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Axel Leijonhufvud (1933-2022)

May 20, 2022 1 comment

from Lars Syll

The orthodox Keynesianism of the time did have a theoretical explanation for recessions and depressions. Proponents saw the economy as a self-regulating machine in which individual decisions typically lead to a situation of full employment and healthy growth. The primary reason for periods of recession and depression was because wages did not fall quickly enough. If wages could fall rapidly and extensively enough, then the economy would absorb the unemployed. Orthodox Keynesians also took Keynes’ approach to monetary economics to be similar to the classical economists.

axel_press_highresLeijonhufvud got something entirely different from reading the General Theory. The more he looked at his footnotes, originally written in puzzlement at the disparity between what he took to be the Keynesian message and the orthodox Keynesianism of his time, the confident he felt. The implications were amazing. Had the whole discipline catastrophically misunderstood Keynes’ deeply revolutionary ideas? Was the dominant economics paradigm deeply flawed and a fatally wrong turn in macroeconomic thinking? And if this was the case, what was Keynes actually proposing?

Leijonhufvud’s “Keynesian Economics and the Economics of Keynes” exploded onto the academic stage the following year; no mean feat for an economics book that did not contain a single equation. The book took no prisoners and aimed squarely at the prevailing metaphor about the self-regulating economy and the economics of the orthodoxy. He forcefully argued that the free movement of wages and prices can sometimes be destabilizing and could move the economy away from full employment.

Arjun Jayadev

Fortunately, when you’ve got tired of the kind of macroeconomic apologetics produced by ‘New Keynesian’ macroeconomics, there are still some real Keynesian macroeconomists to read. One of them will always be Axel Leijonhufvud.

Formalizing economic theory

May 16, 2022 1 comment

from Lars Syll

Inflation - The New Economics PartyWhat guarantee is there … that economic concepts can be mapped unambiguously into mathematical concepts? The belief in the power and necessity of formalizing economic theory mathematically has thus obliterated the distinction between cognitively perceiving and understanding concepts from different domains and mapping them into each other. Whether the age-old problem of the equality between supply and demand should be mathematically formalized as a system of inequalities or equalities is not something that should be decided by mathematical knowledge or convenience. Surely it would be considered absurd, bordering on the insane, if a surgical procedure was implemented because a tool for its implementation was devised by a medical doctor who knew and believed in topological fixed-point theorems? Yet, weighty propositions about policy are decided on the basis of formalizations based on ignorance and belief in the veracity of one kind of one-dimensional mathematics

K. Vela Velupillai

Gödel and the limits of mathematics

May 11, 2022 4 comments

from Lars Syll

irrelevant model abstractions
with no bridges to real-world economies

 

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

The most important concern is the question of how to select the specific systems of axioms that mathematics is 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 unproven truths.

This, of course, ought to be of paramount interest for those mainstream economists who still adhere to the dream of constructing 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…

Economics phrasebook

May 9, 2022 1 comment

from Lars Syll

In 1990, two economics PhD students at the University of Chicago, Jeffrey Smith and Kermit Daniel … composed “Economics to Sociology Phrase Book” in order, as they put it, “to help economists adjust their way of speaking in a manner that will make it comprehensible to Sociologists” … Concerning economics terminology, by the way, one can see that not much has changed since then.

Oleg Komlik

economics sociology phrasebook

Economic modelling

May 4, 2022 6 comments

from Lars Syll

A couple of years ago, Paul Krugman had a piece up on his blog arguing that the ‘discipline of modeling’ is a sine qua non for tackling politically and emotionally charged economic issues:

economist-nakedIn my experience, modeling is a helpful tool (among others) in avoiding that trap, in being self-aware when you’re starting to let your desired conclusions dictate your analysis. Why? Because when you try to write down a model, it often seems to lead some place you weren’t expecting or wanting to go. And if you catch yourself fiddling with the model to get something else out of it, that should set off a little alarm in your brain.

So when ‘modern’ mainstream economists use their models — standardly assuming rational expectations, Walrasian market clearing, unique equilibria, time invariance, linear separability and homogeneity of both inputs/outputs and technology, infinitely lived intertemporally optimizing representative agents with homothetic and identical preferences, etc. — and standardly ignoring complexity, diversity, uncertainty, coordination problems, non-market clearing prices, real aggregation problems, emergence, expectations formation, etc. — we are supposed to believe that this somehow helps them ‘to avoid motivated reasoning that validates what you want to hear.’

