from Lars Syll
Economic theory, like anthropology, ‘works’ by studying societies which are in some relevant sense simpler or more primitive than our own, in the hope either that relations that are important but hidden in our society will be laid bare in simpler ones, or that concrete evidence can be discovered for possibilities which are open to us which are without precedent in our own history.
Unlike anthropologists, however, economists simply invent the primitive societies we study, a practice which frees us from limiting ourselves to societies which can be physically visited as sparing us the discomforts of long stays among savages. This method of society-invention is the source of the utopian character of economics; and of the mix of distrust and envy with which we are viewed by our fellow social scientists. The point of studying wholly fictional, rather than actual societies, is that it is relatively inexpensive to subject them to external forces of various types and observe the way they react. If, subjected to forces similar to those acting on actual societies, the artificial society reacts in a similar way, we gain confidence that there are useable connections between the invented society and the one we really care about.
Although neither yours truly, nor anthropologists (I guess), will recognise anything in this description even remotely reminiscent of practices actually used in real sciences, this quote still gives a very good picture of Lucas’ warped methodology.
from Peter Radford
Ben Casselman at fivethirtyeight.com throws us some back to school numbers. They make for depressing reading. America is not committed to education, far from it. Priorities seem to be elsewhere. And short term thinking dominates. Here are a few key highlights:
- The US had roughly 8.4 million teachers back in 2008. Now it has 8.2 million
- This is despite adding about 1 million new students
- So student/teacher ratios have risen back to levels last seen in the 1990’s
- School funding has fallen 6.6% at the sate level, and 1% at the local level [local governments supply about 45% of all school funding]
- Federal funding has increased but not by enough to prevent a total decline in funding of about 2.4% in real terms
- Fifteen states cut funding between 2000 and 2014 by more than 10%, with Arizona leading the way by cutting around 25%
- Some states have increased spending – oil boom rich North Dakota doubled spending between 2008 and 2014
- Weekly wages for teachers have declined 5% over the last five years, causing teaching to become even less attractive as a career for college educated people
- Things are about to get worse: baby boom retirement will put pressure on local and state budgets as health care costs rise and retirement costs need to be funded
from Mark Weisbrot
The neoliberal reforms it has imposed on countries around the world have been disastrous.
The UK’s vote in June to leave the European Union, combined with an extraordinary backlash against trade agreements as manifested in the US presidential election, has set off an unprecedented public debate about globalization and even some of the neoliberal principles that it embodies in its current form. It is therefore of great relevance to look at what is happening to one of the most powerful promoters of neoliberal globalization in the world economy: the International Monetary Fund.
An article in the June issue of the IMF’s quarterly magazine, Finance and Development, raised a lot of eyebrows in Washington policy circles. “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” was the title, and the authors presented some evidence in the affirmative, for at least some important neoliberal policies. To most of us, it was like an op-ed from Donald Trump titled “Insulting Your Opponents: Oversold?”
Neoliberalism refers to a set of policies that the IMF has been promoting all over the world for decades. These include tighter fiscal and monetary policies (sometimes even when the economy is weak or in recession); an indiscriminate opening up of countries to international trade and capital flows; the abandonment of state-led industrial and development policies; privatization of public enterprises; and various forms of deregulation, including financial.
It’s not exactly a household word in the United States, but in South America in the 21st century, for example, most of the winning presidential campaigns were against it. There were some solid reasons for their opposition: During the last two decades of the 20th century, when neoliberal reforms were being implemented, income per person in Latin America barely grew. Whereas in the previous two decades — when governments did most of the things that neoliberalism was designed to reverse — income per person nearly doubled.
If we look at the world as a whole during the decades of neoliberal reform (1980–2000), there was also a sharp slowdown in economic growth in the vast majority of low- and middle-income countries, as well as a decline in progress on such indicators as life expectancy and infant mortality. So yes, neoliberalism appears to be worse than oversold.
from Grazia Ietto-Gillies
The business media is awash with news about transnational companies (TNCs) be they in the services or manufacturing or agriculture sector. The news may refer to performance or strategies or plans for real investment (or the lack of them) or takeovers. There is currently also considerable interest in their tax minimization strategies.
