An international student call for pluralism in economics
It is not only the world economy that is in crisis. The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond the university walls. What is taught shapes the minds of the next generation of policymakers, and therefore shapes the societies we live in. We, over 65 associations of economics students from over 30 different countries, believe it is time to reconsider the way economics is taught. We are dissatisfied with the dramatic narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place over the last couple of decades. This lack of intellectual diversity does not only restrain education and research. It limits our ability to contend with the multidimensional challenges of the 21st century – from financial stability, to food security and climate change. The real world should be brought back into the classroom, as well as debate and a pluralism of theories and methods. Such change will help renew the discipline and ultimately create a space in which solutions to society’s problems can be generated.
United across borders, we call for a change of course. We do not claim to have the perfect answer, but we have no doubt that economics students will profit from exposure to different perspectives and ideas. Pluralism will not only help to enrich teaching and research and reinvigorate the discipline. More than this, pluralism carries the promise of bringing economics back into the service of society. Three forms of pluralism must be at the core of curricula: Read more…
from Asad Zaman
Friedman & Scwhartz famously blame the contraction in the money supply for the Great Depression of 1929. However, their own data shows that money supply, prices and wages all fell by about 30% over the four year period following the Great Depression. So according to the quantity theory, there should have been no real effect from this contraction.
from Lars Syll
One may wonder how much calibration adds to the knowledge of economic structures and the deep parameters involved … Micro estimates are imputed in general equilibrium models which are confronted with new data, not used for the construction of the imputed parameters … However this procedure to impute parameter values into calibrated models has serious weaknesses …
Second, even where estimates are available from micro-econometric investigations, they cannot be automatically importyed into aggregated general equlibrium models …
Third, calibration hardly contributes to growth of knowledge about ‘deep parameters’. These deep parameters are confronted with a novel context (aggregate time-series), but this is not used for inference on their behalf. Rather, the new context is used to fit the model to presumed ‘laws of motion’ of the economy … Read more…
from Lars Syll
Tinbergen’s results cannot be judged by ordinary tests of statistical significance. The reason is that the variables with which he winds up, the particular series measuring these variables, the leads and lags, and various other aspects of the equations besides the particular values of the parameters (which alone can be tested by the usual statistical technique) have been selected after an extensive process of trial and error because they yield high coefficients of correlation. Tinbergen is seldom satisfied with a correlation coefficient less than 0.98. But these attractive correlation coefficients create no presumption that the relationships they describe will hold in the future. The multiple regression equations which yield them are simply tautological reformulations of selected economic data. Taken at face value, Tinbergen’s work “explains” the errors in his data no less than their real movements; for although many of the series employed in the study would be accorded, even by their compilers, a margin of error in excess of 5 per cent, Tinbergen’s equations “explain” well over 95 per cent of the Read more…
Financial Times, November 17.
University departments must share the blame
Sir, The FT is far from alone in, once again and for the umpteenth time, decrying the “scandal” that a section of the financial sector – this time the foreign exchange market – has “remained immersed in a culture that subordinates everything to making money” (editorial, November 13). University economics departments cannot escape their share of the blame for this, so crucial have they been in recent years in providing academic justification for this “culture”.
Economics is, according to the orthodoxy now almost totally dominant in these departments, a discipline whose very identity is inseparable from the calculus of maximisation and minimisation. This standpoint is not limited to those of a neoliberal orientation; on the contrary, among its most dogmatic adherents is the outspokenly non-neoliberal Paul Krugman, who states quite simply that the economist is a “maximising-minimising kind of guy”.
Krugman is, however, exceptional in his radical views, and the inevitable bias that results from the exclusion from the economics curriculum of alternative approaches is towards turning out students who are ready-primed for incorporation into the “culture” that is revealed with such depressing regularity every time there is a thorough investigation of financial misdemeanours.
Fortunately, an increasing number of economics students are raising their voices against a curriculum which has become, in effect, little more than an indoctrination into that heinous “culture”.