Yours truly is, to say the least, far from convinced. The alarm that sets off in my brain is that this, rather than being helpful for understanding real-world economic issues, is more of an ill-advised plaidoyer for voluntarily taking on a methodological straight-jacket of unsubstantiated and known to be false assumptions.

Let me just give two examples to illustrate my point Read more…

Statistical inference and sampling assumptions

April 30, 2022 6 comments

from Lars Syll

Convenience Sample Grab Accidental Samplingor Opportunity Stockvektor  (royaltyfri) 1612664491Real probability samples have two great benefits: (i) they allow unbiased extrapolation from the sample; (ii) with data internal to the sample, it is possible to estimate how much results are likely to change if another sample is taken. These benefits, of course, have a price: drawing probability samples is hard work. An investigator who assumes that a convenience sample is like a random sample seeks to obtain the benefits without the costs—just on the basis of assumptions. If scrutinized, few convenience samples would pass muster as the equivalent of probability samples. Indeed, probability sampling is a technique whose use is justified because it is so unlikely that social processes will generate representative samples. Decades of survey research have demonstrated that when a probability sample is desired, probability sampling must be done. Assumptions do not suffice. Hence, our first recommendation for research practice: whenever possible, use probability sampling.

If the data-generation mechanism is unexamined, statistical inference with convenience samples risks substantial error. Bias is to be expected and independence is problematic. When independence is lacking, the p-values produced by conventional formulas can be grossly misleading. In general, we think that reported p-values will be too small; in the social world, proximity seems to breed similarity. Thus, many research results are held to be statistically significant when they are the mere product of chance variation.

Richard Berk & David Freedman

In econometrics one often gets the feeling that many of its practitioners think of it as a kind of automatic inferential machine: input data and out comes casual knowledge. This is like pulling a rabbit from a hat. Great — but first you have to put the rabbit in the hat. And this is where assumptions come into the picture. Read more…

On mathematics and economics

April 28, 2022 16 comments

from Lars Syll

Studying mathematics and logic is interesting and fun. It sharpens the mind. But economics is not pure mathematics or logic. It’s about society. The real world. Forgetting that, economics becomes nothing but an irrelevant and uninteresting ‘Glasperlenspiel.’ Or as Knut Wicksell put it already a century ago:

Knut-WicksellOne must, of course, beware of expecting from this method more than it can give. Out of the crucible of calculation comes not an atom more truth than was put in. The assumptions being hypothetical, the results obviously cannot claim more than a vey limited validity. The mathematical expression ought to facilitate the argument, clarify the results, and so guard against possible faults of reasoning — that is all.

It is, by the way, evident that the economic aspects must be the determining ones everywhere: economic truth must never be sacrificed to the desire for mathematical elegance.

Significance testing and the real tasks of social science

April 25, 2022 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll

acAfter having mastered all the technicalities of regression analysis and econometrics, students often feel as though they are masters of the universe. I usually cool them down with the required reading of Christopher Achen’s modern classic Interpreting and Using Regression. It usually gets​ them back on track again, and they understand that

no increase in methodological sophistication … alter the fundamental nature of the subject. It remains a wondrous mixture of rigorous theory, experienced judgment, and inspired guesswork. And that, finally, is its charm.

And in case they get too excited about having learned to master the intricacies of proper significance tests and p-values, I ask them to also ponder on Achen’s apt warning:

Significance testing as a search for specification errors substitutes calculations for substantive thinking. Worse, it channels energy toward the hopeless search for functionally correct specifications and diverts​ attention from the real tasks, which are to formulate a manageable description of the data and to exclude competing ones.