Yet economics textbooks and courses are still shying away from this most relevant part of our contemporary economies. This is true of both orthodox/neoclassical approaches and – I regret to say – of alternative ones as a quick analysis of textbooks recommended in the WEA Pedagogy page shows.
It could be argued that the nationality of the investor, employer, or producer does not matter: a firm is a firm and the task of economics is to study it independently of where it invests or its nationality. I have argued (Ietto-Gillies, 2004 and 2012: introduction and Ch. 14) that the existence of nation-states with their different regulatory regimes makes a specific study of the TNC necessary. The regulatory regimes refer to taxation or labour and social security or currencies or environmental laws. The differences in regulatory regimes across different countries generate opportunities for alternative, profitable strategies for firms able to operate across national frontiers. Such operations allow the TNC to take advantage of different fiscal, currency or labour and social security or environmental regulations. Most relevant, transnationality increases the bargaining power of TNCs over labour as we see on an almost daily basis throughout the world. On the fiscal side the advantages that TNCs derive from their tax minimization strategies are partly linked to strategic location of their headquarters in tax-friendly countries and partly to the widely used manipulation of transfer prices (Eden, 2001; OECD, 2010). read more
from Lars Syll
Paul Krugman has in numerous posts on his blog tried to defend “the whole enterprise of Keynes/Hicks macroeconomic theory” and especially his own somewhat idiosyncratic version of IS-LM.
The main problem is simpliciter that there is no such thing as a Keynes-Hicks macroeconomic theory!
So, let us get some things straight.
There is nothing in the post-General Theory writings of Keynes that suggests him considering Hicks’s IS-LM anywhere near a faithful rendering of his thought. In Keynes’s canonical statement of the essence of his theory in the 1937 QJE-article there is nothing to even suggest that Keynes would have thought the existence of a Keynes-Hicks-IS-LM-theory anything but pure nonsense. So of course there can’t be any “vindication for the whole enterprise of Keynes/Hicks macroeconomic theory” – simply because “Keynes/Hicks” never existed.
And it gets even worse!
John Hicks, the man who invented IS-LM in his 1937 Econometrica review of Keynes’ General Theory – ‘Mr. Keynes and the ‘Classics’. A Suggested Interpretation’ – returned to it in an article in 1980 – ‘IS-LM: an explanation’ – in Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. Self-critically he wrote: Read more…
Why did the crisis last so long in Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark (graph 1) and much shorter (four years!) in the UK, Poland and Sweden (graph 2, at the end)? Lack of Aggregate Demand in the former countries? Not according to Scott Sumner. This post will however show, point by point, some counterexamples to the ideas of Scott Sumner about what he calls ‘AD voodoo‘- and especially his claim that “there is almost no theoretical or empirical support for the new voodoo claims, and lots of evidence against“. Let’s quote Scott: Read more…
from Peter Radford
One of the major reasons, perhaps the major reason, economics is oftentimes irrelevant to our understanding of economies is that it fails to notice a rather salient fact: economies have no end. They have no beginning either. Or, rather, the choice of an ending or a beginning are merely arbitrary selections by an analyst needing to close up the system for analytical purposes. But this act of closure destroys the validity of any results from the subsequent analysis.
Precisely because economies have no end. They have no end as in purpose. They have no end as in time. They just are. They emerge from the myriad interactions of however many people exist at any point in time, they are channeled along a path highly dependent upon whatever happened recently, they are in constant turmoil and evolution, and they are driven by the availability of information and energy sufficient to do work and create local order. That’s it.
They don’t inevitably move towards equilibrium because it is impossible ever to reach such a point. Let me put that differently: even were the economy miraculously to arrive at some sort of equilibrium no one would know because the task of calculating whether or not it was is impossibly complex. So an equilibrium is unrecognizable. Besides, given the inexorable change, any possible equilibrium is so ephemeral as to be irrelevant. Instead of moving an economy towards equilibrium the twin pressures of supply and demand simply contrive to move it into tomorrow. Whatever that is. The economy is a process or a perpetual unfolding without end. It is in a constant state of becoming, but never actually of being.
