Professor John Cochrane of the Hoover Institution discusses the importance of free markets for economic growth and highlights stagnating growth as the biggest economic issue of our time. John talks about what may be his next book, “Free to Grow,” which aims to update Milton and Rose Friedman’s “Free to Choose” for today’s world. After John speaks, show host Gene Tunny interviews him about his views on growth and his controversial Fiscal Theory of the Price Level. This is a recording of a live event at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney on 26 September 2023.
About Professor John Cochrane
John H. Cochrane is the Rose-Marie and Jack Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is also a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and an adjunct scholar of the CATO Institute.
Before joining Hoover, Cochrane was a Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and earlier at its Economics Department. Cochrane earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at MIT and his PhD in economics at the University of California at Berkeley. He was a junior staff economist on the Council of Economic Advisers (1982–83).
For more on John, check out his bio here:
What’s covered in EP214
- 00:03:36 Importance of economic growth.
- 00:16:06 Incentives drive productivity and growth.
- 00:17:12 Regulation hinders economic growth.
- 00:22:59 Fixing problems requires better solutions.
- 00:28:53 Fixing social programs by embracing free markets.
- 00:39:28 Regulatory state causing innovation slowdown.
- 00:46:24 Free market healthcare benefits the poor in John’s view.
- 00:48:47 Fiscal Theory of the Price Level: Inflation caused by government debt.
- 00:53:56 Avoid old left-right division.
- 01:05:21 Government debt may lead to a sovereign debt crisis.
Links relevant to the conversation
Video of the Free to Grow event on YouTube:
CIS web post about the Free to Grow event:
Transcript: John Cochrane on Free Markets & Economic Growth and the Fiscal Theory of the Price Level – EP214
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It was then looked at by a human, Tim Hughes from Adept Economics, who did his best to decipher some tricky dialogue that otters understandably missed. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.
Gene Tunny 00:03
Yeah, John has written this immense book. It’s fascinating. I’ve picked it up but then I discovered I had to buy three more books to be able to, to interpret it. But it’s it is it’s, it’s terrific.
John Cochrane 00:17
Get past, past, just ignore the chapters to the equations and get to the fun stuff…
Gene Tunny 00:26
I’m getting through it!
Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory, evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show.
Hello, thanks for tuning in to the show. In late September, renowned US economist Professor John Cochrane spoke at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney. I’m an adjunct Fellow at CIS and I was lucky enough to interview John after his talk, and I also moderated the Q&A session. John is usually based at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, but he was visiting Australia and New Zealand to attend conferences held by the central banks of both countries. The theme of the event that CIS held was “Free to Grow”. John emphasised the importance of free markets for economic growth, and how stagnating growth is the big issue of our time in his view. After his talk, which I’m replaying entirely because it’s so good, I asked John about his views on economic growth and about his controversial fiscal theory of the price level. So stay listening to hear what he says about that. If you’d like to watch the video version of the CIS event, it’s available on YouTube. And I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. I’ve edited the audio so it’s a bit shorter. But if you’d like to hear the whole thing, including a great introduction of John by the CEO of CIS Tom Switzer, then check out the video, I’d be interested in what you think about what either John or I have to say in this episode. So please get in touch. Contact details are in the show notes. Okay, let’s get into the episode. I hope you enjoy it.
John Cochrane 02:24
Thank you. Thanks, it truly is a pleasure to be here. You may ask why, why do I visit central banks rather than just coming to talk to you? The answer is because central banks pay business class, you know, you know who pay, who prints the money. So I want to tell you a little bit about a project that I’m on. I call it Free To Grow. I hope it’s the next book, you’ll notice the allusion to Free To Choose. But Free to Choose was nearly 50 years ago. And it’s time to update it for today’s world and today’s problems. And it really amounts to I’ve been blogging and writing op eds, and so forth for about 15 years now. It’s time to put all that together in one place, which I discovered is not as simple as copy paste. Because you copy paste and you get immense amounts, it means copy, paste and boil down. And that’s much much harder than I thought. So part of that process is to come to talk to people like you where I have to boil it down, because after half an hour, you’re gonna fall asleep. And we can’t go on and on too far. So thank you for coming. What is the most important economic issue of, you know, facing us or the globe or anyone else? Is it climate change, inequality, unemployment, recession? The answer is none of the above, long term growth, the one that nobody talks about now, to get you to think about growth, why it’s a problem and why we need to do something about it. Let me ask you another quiz question. When was the best economy ever? Now a lot of my left wing friends, they’ll point ah the 1950s were just wonderful because, you know, the economy was growing and middle class jobs and so forth. 1950 the average American income was $15,000 in real terms, today it is $60,000. 15 versus 60. Which do you want? It’s not even close. The absolute best economy ever, in all of human history is right now. by a long shot, unless you want 15 versus 60. Now gee, this is GDP per capita and it evokes yawns, but I want to get you excited about it. GDP per capita is not just about more stuff. It’s about first of all better stuff. That household in the 1950 at a tiny house badly insulated, terrible cars that rusted immediately. One maybe black and white TV, health care. You know, they they all smoke. But you know most things you know if you got cancer in 1950 well, they you know, it’s cheap and then they’ll send in the priest. GDP per capita is health, environment, education, culture, defence, social programmes or any hope of repaying government debt, GDP per capita, that people look down on it, but it correlates with everything else. I’m trying to appeal to the progressives in the audience, which might be a few, but we nonetheless, we have to listen. You want to eliminate extreme, you know, extreme poverty, health, child mortality, clean water, all of those things are just collapsing the number of people who live in extreme poverty around the globe is is fallen dramatically. Child mortality what our ancestors even 100 150 years ago, many of their children died. And as a father and grandfather, I cannot imagine that heartbreak that’s just practically unknown, that comes from GDP that comes from economic growth that comes from it’s all part of it. Even you know, things like parks and a clean environment that that all cool, you have to be able to avoid that stuff. One of the things I find most shocking is the new degrowth movement. A lot of the climate movement will admit that it’s really not about the climate, it’s about an excuse to stop growth, and go back to some idea of the farm. These people have never been on an actual farm, say in India, and had to go get the water by hand first thing every morning. It’s just and it’s also annoys me because how much how much does the world economy have to grow before everyone can enjoy the standard of living of say, a social justice activist who likes to fly private jets to Davos we got along great growth before that, for that can happen. GDP is actually a vast undercount. People say, Oh, it doesn’t include, you know, parks and so forth. But it’s a vast undercount of how much better off we are now than than in the past. Among other things, it’s you know, it’s at market prices, it doesn’t count willingness to pay. If you remember, your your economics, the willingness to pay is always much greater than the market price, we get Google Maps for free, that’s worth a lot GDP counts it as nothing, and no medicines, medicines may be expensive. But if you’re about to die, you’d be willing to pay a whole lot more than that $10,000 it costs. A lot of our progressive friends worry about, oh, you know, we’ll run we can’t keep growing forever. That’s wrong. GDP is not just more stuff. First of all, we keep forecasting the end of resources, and it keeps not happening. But where we’re going GDP is the value of things, it’s producing valuable things for your fellow citizens. You know, it’s it’s funny, they say, oh, it’s immoral to