Author Archive

MMT and the deficit myth

September 15, 2021 5 comments

from Lars Syll

What Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) does is more or less what Knut Wicksell tried to do more than a hundred years ago, when he in 1898 wrote on ‘pure credit systems’ in Interest and Prices (Geldzins und Güterpreise). The difference is that today the ‘pure credit economy’ is a reality and not just a theoretical curiosity — MMT describes a fiat currency system that almost every country in the world is operating under.

In modern times legal currencies are totally based on fiat. Currencies no longer have intrinsic value (as gold and silver). What gives them value is basically the simple fact that you have to pay your taxes with them. That also enables governments to run a kind of monopoly business where it never can run out of money. A fortiori, spending becomes the prime mover, and taxing and borrowing are degraded to following acts. If we have a depression, the solution, then, is not austerity. It is spending. Budget deficits are not a major problem since fiat money means that governments can always make more of them.​ Read more…

Analytical bias

September 10, 2021 6 comments

from Lars Syll

Expectation vs reality concept business analysis Vector ImageThe world is made up of systems.  Our body is a system, or in fact a system of systems.  What we call “society” is another system of systems, as is the natural environment …

But these systems are very complex, difficult to explain or predict.  One successful strategy, which has had a revolutionary impact on how we live, is analysis …

By biting off chewable portions of a much larger world, science makes it possible to achieve progress in our understanding of how things work …

But this approach, for all its benefits, fails to capture most of the interactive effects that make a system a system.  It leads us to overstate the separateness of the things we study and observe and to understate their connectedness.  This is not an argument against thinking analytically, but for not being surprised by what this thinking fails to see so we can at least somewhat compensate for its shortcomings.

Peter Dorman

Using the ‘analytical’ method — “biting off chewable portions of a much larger world” — may indeed sound as a convincing and good scientific approach. But — as Dorman  notices — there is a snag! Read more…

Modern macro — ‘genuine plurality’ vs. ‘axiomatic variation’

September 8, 2021 1 comment

from Lars Syll

out-of-the-fryingThe DSGE mainstream — which is made up of new classical macroeconomics and neo-Keynesianism — is unanimously based on the core assumptions that characterize the paradigm of social exchange theory. These are rationality, ergodicity and substitutionality, the exclusive acceptance of a formal mathematical-deductive, positivist reductionism. After the ‘empirical turn’ of the last two or three decades, these have been combined with sophisticated micro- and macroeconometrics, or with experimental arrangements, such as are familiar from the leading natural sciences (physics and chemistry). The postulate of stability and optimality (Walras’s law), which is implemented a priori in the core assumptions, serves as a ‘model solution,’ and thus functions as a marker of a negative heuristic. The apparently very different model prognoses of new classical macroeconomics (hyper-balanced and hyper-stable) on the one hand, and of standard and neo-Keynesianism (unbalanced, open to intervention) on the other hand are based on changes to assumptions in the ‘protective belt’ (e.g. about the speed of adjustment, the rigidity of prices and quantities, the formation of expectations etc.), but do not actually point to a different paradigmatic origin of the two schools of theory.

Arne Heise & Sebastian Thieme

Maintaining that economics is a science in the ‘true knowledge’ business, yours truly remains a skeptic of the pretences and aspirations of New Classical and ‘New Keynesian’ macroeconomics. So far, I cannot really see that they have yielded very much in terms of realistic and relevant economic knowledge. Read more…

On logic and science

September 6, 2021 19 comments

from Lars Syll

That logic should have been thus successful is an advantage which it owes entirely to its limitations, whereby it is justified in abstracting — indeed, it is under obligation to do so — from all objects of knowledge and their differences, leaving the understanding nothing to deal with save itself and its form. But for reason to enter on the sure path of science is, of course, much more difficult, since it has to deal not with itself alone but also with objects. Logic, therefore, as a propaedeutic, forms, as it were, only the vestibule of the sciences; and when we are concerned with specific modes of knowledge, while logic is indeed presupposed in any critical estimate of them, yet for the actual acquiring of them we have to look to the sciences properly so called, that is, to the objective sciences. 

In mainstream economics, both logic and mathematics are used extensively. And most mainstream economists sure look upon themselves as “twice blessed.”

Is there any scientific ground for that blessedness? Read more…

Levels of aspiration among economists

September 1, 2021 43 comments

from Lars Syll

225px-allais_pn_maurice-24x30-2001bSubmission to observed or experimental data is the golden rule which dominates any scientific discipline. Any theory whatever, if it is not verified by empirical evidence, has no scientific value and should be rejected.

