The Association for Heterodox Economics welcomes student initiatives for fundamental reform of the economics curriculum, as do our post-Keynesian colleagues (Letters, 19 November). Heterodox economists, drawing on a range of theorists, including Keynes, Marx, Minsky and others, have consistently argued for greater pluralism in both economics curricula and economics research evaluation. We recognise the clear benefits of pluralism in economics: it encourages, by exposing them to alternative perspectives, the development of students’ critical thinking and judgment. Read more…
from Lars Syll
It is widely agreed that a series of collapsing housing-market bubbles triggered the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, along with the severe recession that followed. While the United States is the best-known case, a combination of lax regulation and supervision of banks and low policy interest rates fueled similar bubbles in the United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, and Dubai.
Now, five years later, signs of frothiness, if not outright bubbles, are reappearing in housing markets in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, back for an encore, the UK (well, London). In emerging markets, bubbles are appearing in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and Israel, and in major urban centers in Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.
Signs that home prices are entering bubble territory in these economies include fast-rising home prices, high and rising price-to-income ratios, and high levels of mortgage debt as a share of household debt. In most advanced economies, bubbles are being inflated by very low short- and long-term interest rates. Given anemic GDP growth, high unemployment, and low inflation, the wall of liquidity generated by conventional and unconventional monetary easing is driving up asset prices, starting with home prices … Read more…
from Geoff Davies
Non-mainstream economists are all-too aware of the failure of mainstream economists to anticipate, let alone avoid, the Global Financial Crisis and the ensuing Great Recession. The mainstream profession is also failing to fix the problem, and is actually making it worse.
It is hard to get alternative views heard, and the mainstream carries on almost totally unperturbed, despite being centrally responsible for a global disaster. This is of course extremely frustrating.
After reading yet another cri de coeur from yet another frustrated economist, I thought perhaps we need to spell out the message in all bluntness: we need to sack the economists (the mainstreamers). We also need to derail their baleful ideology. That means we need to disband the departments of neoclassical economics, so the poison is not passed on to any more hapless generations.
When I say “we”, I really mean “we, the people”. The job can’t be done by a small band of isolated reformers. That means people need to be informed and persuaded. They need to be spoken to in terms they understand; not everyone, but opinion leaders and interested laypeople, of whom there are many.
Thus was I moved to write the short ebook: Sack the Economists and Disband Their Departments.
The title may seem to be a bit confronting at first, but the book is a concisely argued case, not a rant. The bluntness is justified by Read more…
from David Ruccio
The other day, I posted a few paragraphs from the new Roman Catholic Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (which translates as “The Joy of the Gospel”).
I’ve now had a chance to read the entire text (available here), which seems to have gotten some notice around the world (although, best I can tell, there’s still no comment from the likes of Paul Ryan, who would steal bread from the mouths of the poor in the name of saving them from anything but the market).
The document as a whole is a call to a new kind of evangelization on the part of Catholics, both clerical and lay. (On Michael Sean Winters’s interpretation, “The Pope is calling the Church to be a missionary Church, an evangelizing Church, and the privileged path of fidelity to the Gospel is service to the poor.”) The main sections on economics are located in chapter 2 (“Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment”) and chapter 4 (“The Social Dimension of Evangelization”).
The paragraphs I posted before are from chapter 2, in which Francis identifies the nature of the world in which he is making his call for a new missionary church. Permit me to repeat them here: Read more…
from Lars Syll
As is well-known, Keynes used to criticize the more traditional economics for making the fallacy of composition, which basically consists of the false belief that the whole is nothing but the sum of its parts. Keynes argued that in the society and in the economy this was not the case, and that a fortiori an adequate analysis of society and economy couldn’t proceed by just adding up the acts and decisions of individuals. The whole is more than a sum of parts. This fact shows up already when orthodox – neoclassical – economics tries to argue for the existence of The Law of Demand – when the price of a commodity falls, the demand for it will increase – on the aggregate. Although it may be said that one succeeds in establishing The Law for single individuals it soon turned out – in the Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu theorem firmly established already in 1976 – that it wasn’t possible to extend The Law of Demand to apply on the market level, unless one made ridiculously unrealistic assumptions such as individuals all having homothetic preferences – which actually implies that all individuals have identical preferences. Read more…
from Edward Fullbrook
The case for Lawson’s significance that I argued five years ago and appears below seems to me even truer today.
