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September 24, 2022

Analysis

Africa’s Century of Growth?

On Morten Jerven’s The Wealth and Poverty of African States

On May 1, 2014, Nigeria’s then-president, Goodluck Jonathan, addressed a crowd of workers in the country’s capital Abuja.  He declared that “the challenge of the country is not poverty, but redistribution of wealth.” The prompt for his comment was a…

September 2, 2022

Reviews

Politics and Expertise

On Elizabeth Popp Berman’s Thinking Like an Economist and Paul Sabin’s Public Citizens

Explanations for the rise of neoliberal policymaking in the United States commonly take one of two forms: a political history or an intellectual history. The first focuses on the overlapping crises of the 1970s and the rebalancing political coalitions competing…

August 13, 2022

Analysis

Rating Sovereigns

Sovereign ratings in a financialized world

As dark clouds gather on the horizon of the global economy in the third year of the pandemic—with debt stocks swollen, interest costs rising, and growth undermined by energy insecurity and war—policy makers and pundits are anxiously watching sovereign credit…

August 5, 2022

Analysis

Pragmatic Prices

An excerpt from How China Escaped Shock Therapy

European and American traditions of economic theorizing on price control are intimately connected with war—practices and debates over price control peaked amid the two world wars. The experience of the First World War had been one of inflation and limited…

July 28, 2022

Reviews

The Last Days of Sound Finance

On Karen Petrou’s “Engine of Inequality”

When the Federal Reserve turned to unconventional monetary policy in 2008, many feared that we would soon see a return to the wage-price spiral of the 1970s. The combination of deficit spending and monetary ease raised the old specter of…

July 20, 2022

Interviews

The Economic Style

An interview with Beth Popp Berman

For some, neoliberalism is to blame for most, if not all, of our societal problems, as well as for the resistance to progressive changes that characterizes contemporary policymaking. This is for good reason. As has been extensively documented, the neoliberal…

July 16, 2022

Sources

In the midst of a global semiconductor shortage, the US Senate is considering a bill that would fund $52 billion in chip subsidies for domestic production. Today, the vast majority of semiconductors are produced in East Asia, and 90 percent…

July 7, 2022

Sources

Amid the ongoing global energy crisis, French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron has announced the full renationalization of Electricite de France (EDF), the country's decades old multinational electric utility company.

June 25, 2022

Sources

Amidst food shortages, an energy crisis, and a "complete collapse" of the economy, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa faces mass protests calling for his resignation. At the same time, the government is in negotiations with the IMF around a bailout deal. 

June 18, 2022

Sources

In March of this year, the London Metal Exchange suspended trading in nickel after a 250 percent price hike brought its value to $100,000 a ton. The cancellation has shaken the commodities exchange's reputation, and inspired a series of fierce…

June 11, 2022

Sources

This week, President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to boost clean energy production, including solar technology, heat pumps, insulation, green hydrogen, and transformers. In recent years, the DPA has strayed from its wartime connotations, from coordinating Covid-19 responses, and more…

June 10, 2022

Analysis

Leapfrog Logistics

Digital platforms, infrastructure, and labor in Brazil and China

In Spring 2018, two significant labor disputes broke out at opposite ends of the earth. The first, in Brazil, was a two-week-long mass strike of 400,000 truckers in response to successive price increases unleashed by the state oil company, Petrobras,…

June 2, 2022

Reviews

General Theories

On Stephen Marglin’s Raising Keynes

In 2022, the audience for books about John Maynard Keynes is probably as large as it has ever been. With two global economic crises followed by widespread use of government interventions, debates recently relegated to history books and academic journals…

May 28, 2022

Sources

This weekend's presidential elections in Colombia could result in the victory of the country's first leftist leader, a center-right former mayor, or a right-wing populist. A central issue is the fate of the 2016 peace deal, with crucial questions around…

May 21, 2022

Sources

This week, labor markets across the US and Europe exhibited seemingly inconsistent trends: while unemployment is at historic lows, claims for unemployment benefits are on the rise, and despite rising overall incomes, many workers face increased financial stress.

