Healthcare Chaos

January 20, 2017 1 comment

from Peter Radford

Here we are one day before the ascension of Trump to the White House and already the policy chaos has begun. To be fair to Trump this particular chaos is not necessarily of his own doing entirely. The Republicans in Congress are also responsible. So hell bent are they in expunging all things Obama from the record that they have charged into the valley of death known as health care reform. Or, in this case, un-reform.

Having spent vast amounts of hours and taxpayer money in pointless votes to eliminate the Affordable Health Care act, and its eradication having become a totem of party loyalty, the Republicans jumped for joy when they finally gained enough control of Congress to make this wish come true. This is the moment their extremists have been waiting for.

And it’s terrifying the entire party except for those so clueless that they imagine getting rid of Obamacare is easy.

The source of this terror is the realization that they are now responsible for the consequences of their quixotic crusade. They will be accountable. It was all well and good to tilt at windmills when everyone knew that their efforts would be foiled, but now the public is looking at them as the legislative power. What happens over the next few years in our health care marketplace is entirely the doing of the Republican party.   Read more…

Uncovering where the econometric skeletons are buried

January 20, 2017 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll

A rigorous application of econometric methods in economics presupposes that the phenomena of our real world economies are ruled by stable causal relations between variables. Parameter-values estimated in specific spatio-temporal contexts are presupposed to be exportable to totally different contexts. To warrant this assumption one, however, has to convincingly establish that the targeted acting causes are stable and invariant so that they maintain their parametric status after the bridging. The endemic lack of predictive success of the econometric project indicates that this hope of finding fixed parameters is a hope for which there really is no other ground than hope itself.

Invariance assumptions need to be made in order to draw causal conclusions from non-experimental data: parameters are invariant to interventions, and so are errors or their distributions. Exogeneity is another concern. In a real example, as opposed to a hypothetical, real questions would have to be asked about these assumptions. Why are the equations ‘structural,’ in the sense that the required invariance assumptions hold true? Applied papers seldom address such assumptions, or the narrower statistical assumptions: for instance, why are errors IID?

The tension here is worth considering. We want to use regression to draw causal inferences from non-experimental data. To do that, we need to know that certain parameters and certain distributions would remain invariant if we were to intervene. Invariance can seldom be demonstrated experimentally. If it could, we probably wouldn’t be discussing invariance assumptions. What then is the source of the knowledge?

‘Economic theory’ seems like a natural answer, but an incomplete one. Theory has to be anchored in reality. Sooner or later, invariance needs empirical demonstration, which is easier said than done.

David Freedman: Statistical Models – Theory and Practice (CUP 2009:187)

Since econometrics aspires to explain things in terms of causes and effects it needs loads of assumptions. Invariance is not the only limiting assumption that has to be made. Equally important are the ‘atomistic’ assumptions of additivity and linearity.  read more

Theory of Employment

January 19, 2017 Leave a comment

from Asad Zaman

jobsThis is the 9th Post in a sequence about Re-Reading Keynes. In chapter 2 of General Theory, Keynes wishes to develop a theory of employment. He claims that classical economics does not have a theory of employment, because it assumes that all resources will be fully employed. But the theory that unemployment will always be 0% – except for frictional – is not a theory which can explain observations of high and persistent unemployment. Taking this post-Depression observation for granted, the question arises how we can create a theory in which the labor resources can be utilized at different levels. In order show that classical theory cannot explain the observed fluctuations in the level of employment, Keynes lists the four possibilities under classical theory which could create a change in the quantity of labor being employed:

  1. A more efficiently organized labor market, which find faster matches between the unemployed and job opportunities, would lower frictional unemployment and increase employment.
  2. A decrease in the disutility of labor would mean that laborers would be willing to accept lower wage offers, which would lead to expansion of the employment.
  3. An increase in the productivity of labor would bring greater rewards to the employers and induce them to hire more labor at a given wage.
  4. An exogenous decline in price of consumer goods purchased by laborers would increase the real wage and thereby employment. Exogenous means that demand for these goods by non-laborers decreases, causing the price decline.  read more

Mind the growing gap

January 19, 2017 11 comments

from David Ruccio

8-billionaires-in-the-worldOxfam’s headline-grabbing numbers are bad enough: “Eight men are as rich as half the world.” But the international organization has presented an even more serious and severe indictment of current economic arrangements—which can’t be glossed over by merely encouraging those at the top to pay more taxes.

