Big Government Slows Economic Growth

(p. A15) Americans are debating whether to substantially expand the size of their government. As Swedish economists who live in the developed world’s largest welfare state, we urge our friends in the New World to look carefully before they leap.

Fifty years ago, Sweden and America spent about the same on their government, a bit under 30% of GDP. This is no longer true. In the years leading up to Sweden’s financial crisis in the early 1990s, government spending went as high as 60% of GDP. In America it barely budged, increasing only to about 33%.
While America was maintaining its standing as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, Sweden’s standing fell. In 1970, Sweden was the fourth richest country in the world on a per capita basis. By 1993, it had fallen to 17th.
This led us to ask whether Sweden’s dramatic increase in the size of government contributed to its sluggish growth. Our research shows that it did.
We surveyed the existing literature looking at the trade-offs between government size and economic growth throughout the world. While results vary, the most recent research, by Diego Romero-Avila in the European Journal of Political Economy (2008) and by Andreas Bergh and Martin Karlsson in Public Choice (2010) find a negative correlation between government size and economic growth in rich countries.
The weight of the evidence demonstrates that when government spending increases by 10 percentage points of GDP, the annual growth rate drops by 0.5 to 1 percentage point. This may not sound like much, but over 30 years this would result in the loss of trillions of dollars each year in an economy as large as America’s.

For the full commentary, see
ANDREAS BERGH AND MAGNUS HENREKSON. “Lessons From the Swedish Welfare State; New research shows bigger government means slower growth. Our country is a prime example.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., JULY 12, 2010): A15.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated JULY 10, 2010.)

Statue of Mass Murderer Finally Removed from Gori’s Central Square

StalinStatueRemoved2010-06-29.jpg “Georgian authorities, seeking to purge their country of Soviet monuments, on Friday removed a statue of Stalin from the central square of Gori, Stalin’s birthplace. It had stood there for 48 years.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A4) GORI, Georgia — In the predawn darkness on Friday, Georgian authorities carried out a clandestine operation in Gori’s central square. Wrapping thick cables around Stalin’s neck and under one of his armpits, they hoisted him off the pedestal where he has stood for 48 years and set him nose-first on the back of a flatbed truck.
. . .
On Friday, the culture minister, Nikolos Rurua, dismissed reports that the removal was intentionally kept quiet, pointing out that several camera crews were present. He said the vast majority of Georgians shared his view of Stalin as “a mass murderer and a political criminal.”
. . .
Last summer vandals painted the statue’s base with the phrases “Get off your pedestal!” and “Your place is in the museum!”
Mikheil Jeriashvili, a 19-year-old medical student, said that he was delighted at the news and that he would be happier if the authorities “removed this statue completely, or burned it or something.”
“I would prefer if he had been born in another town altogether,” he said.

For the full story, see:

SARAH MARCUS and ELLEN BARRY. “Georgia Knocks Stalin Off His Pedestal.” The New York Times (Sat., June 26, 2010): A4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 25, 2010.)
(Note: ellipses added.)

“Fun” and “Profits” as Motives for Entrepreneurship

(p. 184) After we started selling the boards to Paul Terrell–working day and night to get them to him on time–we had profits like I never imagined. Suddenly our little business was making more than I was making at HP. That wasn’t very much, admittedly. But still, it was a lot. We were building the boxes for $220 and selling them wholesale to Paul Terrell for $500.

And, of course, we didn’t need a ton of money to operate. I had a day job, so I looked at it as, Hey, cool. Extra money for pizza! As for Steve, he was living at home. I was twenty-five and he was only twenty-one at the time, so what expenses could we have, really? Apple didn’t have to make that much to sustain itself and be ongoing. We weren’t paying ourselves salaries or paying rent, after all. We didn’t have any patents to pay for. Or lawyers. It was a small-time business, and we weren’t worried that much about anything.
My dad, watching this, pointed out that we weren’t actually making money because we weren’t paying ourselves anything. But we didn’t care, we were having too much fun.

But note, only several pages later:

(p. 194) Like I said before, we needed money. Steve knew it and I knew it.

So by that summer of 1976, we started talking to potential money people about Apple, showing them the Apple II working in color in Steve’s garage.

Source:
Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.

India Government Spends Billions to Subsidize Fuel Use

IndiaGasDrumOnBike2010-06-29.jpg“An employee filled an oil drum in New Delhi on Friday. India’s government has decided to reduce popular fuel subsidies.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I smiled when I saw the ironic photo that appears above. It seems to imply that with government subsidies, even bicycle riders will buy motor fuel.

(p. B3) MUMBAI, India — The Indian government on Friday reduced popular fuel subsidies, a long-delayed change that will help policy makers reduce a big budget deficit but one that will also worsen already high inflation.

Policy makers said the government would stop subsidizing gasoline. Diesel, kerosene and natural gas would continue to receive support at a slightly lower level. India spent about $5.6 billion to subsidize fuel in the last fiscal year, which ended in March. State-owned energy companies added the equivalent of an additional $4.4 billion by selling fuel below its cost.
India and other big countries committed to eliminating energy subsidies at a Group of 20 meeting last year, but policy makers here had repeatedly put off the politically difficult change.

For the full story, see:
VIKAS BAJAJ. “India Cuts Subsidies for Fuels.” The New York Times (Sat., June 26, 2010): B3.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 25, 2010.)

More New Jobs Created Are Higher Skill Jobs

(p. A1) As unlikely as it would seem against this backdrop, manufacturers who want to expand find that hiring is not always easy. During the recession, domestic manufacturers appear to have accelerated the long-term move (p. A3) toward greater automation, laying off more of their lowest-skilled workers and replacing them with cheaper labor abroad.