go make a profit, you should go do social justice, the most moral thing you can do is to get up in the morning work hard for your fellow citizens. And and and they pay you for it, which shows you how valuable it is to them. But what we are doing, you know, where we’re going is the services economy, the economy of the future, the GDP of the future, will be for example, health, it will be the ability to to live longer and to conquer diseases and to live happier that that doesn’t take a lot of materials. Now I emphasised across time 15,000 in … from like 1,000 in the 1800s 15,0oo in the 1950s, 60,000 today, this is just an enormous increase in prosperity. Let’s look across countries. What’s the economic problem for India? Should they worry about recession? Should they worry about inequality? Well, their income is 2000. Our income is 60,000. The number one question for India is how to be more like us. That’s just orders of magnitude more important. Even China’s only only 20,000. This swamps these kinds of numbers 15 to 60, 2,000 to 60,000, that swamps every other economic issue. A recession is maybe a fall of 2 to 5%. We’re talking orders of magnitude. Climate is as you know, in the news, let’s just take the IPCC reports that say this will cost us 5% of GDP in 100 years, 5% of GDP versus, you know, doubling tripling, quadrupling, the process of growth. India $2,000 plus or minus 5%, or $2,000 to $60,000. And this is just the swamps, that that kind of issue. Now the question is, will this continue? As long as we’re thinking climate change and the economy of 100 years from now, instead of 5%? better off, will growth continue at say 2% a year? Well, then it’s 200% better in 100 years or three times better than today? If it was 4%, we would be five times better than today. That’s Those are big numbers two times better than today four times better than today or just like today that the the end of growth. So the question I see for Western society is will that continue? And the danger is the creeping stagnation, but it may not continue. The US from 1950 to 2000 grew per capita three and a half percent a year. Since 2000. It’s been 2%. We’re cutting the growth rate nearly in half. And the US as much as I will bemoan it is doing better than everywhere else, except maybe Australia, you guys are catching up. But Italy, my favourite country to go visit stopped growing in in 20, in 2010, just a disaster, Europe, Europe is falling behind, the UK, mother country to us both the UK is half as well off as the US in GDP per capita. And it’s just it’s stagnating and going nowhere, you know, half again, I’m going to I’m going to pick on climate, not because climate isn’t important, but just to get a sense of proportionality of what’s important relative to other things, the crisis of climate change 5% of GDP in 100 years, relative to doubling the UK GDP per capita, if they could just be like the US, you know, so climate change is, you know, that UK versus us is 10 times worse than the damage of climate change, we should be paying attention to long term growth and that and that convergence. So for us, the issue is is stagnating growth, and if it keeps going whether our children and grandchildren will experience what we did relative to our grandparents, of course, for for India, for China, for Africa, the ability to live lives like we do in 100 years, rather than be stuck in grinding poverty forever. That is the most important issue. So where does growth come from? Productivity. In the end, it’s all about what can each person produce per hour. It’s about supply. It’s about efficiency. It’s not about stimulus demand, central banks sending money out. It’s not about it’s not about unions. So why are why are we all wealthy? Because our grant, say your grandfather likely worked in a mine. And it’s 1890 and kaboom with a pick? Did Did we get richer because unions made the profits of the mine go to the worker, and now he gets, you know, 50 cents an hour rather than 25 cents an hour at the pick? No, it’s because now the mine is run with some enormous machine. And everybody else moved to the city and got nice jobs like we have. It’s about productivity. In turn, it’s actually, something is really stuck in our in our policy discussion. It’s always 1933. It’s jobs. It’s stimulus. No, Keynes is dead. We’re stuck with the long run. And the long run is about growth and supply. Where does productivity come from? In the end ideas, ideas, not just products and inventions, the you know, the iPhone, we all we all understand that’s an idea. But the little ideas of how to run businesses better. My my favourites is I spent a lot of time Southwest Airlines if you ever travel in the US, they figured out how to board an aeroplane in 10 minutes, United still takes us 30 minutes because we’re all going there fighting for the overhead bins then you swim upstream to check your bags. That is productivity growth. 10 minutes to board a plane versus 30 minutes to board a plane. Every little thing, you know old fashioned businesses like steel, steel I just found out in the US is is cut by at least in half how many man hours it takes to make us a tonne of steel, the yields on boring things like wheat, are just boom, boom, boom up every year. That’s the slow improvements in how do we do things. So it’s ideas. And ideas are very tricky, economically the crucial event and I’m gonna say something that you probably won’t like. The crucial thing about an idea is that it’s what we call non rival, its intellectual property. iPhone property, real property if you use, take my iPhone, I can’t use it anymore. If you take my wonderful recipe for spaghetti alla Puttanesca I can still use it. It doesn’t hurt me at all for you as you use it. Now, why are we all upset about intellectual property? Intellectual property, Once created, should be used by everybody immediately and then we’re all more productively. Why are we so upset about intellectual property? Well, you do need the incentive to create it. But you only need the incentive to create it. It’s it’s tricky that way. Universities you know, my business is creating intellectual property and giving it away for free. That is the good thing. Now that leads you to say, well, we should subsidise research. We should subsidise new ideas. No, no, no, don’t jump to that fact many of my growth theory economist jumped to you know, subsidised research. That’s the answer to producing new ideas. The problem is and let me tell you for sure because I work in a university. It is very easy to subsidise terrible ideas. You know in In the past, there used to be theology departments, whatever, I don’t know what you think religiously, but that doesn’t improve productivity. Now, it’s called departments of intersectional studies, which is the same thing. But it does not lead to productivity gains is what what matters with us whether you want, it is easy to fill academic journals with BS. So we need ideas. And for us, we need new ideas and better ideas. It’s much easier for China, India and Africa, because the ideas are there, they just need to copy. The only reason, the only reason India is not as productive as the US is they don’t do things the way the US does. Their technology, their productivity is not as high, which is a whole bunch of things, education, legal system, management, all the rest of it, but they don’t have to invent anything new. They just have to copy ideas, and it’s not going to hurt us, for them them to copy them. Ideas need to be embodied. So ideas, not just ideas, lots of inventions that are that they need to be embodied, usually a new products, new businesses, new ways of doing things. So they need incentives. And that is, I don’t really call it free market economy, economics, I call it incentive economics. That is the one thing we have to offer. Nobody else pays attention to incentives. Our job is to pay you need the incentives to take those ideas and implement them in new products, new businesses, and every step is hard. We think of growth as 2%. For years just gonna happen. No, every one of those 2% is is is is hard work to do things a little better, and to upset the established order. The problem is, every step is disruptive. So think about Uber and taxis. Easy example, Uber comes in, obviously better, right? We get cheaper rides, cars get used, people get employment opportunities, part time work, and who hates it? The taxi companies. Now I don’t know what happened here. But what happened in the US is just an unholy mess. The taxi companies had been protected forever. They, they they don’t like it. Nobody, don’t count on businesses to be for free markets, businesses hate free markets. Businesses want protection from competition and an easy life. And that’s the problem. This process of productivity enhancement has to be embodied in new businesses that disrupt the existing order. So all of regulation is designed to stop growth. Think of economic regulation, what does economic regulation do? By and large, it says I protect you from competition from him in order to keep the existing way of things going. A lot of it is about