The main insight of MMT

April 20, 2022 7 comments

from Lars Syll

Understanding Modern Monetary Theory: Part 1 - EconlibMMT is, first and foremost, a balance sheet approach to macroeconomics. At its very core lie reserve accounting, then deposit accounting, and then sectoral balances accounting. There is very little behaviour in any of this. Equilibrium rules as all balances balance – in both flows and stocks – and there are no assumptions apart from the existence of a central bank, a Treasury, a banking system and some households and firms. MMT can only be learned by mastering its balance sheet approach. It can only be engaged by discussing the balance sheet operations it puts forward. It is here where value is added …

First of all, the main insight of MMT is that the mainstream has the sequence wrong. Whereas they assume that government expenditure is financed by taxes, MMT assumes that government spending is financed by money creation. MMT stresses that the central bank, empowered by the law and serving the state, is the monopoly issuer of currency … This logically means that the state has to spend before taxes can be paid … When taxpayers pay their taxes (or banks buy government bonds on the primary market), they first need to have state money.

Dirk Ehnts

Fiscal deficits always lead to an increase in the supply of financial assets held in the nongovernmental sector of the economy. This real-world fact, of course, constitutes a huge problem for mainstream (textbook) macroeconomic theory with its models building on ‘money multipliers’ and ‘loanable funds.’ Read more…

Weekend read – Has economics — really — become an empirical science?

April 16, 2022 11 comments

from Lars Syll

quote-the-purpose-of-studying-economics-is-not-to-acquire-a-set-of-ready-made-answers-to-economic-joan-robinson-60-41-70In Economics Rules (Oxford University Press, 2015), Dani Rodrik maintains that ‘imaginative empirical methods’ — such as game theoretical applications, natural experiments, field experiments, lab experiments, RCTs — can help us to answer questions concerning the external validity of economic models. In Rodrik’s view, they are more or less tests of ‘an underlying economic model’ and enable economists to make the right selection from the ever-expanding ‘collection of potentially applicable models.’ Writes Rodrik:

Another way we can observe the transformation of the discipline is by looking at the new areas of research that have flourished in recent decades. Three of these are particularly noteworthy: behavioral economics, randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and institutions … They suggest that the view of economics as an insular, inbred discipline closed to the outside influences is more caricature than reality.

I beg to differ. When looked at carefully, there are in fact not that many real reasons to share  Rodrik’s optimism on this ’empirical turn’ in economics. Read more…

Weekend read – Expected utility theory — a severe case of transmogrifying truth

April 8, 2022 1 comment

from Lars Syll

Although the expected utility theory is obviously both theoretically and descriptively inadequate, colleagues and microeconomics textbook writers all over the world gladly continue to use it, as though its deficiencies were unknown or unheard of.

Daniel Kahneman writes — in Thinking, Fast and Slow — that expected utility theory is seriously flawed since it doesn’t take into consideration the basic fact that people’s choices are influenced by changes in their wealth. Where standard microeconomic theory assumes that preferences are stable over time, Kahneman and other behavioural economists have forcefully again and again shown that preferences aren’t fixed, but vary with different reference points. How can a theory that doesn’t allow for people having different reference points from which they consider their options have an almost axiomatic status within economic theory?

41kgYr0Fs2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The mystery is how a conception of the utility of outcomes that is vulnerable to such obvious counterexamples survived for so long. I can explain it only by a weakness of the scholarly mind … I call it theory-induced blindness: once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws … You give the theory the benefit of the doubt, trusting the community of experts who have accepted it … But they did not pursue the idea to the point of saying, “This theory is seriously wrong because it ignores the fact that utility depends on the history of one’s wealth, not only present wealth.”

On a more economic-theoretical level, information theory — and especially the so-called Kelly criterion — also highlights the problems concerning the neoclassical theory of expected utility. Read more…

Expected utility theory — nothing but an ex-hypothesis

April 2, 2022 5 comments

from Lars Syll

A Review of Conditional and Iterated Expectations using Linear Regression Models in R | by Kat Hoffman | Towards Data ScienceIn mainstream theory, preferences are standardly expressed in the form of a utility function. But although the expected utility theory has been known for a long time to be both theoretically and descriptively inadequate, mainstream economists gladly continue to use it, as though its deficiencies were unknown or unheard of.

What most of them try to do in face of the obvious theoretical and behavioral inadequacies of the expected utility theory, is to marginally mend it. But that cannot be the right attitude when facing scientific anomalies. When models are plainly wrong, you’d better replace them! As Matthew Rabin and Richard Thaler have it in Risk Aversion:

It is time for economists to recognize that expected utility is an ex-hypothesis, so that we can concentrate our energies on the important task of developing better descriptive models of choice under uncertainty.

