Links, books 12-8-2014

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Printing income. When I borrow money to buy an existing house this is not counted as ‘production’ in the national accounts (though it does increase the amount of money). When I borrow money to buy a house and to pay the fee of the real estate agent the fee is counted as an increase in income and production. Large scale constructions like this one (IPO’s…) drove profit growth in the banking sector, since 1990.

Leaving the train station. In 2013, use of public means of transport in Spain declined with about 6% – for the fifth year in a row.

Isaac Asimov and the representative consumer. <strong>Foundation and earth is an interesting science fiction novel by Asimov about the representative consumer (the hive-mind of the Gaia planet), agent based modelling (‘psycho history’), a world inhabited by 1200 homo economicus individuals (who, interestingly, changed themselves into ultra-intelligent hermaphrodites who never meet in the flesh and only trade with each other via video) Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

General equilibrium theory — a gross misallocation of intellectual resources and time

August 11, 2014 3 comments

from Lars Syll

Almost a century and a half after Léon Walras founded neoclassical general equilibrium theory, economists still have not been able to show that markets move economies to equilibria.

We do know that — under very restrictive assumptions — equilibria do exist, are unique and are Pareto-efficient. After reading Franklin M. Fisher‘s masterly paper The stability of general equilibrium: results and problems one however has to ask oneself — what good does that do? Read more…

Categories: New vs. Old Paradigm

How the incipient inflation freak-out could wreck the recovery

August 11, 2014 1 comment

from Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein

As predictable as August vacations, numerous economists and Federal Reserve watchers are arguing that the nation’s central bank must raise interest rates or risk an outbreak of spiraling inflation. Their campaign has heated up a bit in recent months, as one can cherry pick an indicator or two showing slightly faster growth in prices or wages.

But an objective analysis of the recent data, along with longer-term wage trends, reveals that the stakes of premature tightening are unacceptably high. The vast majority of the population depends on their paychecks, not their stock portfolios. If the Fed were to slam on the breaks by raising interest rates as soon as workers started to see some long-awaited real wage gains, it would be acting to prevent most of the country from seeing improvements in living standards.

To understand why continued support from the Fed is unlikely to be inflationary, consider three factors: the current state of key variables, the mechanics of inflationary pressures and the sharp rise in profits as a share of national income in recent years, along with its corollary, the fall in the compensation share. (See figure.)

Source: BEA.

Source: BEA.

Read more…

Categories: The Economy, Uncategorized

Bayesian probability theory banned by English court

August 8, 2014 8 comments

from Lars Syll

In a recent judgement the English Court of Appeal has denied that probability can be used as an expression of uncertainty for events that have either happened or not.

THOMAS_BAYESThe case was a civil dispute about the cause of a fire, and concerned an appeal against a decision in the High Court by Judge Edwards-Stuart. Edwards-Stuart had essentially concluded that the fire had been started by a discarded cigarette, even though this seemed an unlikely event in itself, because the other two explanations were even more implausible. The Court of Appeal rejected this approach although still supported the overall judgement and disallowed the appeal …

But it’s the quotations from the judgement that are so interesting:

Sometimes the ‘balance of probability’ standard is expressed mathematically as ’50 + % probability’, but this can carry with it a danger of pseudo-mathematics, as the argument in this case demonstrated. When judging whether a case for believing that an event was caused in a particular way is stronger that the case for not so believing, the process is not scientific (although it may obviously include evaluation of scientific evidence) and to express the probability of some event having happened in percentage terms is illusory.

The idea that you can assign probabilities to events that have already occurred, but where we are ignorant of the result, forms the basis for the Bayesian view of probability. Put very broadly, the ‘classical’ view of probability is in terms of genuine unpredictability about future events, popularly known as ‘chance’ or ‘aleatory uncertainty’. The Bayesian interpretation allows probability also to be used to express our uncertainty due to our ignorance, known as ‘epistemic uncertainty’ …

The judges went on to say:

The chances of something happening in the future may be expressed in terms of percentage. Epidemiological evidence may enable doctors to say that on average smokers increase their risk of lung cancer by X%. But you cannot properly say that there is a 25 per cent chance that something has happened … Either it has or it has not

Anyway, I teach the Bayesian approach to post-graduate students attending my ‘Applied Bayesian Statistics’ course at Cambridge, and so I must now tell them that the entire philosophy behind their course has been declared illegal in the Court of Appeal. I hope they don’t mind.

David Spiegelhalter

Read more…

Categories: New vs. Old Paradigm

Inflation hawks: The job killers at the Fed

August 7, 2014 Leave a comment

from Dean Baker

Discussions of inflation and Federal Reserve Board policy take place primarily in the business media. That’s unfortunate, because these discussions can have more impact on the jobs and wages of most workers than almost any other policy imaginable.