transfers, I’m going to take money from you and give to him but we’re going to do it very inefficiently by making you charge by forcing you to charge a higher prices. This regulation is designed to stop growth, not to get it going to preserve jobs, businesses always of doing things. Why? Because we live in democracies. Democracies are responsive to the needs of their citizens. And when the citizens come come screaming to stop competition and preserve my way of life. Democracies give them what they want good and hard as HL Mencken used to say, My ancestor I have an ancestor who came from Germany to the US and he came to the US. They hated Germans at the time, he went to New York, didn’t speak English. He wrote back come to America, the streets are paved with gold. Why? They were in a business they they made furniture and they wanted to move into pianos. But the guilds in Germany didn’t like this. There’s no damn guilds here stopping us from doing what we want to do. That’s what it needs. So why how do we how do we get around that? Well, we have property rights. We have rule of law, the institutions that protect our ability to innovate and and to and to cause problems for the existing people. So why are we stagnating? In my view, the answer is simple. We got people we got ideas, we’ve got entrepreneurial spirit, we have abundant investment capital, we just can’t get the permits. Now my notes say US regulatory nightmare insert horror stories. And you can we have all heard horror stories of regulation gumming up the works of doing things. Good ideas include public institutions. Now I’m I’m a good libertarian with lots of adjectives in front and one is a rule of law in libertarian. Property lights a rule of law and efficient legal system, that the the prep protections against depredation against the ability of your neighbours to go and demand competition that’s really important. And we see that good institutions are one of the most important things to get into growth, that’s why. So how can we get going growth again? Well, let’s we gotta fix the all the sand in the gears that’s getting in the wing. Can this help? There is a strain of thought and economics that says we have just run out of ideas. That’s the end of that, you know, growth is bound to end. I don’t think that’s true. But let’s let’s fix what we can, we can look and see lots of sand in the gears and we can certainly improve the level and, and I think we can do an enormous amount. When you look across countries, the GDP per capita from the Central African Republic, which is about 200, to India, 2000, China, about 20,000. UK about 40,000 US 60,000. There’s a very strong correlation between our incomes and ease of doing business index rule of law index, those kinds of institutional indices, so we know what’s good. What’s amazing is is how big the effect is, from 200 to 60,000, is really just institutions that my favourite is the my colleague, Chad Jones has a textbook on growth theory. And the cover is is a picture of Korea from a satellite, North Korea dark South Korea light. Now, now the good Lord has given us a controlled experiment, I’m sorry for the people of North Korea, but you want same background, same culture, same language, same everything. In fact, North Korea was the wealthier part in before the for the war, you want a controlled experiment on what government can do, it’s just amazing that it can do so much damage. But But there it is, for you, well, continue that regression line, the ease of doing business index puts the US at 82, 100 is possible. 100 just means the best observable everywhere, as I run that regression line out that puts the US 400% higher than it is today. Well, that seems possible that that is I think, a struggle. So how do we do? Erm fixed regulation sounds, you know, like pie in the sky. And the bulk of what I have to offer is, you know, concrete ideas of how we do it. The problem is, here’s there’s a political problem, stimulus is so attractive, stimulus is, ah, I the great politician will give you money and this will float all around, say yay give me, write me a check. Fixing things is a reform effort. And every market is screwed up in its own way with a bunch of vested interests, I call it what we need is the Marie Kondo approach to our public life. You can’t just stimulus, you can’t just go down and buy a lot of containers. You got to fix the sock drawer, and then the underwear drawer and my god the garage is waiting for us the tax code?.Well, that’s the way it is, you know, you have to know where you’re going and and, and start that reform effort. So I want to give you some examples. You’re not going to get in the next 10 minutes programme for everything, but it is the Marie Kondo approach. How can we get out though of the debate, you can see there’s sort of stuck. And I, what I’ve been thinking about mostly is I don’t want to call it out of the box, because that’s so trite, but a way beyond sort of the standard left right dilemma. And I think that’s right, I think there is an answer to air, to most of our problems, that is not just one or the other side more of this. What do you have to do first? Many regulations actually have some reason to them. So understand why, but then do a better job of what they’re doing. One important exercise is what’s the question? As you look at policies, most are answers in search of a question. My favourite being like tax the rich, it’s always tax the rich, but why keeps changing over the time? Well, let’s get the question. And then we can find a better answer. Regulation, regulation is not more versus less. Regulation is better, worse versus worse, well crafted versus not well crafted, full of unintended consequences and bad incentives or not. The the game is to fix, not just more or less, that’s harder. Another important principle, think of the overall incentives, the overall system, not just parts in isolation. And above all, think about the incentives. No one else is thinking about the incentives. It’s politics is just about taking from you giving to him. Nobody’s thinking about the incentives. If you think about the incentives, you’re away from the political wrangling about about who gets what. So for example, let’s think about let me start with an easy one, taxes. What should we do about taxes? Well, what’s the question? If the question is raise revenue for the government with minimal damage to the economy? I said the question once you say the question, the answer is very simple. That the answer to that question is eliminate income taxes, corporate taxes, state taxes, taxes on rates of return, basically just a flat sales tax on absolutely everything. That raises the most revenue for the government with with least cost and and now the objection what’s what’s wrong with that? First objection is, wait a minute, that’s gonna be like a 50% tax rate. Yeah. If GDP if if The government spending 50% of GDP, the tax rate average tax rate is going to be 50%. And if you don’t like that, you need to spend less. The it’s the same tax rate now it’s just raised in a different way. What we do now is we, we put it in lots of different places, so people don’t know. But the idea is simple. What about inequality? Well, number one, get the rich at the Porsche dealer. If you have a flat sales tax, you’re gonna get them you’re just gonna get them at the Porsche dealer, not when when they make the money, and it’s vastly simple. But what about inequality? Oh, you mean that wasn’t the question? The problem with our tax code is it’s trying to do and this is the US, by the way, I should say, I don’t know anything about Australia, and I hate Americans who wander around the world telling other people what they should do. So but I’m gonna seem parochial as a result, because all my stories about America, we’re trying to do 15 things. We’re trying to raise revenue, we’re trying to transfer income, we’re trying to subsidise all sorts of stuff, like my neighbour in Palo Alto lives in a $5 million house got 7500 bucks from the government for his new Tesla. That’s nice. We’re trying to and we’re trying to subsidise all sorts of things off budget without actually, you know, we’re taxing and spending without taxing spending? Well, you’re trying to do too many things. No wonder you get a mess. Let’s separate these. So the way I’d like to do it is let’s put all of that stuff on budget as expenditures. The flat taxes said, Oh, it’s not progressive. But what is the taxes don’t matter. What matters is the whole system. If we raise money efficiently with a flat tax, and then spend checks to whoever you want to spend, the whole system can be as progressive as you want. And as progressive as the voters will like, or as less progressive as you want. But it doesn’t matter. There’s this focus on each one individually, no, look at the whole system. And that can be as progressive as you want. And that you know, but if you put it on budget, then it’s up to the voters. I’m gonna follow principle, I got nothing to say about transfers, all I got to say about is incentives. And I want the lowest possible marginal rates, with the highest