In his modern classic Risk Aversion and Expected-Utility Theory: A Calibration Theorem Matthew Rabin  writes: Read more…

The irrelevance of the Ramsey growth model

March 20, 2022 9 comments

from Lars Syll

4703325-2So in what sense is this “dynamic stochastic general equilibrium” model firmly grounded in the principles of economic theory? I do not want to be misunderstood. Friends have reminded me that much of the effort of “modern macro” goes into the incorporation of important deviations from the Panglossian assumptions that underlie the simplistic application of the Ramsey model to positive macroeconomics. Research focuses on the implications of wage and price stickiness, gaps and asymmetries of information, long-term contracts, imperfect competition, search, bargaining and other forms of strategic behavior, and so on. That is indeed so, and it is how progress is made.

But this diversity only intensifies my uncomfortable feeling that something is being put over on us, by ourselves. Why do so many of those research papers begin with a bow to the Ramsey model and cling to the basic outline? Read more…

The limits to growth

March 13, 2022 5 comments

from Lars Syll

In the postwar period, it has become increasingly clear that economic growth has not only brought greater prosperity. The other side of growth, in the form of pollution, contamination, wastage of resources, and climate change, has emerged as perhaps the greatest challenge of our time.

Against the mainstream theory’s view on the economy as a balanced and harmonious system, where growth and the environment go hand in hand, ecological economists object that it can rather be characterized as an unstable system that at an accelerating pace consumes energy and matter, and thereby pose a threat against the very basis for its survival.

nicholasThe Romanian-American economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994) argued in his epochal The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (1971) that the economy was actually a giant thermodynamic system in which entropy increases inexorably and our material basis disappears. If we choose to continue to produce with the techniques we have developed, then our society and earth will disappear faster than if we introduce small-scale production, resource-saving technologies and limited consumption.

Following Georgescu-Roegen, ecological economists have argued that industrial society inevitably leads to increased environmental pollution, energy crisis and an unsustainable growth.

After a radio debate with one of the members of the Nobel prize committee, yours truly asked why Georgescu-Roegen hadn’t got the prize. Read more…

Time for a cut-off from Russian energy imports

March 10, 2022 12 comments

from Lars Syll

If the German government were to stop Russian energy imports, the German economy would be able to adapt to the new situation. This is shown in a recent study by the research team led by economists Prof. Dr. Moritz Schularick and Prof. Dr. Moritz Kuhn …

Russia shrugs off Germany's Nord Stream 2 sanctions | Financial TimesThe researchers analyzed the potential economic impact of a cut-off from Russian energy imports. The result: The consequences would be substantial, but manageable. Germany would not run out of energy … According to the study, gross domestic product (GDP) would decline by something between 0.5 and 3 percent in the short term, which is equivalent to costs between 100 and 1,000 euros per year and inhabitant. For comparison: GDP fell by 4.5 percent in 2020 due to the Corona pandemic …

The researchers are calling on policymakers to provide targeted support for low-income households while implementing incentives for lower gas consumption. “If an embargo is desired, it should start as soon as possible so that industry and households can adjust during the summer,” Schularick says. Even if an embargo is not imminent, it is advisable to continue raising energy prices now, he said. In the long term, the gas infrastructure to other countries also needs to be expanded, he adds.

ECONtribute

Deductivism — the original sin of ‘modern’ economics

March 5, 2022 5 comments

from Lars Syll

For many people, deductive reasoning is the mark of science: induction – in which the argument is derived from the subject matter – is the characteristic method of history or literary criticism. But this is an artificial, exaggerated distinction. Scientific progress … is frequently the result of observation that something does work, which runs far ahead of any understanding of why it works.

aimageNot within the economics profession. There, deductive reasoning based on logical inference from a specific set of a priori deductions is “exactly the right way to do things”. What is absurd is not the use of the deductive method but the claim to exclusivity made for it. This debate is not simply about mathematics versus poetry. Deductive reasoning necessarily draws on mathematics and formal logic: inductive reasoning, based on experience and above all careful observation, will often make use of statistics and mathematics …

The belief that models are not just useful tools but are capable of yielding comprehensive and universal descriptions of the world blinded proponents to realities that had been staring them in the face.

