1) Alex Tabarrok discovers the limits of profit seeking behaviour and the marketization of the government. Join the club.
2) His findings are related to this Voxeu post by Victor Kümmritz about Global Value Chains (i.e. the international division of labour and production processes). It’s not just about ‘equal trade’ between companies, but about a brutal power struggle between countries, too. In the gentler wording of Kümmritz:
These new findings lead to two conclusions for policymakers.
- Firstly, integrating into GVCs is a sound strategy. Interacting with global production networks can improve productivity and lead to spillovers for the domestic economy, as successfully shown by a large set of middle-income countries (e.g. Czech Republic, South Korea).
- Secondly, the materialisation of these gains is not guaranteed [e.g. the Baltic states, Greece M.K.]. New entrants need to ensure that they have a good institutional environment that incentivises foreign firms to source inputs locally and to outsource a growing share of their production.
3) Megan McArdle discovers the ‘historical school’ and is right to state that (my interpretation) marvelous techniques like vaccination benefited the rich as well as the poor and poverty and prosperity is not just about money. Look for somewhat related ideas also here. Developments in the Eurozone however remind us that absolute measures of poverty have been increasing – the number of poor increased (again: not a relative monetary measure of poverty!). This happened even in the UK, which its job rich recovery. Update: it’s in fact more ‘evolutionary economics’ than ‘historical school economics’ as there is something in her piece which admits that people themselve change, in tandem with their circumstances, and are part of these circumstances. Vaccination is of course an excellent example of this. If you’re vaccinated against measles you’ve changed, becoming a kind of super human. Really. But it changes my circumstances, too, as you can’t be contagious anymore. She will however have to deal with the increase of the official estimates of ‘absolute’ poverty (‘material deprivation’).
4) Alejandro Justiniano, Giorgio Primiceri and Andrea Tambalotti state that the housing and credit booms were credit supply driven.
5) The ECB has a neat graphing tool (but I did not yet manage to copy paste the graphs)
from Peter Radford
In its long search for the illusion of equilibrium economics has had to barter away one aspect of reality after another. Driven by its desire to unearth laws that explain the presence of that illusion economists have long ago lost contact with the grittiness of actual economies. They prefer the pristine and simplified sanctuary of their models no matter how reduced the image of an economy those models portray.
Oddly I do not criticize them for this. No, I think I understand the logic of the process that produced the result. I applaud the effort. I salute the intellectual energy that has been absorbed into the project.
It’s the outcome I abhor. Economists are simply caught in a valley which, unfortunately for them, sits in the shadows of reality rather than sitting on a peak casting light on it.
I was thinking thus because I was trying to relate how economics, most of it anyway, ignores uncertainty. As you know this ignorance vexes me more than somewhat, because I see uncertainty as central to human existence. Without some element of uncertainty there would be no need to learn — we would know everything already. It is the absence of knowledge that incites us to search, to innovate, and to arm ourselves against the unknown. It is the very essence of life: problem solving is the distinguishing characteristic of life. It is how we tell that something is alive. The intentional imposition of order on disorder is the central property of all things we consider to be living. Read more…
The veracity of mainstream economics has been called into question in the years since the economic crisis began. But the questioning of economics precedes the crisis, and not by merely years but arguably ever since 1898, when Thorstein Veblen published his brilliant paper “Why is Economics not an Evolutionary Science?” But Veblen’s critique fell on the deaf ears of the mainstream, and was unknown to the public. Only in the fringes of academic economists did Veblen’s words, and the spirit of rebellion he encouraged, live on.
Economics came under challenge again in the 1930s, and this time Keynes led the charge against an orthodoxy that, six years after the Great Depression began, had no idea what caused it, or how to overcome it. But Keynes’s challenge was largely deflected by Hicks’s reinterpretation of Keynes, and the taxonomic economics that Veblen hoped to defeat was rebuilt after the challenge of the Great Depression and the World War had ended.
The Greek government should create a second currency to be named the Drachma. The Drachma would be legal tender with the same value as the Euro, but for domestic payments only. Any payment, in the private sector, or to the government, for example for taxes or fees, could be made equally in Euros, Drachmas, or any combination of the two.
