The New Classical counterrevolution​

November 24, 2018 22 comments

from Lars Syll

scrrewIn a post on his blog, Oxford macroeconomist Simon Wren-Lewis discusses if modern academic macroeconomics is eclectic or not. When it comes to methodology it seems as though his conclusion is that it is not:

The New Classical Counter Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s … was primarily a revolution about methodology, about arguing that all models should be microfounded, and in terms of mainstream macro it was completely successful … Mainstream academic macro is very eclectic in the range of policy questions it can address, and conclusions it can arrive at, but in terms of methodology it is quite the opposite.

In an earlier post he elaborated on why the New Classical Counterrevolution was so successful in replacing older theories, despite the fact that the New Classical models weren’t able to explain what happened to output and inflation in the 1970s and 1980s:

The new theoretical ideas New Classical economists brought to the table were impressive, particularly to those just schooled in graduate micro. Rational expectations is the clearest example …

If mainstream academic macroeconomists were seduced by anything, it was a methodology — a way of doing the subject which appeared closer to what at least some of their microeconomic colleagues were doing at the time, and which was very different to the methodology of macroeconomics before the New Classical Counterrevolution. The old methodology was eclectic and messy, juggling the competing claims of data and theory. The new methodology was rigorous!

Wren-Lewis seems to be impressed by the ‘rigour’ brought to macroeconomics by the New Classical counterrevolution and its rational expectations, microfoundations and ‘Lucas Critique’.

I fail to see why.

Wren-Lewis’ portrayal of rational expectations is not as innocent as it may look. Read more…

Keynesian explanation of unemployment: seriously Incomplete

November 23, 2018 3 comments

from Asad Zaman

This post is Lecture 8B — from 17m to 37m of video lecture linked at bottom of post. It attempts to make sense of the Keynesian explanation of unemployment based on insufficient aggregate demand. It concludes that several elements missing from Keynes must be added to get to a satisfactory explanation.

 Friedman’s Methodology  leads to crazy models: In previous post (  Lecture 8A – Microfoundations for Keynesian Economics ), we showed that even small differences in the micro-foundations could lead to very large differences in the macro outcomes. Depending on how we choose micro-foundations, we can get almost any result we like at the macro level. So the question arises: HOW should we construct our micro-foundations? How can we choose among the wide variety of possible micro-structures. This leads to a very serious methodological issue of what models are and how they relate to reality. On this topic, see my detailed discussion in post on “Models and Reality“. Briefly, the standard POV adopted in neoclassical textbooks is that the only job of models is the provide a match to observations. The inner details of the models can be arbitrary.  However neoclassical economists insist that a good model must have optimizing behavior by all agents, and the equilibrium outcome of the model should match observations. There is no requirement for models to be realistic.   read more

The narrative of globalization

November 23, 2018 5 comments

from Thomas Palley and the current issue of the RWER

As regards economics, the conventional wisdom interprets globalization through the lens of trade theory, which maintains there are gains for all countries that participate.[1] The narrative is that there have been two globalizations in the modern era. The first began around 1870 and ended in 1914. The second began in 1945 and is still underway. Globalization is identified with the history of trade, and the narrative is constructed around a temporary inter-war interruption that put globalization on hold in the 1920s and 1930s.

 In a recent paper (Palley, 2018), I have challenged the conventional view and argued that there have been three globalizations, not two. The first Victorian globalization ran from 1870 to 1914. The second Keynesian era globalization ran from 1945 to 1990. Both were driven by gains from trade that provided aggregate benefits to countries and the world economy.