Now they are looking to hire people who can operate sophisticated computerized machinery, follow complex blueprints and demonstrate higher math proficiency than was previously required of the typical assembly line worker.
Makers of innovative products like advanced medical devices and wind turbines are among those growing quickly and looking to hire, and they too need higher skills.
. . .
Manufacturers who profess to being shorthanded say they have retooled the way they make products, calling for higher-skilled employees. “It’s not just what is being made,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “but to the degree that you make it at all, you make it differently.”
In a survey last year of 779 industrial companies by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm, 32 percent of companies reported “moderate to serious” skills shortages. Sixty-three percent of life science companies, and 45 percent of energy firms cited such shortages.

For the full story, see:
MOTOKO RICH. “Jobs Go Begging as Gap is Exposed in Worker Skills.” The New York Times (Fri., July 1, 2010): A1 & A3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 1, 2010 and has the title “Factory Jobs Return, but Employers Find Skills Shortage.”)

Chicago’s South Side Welcomes Wal-Mart: “The Audience Stood and Cheered”

WalmartChicagoSupporters2010-06-29.jpg“Supporters of a proposed Wal-Mart store in Chicago demonstrated at a City Coumcil zoning panel hearing Thursday.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B4) “We need jobs for our neighborhood, and Wal-Mart is willing to come, and they’re willing to provide the jobs,” said the Rev. Dr. D. Darrell Griffin, the pastor at Oakdale Covenant Church.

Politicians who supported the Wal-Mart store said they did so in part because of employment and revenue for the city.
“There are major corporations willing to invest significant money within our communities, which has not been done, really, since the ’60s, when a lot of the corporations left the communities after the riots,” said Howard B. Brookins Jr., a member of the council. “This is huge for us.”
. . .
On Thursday, the zoning committee meeting was filled with about 200 onlookers wearing T-shirts with the Wal-Mart logo and slogans like, “Our neighborhood. Our jobs. Our decision.”
Before he asked for a simple yes or no vote, Daniel Solis, chairman of the zoning committee, told the crowd, “We are now the model in this country.”
After the unanimous vote — which sends the proposal to the full City Council, where it is expected to pass next week — the audience stood and cheered.
“It’s going to bring jobs and help the community,” Shawn Polk, 20, a college student who lives near the proposed store, said afterward.

For the full story, see:
STEPHANIE CLIFFORD. “Wal-Mart Gains in Its Wooing of Chicago.” The New York Times (Fri., June 25, 2010): B1 & B4.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 24, 2010.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

How HP Turned Down the Apple PC

Wozniak tells the story of how he offered to develop the PC within HP, but HP turned him down. The story seems highly compatible with the account of disruptive innovations given by Clayton Christensen.
Another aspect of the story is worth highlighting. Sometimes it is alleged, as e.g., with the Tucker auto story, that large incumbent corporations suppress innovations. But in this case, although HP did not want to develop the PC themselves, they did not try to keep Wozniak and Jobs from developing it on their own.

(p. 175) Before the partnership agreement was even inked, I realized something and told Steve. Because I worked at HP, I told him, everything I’d designed during the term of my employment contract belonged to HP.

Whether that upset Steve or not, I couldn’t tell. But it didn’t matter to me if he was upset about it. I believed it was my duty to tell HP about what I had designed while working for them. That was the right thing and the ethical thing. Plus, I really loved that company and I really did believe this was a product they should do. I knew that a guy named Miles Judd, three levels above me in the company structure, had managed an engineering group at an HP division in Colorado Springs that had developed a desktop computer.
It wasn’t like ours at all–it was aimed at scientists and engineers and it was really expensive–but it was programmable in BASIC.
I told my boss, Pete Dickinson, that I had designed an inexpensive desktop computer that could sell for under $800 and could run BASIC. He agreed to set up a meeting so I could talk Miles.
(p. 176) I remember going into the big conference room to meet Pete, his boss, Ed Heinsen, and Ed’s boss, Miles. I made my presentation and showed them my design.
“Okay,” Miles said after thinking about it for a couple of minutes. “There’s a problem you’ll have when you say you have output to a TV. What happens if it doesn’t look right on every TV? I mean, is it an RCA TV a Sears TV or an HP product that’s at fault?”
HP keeps a close eye on quality control, he told me. If HP couldn’t control what TV the customer was using, how could it make sure the customer had a good experience? More to the point, the division didn’t have the people or money to do a project like mine. So he turned it down.
I was disappointed, but I left it at that. Now I was free to enter into the Apple partnership with Steve and Ron. I kept my job, but after that I was officially moonlighting. Everybody I worked with knew about the computer board we were going to sell.
Over the next few months, Miles would keep coming up to me. He knew about BASIC-programmable computers because of his division out in Colorado, and even though they didn’t want my design, he said he was intrigued by the idea of having a machine so cheap that anyone could own one and program it. He kept telling me he’d been losing sleep ever since he heard the idea.
But looking back, I see he was right. How could HP do it? It couldn’t. This was nowhere near a complete and finished scientific engineer’s product. Everybody saw that smaller, cheaper computers were going to be a coming thing, but HP couldn’t justify it as a product. Not yet. Even if they had agreed, I see now that HP would’ve done it wrong anyway. I mean, when they finally did it in 1979, they did it wrong. That machine went nowhere.

Source:
Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.

The main Christensen book is:
Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.