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Neoclassical economics usually reads its models backwards.

November 14, 2017 3 comments

from Edward Fullbrook

In public, including in the training of economists, Neoclassical economics usually reads its models backwards. This gives the illusion that they show the behaviour of individual economic units determining sets of equilibrium values for markets and for whole economies. It hides the fact that these models have been constructed not by investigating the behaviour of individual agents, but rather by analysing the requirements of achieving a certain macro state, that is, a market or general equilibrium. It is the behaviour found to be logically consistent with these hypothetical macro states that is prescribed for the individual agents, rather than the other way around.[1] This macro-led analysis, this derivation of the micro from a macro assumption, is and always has been the standard analytical procedure of theory construction for the Neoclassical narrative. Sometimes, for pedagogical reasons, authors call attention to how the “individualist” rabbit really gets into the Neoclassical hat. For example, consider the following passage from a once widely used introduction to economics.

 “For the purpose of our theory, we want the preference ranking to have certain properties, which give it a particular, useful structure. We build these properties up by making a number of assumptions, first about the preference-indifference relation itself, and then about some aspects of the preference ranking to which it gives rise” (emphasis added) (Gravell and Rees 1981, p. 56).

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This intellectual cult threatening us all

November 6, 2017 21 comments

from Edward Fullbrook

Determinism, the idea that everything that happens must happen as it does and could not have happened any other way, and atomism, the idea that the world is made up of entities whose qualities are independent of their relations with other entities, are fundament components of classical mechanics. Atomism is also central to the concept of mind developed in John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, published (1690) three years after Newton’s Principia. Locke’s general conception of the human mind became commonplace among 18th-century philosophers, so when Adam Smith came to write the foundational text for economics, The Wealth of Nations (1776), he had the example not only of Newton’s material atomism, but also of Locke’s extension of it to an altogether different area of inquiry. If atomism could form the basis of a theory of ideas, then why not apply it as well to a theory of human beings?

Of course Smith did not limit his vision of economic reality to what could be seen through the metaphysical lens of classical mechanics. But a century later the founders of Neoclassical economics did exactly that and even boasted that they were doing so. Their justification of course – and it was a plausible one at the time – was the enormous success that exclusive devotion to this approach had yielded in physics. In time, especially from the 1960s onwards, undivided allegiance to this determinist-atomistic narrative became, with few exceptions, a basic requirement for making a career in economics.  Read more…

My evening with Joan Robinson and the Tractatus

October 25, 2017 10 comments

from Edward Fullbrook

The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was the first book I ever read with pleasure.  I was 22.

From age five to sixteen the school system had me classified as borderline mentally retarded.  My luck changed in my penultimate year of high school when a non-conformist English teacher gave me the chance to pretend I was not mentally deficient.  She also taught me how to write a sentence, after which, inflated with fantasises of normality, I taught myself how to read textbooks and take exams, and soon became academically proficient and for a long time thereafter very neurotic.

As an undergraduate I cut classes as often as I attended them and waited till the night before an exam to open the textbook.  Sometimes I only managed a C but in economics it was always an A and that was the only reason I had for becoming an economics graduate student.

Till then mine had been an all-American, all-textbook education.  The textbook genre requires its authors to pretend to know it all and talk down to their readers.  Reading The General Theory, I encountered for the first time an author who was openly struggling to understand what he was writing about.  I too was struggling and so I – and what could have been more preposterous – immediately identified on an existential level with John Maynard Keynes.  It meant that for the first time ever while reading a book my resentments and fears from my educational past receded to the background.  And when they did the most astonishing thing happened.  My brain started giving me an intensity of pleasure that, except for sex, I hadn’t thought possible.  So it was that an intellectual was born.  Read more…

Suspension of my blog “RussEurope” by OpenEdition

September 30, 2017 1 comment

from Jacques Sapir

Dear all, 

Hypothese.org and Open Edition have suspended the access to my blog RussEurope. I can’t write anymore on my blog. In a short letter posted to my blog the Open Edition director, Mr Marin Dacos, explains that this measure is a reaction to the fact my last post are no more “academic”. Actually, I posted various kind of paper, from long technical papers to short pieces since the very beginning of my blog. Hence a post dating from September 22nd 2012 giving a good example of the “political” content of some posts of mine (https://russeurope.hypotheses.org/113).