It is about time the managements of economics departments stopped exploiting their freedom to appoint and promote their staff to perpetuate this situation. Let us hope that the demands of their students and of the wider public can begin to force them once more to open their doors to adherents of alternative approaches, and thus to reflect within themselves the debates on economic issues that rage in the world outside.
University College London and University of Westminster, UK
from Lars Syll
[Haavelmo’s] effort to create foundations for the probability approach in econometrics finally results in an inconsistent set of claims in its defence. First, there are vast amounts of experience which warrant a frequency interpretation. This is supported by repetitive discussions of experimental design, but the inability to expeeriment inspires an epistemological interpretation. Then Haavelmo mentions the futility of bothering with these issues because the probability approach is most of all a useful tool. This would be an instrumentalistic justification for its use if Haavelmo gave supportive evidence for his claim. There is not one example which attempts to do so. […]
The founders of exonometrics tried to adapt the sampling approach to a non-experimental small sample domain. They tried to justify this with a priori and analytcal arguments. However, the ultimate argument for a ‘probability approach in econometrics’ consists of a mixture of metaphors, metaphysics and a pinch of bluff.
Neoclassical economists often hold the view that criticisms of econometrics are the conclusions of sadly misinformed and misguided people who dislike and do not understand much of it. This is really a gross misapprehension. To be careful and cautious is not the same as to dislike. And as any perusal of the mathematical-statistical and philosophical works of people like for example David Freedman, Nancy Cartwright, Chris Chatfield, Hugo Keuzenkamp, Rudolf Kalman, John Maynard Keynes or Tony Lawson would show, the critique is put forward by respected authorities. I would argue, against “common knowledge”, that they do not misunderstand the crucial issues at stake in the development of econometrics. Quite the contrary. They know them all too well — and are not satisfied with the validity and philosophical underpinning of the assumptions made for applying its methods. Read more…
from Lars Syll
Following the greatest economic depression since the 1930s, Robert Solow in 2010 gave a prepared statement on “Building a Science of Economics for the Real World” for a hearing in the U. S. Congress. According to Solow modern macroeconomics has not only failed at solving present economic and financial problems, but is “bound” to fail. Building microfounded macromodels on “assuming the economy populated by a representative agent” — consisting of “one single combination worker-owner-consumer-everything-else who plans ahead carefully and lives forever” – do not pass the smell test: does this really make sense? Solow surmised that a thoughtful person “faced with the thought that economic policy was being pursued on this basis, might reasonably wonder what planet he or she is on.”
Conclusion: an economic theory or model that doesn’t pass the real world smell-test is just silly nonsense that doesn’t deserve our attention and therefore belongs in the dustbin.
Rational expectations immediately comes to mind.
Those who want to build macroeconomics on microfoundations usually maintain that the only robust policies and institutions are those based on rational expectations and representative actors. As yours truly tried to show in his Real-World Economics Review paper Rational expectations — a fallacious foundation for macroeconomics in a non-ergodic world — there is really no support for this conviction at all. On the contrary. Read more…
from David Ruccio
This chart is another illustration of the report I discussed a couple of weeks ago, according to which the share of total wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent—roughly 160,000 families with total net assets of more than $20 million in 2012—has risen to the point (22 percent of total U.S. wealth) where it is almost the same as the share owned by the bottom 90 percent (23 percent of the total).
from Lars Syll
For a good many years, Tony Lawson has been urging economists to pay attention to their ontological presuppositions. Economists have not paid much attention, perhaps because few of us know what “ontology” means. This branch of philosophy stresses the need to “grasp the nature of the reality” that is the object of study – and to adapt one’s methods of inquiry to it.
Economics, it might be argued, has gotten this backwards. We have imposed our pre-conceived methods on economic reality in such manner as to distort our understanding of it. We start from optimal choice and fashion an image of reality to fit it. We transmit this distorted picture of what the world is like to our students by insisting that they learn to perceive the subject matter trough the lenses of our method.
