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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

9780199322190_450

Tax facts

As long as rulers have needed money for the military, public works, or just to enrich themselves, they have relied on taxes. As Americans approach the dreaded April 15 income tax-filing deadline, it is worth considering some key facts about taxation. There are many different modes of taxation: individual income taxes, corporate profits taxes, capital gains taxes, property taxes, inheritance taxes, sales taxes, social insurance taxes, taxes on imports, and a whole host of government-levied fees that look and feel a lot like taxes.

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Are ultra-low interest rates dangerous?

The industrialized world is currently moving through a period of ultra-low interest rates. The main benchmark interest rates of central banks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the euro-zone are all 0.50% or less. The US rate has been near zero since December 2008; the Japanese rate has been at or below 0.50% since 1995. Then there are the central banks that have gone negative: the benchmark rates in Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland are all below zero. Other short-term interest rates are similarly at rock-bottom levels, or below.

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Quantitative easing comes to Europe

Last month, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced its plans to commence a €60 billion (nearly $70 billion) of quantitative easing (QE) through September 2016. In doing so, it is following in the footsteps of American, British, and Japanese central banks all of which have undertaken QE in recent years. Given the ECB’s actions, now is a good time to review quantitative easing. What is it?

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One regulation too few

Burdensome, costly, and—let’s face it—just plain stupid government regulation is all around us. And even well-meaning, reasonably well-designed regulations can impose costs all out of proportion with their benefits.

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A different kind of swindle

In the weeks and months following the subprime crisis, a number of financial swindles have come to light. Perhaps the most famous of these was the Bernie Madoff scandal. Madoff ran a Ponzi scheme, in which he attracted money from individuals (and institutions) who were hoping that he would provide sound investment management and a healthy return on the funds entrusted to him. Instead, the money ended up in his pocket. The small number of “investors” who did withdraw their funds from Madoff were paid with money from new investors.

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I miss Intrade

Although the media hype is usually most frenetic during presidential election years, this season’s mid-term elections are generating a great deal of heat, if not much light. By October 13, contestants in 36 gubernatorial races had spent an estimated $379 million on television ads, while hopefuls in the 36 Senate races underway had spent a total of $321 million. For those addicted to politics, newspapers and magazines have long provided abundant, sometimes even insightful coverage.

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The economics of Scottish Independence

On September 18, Scots will go to the polls to vote on the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” A “yes” vote would end the political union between England and Scotland that was enacted in 1707. The main economic reasons for independence, according to the “Yes Scotland” campaign, is that an independent Scotland would have more affordable daycare, free university tuition, more generous retirement and health benefits, less burdensome regulation, and a more sensible tax system.

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wrong

Transparency at the Fed

As an early-stage graduate student in the 1980s, I took a summer off from academia to work at an investment bank. One of my most eye-opening experiences was discovering just how much effort Wall Street devoted to “Fed watching”, that is, trying to figure out the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy plans. If you spend any time following the financial news today, you will not find that surprising. Economic growth, inflation, stock market returns, and exchange rates, among many other things, depend crucially on the course of monetary policy.

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The danger of ideology

By Richard S. Grossman
What do the Irish famine and the euro crisis have in common? The famine, which afflicted Ireland during 1845-1852, was a humanitarian tragedy of massive proportions. It left roughly one million people—or about 12 percent of Ireland’s population—dead and led an even larger number to emigrate. The euro crisis, which erupted during the autumn of 2009, has resulted in a virtual standstill in economic growth throughout the Eurozone in the years since then.

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Changing focus

By Richard S. Grossman
For the past half dozen years or so, the first Friday of the month has brought fear and dread to large portions of the United States. This heightened anxiety has nothing to do with the phases of the moon, the expiration of multiple financial derivatives, or concerns about not having a date for the weekend.

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Can we finally stop worrying about Europe?

By Richard S. Grossman
Because Europe accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s economic output, this question is important not only to Europeans, but to Africans, Asians, Americans (both North and South), and Australians as well. Those who forecast that the United States’s relatively anemic five-year-old recovery is poised to become stronger almost always include the caveat “unless, of course, Europe implodes.”

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The economics of sanctions

By Richard S. Grossman
Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine has left its neighbors—particularly those with sizable Russian-speaking populations such as Kazakhstan, Latvia, Estonia, and what is left of Ukraine—looking over their shoulder wondering if they are next on Vladimir Putin’s list of territorial acquisitions. The seizure has also left Europe and United States looking for a coherent response.

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Something to like about bitcoin

By Richard S. Grossman
Within months of being introduced in 2009, enthusiasts were hailing bitcoin, the digital currency and peer-to-peer payment system, as the successor to the dollar, euro, and yen as the world’s most important currency. The collapse of the Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange last month has dulled some of the enthusiasm for the online currency.

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Five myths about the gold standard

By Richard S. Grossman
Although the dollar has had no legal connection to gold since 1973, the gold standard continues to hold an almost mystical appeal for many politicians and commentators. The 2012 Republican Platform called for the creation of a commission to study the possible restoration of the link between the dollar and gold. When asked about the gold standard this summer, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a potential 2016 Republican presidential nominee, replied: “We need to think about our currency that once upon a time had a link to a commodity, and I think we should study it.”

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In case you missed it … six notable economic stories from 2013

By Richard S. Grossman
2013 was an eventful year from the perspective of economics. The US government was shut down for 16 days as ideologically-driven Republicans held the budget hostage in an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Japan’s new nationalistic government embarked on a bold, and so far largely successful attempt to revive the country’s anemic economy.

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What can we learn from economic policy disasters?

Is it morbid or therapeutic to analyze the economic catastrophes of the past? What critical strategies can be imported from the realms of medicine and military history to the study of the current state of the economy? Richard Grossman, author of Wrong: Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn From Them, skillfully dissects the cadavers of economic policies.

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