Tony Lawson has become a major figure of intellectual controversy on the back of juxtaposing two relatively simple and seemingly innocuous ideas. In two books and over fifty papers he has argued:
- that success in science depends on finding and using methods, including modes of reasoning, appropriate to the nature of the phenomena being studied, and
- that there are important differences between the nature of the objects of study of natural sciences and those of social science.
Taken together, these two ideas lead to the conclusion that the methods found to be successful in natural sciences are generally not the ones that should be used in social science.
By relentlessly focusing on this pair of ideas, Lawson has in a short space of time changed one of economics’ key conversations. His chapter, “A Realist Theory for Economics”, published in Roger Backhouse’s 1994 landmark collection New Directions in Economics Methodology, stands out like someone standing alone at a party. As recently as then the ideas of three thinkers, none of them economists, none social scientists and all of them dead, dominated economics’ literature on methodology. The index of Backhouse’s wonderful book powerfully illustrates this. It lists 47 pages that refer to Thomas Kuhn, 69 to Karl Popper and 73 to Imre Lakatos. Twelve of the book’s sixteen chapters (excluding Lawson’s) refer to one or more of the three and eight, as well as the back cover, to all three. Lawson does not refer to any of them. More significant, Lawson’s key reference point is ontology, a word that, except in the Introduction when Backhouse is introducing his collection’s odd man out, appears in none of the other chapters. Notably, when Lawson first uses “ontology” he feels it necessary, despite his highly specialized audience, to explain what the word means: “enquiry into the nature of being, of what exists, including the nature of the objects of study.” [Lawson 1994, p. 257]
Thirteen years later and anyone in economics who knows anything about methodology knows what “ontology” means. Read more…
from Edward Fullbrook
Last year at a cocktail party at an IDEAs’s conference in India I was introduced to the recently retired editor of a leading Indian newspaper. When he asked me what newspapers I read regularly and I answered the Guardian and the Observer, he replied that his favourite columnist in the whole world wrote for those papers. I said so also does mine. Inevitably we warmed to each other when our number-ones turned out to be the same: John Naughton.
What is especially odd about this – the editor’s background was also economics – is that Naughton’s one and only topic is IT. But I have finally found a way to justify plugging him on this economics blog. Here is his column from yesterday’s Observer.
What’s Twitter’s real value? Don’t ask an economist.A national economy is an unimaginably complex system. And yet we compress all its complexity into a single measure, and then focus obsessively on that. If you want a metaphor for this, think of King Kong spending most of his time staring at a pinhead, worrying about whether it is moving or not. That pinhead is GDP or, to give it its full moniker, gross domestic product. Read more…
from Lars Syll
Paul Krugman had a post up on his blog a while ago where he argued that “Keynesian” macroeconomics more than anything else “made economics the model-oriented field it has become.” In Krugman’s eyes, Keynes was a “pretty klutzy modeler,” and it was only thanks to Samuelson’s famous 45-degree diagram and Hicks’s IS-LM that things got into place. Although admitting that economists have a tendency to use ”excessive math” and “equate hard math with quality” he still vehemently defends — and always have — the mathematization of economics:
I’ve seen quite a lot of what economics without math and models looks like — and it’s not good.
Sure, “New Keynesian” economists like Krugman — and their forerunners, “Keynesian” economists like Paul Samuelson and the young John Hicks — certainly have contributed to making economics more mathematical and “model-oriented.”
But if these math-is-the-message-modelers aren’t able to show that the mechanisms or causes that they isolate and handle in their mathematically formalized macromodels are stable in the sense that they do not change when we “export” them to our “target systems,” these mathematical models do only hold under ceteris paribus conditions and are consequently of limited value to our understandings, explanations or predictions of real economic systems. Or as the eminently quotable Keynes wrote already in Treatise on Probability (1921): Read more…
from The Guardian
The Post-Crash Economics Society at Manchester University. Photograph: Jon Super for the Guardian
“A revolt against the orthodoxy has been smouldering for years and now seems to have gone critical.”
Orthodox economists have failed their own market testStudents are demanding alternatives to a free-market dogma with a disastrous record. That’s something we all need
From any rational point of view, orthodox economics is in serious trouble. Its champions not only failed to foresee the greatest crash for 80 years, but insisted such crises were a thing of the past. More than that, some of its leading lights played a key role in designing the disastrous financial derivatives that helped trigger the meltdown in the first place.
