Author Archive

I agree

July 24, 2015 5 comments

from Peter Radford

Yes. I agree.

The negotiations concerning the Greek bail-out were absurd. They showed in vivid highlight just how foolish the entire Euro exercise is. Countries with economies as varied as those of Europe ought not bind themselves together without going the whole way into some sort of federal political and budgetary union. That would allow funds to move about internally so that regions falling into distress can get help ‘anonymously’ without the need for the tragic farce we have just witnessed.

This is what happens inside the United States. Funds routinely move about, Federal programs make sure that some basic services – such as Social Security – are paid from a central source so if a state like Florida gets into difficulty bills still get paid and services are still provided. Were this not so, and if Florida had been responsible for, say, those pensions back in 2009, it would have faced a crisis similar to that in Greece. Indeed the imbalances in the flow of funds into and from Washington are what allows many states in America to pretend that they are fiscally secure. Read more…

Categories: Eurozone Crisis

Memoirs from beyond the tomb

July 16, 2015 1 comment

from Peter Radford

Right at the end of his book called “Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb” Chateaubriand gives us a remarkable insight into our current troubles. I wonder whether we will solve them or whether we will simply write an addendum to his book.

He asks, for instance:

“Is it possible for a political system to subsist, in which some individuals have so many millions a year while other individuals are dying of hunger, when religion is no longer there with its other-worldly hopes to explain the sacrifice?”

A little later, with respect to the spread of education downward in society, he goes on :

“The excessive disproportion of conditions and fortunes was endurable as long as it remained concealed; but as soon as this disproportion was generally perceived, the old order received its death-blow. Recompose the aristocratic fictions if you can; try to convince the poor man, once he has learnt to read and ceased to believe, once he has become as well informed as yourself, try to convince him that he must submit to every sort of privation, while his neighbor possesses a thousand times what he needs: as a last resource you will have to kill him.”

Chateaubriand, as we know, lived through a great transition in society.  Read more…

Categories: Economic Thought, ethics

Greece 2

July 14, 2015 5 comments

from Peter Radford

Well so much for that.

Where do I begin?

The so-called deal announced yesterday achieves none of its objectives. The written objectives that is. The unwritten ones we will get to in a moment.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Greek economy suffers from a surfeit of inefficiencies. It cannot sustain the social edifice erected on top of it without ridding itself of the multitude of privileges that various groups have accumulated for themselves through time. Greek government has been, for many years, a source of patronage and protection of a slew of inside deals that wreak havoc on those – the majority – on the outside.

I am sure this systemic problem must irk everyone living further north.


Clearing out those problems now is not the priority. Saving Greece is. Saving Greek democracy. Saving those who have no access to the myriad schemes and deals that enrich the minority.  Read more…

Categories: Greece


July 8, 2015 10 comments

from Peter Radford

So we reach the end. Good. Let democracy and popular government prevail. The entire Euro project was conceived by a small group of elitist technocrats, then foisted on national peoples often without any ability on the part of the people to veto it.

The crisis in Europe is an echo of the crisis here in the US. America’s banks went on an unsustainable binge of greedy excess. They generated, accumulated, mixed, and then sold mortgages in an ever increasing frenzy driven by the knowledge that as long as they moved the pile fast enough they could reward themselves handsomely and not suffer the consequences of their descent into the depths of outright fraud.

And it was a fraud.

Maybe not in the narrow and legally provable sense, but in the broader and more applicable ethical sense. The banks sought to rip us off to enrich themselves. They knew how compliant our governments all were. They knew that, in the end, they would be bailed out. So there was never a brake on their acceleration over the edge.  Read more…

Categories: Greece

Liberty to do what?

May 18, 2015 2 comments

from Peter Radford

Continuing my peon to Judt: he reminds us of Condorcet’s fear:

“Liberty will be no more, in the eyes of an avid nation, than the necessary condition for the security of financial operations.”

No kidding.

How many times do we come across, in this avid nation of ours, some foolish comment that our social policies must not restrict commerce? How many times do we hear some politician arguing that we must become more business friendly? We scarcely can move an inch without tripping over someone cajoling us with fears that limitations on liberty are actually limitations on prosperity. As if prosperous was purely an arithmetic reference and had no qualitative content.