The accusation of using the blog as a pure political space is false and actually masking the fact that it is impossible to write in economics and political science without getting involved in political polemics. I had ever respected the Open Edition charter and specifically its chapter 10 defining the rights and obligations of authors.

The fact that Mr Dacos is now, since early July an adviser to a director of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, in the French government, could explain why this sanction against me has been taken. At the very least there is a conflict of interest between his position of director of Open edition and his new function of Minister’s advisor.

Quite probably of course the very success of my blog, which jumped from 26000 monthly connexions to more than 200 000 monthly connexions could explain why what was thought to be “tolerable” in 2012 is no more by 2017 under Mr Macron’s rule.  Read more…

Piketty et al. and Trumpism

from Edward Fullbrook

It seems generally agreed that populism tends to rise up after a prolonged period in which governing elites have blocked from public discussion the declining economic welfare of a significant proportion of the population. These declines take two forms, usually simultaneously and interdependently:

  1. A decline of income and wealth in absolute terms and/or relative to the elites and their agents.
  2. A decline in key characteristics of employment through time (quality, security, real and relative wage levels) creating persistent high level of unemployment.

Though the latter is interdependent with the former, the real level of unemployment can be hidden. Elected elites and their patrons have a strategic interest in holding back public awareness and discussion of both declines for fear of losing elections and for fear that the upward redistributions of income and wealth will be stopped or even reversed.

Until three years ago the ruling elites in the United States were extremely successful at keeping the severe upward income and wealth redistribution that had been “progressing” since the early 1970s out of public view. GINI coefficients and graphs showing from 1970 onwards median income levels and relative shares of the bottom 90% and bottom 50% were never part of public discussion and but rarely of economics. Instead income discussion focused tightly on GDP and GDP per capita, which with rare exceptions increased year by year.   Read more…

The counterintuitive problem

from Edward Fullbrook

Scientific education entails taming the authority of one’s intuition.  Responsible citizenship in a democracy may entail it as well.

Keynes argued that markets often create inaccurate expectations of economic reality which people then act upon thereby changing reality.   This reflexivity that Keynes identified as central to capitalist markets is the opposite of the basic process described by traditional economic theory, both in Keynes’ day and in our own, whereby it is assumed that market expectations are determined by market reality rather than one of that reality’s determinants.

For most people Keynes’ theory of market expectations, like his theory of aggregate demand, is counterintuitive, and therefore difficult to elucidate and popularize sufficiently to become part of public discussion.   That is why George Soros’s role as a populariser of Keynes’ theory of expectations is potentially significant.  It is my view that in democratic societies the ultimate obstacle to implementing and maintaining laws and policies that will make their economies function reasonably well and fairly is the challenge of intellectually enabling their populations, especially their pundits and politicians, to comprehend the counterintuitive dimensions of economic reality.  Without that comprehension democratic societies will always be highly vulnerable to accepting the advice that follows from economic reasoning that excludes counterintuitive propositions and that serves the interests of tiny but powerful minorities.

Why a global disaster that could easily have been prevented took place.

April 18, 2017 7 comments

from Edward Fullbrook

Steve Keen has a new book out: Can we avoid another financial crisis?  Keen, as you probably know, was one of those economists – Nouriel Roubini, Dean Baker, Ann Pettifor, Michael Hudson, Wynne Godley and others – who warned well in advance that the Global Financial Crash was coming if preventive measures were not taken.  How did these economists clearly see the crash coming when neoclassical economists did not, not even the day before it happened?  Keen’s new book reminds me that a few years ago in an interview I offered an explanation when answering the following question.

The first distinction you draw is that the old paradigm (OPE) is anti-pluralist (as in classical physics), while the new paradigm (NPE) is pluralist (as in modern physics). Can you give me a concrete example or two that illustrates what this means?

Of the ten points that I listed to distinguish between OPE and NPE, the most important is the first: monism versus pluralism.  Why?  Because it is this choice that sets down the general framework under which the pursuit of knowledge is conducted.  And this choice, in terms of its effect on the advancement of knowledge and thereby human welfare, is, as I will illustrate, absolutely enormous.

