Archive

Author Archive

As the rich received a bigger piece of the pie, everyone else got relatively less.

March 28, 2017 1 comment

from Steven Pressman

According to Thomas Piketty (2014), between 1980 and 2010 the share of total US income going to the top 10% of earners rose from around 30-35%, where it stood for several decades, to nearly 50%. These are very conservative estimates. Piketty’s figures come from the distribution of adjusted gross income (AGI), reported by the US Internal Revenue Service. AGI subtracts from income things like investment losses, retirement account contributions and their returns (see Pressman 2015, Chapter 2). With large adjustments, someone can make a lot of money but have little AGI; or, as in the case of Donald Trump, you can report a negative AGI of nearly $1 billion. In addition, tax-free income (such as unrealized capital gains and interest on municipal bonds), as well as returns on money hidden in tax havens, are not reported to the IRS and do not appear in AGI. Like the adjustments helping Trump avoid taxes, this income mainly goes to the wealthy and has been growing for several decades (Zucman, 2015).

As the rich received a bigger piece of the pie, everyone else got relatively less. We can see this in the falling share of income going to the middle-three income quintiles (Figure 1).   Read more…

Trumponomics: End globalization and bring the jobs home

March 27, 2017 2 comments

from L. Randall Wray

Trump has put forward a number of proposals related to the theme of ending globalization – including renegotiating NAFTA and pulling out of the TPP – many of which were directed at China and other exporters. Like many American politicians, Trump has claimed that China is a “currency manipulator” and promises to pursue an investigation. He’s proposed large tariffs to be slapped on imports (variously suggested as 45% on Chinese exports to the US, 20% on all imports, and 35% on Mexican imports)[1], and particularly on American firms that move jobs overseas (proposing a 15% tax on firms that do so). As mentioned, he promised to create 25 million good jobs over the next decade, many of those by bringing the jobs home. One of his first acts was to “save” jobs at Carrier that had been destined to go to Mexico – supposedly proof of his touted negotiation skills – and suggests he will continue to put pressure on individual firms to stay put.   Read more…

Your model is consistent? So what!

March 26, 2017 8 comments

from Lars Syll

In the realm of science it ought to be considered of little or no value to simply make claims about the model and lose sight of reality.

errorineconomicsThere is a difference between having evidence for some hypothesis and having evidence for the hypothesis relevant for a given purpose. The difference is important because scientific methods tend to be good at addressing hypotheses of a certain kind and not others: scientific methods come with particular applications built into them … The advantage of mathematical modelling is that its method of deriving a result is that of mathemtical prof: the conclusion is guaranteed to hold given the assumptions. However, the evidence generated in this way is valid only in abstract model worlds while we would like to evaluate hypotheses about what happens in economies in the real world … The upshot is that valid evidence does not seem to be enough. What we also need is to evaluate the relevance of the evidence in the context of a given purpose.

Even if some people think that there has been a kind of empirical revolution in economics lately, I would still argue that empirical evidence only plays a minor role in economic theory, where models largely function as a substitute for empirical evidence. The one-sided, almost religious, insistence on axiomatic-deductivist modeling as the only scientific activity worthy of pursuing in economics, still roosts the roost.

Can Trump overcome secular stagnation?

March 25, 2017 9 comments

from James K. Galbraith and RWER no. 78

Could the economic program of President Donald Trump, if enacted, overcome secular stagnation? This essay addresses part of that question, focusing on the effects of a changing macroeconomic policy mix and thrust in the present US national and global context. A separate essay will address considerations on the supply side.

The phrase “secular stagnation” is usually attributed to the early post-war Harvard economist Alvin Hansen, one of the first American disciples of John Maynard Keynes, who used it to argue that the American economy would return to the Great Depression once the Second World War ended. Today, secular stagnation is defined by Lawrence Summers, who defines it as the condition of a “low real neutral rate of interest”, or in Fed-speak a “low R* world”. A neutral rate of interest (“R*”) is said to be the one that neither increases nor restrains the economic growth rate. If such a rate exists and if it is close to zero, then monetary policy cannot spur growth, and a big-deficit fiscal policy is required.