This is Condorcet’s fear alive and well. We seem to have reduced liberty to some small prop for the making of profit. Liberty is simply, in this ghostly shadow of what it once was, a veil behind which profits can be amassed without reference to the fabric of society as whole. And certainly without reference to any larger interest than that of the individual, or individuals, engaged in making that profit. Read more…

We rely on economics too much

May 14, 2015 7 comments

from Peter Radford

I think I am with Tony Judt on this one. I am reading the new collection of his essays written between 1995 and his death in 2010, and have had my memory jolted: he gave us many very considered critiques of modern economics, although they were usually dressed within the context of a book review. The point I am agreeing with is this statement he gives us in his 2009 speech called “What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?”:

“But how did we, in our own time, come to think in exclusively economic terms? The fascination with an etiolated economic vocabulary did not come out of nowhere.”

Etiolated? Lovely, but I disagree. Our economic vocabulary is both robust and way too vigorous to be etiolated. On the contrary, economics has become a weed infesting society in every corner, and our use of it is far too frequent to consider it etiolated at all. Indeed our reliance on economic vocabulary belies the gaping holes in the theories that those words depend upon for their relevance.

But the larger point: that we overuse economics, that we see our world in economic terms rather than in other, perhaps more relevant, terms, and that we have come to depend too much on economic analysis to justify our actions is one I wholeheartedly endorse.  Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Transaction Cost Confusion

May 5, 2015 3 comments

from Peter Radford

OK. Let’s have some fun.

Transaction costs were invented by Ronald Coase to help explain why we see business firms littering the economic landscape when orthodox economic theory argues that the marketplace is the superior and unequalled coordinator of economic activity. The Coasian idea, later extended and expanded upon by the likes of Oliver Williamson, is that there are costs of accessing the market which, under some circumstances, render market coordination more expensive than having production contained within the boundaries of what we call a business firm. These costs are what are now called transaction costs.

The problem is that they are also fairly vague. Indeed on of the main counter attacks by leading orthodox economists has always been that transaction costs are hard to pin down and thus ‘formalize’. And, as we all know, things that are not formal are considered to be dicey and not rigorous by orthodox ideologues.

Anyway, that’s for them to argue over, let’s get back to our fun.  Read more…

Coase and Reality

from Peter Radford

In his introduction to a collection of his own work, Ronald Coase tells us:

‘Becker points out that: “what most distinguishes economics as a discipline from other disciplines in the social sciences is not its subject matter but its approach”’.

He then goes on:

‘One result of this divorce of the theory from its subject matter has been that the entities whose decisions economists are engaged in analyzing lack any substance. The consumer is not a human being but a consistent set of preferences. The firm, to an economist, as Slater has said, “is effectively defined as a cost curve and a demand curve, and the theory is simply the logic of optimal pricing and input combination”. Exchange takes place without any specification of its institutional setting. We have consumers without humanity, firms without organization, and even exchange without markets.’

All true, too true.  Read more…


April 8, 2015 3 comments

from Peter Radford

There are many billions of people in the world. There are tens, if not hundreds, of business firms. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of government and quasi government agencies. And there are a multitude of other organizations scattered about the global economy. All these are actors on the economic stage. They generate an incalculable number of relationships built around their multiplicity of desires, needs, and resource endowments. They barter. They exchange. They self-employ. They employ others. They sell. They buy. They consume. Some produce for their own consumption. Some produce for others. Some make their income as rentiers. Others work. They all change through time as they adapt to and interact with each other. They all learn.  Read more…

Efficient Allocations?

March 25, 2015 9 comments

from Peter Radford

Willford King has written:

“It is easy to find a man in almost any line of employment who is twice as efficient as another employee, but it is very rare to find one who is ten times as efficient. It is common, however, to see one man possessing not ten times but a thousand times the wealth of his neighbor … Is the middle class doomed to extinction and shall we soon find the handful of plutocrats, the modern barons of wealth, lined up squarely in opposition to the propertyless masses with no buffer between to lessen the chances of open battle? With the middle class gone and the laborer condemned to remain a lifelong wage-earner with no hope of attaining wealth of even a competence in his old age, all the conditions are ripe for a crowning class-conflict equaling in intensity and bitterness anything pictured by the most radical follower of Karl Marx. Is this condition soon coming to pass?” [Emphasis in original]

That was in 1915. My how times change.

Well maybe not. That comment about the middle class has a very contemporary ring to it.

A couple of things pop out at me when I read that quote – no doubt you will find your own emphasis.  Read more…

Ideas that must be forgotten

March 17, 2015 5 comments

from Peter Radford

Much of what we are told as being advances in economics are diversions or delusions that serve only to trap us in a cul-de-sac. Sometimes that becomes a very long road to nowhere. Sometimes, it seems, economics will never return to being about actual economies, but will always be doomed to stay the plaything of a select group of very clever savants separated from the world by their contempt for its complex messiness.