The central message of Lawson’s critique of modern economics is that an economy is an “open system” but economists insist on dealing with it as if it were “closed.” Controlled experiments in the natural sciences create closure and in so doing make possible the unambiguous association of “cause” and “effects”. Macroeconomists, in particular, never have the privilege of dealing with systems that are closed in this controlled experiment sense.
The Great Depression of 1929, and now the Great Recession following the Global Financial Crisis, poses several puzzles for economists. One is them is the sudden and severe drop in aggregate demand. This leads firms to curtail production, and therefore reduces demand for factors of production, most importantly labor. Why does aggregate demand fall, and why do not the price adjustment mechanisms restore equilibrium? The outstanding contribution of Atif Mian and Amir Sufi in House of Debt (see my Review & Summary) is to explain both why aggregate demand fell and also why the standard price adjustment mechanisms fail to restore equilibrium. The correct explanations have eluded famous economists like Keynes, Friedman, Lucas and many others. Only after understanding the reason for the shortfall in aggregate demand does it become possible to prescribe a remedy.
Keynes noted that Aggregate Demand fell in wake of the financial crisis and suggested that fiscal and monetary policy might restore it. It is the shortfall of aggregate demand which leads to unemployment. Standard macroeconomics then and now does not allow for a long run and persistent shortfall in aggregate demand. Theoretically, prices should fall in response, which would stimulate the demand. Increased demand would lead to increased production and ultimately restore full employment equilibrium. The Great Depression made it clear to all that this mechanism did not work as expected. The Great Recession following the Global Financial Crisis has reinforced this lesson. Unemployment persists at high levels, even though there had been no change in the productive capacity of the economy. Why did not the self regulating market restore equilibrium? A similar and related puzzle was the failure of demand and supply in the labor market. High unemployment should have led to falling wages, which should have eliminated unemployment. Again this was not observed to happen. Why? read more
from Lars Syll
General equilibrium is fundamental to economics on a more normative level as well. A story about Adam Smith, the invisible hand, and the merits of markets pervades introductory textbooks, classroom teaching, and contemporary political discourse. The intellectual foundation of this story rests on general equilibrium, not on the latest mathematical excursions. If the foundation of everyone’s favourite economics story is now known to be unsound — and according to some, uninteresting as well — then the profession owes the world a bit of an explanation.
Almost a century and a half after Léon Walras founded general equilibrium theory, economists still have not been able to show that markets lead economies to equilibria.
We do know that — under very restrictive assumptions — equilibria do exist, are unique and are Pareto-efficient.
But after reading Frank Ackerman’s article — or Franklin M. Fisher’s The stability of general equilibrium – what do we know and why is it important? — one has to ask oneself — what good does that do? Read more…
from WEA Pedagogy Blogand the
In 2011, Edward Fullbrook, writing on Toxic Textbooks, pointed out that “No discipline has ever experienced systemic failure on the scale that economics has today”. And added that the global financial crisis revealed that “..we, the textbooks we use, and the courses that we teach harbour fundamental misconceptions about the way economies, most especially their markets, function” (http://ineteconomics.org/blog/inet/edward-fullbrook-toxic-textbooks).
Economics pedagogy is a starting point for both an analysis of the roots of the global financial crisis and of the challenges to how it might be made a facilitator of social justice. After the global crisis, Fullbrook suggests to rethink economics pedagogy taking into account “eleven ways to think like a post-crash economist”