There is a famous quote from Albert Einstein that points to the reason why for the advancement of science this choice is so critical.   “Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is theory which decides what can be observed.”

It just happens that the lead news story today in the UK illustrates Einstein’s proposition.  It goes like this.   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…

Shaky Assumptions

All models by necessity distort reality in one way or another.  A sculptor, when modelling in stone or clay, does not try to clone Nature; he highlights some things, ignores others, idealizes or abstracts some more, to achieve an effect. Likewise a scientist must necessarily pick and choose among various aspects of reality to incorporate into a model.  An economist makes assumptions about how markets work, how businesses operate, how people make financial decisions.  Any one of these assumptions, considered alone, is absurd.  There is a rich vein of jokes about economists and their assumptions.  Take the old one about the engineer, the physicist, and the economist. They find themselves shipwrecked on a desert island with nothing to eat but a can of beans.  How to get at them?  The engineer proposes breaking the can open with a rock.  The physicist suggests heating the can in the sun, until it bursts.  The economist’s approach: “First, assume we have a can opener. . . .”

The assumptions of orthodox financial theory are at least as absurd, if viewed in isolation.  Consider a few:

1) Assumption: People are rational and aim only to get rich.  . . . . 

2) Assumption: All investors are alike.  . . . . 

3) Assumption: Price change is practically continuous.  . . . . 

4) Assumption: Price changes follow a Brownian motion.

Benoit B. Mandelbrot 

Simone de Beauvoir versus rational choice theory

from Edward Fullbrook

I publish also in philosophy, and yesterday evening it occurred to me that a passage I wrote as part of a philosophy book a few years ago might be of interest to economists open to reconsidering their metaphysics.  So here it is.

[Beauvoir’s] view of desire and value begs to be compared, (and Beauvoir herself makes this comparison), to the one which underpins the stylized notion of rationality, tendentiously called ‘rational choice theory.’  Although indigenous to economics, in recent decades this doctrine has colonized large parts of the social sciences and–as it is usually deployed–is a major sub-species of methodological individualism.  On two separate accounts, Beauvoir’s conception of desire and value reverses this currently influential mini-system of metaphysics.  The latter conceives of the individual as possessed of an ordered set of desires or values, called ‘preferences’, and it labels an individual ‘rational’ or ‘irrational’ if her or his choices confirm or disconfirm this presumed ordering.  Under this metaphysic, ‘rational consumer choice’, for example, is a euphemism for a kind of obedience to one’s supposed essence, so that a person who takes this ‘rational’ approach to their self is an example of someone caught up in the bad faith of immanence.  Beauvoir’s view of humankind does not admit a distinction between preferences and choices.  One can be ‘irrational’ in the sense of not choosing what people in authority would like other people to choose, or in the sense of miscalculating or misremembering the most efficient way to a goal, or in the sense of exercising one’s freedom to make different choices at different points in time, but not in the sense of not choosing what one prefers.  For Beauvoir, the last is both an ontological impossibility and a contradiction in terms.

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£4.6 million of funding for non-mainstream research: Town Meeting: London, 28 June 2016: proposals invited

Registration for the event closes tomorrow at 23.59

“Proposals will be invited to lead, develop and administer a single Network Plus, with funding available of up to £4.6 million (100 per cent fEC) over 48 months, . . . “ 

Attendance at the event is not a requirement for submitting a proposal, but is strongly advised.

Primary link: Understanding the Macroeconomy Network Plus   Read more…

Follow-up to The Rana Foroohar Phenomenon

This comment from our Robert Locke was posted a few minutes ago.

Edward and colleagues, if you want to know why Rana Foroohar subscribed to the rwer and took a lot of interest in our group, read the following email exchange between me and her:

“On May 17, 2016, at 5:19 PM, Robert Locke wrote:

Touching bases. Some time ago we corresponded about the state of economics. Do you remember? I think I advised you then to make sure that you look at the dissident economists, like those writing for the Real World Economic Review, and not just at orthodox economists, and I am pleased to see from your book, that you responded to this old professor’s advice. Hurrah!