May 19, 2022

Analysis

Politics and the Price Level

Inflation and the governance of prices

In 1959, the leaders of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC, now the OECD) appointed a Group of Independent Experts “to study the experience of rising prices” in the recent history of the advanced capitalist countries. Between the end…

May 7, 2022

Sources

Since 2018, the Turkish lira has suffered repeated devaluation shocks, increasing rates of loan default and unemployment. These have only been compounded by the pandemic and the Russian invasian of Ukraine—this week, inflation rates in Turkey have skyrocketed to nearly…

May 4, 2022

Analysis

Weimar Themes

Hilferding, Sohn-Rethel, and Hamilton

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has flung the international order into crisis. Understanding the causes of such cataclysms requires understanding not only the interests of states, but also the shape of society—its internal tensions, as well as its material and cultural…

April 30, 2022

Sources

Exxon recently announced three oil discoveries off the coast of Guyana, increasing the company's recoverable oil potential in the country to 11 billion barrels. These discoveries have added to the high likelihood of Guyana becoming a major global oil producer in the…

April 30, 2022

Analysis

The Whole Field

Markets, planning, and coordinating the green transformation

In recent years, an intense debate has unfolded over the policy and politics of the green transition. Politically, the tide appears to be receding: As the Biden agenda has lost momentum and rising inflation moves center stage, the near-term prospects…

March 19, 2022

Sources

In December 1973, Richard Nixon announced the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act as a response to the oil crisis, arguing that making the time change permanent would reduce energy usage with "only a minimum of inconvenience." Nearly fifty years…

March 5, 2022

Sources

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a quarter of the world's wheat supply, leading to concern about the invasion's impact on global wheat markets and food security. Global dependence on wheat is a relatively new phenomenon, emerging in the postwar…

February 19, 2022

Sources

The pandemic imposed major stress on municipal budgets around the world, with many local governments facing a mix of decreasing revenues and increasing expenditures. In the United States, municipal budgets—which saw smaller revenue losses than expected—reflected a range of taxing…

February 3, 2022

Analysis

Acute Dollar Dominance

The dollar system, original sin, and sovereign debt since the pandemic.

In early 2020, the “dash for cash” in the US Treasury market prompted the Fed to relaunch its dollar swap lines, which it eventually did in mid-March of that year. In the aftermath of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC),…

January 12, 2022

Analysis

Controlled Prices

The history and politics of price controls and economic management in the United States

In the decades after the Civil War, Andrew Carnegie captured the American steel industry by pushing down prices. So effective was the Scottish-born telegraph operator at reducing costs, breaking cartels, and driving competition into bankruptcy during the downturns of the…

January 8, 2022

Sources

Wealth and political power often come from property ownership, but the dynamics of real estate transactions are often invisible to the general public. Absent a national property database, researchers in the United States are left sifting through tax parcel data…

November 23, 2021

Analysis

Trade and Growth

Revisiting the effects of trade liberalization on economic growth

According to a survey on free trade from the University of Chicago, economists overwhelmingly agree that free trade’s net effects are good. A recent article by several  IMF economists affirms that, “perhaps more than on any other issue, there is…

November 6, 2021

Analysis

Titans

Tracing the rise and the politics of asset manager capitalism

In mid October 2021, when BlackRock revealed its third quarter results, the asset management behemoth announced it was just shy of $10 trillion in assets under management. It’s a vast sum, “roughly equivalent to the entire global hedge fund, private…

November 4, 2021

Analysis

Manufacturing Stagnation

Intellectual property, industrial organization, and economic growth

$5.3 trillion of US federal government stimulus and relief spending have returned the economy to its pre-Covid growth trajectory. But that growth trajectory was hardly robust—either before or after the 2008 financial crisis. Nor was the slow decay of GDP…

October 23, 2021

Sources

Since the mid-19th century, municipal debt has been responsible for funding some of the most significant investments in US infrastructure, schools, and social services. But rising risks of climate-related flooding threaten the value of municipal bonds, often in cities which…

September 18, 2021

Analysis

Developmentalisms

The forgotten ancestors of East Asian developmentalism

2021 marked the centenary of the creation of the Chinese Communist Party, born of the May Fourth Movement of 1919. History textbooks tend to claim that the Movement emerged out of a widespread realization that China’s rights as a victorious…

August 14, 2021

Sources

75 percent of US firms currently make use of non-disclosure agreements. Originally developed to protect trade secrets, today's agreements have expanded to include information on salaries, skills, client lists, and employment practices.

August 11, 2021

Analysis

Built Trades

Employer claims of unavailable labor are rooted in an unwillingness to raise wages and the long-term decline of the nation’s system of training and allocating labor

As the American economy reopened in the first half of 2021, reports of a “labor shortage” spread throughout US industries. But there was one sector where employer panic about hiring was old news: the massive and decentralized US construction industry.