Plenty were paid propagandists for the banks and hedge funds that tipped us off their speculative cliff. Acclaimed figures in a discipline that claims to be scientific hailed a “great moderation” of market volatility in the runup to an explosion of unprecedented volatility. Others, such as the Nobel prizewinner Robert Lucas, insisted that economics had solved the “central problem of depression prevention”.
Any other profession that had proved so spectacularly wrong and caused such devastation would surely be in disgrace. You might even imagine the free-market economists who dominate our universities and advise governments and banks would be rethinking their theories and considering alternatives.
After all, the large majority of economists who predicted the crisis rejected the dominant neoclassical thinking: from Dean Baker and Steve Keen to Ann Pettifor, Paul Krugman and David Harvey. Whether . . . . continue reading here
from David Ruccio
We can now add former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to the long list of those who have walked through the revolving door between Wall Street and the White House, which makes Noam Scheiber just a bit worried. Read more…
from Lars Syll
Is academic (mainstream neoclassical) macroeconomics flourishing? “New Keynesian” macroeconomist Simon Wren-Lewis had a post up not that long ago on his blog, answering the question affirmatively:
Consider monetary policy. I would argue that we have made great progress in both the analysis and practice of monetary policy over the last forty years … However, it has to be acknowledged that policymakers who look at the evidence day in and day out believe that New Keynesian theory is the most useful framework currently around. I have no problem with academics saying ‘I know this is the consensus, but I think it is wrong’. However to say ‘the jury is still out’ on whether prices are sticky is wrong. The relevant jury came to a verdict long ago …
It is obvious that when it comes to using fiscal policy in short term macroeconomic stabilisation there can be no equivalent claim to progress or consensus. The policy debates we have today do not seem to have advanced much since when Keynes was alive …
What has been missing with fiscal policy has been the equivalent of central bank economists whose job depends on taking an objective view of the evidence and doing the best they can with the ideas that academic macroeconomics provides…
The contrast between monetary and fiscal policy tells us that this failure is not an inevitable result of the paucity of evidence in macroeconomics. I think it has a lot more to do with the influence of ideology …
And yesterday another sorta-kinda “New Keynesian” — Paul Krugman — has a post up arguing that the problem with the academic profession is that some macroeconomists aren’t “bothered to actually figure out” how the New Keynesian model with its Euler conditions — ”based on the assumption that people have perfect access to capital markets, so that they can borrow and lend at the same rate” — really works. According to Krugman, Read more…
from David Ruccio
My better half has insisted for years that I not be too hard on Paul Krugman. The enemy of my enemy. Popular Front. And all that. . .
But enough is enough.
I simply can’t let Krugman [ht: br] get away with writing off a large part of contemporary economic discourse (not to mention of the history of economic thought) and with his declaration that Larry Summers has “laid down what amounts to a very radical manifesto” (not to mention the fact that I was forced to waste the better part of a quarter of an hour this morning listening to Summers’s talk in honor of Stanley Fischer at the IMF Economic Forum, during which he announces that he’s finally discovered the possibility that the current level of economic stagnation may persist for some time).
Krugman may want to curse Summers out of professional jealousy. Me, I want to curse the lot of them—not only the MIT family but mainstream economists generally—for their utter cluelessness when it comes to making sense of (and maybe, eventually, actually doing something about) the current crises of capitalism.
So, what is he up to? Read more…
Two concept proposals: from neoclassical economics to neoliberal economics and from neoliberalism to plutocratism
from Deniz Kellecioglu
It is important to talk about concepts that reflect reality. This is especially true if we are concerned about people’s emancipation – it is easier to struggle when your nemeses are conceptualised and visible. In my opinion, one of the greatest obstacles of recent history is the evasive and concealed character of hegemony.