For this reason, it is argued, the great recession-cure of “Quantitative Easing”, so highly touted a few years back, proved to be mostly a dud. But fiscal policy would have better luck, whether through increased public spending or tax cuts, although only so long as the fiscal push is not offset by higher interest rates. If interest rates rise, in a “low R* world” then the fiscal expansion will fail. This tension between fiscal and monetary forces is of great importance just now, as Donald Trump assumes the presidency on a program of infrastructure spending and tax cuts, while interest rates are starting to rise.   Read more…

Flipped economics classroom

March 25, 2017 Leave a comment

from Maria Alejandra Madi and the WEA Pedagogy Blog

Recent active learning experiences have been associated with “flipped” or “inverted” classroom (Norman and Wills, 2015). Indeed, this method has been receiving increasing attention by professors that search for alternatives to traditional lectures so as to cover some topics of the course content.

By adopting the flipped  classroom in economics instruction, professors out to enhance a larger pre-class involvement of the students not only by reading the selected bibliography but also by watching instructional videos.

Before the class, professors provide instructional short videos (five to fifteen minutes) that cover the main ideas related to a selected topic of the syllabus. The videos generally emphasize theoretical approaches, definitions, formulas and graphs. Recent evidence shows that many professors actually record a narration of the lecture slides and notes.

As students should watch the video before the class, professors can privilege active learning methods during class time. Therefore, the class activities aim to apply the material that was covered in the videos in order to enhance a real-world approach to economics education. These activities- that are supervised and oriented by professors – can include, for instance:  read more

The man who crushed the mathematical dream

March 24, 2017 23 comments

from Lars Syll

b00dshx3_640_360Gödel’s incompleteness theorems raise important questions about the foundations of mathematics.

The most important concerns the question of how to select the specific systems of axioms that mathematics are supposed to be founded on. Gödel’s theorems irrevocably show that no matter what system is chosen, there will always have to be other axioms to prove previously unproved truths.

This, of course, ought to be of paramount interest for those mainstream economists who still adhere to the dream of constructing a deductive-axiomatic economics with analytic truths that do not require empirical verification. Since Gödel showed that any complex axiomatic system is undecidable and incomplete, any such deductive-axiomatic economics will always consist of some undecidable statements. When not even being able to fulfil the dream of a complete and consistent axiomatic foundation for mathematics, it’s totally incomprehensible that some people still think that could be achieved for economics.

Read more…

The capital-mobilising deal maker

March 23, 2017 19 comments

from Jamie Morgan and RWER no. 78

As a brand, Trump is also a particular kind of contemporary businessman. He positions himself as a maker of “deals” rather than a maker of things, though his wealth is rooted in construction and property. He is an owner of portfolio assets, who uses these to leverage new ventures where he is able to conjure personal gain from situations where material benefits to the many may be lacking. His skill set is one of concentration and extraction of returns, and the externalisation of costs and losses. Based on that skill set profits can artfully appear and equally disappear (with tax consequences) in ways that have little to do with the simplistic concepts of theory of the firm. The solution to any problem is an additional incorporation, a

transfer of assets, a lawsuit that deters others, a no fault out-of-court settlement that protects oneself, a debt restructure or perhaps a timely Chapter 11 bankruptcy declaration. Being proficient along these lines can make one a billionaire, particularly if one starts with a core of inherited wealth for collateral and has access to a network.[1]

Read more…

The fall of the US middle class

March 23, 2017 3 comments

from Steven Pressman and RWER no. 78

According to Thomas Piketty (2014), between 1980 and 2010 the share of total US income going to the top 10% of earners rose from around 30-35%, where it stood for several decades, to nearly 50%. These are very conservative estimates. Piketty’s figures come from the distribution of adjusted gross income (AGI), reported by the US Internal Revenue Service. AGI subtracts from income things like investment losses, retirement account contributions and their returns (see Pressman 2015, Chapter 2). With large adjustments, someone can make a lot of money but have little AGI; or, as in the case of Donald Trump, you can report a negative AGI of nearly $1 billion. In addition, tax-free income (such as unrealized capital gains and interest on municipal bonds), as well as returns on money hidden in tax havens, are not reported to the IRS and do not appear in AGI. Like the adjustments helping Trump avoid taxes, this income mainly goes to the wealthy and has been growing for several decades (Zucman, 2015).

