A recent reply from Steven N.S. Cheung about Policy Recommendations

March 31, 2008

“Policy recommendations should be absolutely objective on the part of analyzing causual relationships among changes in constraints and consequences, but for this important part economists are seldom objective.  I have always been totally objective on this.  As to the desirability of the consequences, it is of course subjective.  Totally objective in analyzing causual relationships is one reason why I have been routinely accurate in my predictions of policy implications.”

Steven N.S. Cheung


Pricing by Proxy

March 10, 2008

A good is a bundle of attributes. For instance, an apple can be desired for its freshness, taste, or its color. Before we can price a product, we need to measure those valuable attributes. And measurement is costly. Therefore, we price those valuable attributes indirectly by say measuring the weight of an apple instead of the three valuable attributes mentioned above. Another example is labor. We value the output of labor, and sometimes we can price it directly using schemes such as piece rate. Sometimes we don’t as it may be too expensive to do so. So we try to find a proxy and use it as a guide in pricing. Time is one such proxy as we don’t value the time devoted by a worker in a particular job per se, but the output he makes.

In the first volume of “Economic Explanation”, Professor Cheung has some discussion on this issue. There is also a bit of discussion in his “Contractual Nature of the Firm” which is now reprinted in his collected works. Some other good reference sources include Yoram Barzel‘s (Professor’s former colleague at UW) “Economic Analysis of Property Rights” (2nd edition Cambridge 1997) and Yoram’s 1982 piece entitled “Measurement Costs and Organization of Markets” in Journal of Law and Economics.

For a discussion of Professor Cheung and Barzel’s place in the development of new institutional economics, there is a paper called “Yoram Barzel and the New Institutional Economics” downloadable via SSRN. The author, Dean Lueck (a student of Barzel’s), examines professor Barzel’s thoughts through the history of economics lense, a paper worth pondering.


独裁、民主、市场——给阿康与何洋上一课 (2005.06.09) – Angela’s Comment

March 10, 2008

Me and my fellow study group members of the Monetary Policy class wrote our term paper on the monetary policies of China and India.  In trying to find out why India was experiencing high rate of inflation while its counterpart in East Asia – China was (then) doing reasonably well, we compared and contrasted the two countries’ economic conditions, demographic trends, political climates, social structure…etc. 

After close examination, it occurred to us that the Chinese central bankers’ jobs were a lot easier than that of their Indian comrades.  Well, there was the “Impossible Trinity” problem.  But we couldn’t ignore the comment the Chief of the Indian central bank made when asked why they were – allow me to paraphrase – doing a shitty job curbing inflation: “What we have here is a democratic society.  Unlike China, we have to meet more demands”.  Translate: we need to please more than one boss.  That made us thinking. 

I agree with Prof. Cheung: if the government could do a better job than any other private entity in the market, the government should absolutely go for it.  This doesn’t sound very libertarian, I know.  But Wallace made a sound point: the government can be like a firm as well, provided that the constitution is well-established so that the government does not have absolute monopoly power in the market.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely, we all agree on that.  But if that power can be checked and balanced, why not let government join the party?  Competition is a beautiful thing.                   


Some Important Ideas of Professor Cheung In My Humble Opinion

March 9, 2008

Off the top of my head, I have two:

 1) Pricing by proxy;

2) Any existence of rent-dissipation has to be a constrianed minimum.

Other contenders folks?


Top Ten List – Kempton

March 9, 2008

Just or fun, I looked at nine of Steven Cheung’s earlier books and picked my “top ten” favourite articles. I wonder if my fellow free lunchers would like to join me and share their favourites?