In our context of economics, it has been obvious for a while that we can no longer use the term neoclassical economics (NCE) to describe the current mainstream economics (theory and education). NCE has been so distorted and so disfigured over the past decades that it no longer reflects mainstream theoretical narratives (see Lawson 2013 for a recent discussion). From one perspective, as the economist Joan Robinson talked about “bastard Keynesianism” in the 1960s, we have now a “bastard Neoclassicism”. This followed from an elite capture and customisation of NCE. The fundamental flaws of NCE, as we real-world economists see it, were actually sources of strength for the elites and elite-oriented individuals. The basics of NCE functioned brilliantly to advance their perspectives, interests and power (not only economical and political, but also social and cultural). A “free” world is wonderful if you start with a stronger upper hand, i.e. unequal point of departures. Because NCE was moulded at the hands of neoliberal forces, I think it should now be called neoliberal economics. Read more…
from Lars Syll
Ricardian equivalence is taught in every graduate school in the country. It is also sheer nonsense.
Joseph E. Stiglitz, twitter
Rational expectations is taught in every graduate school all around the world. It is also sheer nonsense.
Lars P. Syll, twitter
from Peter Radford
Forgive me for my exasperation.
There are too many disparate efforts to rethink economics, conferences on this, and papers on that. I admire each and every one. I support whole heartedly any attempt to shake economics from its irrelevant torpor. But all this fractured effort is achieving nothing. It cannot succeed in the face of the depth of resistance in most university economics departments and the fear that academics seem to have of open action.
I can understand that many sympathetic academics may want to shun action, after all they have livelihoods at stake. But I ask: what is a career in economics worth if that economics is toxic? Those with the greatest stake in the subject are the students who have yet to choose which path to take. It is their action that needs to be facilitated and made secure.
For it is their open action that will change things. Read more…
from Lars Syll
If at some time my skeleton should come to be used by a teacher of osteology to illustrate his lectures, will his students seek to infer my capacities for thinking, feeling, and deciding from a study of my bones? If they do, and any report of their proceedings should reach the Elysian Fields, I shall be much distressed, for they will be using a model which entirely ignores the greater number of relevant variables, and all of the important ones. Yet this is what ‘rational expectations’ does to economics.
G. L. S. Shackle
Oxford professor Simon Wren-Lewis is not pleased with heterodox critiques of the rational expectations hypothesis. And he seems to be especially annoyed with yours truly, who “does write very eloquently,” but only “appeal to the occasional young economist, who is inclined to believe that only the radical overthrow of orthodoxy will suffice.”
Since I have already put forward a rather detailed theoretical-methodological critique of the rational expectations hypothesis in Rational expectations – a fallacious foundation for macroeconomics in a non-ergodic world (real-world economics review, issue 62, 2012), I’m not going to recapitulate the arguments here, but rather limit myself to elaborate on a couple of the rather unwarranted allegations Wren-Lewis puts forward in his attempt at rescuing the rational expectations hypothesis from the critique. Read more…
from Lars Syll
Economics has long had the ambition to become an “exact science”. Indeed, Walras, usually recognised as the father of modern economic theory, said in his Lettre no. 1454 to Hermann Laurent in Jaffe (1965):
“All these results are marvels of the simple application of the language of mathematics to the quantitative notion of need or utility. Refine this application as much as you will but you can be sure that the economic laws that result from it are just as rational, just as precise and just as incontrovertible as were the laws of astronomy at the end of the 17th century.”
from Lars Syll
Deductivist modeling endeavours and an overly simplistic use of statistical and econometric tools are sure signs of the explanatory hubris that still haunts neoclassical mainstream economics.
from Peter Radford
Inequality is much discussed nowadays. Pundits of all political stripes are weighing in on its causes and on its effects. As usual there is no agreement. So, also as usual, I suspect there will be no action.
This is not a new problem, nor is it trivial. The steadily increasing privilege afforded capital – higher profits, dividends, and rents, and the consequent steady erosion of the rewards to work – wages and salaries, have been accumulating beneath the surface for decades. I believe that in the years ahead the emergence of our highly unequal society will be the hallmark of the entire Reaganite era.
I don’t think this problem is as complicated as some people make it out to be. It is a direct consequence of the shift in the dominant economic theory that infuses our decision making across all relevant domains of activity in our economy. It was an intentional consequence. It was not, as Bill Gross tries to make sound, a happy accident of being alive at the right moment. If you’re capitalist that is. If you’re a regular worker, then tough.
Well, back before the shift took place the dominant economic theory guiding decision making was the post-war version of Keynesianism. It seemed to explain things well, and seemed to produce excellent results: the western world bounced back from its wartime trauma and produced a golden age of growth that propelled living standards, wages, and profits all together.
Then it hit a snag. Read more…