• Dettes des Etats, politique économique et lobbies

    europe-map-of-europe-nightlights-satellite-woodleywonderworks

    Michel Rocard et Pierre Larrouturou se demandent “Pourquoi faut-il que les Etats payent 600 fois plus que les banques?” pour refinancer leur dette.

    “Après avoir épluché 20 000 pages de documents divers, Bloomberg montre que la Réserve fédérale a secrètement prêté aux banques en difficulté la somme de 1 200 milliards au taux incroyablement bas de 0,01 %.

    Au même moment, dans de nombreux pays, les peuples souffrent des plans d’austérité imposés par des gouvernements auxquels les marchés financiers n’acceptent plus de prêter quelques milliards à des taux d’intérêt inférieurs à 6, 7 ou 9 % ! Asphyxiés par de tels taux d’intérêt, les gouvernements sont “obligés” de bloquer les retraites, les allocations familiales ou les salaires des fonctionnaires et de couper dans les investissements, ce qui accroît le chômage et va nous faire plonger bientôt dans une récession très grave.

    Est-il normal que, en cas de crise, les banques privées, qui se financent habituellement à 1 % auprès des banques centrales, puissent bénéficier de taux à 0,01 %, mais que, en cas de crise, certains Etats soient obligés au contraire de payer des taux 600 ou 800 fois plus élevés ? “Etre gouverné par l’argent organisé est aussi dangereux que par le crime organisé”, affirmait Roosevelt. Il avait raison. Nous sommes en train de vivre une crise du capitalisme dérégulé qui peut être suicidaire pour notre civilisation.”

    Un commentaire à ce propos d’Etienne Wasmer, et un autre de Charles Wyplosz, qui étrangement, mentionne le mot “capture” (pour les non-initiés, un mélange de pouvoir des lobbies et de corruption):

    “This observation raises another, most disquieting, interpretation. Are the politicians captured by special interests?

    A common thread of many decisions is that they aim at protecting banks. Clearly, no one wishes to see a banking collapse but if, as many believe, some deep bank restructuring is unavoidable, forbearance is highly counterproductive. The capture interpretation rests on a web of signals: the initial refusal of contemplating any sovereign debt restructuring, last summer’s row with the IMF Managing Director, pressure on the European Banking Authority to conduct gentle stress tests, and the negotiation of PSI with the world banking lobby leading to solutions that protect banks while providing little debt relief.”

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  • Samoa: bills left on the sidewalk

    7741521043_changement-de-fuseau-horaire-aux-samoa

    Samoa just skipped a day, in search for large economic gains. Apparently, there were some bills left on the sidewalk, although some appear to disagree.

    “In doing business with New Zealand and Australia we are losing out on two working days a week,” Mr Tuilaepa said. “While it’s Friday here, it is Saturday in New Zealand and when we are at church on Sunday, they are already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane.”

    One critic, Mata’afa Keni Lesa, editor of the Samoa Observer newspaper, said Samoans were increasingly concerned about whatever may emerge from the Prime Minister’s next “brilliant idea”.

    “Since he is capable of changing our constitution on any day of the week, we fear the day when we’re all going to wake up in a snowy country somewhere close to Russia,” he said.”

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  • Lois mémorielles et liberté académique

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    Une mise en perspective salutaire dans un débat sur les lois mémorielles qui manque parfois singulièrement de recul. Une tribune de Bruno Chaouat, directeur du Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Université du Minnesota, qui pose la question de la liberté académique et intellectuelle.

    “Le problème, dans la tribune de Pierre Nora, n’est donc pas l’indignation légitime de son auteur contre la nouvelle loi. C’est son quasi-silence au sujet du négationnisme pratiqué par l’Etat turc. Un intellectuel de l’envergure de Nora devrait savoir que, quant aux restrictions de la liberté académique, il y a pire que la France : la Turquie, par exemple. Aussi Nora voit-il la paille qui est dans l’œil de la législation française, mais ignore la poutre qui est dans celui du code pénal turc. Rappelons en effet que la législation de ce pays punit les intellectuels et les écrivains qui ont l’idée indécente de parler, à propos des massacres d’Arméniens de l’Empire ottoman, de “génocide”.