John Kay

Kay’s article is essential reading for all those who want to understand why mainstream economics actively contributes to causing economic crises rather than to solving them. Read more…

How to make good decisions in a radically uncertain world

February 26, 2022 3 comments

from Lars Syll

To understand real-world decisions and unforeseeable changes in behaviour, ergodic probability distributions are of no avail. In a world full of genuine uncertainty — where real historical time rules the roost — the probabilities that ruled the past are not necessarily those that will rule the future.

Time is what prevents everything from happening at once. To simply assume that economic processes are ergodic and concentrate on ensemble averages — and a fortiori in any relevant sense timeless — is not a sensible way for dealing with the kind of genuine uncertainty that permeates open systems such as economies.

When you assume the economic processes to be ergodic, ensemble and time averages are identical. Let me give an example: Read more…

MMT and ‘monetary crankery’

February 22, 2022 2 comments

from Lars Syll

MMTists often like to position themselves as the only ones to properly understand the ‘operational realities’ of modern monetary systems. Ironically, many of the claims made by MMTists on this topic are misleading at best. One common rhetorical tactic that I’ve noticed they employ, which often catches their critics out, is to use the term ‘government’ in a way that’s different typically from how it is used in mainstream economics. When they say ‘government’, they tend to include basically any institution that is an agent of the state, including the central bank — hence the ‘government’ here includes consolidating the treasury and the central bank into one entity, effectively ignoring or assuming away any independence the central bank may have.

Upholding Economics

Modern Money Theory by Wray, L. Randall (ebook)

Effectively “ignoring or assuming away any independence the central bank may have”? That is strange indeed: Last — just to take one example — I had a look in L. Randall Wray’s Modern Money Theory there were more than fifty pages devoted to “technical details of central bank and treasury coordination” and diverse fiscal operations of the Fed and the Treasury. Guess we have to go looking for ‘bad monetary crankery’ somewhere else …

Paul Krugman and the power of folk economics

February 15, 2022 1 comment

from Lars Syll

Amerikan får årets ekonomipris - Nyheter (Ekot) | Sveriges RadioAnd then there’s Paul Krugman who … has stumbled on folk economics. And I’ll give him credit, since the “folk” he refers to “needn’t be members of the working class. They can be, and often are, members of the elite: plutocrats, powerful politicians and influential pundits.” Absolutely! … But then he reverts to classic Krugman: mainstream economists get it mostly right, and all they really need is the “IS-LM model” to analyze economic crises (such as the 2007-08 crash) and devise the appropriate public (fiscal and monetary) policies. There he stands, completely self-satisfied with his colleagues in mainstream economics, against the “‘folk’ who hold plausible-sounding but wrongheaded views of the economy.” Of course, for Krugman, IS-LM is not itself a part of a folk economics, a narrative of economic events that is produced by and serves as a simple story that is convincing to other mainstream economists, precisely because it stirs their concern or emotions. Where, for example, is the role of inequality or exploitation or distributions of surplus-value captured by finance in causing the crash, or of policies that seek to maintain but not move beyond capitalism in response.

David Ruccio

Krugman’s comments on the issue of ‘folk economics’ is interesting because it sheds light on a kind of inconsistency in his own art of argumentation. Read more…

The Grossman-Stiglitz paradox

February 13, 2022 3 comments

In general the price system does not reveal all the information about “the true value” of the risky asset …

tumblr_n6vk0tAVwh1rlnhn7o1_500The only way informed traders can earn a return on their activity of information gathering, is if they can use their information to take positions in the market which are “better” than the positions of uninformed traders. “Efficient Markets” theorists have claimed that “at any time prices fully reflect all available information” … If this were so then informed traders could not earn a return on their information.

When the efficient markets hypothesis is true and information is costly, competitive markets break down … As soon as the assumptions of the conventional perfect capital markets model are modified to allow even a slight amount of information imperfection and a slight cost of information, the traditional theory becomes untenable. There cannot be as many securities as states of nature. For if there were, competitive equilibrium would not exist …

Because information is costly, prices cannot perfectly reflect the information which is available, since if it did, those who spent resources to obtain it would receive no compensation. There is a fundamental conflict between the efficiency with which markets spread information and the incentives to acquire information.

Sanford Grossman & Joseph Stiglitz

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