Låt staten ta över Volvo

I sämre tider som dessa poppar det upp märkliga förslag till höger och vänster, om hur vi ska kunna återgå till mer välmående dagar. Som väl är har Reinfeldts regering hittils inte fallit för frestelsen att djupdyka in i populismen (kanske till skillnad från Mona Sahlin), men helt lugn kan man såklart inte vara.

Bland dessa märkliga krav finns ett som framfördes i Dagens Industri i början av veckan. Rekorn för Handelshögskolan vid Göteborgs Universitet, Rolf Wolff, anser att det är dags att staten tar över ägandet i Volvo.

Vi bör alla ägna en stund åt att fundera över vad som händer i Sverige om både Volvo Personvagnar och Saab Automobil upphör att existera.

Ja, vad skulle ske? En jobbig omställningsperiod för vissa, precis som när andra industrier gått i graven när de inte längre varit marknadsmässiga, men sedan skulle (om de inte hindras) kreativa krafter skapa nya möjligheter och arbetstillfällen. Det är trots allt vad som hänt när varven försvunnit, eller när mängder av människor lämnade bondelivet. Detta givet att Volvo och Saab står mellan alternativen att försvinna och att tas över av staten. Det är nu långt ifrån självklart.

Wolff menar också att det inte finns några belägg för att staten skulle vara en sämre ägare än någon annan. Niclas Berggren delar inte den uppfattningen, och radar på sin blogg upp forskning som visar på motsatsen.

Låt oss slutligen fundera på följande. Om Volvo går bra finns det inget skäl att tro att inte privata ägare driver Volvo vidare. Om Volvo går dåligt skulle staten kunna driva verksamheten vidare, men då till en stor kostnad. Varför ska skattepengar gå till att upprätthålla en verksamhet som går med förlust? Har inte resurserna — såväl arbetskraften på Volvo som skattepengarna — en alternativ användning? Är det effektivt att konservera en given näringslivsstruktur? Tänk om detta tänkande hade gällt tidigare näringar som av strukturella skäl i hög grad har lagts ned i Sverige: jordbruket, skrivmaskinsfabrikerna eller varvsindustrin. Hade det gynnat svenskarnas välståndsutveckling om staten hade lagt skattepengar på att driva dem vidare i samma skala som tidigare? Jag skulle inte tro det. Så nej, staten bör inte köpa Volvo. Det finns stöd i ekonomisk forskning för att en sådan handling skulle vara ett ineffektivt användande av resurserna.

Även Andreas Bergh är misstänksam och har kikat litet i Wolffs cv. Det visar sig att han kanske inte fullständigt talar som nationalekonom.

Kön av folk som vill lägga beslag på skattebetalarnas resurser är alltid lång, och särskilt i tider som dessa är risken påtaglig att regeringen är villig att dela ut dem. Värt att hålla ett vakande öga på alltså, särskilt som våra media inte är så intresserade av att granska den typen av slöseri.

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Obama’s Economic Advisers

As president-elect Obama gets closer to becoming President, his future set of advisers and cabinet secretaries is slowly taking shape. So far they have been surprisingly centrist, and relatively Clintonian. Unless the Obamaniacs get too upset that’s probably wise.

In particular his selections for economic advisors are rather promising. Arnold Kling describes future National Economic Council director Larry Summers as brilliant (although he is still worried about Summers talking about the need to overact); Tyler Cowen feels Christina Romer is a good person to head the Council of Economic Advisers. As does Greg Mankiw, although he does worry about the competence overlap between the NEC and the CEA.

All in all, these nominations make me slightly more optimistic (or less pessimistic perhaps), although the level of influence these people will have on actual policy remains to be seen. After all, popularity is more important than efficiency when it comes to public policy making.

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Meeting the Israeli Ambassador

Last night I got the opportunity to meet with the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, Mr Benjamin Dagan. He talked at some length about the economic progress in Israel, with their modernised economy, and focused a lot on the relationship with the European Union — traditionally not particularly warm, but getting better. He was optimistic about the coming Czech presidency, and obviously hope for a continuation during the following Swedish, although I would be surprised to see any major swings in the Swedish position.

Although he appeared to want to focus on other things, eventually Mr Dagan had to talk a bit about the security situation, and the ongoing conflicts in the region. Overall he was surprisingly optimistic, having some faith in the current Palestinian leadership’s desire for peace, although their weak institutional capacity makes substantial progress difficult. Still, the Palestinian mood seems favourable, in his view, as does that of many of the Arab countries. More threatening, clearly, is Iran and their effort towards going nuclear.

If he is correct there appears to be a strategic opportunity to get somewhere. Support, at least behind the scenes, from the Arab countries is crucial, and to maintain it we must keep it worthwhile for them to move further in this direction. Their alternative is the Iranian way, and depending on Iranian strength there is a big risk that they will align themselves with it. To my mind — and the European experience support it — trade and economic ties is the key to success. Perhaps here there is a cheap way for the West to assist. My suggestion is this: we open up our markets to the Arab countries (and Israel), on the condition that Israel and the Arab countries lower their trade barriers to each other. This is better than free for us (with us being the EU, and the US) — through lower prices and increased competition — while it may make conflict in the Middle East seem less attractive to those who are still considering it a viable option. Realistic? You decide.

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Får Fjellner stanna kvar?

Christoffer Fjellner är något så ovanligt som en parlamentariker som gör nytta, tar egna initiativ, och faktiskt rentav på allvar arbetar för att minska mängden regler och politiskt inflytande. Detta gör han från sin plats i EU-parlamentet, till vilken han valdes som moderat 2006. Nästa år är det dags för omval, och Mattias Svensson har snappat upp en del rykten.