  1. 卖桔者言
  2. 私产可养鱼千里
  3. 灯塔的故事 & 高斯的灯塔
  4. 思考的方法(上), (中), (下)
  5. 没有兄弟姊妹的社会
  6. 给女儿上的一课——也是女儿给我上的一课
  7. 赵紫阳与佛利民的对话 & 假若赵紫阳是个独裁者
  8. 艾智仁 & 赫舒拉发 & 我所知道的高斯 & 老师普纳
  9. 最佳、最劣、最受欢迎的教授
  10. 初遇佛利民 & 再遇佛利民 & 佛利民与二十世纪

P.S. OK, I’ve cheated by grouping a few links into one pick. And some of those picks are actually multi-parts articles up to 7 parts like the Coase one. (smile)


独裁、民主、市场——给阿康与何洋上一课 (2005.06.09)- Wallace’s Comment-2

March 8, 2008

It is getting very interesting now. Let me clarify my position.

When the United States was formed in 1776, the founding fathers were thinking about a society with restricted government and political leaders being elected by the people (despite that universal suffrage still did not exist). They were experimenting a model that was unprecedented, and they realized that majority rules could be dangerous. That was probably why a constitution was written to define the role of the government, the power of leaders as well as human and property rights.

The formation and enforcement of the constitution (the rule of law) is, in my opinion, even more important to guarantee individuals’ freedom and rights. I am surprised that the discussion did not put much emphasis on this. Please also notice that the US constitution being approved in 1787 did not involve every individual and was not the outcome of suffrage.

If we have a constitution that restricted the power of the government, the way to select a leader becomes secondary. I am not against universal suffrage, but am skeptical if this model works for an economy that is at the developing stage. I agree with Steven Cheung. Looking at facts, rather than being idealistic, the development of Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and even Hong Kong after WWII was not driven by a democratic system. Another classic example is definitely China. On the other hand, the development of Malaysia, Philippines, India and many South American countries (except for Chile, which was ruled by a dictator named Pinochet) have been very disappointing, given the governments are elected by their people. Two major reasons for their failures, which are related to each other: 1) poorly written/enforced constitution (fails to protect property rights); 2) the rent seeking initiated by special interest groups. James Buchanan’s public choice theory allows us to understand more about the rent seeking issue.

In regards of benevolent dictator, I do not believe in that. I would argue that rulers, whether they are elected or not, want to maximize their returns (a typical economic perspective), and the whole idea is to design a system so that the prosperity of the country can be beneficial to rulers. In a firm, that is rather straightforward for executives get bonus when profit is made. It would be interesting if we may design something along this line: do not forget that a government can be perceived as a firm.

I know that I may not sound politically correct, but isn’t it more important to be correct?


独裁、民主、市场——给阿康与何洋上一课 (2005.06.09)- Kempton’s Comment-2

March 7, 2008

Hi Aries,

Love your use of “expected damage” in your analysis.

Here are some observations and a thought experiment and I hope you won’t be bored by it.

Some observations:

1) The transfer of power in a dictatorship can be “messy”
2) It will take some luck for a good dictator to transfer power to another good dictator.
3) A bad dictator can transfer power to his/her offspring or sibling (e.g. North Korea, Cuba) or simply be overthrown by another bad dictator
4) we may get lucky and have a few good dictators but once we get one bad dictator, the risk is that we will stuck with quite a few bad dictators in a row because of #3.
(note: I am sure there are some fancy stats/probability expression/formula that can be used to say what I said in so many words. (smile))

A thought experiment

Taking your transaction cost ranking as a given for a moment,

Good dictator (GD) < Good elected leader (GEL) < Bad elected leader (BEL) < Bad dictator (BD)

and combined with the idea of “expected damage” and the observation of good dictator can turn into one after another bad dictators (for a long time)

For me, a revised transaction cost after taking consideration of “expected damage” (over time) and the chance of Good Dictators turn bad and stay bad (over time),

E (GEL) <= E (BEL) < E (GD) < E (BD)

note: I assumed there is no cross-over between democracy and dictatorship. (which sometimes happen unfortunately)

P.S. Hmmm, I don’t know if the above makes any sense at all. Love to see my fellow lunchers’ comments.