    Rappelons que des citoyens turcs ont été et sont encore persécutés, sur le territoire de la Turquie et à l’extérieur de ce territoire, pour oser exprimer leur conviction au sujet de cette période historique. Rappelons enfin que la Turquie punit, au titre de l’article 301, “l’insulte à la nation turque”, et que la reconnaissance du génocide arménien tombe sous le coup dudit article de loi. L’écrivain Orhan Pamuk, parmi d’autres, journalistes, chercheurs ou écrivains moins célèbres, en a fait les frais.
    (…)
    Soutenons donc Pierre Nora dans sa lutte contre les lois mémorielles et pour l’indépendance de la recherche. Mais exigeons de nos éminents intellectuels qu’ils dénoncent la censure du gouvernement et des lobbies turcs, censure qui ne se limite pas, répétons-le, au territoire de la Turquie (ce serait déjà intolérable), mais affecte les chercheurs du monde entier, contraints de se demander, avant de publier un article ou un livre, s’ils auront les moyens de s’offrir les services d’un avocat, dans le meilleur des cas, et d’un garde du corps, dans le pire.”

    A mettre en relation avec ces déclarations surréalistes, et bien inquiétantes, du ministre de l’Intérieur turc.

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  • Microfinance: group or individual lending?

    While reading some papers in this literature (I am thinking for example of some recent contributions by Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman, like this 2011 Science paper) may make the non-specialist reader think group lending is going out of fashion, the jury still seems to be out on whether the evidence supports group or individual lending.

    This Voxeu columns by Orazio Attanasio, Britta Augsburg, Ralph De Haas, Emla Fitzsimons, and Heike Harmgart provides new evidence. The interesting thing is that the experiment was conducted in Mongolia, a country which characteristics are actually quite unfavorable to group lending:

    “Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world, and this makes disbursing, monitoring, and collecting small loans very costly. The aim of our experiment, conducted in cooperation with Mongolia’s XacBank, was to analyse whether group lending can be an effective and efficient way to lend. Mongolian microcredit has traditionally been provided as individual loans, reflecting concerns that the nomadic lifestyle of indigenous Mongolians had impeded the build up of social capital.”

    Still, some group lending outcomes seem to dominate:

    “We also find important differences between the impact of group and individual loans, which suggest that the former were more effective. For group loans, we find a positive impact on female entrepreneurship, one of the main intermediate objectives of the programmes. This is largely driven by less-educated women who, at the end of the experiment, had a 29% higher chance of operating a business compared to similar women in control villages. This difference is 10% for highly-educated women. Enterprise profits increase over time as well.”

    Now, Mongolia being an adverse setting for group lending may mean that this is a lower bound on the potential effect of such group mechanisms, or on the contrary that creating social capital through these institutional arrangements is actually more valuable where it is lacking the most.

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  • Scientific achievement and age

    2011 Nobel Prize

    A paper by Benjamin Jones and Bruce Weinberg in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 2011, shows the evolution of age dynamics in scientific creativity, based on data of Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, and medicine between 1900 and 2008.

    “In the early years, great achievement at young ages is common in all three fields. Prior to 1905, 69% of chemists; 63% of medical scientists, and 60% of physicists did their Prize-winning work before age 40, while Prize-winning work done before age 30 accounted for approximately 20% of cases. The ensuing 100 years exhibit large dynamics, with two key features. First, in all three fields, great achievement before age 30 becomes increasingly rare, converging towards 0% of cases by the end of the century. This shift away from the very young also extends to higher age thresholds in physics and chemistry. In physics, great achievement by age 40 occurs in only 19% of cases by the year 2000, less than one third its rate in 1900. In chemistry, great achievement by age 40 converges toward 0% by 2000, while it accounted for 66% of cases in 1900.
    (…)
    Further work is needed to assess causal mechanisms underlying these empirical relationships and consider alternative forces, possibly emanating from the norms and institutions of science or the scale of the scientific enterprise (20-21). Notably, the dynamics in age at great achievement, prevalence of theory, Ph.D. age, and mean citation age are especially pronounced in physics and are coincident with the development quantum mechanics, which Kuhn placed at the center of his analysis of scientific revolutions (12, 22).”

    Note in particular that the prevalence of theory is robustly and negatively correlated with the mean age of great achievement (“In physics, the prevalence of theoretical contributions is hump-shaped over the 20th
    century (Fig. 2B), demonstrating a striking association with the age dynamics (Fig. 2A).”)

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  • Standing on the Shoulders of a Giant

    GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689

    The Cambridge University Library presents a selection of Isaac Newton’s (1642-1727) manuscripts, concentrating for now on his mathematical work in the 1660s. Isaac Newton is an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, considered one of the most influent scientist of all times. Quite amazing. See Newton Papers

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