För detta har Fjellner belönats med en tydlig andraplats i det moderata provvalet inför EU-parlamentsvalet nästa år. Nu cirkulerar ryktet om att moderaterna centralt är på väg att peta Fjellner ner på icke valbar plats på listan. Unga liberala frihandelsvänner och antipaternalister med örat mot nätdebatten är tydligen inte vad de nya moderaterna vill lansera i EU.

Det vore nu inte så överraskande. Självständiga parlamentariker är knappast något som går hem i det svenska partiväsendet — något som om inte annat gjordes klart i FRA-debatten. Nu som då så belyser det vikten av att införa renodlade personval, inte nödvändigtvis i enmansvalkretsar. Om den procentuella spärren för att bli inkryssad tas bort helt, vore det ett stort steg. Ännu bättre vore det om möjligheten att rösta på ett parti som helhet dessutom togs bort.

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Obama vs McCain – The Bottom Line

For the politics nerds out there, Andrew Gelman has a very good summary of yesterday’s election. The bottom line: Obama won the young vote with an unusual amount. A bit surprisingly, however, young people did not have a higher turnout than normally (at least not significantly so). Less surprisingly minority groups favoured Obama with a bigger margin than they favoured Kerry in 2004.

Gelman also points out that Obama did not redraw the map in any important way, but rather the entire electorate moved a bit in the Democrats’ direction. Have a look yourselves!

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HT: Tyler Cowen
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Election Day

Election day is finally here, and while one shouldn’t be too sure before the votes are actually counted, it looks very likely that Barrack Obama will be the next American president. That is unfortunate, even though it’s hard to get particularly inspired by his Republican opponent John McCain. At the time of writing, the betting markets are favouring Obama 93 to 7.

To my mind two things stand out, concerning the campaign. One is that the campaign has been unusually long, starting way before the midterm election two years ago. Given the relatively lightweight take on the issues this has been a rather tiring circus to follow, even for someone with my level of interest. On the other hand it does offer a potential benefit — it gives journalists (and others) more time to take an in depth look at the candidates and press them on the various issues. Which brings us to point two: the media’s infatuation with one of the candidates. Journalists tending to prefer the Democratic candidate is one thing, but the stubborn refusal to take a closer look at Obama’s claims and proposals have been embarrassing and — if part of a trend — potentially dangerous to the democratic institutions. Harold Evans wrote well about it in the Guardian, a few days ago.

What about the effects of electing Obama rather than McCain? As is often the case, I believe the differences would be smaller than people expect, in spite of the fact that the next president would face a Congress controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (both Democrats). Presidents, as well as Congressmen, like to be re-elected, so in spite of their ambitions they tend to be relatively risk-averse and reluctant to big changes. Still some things would obviously differ, and in those lie the reasons for my preference for McCain.

  • Foreign policy. The area where many of Obama’s supporters are expecting the biggest changes, and also the area where they are most likely to be disappointed. Pragmatic considerations will probably underpin both Obama’s and McCain’s decisions. Both would take most of the troops out of Iraq as the situation remains relatively stable, although the rhetoric would differ. Both would have to strengthen the force in Afghanistan. Both would face a similar level of resistance from other countries, whether Europeans, Russians and Chinese. Obama would be quick to learn that the dislike of America had little to do with Bush after all.
  • Economic policy. Here the difference would likely be bigger. Obama would be able to move towards a more redistributive system (one might say Social Democratic or Socialist), with his (slightly hidden) tax increases and increased government handouts. McCain, facing a hostile Congress, would have to compromise, with the likely outcome being status quo.
  • Trade policy. This is the most important and potentially harmful one. With McCain, we would see the current trade agreements upheld, and potentially new ones signed (with Latin American countries) although those would be tough to get through the Senate. With Obama the U.S. would take a more protectionist turn, perhaps including some tinkering with the current agreements, and certainly with no new ones signed. Higher trade barriers towards countries like China would also be more likely. All in all this would substantially harm both American consumers (that is, Americans in general) and people all over the world trying to sell their goods to the U.S.

Tomorrow we will know. When all the results are in I will post a comparison with the state by state predictions I made, in which I picked McCain as the slight winner just before the candidates chose their VP candidates.

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Amazing democracy

Over at EconLog Arnold Kling ponders the wonders of democracy.

2. In spite of the fact that Congressional approval ratings are down near single-digit levels, all of the current committee chairmen will be restored to power, and in fact they will be strengthened.

[…]

4. After the election, the new President will be viewed as having a “mandate” to enact policies (including policies that were never proposed during the campaign). Meanwhile, the vast majority of voters are expressing their identity, not their policy preferences.

These things, and the others Kling points to, are indeed problematic, but are they undermining the democratic system? My view is that they do not, especially given the viable options. Certainly democracy is not the protector of liberty we would like it to be, but it does work as a significant obstacle to tyranny. That seems to be all we can hope for, institutionally.

Democracy will not lead to policies reflecting the will of the people, because the precision of a vote every four years is nowhere near precise enough. What it does allow us is to put some constraints on the people in power. If they want to remain there, they have to avoid offending us so much that we oust them. However the system itself has a different problem in this regard, namely that it affects what the will of the people is (if such an aggregate term can be understood in a meaningful way). By making the decisions collective, and in particular by making the financing of policies collective, it becomes cheap for voting individuals to prefer policies that they would not prefer if they were carrying the full cost. This opens the door for “special interests”, with the most obvious ones being agriculture and those advocating protectionism.

So, while working fairly well there are things that we would benefit from improving upon. How those improvements should look, however, is far from obvious — especially since they have to be adapted through the very system we wish to improve.

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