 Since 1990 there has been a third neoliberal globalization which has been driven by industrial reorganization, motivated by redistributing income to capital away from labor. Neoliberal globalization can be described as “barge economics” (Palley, 2007, 2008). The idea draws on the observation by Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, that business would ideally like to have “every plant you own on a barge”. Welch envisioned factories floating between countries to take advantage of lowest costs, be they due to under-valued exchange rates, low taxes, subsidies, absence of regulation, or abundant cheap exploitable labor. In such a world, there is an inevitable large increase in trade because goods must cross borders, but trade theory does not explain what is going on.   Read more…

Kalecki and Keynes on the loanable funds fallacy

November 21, 2018 6 comments

from Lars Syll

kalIt should be emphasized that the equality between savings and investment … will be valid under all circumstances. In particular, it will be independent of the level of the rate of interest which was customarily considered in economic theory to be the factor equilibrating the demand for and supply of new capital. In the present conception investment, once carried out, automatically provides the savings necessary to finance it. Indeed, in our simplified model, profits in a given period are the direct outcome of capitalists’ consumption and investment in that period. If investment increases by a certain amount, savings out of profits are pro tanto higher …

One important consequence of the above is that the rate of interest cannot be determined by the demand for and supply of new capital because investment ‘finances itself.’

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 credits set by banks and 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.”  Read more…

Nine years with euro crisis – time to think anew

November 20, 2018 56 comments

from Trond AndresenSteve Keen and Marco Cattaneo

A new means of payment can be part of the solution for the eurozone’s unemployed.

We have now seen nine years of social crisis and huge unemployment in many euro countries. An entire youth generation has barely experienced anything but being out of work. Still no solution has been found or implemented. The time is overdue to think outside the box.

We propose a solution that has circulated internationally for several years: some of us have argued for this since 2011.

Both households and businesses should be provided with an additional national means of payment, “Electronic Parallel Money” (“EPM”).

Our proposal works like this: EPM transactions take place via mobile phone, PC and card. The transactions are logged on a server in the country’s central bank. There are no EPM coins and notes in circulation. The government (and local authorities) have EPM accounts in the central bank. These are debited when the public pays wages and pensions, or purchases goods and services. All citizens and enterprises also receive a user account there.

EPM will greatly reduce unemployment and enable people and businesses to exchange goods and services. It will alleviate the social crisis and reduce pessimism in economics and society. Such a solution is now being discussed in Italy, triggered by the acute budgetary conflict with the EU.  Read more…

Economic growth leaves many Americans behind

November 20, 2018 4 comments

from David Ruccio and Jamie Morgan and the current issue of RWER

What we’re seeing then, especially in the United States, is a self-reinforcing cycle of high profits, low wages, and even higher profits. That’s why the labour share of business income has been falling throughout the so-called “recovery”:[1]

Read more…

Finance: need to understand banking, money and credit

November 19, 2018 44 comments

from John Balder and the current issue of RWER

To explore the origins of the global financial crisis, the first step is to specify the relationship between banking, money and credit. According to the mainstream view, a bank serves as an intermediary between a borrower and a lender. As a pure intermediary, a bank has no impact on real economic activity. This view – taught in most Economics 101 textbooks – implicitly assumes that money is available in finite quantities that are regulated by the central bank.

Several years ago, Paul Krugman and Steve Keen engaged in an enlightening back-and-forth about banking, money and credit. The discussion examined whether banks lend existing money (implying money is neutral) or newly create the money they lend (money is not neutral).

 Economist Category Result
Krugman (2012) Money is neutral Banks lend already existing money
Keen (2011, 2017) Money is not neutral Banks newly create the money they lend

In support of neutral money (mainstream view), Krugman (2012) casually asserts:

“Think of it this way: when debt is rising, it’s not the economy, as a whole borrowing more money. It is rather, a case of less patient people – people who, for whatever reason want to spend sooner rather than later – borrowing from more patient people.”

Read more…

In search of causality

November 18, 2018 12 comments

from Lars Syll


One of the few statisticians that yours truly have on the blogroll is Andrew Gelman. Although not sharing his Bayesian leanings, I find his open-minded, thought-provoking and non-dogmatic statistical thinking highly recommendable. The plaidoyer below for ‘reverse causal questioning’ is typical Gelmanian:  Read more…

Corporate debt will not be the basis for another financial crisis/great recession

November 17, 2018 13 comments

from Dean Baker

The folks who remain determinedly ignorant about the financial crisis and Great Recessioncontinue to look for another crisis where it isn’t. Much of the latest effort focuses on corporate debt. There are four big reasons why corporate debt does not pose anything like the same sort of problem that mortgage debt did during the housing bubble years.