In the background paper, “An Economy for the 99 Percent” (a follow-up to last year’s “An Economy for the 1%“), Oxfam researchers both document the existence of grotesque levels of economic inequality in the world today and analyze the main causes of that inequality.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize the numbers indicating the obscene levels of contemporary inequality:  Read more…

Catalyst’s Malick, unhappy about my reporting on US influence, hits back with false claim

January 18, 2017 1 comment

from  Norbert Haering

In a news piece on rediff, one of India’s most popular news-sites, Badal Malick, CEO of the US-Indian organization Catalyst, explains via a friendly journalist, what Catalyst is doing and that my writing on Catalyst and on Washington’s meddling in the fight against cash in India was bogus. He did not convince me. Maybe he will convince you.

To very briefly summarize my piece “‘A Well-Kept Open Secret: Washington Is Behind India’s Brutal Demonetisation Project‘”( augmented here or both in a consolidated version on zero hedge), I had written that the longstanding US influence, notably the influence of the Better Than Cash Alliance, in the fight against cash in India has been conspicuously absent in the discussion about the sudden demonetization that Premier Modi decreed on 8 November 2016. I have then provided the evidence of this US involvement, including the launch of Catalyst less than four weeks before the demonetization. The rediff-article even mentions that Catalyst was launched at a conference in Delhi hosted by the … drumrolls …  Better Than Cash Alliance.

This is the part of the rediff-article that deals with my writing:  Read more…

Keynes’ critique of econometrics — as valid today as it was in 1939

January 18, 2017 2 comments

from Lars Syll

Renowned ‘error-statistician’ Aris Spanos maintains — in a comment on this blog a couple of weeks ago — that Keynes’ critique of econometrics and the reliability of inferences made when it is applied, “have been addressed or answered.”

4388529One could, of course, say that, but the valuation of the statement hinges completely on what we mean by a question or critique being ‘addressed’ or ‘answered’. As I will argue below, Keynes’ critique is still valid and unanswered in the sense that the problems he pointed at are still with us today and ‘unsolved.’ Ignoring them — the most common practice among applied econometricians — is not to solve them.

To apply statistical and mathematical methods to the real-world economy, the econometrician have to make some quite strong assumption. In a review of Tinbergen’s econometric work — published in The Economic Journal in 1939 — Keynes gave a comprehensive critique of Tinbergen’s work, focussing on the limiting and unreal character of the assumptions that econometric analyses build on:

Completeness: Where Tinbergen attempts to specify and quantify which different factors influence the business cycle, Keynes maintains there has to be a complete list of all the relevant factors to avoid misspecification and spurious causal claims. Usually this problem is ‘solved’ by econometricians assuming that they somehow have a ‘correct’ model specification. Keynes is, to put it mildly, unconvinced:

Read more…

Trump and Economics

January 17, 2017 15 comments

from Peter Radford

I don’t want to spend much time on Trump and his version of economics primarily because I am not sure what it is. Nor, I think, does he.

One thing worth mentioning is that there is an unprecedented disconnect between the economics profession and the incoming President. Just about every economist I know says that Trump will be bad for the economy, and that the best we can hope for is that his notoriously poor attention span will prevent him from doing much.

For a much more detailed discussion of this disconnect go and read Justin Wolfers article in the New York Times.

What intrigues me is that this near complete separation between the economics profession, of all political persuasions, and the incoming administration is in stark contrast to that between Trump and both Wall Street and small business owners.

Is this because Wall Street and small business has a better handle on the economy? Or is it because they are deluded and are thus in for an ugly surprise?

