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Radical paradigm shifts

July 19, 2018 24 comments

from Asad Zaman

The methodology and ideology of modern economics are built into the frameworks of educational methods, and absorbed by students without any explicit discussion. In particular, the logical positivist philosophy is a deadly poison which I ingested during my Ph.D. training at the Economics Dept in Stanford in the late 1970s. It took me years and years to undo these effects. Positivism uses clever arguments to make you deny what you feel in your bones to be true, and make you believe what your heart says must be false — for example our supposed knowledge of subjective probabilities of unknown events. The roots of the problem go back to the famous Cartesian argument that “I think therefore I am”. Although it is clever piece of logic, it has a deadly effect. I know that I am alive because I can feel the blood flowing in my veins, the tingling of my skin, and a thousand other bodily sensations. “I feel therefore I am”. Denying this experience as a valid source of knowledge reduces me to a brain floating in a vat, which is exactly what logical positivism entails. In fact, despite Descartes, it is impossible to REASON our way to certainty. We can only create an illusion of certainty. Descartes’ argument is deeply flawed, and illustrates the weakness of human reason. When we formulate the concept of “I”, isn’t existence automatically part of this? Did I not exist when I was a baby, and was unable to formulate these thoughts? Do I blink out of existence when I go to sleep? This and many other difficulties make this argument incoherent. Modern economics is much like this. It starts by making assumptions which are dramatically in conflict with everything we know about human behavior (and firm behavior) and applies mathematical reasoning to situations where it cannot be applied, quantifying the unquantifiable and coming to completely absurd and ridiculous conclusions. NONETHELESS, speaking from personal experience, the brainwashing is powerful and effective. It is a slow and painful process to undo. read more

The Secrets of Happiness

July 15, 2018 Leave a comment

from Asad Zaman

Introduction — I wrote this essay a while ago, and I am adding this preface here to explain more about WHY I wrote it:

Preface:

A central problem of our age is the turning of “means” into “ends”.  It is obvious that money, by itself, is not a source of pleasure –  it is a means to this end. Similarly, freedom is useful only if it is freedom to allow us to do something we want to do. Nobody would want the freedom to sell himself into slavery — which is effectively the only free choice offered to the poor in capitalism. Yet, today, due to a long, strange, and complex, historical process, freedom and wealth have become the goals of life, and the religion of most people on the planet. By religion, I mean that morality is based on these two goals — anything which creates wealth is desirable and hence moral, while anything which allows us greater freedom to act on our desires is also moral (this is the foundational principle of utilitarianism). In order to clear our minds of traps created by false paradigms, it is very useful to contemplate the opposites, as a mental exercise. As the dialectical method suggests, let us focus on the possibility that wealth and freedom are harmful to us. Wealth tempts us into the misconception that we can buy happiness with it, and this cheap path to short-term happiness — “The Coca Cola Theory of Happiness” — prevents us from learning and understanding the sources of long-term happiness, destroying the possibility of genuine happiness. Similarly, freedom tempts us into following paths of behavior which lead to short term pleasures at the cost of our long term happiness — we pursue strategies of instant gratification, failing to understand the need for sacrifice, struggle, and voluntary acceptance of suffering, in order to achieve higher goals. Not having wealth would be useful to enable us to learn to search for happiness in more productive directions. Instead of freedom, discipleship and slavery to an established tradition which teaches devotees to act in ways that lead to self developments and enlightenment, may create long run capabilities which are beyond the reach of our current imagination and vision.  read more

Finding a progressive methodology

July 4, 2018 29 comments

from Asad Zaman

Ever since the Global Financial Crisis, there have been an increasing number of voices calling for change in the economics curriculum/syllabus. However, even people who are sharply critical of mainstream (Rodrik, Stiglitz, Krugman) merely suggest minor and peripheral changes, and do not question the fundamental methodological basis on which neoclassical economics rests. In fact, a radical paradigm shift is required. According to current nominalist methodology, any model which produces a match to observables is a good model. The economists have lowered the bar further by not even requiring a good match, and not even comparing model results to reality. See “Friedman’s Methodology: A Stake through the Heart of Reason.” When the methodology is seriously deficient, people are allowed officially to make crazy assumptions, as long as the model produces a match with reality. For example, Paul Romer says in the Trouble with Macro: (macro) models attribute fluctuations to imaginary forces (like phlogiston), instead of agent behavior.  This methodology is such that a good model can only emerge by a random accident — just as the theory of evolution holds that life emerged by accident. I have explained how this seriously mistaken methodology came to be adopted, as a result of the wrong side winning the battle of methodologies; see “Method or Madness?