1. Don’t try to pass yourself off as a kissing cousin of natural scientists.
2. Don’t speak, except to very small children, of invisible hands and magic.
3. When possible avoid the use of emotive words.
4. Remind yourself every morning that your duty as a teacher is to educate your students, not indoctrinate them.
5. Try to look at economic phenomena from different points of view and teach your students to do the same.
6. Encourage diversity of conceptual frameworks in economic research.
7. Don’t . . . read more
from Lars Syll
Chameleons arise and are often nurtured by the following dynamic. First a bookshelf model is constructed that involves terms and elements that seem to have some relation to the real world and assumptions that are not so unrealistic that they would be dismissed out of hand. The intention of the author, let’s call him or her “Q,” in developing the model may be to say something about the real world or the goal may simply be to explore the implications of making a certain set of assumptions. Once Q’s model and results become known, references are made to it, with statements such as “Q shows that X.” This should be taken as short-hand way of saying “Q shows that under a certain set of assumptions it follows (deductively) that X,” but some people start taking X as a plausible statement about the real world. If someone skeptical about X challenges the assumptions made by Q, some will say that a model shouldn’t be judged by the realism of its assumptions, since all models have assumptions that are unrealistic. Another rejoinder made by those supporting X as something plausibly applying to the real world might be that the truth or falsity of X is an empirical matter and until the appropriate empirical tests or analyses have been conducted and have rejected X, X must be taken seriously. In other words, X is innocent until proven guilty … Because there is a model for X, because questioning the assumptions behind X is not appropriate, and because the testable implications of the model supporting X have not been empirically rejected, we must take X seriously. Q’s model (with X as a result) becomes a chameleon that avoids the real world filters … Read more…
from Neva Goodwin
Twentieth century economics supported, implicitly when not explicitly, the idea that neither ethics nor history nor the institutions of law or culture were of much economic importance – as long as these things did not get in the way of “free” market functioning. This case was pressed with special vigor from about 1970 to the end of the 20th century by economists from what was known as the Chicago School.
Even early on in this period there began to be concern that individuals acting solely to achieve their personal goals could not be counted on to operate a business in ways that would be good for the business itself. This real-world concern, combined with the dogma that people only act on the basis of self-interest, resulted in various efforts to motivate business leaders by offering rewards for specific markers of success (such as the price of the company’s stock). These efforts had the unintended consequence of escalating compensation of top management in the United States to levels that were many times greater than anything that had previously been considered normal (or were normal in other countries). They also resulted in an increasingly short-term vision on the part of business leaders. Very large scale frauds, Ponzi schemes, tax evasions, and environmental and human costs that businesses externalized during this period have made it increasingly evident that society cannot afford to encourage a culture of economic activity that ignores all normal human motivations except the selfish pursuit of personal gain. Read more…
from Lars Syll
Oxford macroeconomist Simon Wren-Lewis has a post up on his blog on the use of labels in macroeconomics:
Labels are fun, and get attention. They can be a useful shorthand to capture an idea, or related set of ideas … Here are a couple of bold assertions, which I think I believe, and which I will try to justify. First, in academic research terms there is only one meaningful division, between mainstream and heterodox … Second, in macroeconomic policy terms I think there is only one meaningful significant division, between mainstream and anti-Keynesians …
So what do I mean by a meaningful division in academic research terms? I mean speaking a different language. Thanks to the microfoundations revolution in macro, mainstream macroeconomists speak the same language. I can go to a seminar that involves an RBC model with flexible prices and no involuntary unemployment and still contribute and possibly learn something.
Wren-Lewis seems to be überjoyed by the fact that using the same language as real business cycles macroeconomists he can “possibly learn something” from them.
Wonder what …
I’m not sure Wren-Lewis uses the same “language” as James Tobin, but he’s definitely worth listening to: Read more…
As a follow-up to Rethinking Economics rejects INET’s “Core Curriculum” here is an excerpt from a Rethinking Economics blog post back in August by David Wells.
. . . just before the final keynote address, a short video was played in which Robert Johnson, the President of INET, sent his best wishes to the conference and congratulated the organisers – but also suggested at one point that the students should be ‘guided’ by INET.
This is strange. Why should the students be ‘guided’ by INET? Why not the other way around? After all, it is the students who are the instigators of this revolution and who are at the front line, manning the barricades. INET are very active in their own way – the CORE curriculum project is especially interesting – and they supply invaluable funding, including for this conference*, but they are essentially secondary actors on the stage. The protagonists are the students, not just in the UK but all over the world: the ISIPE now has (at least) 65 member associations in 30 countries.