I am not one of those to indulge in endless territorial fights over purity of thought. What matters to me is practical application. I measure the usefulness of an economic idea by the illumination it throws on a real world problem and on its ability to assist us better our collective lots in life. I frankly don’t care if it is the precise meaning that some long ago dead theorist gave to an idea. Our current divination of that meaning may have strayed from purity, but it might also work. Battles over intellectual turf are meaningless except for a very few whose reputations are involved. Other than that, who cares? Read more…

Categories: rethinking economics

Where’s the Structure?

March 5, 2015 4 comments

from Peter Radford

In its long search for the illusion of equilibrium economics has had to barter away one aspect of reality after another. Driven by its desire to unearth laws that explain the presence of that illusion economists have long ago lost contact with the grittiness of actual economies. They prefer the pristine and simplified sanctuary of their models no matter how reduced the image of an economy those models portray.

Oddly I do not criticize them for this. No, I think I understand the logic of the process that produced the result. I applaud the effort. I salute the intellectual energy that has been absorbed into the project.

It’s the outcome I abhor. Economists are simply caught in a valley which, unfortunately for them, sits in the shadows of reality rather than sitting on a peak casting light on it.

I was thinking thus because I was trying to relate how economics, most of it anyway, ignores uncertainty. As you know this ignorance vexes me more than somewhat, because I see uncertainty as central to human existence. Without some element of uncertainty there would be no need to learn — we would know everything already. It is the absence of knowledge that incites us to search, to innovate, and to arm ourselves against the unknown. It is the very essence of life: problem solving is the distinguishing characteristic of life. It is how we tell that something is alive. The intentional imposition of order on disorder is the central property of all things we consider to be living. Read more…

Categories: rethinking economics

Economic Ignorance?

March 2, 2015 24 comments

from Peter Radford

Ha-Joon Chang nails it.

But I wish he hadn’t.

You see, I agree with his analysis of the inverse nature of status within the economics profession. As a useful general rule the more notable you are within the profession the less you know about the economy. This is a result of the perverse nature of what economists actually do: they are amongst the very few disciplines — perhaps they are unique — who invent the artifacts that they then seek to explain and study. This relieves them, as you can imagine, from having to engage with the mucky real world.

You might wonder how this came about. It is quite a puzzle isn’t it? All those extremely clever people resolutely avoiding contact with the very substance that their chosen topic of study presents them from outside; averting their eyes from the glare of reality; turning inward as they search for clarity and that song sought after simplicity that so beguiles them.

It’s actually quite dispiriting for anyone who dares imagine that economics has relevance to humanity and its ability to chart a course towards a generally more prosperous world.

So how did this disconnect happen? How is it that the very best are the most ignorant? Read more…

I am a know-nothing

February 27, 2015 6 comments

from Peter Radford

Beware of the possible snark in the following:

One of the possibilities you face when you commit to writing about something is that you get called names. Sometimes you are called wrong. And sometimes when you are called wrong, you are indeed wrong. Such is life. We learn.

This is not one of those times.

Because I am right.

Anyway, this time I have been called wrong because I asked that we raise a collective voice to ask questions about economics. I made no substantive claim in my call for questions. I just asked for questions and then did claim that the resultant conversation would/could be interesting. I thought this was uncontroversial.  Read more…

To see is to believe?

February 26, 2015 3 comments

from Peter Radford

The French Republican thinker Charles Péguy once said:

“One must always say what one sees. But especially — and this is the hard part — one must always see what one sees.”

Very true.

The ability to see something and not see it simultaneously seems to be a major characteristic of orthodox economists.

Thus involuntary unemployment melts into thin air as its offensive existence is not only offensive to civility, but is, more importantly, offensive to the ideological basis of orthodoxy. For if markets always exert their magical powers, and if the people caught up within them act [hyper] rationally, and if, and so on and so on, then anyone without a job is someone who doesn’t want a job. That person prefers a life of leisure to one of work, no matter how impecunious they are.

That orthodox economists must see involuntary unemployment is surely undeniable. That they don’t see it because of the jaundice of orthodoxy that afflicts them is, I think Péguy would agree, an affront to reality.

