The Universal Basic Income: It’s time

henry George

The most widely read book on economics in history (with the possible exception of “Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith) was a book by a self-taught political economist named Henry George. His formal education ended at age 14. He made his living as a journalist and later became a politician. Yet, his magnum opus, entitled “Progress and Poverty” was taken very seriously by economists, and justifiably so.  The book sold 3 million copies in English, in the first years after publication, 6 million copies in thirteen languages, by 1936, and many more since then. It is justifiably included as one of the ten all-time economics classics {George, 1879 [1946] #2004}. See Figure  1.

In 1879 Henry George advocated a single tax on land values. At the time he wrote, land values were a reasonable proxy for total societal wealth. Today that is less true, and I will focus on the alternatives later. Very briefly, it argued that people should own the products of their work, but that the gifts of nature, including the fertility of the land and the mineral wealth beneath, should be shared equally among all the inhabitants of the earth or the territory..

Henry George also proposed a universal basic income, or UBI, to be financed by his tax on land.  His proposal was not the first.

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Sex among humans is very different than it is among other species, although tree-dwelling species (anthropoid apes and monkey share some of the differences. Jared Diamond started his book with his idea of a dog’s view of human sexuality:

If your dog had a brain, and could speak . .  .

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– By Robert U. Ayres


From early childhood I have been fascinated by learning “how things work”. I suppose that is quite natural for children, but for one reason or another, most children are discouraged at an early age. The world is too complicated, there are too many “things” to learn about, there are conflicting short-term needs for time, they are told that parents or teachers or priests will explain it all in due course when we are “ready”, etc.

For some reason, however, I found a book called “The Strange Story of the Quantum” that introduced a curious idea, namely that there is an underlying simplicity that can be grasped by human intelligence, and that understanding “things” can sometimes be approached from “below”, so to speak rather than from the usual perspective “above”.  I read that a fizzy-haired man named Albert Einstein had already found a way to put that underling simplicity in a single mathematical equation, a “theory of everything”. It is why I was attracted to physics.

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After the great repatriation: Where will the money go and what will it do?

– By Robert U. Ayres

               For several weeks, the guys and gals at CNBC and Bloomberg News, and their guests, have been talking about the coming tax reform (cut) legislation that the Republicans finally seem to have in their grasp. Well, maybe not exactly reform, maybe not revenue-neutral, but at least tax cuts for the corporations that give them campaign money. All the cheerleaders, both in Congress and the White House, assert confidently that faster growth will pay for the cost of the tax cut, even though virtually all economists (including me) say that it won’t.

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China’s Lose-Lose Love Affair with the Modern Motor Car

Report from China: Robert Ayres

In December I travelled to the city of Kunming, in Yunnan province, China. The occasion of the trip was to attend a conference on planning and give a talk on economics at that conference. The host was the newly appointed provincial Governor, who is also the Communist Party Chairman for Yunnan. The organizer was the former chief planner for Singapore, and the attendees were academics and civil servants in the urban planning departments from all of the major cities of  organizer was the former chief planner for Singapore, and the Yunnan province. I was invited on short notice (only two weeks) and I was asked to provide a copy of my talk in advance, without much detailed information about the actual situation. What I did know about China was more applicable to Beijing and Shanghai than to Kunming. So, I had to “punt”, as they say.

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Robert Ayres, INSEAD
with Michael Olenick and Lu Hao

Tax cuts, wages and salaries: Will lower taxes help workers? And the economy?

For several weeks, the guest experts on CNBC and Bloomberg News have been talking about the coming tax cut legislation (for corporations) that the Republicans finally seem to have in their grasp. The Bill, as it is currently proposed, will eliminate the insurance mandate for health care and may leave quite a lot of upper middle class salaried people, worse off, especially in high tax states.

The sure winners will be the shareholders of multinational corporations and “pass through” enterprises, especially real estate partnerships. The “supply-side” cheerleaders for the plan, both in Congress and the White House (Mnuchin, Cohen, Mulvaney, et al) argue that economic growth be much faster, that it will pay for the cuts, and that wages and salaries will rise, thanks to a burst of new investment.

By contrast, virtually all top economists say that the cuts won’t pay for themselves, that the deficit and the national debt will increase, and that growth will not accelerate.

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Urban agriculture: Another Win-Win for China?



Report from China: Robert Ayres

In my last post I explained why (private) investment the automobile industry was a huge win-win for the US in the early years of the 20th century, for reasons that do not apply to 21st century China. In fact, there are strong arguments that the overall impact of still more cars (and highways) in China will be more nearly a lose-lose proposition, the only winners being the foreign auto manufacturers.

However, I think there is another investment opportunity, still in its infancy, that – if pursued intelligently – can be a true “win-win”.

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