There’s a part of me that would argue that Wall Street and small business are better informed than economists are about the economy. This opinion is based on my continued amazement at the extraordinarily strange convolutions that economics puts itself through in order to “prove” its various propositions. They are, frankly, absurd. So much so that any conclusions economists draw from their mathematics ought be taken with bucket loads of salt. Economists are steadfastly incapable and unwilling to amend their ideas and are still stuck in major reconsideration mode after the real world repudiation of their confidence and theories that the Great Recession represented. Suffice to say that were I a politician trying to steer the ship of state through these turbulent times, the last place I would look for economic advice is to a profession that still — despite the evidence — builds its theories on the quicksands of rationality, perfect information and so on.   Read more…

New Keynesianism — neither new nor Keynesian

January 16, 2017 1 comment

from Lars Syll

Maintaining that economics is a science in the ‘true knowledge’ business, I remain a skeptic of the pretences and aspirations of ‘New Keynesian’ macroeconomics. So far, I cannot really see that it has yielded very much in terms of realist and relevant economic knowledge. And there’s nothing new or Keynesian about it.

counterfeit‘New Keynesianism’ doesn’t have its roots in Keynes. It has its intellectual roots in Paul Samuelson’s ill-founded ‘neoclassical synthesis’ project, whereby he thought he could save the ‘classical’ view of the market economy as a (long run) self-regulating market clearing equilibrium mechanism, by adding some (short run) frictions and rigidities in the form of sticky wages and prices.

But — putting a sticky-price lipstick on the ‘classical’ pig sure won’t do. The ‘New Keynesian’ pig is still neither Keynesian nor new.

The rather one-sided emphasis of usefulness and its concomitant instrumentalist justification cannot hide that ‘New Keynesians’ cannot give supportive evidence for their considering it fruitful to analyze macroeconomic structures and events as the aggregated result of optimizing representative actors. After having analyzed some of its ontological and epistemological foundations, yours truly cannot but conclude that ‘New Keynesian’ macroeconomics on the whole has not delivered anything else than ‘as if’ unreal and irrelevant models.   Read more…

Ideological Macroeconomics & Increasing Inequality

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment

from Asad Zaman

ideologyinequalityEven though very few people have more than a vague idea about them, macroeconomic theories deeply affect the lives of everybody on the planet. Writings of Piketty, Stiglitz and many others, as well as personal experience of the 1% — 99% divide, have created increasing awareness of the deep and increasing inequalities which characterize modern capitalist economies. However, the link between inequality and macroeconomic theory has not been pointed out clearly. The fact that since the 1970’s top corporate salaries have increased by 1000% while the average worker only earns 11% more is closely linked to the revolution in economic theory that occurred over the 70’s and 80’s. We will try to sketch some parts of the complex and coordinated efforts which led to the emergence of theories which provide the invisible foundations and the enabling environment for this inequality.

The oil crisis of the early 70’s destroyed the consensus on Keynesian macroeconomics, and created the opportunities for ideologies disguised as economic theories to emerge. Chicago school economist Robert Lucas attacked the dominant Keynesian theories which argued that governments must play an important role in eliminating unemployment. Guided by free market ideology, Lucas created macroeconomic theories which suggested that government interventions are always harmful. Some elements of the Lucasian methodology provided genuinely superior alternatives to defects in existing Keynesian models. However, other elements were bizarre. Even though unemployment is a painful reality to vast numbers of people, defender-of-free-markets Lucas argued that this was a free choice. According to Lucas, the Great Depression was really the Great Vacation, where vast numbers of people suddenly decided to stop working in order to enjoy leisure. This, and many other strange assumptions of the Lucasian alternative led famous economists like Robert Solow to say that to engage in a serious discussion with the Chicago school would be analogous to discussing technicalities of the Battle of Austerlitz with a madman who claimed to be Napoleon Bonaparte. For example, Solow wrote that “Bob Lucas and Tom Sargent like nothing better than to get drawn into technical discussions, because then attention is attracted away from the basic weakness of the whole story. Since I find that fundamental framework ludicrous, I respond by treating it as ludicrous – that is, by laughing at it – so as not to fall into the trap of taking it seriously and passing on to matters of technique.”  read more

Makers vs. takers?

