Introductory Post

The goal of this blog is to focus on long term problems while avoiding the pessimistic bias by recognizing the positive impact of human ingenuity compounding over long time periods

I’ve free ridden off of some of the very insightful analysis of the blogosphere for some time. This blog is my attempt to get some of my ideas out there and free ride off of the insightful commenters.

Below are a few of the themes that I think are important:

1. The time preference of the average person and average policy maker

There is a problem with the excessive focus on the short term. The existence of this focus is well documented in behavioral economic studies of hyperbolic discounting.  Policies that have tradeoffs with benefits in the short term vs. large expenses in the long term are often favored.  To take one example, the current state and local pension problems occurring all around the United States exist in part because the time preferences of politicians are far too short term.  Further more, demographic pressures mean that Keynes’s famous quote “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.” is changing to “In the medium run we are all dead” for more and more voters as the population of the developed world ages.

2. Globalization and its impact on the middle class of the developed world

Globalization is unequivocally increasing the wealth of this world. Basic comparative advantage proves that when trade is opened up, the pie grows. However, the inefficient producers of goods produced by new trading partners do often lose out. In this day and age, those inefficient producers tend to consist largely of the middle class of the developed world. The upper class has capital that is benefiting from globalization while the lower class has service jobs with manual labor that can’t be replicated by someone working for much cheaper when they are halfway across the globe.  The interesting question is whether the benefits of cheaper goods outweigh the costs of slightly worse jobs for the middle class.  Even with globalization, total compensation has been trending upwards for labor, people just don’t notice it because a lot of compensation goes towards labor costs and many simplistic commentators like showing the inflation adjusted household median income chart that leaves out noncash forms of compensation.  

Source: US Census and BLS

The other question is whether there is any policy that could have prevented these harms to the middle class short of attempts to keep the developing world undeveloped.  Even if the answer to that is no, this does not mean that there will not be a counter productive political attempts to reverse recent trends.

3. Resource constraints

Peak oil is the main resource constraint that comes to mind, but there are many long term issues with resources that are not being adequately addressed. Peak oil generally raises the cost of substitutable goods, making other forms of energy more expensive. This bleeds into other assets such as raising the cost aluminum, which is produced in an energy intensive fashion.  Water constraints are another important resource limitation on growth.  Other resources like rare earth elements or industrial metals may be more expensive due to short term supply and demand imbalances driven in part by the developing world. What makes peak oil more interesting than other basic resource problems is that the daily oil supply is running up against geologic constraints while other resource shortages generally last only as long as it takes for new mines to be built and brought online.

4. The entitlement mindset

A lot of people feel like they are owed a lot of things by society. They also believe that the average person shouldn’t be paying for these things. This is a trend that cannot continue.  Also relevant to this theme is the long term performance of countries with lots of foreign aid compared to countries that are less dependent on foreign aid.

5. Status driven trends

As the developed world gets richer, more and more money is spent on status and signaling related behavior. This has many unfortunate side effects.

6. Demographic issues

Source: UN Medium Variant Projections: The 2008 Revision

Charts like the one above are very common when discussing upcoming demographic problems.  The developed world is aging, and long term demographic trends are important beyond the basic “How are we going to pay for all of these old people?” questions.

 

 

2 responses
in line w/ resource constraints - nuanced scenarios with respect to elasticity of demand is important w/ respect to supply and price of resources --- http://www.econ.nyu.edu/dept/courses/gately/OilDemandDargayGatelyFeb2010.pdf
Very interesting, thank for the link. This research brings up the question of whether developing countries subsidizing oil consumption will be able to afford to continue doing so. These subsidies are responsible for a lot of EM oil demand growth and I didn't see the paper separate them out from their income elasticity calculations. The other question is whether the emerging market,s which believe to some extent in peak oil, will structure their economies in ways similar to the developed world which didn't believe in peak oil.

So far it seems to be the case that we are heading for higher oil prices, but there is a chance that some of those factors will change, or that oil production increases out of Iraq can prolong the current medium oil price status quo for a bit longer.