Keynesian models remain substantially superior to modern RBC and DSGE models because they can explain voluntary unemployment, which is ruled out by assumption in the latter models. They can also explain how money, banking, and debt have significant impacts on the real economy, unlike modern macro models. Nonetheless, . . . read more

International Financial Architecture: Part II

from Asad Zaman

This is the second lecture on Understanding the Rise and Fall of the Gold Standard — shortlink: bit.do/azifa2 — we start with a  Summary of First Lecture 

The first lecture discusses the Keynesian theory that the exact level of money in an economy is critically important – too little leads to recessions, while too much leads to inflations. Furthermore, domestic business cycles, and international financial crises are caused by pro-cyclical behavior of current artificial systems of money creation and international trade. Standard macro theories make it impossible to understand the economy because they assert that money is neutral, and does not affect the real economy – exactly the opposite of the Keynesian idea that the quantity of money is all important. Standard macro model currently in use throughout the world have no explicit role of money, banks, and credit, even though these factors are of central importance in understanding the world. Once we understand the vital role and function of money within an economy, it becomes possible to understand historical events of the twentieth century – whereas this is impossible using conventional macro theories. The first lecture summarizes how the colonial system came into being, and the monetary arrangement for a hard currency at the core and soft currencies in the periphery. This system of fiat currencies works fine within one system of colonies, where the value of money is decreed by sovereign fiat. For trading between different countries, the gold backed currencies were used. As European countries prospered by exploiting resources throughout the globe within their colonies, inter-European trade increased. The optimal quantity of money required for the domestic economy is not the same as that required for stable international exchange rates. The pro-cyclical money creation which is characteristic of the system creates cycles, and large cycles lead to crises on a routine basis. World War I was partly caused by the breakdown of the colonial trading system due to the end of expansion possibilities after the completion of the conquest of the globe. Efforts to restore the gold standard after World War I failed. The second part of the lecture discusses the post World War I history, with reference to the international financial architecture that emerged in the post-Gold era after World War I.  read more

Understanding Macro III: The rule of corporations

May 24, 2018 2 comments

from Asad Zaman

In previous parts of this article (Understanding Macro I & Understanding Macro II), we have described how strict financial regulation and Keynesian prescriptions for full employment brought prosperity for the masses, but reduced corporate profits. This last part describes the successful counter-attack by corporations which reversed this state of affairs, causing a massive rise in the income shares of the wealthy 1% and a decline in the fortunes of the bottom 90%.

In the mid 70’s, when I was studying for my Ph.D. in Economics from Stanford, Keynesian economics ruled the roost; pre-Keynesian free market economics was confined to the Chicago School, and not considered intellectually respectable. This situation was reversed in the 90’s, when the Chicago School became dominant, while Keynesian economics was no longer considered respectable. The multi-dimensional strategy used to create this revolution on the academic front is described by Alkire and Ritchie in “Winning Ideas”, while the global strategy to transform socialistic economies into capitalistic free markets is described by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. A common thread between the two is the patient preparation of detailed plans, while waiting for a crisis, which provides an opportunity to implement these plans.

The intellectual crisis that Chicago had been waiting for occurred in the early 70’s when the Arab Oil embargo, in retaliation for US support of Israel, led to stagflation in the USA. The simultaneous occurrence of high inflation and high unemployment was said to be in conflict with Keynesian theories, while the Chicago School theory of Milton Friedman was said to provide an explanation for the unexpected phenomena. This became widely accepted, and led to a substantial rise in the prestige of the Chicago School, and a blow to the Keynesians. The 1% capitalized on this by providing funds to Sveriges Riksbank, the Central Bank of Sweden, to create a simulated Nobel Prize for Economics, named the Sveriges Riksbank prize in honor of Alfred Nobel. The Nobel family protests against this appropriation of the prestige of the Nobel Prize were ignored, and the public was fooled into accepting this just like the genuine Nobels. In quick succession, roughly half of all the Nobel prizes were awarded to Chicago economists, interspersed with 50% going to randomly chosen others to create a semblance of neutrality. This led to a rapid rise in the academic prestige of the Chicago school.  read more