As the rich received a bigger piece of the pie, everyone else got relatively less. We can see this in the falling share of income going to the middle-three income quintiles (Figure 1).

Read more…

Trumponomics: causes and consequences – Part I – RWER issue no. 78

March 22, 2017 1 comment

download whole issue

Preface          download pdf

Trumponomics: everything to fear including fear itself?          3
Jamie Morgan          download pdf                                                                           

Can Trump overcome secular stagnation?          20
James K. Galbraith            download pdf                             

Trump through a Polanyi lens: considering community well-being          28
Anne Mayhew            download pdf                                                                                    

Trump is Obama’s legacy. Will this break up the Democratic Party?          36
Michael Hudson          download pdf

Causes and consequences of President Donald Trump          44
Ann Pettifor               download pdf                                

Explaining the rise of Donald Trump          54
Marshall Auerback          download pdf 

Class and Trumponomics          62
David F. Ruccio          download pdf 

Trump’s Growthism: its roots in neoclassical economic theory          86
Herman Daly          download pdf 

Trumponomics: causes and prospects          98
L. Randall Wray          download pdf 

The fall of the US middle class and the hair-raising ascent of Donald Trump
Steven Pressman          download pdf          112

Mourning in America: the corporate/government/media complex          125
Neva Goodwin          download pdf 

How the Donald can save America from capital despotism          132
Stephen T. Ziliak          download pdf 

Prolegomenon to a defense of the City of Gold          141
David A. Westbrook          download pdf 

Trump’s bait and switch: job creation in the midst of welfare state sabotage
Pavlina R. Tcherneva           download pdf          148

Can ‘Trumponomics’ extend the recovery?          159
Stephanie Kelton           download pdf 

Board of Editors, past contributors, submissions and etc.          173

To be a good economist one cannot only be an economist

March 21, 2017 9 comments

from Lars Syll

The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts …. He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher—in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular, in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood, as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near to earth as a politician.

John Maynard Keynes

Economics students today are complaining more and more about the way economics is taught. The lack of fundamantal diversity — not just path-dependent elaborations of the mainstream canon — and narrowing of the curriculum, dissatisfy econ students all over the world. The frustrating lack of real world relevance has led many of them to demand the discipline to start develop a more open and pluralistic theoretical and methodological attitude.  Read more…

Why Krugman and Stiglitz are no real alternatives to mainstream economics

March 20, 2017 9 comments

from Lars Syll

verso_978-1-781683026_never_let_a_serious_crisis__pb_edition__large_300_cmyk-dc185356d27351d710223aefe6ffad0cLittle in the discipline has changed in the wake of the crisis. Mirowski thinks that this is at least in part a result of the impotence of the loyal opposition — those economists such as Joseph Stiglitz or Paul Krugman who attempt to oppose the more viciously neoliberal articulations of economic theory from within the camp of neoclassical economics. Though Krugman and Stiglitz have attacked concepts like the efficient markets hypothesis … Mirowski argues that their attempt to do so while retaining the basic theoretical architecture of neoclassicism has rendered them doubly ineffective.

First, their adoption of the battery of assumptions that accompany most neoclassical theorizing — about representative agents, treating information like any other commodity, and so on — make it nearly impossible to conclusively rebut arguments like the efficient markets hypothesis. Instead, they end up tinkering with it, introducing a nuance here or a qualification there … Stiglitz’s and Krugman’s arguments, while receiving circulation through the popular press, utterly fail to transform the discipline.

Paul Heideman

Despite all their radical rhetoric, Krugman and Stiglitz are — where it really counts — nothing but die-hard mainstream neoclassical economists. Just like Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas or Greg Mankiw.