The context of these discussions is that many economists, including some in policy making positions at the Fed, claim that the labor market is getting too tight. They argue this is leading to more rapid wage growth, which will cause more inflation and that this would be really bad news for the economy. Therefore they want the Fed to raise interest rates.

The part of this story that few people seem to grasp is that point of raising interest is to kill jobs. If that sounds like a bizarre accusation to make against responsible people in public life then you need to pick up an introductory economics text.

The story line there is that we get inflation if too many people are employed. There are all sorts of ways of making the story more complicated, and many people get PhDs in economics doing just that, but the basic point is a simple one: at lower rates of unemployment workers have more bargaining power and are therefore able to push up their wages. Read more…

Foot-in-mouth disease — Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan

August 6, 2014 4 comments

from Lars Syll

Now, I don’t care to discuss the alleged complaints American Indians have against this country. I believe, with good reason, the most unsympathetic Hollywood portrayal of Indians and what they did to the white man. They had no right to a country merely because they were born here and then acted like savages. The white man did not conquer this country …

Since the Indians did not have the concept of property or property rights—they didn’t have a settled society, they had predominantly nomadic tribal “cultures”—they didn’t have rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights that they had not conceived of and were not using …

What were they fighting for, in opposing the white man on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence; for their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched—to keep everybody out so they could live like animals or cavemen. Any European who brought with him an element of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it’s great that some of them did. The racist Indians today—those who condemn America—do not respect individual rights.

Ayn Rand,  Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, 1974

Read more…

American public sector jobs under 6 presidents

from David Ruccio


As Bill McBride explains, Read more…

Categories: The Economy

World student movement could become major player in the struggle to bring pluralism and freedom of inquiry to economics

August 5, 2014 1 comment

from Edward Fullbrook

An emergent worldwide grassroots movement of economics students, the International Student Initiative, has the potential of becoming a major force that could work alongside the academics’ World Economics Association (now 13,000 strong) to break the neoclassical stranglehold on economics and to bring the real world back into the classroom.  Launched in May, the ISI already boasts 65 associations of economics students from 30 countries, 5 continents and representing 13 languages groups.  For the most part they are based in individual universities.  Together they constitute a coordinated grassroots base that has the potential of serving as the launch pad for a massive worldwide student rebellion in the coming academic year, one that would see 100s more of these associations formed, each focused on reforming the economics curriculum of their university.

The formation of these student associations can be greatly facilitated by encouragement and moral support from faculty members.  If you would like to help please go to

Below is the ISI‘s manifesto, a partial list of the student organizations, a partial linked list of their websites, and a linked list (67) of media coverage.  Here to begin with is a world map showing ISI associations to date:  Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Bundesbank calls for higher wages across Eurozone

August 3, 2014 16 comments

Not much blogging from my side as Edward tricked me into constructing ‘Piketty series’ for the Netherlands – but this is a game changer (via left foot forward): the Bundesbank finally understands. Economic policies aimed at financial deregulation, low wages and asset price increases instead of low unemployment, high employment and high income have failed.

* Spending in the Eurozone is too low, unemployment is disastrously high, people are getting evicted from their houses while the number of empty houses increases and in quite some countries poverty is rising.
* For obvious reasons, not every country can export itself out of unemployment at the same time (a classic example of a ‘zero sum game’).
* Present policies to engineer current account surpluses are anyway not based upon any kind of serious export strategy but upon restricting domestic demand, which leads to a ‘race to the bottom’
* Households and companies are heavily indebted while low spending and high unemployment causes increasing problems with non-performing loans
* Companies are not going to invest when demand stays low, even when interest rates are low
* Quite some people do not want the government to act as a ‘spender of last resort’

Which leaves wage increases as the only way to restore demand, increase prosperity and lower unemployment (getting unemployment down to 4% in five years, with 1% productivity growth and 1% inflation and a share of wages (including mixed income) of 70% means that wages can increase with 4 to 5% a year, a little bit less when investments increase). Economies are of course quite unpredictable, but we can start with ‘forward guided’ 4% wage increases for two or three years.

Germany’s Bundesbank, Europe’s largest central bank, has backed a call for higher wages to boost the flat-lining Eurozone economy.

Jens Ulbrich, the bank’s chief economist, has joined a growing list of key players calling for widespread pay rises to fend off the crippling effects of failed austerity and low inflation and to crawl back the falling wage share in national wealth. Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Finance in America: Promoting inequality and waste

August 1, 2014 1 comment

from Dean Baker

In the crazy years of the housing boom the financial sector was a gigantic cesspool of excess and corruption. There was big money in pushing and packaging fraudulent mortgages. The country paid a huge price for the financial sector’s sleaze.