Maurice Allais

Formalistic deductive ‘Glasperlenspiel’ can be very impressive and seductive. But in the realm of science it ought to be considered of little or no value to simply make claims about models and lose sight of reality.

Mainstream economics has since long more or less given up on the real world and contents itself with proving things about thought up worlds. Empirical evidence — still — only plays a minor role in economic theory, where models largely function as a substitute for empirical evidence. Hopefully humbled by the ever growing manifest failure of its theoretical pretences, the one-sided, almost religious, insistence on axiomatic-deductivist modeling as the only scientific activity worthy of pursuing in economics will give way to methodological pluralism based on ontological considerations rather than formalistic tractability.

To have valid evidence is not enough. What economics needs is sound evidence. Why? Simply because the premises of a valid argument do not have to be true, but a sound argument, on the other hand, is not only valid, but builds on premises that are true. Aiming only for validity, without soundness, is setting the economics aspiration level too low for developing a realist and relevant science.

Probability and rationality — trickier than most people think

August 30, 2021 2 comments

from Lars Syll

The Coin-tossing Problem

My friend Ben says that on the first day he got the following sequence of Heads and Tails when tossing a coin:

And on the second day he says that he got the following sequence:

184bic9u2w483jpgWhich report makes you suspicious?

Most people yours truly asks this question says the first report looks suspicious.

But actually both reports are equally probable! Every time you toss a (fair) coin there is the same probability (50 %) of getting H or T. Both days Ben makes equally many tosses and every sequence is equally probable!

The Linda Problem   Read more…

Keynes was not a Keynesian. He was a Post Keynesian!

August 27, 2021 3 comments

from Lars Syll

keynes3But these more recent writers like their predecessors were still dealing with a system in which the amount of the factors employed was given and the other relevant facts were known more or less for certain. This does not mean that they were dealing with a system in which change was ruled out, or even one in which the disappointment of expectation was ruled out. But at any given time facts and expectations were assumed to be given in a definite and calculable form; and risks, of which, tho admitted, not much notice was taken, were supposed to be capable of an exact actuarial computation. The calculus of probability, tho mention of it was kept in the background, was supposed to be capable of reducing uncertainty to the same calculable status as that of certainty itself …

Thus the fact that our knowledge of the future is fluctuating, vague and uncertain, renders Wealth a peculiarly unsuitable subject for the methods of the classical economic theory.

John Maynard Keynes

And this emphasis on the importance of uncertainty is not even mentioned in ‘IS-LM Keynesianism’ …

Sapere aude!

August 21, 2021 38 comments

from Lars Syll

An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? - Immanuel Kant - Ljudbok  - BookBeatEnlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Sapere aude! “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance … Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind — among them the entire fair sex — should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous. First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them. Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk. However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts …

Dogmas and formulas, these mechanical tools designed for reasonable use — or rather abuse — of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting nonage … Read more…

Behavioural economics and complexity economics

August 19, 2021 4 comments

from Lars Syll

James Galbraith: what Europe needs is solidarity, not austerity | etuiWhat is to take the place of neoclassical economics and its neoliberal policy offshoot? There is no shortage of candidates, grouped under the broad banner of economic heterodoxy. Some of these successor doctrines – behavioral economics and complexity economics are examples of note – take the neoclassical orthodoxies as a point of departure. They therefore continue to define themselves in relation to those orthodoxies. Others avoided the gravitational pull altogether – or, as in the exceptional case of Keynes, made a “long struggle to escape”. The behaviorists depart from neoclassicism by giving up strict assumptions of rational and maximizing behavior. Complexity theorists explore the dynamics of interacting agents and recursive functions. Both achieve a measure of academic reputability by remaining in close dialog with the orthodox mainstream. Neither pays more than a glancing tribute to earlier generations or other canons of economic thought. The model is that of neoclassical offshoots – New Institutionalism, New Classical Economics, New Keynesianism – that make a vampire practice of colonizing older words and draining them of their previous meaning. The dilemma of these offshoots lies in having accepted the false premise of the orthodoxy to which it proposes to serve as the alternative. The conceit is of a dispassionate search for timeless truth, once again pursued by “relaxing restrictive assumptions” in the interest of “greater realism”. Thus, for example, in complexity theories agents follow simple rules and end up generating intricate and unpredictable patterns, nonlinear recursive functions give the same result, the variance of returns turns out to be non-normal, and so forth. But once the starting point is taken to be the neoclassical competitive general equilibrium model, these exercises are largely drained of insight and relevance. The behaviorists can tell us that real people do not appear to fit well into the portrait of autonomous, selfish, commodity-obsessed pleasure-seekers that is “economic man”. The complexity theorists can tell us, as Arthur (2021) does, is that a system constructed from confections of interacting agents may be unstable. These things, even the dimmest observer of real-existing capitalism already knew.