January 14, 2017 5 comments

from David Ruccio

Like many liberal economic nationalists, who are concerned about both inequality and economic growth, Michael Lind attempts to make a distinction between “takers” and “makers.”

As against conservative economic nationalists, who blame immigrants and the welfare-dependent poor, Lind focuses his attention on the “rent-extracting, unproductive rich” for undermining the dynamism and fairness of contemporary capitalism.

The term “rent” in this context refers to more than payments to your landlords. . . “Profits” from the sale of goods or services in a free market are different from “rents” extracted from the public by monopolists in various kinds. Unlike profits, rents tend to be based on recurrent fees rather than sales to ever-changing consumers. While productive capitalists — “industrialists,” to use the old-fashioned term — need to be active and entrepreneurial in order to keep ahead of the competition, “rentiers” (the term for people whose income comes from rents, rather than profits) can enjoy a perpetual stream of income even if they are completely passive.

This is a familiar trope within economic discourse. As I’ve explained before (e.g., here and here), it relies on a distinction between productive and unproductive economic activities, which is then overlain with other dichotomies: active vs. passive, doing vs. owning, and so on. The idea is that one group—the passive, owning, recipients of rent—increasingly serve as a drag on the other group—the active, doing, recipients of profits.   Read more…

Weak labor market: President Obama hides behind automation

January 13, 2017 8 comments

from Dean Baker

It really is shameful how so many people, who certainly should know better, argue that automation is the factor depressing the wages of large segments of the workforce and that education (i.e. blame the ignorant workers) is the solution. President Obama takes center stage in this picture since he said almost exactly this in his farewell address earlier in the week. This misconception is repeated in a Claire Cain Miller’s NYT column today. Just about every part of the story is wrong.

Starting with the basic story of automation replacing workers, we have a simple way of measuring this process, it’s called “productivity growth.” And contrary to what the automation folks tell you, productivity growth has actually been very slow lately.

Book2 9104 image001

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The figure above shows average annual rates of productivity growth for five year periods, going back to 1952. As can be seen, the pace of automation (productivity growth) has actually been quite slow in recent years. It is also projected by the Congressional Budget Office and most other forecasters to remain slow for the foreseeable future, so the prospect of mass displacement of jobs by automation runs completely counter to what we have been seeing in the labor market.

Putney Debates and The Trump Adminstration

January 13, 2017 1 comment

from Peter Radford

Here’s a well known quote:

“For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government … and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.”

Thus spoke Colonel Rainsborough at Putney in 1647.

This is an early instance of the rise of the modern liberal view of government. Rainsborough lost the argument with Cromwell and Ireton because the issue of property ownership intruded into the debate. That issue revolved around the question of the likelihood that those who owned no property would infringe on the rights of those who did, were the former allowed to participate in their own governance. So even at this formative moment in modern constitutional development the possibility that a liberal stance could evolve down two parallel tracks was clear.

Liberalism was subject to division at its inception.

One track, the one that dominated early on and which echoes strongly to this day, argues that for a person to have a voice in their own government they ought to have an overt stake in society. And the most obvious and material such stake is the ownership of property.   Read more…

Relevance is not irrelevant

January 12, 2017 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll

irrThere is something about the way macroeconomists construct their models nowadays that obviously doesn’t sit right.

Empirical evidence still only plays a minor role in mainstream economic theory, where models largely function as a substitute for empirical evidence.

One might have hoped that humbled by the manifest failure of its theoretical pretences during the latest economic-financial crisis, the one-sided, almost religious, insistence on axiomatic-deductivist modeling as the only scientific activity worthy of pursuing in economics would give way to methodological pluralism based on ontological considerations rather than formalistic tractability. That has, so far, not happened.