Unfortunately, because of the Obama administration’s soft on crime approach to the bankers who became rich in the process; the industry is still a cesspool of excess and greed. Just to be clear, knowingly issuing and packaging a fraudulent mortgage is a crime, the sort of thing for which people go to jail. But thanks to the political power of the Wall Street, none of them went to jail, and in fact they got to keep the money.

Since the penalties for ripping off people are trivial to non-existent, the financial sector finds this to be a much more profitable line of business than actually providing financial services. The New York Times recently reported on the boom in the subprime market for auto loans featuring many of the same abusive practices we saw in the subprime mortgage market during the bubble years. Lenders are slapping on extra fees, changing the terms after contracts are signed, and doing all the other fun things we have come to expect from leaders in finance. The used car industry was sufficiently powerful that it was able to gain an exemption from being covered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Read more…

Why doesn’t Krugman listen to Krugman?

August 1, 2014 7 comments

from Lars Syll

Paul Krugman wonders why no one listens to academic economists …

Listening_TitleOne answer is that economists don’t listen to themselves. More precisely, liberal economists like Krugman who want the state to take a more active role in managing the economy, continue to teach an economic theory that has no place for activist policy.

Let me give a concrete example.

One of Krugman’s bugaboos is the persistence of claims that expansionary monetary policy must lead to higher inflation. Even after 5-plus years of ultra-loose policy with no rising inflation in sight, we keep hearing that since so “much money has been created…, there should already be considerable inflation” … As an empirical matter, of course, Krugman is right. But where could someone have gotten this idea that an increase in the money supply must always lead to higher inflation? Perhaps from an undergraduate economics class? Very possibly — if that class used Krugman’s textbook.

Here’s what Krugman’s International Economics says about money and inflation: Read more…

Maximum wage—or, even better, no wages

July 31, 2014 3 comments

from David Ruccio

One way of dealing with the problem of growing inequality is to establish a maximum wage. That’s what Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed back in the early 1940s—a 100 percent marginal tax rate on incomes over$25,000 a year (roughly $350,000 in today’s dollars)—in order to “provide for greater equality in contributing to the war effort.”

Infuriated conservatives saw red, literally. The “only logical stopping place for this movement,” fumed Princeton economist Harley Lutz, would be “a completely communistic equalization of incomes.”

Simon Wren-Lewis reports his own recent suggestion for a maximum wage was greeted in much the same manner.

Well, if mainstream economists are going to howl about tinkering with tax rates, why not make them howl about a real change in the system whereby incomes are distributed? Like Filip Spagnoli’s suggestion to get rid of wage-labor entirely. Read more…

Canada’s Experience Warns of Dangers of Investor-State Dispute Settlement Systems

July 30, 2014 1 comment

The more troubled the global economy becomes, the more insistent do neoclassical economists get with their arguments for still more free trade and globalization — and the more rose-coloured are the gains they predict from the next free trade deal.  Never mind that existing trade liberalization (under neoliberal terms) has produced imbalance, a tendency to stagnation, and a socially destructive race to the bottom in the interests of competitiveness.  The promised gains from trade are always just around the corner, to be unlocked by new twists in trade negotiations (and proselytized with the help of new twists in neoclassical economic modeling). Read more…

Categories: globalization

The revolt of (part of) the top 1% of the top 1%

July 29, 2014 1 comment

from Steve Keen

What are your preconceptions about the author of a book with the title The Next Economic Disaster: Why It’s Coming and How to Avoid It? Academic? Leftist? Anti-capitalist? Anti-banker certainly?

Prepare to drop them all, because the author is none of the above. Taking the last first, the majority of his career has been in banking — and as a founder and CEO.

To put it in his own words: Read more…

US median wealth is down by 20 percent since 1984

July 29, 2014 7 comments

from Dean Baker

A NYT article reported on a study from Russell Sage reporting that median household wealth 36 percent lower in 2013 than 2003. While this is disturbing, an even more striking finding from the study is that median wealth is down by around 20 percent from 1984.

This is noteworthy because this cannot be explained as largely the result of the collapse of house prices that triggered the Great Recession. This indicates that we have gone thirty years, during which time output per worker has more than doubled, but real wealth has actually fallen for the typical family. It is also important to realize that the drop in wealth reported in the study understates the true drop since a typical household in 1984 would have been able to count on a defined benefit pension. This is not true at present, so the effective drop in wealth is even larger than reported by the study. (Defined benefit pensions are not included in its measure of wealth.)

New Keynesianism as a Club

July 28, 2014 4 comments

from Thomas Palley

Club, noun. 1. An association or organization dedicated to a particular interest or activity. 2. A heavy stick with a thick end, especially one used as a weapon.