Read more…

Neoliberalism and mainstream economics

March 19, 2017 2 comments

from Lars Syll

Oxford professor Simon Wren-Lewis isn’t pleased with heterodox attacks on mainstream economics. One of the reasons is that he doesn’t share the heterodox view that mainstream economics and neoliberal ideas are highly linked.

In a post on his blog, Wren-Lewis defends the mainstream economics establishment against critique waged against it by Phil Mirowski:

Mirowski overestimates the extent to which neoliberal ideas have become “embedded in economic theory”, and underestimates the power that economic theory and evidence can have over even those academic economists who might have a neoliberal disposition. If the tide of neoliberal thought is going to be turned back, economics is going to be important in making that happen.

Wren-Lewis admits that “Philip Mirowski is a historian who has written a great deal about both the history of economics as a discipline and about neoliberalism” and that Mirowski “knows much more about the history of both subjects than I [W-L] do.”

632488Fair enough, but there are simple remedies for the lack of knowledge.

Read this essay, where yours truly try to further analyze — much inspired by the works of Amartya Sen — what kind of philosophical-ideological-political-economic doctrine neoliberalism is, and why it so often comes natural for mainstream economists to embrace neoliberal ideals.

Or maybe — if your Swedish isn’t too rusty … — you could take part of the book-length argumentation in Den dystra vetenskapen (‘The Dismal Science,’ Atlas 2001) for why there has been such a deep and long-standing connection between the dismal science and different varieties of neoliberalism.

Solving the fundamental problem of decision theory (wonkish)

March 17, 2017 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll

Currently the dominant formalism for treating the [general gamble] problem is utility theory. Utility theory was born out of the failure of the following behavioral null model: individuals were assumed to optimize changes in the expectation values of their wealth. We argue that this null model is a priori a bad starting point because the expectation value of wealth does not generally reflect what happens over time. We propose a different null model of human behavior that eliminates, in many cases, the need for utility theory: an individual optimizes what happens to his wealth as time passes …

Our method starts by recognizing the inevitable non- ergodicity of stochastic growth processes, e.g. noisy multiplicative growth. The specific stochastic process implies a set of meaningful observables with ergodic properties, e.g. the exponential growth rate. These observables make use of a mapping that in the tradition of economics is viewed as a psychological utility function, e.g. the logarithm …

The dynamic approach to the gamble problem makes sense of risk aversion as optimal behavior for a given dynamic and level of wealth, implying a different concept of rationality. Maximizing expectation values of observables that do not have the ergodic property … cannot be considered rational for an individual. Instead, it is more useful to consider rational the optimization of time-average performance, or of expectation values of appropriate ergodic observables. We note that where optimization is used in science, the deep insight is finding the right object to optimize … The same is true in the present case  — deep insight is gained by finding the right object to optimize — we suggest time-average growth.

Ole Peters & Murray Gell-Mann

Although the expected utility theory is obviously both theoretically and descriptively inadequate, colleagues in economics, game theory and decision theory, gladly continue to use it, as though its deficiencies were unknown or unheard of.   Read more…

Understanding economic development and demolishing neoliberal development myths

March 16, 2017 Leave a comment

from Erik Reinert, Jayati Ghosh and Rainer Kattel and WEA Commentaries

We have recently co-edited a book (The Handbook of Alternative Theories of Economic Development, Edward Elgar 2016, also available as an e-book on http://www.ebooks.com/95628740/handbook-of-alternative-theories-of-economic-development/reinert-erik-s-ghosh-jayati-kattel-rainer/) that seeks to bring back the richness of development economics through many different theories that have contributed over the ages to an understanding of material progress. The underlying approach is based on this quotation from nearly four centuries ago: “There is a startling difference between the life of men in the most civilised province of Europe, and in the wildest and most barbarous districts of New India. This difference comes not from the soil, not from climate, not from race, but from the arts.” (Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620)

For centuries, economics was at its very core an art, a practice and a science devoted to ‘economic development’, albeit under a variety of labels: from an idealistic promotion of ‘public happiness’ to the nationalistic creation of wealth and greatness of nations and rulers, and the winning of wars. In some sense, until about 100 years ago, most economists were ‘development economists’. But during the process of formalization of economics into neoclassical economics in the post-World War II period, development economics slowly disappeared from the economic mainstream. ‘Where are their models?’ was one famous battle cry. For example, Jacob Viner made a key contribution to the demise of development economics by removing a fundamental force of uneven development – increasing returns – from international trade theory, on the account that it was not compatible with equilibrium. What would have been more logical would have been to remove equilibrium from economic theory because it is not compatible with an analysis of the real world. Economists’ choice of tools came to trump their interest in reality. Equilibrium became virtually the only game in town.  read more

 

Has economics really become an empirical science?