The government would start to make all payments, for wages, transfers, etc. with a combination of the two currencies. For example, they could set a ratio of 80% Euro, 20% Drachma. Without any further aid from the EU, the Greek government could increase its spending in this example by 20%.
The government should mandate banks to open a Drachma account parallel to every Euro account so that the Drachma could be freely used in payments through the banking system. There would however be no obligation for a bank to exchange Drachmas for Euros. Also, banks would be prohibited from making loans in Drachma, so that there would be no additional instability introduced because of possibly nonperforming Drachma loans. Each Drachma would again be spent by its recipient, creating a multiplier effect until finally returned to the government in the form of taxes or fees.
Under my proposal, the Greek government could quickly and very substantially increase domestic demand, which was its principal campaign promise and it could do so without the need for agreement on the part of some external authority.
I can see further long term benefits from such a system, not only for Greece, but for all countries of the Euro zone. The introduction of the Euro was a mistake, but abandoning it now would be very costly both in real and psychological terms. Under my proposal, the Euro could be maintained, while giving to the individual countries the possibility of a flexible anticyclical fiscal policy, a possibility that they now lack.
from Herman Daly
Causation is both bottom-up and top-down: material cause from the bottom, and final cause from the top, as Aristotle might say. Economics, or as I prefer, “political economy,” is in between, and serves to balance desirability (the lure of right purpose) with possibility (the constraints of finitude). We need an economics fit for purpose in a finite and entropic world.
As a way to envision such an inclusive economics, consider the “ends-means pyramid” shown below.
Did poverty rapidly increase in countries like Greece? Yes, according to Eurostat data. The poverty level in Greece is after steep increases at the moment the highest of any non-Eastern European EU country. Indices of ‘material deprivation'(see below) also show steep increases in Hungary as well as (albeit at a lower level) in Italy, the UK and Spain. In the Baltic countries comparable increases could be witnessed, though levels are going down at the moment. Poland, close to the Baltic countries and having a somewhat comparable economic history, did however not witness any kind of ‘Baltic’ increase. Remarkably, the level in Iceland, which also experienced a financial crisis but which pursued a less creditor friendly policy, did not increase.
from David Ruccio
from Dean Baker
Last month, former Clinton Treasury Secretary and top Obama adviser Larry Summers ripped into those arguing that more education is the answer to the country’s inequality problems:
“The core problem is that there aren’t enough jobs. If you help some people, you could help them get the jobs, but then someone else won’t get the jobs. Unless you’re doing things that have things that are affecting the demand for jobs, you’re helping people win a race to get a finite number of jobs.”
He made these comments at a conference put on by the Robert Rubin funded Hamilton Project held at the Brookings Institution.
If the significance of these comments is not clear, the most important economic figure of the mainstream of the Democratic Party was demolishing one of the party’s central themes over the last two decades. He was arguing that the problems of the labor force — weak employment opportunities, stagnant wages, and rising inequality — were not going to be addressed by increasing the education and skills of the workforce. Rather, the problem was the overall state of the economy.
The standard education story puts the blame for stagnant wages on workers. Read more…
from Peter Radford
Ha-Joon Chang nails it.
But I wish he hadn’t.
You see, I agree with his analysis of the inverse nature of status within the economics profession. As a useful general rule the more notable you are within the profession the less you know about the economy. This is a result of the perverse nature of what economists actually do: they are amongst the very few disciplines — perhaps they are unique — who invent the artifacts that they then seek to explain and study. This relieves them, as you can imagine, from having to engage with the mucky real world.
You might wonder how this came about. It is quite a puzzle isn’t it? All those extremely clever people resolutely avoiding contact with the very substance that their chosen topic of study presents them from outside; averting their eyes from the glare of reality; turning inward as they search for clarity and that song sought after simplicity that so beguiles them.
It’s actually quite dispiriting for anyone who dares imagine that economics has relevance to humanity and its ability to chart a course towards a generally more prosperous world.
