Editor's Note

JG, our tireless inquisitor from Passadumkeag, Maine, wonders whether any of the articles in the Review have been made into movies. Glad you wondered, JG.

The film “Tax Cuts — or Die,” based on Len Burman’s essay on the value-added tax, starred Javier Bardem as the one-handed economist and Charlize Theron as the ghost of Ayn Rand. It got off to a promising start at the Filmfest München, where it almost won the prestigious Fritz Gerlach Prize. But it bombed in test marketing in New York, when audiences discovered that the actors were speaking English, not German. Keep checking Netflix, though, to see if it’s been picked up.

Meanwhile, check out our latest trove for enlightenment (and entertainment) potential.

Åke Blomqvist, an economist at Carleton University in Ottawa, offers a note of caution to those yearning for single-payer health insurance. “A single-payer model is by definition a monopoly model,” he writes, “and thus almost certain to operate inefficiently. The United States would do better by emulating Switzerland, the Netherlands or Australia, all of which provide universal insurance but inject some degree of competition to contain costs and to provide more choice in services and providers.”

Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School, steps back from the furious debate over globalization to ask what we really want from global economic integration. “Elites now concede that globalization produces losers as well as winners,” he writes. “But the correct response, they argue, is not to change course with globalization; it is to ensure that the losers are compensated.”

“The logic of sustaining an open economy by compensating those who end up with smaller slices of the pie is impeccable,” Rodrik says. Instead, under the sway of market fundamentalists, the United States let the chips (and workers) fall where they may.”

For his part, Brad DeLong, an economist at the University of California (Berkeley), challenges the premise that globalization is largely responsible for the frustrations of working-class Americans. He notes that “Pascal Lamy, the former head of the World Trade Organization, likes to quote China’s sixth Buddhist patriarch: ‘When the wise man points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger.’ Market capitalism, Lamy says, is the moon. Globalization is the finger.”

“The policies needed to soothe the grievances blamed on globalization seem further out of reach today than they were decades ago,” DeLong concludes. “The best one can hope for is that the fever subsides sufficiently to allow for a realistic debate over who owes what to whom.”

John Kwoka, an economist at Northeastern University, laments the death by a thousand cuts of U.S. merger policy. “Antitrust has, with time, narrowed its focus,” he writes, “reversing the Progressives’ inclination to put the burden of proof on corporations to show that increased concentration is benign. And it is resolving cases in ways that have permitted consolidation and more generally blurred its mission and agenda.”

Mark Thoma, an economist at the University of Oregon, warns that the Fed’s ability to manage the economy without interference is by no means assured. “History shows us that independence cannot be guaranteed by legislation,” he writes. “It requires presidents to appoint qualified people and then to support their discretion. More generally, it depends upon the willingness of official Washington to put the nation’s long-term interests above partisanship. On that score, it’s hard to claim we’re making progress.”

Larry Fisher, a journalist who frequently writes for The New York Times, takes the measure of the dark underbelly of global trade for counterfeit goods. “The total value of counterfeit and pirated goods was as much as $650 billion in 2011,” he writes. “No product, it seems, is too large (construction cranes) or too small (rice). The latter, by the way, is made from various grain remnants; reports of plastic rice have thus far been debunked.”

Daniel Herriges, an urban planner, explains why it isn’t possible to build our way out of traffic congestion and why we shouldn’t even try. “We chase mobility like a snake eating its own tail, accruing ever-growing road maintenance obligations so that we can travel more miles at higher speed, live farther afield from each other and ultimately need yet more roads,” he writes. “We measure congestion costs in ‘delay,’ with the implicit assumption that free-flowing traffic — as fast as the road would safely allow us to go — is the ideal. But this logic yields dubious benefits in terms of both economic productivity and personal satisfaction.”

One last thought: Don’t forget to check out the marvelous excerpt from Cents and Sensibility, a new book by Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro that brings the wisdom of humanities scholars to the economist’s table. Happy perusing.
Peter Passell