Robert Locke

Foroohar, Rana – Time U.S.
6:59 AM (3 hours ago)

to me

I certainly did! And in fact you are mentioned in the love notes (aka acknowledgements) and footnotes. You were a key part of the birth of this book, which had already reached number 17 on the amazon kist after day one. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and I hope we get to meet in person at some point! Best R

The Rana Foroohar Phenomenon

from Edward Fullbrook

A few years ago I took out a subscription to Time magazine, not because I wanted to read its weekly version of the news, but because it provided me with ongoing access to the magazine’s digital archives which I needed for a long-term writing project.  So every Saturday the magazine with its iconic covers found its way into my home.  Initially most issues ended up in the recycling box with their transparent plastic envelopes unremoved.  But sometimes while waiting for the kettle to boil, l would unwrap and leaf through an issue, and then – it took me a few months – I became aware that there was an unexpected and admirable dimension to today’s Time.  It has a name: Rana Foroohar.  She was and is Time’s economics editor, and thanks to her reportage my copies of Time are no longer recycled still wrapped.  Time magazine cover - capitalism

Time Magazine is of course both traditional and conventional, but when it comes to economics Foroohar is neither.  In terms of Econ 101’s articles of faith, both Foroohar’s selection of significant facts and her analysis of them are frequently profane.  Reading Foroohar, I was repeatedly surprised to find myself reminded of books and papers by Michael Hudson, Steve Keen, James Galbraith, Emmanuel Saez and other RWER contributors.  But as I tend to be slow about such things, six months passed before the penny dropped and I thought to check the Real-World Economics Review subscriber list.  Sure enough, Rana Foroohar was a subscriber.   Read more…

Nominations received so far for Top Ten Economics Books of the Last 100 Years

Listed below in order so far received are the nominations for the poll announced yesterday as follows.

A top ten list of economics books chosen by the RWER’s global community of economists would be useful for promoting its real-world commitment.  We can over the coming weeks create one here by taking part in a poll.

The poll will work like this.  You may nominate up to 10 books (first published after 1915) by leaving a comment below.  Remarks – which must be short – supporting your nominations are optional.  Nominations will remain open for several weeks, after which a “short list” of 40 or 50 titles will be announced and voting by PollDaddy will commence.   Each voter will have 10 votes.  Voting will remain open for several weeks, before the “Top Ten Economics Books of the Last 100 Years” will be announced.


Nominations received after 31 hours  – Please add books to this list by leaving a comment below.
Read more…

Nominations for the Top Ten Economics Books of the Last 100 Years

from Edward Fullbrook

A top ten list of economics books chosen by the RWER’s global community of economists would be useful for promoting its real-world commitment.  We can over the coming weeks create one here by taking part in a poll.

The poll will work like this.  You may nominate up to 10 books (first published after 1915) by leaving a comment below.  Remarks – which must be short – supporting your nominations are optional.  Nominations will remain open for several weeks, after which a “short list” of 40 or 50 titles will be announced and voting by PollDaddy will commence.   Each voter will have 10 votes.  Voting will remain open for several weeks, before the “Top Ten Economics Books of the Last 100 Years” will be announced.

To get things started I am nominating the nine post-1915 books from Lars Syll’s Top Ten Economics Books.   Read more…

The Fisher – Becker Curio

from Edward Fullbrook

Yesterday evening  Merijn Knibbe put up this comment on Lars Syll’s post Utility maximization — explaining everything and nothing.

One of the features of the utility model is that it ´explains´ the downward sloping demand curve, a cornerstone of economics. Which means that neoclassical demand theory seems a pretty coherent building with sound foundations.

However.

It does not explain the downward sloping demand curve. It is only consistent with this curve. And in 1962 Gary Becker showed, in an article called ´Irrational behavior and economic theory´, that many models can ´explain´ a downward sloping demand curve when money is limited, including the throw of a dice. Ockhams razorblade requires us to use the simplest model… http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/econ/Becker,%2520Irrational%2520Behavior.pdf

Becker himself seems not to have grasped the implications of his article, which shredded neoclassical demand theory. Accepting that demand curves very often slope downwards does not mean that one has to accept utility theory.