If macroeconomic models – no matter of what ilk –  build on microfoundational assumptions of representative actors, rational expectations, market clearing and equilibrium, and we know that real people and markets cannot be expected to obey these assumptions, the warrants for supposing that conclusions or hypotheses of causally relevant mechanisms or regularities can be bridged, are obviously non-justifiable. Incompatibility between actual behaviour and the behaviour in macroeconomic models building on representative actors and rational expectations microfoundations is not a symptom of ‘irrationality.’ It rather shows the futility of trying to represent real-world target systems with models flagrantly at odds with reality.   Read more…

Indignity of not-work?

January 12, 2017 7 comments

from David Ruccio


Mainstream economists and economic commentators continue to invoke the so-called “dignity of work” to criticize the idea of a universal basic income.  Read more…

Fake pluralism

January 11, 2017 2 comments

As a means of fending off criticism of its autism, of further concealing its ideological role (see below), of diverting calls for pluralism and, perhaps most of all, just as a pastime, economics’ Neoclassical mainstream plays a game of relaxing the assumptions. It loosens one or two assumptions around the edges of the theory and then does a bit of analysis. This is no better than when viewing David to lean to the left or to the right or kneel or stand tiptoed as a means of seeing another side of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Yet the whole mainstream project is now so infected with this methodological dilettantism that it seems necessary to spell out the difference between fake and real pluralism.   Read more…

Tectonics and Growth

January 10, 2017 36 comments

from Peter Radford

My wife is reading Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”, somewhere in which he relates his reaction when he first came across the bedrock of mainstream economics: rational microeconomic behavior. I must admit I had a very similar reaction. The description of human behavior that underpins modern economics is so bizarre that my first thought was that it must be some form of Monty Pythonesque satire. Surely, I thought, this is a joke and in a few pages all will be revealed. But no. Economics really is built on a foundation that to outside eyes is not just odd, but what appears to be a deliberate spoof.

What is even more strange, and those of you who listen to economists and take them seriously  please suspend your sense of humor at this point, is that this total perversion of humanity is then taken as the essential starting point for all subsequent theorizing. Economists are all brought up nowadays to repeat the mantra that all “good” theorizing about the economy at higher levels — what economists call macroeconomic theory — has to be based on a foundation of theorizing at a lower level — what economists call microeconomics. So in the literature and in conversation it is common to come across the phrase that some higher level idea is based upon “micro foundations”.

Except that foundation is exactly what Kahneman and others laugh at.

You would too if you spent any time at all thinking about it.

Which brings me to another point: economics is full of these oddities that anyone outside the profession would dismiss a priori as some form of ludicrous joke.  Read more…

The laws of free trade are not immutable after all

January 9, 2017 24 comments

from Jim Stanford

For years, we’ve been told the dictates of globalization, and the intrusive and prescriptive terms of free trade agreements in particular, are immutable, natural, and unquestionable.  When workers were displaced by the migration of multinational capital toward more profitable jurisdictions, we were told there’s nothing we can do about it except join the race to the bottom in a desperate attempt to hang onto our jobs.  When investment and employment were undermined by lopsided trade and capital flows, and employers and financiers utilized the leverage afforded them by unrestrained international mobility to ratchet the distributional structure of the economy ever-more-blatantly in their own favour, we were informed this was just the logic of markets.  And anyone who questioned that logic, or pointed out that it didn’t work in the real world like it is described in the economic textbooks, was labelled either economically illiterate or protectors of vested interests.