Rethinking Economics Position on CORE Curriculum
London, UK- 16 October 2014 – The CORE Curriculum is not an answer to our demands for reform. CORE is more engaging in its teaching style, but falls short of creating broader content.
RE does not currently endorse any curriculum; instead, we have written our vision of a pluralistic curriculum (http://www.rethinkeconomics.org/#!our-vision/colf) and we support the ISIPE open letter, which we contributed to along with 65 student groups (www.isipe.net). We encourage educators and curriculum writers to sign up to publically support these visions.
What we are looking for is curricula that embody the three pluralisms: pluralism in methodology, pluralism in schools of thought, and pluralism in disciplines. This means at least a key role for the history of economic thought in a way that encourages debate over different schools of thought.
from Lars Syll
Last night (Oct. 23) at 11:20 PM, CDT, prominent heterodox economist, Fred Lee of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, died of cancer. He had stopped teaching during the last spring semester and was honored at the 12th International Post Keynesian Conference held at UMKC a month ago …
Whatever one thinks of heterodox economics in general, or of the views of Fred Lee in particular, he should be respected as the person more than any other who was behind the founding of the International Conference of Associations for Pluralism in Economics (ICAPE), and also the Heterodox Economics Newsletter. While many talked about the need for there to be an organized group pushing heterodox economics in all its varieties, Fred did more than talk and went and organized the group and its main communications outlet. He also regularly and strongly spoke in favor of heterodox economics, the unity of which he may have exaggerated. But his voice in advocating the superiority of heterodox economics over mainstream neoclassical economics was as strong as that of anybody that I have known. I also note that he was the incoming President for the Association for Evolutionary Economics (AFEE), and they will now have to find a replacement. He had earlier stepped down from his positions with ICAPE and the Heterodox Economics Newsletter. Read more…
from Lars Syll
In conclusion, one can say that the sympathy that some of the traditional and Post-Keynesian authors show towards DSGE models is rather hard to understand. Even before the recent financial and economic crisis put some weaknesses of the model – such as the impossibility of generating asset price bubbles or the lack of inclusion of financial sector issues – into the spotlight and brought them even to the attention of mainstream media, the models’ inner working were highly questionable from the very beginning. While one can understand that some of the elements in DSGE models seem to appeal to Keynesians at first sight, after closer examination, these models are in fundamental contradiction to Post-Keynesian and even traditional Keynesian thinking. The DSGE model is a model in which output is determined in the labour market as in New Classical models and in which aggregate demand plays only a very secondary role, even in the short run.
In addition, given the fundamental philosophical problems presented for the use of DSGE models for policy simulation, namely the fact that a number of parameters used have completely implausible magnitudes and that the degree of freedom for different parameters is so large that DSGE models with fundamentally different parametrization (and therefore different policy conclusions) equally well produce time series which fit the real-world data, it is also very hard to understand why DSGE models have reached such a prominence in economic science in general.
from Ha-Joon Chang
The UK economy has been in difficulty since the 2008 financial crisis. Tough spending decisions have been needed to put it on the path to recovery because of the huge budget deficit left behind by the last irresponsible Labour government, showering its supporters with social benefit spending. Thanks to the coalition holding its nerve amid the clamour against cuts, the economy has finally recovered. True, wages have yet to make up the lost ground, but it is at least a “job-rich” recovery, allowing people to stand on their own feet rather than relying on state handouts.
That is the Conservative party’s narrative on the UK economy, and a large proportion of the British voting public has bought into it. They say they trust the Conservatives more than Labour by a big margin when it comes to economic management. And it’s not just the voting public. Even the Labour party has come to subscribe to this narrative and tried to match, if not outdo, the Conservatives in pledging continued austerity. The trouble is that when you hold it up to the light this narrative is so full of holes it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese. Read more…