The long — and dangerous — American path paved in gold – Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

From The Washington Post 

What is gold? Is it the essential bedrock of fiscal prudence? Is it a political football, with fortunes and importance determined by far greater forces? Or is it a mere distraction at the margins of the global financial system — attracting a disproportionate number of scams and oddball political characters?

Gold in the American economic system has been all of these and in that order. James Ledbetter weaves a highly readable tale, literally from the origins of the republic to the dubious sponsors of Glenn Beck on Fox News (a brilliant concluding chapter). Too often, this kind of economic history becomes dry and even soporific. But Ledbetter — the editor of Inc. magazine — has a fine eye for personality and ideas; each of the 12 chapters puts you on the spot at a critical moment on the American journey with gold, with anecdotes nicely blended to create the broader historical context.

You can read it in chronological order or you can dip a toe in at any point, almost the ideal summer reading. Or — my favorite for this kind of tale — watch the story unfold backwards; start with the modern and familiar, and see how far you need to go back in time before it feels like you are watching something straight out of Marvel Comics, with big characters and motivations that now seem strange. The most compelling material explains how President Franklin D. Roosevelt reluctantly yet effectively — and with very good reason — ended the way gold had operated over the previous half century. But Operation Goldfinger is also highly entertaining — a 1960s public policy escapade, inspired by the James Bond movie.

The broader plot line is this. The American republic was initially bankrupt, a point that the hit musical Hamilton made more effectively than any middle school history lesson. A monetary system subsequently modeled on that of Britain included gold as an anchor of value for paper money and bank deposits. This system provided sufficient stability in good times — along with plenty of opportunity for financial speculation and shenanigans — and could also be suspended when circumstances dictated, most notably during the Civil War.

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The philanthropy data gap: measuring what matters – Tavneet Suri

MIT Sloan Associate Prof. Tavneet Suri

MIT Sloan Associate Prof. Tavneet Suri

From Financial Times

As philanthropy becomes a common source of finance for poverty-fighting programmes, it is natural for donors to want data about their impact on the people they want to help.

Yet measuring the benefits of philanthropy is surprisingly hard. How can we define and measure “income” in a village of subsistence farmers? Can we ask a street kid enrolled in a violence-prevention programme about his illegal activities? How do we know if a change in nutritional outcomes was the result of a social programme and not some other variable, like a change in food prices? How can we measure non-quantitative or non-monetary outcomes, like women’s empowerment or entrepreneurial motivation?

For many years, aid impact studies were based on anecdotal evidence or fragments of data. Over the past decade, searching for a more rigorous approach, development researchers have applied the “gold standard” of medical research: randomised controlled trials. In an RCT, researchers allocate an intervention, such as a microfinance loan, to a randomly selected test group of people and compare their outcomes with a control group. Read More »

Why the Trump tax plan’s fuzzy math​ doesn’t add up – Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

From MarketWatch

Senate Republicans last week agreed on a budget resolution allowing a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next 10 years from tax legislation. This resolution paves the way for 51 Republican Senators to enact mammoth tax cuts by September 30, 2018.

Let’s be clear: these are tax cuts, despite their tax reform rhetoric.

As the centerpiece of these tax cuts, President Donald Trump has proposed to lower the corporate tax rate to 15% from 35%. However, despite the deficit cushion of $1.5 trillion allowed by last week’s budget resolution, a 15% rate is totally unrealistic.

Cutting the corporate tax rate to 15% would cost the U.S. Treasury $3.7 trillion over 10 years. But that cost cannot come close to being offset by repealing existing tax preferences, which all will be fiercely defended by special interests. A realistic legislative target would be a corporate tax rate of 25%. And under Senate rules this rate would have to expire after 10 years because it creates future budget deficits.

Let’s do the math on corporate and individual rates, together with optimistic assumptions about limiting existing tax preferences. The numbers are based on dynamic estimates from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, unless noted otherwise.

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How blockchain technology will impact the digital economy–Christian Catalini

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini

From University of Oxford Faculty of Law.

The Platform of the Future?

The survival of any organization depends on its ability to outperform competitors and marketplaces in attracting and rewarding talent, ideas and capital. As communication and transaction costs have drastically declined because of the internet, new platforms have emerged, delivering goods and services at a speed and efficiency previously unimaginable. These new digital players took advantage of the changes in the underlying technology to challenge established business models and rethink pre-existing value chains. The ones that succeeded did so because they achieved a level of efficiency that their brick and mortar counterparts had trouble replicating. Through online reputation and feedback systems, digital players were able to create global marketplaces where individuals, products and services could be matched more effectively than ever before. By providing curation and ensuring the safety of transactions, these new types of intermediaries were able to reap the returns of this first wave of digitization.

A similar transformation is about to happen as blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies mature and mainstream applications emerge. Under this new wave of technological change, intermediaries will still be able to add value to transactions, but thenature of intermediation will fundamentally change. Whereas some established players will be able to use this opportunity to further scale their operations, others will be challenged by new entrants proposing entirely new approaches to value creation and value capture.

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The democracy of data: how Venezuelans can stand up to government lies – Alberto Cavallo

MIT Sloan Assoc. Prof. Alberto Cavallo

From infobae

Venezuela, once one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries, appears to be teetering on the brink of collapse. Its economy is shrinking. Food is in short supply. Its currency—the bolivar—is virtually worthless, and inflation appears to be out of control. But, in light of the fact that the country’s Central Bank stopped publishing inflation data in December 2015, no one has an accurate picture of just how dire the situation is.

This dearth of inflation data may seem like an academic problem, but in actual fact, economic indicators are no small things. Without official statistics, it’s impossible to draw accurate conclusions about the wellbeing of the Venezuelan people. The lack of data has consequences on a micro level, too. The inflation rate, for instance, is a vital number for anyone who wants to negotiate a wage, decide on an affordable rent, or make any savings or financial plans for the future.

With a government intent on suppressing important information, many Venezuelans are angry. As a native from Argentina —another Latin American country that lied about inflation in the past—I feel their pain. As an economist, I urge them to fuel their frustration into action.

Earlier this year, my colleagues and I started a project to measure inflation in Venezuela using a new and highly effective technique: crowdsourcing with mobile phones. My team developed a special app for android phones that allows people in the country to report the prices of everyday products and services. We then aggregate the data to estimate the level of inflation. Over the past five months, we have collected more than 3,000 observations from 1,000 products in 10 cities around the country.

Our data indicates that Venezuela’s inflation rate is about 25% on a monthly basis, which represents one of highest rates in the world.

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