July 31, 2021

Sources

MICRO-STRATEGY Accounts of major historical shifts tend to treat states as unified actors responding to external incentives. In a new article, INGA RADEMACHER complicates this assumption. Drawing on archival documents from the German Federal Cabinet and Bundesbank Council from 1960-1981,…

July 10, 2021

Sources

Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on Wednesday, plunging the country into greater political unrest following months of protests around Moïse's controversial decision to rule by decree.

July 2, 2021

Analysis

Repressing Labor, Empowering China

Cheap money will boost inequality and geopolitical tension but not inflation

Though the lockdown in 2020 threw many workers out of work, the big fiscal stimulus, fueled by government debt and an unprecedentedly large monetary expansion, offered stimulus checks and elevated unemployment benefits to millions of Americans.

June 26, 2021

Sources

Since the 2000 World Water Forum in The Hague, governance over water resources has gained salience in international development discourse. The allocation of rights (to technology and decisionmaking) and resources (both financial and natural) has shaped local economies in the…

June 8, 2021

Analysis

The Crisis Canal

Trade, bond markets, Suez, and the Ever Given.

Why did the Ever Given capture our collective imaginations? At the end of its week in the spotlight, the poet Kamran Javadizadeh wrote: “I too am ‘partially refloated,’ I too remain stuck in the Suez Canal.” Two fluorescent yellow-vested construction…

May 22, 2021

Sources

Recent events in Gaza and Colombia have led to calls for the conditioning of foreign aid—a controversial but longstanding element of the US foreign policy toolkit for pursuing economic and political aims abroad.

May 1, 2021

Sources

Millions of workers in global supply chains have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

April 10, 2021

Sources

Amid the global Covid-19 vaccination campaign, a debate has emerged around intellectual property (IP) and stark inequalities in vaccine distribution. Wealthier nations have opposed a petition to waive the 1995 Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, which imposes…

April 6, 2021

Analysis

Risks and Crises

On market makers and risk managers post-2008.

For a long time, Bagehot’s rule, “lend freely, against good collateral, but at a high rate,” restored the Fed’s control over the money market and helped end banking panics and systemic banking crises. This control evaporated on September 15, 2008,…

March 27, 2021

Sources

Frequent mass shootings and recurring political struggle over gun control measures are uniquely American social phenomena.

March 20, 2021

Sources

Debates concerning the relative role of structure versus agency in explaining social phenomena has endured for decades. Drawing parallels between the teleology of nineteenth century approaches and more modern, variable-oriented research methods, historian WILLIAM SEWELL JR's 2005 book reflects on…

March 6, 2021

Sources

Deindustrialization is a key orienting point for research in political economy. But around the world, factory production remains significant, with employment in industry constituting between one-fifth and one-third of total employment in large economies.

February 20, 2021

Sources

Earlier this week, millions of households lost power in the face of a powerful snowstorm. While these numbers are unusual, they are not new—the US suffers among the most frequent power outages of any industrialized country, concentrated especially in rural…

January 22, 2021

Analysis

Inflation, Specific and General

The many causes and effects of inflation.

Concerns over a generalized “inflation” loom in the recovery. Yet the prices that most heavily factor into the cost of living for US workers—housing, health, and education—have already been rising for decades. The question we should be asking is whether…

January 16, 2021

Analysis

Supercomputer

The Control Data Corporation and global value chains.

In March 1976, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Defense (DOD), William “Bill” Clements invited William “Bill” C. Norris, CEO and Chairman of the supercomputer producer Control Data Corporation (CDC) to a closed-door meeting at the Pentagon.

January 9, 2021

Analysis

The Deflationary Bloc

Hyman Minsky and the politics of inflation.

An effective way to write the history of the last thirty years of the twentieth century,” economist Albert Hirschman wrote in 1985, “may well be to focus on the distinctive reactions of various countries to the identical issue of worldwide…

November 25, 2020

Interviews

Development, Growth, Power

An interview with Amit Bhaduri.

Amit Bhaduri was internationally selected professor at Pavia University and visiting Professor at the Council for Social Development, Delhi University. His six books and more than sixty journal articles have consistently scrutinized the foundations of neoclassical economic theory and presented…

September 28, 2020

Sources

It is well known that the share of the global labor force working in services has risen precipitously over the past several decades, with nearly half of all workers around the globe now counted in the service sector. Scholarly work…

September 5, 2020

Analysis

Hot Oil

Gardiner Means, administered prices, and why the Texas Railroad Commission should regulate oil production again.

Even at the depth of the Great Depression, oil producers were always paid a positive price for their product. But on April 20 of this year the price of West Texas Intermediate oil traded for negative prices, reaching a record…

August 8, 2020

Interviews

Economics, Bosses, and Interest

An interview with Stephen Marglin.