How are the EU and the Euro Area doing? some graphs about the labour force. Main points:
Very fast employment and labour force growth in Germany during the last year (‘despite’ the new the minimum wage in many sectors). The labour force is increase is not just about refugees but to quite an extent about non-German inhabitants of the EU. Mind the employment decline after the Harz reform’ around 2001. I’m not sure if the fast increase also shows in the data of the Statistisches Bundesamt.
from Lars Syll
Responding to the critique of his Bloomberg View post on heterodox economics and its alleged anti-math position, Noah Smith approvingly cites Steve Keen telling us there is
a wing of heterodox economics that is anti-mathematical. Known as “Critical Realism” and centred on the work of Tony Lawson at Cambridge UK, it attributes the failings of economics to the use of mathematics itself…
Although yours truly appreciate much of Steve Keen’s debunking of mainstream economics, onthis issue he is, however, just plain wrong! For a more truthful characterization of Tony Lawson’s position, here’s what Axel Leijonhufvud has to say: Read more…
from Maria Alejandra Madi
The Call for papers for the current conference Food and Justice is now open.
We invite you to submit a paper to email@example.com by 15th September, 2016.
A paperback, Food and Justice, of conference papers will be published by WEA Books in the new year.
Visit the Conference website http://foodandjustice2016.weaconferences.net/
Food production has always been present in the economic debate because of the concern about population growth and demographic changes. In spite of the Malthusian concern, new methods of food production have emerged which allowed the increase in food supply. Technological changes, however, have not occurred uniformly throughout the world. Indeed, some countries have managed to expand their production and trade surpluses while situations of hunger remained a reality in many parts of the world.
In addition to technological factors in food production, other political and economic issues are involved in the access to food. In the 21st century, the scenario of changes in food production means that even with a larger supply of food, many people, mainly the poor ones, still live in a situation of starvation. In addition to the challenges in food access, other relevant issue is food waste. Actually, a large percentage of the world food production is lost throughout the different stages of production, transportation, processing and consumption. Indeed, among the current concerns, there is the need to search for actions that can reduce the food losses that could face the situation of hunger of millions of people.
from David Ruccio
Everyone has read or heard the story: the labor market has rebounded and workers, finally, are “getting a little bigger piece of the pie” (according to President Obama, back in June).
And that’s the way it looked—until the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised its data. What was originally reported as a 4.2 percent increase in the first quarter of 2016 now seems to be a 0.4 decline (a difference of 4.6 percentage points, in the wrong direction).
What’s more, real hourly compensation for the second quarter (in the nonfarm business sector) is down another 1.1 percent.
from Dean Baker
Donald Trump seems to have driven a substantial portion of the media into a frenzy with his anti-trade rhetoric. While much of what Trump says is wrong, and his solutions are at best ill-defined, the response in the press has largely been dishonest.
For example, a New York Times editorial tried to imply that there was an ambiguous relationship between the size of the trade deficit and employment in manufacturing. It pointed out that Japan and Germany, both countries with trade surpluses, had seen a comparable percentage decline in the number of workers employed in manufacturing as the United States over the last quarter-century.
What the editorial for some reason chose to ignore was that Japan and Germany have seen near-stagnant labor force growth over the last quarter-century. Other things equal, we should therefore expect to see a smaller increase or larger percentage point decline in manufacturing jobs in these countries than in the United States, where the labor force has grown by more than 25 percent over this period.
The editorial also neglected to mention that Japan now has just under 17 percent of its workforce employed in manufacturing, while in Germany the share is almost 20 percent. This compares to 8.6 percent in the United States. If the United States had the same share of its workforce employed in manufacturing as Japan, we would have another 11 million manufacturing jobs. If we had the same share as Germany, we would have another 16 million manufacturing jobs. That would make a huge difference in the US labor market. Read more…
from David Ruccio
Is education the solution to the problem of growing inequality?
As I wrote in early 2015,
Americans like to think that education is the solution to all economic and social problems. Including, of course, growing inequality.