Understanding Macro II: Post-war prosperity

from Asad Zaman

In part 1 of this article (Understanding Macro: The Great Depression (1/3), we saw that Keynes challenged classical economics on many fronts. Against the classical idea that free markets will automatically eliminate unemployment, he argued that governments needed to adopt appropriate fiscal and monetary policy in order to create full employment, as a necessary condition for high economic growth. He also argued that money is not neutral, and that there is fundamental uncertainty about the future.  Widespread acceptance of Keynesian economics was one of the two major ingredients that led to prosperity in Europe and USA after World War II. We start with a discussion of the second ingredient, which was strict regulation of financial institutions.

It was obvious to all that irresponsible lending had caused the Great Depression. The creation of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1914 allowed banks to create credit freely. Banks could provide loans to anyone who asked for it, without minimal backing in cash reserves, since the Fed would provide them with cash in case of any shortfall in reserves. This was a windfall for the private banking sector, since they could provide credit for loans at zero cost to themselves, simply by making an entry on their books. Banks capitalized on this opportunity by creating a debt-based boom in the economy. Consumers were encouraged to buy everything, especially real estate, housing, and stocks on credit. Easy availability of loans created a boom in economy, referred to as the roaring twenties. As prices of land and stocks increased, people rushed out to get loans to buy more, in order to get a share of the easy profits due to soaring values. Eventually, a stock market crash in 1929 punctured this bubble, leading to the Great Depression of 1929. About 11,000 of 25,000 banks collapsed, wiping out the life-savings of millions, since there was no deposit insurance at the time.  read more

On the vital importance of understanding international financial architecture

May 12, 2018 1 comment

from Asad Zaman

Part 1: Power/Knowledge – How Macro Theory is shaped by the Powerful

Why Understand Macro? If we understood macroeconomics, we would be able to understand the reasons for the major economic events currently going on all around us. For instance, increasing inequality, effects of austerity, Brexit, inequities of post-Bretton Woods dollar based financial system, impacts of emerging economy of China on global finance, and many other questions of vital importance for conduct of economic policy. Unfortunately, standard courses in Advanced Macroeconomics currently being taught at leading universities throughout the world are worse than useless for this purpose. Many leading economists have admitted that we need to replace the “entire edifice” of contemporary macro, that our leading models are strongly in conflict with everything we know about reality. For one sharp critique, see David Romer “The Trouble with Macroeconomics”, where he says that theorists completely ignore the strong disagreement between their theories and reality, and are content to build mathematical models which have no relation to the real world. Leading macro textbooks teach student how to do advanced mathematical manipulation, but teach nothing about the events going on around us, which is why economists were taken by complete surprise when the Global Financial Crisis occurred. According to all the macro models in use then (and which continue to be used today) such an event was impossible.

Textbooks teach Myths About Macro: It is not just that what is taught in the textbooks is irrelevant. It is actually misleading, and we can argue that it is deliberately so. Learning the truth about how the economy works would be harmful to the rich and powerful who benefit enormously from the myths that are taught in modern macroeconomics textbooks, and widely believed throughout the world. Many, many myths taught as realities could be listed, but perhaps the central one among them is the “Neutrality of Money”. According to this widely believed myth, money plays no important role in the economy, except to affect the price level. If we double the quantity of money, the prices will be double and there will be no other effects on the real economy. In other words, “money is a veil” and we have to see through this veil in order to understand the workings of the real economy.

Suppression of Keynesian Knowledge: read more 

A realist approach to econometrics

May 7, 2018 2 comments

from Asad Zaman

The talk linked below explains why the positivist/nominalist methodology used in Econometrics leads to mostly nonesense regressions. It also explains how a realist alternative can be developed.

“The Philosophy and Techniques for Quantitative Research” – Keynote Address by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE at Workshop on 19-20 April, 2018 Dept of Economics, Fatima Jinnah Women’s University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

My message will come as a surprise to students gathered here to learn advanced econometric techniques. Let me begin by stating it baldly: “Econometrics is nothing more than Fraud by Numbers”.

