market” operates benevolently on its own. Alex Marshall gives us an entertaining, thoughtful, and well-written antidote to this dangerous abstraction. . . . → Read More: It Takes Government to Create Markets: Alex Marshall’s The Surprising Design of Market Economies

It Takes Government to Create Markets: Alex Marshall’s The Surprising Design of Market Economies

Conventional economics wittingly or unwittingly provides cover for the One Percent, by professing that “the market” operates benevolently on its own. Alex Marshall gives us an entertaining, thoughtful, and well-written antidote to this dangerous abstraction. . . . → Read More: It Takes Government to Create Markets: Alex Marshall’s The Surprising Design of Market Economies

Is New Technology Destroying Jobs?

On the NewsHour Friday night, in response to the dismal new jobs numbers, Andrew McAfee of the MIT Center for Digital Business blames the loss on “powerful” new labor-saving technology. But if he’s right, is it the technology itself, or the large corporations that install it? . . . → Read More: Is New Technology Destroying Jobs?

The Monopolists in My Back Yard

When I read David Cay Johnston’s new book, The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind, realized that robbery is the least of it. Utility monopolies—a major focus of the book—increasingly cut corners on safety. ne such corner cut is coming to a neighborhood near me: it is a 30-inch high-pressure gas line passing under the Hudson into the West Village and heading north under Tenth Avenue. In December 2010, a 30-inch gas line blew up a block in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno, excavating a 4-story-deep trench, leveling 35 houses, killing 8 people and injuring 60 more… . . . → Read More: The Monopolists in My Back Yard