Why? Because focusing on education—encouraging people to get more higher education—involves no particular tradeoffs. More education for some doesn’t mean less education for others (at least in principle). And providing more education doesn’t involve any structural changes in society—just more funding. (Of course, suggesting more education under current conditions—when public financing of higher education continues to decline, and students and their families are forced to take on more and more debt—is itself disingenuous).
As a result, there’s a broad consensus in the middle—among conservatives and liberals alike—that encouraging more young people who have yet to enter the labor market and existing workers who want to get ahead to obtain a college education will solve the problem of inequality.
And I proceeded to show how, in terms of declining wages for workers at various levels of education and increasing inequality within the top 1 percent, more education does not actually solve the problem of inequality.
But education is still the preferred solution of mainstream Democrats, and inequality itself is receiving less attention. And Thomas Frank [ht: sm] (in an interview with Jennifer Berkshire aka EduShyster) explains why: Read more…
from Maria Alejandra Madi
The global scenario has restated the menace of deep depressions among the economic challenges. Indeed, in the current setting, the principles of corporate behaviour have reinforced the lack of commitment to long-run social and economic sustainability.
Looking backward, in the context of the 1930 Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes pointed out that the evolution of capital markets increases the risk of speculation and instability since these markets are mostly based upon conventions whose precariousness affects the rhythm of investment and employment. Keynes called attention to the fact that the capitalist system has endogenous mechanisms capable of destabilizing the levels of spending, income and employment. He suggested a reconsideration of the understanding of the relations among individuals, society and governments within the market where institutions and conventions could shape human behaviour. Aware of the need to overcome the concept of rationality that overwhelms the homo oeconomicus, his contribution enhances a more extended understanding of the entrepreneurs’ and investors’ behaviour, as well as of their strategies and decisions. read more
from Lars Syll
Yours truly is far from being alone in criticising Noah Smith’s article on heterodox economics and mathematics (on which I commented yesterday). Tom Palley writes:
(1) Pretty much everything Smith charges heterodox economics with can be said about orthodox economics. That’s OK, but in that case we should open the classroom and op-ed pages to a variety of points of view and abandon the neoclassical monopoly.
(2) Smith’s views on mathematical models come close to fetishism. Models have use value but they do not define economics (think of a paper with just math and no words vs. a paper with just words), and models are easily pushed into the realm of “negative” marginal returns.
Furthermore, Smith appears ignorant of the fact that mathematical modelling is very widespread in heterodox economics.
(3) Smith’s comments about predicting the crisis are facile. It’s not about predicting “dates”, but about having a sense of imminent developments and a sense of the deep-seated nature of the problems (i.e. demand shortage, income inequality, financial fragility, and tendency to stagnation). If orthodoxy had anticipated a fraction of what heterodoxy has, it would be trumpeting its achievements.
(4) In sum, this is an ill-informed article that aims to defend the economics status quo with unwarranted claims about the weaknesses of heterodox economics and strengths of orthodox economics.
from Peter Radford
Last week I stirred up a certain curiosity as to why I had lumped Peter Drucker into the same bag as both von Mises and Hayek.
Well, simply put, the three of them, along with Karl Popper and Joesph Schumpeter, had an enormous, even oversized, impact on modern economics. Yes economics. Let’s not fall into the same trap as economists do when they, with a sweep of their hands, dismiss business theory as not an aspect of economics. Of course it is. After all if business is not an aspect of the economy, what is?
In any case, the general point is that there is a distinct Austrian flavor to modern economic/business theory that can be traced back to the work of that group. More importantly, the influence of that group, particularly Hayek, was to emphasize the terrors and the tyranny of socialism to a degree that precludes social democracy as well. In the hands of their various followers that emphasis became exaggerated eventually emerging as doctrinaire anti-government theory.
We thus end up with a profound ideological stance as we enter economic thought: anything the government does almost invariably dilutes or pollutes the so-called perfection of the market. So deeply is this stance accepted that most economists fail to realize its political import: that the democratic expression of the people’s will through their elected representatives is viewed negatively automatically in economic thinking. What economists are saying is that the people are entirely rational in their economic dealings, thus producing the perfection of markets, but are irrational in their political dealings thus mucking up that same perfection. The contradiction is exquisite. The paradox unresolved. Read more…