As Joan Robinson famously said, “The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.” A similar statement holds for econometrics. We should learn it not in order to acquire techniques which will teach us how to use data sets to make inferences about reality. Rather, we should learn it to avoid being deceived by econometricians. The techniques described by Perkins in “Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man” are in common use around the world. Fancy econometrics is used to persuade people to adopt policies which harm the public, while fattening corporate coffers.  read more

The Pareto Efficiency Swindle

May 4, 2018 2 comments

from Asad Zaman

This continues a sequence of posts explaining how conventional economics is actually the economic theory of the top 1%: ET1%: Blindfolds created by Economic Theories. Eight central concepts of economic theory are shown to be deceptive – they have an appearance of objectivity, fairness, and equity, but actually conceal a strong bias in the favor of the wealthy. The previous post was the “Illusion of Scarcity.

We call the concept of “Pareto Efficiency” a swindle because it encapsulates a normative principle that property rights of the wealthy take precedence over the right to basic needs of the poor. However, it is disguised to have an appearance of scientific objectivity, while the opposite normative preference, which most people have, is said to depend on subjective and unreliable value judgments.

The principle of Pareto efficiency has a harmless and innocuous appearance. Who could object to the idea that if we give more material goods to everyone, then the society as a whole would be better off? However, we will show that Pareto Efficiency is deceptive and fully qualifies for the label ET1%. It appeals to everyone when we say that increasing social welfare requires giving more goods to all. But the hidden consequence of accepting this principle is that you cannot take wealth away from the super-rich to give to the hungry, because that would decrease the wealth of the super-rich. It also provides moral cover for increasing inequality, as we shall see. It also protects property rights against the taxation required to fulfill social needs of the poor.  read more

The illusion of scarcity

April 28, 2018 Leave a comment

from Asad Zaman

(continuation of previous post on ET1%: Blindfolds Created by Economic Theory)

Economists have performed an amazing piece of magic, successfully creating a mass deception which has taken in the vast majority of the population of the world. Seeing through this complex and sophisticated trick requires separating, studying and understanding many different elements which all combine to create this illusion. One of the elements is a binary theory of knowledge, according to which theories are either true or false, and this is the only characteristic of theories that we should study. This prevents us from looking at the historical context in which the theories originate, and the functions that these theories serve, in terms of advancing the interests of powerful groups in the social struggles then going on. Social theories cannot be understood without this context, and hiding this context, and the relationships between knowledge and power, is an essential component of the WMD — weapon of mass deception — deployed by the economists to create a mass hallucination. In this post we analyze briefly the concept of Scarcity, which is at the heart of modern Economic Theory.

According to this concept, which was made central to Economics by Lionel Robbins in 1929, there are not enough resources to satisfy the unlimited needs and wants of all people. Accordingly, solutions require increasing resources, or economic growth.  On the surface, this seems like a straightforward statement of the factual position: we need more resources in order to take care of the needs of the poor. Hidden beneath this simplicity is a strategy which is massively favorable to the interests of the top 1%. We bring out some of these hidden implications below.

1.     Failure to Distinguish Needs and Wants  –  read more

ET1%: blindfolds created by economics

April 12, 2018 3 comments

from Asad Zaman

In my paper on “The Empirical Evidence Against Neoclassical Utility Theory: A Survey of the Literature”, I have argued that economic theories act as a blindfold, preventing economists from seeing basic facts about human behavior, obvious to all others. For instance, economists consider cooperation, generosity, integrity (commitments), and socially responsible behavior, as anomalies requiring explanation, while all others consider these as natural aspects of human behavior.