possible revenue for the government, that fixes the incentives, how high those rates are? up to you how much you want to spend, how much gets transferred up to the voters? how much they’re happy to do. Let me talk about social programmes. We are in the US at least, we’re running 5 to 7% of GDP structural deficits. And here come the retirement of the baby boomers. That’s our that’s our debt problem. Well, here’s a classic of left versus right. Right, oh, we gotta cut social programmes, we’re gonna go bankrupt. Left, you heartless whatever, you’re gonna throw grandma from the back of the train, how can you do that? How can we break out of this one? Let’s look at incentives. What’s the real problem with American social programmes. The real problem is not how much money we spend. The real problem is the disastrous incentives and it’s incentives that the programmes all put together. You take the average American between zero and $60,000. They if they earn an extra dollar in legal income, they lose $1 of benefits. And that’s on average, there’s many cliffs where you earn $1 And you lose all your health insurance. Make sure not to earn that extra dollar. If you have, if you have affordable housing with an income limit, earn an extra dollar, you lose your house, people are very smart, they respond to incentives. The other problem we have is that low income Americans basically don’t work. The labour force participation is just catastrophically low. Well, duh, why don’t they work? Because if they earn extra, do you want to cheer after me? If you earn an extra dollar, you lose $1 of benefits. So why don’t we work on fixing the disincentives of social programmes? What will happen then, what will happen is more people work, so they won’t need so much social programmes just save money, you’ll help people who actually need help much more effectively. And you reduce the cycle of poverty and dysfunction in a lot of our neighbourhoods. How can we do that? Well, one of the most important ways is that the problem comes from all programmes together. It’s the the food stamps you it’s only like a 50% implicit tax rate. But if you add the food stamps, the Social Security, the low the earned income tax credit, the the low income bus pass, that actually exists, I mean, all the things that are income limited, you put those together, so why don’t we put those all together instead of having 15, 150 actually different different programmes, remove the cliffs. One of the most crazy things in the US if you get another dollar of income, we lower your benefits. If you go get out and get another programme that gives you another dollar of transfers. We don’t lower your benefits. Well we can fix these things. Control the disincentives. Banking, oh boy. banking regulations. This is a classic one of disincentives. And there’s we have we’re in we’ve just done this again. We’re in this cycle of, the crisis comes, bail everybody out, promised to fix it. It doesn’t work. Great. Run comes again, bail everybody out. Again, this is a ne.., this is an important one because there’s remember the little old lady who swallowed the fly, just swallowed the spider to catch the fly and so on and so forth. This is when you think about how things got bad is not just dumb people. It’s smart people patching up a dumb system. And that’s what happened a run happens. What do you do? You got to bail out the creditors to stop the runs. Now you have moral hazard. A bailout deposit insurance is like giving your uncle Luigi your credit card on his way to Las Vegas. That’s what we economists call moral hazard. So we write rules, okay, no double down on 16. No spinning double black or whatever. Luigi figures out, I have an Italian family so I get to use this. Luigi figures out and goes to the craps table and next thing you know you got another crisis. We have the answer. It’s it’s a sensible thing. But now it’s it’s it’s falling apart we have the answer, which is was put in place 1992 but it requires tearing the whole system down and starting from scratch. And that’s the hard part, the answer, by the way is banks should get their money by issuing stock. And then deposits should just flow into flow into trade. It’s called narrow banking. It’s been around since the 1930s. There’s a lot of money people making money in the current system. Housing, you have a housing problem, we have a housing problem, let them build. And I’m only beginning, health, oh boy, healthcare. This one always causes me problems. But I got to tell you so healthcare in the US is one of the most dysfunctional things around. It’s actually possibly worse than socialised health care. Fully private health care can work. Now here and in 30 seconds, I’m not gonna give you the programme. But health is a complex personal service. It’s like lawyering, accounting, architecture, construction, aeroplane pilots, car repair. It’s a complex personal service, all of those we leave to the free market, there is no reason that healthcare can’t be left to the free market as well. And then a brutally competitive market can give us better service and lower prices. Oh my goodness, I haven’t even gotten to horrible publication, public education, labour laws, occupational licencing laws, immigration restrictions, regulatory barriers, lawsuits, prevailing wage, domestic content rolls, the sand in the productivity gears. What are we gonna do? Well, that’s it, those are all out there. But you can see the general principle can, can be used to fix all those if we want to, you know, free, free markets is still a vital way to fix today’s problems. And that’s just today’s economy. Well, you know, new ideas are also the the sand in the gears is there too. You know, there’s a possibility of factory built mini nuclear power plants. Why don’t we have those in the US? Because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not licenced a single new plant since 1975. AI, we live in a moment of a spectacular technological advance. It’s like Gutenberg. It’s potentially like like Gutenberg’s movable press. And immediately what do people want to do? Run to Washington to regulate it. And where’s this, it’s not just coming from fear the robots will take over. There’s a strong demand to regulate it because this is information. We are we’re living at the outbreak of the technical censor the censorship state, and boy, oh boy who has control over ChatGPT3, has control over politics, especially biology I see great advances in biology, better health, longevity, that what we’re learning about about the fundamentals of life is fantastic. But good luck getting FDA approval, or increasingly politicised research funding. So let me summarise here we can’t just bemoan, there’s a tendency among us free marketers to have a beer and just say, Oh, how dumb Why are their zoning zoning laws are so dumb, they’re stopping that. But if you understand where they came from, and what the disincentives are, I think you have a better chance of fixing you have to understand where they came from. That patchwork the old lady and the fly, how to how to ask the right questions, to get the answer. You have to examine the whole system, you have to examine the incentives. And you have to make your opponents state the question. And then often there’s a very simple answer. And then they go duh, that wasn’t the question I asked. It’s okay, now we’ll have a better conversation. There’s a way to do this. Economists are quite a bit at fault, my fellow economists. What you’re taught in economics school, is how to look at every problem, diagnose some failure of the hypothetical totally free market, and then advocate new rules that the benevolent omniscient planner will do to fix the problem. But we don’t live in a free market. When you see a problem. Look first, not at a hypothetical failure of some free market look for the regulation that caused the problem, as you can see with zoning and housing, it’s not a failure of the market, it’s regulatory. Now I have to close on a optimistic note. You know, people often tell me, Oh, if only we could get leaders who will listen, They all believe in democracy. How does this happen? Things things will get better when the average person understands how it works and votes for sensible policy. I know a lot of politicians, they, by and large, understand perfectly well how things work. And they understand they won’t get voted in office for it. So when the average person sees, you know, when the average person sees too high house prices, and says, Well, why don’t we let people build more houses, you’ll get politicians who understand that. So really, the way things work is there’s leaders, there’s the chattering classes around them, and there’s the vast amount of sensible voters around that. If you operate in the world of ideas, then the politics will follow. And that’s why institutions like this one exist, we exist to help the ideas that then will make their way into policy. The idea that you can just whisper into the into the great emperors ear, that’s not how a democracy works. And thank goodness, that’s the way our society works. Okay, thank you.