James Galbraith / RWER

Although discounting empirical evidence cannot be the right way to solve economic issues, there are still, in my opinion, a couple of weighty reasons why we — just as Galbraith — perhaps shouldn’t be too excited about the so-called ’empirical’ or ‘behavioural’ revolution in economics. Read more…

Why there is no relationship between truth and logic

August 10, 2021 13 comments

from Lars Syll

To be ‘analytical’ and ‘logical’ is something most people find recommendable. These words have a positive connotation. Scientists think deeper than most other people because they use ‘logical’ and ‘analytical’ methods. In dictionaries, logic is often defined as “reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity” and ‘analysis’ as having to do with “breaking something down.”

But that’s not the whole picture. As used in science, analysis usually means something more specific. It means to separate a problem into its constituent elements so to reduce complex — and often complicated — wholes into smaller (simpler) and more manageable parts. You take the whole and break it down (decompose) into its separate parts. Looking at the parts separately one at a time you are supposed to gain a better understanding of how these parts operate and work. Built on that more or less ‘atomistic’ knowledge you are then supposed to be able to predict and explain the behaviour of the complex and complicated whole. Read more…

Why MMT rejects the loanable funds theory

August 6, 2021 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll

The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's  Economy - Stephanie Kelton - Häftad (9781541736191) | BokusGovernment deficits always lead to a dollar-for-dollar increase in the supply of net financial assets held in the nongovernment bucket. That’s not a theory. That’s not an opinion. It’s just the cold hard reality of stock-flow consistent accounting. So fiscal deficits — even with government borrowing — can’t leave behind a smaller supply of dollar savings. And if that can’t happen, then a shrinking pool of dollar savings can’t be responsible for driving borrowing costs higher. Clearly, this presents a problem for the conventional crowding-out theory, which claims that government spending and private investment compete for a finite pool of savings.

The loanable funds theory is in many regards nothing but an approach where the ruling rate of interest in society is — pure and simple — conceived as nothing else than the price of loans or credit, determined by supply and demand — as Bertil Ohlin put it — “in the same way as the price of eggs and strawberries on a village market.”

In the traditional loanable funds theory — as presented in mainstream macroeconomics textbooks — the amount of loans and credit available for financing investment is constrained by how much saving is available. Saving is the supply of loanable funds, investment is the demand for loanable funds and assumed to be negatively related to the interest rate.

As argued by Kelton, there are many problems with the standard presentation and formalization of the loanable funds theory. And more can be added to the list: Read more…

My friends — you bow to no one!

July 28, 2021 3 comments

from Lars Syll


Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg.
Bravest of the brave.

Cherry-picking economic models

July 26, 2021 6 comments

from Lars Syll

cartoon-hand-picking-cherry-24380737How would you react if a renowned physicist, say, ​Richard Feynman, was telling you that sometimes force is proportional to acceleration and at other times it is proportional to acceleration squared?

I guess you would be unimpressed. But actually, what most mainstream economists do amounts to the same strange thing when it comes to theory development and model modification.

In Dani Rodrik’s Economics Rules — just to take one illustrative example –the proliferation of economic models during the last twenty-thirty years is presented as a sign of great diversity and abundance of new ideas:

Rather than a single, specific model, economics encompasses a collection of models … Economics is in fact, a collection of diverse models …The possibilities of social life are too diverse to be squeezed into unique frameworks. But each economic model is like a partial map that illuminates a fragment of the terrain …

Different contexts … require different models … The correct answer to almost any question in economics is: It depends. Different models, each equally respectable, provide different answers.

Read more…

The real crises we are facing

July 23, 2021 8 comments

from Lars Syll

The fact that 21 percent of all children in the United States live in poverty—that’s a crisis. The fact that our infrastructure is graded at a D+ is a crisis. The fact that inequality today stands at levels last seen during America’s Gilded Age is a crisis. The fact that the typical American worker has seen virtually no real wage growth since the 1970s is a crisis. The fact that forty-four million Americans are saddled with $1.7 trillion in student loan debt is a crisis. And the fact that we ultimately won’t be able to “afford” anything at all if we end up exacerbating climate change and destroying the life on this planet is perhaps the biggest crisis of them all.

These are real crises. The national deficit is not a crisis.

Can a government go bankrupt?
No. You cannot be indebted to yourself.

Can a central bank go bankrupt? Read more…

While the global super-rich are taking joyrides in space

July 22, 2021 27 comments

from Lars Syll

The World's Billionaires 2021 Timeline: Musk VS Bezos

Instead of putting billions of dollars into space tourism for the chosen few, think of what that money could have done in saving our climate and helping the poor and suffering in the world. One can have nothing but contempt for these super-rich ego-boosting ethical morons. And as if this wasn’t enough, we have a totally uncritical media reporting on the events. What a disgrace!