First, many companies took on large amounts of debt for a simple reason, it was very cheap. The debt was not a necessity for them, but the opportunity to borrow for thirty or even fifty years at very low interest rates looked too good to pass up. As a result, many entirely healthy companies have large amounts of long-term debt on which they have very low interest payments. The ratio of corporate debt service payments to after-tax profits is at a relatively low (as in the opposite of high) level.

Second, the crisis mongers apparently missed it, but stock prices are very high right now. This means that most companies have the opportunity to raise more money by selling stock if they feel the need. Of course, the stock market could always plunge by 50 percent, but this one doesn’t factor into most crisis mongers’ predictions. As long as the market stays high, or even if it falls 20 percent, most companies would be able to sell shares to raise capital if they were facing trouble meeting their debt service payments.  Read more…

Micro-foundations for Keynesian Economics

November 17, 2018 21 comments

from Asad Zaman

  Lecture 8A of Advanced Macroeconomics   — Outline below covers the first 17m of the lecture linked below at bottom of post.

1. EXCESS Savings reduce Effective Demand, Normal Savings Do Not

It seems clear that shortfalls in aggregate demand can lead to recessions, but only in presence of fixed prices. Furthermore, normal levels of savings cannot create such shortfalls – an abnormally high level of savings is required. This is because of factors discussed in “ The Subtleties of Effective Demand ”. Basically, if a normal level of savings is reduced from Aggregate Demand, this money is saved and goes on to period T+1. Similarly, the savings of last period T-1, is going to come into the present period T. This will exactly offset the shortfall in Aggregate Demand created by the savings. However, this will not happen if for some reason there is EXCESS savings, over and above normal levels. This excess S(T) > S*  will be not be compensated fully by S(T-1)=S*, where S* is the normal level of savings.

What could lead to abnormally high savings? It appears that debt can force people to earn money to pay off debt, reducing aggregate demand. Thus it appears that the Keynesian mechanism for creating unemployment as an equilibrium phenomenon relies on debt – without explicit mention. Once the role of debt is highlighted as the source of shortfall in aggregate demand, we examine in detail Fisher’s theory of Debt-Deflation, which never received the prominence that Keynes did. In the recent times, this theory has been resurrected, and is solidly backed by empirical evidence. See: Fisher-Minsky-Koo theory of debt-deflation.

2. Empirical Evidence favors Keynes Conjectures   read more


Re-estimating wealth inequality in the United States

November 16, 2018 3 comments

from David Ruccio and Jamie Morgan and the current issue of RWER

If we return to the World Inequality Lab, the share for the top 1 percent in the United States is higher than the global figure. It was, for example, an astounding 41.8 percent in 2012 and 35 percent in 2014 (compared to 45.3 percent for the bottom 90 percent of households) However, depending on how it is measured, actual wealth inequality may be even higher.

Read more…

Truth and probability

November 15, 2018 6 comments

from Lars Syll

uncertainty-7Truth exists, and so does uncertainty. Uncertainty acknowledges the existence of an underlying truth: you cannot be uncertain of nothing: nothing is the complete absence of anything. You are uncertain of something, and if there is some thing, there must be truth. At the very least, it is that this thing exists. Probability, which is the science of uncertainty, therefore aims at truth. Probability presupposes truth; it is a measure or characterization of truth. Probability is not necessarily the quantification of the uncertainty of truth, because not all uncertainty is quantifiable. Probability explains the limitations of our knowledge of truth, it never denies it. Probability is purely epistemological, a matter solely of individual understanding. Probability does not exist in things; it is not a substance. Without truth, there could be no probability.

William Briggs’ approach is — as he acknowledges in the preface of his interesting and thought-provoking book — “closely aligned to Keynes’s.”

Almost a hundred years after John Maynard Keynes wrote his seminal A Treatise on Probability (1921), it is still very difficult to find statistics textbooks that seriously try to incorporate his far-reaching and incisive analysis of induction and evidential weight.  Read more…

A leading economist who took Uber’s money and delivered favorable results sees his reputation tarnished

November 15, 2018 3 comments

from Norbert Häring

A year ago, I described how the controversial and well-financed ride-hauling platform Uber pays economists with data and money to do Uber-related research. This research invariably leads to favourable results, which can be used to fend off criticism and regulation. One such study has now been ripped apart in the Industrial & Labor Relations Review (ILR), a top journal in labor-economics.