Gene Tunny 36:19
Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
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Gene Tunny 36:54
Now back to the show.
John, thank you. And now it’s time for our Q&A session with our friend and colleague leading proceedings, Gene Tunny is director of Adept Economics in Brisbane. And he’s the author of a recent CIS publication that I’d encourage you to read, Debunking Degrowth. Gene Tunny, over to you Gene.
Gene Tunny 37:17
Thanks, Tom. And thank you, John, for that excellent lecture. That was terrific. John, I’d like to start with this idea of the age of stagnation or the risk of stagnation. And it seems like you’re attributing that to government, I’d like to understand what evidence there is behind that. So we’ve, if you believe the people on the left, we’ve had an age of neoliberalism, we had the reforms of Thatcher and Reagan and in this country, we had Hawke and Keating and then Howard. And there’s an argument that we’ve deregulated too much. But you would push back on that, could you tell us a bit more about why you’re so confident, it’s it’s government regulation that is driving that slowdown?
John Cochrane 37:55
You got an alternative for me? I mean, just look out the window, and you know, try to run a business and and see how hard it is to get anything done. So Reagan and Thatcher were great, but they just scratched the surface. They sort of talked about deregulation, but you know, how many federal agencies did Reagan actually get rid of? You know? So there was a little bit of a pause. But the regulatory state just kept adding more and more. And I see it’s a larger issue, not just of the size of regulation, but the nature of it, our public institutions in the US are fraying. I actually am a free marketer, I look back with nostalgia at the era of regulation. And by which I mean, when our regulatory agencies had rules and cost benefit analysis and public comment and proper procedures. Now, it’s just an executive order and a Dear Colleague letter, you know, and so that that’s in many ways worse as an example. Also, it’s getting more and more politicised. I was shocked. So you may or may not know what’s going on. There was a case, Missouri v Biden that revealed what was happening the censorship of the internet during the COVID era, and went unremarked. The Biden administration was simply threatening businesses like Twitter, we’ll close you down. We’ll send the EEOC, the NLRB, the EPA, you know, this alphabet soup of agents, we’ll send them after you. But by saying that, you know, you see right there, it’s taken for granted. This isn’t rules. This isn’t law. This is just we arbitrary power to close things down. So I see the regulatory state getting bigger, the the legal system in the US, you know, you can’t get anything built because you’re gonna get years of environmental suits. And it’s part of sort of the scorched earth politics. That may not be the answer to the question you wanted, but that’s what I see.
Gene Tunny 39:45
No that’s okay, I just wanted to ask because the the alternative view is that there has been that slowdown in the rate of innovation that you mentioned the the Robert Gordon thesis of the rise and fall of American growth. I think it’s, yeah to me, it seems like a difficult thing to be able to prove one way or another,
John Cochrane 40:02
It is no, what you’re asking me is not just my view but what I think of those views. Yeah. So these views, we got to take this seriously. Gordon basically said, our growth was an SJ thing, it was a one time thing, we learned to use fossil fuels. And that’s over, just, you know, that the possibilities are over. And there is evidence, you know, it’s taking more and more in resource, find an invention. But in part, that’s always been the case. So there’s a great study of the steam engine, steam engines invented, it wasn’t, you know, 18, if you’ve been to the museum’s, it wasn’t like the final steam engines 100 years of making it better and better, and it gets harder and harder to harder to make it better. And we’re kind of running out of ways to make steam engines better. And then someone invents the diesel engine, and then someone invents the aeroplane. So I think we’ve been in a period of sort of, there was a new invention, we kind of work and all that, and you’re waiting for the next new thing to come, which I think is potentially biology or AI. So just wait. But who knows, you know that that’s a possibility. We but we also know, the regulatory state is causing tremendous problems. So you know, maybe we can only raise GDP by a factor of four, before we run in, run out of ideas, factor four will be pretty good. And to let India and Africa have our way, know how to do things the way that will be pretty good, too. And if 200 years from now, that’s where we plateau. Okay, we’re done.
Gene Tunny 41:20
What do you think the risks are with? With AI? I mean, there’s a lot of potential there with biotech is that is the risk that we’re going to be too timid, that we’re going to over regulate, because of the precautionary principle, for example, how do you see that? And what alternative would you offer? What, would you have a principle that you could apply for there?
John Cochrane 41:38
The last big thing on the internet was was, you know, social media sorts of things and Google, and then they’ve been kind of looking for what, I live in Silicon Valley, they’ve been looking for what to do for 10 years. And I talked, everybody wanted crypto for a while that was kind of going nowhere. Not that kind of hard. But the old tech companies have turned into regulatory regulated utilities with remarkable speed. And I worry that this, this is really a demand for the new stuff to do that I don’t, the idea of the robots will take over. They’ve been worrying about that since 1850. I think just technically, that’s silly is just complete sentences, it completes your sentences. Don’t worry about that taking over. I think the demand for regulation is the demand to control the flow of information that we get, and we’re worried about tech is there’s no monopoly that doesn’t get enforced by the government that lasts very long. People say tech’s a monopoly? Oh, yeah, Netscape, AOL, Yahoo, they got that one wrapped up, don’t they? And the same thing is happening to the big tech tech companies now. So the demand I think, really is the danger is the danger of the surveillance state. And, and so, you know, there’s you can see the political demand for regulation, and people like to keep their profits up. So that’s the demand for regulation. Not that the robots are gonna come get us.
Gene Tunny 42:57
Okay. I’d like to ask, again about, well about government. And you mentioned the, the Marie Kondo approach to fixing government and if I remember Marie Kondo correctly, it’s you pick up an item and if it doesn’t bring you joy, you toss it out. Are there parts of the government that don’t bring you joy, that you would toss out?
John Cochrane 43:16
I think the converse of that question is going to be harder or easier to answer. Yes. What what do I like about the government? I think the US is vastly underfunded the legal system, that it takes years to get to get something through the courts is just a shame. That’s part of public infrastructure. You know, where roads, bridges and efficient courts. So that’s why as much as I hate lawyers, and environmental suits and all the rest of it, nonetheless, that’s, you know, that’s a part of the work that we can have some public infrastructure there. Is there anything else that we actually like? What do we like in the government?