Weekend Read – Econometrics — science based on unwarranted assumptions

July 16, 2021 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll

Machine Learning or Econometrics? | by Dr. Dataman | Analytics Vidhya |  MediumThere is first of all the central question of methodology — the logic of applying the method of multiple correlation to unanalysed economic material, which we know to be non-homogeneous through time. If we are dealing with the action of numerically measurable, independent forces, adequately analysed so that we were dealing with independent atomic factors and between them completely comprehensive, acting with fluctuating relative strength on material constant and homogeneous through time, we might be able to use the method of multiple correlation with some confidence for disentangling the laws of their action … In fact we know that every one of these conditions is far from being satisfied by the economic material under investigation.

Letter from John Maynard Keynes to Royall Tyler (1938)

Mainstream economists often hold the view that criticisms of econometrics are the conclusions of sadly misinformed and misguided people who dislike and do not understand much of it. This is a gross misapprehension. To be careful and cautious is not equivalent to dislike. Read more…

Deductivism — the original sin in mainstream economics

July 11, 2021 40 comments

from Lars Syll

Mathematics, especially through the work of David Hilbert, became increasingly conceived as a practice concerned with formulating systems comprising sets of axioms and their deductive consequences, with these systems in effect taking on a life of their own …

Confusion of sign and object is original sin coeval with the word.The emergence of the axiomatic method removed at a stroke various hitherto insurmountable constraints facing those who would mathematise the discipline of economics … In particular it was no longer regarded as necessary, or even relevant, to economic model construction to consider the nature of social reality …

The result was that in due course deductivism in economics, through morphing into mathematical deductivism on the back of developments within the discipline of mathematics, came to acquire a new lease of life, with practitioners (once more) potentially oblivious to any inconsistency between the ontological presuppositions of adopting a mathematical modelling emphasis and the nature of social reality.

Tony Lawson

To be ‘analytical’ and ‘logical’ is something most people find recommendable. These words have a positive connotation. Scientists think deeper than most other people because they use ‘logical’ and ‘analytical’ methods. In dictionaries, logic is often defined as “reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity” and ‘analysis’ as having to do with “breaking something down.” Read more…

Paul Krugman’s gadget version of Keynesianism

July 9, 2021 6 comments

from Lars Syll

krugmanPaul Krugman has often been criticized by people like yours truly for getting things pretty wrong on  the economics of  John Maynard Keynes.

When Krugman has responded to the critique, by himself rather gratuitously portrayed as about “What Keynes Really Meant,” the overall conclusion is — “Krugman Doesn’t Care.”

Responding to a post up here on this blog, Krugman writes:

Surely we don’t want to do economics via textual analysis of the masters. The questions one should ask about any economic approach are whether it helps us understand what’s going on, and whether it provides useful guidance for decisions.

So I don’t care whether Hicksian IS-LM is Keynesian in the sense that Keynes himself would have approved of it, and neither should you.

The reason for this rather debonair attitude seems to be that history of economic thought may be OK, but what really counts is if reading Keynes gives birth to new and interesting insights and ideas.

No serious economist would question that explaining and understanding “what’s going on” in our economies is the most important task economists can set themselves — but it is not the only task.  And to compare one’s favourite economic gadget model to what “austerians” and other madmen from Chicago have conjured up, well, that’s like playing tennis with the nets down, and we have to have higher aspirations as scientists. Read more…

Economics — a severe case of misplaced idolatry of ‘rigour’

July 4, 2021 4 comments

from Lars Syll

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

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

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

Fortunately — when you’ve got tired of the kind of macroeconomic apologetics produced by ‘New Keynesian’ macroeconomists and other DSGE modellers — there still are some real Keynesian macroeconomists to read. One of them — Axel Leijonhufvud — writes: Read more…

Taking the con out of RCTs

June 30, 2021 5 comments

from Lars Syll

rcDevelopment actions and interventions (policies/programs/projects/practices) should be based on the evidence. This truism now comes with a radical proposal about the meaning of “the evidence.” In development practice, where there are hundreds of complex, sometimes rapidly changing, contexts seemingly innocuous phrases like “rely on the rigorous evidence” are taken to mean: “Ignore evidence from your context and rely in your context on evidence that was ‘rigorous’ for another place, another time, another implementing organization, another set of interacting policies, another set of local social norms, another program design and do this without any underlying model or theory that guides your understanding of the relevant phenomena.” … Read more…