Two fearless economists, Janine Berg, senior-economist at the International Labor Organisation (ILO), and doctoral candidate Hannah Johnston submitted an extremely critical comment on a paper by Uber’s chief economist Jonathan Hall and Princeton economist Alan Krueger, which portrayed Uber as a good company to work for and its “driver-partners” as very satisfied and earning good money. The comment recently appeared in ILR, the same journal in which the Hall-Krueger paper had appeared. Notably, there is no reply by Krueger.

While I cannot be specific about the history of this comment, for fear of legal complications, I judge it as almost a miracle that it made it into the journal, despite strong adverse winds. The elephant in the room could not be mentioned in that article, though: the strong conflict of interest that arises if an Uber-employee and a prominent economist on an Uber consultancy-contract use confidential Uber-data to research an issue in which Uber has an elementary business interest. This omission is not surprising: at the time of my critical report, the editor in chief of ILR had also declined to talk about this issue, insisting on keeping the discussion to the substantive arguments.  Read more…

US drug prices started to explode in the 1980s, contrary to what the NYT tells you

November 14, 2018 2 comments

from Dean Baker

Book4 22160 image002

Austin Frakt had an interesting Upshot piece in the NYT saying that drug spending in the US began to sharply diverge from other countries in the 1990s. This actually is not very clear, since the comparison group dating back to the 1980s is small. I am actually more struck by the explosion in spending in the 1980s, with it nearly doubling as a share of GDP over the course of the decade. Note that drug spending had not been increasing at all as a share of GDP over the prior two decades.  Read more…

Take a hard look at the skeletons in the mainstream closet!

November 14, 2018 13 comments

from Lars Syll

lieberAlthough prepared to admit that our empirical research procedures may be based on some very shaky assumptions, [some thoughtful scholars see] no point in saying much about this unless superior alternatives are presented. I understand this concern … Nevertheless, a hard look at the skeletons in the closet is beneficial, especially when there is a propensity to keep the door locked. Nothing is gained by avoiding that which the discipline must face up to sooner or later. If a current procedure appears to be patently wrong, I have not hesitated to indicate this, even if the alternatives remain to develop.

Like Stanley Lieberson, those of us in the economics community who are impolite enough to dare to question the preferred methods and models applied in mainstream economics and econometrics are as a rule met with disapproval. But although people seem to get very agitated and upset by the critique, defenders of “received theory” always say that the critique is “nothing new”, that they have always been “well aware” of the problem, “what Syll points out, we all know; there is nothing new in it; the real issue is to find out the alternative,” and so on, and so on.  Read more…

Markets, policy, and institutions

November 13, 2018 16 comments

from David Ruccio

Teaching critical literacy.

That’s what professors do in the classroom. We teach students languages in order to make some sense of the world around them. How to view a film or read a novel. How to think about economics, politics, and culture. How to understand cell biology or the evolution of the universe.

And, of course, how to think critically about those languages—both their conditions and their consequences.

I’ve been thinking about the task of teaching critical literacy as I prepare the syllabi and lectures for my final semester at the University of Notre Dame.

Lately, I’ve been struck by the way mainstream economics is usually taught as a choice between markets and policy. Whenever a problem comes up—say, inequality or climate change—one group of mainstream economists offers the market as a solution, while the other group suggests that markets aren’t enough and need to be supplemented by government policies. Thus, for example, conservative, market-oriented economists teach students that, with free markets, everybody gets what they deserve (so inequality isn’t really a problem) and greenhouse gas emissions will decline over time (by imposing a tax on the burning of carbon-based fuels). Liberal economists generally argue that market outcomes are inadequate and require additional policies—for example, minimum-wage laws (to lower inequality) and stringent regulations on carbon emissions (because allowing the market to work through carbon taxes, or even cap-and-trade schemes, won’t achieve the necessary reductions to avoid global warming).*

That’s the way mainstream economists frame the issues for students—and, for that matter, for the general public.  Read more…

Thomas Sargent discovered his inner Marxist. Really. Two graphs.