Gene Tunny 43:54
John Cochrane 43:56
Sorry? Yeah, National Defence. That’s a big inefficiency that we put up with. Thank you. It is remarkable. I’m a good libertarian and free marketer, that the military is so efficient at what it does. I mean, it’s a big inefficient waste, but that it actually wins wars is pretty amazing. You know, given given the structure that they’re really amazing people.
Gene Tunny 44:17
Okay. John I’d like to ask about health care, for example, and you’re a proponent of free market, in health care. A lot of the other advanced economies or most of them would have large public health care systems. And the concern is that if you have the free market in health care, there’d be some people that would miss out, they’d be left behind, there’d be people who couldn’t afford it, people who wouldn’t be insured. How do you deal with that objection given, if you look at the US system, US life expectancy is significantly lower than other advanced economies. How would you cope with that objection? How do you, I know it’s difficult to unscramble from where we are and you do have regulation intervention already, but how would you deal with that, that objection?
John Cochrane 45:01
Yeah the US already has a public health system that’s just a remarkably inefficient one. So most of the population is on some sort of government thing, whether it’s Obamacare or federal employees, and the US, you know, in other countries they say, You’re we’re paying taxes, you’re gonna pay some taxes to pay for his health care. In the US, the government says, well, we don’t want to tax and spend instead you business are going to provide her health care, and is that any different than taxing and spending? But then we have this horrible system of cross subsidies, which is what kills the competition? You know what, so government doesn’t want to pay that much. So we say, well, you hospital, you have to provide free health care, and the hospital says fine where are we making up the difference? Well, we’ll let you overcharge everybody else. Okay, but now you can’t have any competition. That’s where the whole homeless comes from. Now, now the left behind issue. So US life expectancy is lower. That’s because we shoot each other. And we and we do a lot of bad drugs. But US life expectancy, if you have cancer, it’s a whole lot better than anywhere else in the world. So it’s horrendously expensive, but but not that bad. You know, the poor people have cars and houses and lots of things, they don’t get great health care, by the way, anywhere in the world. Everywhere in the world, rich people have ways of getting really good quality health care, and we sort of have a fig leaf that that everybody else is, is getting great stuff. So I don’t see that free market health care, because it’s going to be so much more competitive, so much more cost effective. I think it’s gonna serve poor people, poor people, you know, have money just like anybody else. They’ll they’ll buy health insurance and it’ll be cost effective. And, and I don’t mind subsidising it. So you want a subsidy, so we can have transfers, I said, do you know all the transfers you want? I just I’m gonna give you a voucher, you can have a voucher for 5000 bucks, 10,000 bucks here, I don’t care what it is. Go buy your health care on a brutally competitive insurance and healthcare market. You’re going to come great because you got a $10,000 voucher.
Gene Tunny 47:00
Okay, okay. Might be good to ask, go to the audience soon. ButI’ve got one more question…
John Cochrane 47:04
I’ll try to shorten up my answers. Stop asking such good questions.
Gene Tunny 47:08
No, I’ve got one more question about your fiscal theory the price level, which is, yeah John’s written this immense book. It’s fascinating. I’ve picked it up. But then I discovered I had to buy three more books to be able to, to interpret it. But it’s it is it’s, it’s it’s terrific…
John Cochrane 47:27
Get past the, past, just ignore the chapters of the equations and get to the fun stuff…
Gene Tunny 47:31
I’m getting through it. But John, how do you distinguish this from, say, the Milton Friedman view that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon, you’ve got a fiscal theory of the price level. We look at what happened during the pandemic, when we had this massive monetary expansion in the Western world and in Australia and the United States, UK. And then we see the inflation following that. And we think, Well, this is what Milton Friedman was telling us. But you’ve got a theory of inflation that is different. You’re saying it’s to do with fiscal policy with government debt? What do you say about Friedman’s theory and how is yours different how does yours add to it or reject Friedman?
John Cochrane 48:08
That’s not a question that’s gonna get you a short answer. 600 page book in 30 seconds, here we come! The fiscal theory of the price level says that where does inflation come from fundamentally? It comes from more government debt than people think can be repaid by future taxes. Government debts and assets just like stocks and bonds. If you think the stock doesn’t have is not doesn’t have any dividends coming, what do you do you try to sell the stock the price goes down. If you hold government debt, and you think, you know, these guys are never gonna pay this off. What do you do? You try to get rid of the government debt? How do you do that? You try to buy stuff to try to sell the government debt, but we can’t all sell it. The only the you know, what is if we try to sell the government debt, we buy stuff, prices go up. That’s where inflation comes from. Now, what about Milton Friedman? I love Milton Friedman. Milton Friedman was 99% right. Wrong about one little thing. So Friedman, he said money causes inflation, not total government debt. Now, how do we agree and disagree? Suppose you take $5 trillion of money and hand it out from helicopters, as Milton said, that’s gonna cause inflation. I agree, because money is one form of government debt. And when you drop money from helicopters, you’re telling people here’s debt, we have no intention of paying this off with future taxes. So we agree that is, it’s an expansion of government debt is money that finances a deficit. But suppose the government drops $5 trillion of money from helicopters. And simultaneously the government burglars come and take $5 trillion of treasury bills out of your safe, you have no more wealth, you have lots more money, but we took away your treasury bills. Now monetarism would say that causes exactly the same inflation as just giving you the debt. And I say ah ah ah, what counts is overall amount of government liabilities and as proof, yes, in the pandemic, the government did drop a lot of money and debt on everyone and got inflation. It was financing huge deficits. That was a fiscal expansion. The government also did $5 trillion of giving you money and taking back debt. That was called quantitative easing. And what did that do? Nothing. So 5 trillion in quantitative easing designed to increase inflation, absolutely no effect whatsoever. 5 trillion of deficits, which could have been money could have been debt, 5 trillion deficits, we got inflation. That’s actually Episode One for the fiscal theory.
Gene Tunny 50:27
Okay. Thanks, John. That explains it better to me for sure.
John Cochrane 50:31
And Milton was great. Now many not that many episodes of money causing inflation, and they were almost all governments printing money to, to cover deficits. So we agree on all those episodes.
Gene Tunny 50:43
Very good. Okay, Tom, should we open up to the floor for questions? And question I’m going to enforce the questions must be questions rule. Gigi Foster?
John Cochrane 50:54
I welcome speeches. Short speeches.