Likewise with uncertainty: Read more…

Categories: New vs. Old Paradigm

Questions – Add Your Voice

February 24, 2015 15 comments

from Peter Radford

There’s been a lot of excitement about changing the substance of economics and the way it is taught. Rightly so. But that, it seems to me, just begs the question: “What is economics?” Or, rather, it begs a series of questions. None of us can pretend to have the answer since the answer is surely to be found in the collective voice of those who are interested enough to respond. Social intelligence is a more robust repository of ‘truth’ than any single intelligence can ever be.


What are the questions? Tell me.

Once we have a good set of questions, let’s then survey our friends and colleagues to get answers. Oh. And let’s restrict ourselves to limited space. Those answers must be short. Let’s say a few paragraphs at the very most.

Once we have the questions and all the answers we can assemble them as a collective voice.

A hundred or so answers to, say, fifteen good questions would give us a very quick but deep insight into the state of economics.

Let’s not place any limits on ourselves just yet – other than the need for brevity.

So go ahead. Add your voice to the collective.


Categories: rethinking economics

Rats! History does repeat itself

February 10, 2015 3 comments

from Peter Radford

And clearly economists don’t learn from it.

Ponder this:

“It was all very well for the rich, who could raise all the credit they needed, to clamp rigid deflation and monetary orthodoxy on the economy … it was the little man who suffered, and demanded easy credit and financial unorthodoxy.”

That’s the voice of E. J. Hobsbawm in his book, “The Age of Revolution 1789 – 1848″, and he is talking about post Napoleonic Europe.

But how contemporary is that sentiment?

We are stuck in a similar situation. Our elite, both here and in Europe, is managing the economy  for its own ends. The disconnect with everyday folk is astonishing. The hubris and plain meanness of it all is equally astonishing.

Look at Greece: the attempt to impose a teutonic fiscal ‘discipline’ via stringent austerity has simply led to the debt that was the target of the policy becoming an even larger problem. It is an example of epic policy failure. The Greeks, for all their previous laxity and fiscal ineptitude, are to be applauded for calling for an end to the stupidity. Read more…

The Greek Experiment

January 31, 2015 8 comments

from Peter Radford

Let me congratulate the Greeks for taking the first, but only the first, step towards a more civilized economic policy. I am intrigued by the prospect of Yanis Varoufakis as economic minister deep in argument with any of the large number of radicals that infest European economic posts. And, yes, they are the radicals. The notion that aggressive austerity measures can engender growth and can be mostly benign with respect to employment, wages, and other immediate aspects of economic life is a radical, almost extreme, idea honed most recently to protect wealthy elites from having to engage with the rest of the societies inside which they exist. Against this form of radicalism people like Varoufakis, despite being smeared as radicals themselves, are more orthodox than not. At least they realize that economies are not mere models to manipulate, but are collections of people whose futures and dignity are surely worthy of consideration alongside such abstractions as markets or efficiency.  Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Zero Shocker

January 20, 2015 2 comments

from Peter Radford

What with the World Economic Forum folks wading in on inequality ahead of the annual Davos shindig for the great and beautiful, here’s what Oxfam has to say:

“Global wealth is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a small wealthy elite … These wealthy individuals have generated and sustained their vast riches through their interests and activities in a few important economic sectors, including finance and pharmaceuticals/healthcare. Companies from these sectors spend millions of dollars every year on lobbying to create a policy environment that protects and enhances their interests further.”

Moreover Oxfam predicts that the top 1% will have more wealth than the bottom 99% by about 2016. Here’s their chart: Read more…

Economics is what?

January 12, 2015 6 comments

from Peter Radford

This week’s Economist magazine includes an article designed to uplift the hearts of depressed economists everywhere. It devotes a whole page under the headline “Meet the market shapers”, to a catalog of what it regards as cutting edge examples of economists doing useful stuff at the ‘micro’ level. By micro in these cases the Economist means working inside or alongside a business firm.

All the cases in the article are about some clever folk doing some clever analysis that, so we are told, really and truly helps the firms in question do better. In particular a theme emerges that the work seems to help the firms match what they have to sell with people who are likely, though not certain, to buy.

Naturally, although the magazine doesn’t admit to any added value in this, all the firms cited are Silicon Valley start ups and the like. As we know all Silicon Valley firms are very, very smart – they disrupt the dullards who have only managed to survive a few decades by shooting into orbit and surviving [gasp] for months and even years. So to help firms that are already clever is a real feather in anyone’s cap.

All this cutting edge stuff has the Economist really excited. Not only does it give the story a full page, but it even devotes one of its editorial columns to explaining what micro-economists do:  Read more…


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