Far deeper insight into the blindfolds created by economic theory is obtained when we realize that these are not random mistakes, made due to defective reasoning or neglect of empirical evidence. If the shopkeeper systematically makes mistakes which always increase the total bill, we can conclude that the mistakes are purposeful. Similarly, strong and repeated commitment of exactly the same mistakes, flying in face of all empirical evidence, reveals the deep ideological commitments which create these systematic errors.  In particular, the goal of this note is to show that modern economics is not what it claims and pretends to be: an objective, factual and scientific description of the laws governing capitalist economies. Instead, it is actually a branch of moral philosophy, and provides a justification for the inequality and injustice built into the system, by “showing” that these are necessary for the functioning of the system, and the system itself is fair for all participants, and leads to the best possible outcomes.  read more

The Coca-Cola theory of happiness

March 29, 2018 4 comments

from Asad Zaman

The root cause of our hopelessly defective economic theories is a fundamentally misguided model of human behavior. Modern economic theory assesses the impact of policies by replacing all human beings with homo economicus, which is a brain connected to a mouth and stomach. Because the heart and soul of human beings is removed from the picture before the economist begins his calculations, economists are routinely baffled by behavioral economics, based on actual behavior instead of hypothesis. Topping this deep ignorance is an amazing arrogance about “microeconomic foundations” — that even if macro is wrong, at least our micro theories rest on solid foundations! Such assertions leave me speechless; what can you say to someone who confidently claims to be Napoleon Bonaparte ?

Because of complete failure to understand human beings, economists subscribe to a ridiculous theory of human welfare — it is monotonic in consumption. All of us act as if our sole purpose in life is to maximize the utility obtained from consumption. Economists have never heard of the Buddha who taught that the root of suffering is attachment to material pleasures obtained from consumption. Yet the illusion that increasing consumption leads to increasing welfare has been clearly exposed by Easterlin. Economists continue to struggle to counter and explain away the Easterlin Paradox, since it contradicts their firm belief in the “Coca-Cola theory of happiness”. This is briefly described below, in an excerpt from my previous post on “The Search for Knowledge” :  read more

Method or Madness?

March 23, 2018 1 comment

from Asad Zaman

Because of the universal spread and impact of Western educational systems, necessary for survival in the modern world, we have all learned to view the world through glasses manufactured in Europe. Just as a fish is unaware of the waters in which it swims, so we are unaware of the currents of history which have shaped European thought. Yet to understand the world we live in, and how our perceptions have been shaped by the dominance of West, it is essential to acquire an understanding of how the Western worldview has been radically transformed over the past few centuries. In this brief essay, we will discuss the “Methodenstreit”, the battle of methodologies, which took place in the late nineteenth century. While this is only one piece of the complex and multi-dimensional historical experiences of Europeans, the methodenstreit had a decisive impact on modern social science, which shapes our current understanding of human beings and their social, political and economic lives. The title of the book “How Economics Forgot History” about the methodenstreit by Geoffrey Hodgson accurately describes the impact of this battle on the discipline of Economics. In this battle, the German Historical School, championed by Schmoller and his colleagues, lost to the Austrian School of Menger, who favored a scientific and quantitative approach to economics.

But what is wrong with taking a scientific approach to the formulation and solution of economic problems, the reader might ask.  read more

Friedman’s methodology: a stake through the heart of reason

March 15, 2018 5 comments

from Asad Zaman

Romer writes that macro-economists casually dismiss facts, and the profession as a whole has gone backwards over the past few decades, losing precious and hard-won knowledge. He does not consider WHY this happened. What are the methodological flaws that create the possibility of moving backwards, losing knowledge, affirming theories known to be in conflict with facts. How is it that leading economists can confidently assert theories which border on lunacy, and receive Nobel Prizes instead of psychiatric treatment?

This is due to the famous AS-IF methodology of Friedman, which gave economists a license for lunacy.  Friedman came up with this defense of orthodoxy when numerous emprical investigation revealed clearly that firms did not maximize profits, did not know their marginal costs, typically used mark-up pricing, and did other things which did not square with neo-classical theories. Friedman’s argument has been universally condemned by logicians and philosophers as an instance of the logical fallacy of “Affirming the consequent” – the use of modus ponens in reverse. That is, Friedman says, in effect, that theory T implies observable consequence C. We observe C, and therefore we can affirm that T holds. This is obviously fallacious since many different theories, inconsistent with T, may also imply consequence C.  read more 

Understanding Macro: The Great Depression (1/3)

February 26, 2018 6 comments

from  Asad Zaman

Preliminary Remarks: “The trouble is not so much that macroeconomists say things that are inconsistent with the facts. The real trouble is that other economists do not care that the macroeconomists do not care about the facts. An indifferent tolerance of obvious error is even more corrosive to science than committed advocacy of error.” From The Trouble with Macroeconomics (Paul Romer)

