Economics professor at SOAS doesn\’t know what a public good is

I\’ve said for a long time that SOAS probably isn\’t where you\’d go to get an education in economics.

let’s have a Eurozone Ministry of Finance (Treasury) with the necessary fiscal muscle to deliver European public goods like more jobs, better wages and pensions and a sustainable environment.

Jobs, wages and pensions simply are not public goods.

They might be good for the public, desirable and all, but they\’re not public goods. They\’re both rivalrous and excludable, so they\’re doubly not public goods.

About George Irvin
George Irvin is a Research Professor at the University of London (SOAS)

No, SOAS probably isn\’t where you want to go to study economics.

12 thoughts on “Economics professor at SOAS doesn\’t know what a public good is”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    On the other hand, if you go to SOAS to study economics, you may end up as a Professor at SOAS. Not a bad gig I would think.

    But this guy has form: “(2009) Chair of Compass research group on UK taxation.”

    “Nicaragua (1986); organiser of European Commission-sponsored Conference
    of `Central American Economic Integration’;
    ….
    Nicaragua (1979-1987); DGIS, two missions per annum as senior advisor to
    Ministry of Planning (MIPLAN), National Investment Fund (FNI), and
    Economic Secretariat of Office of President (SPP);
    ….
    Cuba (1974): consultant to Universidad de La Habana economics
    programme;”

    Still we can thank him for this: “Poland (1981-82); guest lecturer at Central School of Planning and Statistics, Warsaw;”

    No doubt he played a small role in winning the Cold War. So thank you George. We really appreciate it.

  2. “Let’s have a Eurozone Ministry of Finance…”
    What’s this “us” he’s talking about? The UK isn’t in the eurozone (unless SOAS is in a parallel universe of course).

  3. Never mind not being public goods. Jobs are not  goods at all. Nor are wages.

    A job is not even a thing. It is a situation in which a prospective worker’s marginal product exceeds the wage they are willing to accept. Start talking about these opportunities as if they were physical things – ‘produced’ or ‘exported’ – and you quickly start talking nonsense.

  4. Tim – I sent you an invite to the Economics StackExchange private beta. If it’s as successful as the programming one then it’ll be a great place to ask the difficult economic questions and get answers from an educated audience.

    Well worth a look.

    http://economics.stackexchange.com/

    I think the public beta is opening in a few days.

    Whilst the cost for getting a certificate are skyrocketing. The cost of actually educating yourself is dropping rapidly. Just take a look at…

    http://www.khanacademy.org/

    Anyone would think that education was majority signalling. Could Bryan Caplan be right?

    “There are two ways to read this question. One is: “Who gets a good financial and/or personal return from college?” My answer: people in the top 25 percent of academic ability who also have the work ethic to actually finish college. The other way to read this is: “For whom is college attendance socially beneficial?” My answer: no more than 5 percent of high-school graduates, because college is mostly what economists call a “signaling game.” Most college courses teach few useful job skills; their main function is to signal to employers that students are smart, hard-working, and conformist. The upshot: Going to college is a lot like standing up at a concert to see better. Selfishly speaking, it works, but from a social point of view, we shouldn’t encourage it.” – Bryan Caplan.

  5. “Going to college is a lot like standing up at a concert to see better”: I don’t think he means by “concert” what I mean by concert.

  6. All the above have positive externalities. That doesn’t make them public goods in the strict sense of the term, but it does mean they’re things that the market underprovides.

  7. Its pushing it a bit to say that jobs, better wages and pensions have positive externalities. For this to be true we would have to expand the definition so that just about anything that is traded could be said to have positive externalities.

  8. I don’t think the bulk of university degrees do provide positive externalities, john b; quite the opposite. An eighteen year old high school student makes a better shelf stacker in Waitrose than some 23 year old Media Studies graduate, even though each is as qualified to do so as the other. The Occupy Wall Street crowd would be substantially less offensive had they not been blighted by the myth of credentialism and actually had had a real job for once in their miserable lives.

  9. John B, how would the market underproduce these things even with positive externalities?
    Like food, the benefits to the people directly trading strike me as large enough to induce sufficient supply. (Of course, things like tax wedges or procrastination may mean that the markets don’t clear, but that’s separate to the positive externality argument.)

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