November 12, 2018 11 comments


Graph 1. Unemployment in the USA, % of the labor force, monthly data.

One of the central and most pressing questions of macro-economics is how to estimate and explain unemployment. Thomas Sargent, card-carrying member of the neoclassical cabal and winner of the ‘Sveriges Riksbank Prize In Economic Sciences In Memory Of Alfred Nobel’ (SRPIESIMOAN)  just made a shot at it. A somewhat Marxist shot, as far as I’m concerned. Which, considering the hard core neoclassical nature of the rest of the work of Sargent, is quite surprising. What’s the case? Read more…

Hype and facts on free trade

November 12, 2018 4 comments

from C. P. Chandrasekhar

Voices questioning the claim that nations and the majority of their people stand to gain from global trade are growing louder. The one difference now is that the leading protagonist of protectionism is not a developing country, but global hegemon United States under Donald Trump. Free trade benefits big corporations with production facilities abroad, Trump argues, while harming those looking for a decent livelihood working in America. With time Trump has made clear that his words are not mere rhetoric, matching them with tariffs that have frightened European and North American allies and US corporations, besides troubling the likes of China and Japan. A nation that pushed for freer trade is now building economic walls along its borders. This turn in policy at the metropolitan core not only undermines the case for free trade among other nations, but revives arguments usually advanced by developing countries. The benefits of trade under capitalism, they hold, tend to be distributed unequally among nations. They sometimes fail to mention that at the national level as well the gains are asymmetrically distributed, favouring the more powerful.  Read more…

Econometrics: The Keynes-Tinbergen controversy

November 11, 2018 6 comments

from Lars Syll

Mainstream economists often hold the view that Keynes’ criticism of econometrics was the result of a sadly misinformed and misguided person who disliked and did not understand much of it.

This is, however, nothing but a gross misapprehension.

To be careful and cautious is not the same as to dislike. Keynes did not misunderstand the crucial issues at stake in the development of econometrics. Quite the contrary. He knew them all too well — and was not satisfied with the validity and philosophical underpinning of the assumptions made for applying its methods.

poofKeynes’ critique is still valid and unanswered in the sense that the problems he pointed at are still with us today and ‘unsolved.’ Ignoring them — the most common practice among applied econometricians — is not to solve them.

To apply statistical and mathematical methods to the real-world economy, the econometrician has to make some quite strong assumptions. In a review of Tinbergen’s econometric work — published in The Economic Journal in 1939 — Keynes gave a comprehensive critique of Tinbergen’s work, focusing on the limiting and unreal character of the assumptions that econometric analyses build on:  Read more…

Demonetisation in India was a great success – for the Better Than Cash Alliance

November 10, 2018 3 comments

from Norbert Häring

Two years ago, on 8 November 2016 at 8 pm, prime minister Narendra Modi declared most cash in India demonetised, starting a period of several months of severe cash shortage, which imposed a lot of hardship and suffering on the people. The National Herald India invited me to write a guest-comment on the occasion.

I have been invited to write a comment on the ‘failure’ of the Demonetisation exercise of Prime Minister Modi. True, it was an obvious failure if you judge it by its declared objective of fighting corruption, terrorism funding and tax dodging. Almost all the demonetised banknotes were deposited in banks and thus re-inserted into the legal economy. It was a failure also if judged by the secondary goal of promoting financial inclusion. Rather than helping the poor by giving them access to modern means of savings and payment options, demonetisation disproportionately hurt the poor, as they were robbed of the free means of payment that they used to have at their disposal: cash and which was working well for them. Those well integrated into a social web of support found ways to cope. Those at the margin of society, like migrant workers, suffered tremendously from being temporarily excluded from participation in the monetary economy.

It would be unthinkable for a US-government to take most of the cash out of circulation at four hours’ notice. If it is done in India to Indian people, however, it is alright!  Read more…