March 15, 2017 1 comment

from Lars Syll

As I see it, a rational predictor should use a combination of theory and empirics. But theory should also be informed by data – there are lots of theories, and in general they can’t all apply to the same situation, so you need evidence to tell you which one(s) to use. So a rational predictor’s predictions should always be tied as closely as possible to empirical evidence. Discounting empirical evidence … seems inevitably to lead to the use of casual intuition (or to even worse things, like pure ideology).

George-Akerlof-Quotes-3Anyway, just in case you were curious, Seattle went ahead and hiked the minimum wage, and whether you measure by stylized facts or carefully controlled empirical studies, any negative effect on employment was small or zero. Of course, if you want, you can say that the empirical studies weren’t controlled well enough, and the stylized facts are illusions, and the minimum wage hike must have hurt employment because government intervention always hurts employment la la la I can’t hear you, but if you say that, who’s going to respect you intellectually?

Noah Smith

Yes, indeed, who would respect such a person ‘intellectually’?  Read more…

Behavioral vs Neoclassical Economics

March 14, 2017 Leave a comment

from Asad Zaman

In my paper entitled “Empirical Evidence Against Neoclassical Utility Theory: A Survey of the Literature,” I have argued that neoclassical utility theory acts as a blindfold, which prevents economists from understanding simple realities of human behavior. The paper provides many examples of this phenomenon, which I will illustrate briefly with one simple example in this post.

Consider the two player Ultimatum Game. The Proposer (P) has ten dollars in single dollar bills. He makes an offer of $m to the Responder (R), which allows him to keep $(10-m). The responder can either Accept or Reject. If Responder Accepts than P get $10-m, and R get $m as proposed; it is convenient to denote this outcome as (P:10-m,R:m). If Responder Rejects, then both get $0: (P:0,R:0)

Here are four predictions made by Game Theory, based on utility maximization behavior.

  1. Responder will be indifferent between the two choices Accept and Reject if he is offered $0.
  2. Responder will Accept an offer of $1, resulting in outcome (P:9, R:1). R prefers 1 to 0.
  3. Proposer believes that Responder is a Utility Maximizer; that is, he will behave in accordance with propositions 1 & 2 above.
  4. Proposer will therefore offer $1, as it maximizes his share at $9. If he offers $0, the outcome is uncertain because both responses A and R are possible maximizing responses, which is why an offer of $1 is the unique utility maximizing offer.

All four of these propositions are false. Furthermore, every layman will . . .  read more

Kenneth Arrow (1921-2017)

March 13, 2017 12 comments

from Lars Syll

arrowA democratic polity is supposed to be based on egalitarian distribution of political power. In a system where virtually all resources are available for a price, economic power can be translated into political power by channels too obvious for mention. In a capitalist society, economic power is very unequally distributed, and hence democratic government is inevitably something of a sham. In a sense, the maintained ideal of democracy makes matters worse, for it adds the tensions of hypocrisy to the inequality of power.