So how did this disconnect happen? How is it that the very best are the most ignorant? Read more…
from Lars Syll
We are storytellers, operating much of the time in worlds of make believe. We do not find that the realm of imagination and ideas is an alternative to, or retreat from, practical reality. On the contrary, it is the only way we have found to think seriously about reality. In a way, there is nothing more to this method than maintaining the conviction … that imagination and ideas matter … there is no practical alternative”
Robert Lucas (1988) What Economists Do
Sounds great, doesn’t it? And here’s an example of the outcome of that serious think about reality … Read more…
In the sense that there now exists in the economics profession an implicit and perverse intellectual hierarchy which is premised on the understanding that the less of what you do is related to the real world, the cleverer you are. So, if you are really clever, you would do mathematical modelling of a kind that has nothing to do with the real world. You would do something on the Turing machine [a theoretical computing device] or on information cascade or some such thing. If you are a little less clever, you would do econometrics, and if you are not even that clever, you would work on monetary policy or development economics. And, if you are not even that good, you would do economic history. But if you are the worst, you would go around factories interviewing managers. So, the leadership of the profession is moving towards abstraction for the sake of abstraction.
This has resulted in the shutting down of courses such as the history of economics, history of economic thought, philosophy of economics and other such fields. Basically, teaching economics has become like one of the other trades, like becoming a plumber or a bricklayer, as if it is about providing students with a set of skills which they can apply. There is no encouragement of critical thinking or teaching of real-world issues.
A Cyprus style money destruction ‘solution’ for Greece is still in the cards – and I’m afraid that the continued monetary inaction of the ECB brings it closer. One might cry ‘moral hazard’ about guaranteed ‘Emergency Liduidity Assitance’ (ELA, or QE which actually works) from the ‘Eurosystem’ to the Greek banks but on this blog we did warn about the dire consequences of ECB inaction in 2011 and 2012. And we were right: these consequences – increasing deflation and crisis, higher debts compared with income – materialized and the ECB has to face its responsibilities for its inaction. Mind that, at this moment, Greece has a surplus on the current account and a primary government while it leads the other austerity countries by a lap when it comes to cutting wages, employment and entitlements and reforming the labour market. It did do its austerity homework (which is of course why its economy is in tatters). Be that as it may: until the ECB comes to its economic senses the already gasping Greek economy is increasingly smothered. And Greece will have to do a ‘Münchhausen’ to pull itself out of the monetary mire. Which is not entirely impossible, though the banks won’t like it. See graph 1.
A relatively quick short- as well as long-term fix is to increase the ‘moneyness’ and liquidity of ‘receivables’. Irish companies managed, compared with Spanish companies, to mitigate the Irish liquidity crunch by increasing the amount of receivables on their balance sheets (remember, interest rates are very low, which helps). In the end these debts have to be paid but a monetary easing of 70% of GDP, as in the Irish case, would not be bad, in Greece. The Greek government can increase the moneyness of ‘receivables’ by moving them up in the bankruptcy pecking order (they will have to get preferential treatment compared with bank debts), by enabling companies to use them (with a ‘haircut’) to pay tax arrears, by using smart technology and algorithms to enable ‘clearing’ (a matching problem). This increase of moneyness will also increase the asset value of receivables, which will make Greek companies more willing to keep them on their balance sheets.In the end, Euro’s will still be needed, but that’s why ELA was invented.
from Lars Syll
By the early 1980s it was already common knowledge among people I hung out with that the only way to get non-crazy macroeconomics published was to wrap sensible assumptions about output and employment in something else, something that involved rational expectations and intertemporal stuff and made the paper respectable. And yes, that was conscious knowledge, which shaped the kinds of papers we wrote.
More or less says it all, doesn’t it?
And for those of us who do not want to play according these sickening hypocritical rules — well, here’s one good alternative.
from Lars Syll
In econometrics one often gets the feeling that many of its practitioners think of it as a kind of automatic inferential machine: input data and out comes casual knowledge. This is like pulling a rabbit from a hat. Great — but first you have to put the rabbit in the hat. And this is where assumptions come in to the picture.
As social scientists — and economists — we have to confront the all-important question of how to handle uncertainty and randomness. Should we define randomness with probability? If we do, we have to accept that to speak of randomness we also have to presuppose the existence of nomological probability machines, since probabilities cannot be spoken of – and actually, to be strict, do not at all exist – without specifying such system-contexts.