Paul Krugman’s economic analysis is always stimulating and insightful, but there is one issue on which I think he persistently falls short. That issue is his account of New Keynesianism’s theoretical originality and intellectual impact. This is illustrated in his recent reply to a note of mine on the theory of the Phillips curve in which he writes: “I do believe that Palley is on the right track here, because it’s pretty much the same track a number of us have been following for the past few years.”

While I very much welcome his approval, his comment also strikes me as a little misleading. The model of nominal wage rigidity and the Phillips curve that I described comes from my 1990 dissertation, was published in March 1994, and has been followed by substantial further published research. That research also introduces ideas which are not part of the New Keynesian model and are needed to explain the Phillips curve in a higher inflation environment.

Similar precedence issues hold for scholarship on debt-driven business cycles, financial instability, the problem of debt-deflation in recessions and depressions, and the endogenous credit-driven nature of the money supply. These are all topics my colleagues and I, working in the Post- and old Keynesian traditions, have been writing about for years – No, decades! Read more…

Categories: economics profession

Estimating capital. Robert Gallman edition.

July 26, 2014 1 comment

In economics, there is an unfortunate rift between academics and the economists who actually measure the economy. Which means that academic economists give little attention to the extremely important question how economic concepts relate to actual measurements – one reason why so much of their work is naïve (the ‘Ricardian’ household, which cuts consumption when government spending increases and the like). Fortunately, economic historians, who often have to do the measurements themselves, often bridge part of the gap. Robert Gallman has some highly relevant remarks about different ways to measure (nineteenth century USA) capital – and how these relate to the future, the past, uncertainty, savings, consumption foregone and replacement costs. This still  leaves out important parts of the concept of capital like liquidity, ownership and the ‘overlapping generations’ problem – which however does not make these remarks less valuable. Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Is a more inclusive and sustainable development possible in Brazil? – a WEA online conference:

July 25, 2014 Leave a comment

This conference on sustainable development is now open and you are invited to leave comments on the papers on the conference site.
click here to leave comments

For an introduction to the background to the conference and the themes of the call for papers click here ›

THR PAPERS  Read more…

Read my lips — statistical significance is NOT a substitute for doing real science!

July 25, 2014 8 comments

from Lars Syll

Noah Smith has a post up today telling us that his Bayesian Superman wasn’t intended to be a knock on Bayesianism and that he thinks Frequentism is a bit underrated these days:

Frequentist hypothesis testing has come under sustained and vigorous attack in recent years … But there are a couple of good things about Frequentist hypothesis testing that I haven’t seen many people discuss. Both of these have to do not with the formal method itself, but with social conventions associated with the practice …

Why do I like these social conventions? Two reasons. First, I think they cut down a lot on scientific noise.i_do_not_think_it_[significant]_means_what_you_think_it_means “Statistical significance” is sort of a first-pass filter that tells you which results are interesting and which ones aren’t. Without that automated filter, the entire job of distinguishing interesting results from uninteresting ones falls to the reviewers of a paper, who have to read through the paper much more carefully than if they can just scan for those little asterisks of “significance”.

Hmm …

A non-trivial part of teaching statistics is made up of teaching students to perform significance testing. A problem I have noticed repeatedly over the years, however, is that no matter how careful you try to be in explicating what the probabilities generated by these statistical tests – p-values – really are, still most students misinterpret them. And a lot of researchers obviously also fall pray to the same mistakes: Read more…

How to fix Venezuela’s troubled exchange rate

July 24, 2014 1 comment

from Mark Weisbrot

Most people think that the Venezuelan economy is a basket case on the verge of collapse, and that has been a widespread belief for most of the last decade. But the South American nation has only run into serious trouble in the past two years. Starting in 2004, after the government wrested control from its political opposition over the all-important oil industry, the economy performed quite well through 2012. It grew at an annual rate of 4.8%, and the poverty rate fell by half.

During the past two years, however, a number of problems worsened. Inflation has hit annual rates of more than 60%, and the country has faced an increasing shortage of essential consumer goods like milk and toilet paper. The black market price of the dollar also soared.

Earlier this month, the government announced that it would try to resolve these imbalances by creating a single, unified exchange rate system. Venezuela currently has four different exchange rates. Most dollars are bought from the government at the official rate of 6.3 bolivares fuertes per U.S. Dollar. These are intended for essential goods, such as food and medicine. Some other importers can buy dollars from the government at a rate of about 11 bolivares per dollar on a limited exchange called SICAD 1. There is also SICAD 2, which was introduced in March and involves private sellers, at a rate of 50 Bf. per dollar. Finally, there is the black market, which is unregulated, where dollars currently sell for about 79 Bf. per dollar.  Read more…

Categories: The Economy

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