Gigi Foster 50:56
I’m Gigi Foster. I’m a professor of economics at UNSW, one of our local universities. And thank you so much for your lovely talk, which I will be trying to get somehow for my students, hopefully CIS will make that possible. So I really agree with you know, 99%, of what you said. But towards the end, I thought maybe your optimism about being able to fix this through democratic processes may be a little bit overstated. And my worry is that what we have now is this sclerotic mess in not just in government, but in organisations as well, including universities. And it is sustained by poor incentives on the part of the people in the state and the bureaucracies that are not accountable, and the politicians themselves who are career incentives. And what we face is a situation similar to what Kafka saw, similar to what we had in the USSR before it fell. And we know that how those bureaucracies end is they they either have wars that defeat them, or they come crashing down under the weight of their own inefficiency. And right now, our democratic mechanisms are not very strong. A few elections, sometimes, to me, it’s just not a strong enough force. So I’ve been advocating for a lot of direct democratic revival in the resistance and restoration movement here in Australia. And I wanted to know what you thought about the need for that. And if we don’t think it’s necessary, how is this going to come to pass?
John Cochrane 52:08
In the past, democracies, especially actually, small countries, who seem better able to do it than the US are capable of reform. Even the US we’ve had a social security reform, we had a tax reform there, you know, historically, we’ve been able to fix things. I worry as you do, that the institutions are fraying that we are we are in the US having, the government is so powerful, that it’s worth scorched earth tactics, to destroy the institutions to grab power for the next round, because then you get control of the Justice Department, the surveillance state, the taxes and all the rest of it. There is a limited government allows you to lose elections and go lick your wounds and try again. So and I, I’ll be a little political here. I think our big, one of our biggest challenges is we face a political religious movement on the far progressive left, that is understood the march through the institutions. It’s a small fraction of popular opinion, but they know they grabbed the educational institutions, they grabbed the bureaucracies they grabbed the philanthropies, they have the universities, they have the institutions of civil society in their grasp. And they are profoundly undemocratic. They they are, they call themselves save our democracy, but they are Maoist in their in their policies and that and with the fraying of institutions, and the rise of a technical surveillance state, that, you know, that is a genuine threat to democracy and growth. So I was trying to close optimistically, I’m making your point. I am, you know, very worried about that, and our freedom to have events like this.
Gene Tunny 53:47
Righto, Peter Tulip, at the back and then over here… Thank you, Chief Economist at CIS, yes.
Peter Tulip 53:54
Thank you. I’d like to ask about you’re talking about avoiding the left right division, that a lot of the regulations you want to get rid of have a strong constituency within the economics profession. But that’s not true of all of them. There are some views and in particular, free trade, or housing policy, you mentioned where left wing economists, like Jason Furman or Paul Krugman, have almost exactly the same agenda, as you do. But the general public is on a different planet. And part of that is that the public just doesn’t trust market forces. I was wondering if you have views, how do we prosecute those other issues where economists across the spectrum agree, and we’re against the general public?
John Cochrane 54:43
Boy, that’s a hard one, by the way, Econ profession is in many cases very interested also. You know, how do you get consult like health economists, you know, they live to consult for the for the big health either, they’re not gonna say free market. They live to provide advice and benevolent dictators, they tend to be pro regulation as well. How do we get, boy, basic education on basic things that support the institute? I get to think about that one and come back after another question, but because those are fairly straightforward, and of course, the far left doesn’t believe in the far right doesn’t either. You know, Trump has 25% tariffs on everybody. In fact, I was so disappointed in California. There’s a there’s now a yimby movement where progressive lefties they’re saying, You know what, I get it. The only way to bring down housing prices is let people build housing and market rate housing, not just government subsidised housing. And instantly the Republican Party said, no, no, no, no, we must have zoning control and local local. Don’t Don’t count on the right to be free market either.
Gene Tunny 55:56
Over here, and then we’ll go over here. Yes, if you could just…
Michael Potter 55:59
Yes, Michael Potter. So I just wanted to ask about you mentioned I think a when you were talking about health care that the US system is actually worse than a socialised system was just wondering if you could expand or develop on that idea. Why is the system which is sort of partly free market and partly regulated or socialised, why is that actually worse than a fully socialised system?
John Cochrane 56:23
Well in part I was making a joke. But you know, what, there’s a couple of original sins in US healthcare, and one of them is this idea that we’re going to do, we’re not going to tax and spend, we’re going to do it by forced cross subsidies. Because if you tax and spend, you can still have a competitive system. When you do it by forced cross subsidies, you you have to stop competition, and then just the price just explodes. So, you know, we have better health care than most places, but we pay we have twice as good health care at five times the price. And actually, you know, there is this issue, what do you do about poor people? And I said, vouchers is one way to do it another way is, let’s just, if you want it, you know, deal with the homeless people shouldn’t die in the gutter, why don’t we pass some taxes and give them whatever health care you think is a compassionate society deserves the least fortunate. And then the rest of us can be left to the mercies of the free market. And one of the crazy things is that my health care insurance has to be so screwed up, just because to provide health care to the bottom 5% of the homeless person in the gutter, that’s silly. You know, we, we need, you know, I can still go to a private hotel. And we don’t, you know, we don’t we don’t try to socialise that in order to solve the homeless problem. So there is, you know, I assume a government provided system all one in is pretty horrendously inefficient. But a system a crony capitalist system can be as efficient as a, as a well run, government provided system. And I’ll say it I would be for taxing and spending, you know, one way to, you know, tax and provide a a community hospital for the poor, and then we get the free market.
Gene Tunny 58:07
Okay, with some questions over here. And then we’ll go to you, we’ll go to this gentleman. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks.
David Tregenza 58:14
Hello, my name is David Tregenza. I was just wondering, when you talked about development economics. I’ve read arguments from maybe more progressive that the reason America has such all those ideas booming is from their large spend on military, which then leaks to entrepreneurs. And that’s where computers, internet, rockets, satellites, and all that come from? What do you say to that?
John Cochrane 58:38
Well like, China seems pretty good at taking our military ideas and implementing them. You know, those ideas are available for anyone. Now, to what extent was, you know, to what extent the idea is that the most efficient way to produce new ideas, you know, Apollo programme was 1% of GDP, we got Tang and Teflon, you know, maybe we could have gotten that cheaper from from other ways. So some of the basic ideas did come from the military. But the hard work is not the basic idea. The hard work is the implementing it and starting the new company, you know, famously, Xerox, created the mouse and didn’t know what to do with it. Steve Jobs saw the mouse and boom, that, you know, he knew what to do with it. So I’m not sure that we have a dearth of basic ideas. We have as the dearth of is the ability to take new ideas and implement them in new companies, which then challenge the profits and ways of doing things of the old companies.
Gene Tunny 59:36
Nicholas Moore is it? Has the microphone.
Nicholas Moore 59:37
Thanks, thanks for the presentation. It’s been terrific. I’m, of course a subscriber to to, as you say, 99% of these views, using a natural experiment US versus the UK I think is a good test. But I always used to get confused when I looked at France and the UK because the French obviously wouldn’t embrace the sort of ideas we’re talking about, whereas the UK, typically would have, and again, looking at the US, you know, the contrast between California who arguably embrace all the wrong ideas. And when we talk about AI, you know, Where’s that coming from? So, so there does, you know, the natural experiments throw up a bit of challenge don’t they in terms of where GDP per capita ends up where ideas come from?