Personally, I do not understand why indifference to error is worse than committed advocacy. For an illustration of committed advocacy of error, see postscript below on 70 years of economists’ commitment to a fallacious theory of supply and demand in the labor market. Furthermore, the problem is not confined to macro. Microeconomists are also dogmatically committed to utility maximization, when in fact this hypothesis about consumer behavior is solidly rejected by empirical evidence; see: The Empirical Evidence Against Neoclassical Utility Maximization: A Survey of the Literature

Understanding Macro: The Great Depression

Due to frequent headlines, there is a substantial public awareness of core macroeconomic issues like unemployment, trade agreements, exchange rates, deficit, taxes, interest rates, etc. However, even professionals are often ignorant of the intellectual battles which have shaped modern macroeconomics, since this is not taught in typical PhD programmes in economics. This article attempts to provide the history of ideas which led to the emergence of macroeconomics, since this is an essential background required for informed analysis of these issues.

Lord John Maynard Keynes invented the entire field of macroeconomics in response to the Great Depression in 1929, which could not be understood according to economic theories dominant until then. According to the classical economic theory, forces of supply and demand in the labour market would ensure full employment. Keynes starts his magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, with the observation that the economic theory cannot explain the long, persistent and deep unemployment that was observed following the Great Depression. Keynes set himself the goal of creating a theory which could explain wide fluctuations in levels of employment that he observed. He discovered that creating such a theory involved rejecting deeply held convictions, central to economic theory.  read more

Choosing our own pathways to progress

January 20, 2018 2 comments

from Asad Zaman

Pride resulting from global dominance and spectacular scientific and technological developments led Europeans to believe that the West was the most advanced and developed of all societies. Other societies were primitive and under-developed. As these other societies matured and grew, they would follow the same stages that were followed by the West, and eventually become like modern Western societies. Early thinkers like Comte described the stages in growth from primitive society to modern ones in a ‘logical’ sequence. The enterprise of colonizing the non-European world was painted in bright terms as being part of the “White Man’s burden” of bringing enlightenment, good government, science, technology and other benefits of Western civilization to the rest of the world. Until the 60’s modernization theorists, like Parsons and Rostow echoed these sentiments, regarding Westernization as a desirable and inevitable process for the rest of the world. The goal of this article is to discuss some of the difficulties which led to substantial reconsideration of these naïve views. Current views (for example, Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen) are much more complex and diverse, and generally more respectful of other ancient civilizations in the world.  read more

Prosperity as human development, not wealth

January 15, 2018 12 comments

from Asad Zaman

The main thesis of our lecture is that our quest for prosperity has failed to deliver the sought-after goals because we have misunderstood the meaning of prosperity , and looked for it where it cannot be found. We base our economic policies on modern economic theory, which is based on the amazing assumption that human beings act to maximize lifetime consumption, since this is the sole source of human welfare. Human beings are far more generous and cooperative than the assumptions of economic theory allow for. Even more important is Richard Easterlin’s discovery that enormously increased levels of consumption do not bring about corresponding increases in happiness. Consumption only brings short-run happiness; long-run happiness has no correlation with consumption, and is far better correlated with character traits like generosity and gratitude. Mindless pursuit of wealth, implemented by policies to maximize growth, has led to increasing misery, instead of prosperity . Growth-oriented policies have destroyed family lives, engaging all members in production of wealth, and they have damaged our environment, destroying the future of our species for short run gains.his damage be reversed? Can we improve human lives and welfare, and also stave off the impending environmental crisis? At the core of the crisis we face is the prioritization of wealth over human beings. A market economy cheapens human beings because it is based on the idea that human lives are commodities for sale in the labor market. Reversing these priorities requires the recognition that all human lives are infinitely precious, with amazing potentials and capabilities for growth in dimensions unknown. Taking this principle seriously would require re-writing all economics textbooks, and radically re-organizing our economic, political and social institutions. Taking collective responsibility to ensure that all members of a society get the chance to develop their capabilities would be a new definition of prosperity , very different from GNP per capita, which is the current focus of policy makers across the globe.  read more