Kenneth Arrow

Kenneth Arrow, one of the greatest economists ever, died last month at age 95.
A great modeler, yes, but also an economist who never forgot on what assumptions the models were based …

Some methodological perspectives on statistical inference in economics

March 11, 2017 3 comments

from Lars Syll

Causal modeling attempts to maintain this deductive focus within imperfect research by deriving models for observed associations from more elaborate causal (‘structural’) models with randomized inputs … But in the world of risk assessment … the causal-inference process cannot rely solely on deductions from models or other purely algorithmic approaches. Instead, when randomization is doubtful or simply false (as in typical applications), an honest analysis must consider sources of variation from uncontrolled causes with unknown, nonrandom interdependencies. Causal identification then requires nonstatistical information in addition to information encoded as data or their probability distributions …

157e4bb021a73ee61009ce85178c36c3a6d4069b53842d45f3dc54a39754676bThis need raises questions of to what extent can inference be codified or automated (which is to say, formalized) in ways that do more good than harm. In this setting, formal models – whether labeled ‘‘causal’’ or ‘‘statistical’’ – serve a crucial but limited role in providing hypothetical scenarios that establish what would be the case if the assumptions made were true and the input data were both trustworthy and the only data available. Those input assumptions include all the model features and prior distributions used in the scenario, and supposedly encode all information being used beyond the raw data file (including information about the embedding context as well as the study design and execution).

Overconfident inferences follow when the hypothetical nature of these inputs is forgotten and the resulting outputs are touted as unconditionally sound scientific inferences instead of the tentative suggestions that they are (however well informed) …

The practical limits of formal models become especially apparent when attempting to integrate diverse information sources. Neither statistics nor medical science begins to capture the uncertainty attendant in this process, and in fact both encourage pernicious overconfidence by failing to make adequate allowance for unmodeled uncertainty sources. Instead of emphasizing the uncertainties attending field research, statistics and other quantitative methodologies tend to focus on mathematics and often fall prey to the satisfying – and false – sense of logical certainty that brings to population inferences. Meanwhile, medicine focuses on biochemistry and physiology, and the satisfying – and false – sense of mechanistic certainty about results those bring to individual events.

Sander Greenland

Read more…

Economics — confusing mathematical masturbation with intercourse between research and reality

March 9, 2017 10 comments

from Lars Syll

There’s no question that mainstream academic macroeconomics failed pretty spectacularly in 2008 …

Many among the heterodox would have us believe that their paradigm worked perfectly well in 2008 and after … This is dramatically overselling the product. First, heterodox models didn’t “predict” the crisis in the sense of an actual quantitative forecast.

64f5d94d9836c6a09b5d2009f0d4634a845bb2d7ba56bbaa16176c2fd0e958c0This is because much of heterodox theory is non-quantitative. Basically, people write down English words explaining their conceptual ideas about how the economy works. This describes the ideas of mid-20th-century economist Hyman Minsky, who wrote books and essays about the instability of the financial system. Minsky, though trained in math, chose not to use equations to model the economy — instead, he sketched broad ideas in plain English …

At the end of the day, policymakers and investors need to make quantitative decisions — how much to raise or lower interest rates, how big of a deficit to run, or how much wealth to allocate to Treasury bonds.

Noah Smith

Noah Smith — like so many other mainstream economists — obviously has the unfounded and ridiculous idea that because heterodox people like yours truly often criticize the application of mathematics in mainstream economics, we are critical of math per seRead more…

Minsky matters!

March 6, 2017 7 comments

from Lars Syll

In his book Why Minsky Matters L. Randall Wray tries to explain in what way Hyman Minsky’s thoughts offer a radical challenge to mainstream economic theory.

812NiJyT3MLAlthough there were a handful of economists who had warned as early as 2000 about the possibility of a crisis, Minsky’s warnings actually began a half century earlier—with publications in 1957 that set out his vision of financial instability. Over the next forty years, he refined and continually updated the theory. It is not simply that he was more prescient than others. His analysis digs much deeper. For that reason, his work can continue to guide us not only through the next crisis, but even those that will follow.

Minsky’s view can be captured in his memorable phrase: “Stability is destabilizing.” What appears initially to be contradictory or perhaps ironic is actually tremendously insightful: to the degree that the economy achieves what looks to be robust and stable growth, this is setting up the conditions in which a crash becomes ever more likely. It is the stability that Changes behaviors, policy making, and business opportunities so that the instability results.

As a young research stipendiate in the U.S. yours truly had the great pleasure and privelege of having Hyman Minsky as teacher.

He was a great inspiration at the time.

He still is.   Read more…