John Cochrane 1:00:23
I don’t know are France, France and the UK that different in terms of overall level of so…
Nicholas Moore 1:00:28
That’s a point so their GDP is per capita is the same, one’s more open and one’s more closed
John Cochrane 1:00:33
France spends 55% of GDP the UK spends 50% of GDP on on government stuff. There’s sort of this de industrialised, the UK is a financial centre and then tourist de industrialised wasteland, France has a certain efficient technocracy. So they they may be socialist, but they kind of they send people to the Ecole Polytechnique, and then they build nuclear power plants and we don’t kind of let you I don’t know what it’s like in the US. There’s kind of anything we want to build in the US there’s just this chaos of regulatory nightmare. And, you know, can you get stuff built in the in the UK the way it can, you know, you get the technocrats in France to build something they build something you know, they can build a high speed train, the US can’t build a high speed train. SNC, I don’t know if I told this story SNCF bailed out of the contract to build the California High Speed Trains. They said you guys are crazy. Not even socialist France works like this. I don’t see a great. I wish the UK had taken Brexit and become Singapore on Thames. But they don’t seem heading that direction.
Gene Tunny 1:01:44
Very good. Michael Brennan is it Michael?
Michael Brennan 1:01:46
Thanks yeah, Michael Brennan, used to be the chair of the Productivity Commission in Australia up until a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to ask about the economics profession, and where you see the role that it has played. I mean, I hate to indulge in nostalgia, but it does feel as though in your country and ours the economics profession had and played a much stronger role in the economic policy debate but had a much stronger feel for markets, institutions, the broad sweep. We feel it feels to me as though a lot of economists have gone down different rabbit holes, either very abstract, or ultra empirical, but involved in very narrow questions rather than the sorts of big questions that that you’re posing and answering.
John Cochrane 1:02:31
You know, to the extent that economists want to waste their time on technical stuff, they’re not harming anybody. So enjoy it. The economics profession has actually always been quite left wing and statist and, and serve and view their job as sort of advancing progressive goals. The American Economic Association was was founded that way, there’s kind of a, you’re thinking Milton Friedman, University of Chicago, but that was a very small number of people for a very short window of time. And now mostly, they’re in their advancing progressive agendas. You know, you can’t even you can’t publish a paper that says raising raising minimum wages, lowers employment anymore, so it’s kind of going a way of the other sciences as well. So we’re really the danger I see is that it is becoming part of the ideology production machine for the progressive narrative, and becoming less open to critical empirical work that challenges that that narrative, and you know, well, when you work for the government’s guess what you tend to say that the government’s good things?
Gene Tunny 1:03:36
Okay. There’s one question over here.
David Murray 1:03:39
Yeah. David Murray. How do you help people understand these concepts of corporate social responsibility and social licence?
John Cochrane 1:03:47
Do I want them to understand those concepts? With Friedman, your job is to to make profits for your shareholders. Unfortunately, right now, the way you make profits for your shareholders is to keep the regulator’s out of your hair. And the way you do that is to echo whatever political blather is in the regulator’s minds these days. So never count on big businesses to challenge the regulatory state or argue for free markets. They’re in business to get good regulatory treatment, and maybe you can protect us from your markets, and that means they go along with whatever nonsense is coming out of Washington.
Gene Tunny 1:04:21
Okay John, I might ask one more question. I’ve had a gentleman on my podcast who produces these things called Goldbacks. So there, there are a lot of people maybe, still, maybe, I don’t know, it’s under 10% of the population. But there are a significant number of people who are worried about the future of the US and the future of the global economy. And, you know, worry about fiat money. Is fiat money a problem? Do we need to go back to something like a gold standard or goldback currency? What’s your view on that before we wrap up?
John Cochrane 1:04:51
Fiat money is now a share in federal government. It is not, fiat money means money that’s backed by nothing but our money is backed our money is backed by the willingness of our government to raise taxes to soak up the money if necessary, I’m giving you fiscal theory the price level. So it’s a great system, so long as our governments maintain the fiscal space to always back their money with taxpayer, that’s a good system, so long as governments are fiscally solvent, I think the danger of the of the current, not fiat money, so the current system of money backed by the present value of fiscal surpluses is that it might not be backed anymore. And that therefore I do see a possibility of a of a sovereign, a grand sovereign debt crisis. When do you get a crisis? Nobody ever sees a crisis coming, right? Because if you knew the crisis was going to happen tomorrow, then it would have already happened today, you’d run and get your money out. What is the one cl.., and crises always happen when there’s money that can’t be paid back, shady accounting and nobody doubts that this is good stuff yet. Have I just described government debt? So I think, you know, in the next crisis, there is a possibility that our, we reveal our governments to have debts that they have no way of repaying and you could have a global inflation a default on you know, Italy, in some of the EU states, basically, a run on sovereign debt is possible. I don’t, we’re not there yet. But that’s kind of where the end of Western civilization goes. And then you got a problem because our monetary system is all built on the idea that government debt is sacrosanct. Now really any idea of history and you think government debt is the safest assets since the since the Henry the Henry the Third, I think defaulted on the Petruzzi government debt has been the riskiest asset around. And so we live in this kind of golden age. So to your question. I think if that happens, not, I mean, we’re in smoking financial ruins, but you might want some monetary system that doesn’t depend on the value of the government. And, you know, we all have our free market fantasies about that’s the one one place I’ve kind of stuck with the government we have a decent system of short term government debt is long, you know, it works okay. In free market fantasyland. And, you know, after we’ve had our third drink, we should talk about private monetary systems for the moment I kind of put it in, you know, airline pilots. Yeah, pilot licences should be privatised. Okay. Maybe that’s not the first thing we want to do. It’s kind of thing you talk about at the third rank of the Cato. So the same thing? Now gold is not the answer. So a gold standard is a government promise to deliver gold. So you haven’t gotten rid of the government. And a gold standard is a fiscal commitment. No government’s ever had enough gold to back their currency. So what is the gold standard, a gold standard, the government says I promised all these notes. One for one with gold, I know that the gold so what keeps that afloat? What keeps that afloat is the Government’s commitment, that if you start coming to ask for gold, I will raise taxes, and I or enough to get or borrow the gold to give you it’s a commitment to running the fiscal theory the price level. And it’s a bad one because the relative price of gold and other stuff fluctuates, it just would not work in a modern economy, because we don’t use gold coins. So So gold isn’t the answer. And gold doesn’t obviate the problem of if the government’s are bankrupt, they’re not going to be able to give you a gold standard. Is there something in the Bitcoin space that could maybe do it? We need to Yeah, I believe money has to be backed. So you need to find a security that’s backed by real assets that has a steady real value that there’s a lot of it, and that in and that people could use, we could devise such a system but you know, why don’t we just have our governments not default and have to build this from the smoking ruins anyway.
Gene Tunny 1:08:46
Very good Professor John Cochrane. Terrific, thank you. John’s gonna move a vote of thanks. Very good.
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