Stephen Marglin is Walter S. Barker Professor Economics at Harvard University, where he has taught since he received tenure in 1968.

June 30, 2020

Sources

Brazil's Bolsa Familia is widely credited with lifting more than 20 million people out of extreme poverty, making it a global model for anti-poverty initiatives. Developed as part of a broader theory of equitable development, it serves as the basis…

June 15, 2020

Sources

As debate and discussion continues over reforms to US policing, attention has been drawn to the share of municipal and state budgets dedicated to police departments. While a useful proxy of governmental priorities, these budgets only tell part of the…

April 3, 2020

Analysis

Crisis and Recovery

The underlying problems in the US economy

Today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report hardly registers the cataclysm in the US job market. The sharp 0.9 percent uptick in unemployment—itself newsworthy—only grasps the very beginnings of the shutdown of the American economy.

March 31, 2020

Sources

The need to formulate a unified COVID response has placed pressure on European integration in recent days, with Germany and the Netherlands resisting Southern European calls for the issuing of "coronabonds." A 2018 paper by John Ryan and John Loughlin…

March 25, 2020

Analysis

The First Services Recession

The shape of the Covid-19 recession

It is hard to see how the United States can avoid a recession. Unemployment insurance claims have already surged, and this week's numbers look to be in the millions.

March 25, 2020

Sources

This week, reports swirled regarding President Trump's invocation of the Defense Production Act—a 1950 law passed to manage production in the context of the Korean War—to meet the coming demand of crucial medical supplies to treat people with COVID-19. Much…

February 27, 2020

Analysis

The Economics of Race

On the neoclassical and stratification theories of race

Black America has had less wealth, less income, less education, and poorer health than white America for as long as records have been kept.

February 6, 2020

Analysis

Decision Making in a Dynamic World

Exploring the limits of Expected Utility

I once wrote a post criticizing modern microeconomic models as both overly complex and unrealistic, leading their practitioners into theoretical dead ends without much corresponding increase in explanatory power. I suggested the entire enterprise of Expected Utility (EU) was a…

November 22, 2019

Analysis

Development and Displacement

The effects of big development initiatives

Infrastructure lies at the heart of development. From transportation and telecommunication networks to electrical grids and water pipelines, large-scale infrastructure projects play a pivotal role in the global development landscape.

October 28, 2019

Sources

Tax reform is at the forefront of contemporary policy debate. US citizens pay taxes at lower rates than their European counterparts, and a growing number of researchers agree that progressive taxes on wealth and income have the potential to rectify…

October 24, 2019

Interviews

Throughout his career, John Roemer's work has been uniquely situated between the fields of microeconomics, game theory, philosophy, and political science. His research makes use of the tools of classical economics to analyze dynamics typically thought to be outside the…

September 23, 2019

Sources

Recent years have seen a surge in scholarship that critically evaluates the origins and impact of the law and economics movement. Out of the many theoretical bedrocks of the movement, the Coase Theorem is one of the most significant. Stemming…

September 16, 2019

Sources

Two weeks ago today marked the passing of the great Immanual Wallerstein. His work has had resounding influence across fields: from literature, to legal theory, education, development studies, and international relations. Among his foremost contributions is the four volume Modern…

September 12, 2019

Analysis

Money Parables

Three competing theories of money

In the past year, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has shifted the policy debate in a way that few heterodox schools of economic thought have in recent memory.

July 22, 2019

Sources

At the Phenomenal World, we have been publishing pieces covering a wide-range of topics, many of which are common ground in this newsletter. Below, in no particular order, is a round-up of some recent work in case you missed it.

May 3, 2019

Interviews

How Do States Pay for Wars?

An interview with Rosella Cappella Zielinski

Academic study of war in the social sciences is as old as historiography itself, and political economists have considered the economic logic of war and peace for centuries. Yet social scientists have left several questions on the financing of conflict…

March 19, 2019

Analysis

Ideology in AP Economics

Uncovering the ideology embedded in economics

When the media talks about ideological indoctrination in education, it is usually assumed to refer to liberal arts professors pushing their liberal agenda. Less discussed is the very different strain of ideology found in economics.

November 9, 2018

Analysis

Banking with Imprecision

How medieval financiers lent in the age of uncertainty

​In 1596, Spanish troops under the leadership of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia set fire to their own ships in the waters near Cadiz. The sinking of these thirty-two vessels was a tactical necessity: a joint Anglo-Dutch navy had annihilated the…