The Good Old Days, When Coffee Smelled Like Wet Dogs

We tend to romanticize the country store, and to deride chain stores and name brands. But maybe coffee lovers should think twice.

 

(p. 116, footnote 1) "The air was thick with an all-embracing odor," wrote Gerald Carson in The Old Country Store, "an aroma composed of dry herbs and wet dogs, [of] strong tobacco, green hides and raw humanity."  Bulk roasted coffee absorbed all such smells.

 

Source: 

Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

 

(Note: the “of” in brackets in the Carson quote is the word Carson used in his book; Pendergrast mistakenly substitutes the word “or”; I have corrected Pendergrast’s mistake.)

Good Rules Encourage Entrepreneurship, Resulting in Vibrant Economy

Some useful observations from the 2004 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Edward Prescott:

Good tax rates, . . . , need be high enough to generate sufficient revenues, but not so high that they choke off growth and, perversely, decrease tax revenues.  This, of course, is the tricky part, and brings us to the task at hand:  Should Congress extend the 15% rate on capital gains and dividends?  Wrong question.  Should Congress make the 15% rate permanent?  Yes.  (This assumes that a lower rate is politically impossible.)
These taxes are particularly cumbersome because they hit a market economy right in its collective heart, which is its entrepreneurial and risk-taking spirit.  What makes this country’s economy so vibrant is its participants’ willingness to take chances, innovate, acquire financing, hire new people and break old molds.  Every increase in capital gains taxes and dividends is a direct tax on this vitality.
Americans aren’t risk-takers by nature any more than Germans are intrinsically less willing to work than Americans.  The reason the U.S. economy is so much more vibrant than Germany’s is that people in each country are playing by different rules.  But we shouldn’t take our vibrancy for granted.  Tax rates matter.  A shift back to higher rates will have negative consequences.
And this isn’t about giving tax breaks to the rich.  The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece by former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, who noted that “nearly 60% of those paying capital gains taxes earn less than $50,000 a year, and 85% of capital gains taxpayers earn less than $100,000.”  In addition, he wrote that lower tax rates on savings and investment benefited 24 million families to the tune of about $950 on their 2004 taxes.
Do wealthier citizens realize greater savings?  Of course — this is true by definition.  But that doesn’t make it wrong.  Let’s look at two examples:    First, there are those entrepreneurs who have been working their tails off for years with little or no compensation and who, if they are lucky, finally realize a relatively big gain.  What kind of Scrooge would snatch away this entrepreneurial carrot?  As mentioned earlier, under a good system you have to provide for these rewards or you will discourage the risk taking that is the lifeblood of our economy.  Additionally, those entrepreneurs create huge social surpluses in the form of new jobs and spin-off businesses.   Entrepreneurs capture a small portion of the social surpluses that they create, but a small percentage of something big is, well, big.
Congratulations, I say.  Another group of wealthier individuals includes those who, for a variety of reasons, earn more money than the rest of us.  Again, I tip my hat.  Does it make sense to try to capture more of those folks’ money by raising rates on everyone?  To persecute the few, should we punish the many?  We need to remember that many so-called wealthy families are those with two wage-earners who are doing nothing more than trying to raise their children and pursue their careers.  Research has shown that much of America’s economic growth in recent decades is owing to this phenomenon — we should encourage this dynamic, not squelch it.

For the full commentary, see:
EDWARD C. PRESCOTT. “‘Stop Messing With Federal Tax Rates’.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 20, 2005): A14.

Leading Clinton Economist Advocates a Schumpeterian “Dynamism”

Source of book image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0743237536/104-0088216-5679944


Today’s review of the new Gene Sperling economic policy book in the New York Times Book Review, begins by emphasizing Sperling’s importance in the Clinton administration:

(p. 16) If you were inclined to identify Clintonism with a single person other than the big man himself, that person might well be Gene Sperling – a top campaign adviser in 1992; a tireless advocate of fiscal discipline during the first term; an inveterate policy wonk throughout all eight years of the administration.  So it’s little surprise that this book-length vision for a Democratic economic strategy can best be described as Clintonism 2.0.

NOAM SCHEIBER. “Clintonism 2.0.” The New York Times Book Review, Section 7 (Sun., January 22, 2006): 16.

Here is the opening paragraph of Sperling’s chapter one, which is entitled ” Growing Together in the Dynamism Economy.”

In the 1990s, a new economic era was created when a period of intense globalization collided with an information technology revolution.  Yet precisely defining a "new" economy is less important than understanding the nature of the change.  I believe a more descriptive label is the “dynamism” economy.  Of course, dynamic change in market economies is hardly new.  The mid-twentieth-century economist Joseph Schumpeter identified the process of “creative destruction,” positing that a healthy market economy is continually moving forward, replacing old capital, old industries — and existing jobs — with more productive alternatives.  Yet, what feels most “new” for average citizens is the breakneck speed at which the increased globalization, rapid technological advance, and the explosion of the Internet are putting fierce competitive pressures on the economy and accelerating change not only in products and services, but also in entire job categories and industries.

Part of the first chapter is viewable at Amazon.com. The book citation is: Sperling, Gene. The Pro-Growth Progressive: An Economic Strategy for Shared Prosperity. Simon & Schuster, 2005.

“Dynamism” as a descriptor for the good society also appeals to libertarian economics columnist Virginia Postrel, author of The Future and Its Enemies and webmaster of dynamist.com.

Rioting Caused by Economy Closed to Creative Destruction

FrenchRiots11-2005.jpg Source of photo: WSJ online version of article quoted and cited below.

The French rioters face very high unemployment. French restrictions on the labor market, and the economy more generally, cause the high unemployment. For example, the French make it hard for firms to fire employees, so as a result, firms are more reluctant to hire workers in the first place, resulting in higher unemployment. Although they do not know it, the rioters are rioting because France is closed to creative destruction. The following commentary is on point:

(p. A16) Like other Americans, immigrants often dramatically improve their quality of life and economic prospects by moving out to less dense, faster growing areas. They can also take advantage of more business-friendly government. Perhaps the most extreme case is Houston, a low-cost, low-tax haven where immigrant entrepreneurship has exploded in recent decades. Much of this has taken place in the city itself. Looser regulations and a lack of zoning lower land and rental costs, providing opportunities to build businesses and acquire property.

It is almost inconceivable to see such flowerings of ethnic entrepreneurship in Continental Europe. Economic and regulatory policy plays a central role in stifling enterprise. Heavy-handed central planning tends to make property markets expensive and difficult to penetrate. Add to this an overall regulatory regime that makes it hard for small business to start or expand, and you have a recipe for economic stagnation and social turmoil. What would help France most now would be to stimulate economic growth and lessen onerous regulation. Most critically, this would also open up entrepreneurial and employment opportunity for those now suffering more of a nightmare of closed options than anything resembling a European dream.

For the full commentary, see:
Joel Kotkin. “Our Immigrants, Their Immigrants.” The Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2005): A16.