My paper (http://www.paecon.net/Fullbrook/IntersubjectiveTheoryofValue.pdf)  “An Intersubjective Theory of Value”, in Intersubjectivity in Economics: Agents and Structures, editor Edward Fullbrook.  London and New York: Routledge, 2002, pp. 273-299, includes a subsection on the theoretical anomaly noted by Gary Becker in his 1962 paper.  But that anomaly had been noted with somewhat greater depth and sophistication by Irving Fisher in 1920. Neither economist, however, was capable of understanding the profound significance of the anomaly, because to do so requires a bit of abstract algebra, which, unfortunately, is not part of the economist’s standard tool kit.  Below is the relevant section form my 2002 paper.  The first part of that paper includes a gentle introduction to the mathematical ideas missing from Fisher’s book and Becker’s paper.  Read more…

“plunged willy nilly into the study of economics”

February 3, 2016 1 comment

from Edward Fullbrook

Below are some comments by Steve Marglin, Peter Radford and myself that appeared in 2010 in the RWER in response to an essay by Peter Radford and that seem relevant to the discussion that Asad Zaman has recently launched in this blog: Is there a core of heterodox economics that we can all believe in? and Fundamental Flaws of Conventional Economics

Comments and reply on Peter Radford’s “Whither economics? What do we tell the students?”


Steve Marglin
  
[Harvard University, USA]

Dear Mr Radford,

I agree with most of what you say about economics, except that it is not as easy as you suggest to separate the study of economics from the study of economies. Keynes said it very well in the preface to the General Theory: the hardest part of coming to his new ideas was getting rid of the old ones.  The problem is that one needs some kind of framework for studying economies and is thus plunged willy nilly into the study of economics.

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The 1% Curse: What can be done about it? – Oxfam graphics

January 19, 2016 1 comment

from Edward Fullbrook

The global inequality crisis is reaching new extremes. The richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined. Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest. A global network of tax havens further enables the richest individuals to hide $7.6 trillion. The fight against poverty will not be won until the inequality crisis is tackled.
An Economy for the 1%, Oxfam Briefing Paper, 18 January 2016

62 richest vs. poorest 50 percent 2000-15

Read more…

Real-World Economics Review Blog viewer statistics for 2015

December 31, 2015 Leave a comment

from Edward Fullbrook

I read that Blog World, in terms of viewer statistics, has been in a state of rapid collapse for several years now. But not the Real-World Economics Review Blog.  For the past four years its annual number of page views has been around 450,000.  In 2015 there have been 446,520 views, up slightly from the previous year.  To put that figure in some kind of a perspective, it is nearly half the number of downloads in 2015 of individual papers and whole issues of the Real-World Economics Review.

Here is a linked list the of the ten most viewed posts published in 2015.

10.  As it happened – Yanis Varoufakis’ intervention during the 27th June 2015 Eurogroup Meeting
Yanis Varoufakis

9. Randall Wray attacks “debt-free-money cranks” based on sloppy arguments
Norbert Häring

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The Fed’s corruption of the economics profession

November 1, 2015 4 comments

from Edward Fullbrook

Asad Zaman has called my attention to a long article in the Huffington Post that initially appeared six years ago, but is worth rereading today as a reminder of the task faced by those desiring to turn economics into a more honourable pursuit.  Here are few passages from the article.

Priceless: How The Federal Reserve Bought The Economics Profession

The Federal Reserve, through its extensive network of consultants, visiting scholars, alumni and staff economists, so thoroughly dominates the field of economics that real criticism of the central bank has become a career liability for members of the profession, an investigation by the Huffington Post has found.

…………..

This dominance helps explain how, even after the Fed failed to foresee the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the central bank has largely escaped criticism from academic economists. In the Fed’s thrall, the economists missed it, too.

…………..

One critical way the Fed exerts control on academic economists is through its relationships with the field’s gatekeepers. For instance, at the Journal of Monetary Economics, a must-publish venue for rising economists, more than half of the editorial board members are currently on the Fed payroll — and the rest have been in the past.

Read more…