Now, suddenly, on the strength of a few tweets from a President who hasn’t even taken office yet, it seems that those rules are not so immutable, permanent, or natural after all.  Now, global corporations will move billions of dollars of investment, and thousands of good jobs, just because a President-elect wants them to.  If there is one crucial lesson from the extraordinary developments this month in the North American auto industry (including Trump’s threats against Ford, GM, and Toyota, and Ford’s stunning decision to completely cancel its new assembly plant in Mexico), it’s that politics matter.  Nothing about the economy is ever natural or permanent — and the immense resources invested in convincing us they are, are actually trying to disempower and silence the potential power of those being hurt by the current system of globalization. We’ve now seen that when it suits powerful forces, global rules can be rewritten in an instant; decisions of global megacorps overturned swiftly and effectively; provisions of trade deals simply ignored.   Read more…

On the limits of ‘statistical causality’

January 9, 2017 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll

If contributions made by statisticians to the understanding of causation are to be taken over with advantage in any specific field of inquiry, then what is crucial is that the right relationship should exist between statistical and subject-matter concerns …

introduction-to-statistical-inferenceWhere the ultimate aim of research is not prediction per se but rather causal explanation, an idea of causation that is expressed in terms of predictive power — as, for example, ‘Granger’ causation — is likely to be found wanting. Causal explanations cannot be arrived at through statistical methodology alone: a subject-matter input is also required in the form of background knowledge and, crucially, theory …

Likewise, the idea of causation as consequential manipulation is apt to research that can be undertaken primarily through experimental methods and, especially to ‘practical science’ where the central concern is indeed with ‘the consequences of performing particular acts’. The development of this idea in the context of medical and agricultural research is as understandable as the development of that of causation as robust dependence within applied econometrics. However, the extension of the manipulative approach into sociology would not appear promising, other than in rather special circumstances … The more fundamental difficulty is that, under the — highly anthropocentric — principle of ‘no causation without manipulation’, the recognition that can be given to the action of individuals as having causal force is in fact peculiarly limited.

John H. Goldthorpe

Causality in social sciences — and economics — can never solely be a question of statistical inference. Causality entails more than predictability, and to really in depth explain social phenomena require theory. Analysis of variation — the foundation of all econometrics — can never in itself reveal how these variations are brought about. First when we are able to tie actions, processes or structures to the statistical relations detected, can we say that we are getting at relevant explanations of causation.  Read more…

More evidence of early US involvement in Indian demonetisation

January 9, 2017 2 comments

from  Norbert Haering

When Prime minister Narendra Modi took the bulk of Indian cash out of circulation, he caused great hardship for many Indians, while a disruption-loving tech elite and political establishment asked for optimism and patience. In an earlier piece I have provided some indications for US involvement in that scheme. In this piece, I am adding some more, including earlier, evidence, summarize the evidence and ask if this evidence is reasonably compatible with the interpretation that the initiative was really Modi’s.

There is no firm proof or admission, as yet, that the decision has been taken at the behest of foreign institutions. In a report of news agency Reuters from December named “Who knew?”, unnamed Indian official sources want to make us believe that only the prime minister himself and a handful of people, knew of the plans. The Reuters-report names only one of the supposedly five who knew, a high-ranking official of the finance ministry. Tellingly, there is not a single mention of any foreign involvement, despite a formal co-operation of the finance ministry with USAID, aimed at pushing back cash in favor of digital payments.

There is plenty of evidence that US government entities, foundations and other institutions were intensely involved. We briefly summarize the evidence presented already in an earlier piece, bring it together with some more evidence, and then ask, if this evidence is reasonably compatible with the interpretation that the Indian government made its own demonetization plan, and either did it alone or –  somewhat more plausibly – enlisted all the help and advice it could get, including from abroad. This is an interpretation that some readers of my earlier piece have brought forward. In the following concise list of evidence, items 3,6 and 7 have been discussed more extensively in my earlier piece, 1,2,4 and 5 are new.

Read more…

European inflation is NOT soaring

January 8, 2017 12 comments


Predictably (as energy prices can’t fall forever) consumer price inflation in the EU recently increased. The present level is 1,1% which is, in a historical perspective, outright low. Also, ‘core’ inflation (which, unlike consumer price inflation, has never been negative) remained subdued and even below 1%. Predictably, however, people already start to scream that inflation is soaring and we should be afraid about worthless money.

They are wrong. Four reasons:

  1. Inflation does not measure the purchasing power of money. It measures the purchasing power of nominal income. A nice example of this: Read more…