Accepting a domain of probability theory and a sample space of “infinite populations” — which is legion in modern econometrics — also implies that judgments are made on the basis of observations that are actually never made! Infinitely repeated trials or samplings never take place in the real world. So that cannot be a sound inductive basis for a science with aspirations of explaining real-world socio-economic processes, structures or events. It’s not tenable. Read more…
from Mark Weisbrot
Greece has been dragged through a lot of mud in the media over the past few years because previous governments overborrowed, and that contributed to the initial crisis that – we should remember – Spain, Portugal, Italy and almost everyone else in the eurozone had to go through. But the initial crisis could have been resolved relatively quickly. In the United States, which was hit by the explosion of an $8 trillion housing bubble, our recession lasted just 18 months. In Greece it has been six years, with a loss of a quarter of its national income, and more than 25 percent unemployment (and twice that for youth).
By now it is clear not only to the majority of economists, but to most people who are paying attention that this long depression was not only unnecessary but caused directly by bad policies. Read more…
from Peter Radford
Beware of the possible snark in the following:
One of the possibilities you face when you commit to writing about something is that you get called names. Sometimes you are called wrong. And sometimes when you are called wrong, you are indeed wrong. Such is life. We learn.
This is not one of those times.
Because I am right.
Anyway, this time I have been called wrong because I asked that we raise a collective voice to ask questions about economics. I made no substantive claim in my call for questions. I just asked for questions and then did claim that the resultant conversation would/could be interesting. I thought this was uncontroversial. Read more…
Since 2007, the increase of the wealth of Dutch pension funds has been much larger than the value of the entire government debt. The Dutch are however still cutting pensions as the ‘risk free rate’ used to discount future obligations is decreasing. Between 1992 and 2014, average return on investment was a whopping 7,9%. In the future, this will be quite a bit lower (Back of the envelope: lower inflation:-2%. Lower increase of population: -0,5% Lower economic growth: -0,5%). The ‘risk free rate’ (which is hardly risk free, as it changes all the time) is however supposed to be 1,9% – while the real rate of return in 2014 was 14,5%….The point is that many households or building corporations (who, in the Netherlands, own a lot of houses), are eager to re-finance their mortgage and loans with a 3% new loan (which is about 50% higher than the 1,9% rate). No, that’s not risk free either. But helping households to refinance might be a less risk strategy, in a macro-economic sense, than cutting pensions. Read more…
Minimum wages in European austerity countries: Greece is different (but not as you are made to expect)
In Januari 2015, Germany introduced a new economy wide minimum wage of Euro 1473,–, about the same level of the Irish minimum wage and slightly higher than the French level. The mimimum wage in Greece is 684,–, considerable higher than the 390,– Estonian level but clearly below the 757,– Spanish level. See these Eurostat data. The Eurostat statisticians point out that Greece was the only country to decrease its minimum wage between 2008 and 2015 (-19%). It is interesting to compare Greece with other austerity countries, which are supposed to be a shining example for Greece. Lowering the minimum wage is clearly not a silver bullet when it comes to job growth. Read more…
Where is our economic system going? What about our societies? How did we get here? And what next?
The current situation reveals not only an economic crisis but also a deep crisis of economic thought. There are many causes for this situation, and solutions can only be found through theoretical, practical and political inventiveness with our critical faculties to the fore. But, whilst such voices do exist, they have been silenced as far as orthodox economics is concerned. Simply put, there are profoud institutional barriers to the emergence and presentation of original thinking, but this blocked creativity could be released through a simple and immediate political solution. Establishing in French universities a new section, entitled Economics and Society, would allow a new way of thinking in economics.
Madam Minister, you recently decided to create this new section promoting the study of economic facts with a renewed perspective within rather than apart from social sciences. You did so because you know how much the research in economics and its teaching, but also public debate, are suffocated by the monopoly of ideas imposed by a dominant school of thought that failed to anticipate or even to allow for, let alone understand and respond to this crisis.
The proposal for this new section, and your commendable approval for it, unleashed such a backlash from the established orthodoxy that it seemed to persuade you to withdraw your support.
For these reasons, by reaffirming your support for this petition for pluralism in economics, we demand that you publish the decree that you already signed in order finally to create this new section.
Economics needs pluralism now!
You can sign this petition here http://assoeconomiepolitique.org/petition-pluralism-now/
4,559 people have already signed it, but they need lots more. You can read the names at the petition sight.