Resources for study of Polanyi’s Great Transformation

December 30, 2017 11 comments

from Asad Zaman

Summary: My 1000+ word summary of Polanyi’s classic: “The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times” has been wildly popular, remaining constantly among the top ten on the RWER Blog since it was was published nearly five years ago.  I have recently (25/12/26) revised and updated the post to clean up extraneous elements and clarify the substance in light of readers comments as well as my own improved understanding. Perhaps the most important element of this post is that it explains how living in a market society shapes our thoughts to conform with the commercialization it creates. Creating radical changes requires the first step of liberating our selves from these blinders, to be able to imagine radical alternatives.  I have also recorded a 28m video-talk on this topic, which has been added to the original post. This post provides links to additional material that I have written about Polanyi over the past five years.

Methodology: Moving forward from critique, Polanyi’s analysis is based on methodological principles radically different from those currently in use. Understanding and implementing these principles woujld allow us to create a new approach to economics and social sciences. My 20 page paper explaining the three fundamental principles used by Polanyi was published in the WEA Journal: Asad Zaman (2016) ‘The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation.’ Economic Thought, 5.1, pp. 44-63. A brief 1000 word explanation of this methodology is available in a WEA Pedagogy Blog post:    The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation. The post also provides a link to a 45m video lecture on this topic. (This lecture has been by far my most popular video-lecture, with more than 2000 views.) Polanyi’s analysis provides the basis for a radically different approach to economics, which considers politics, society, environment, and economics as inter-related subjects which cannot be understood in isolation. One of the deep insights of Polanyi is that economic theory itself is a product of a power struggle between different social classes and cannot be understood outside its historical context.

Ecological Collapse read more

Subjective probability does not exist

December 6, 2017 3 comments

from Asad Zaman

The title is an inversion of De-Finetti’s famous statement that “Probability does not exist” with which he opens his famous treatise on Probability. My paper, discussed below, shows that the arguments used to establish the existence of subjective probabilities, offered as a substitute for frequentist probabilities, are flawed.

The existence of subjective probability is established via arguments based on coherent choice over lotteries. Such arguments were made by Ramsey, De-Finetti, Savage and others, and rely on variants of the Dutch-Book, which show that incoherent choices are irrational – they lead to certain loss of money. So every rational person must make coherent choices over a certain set of especially constructed lotteries. Then the subjectivist argument shows that every coherent set of choices corresponds to a subjective probability on part of the decision maker. Thus we conclude that rational decision makers must have subjective probabilities. This paper shows that coherent choice over lotteries leads to weaker conclusion than the one desired by subjectivists. If a person is forced to make coherent choices for the sake of consistency in certain specially designed environment, that does not “reveal” his beliefs. The decision may arbitrarily chose a “belief”, which he may later renounce. To put this in very simple terms, suppose you are offered a choice between exotic fruits Ackee and Rambutan, neither of which you have tasted. Then the choice you make will not “reveal” your preference. But preferences are needed to ensure stability of this choice, which allows us to carry it over into other decision making environments.  read more

Consumer Theory

November 26, 2017 Leave a comment

from Asad Zaman

Lecture 5 of Advanced Microeconomics at PIDE. The base for this lecture Hill & Myatt Anti-Textbook Chapter 4 on Consumer Theory.

Hill and Myatt cover three criticisms of conventional microeconomic consumer theory.

  1. Economic theory considers preference formation as exogenous. If the production process also creates preferences via advertising, this is not legitimate.
  2. Consumers are supposed to make informed choices leading to increase welfare. However, deceptive advertising often leads consumers to make choices harmful to themselves. The full information condition assumed by Economics is not valid.
  3. Economic theory is based on methodological individualism, and treats all individual separately. However, many of our preferences are defined within a social context, which cannot be neglected.

Before discussing modern consumer theory, it is useful to provide some context and

1      Historical Background:

In a deeply insightful remark, Karl Marx said that Capitalism works not just by enslaving laborers to produce wealth for capitalists, but by making them believe in the necessity and justness of their own enslavement. The physical and observable chains tying the exploited are supplemented by the invisible chains of theories which are designed to sustain and justify existing relationships of power. Modern economic consumer theory is an excellent illustration of these remarks.  read more