“Who will own the robots?”

September 14, 2016 27 comments

from David Ruccio

I’ve been writing for some years now about the emergence of new technologies, especially automation and robotics, and their potential contribution to raising already-high levels of inequality even further.

The problem is not, as I have tried to make clear, technology per se but the way it is designed and utilized within existing economic institutions. In other words, the central question is: who will own the robots?

If capital owns the robots, even if their development and use increases labor productivity, the returns mostly go to capital and the workers (those who are left, in addition to those who have been displaced) are the ones who lose out.

But you don’t have to believe me. That’s the conclusion of a recent piece published in Finance & Development, the research journal of the International Monetary Fund.

The authors, Andrew Berg, Edward F. Buffie, and Luis-Felipe Zanna, designed an economic model in which they assume robots are a particular sort of physical capital, one that is a close substitute for human workers.* They also consider three versions of the model: one in which robots are almost perfect substitutes for human labor; another in which robots and human labor are close but not perfect substitutes (i.e., “people bring a spark of creativity or a critical human touch” that cannot, at least for the foreseeable future, be replaced by robots); and a third in which they distinguish between “skilled” and “unskilled” workers. Read more…

The US Federal Reserve must rethink how it tightens monetary policy

September 13, 2016 1 comment

from Thomas Palley

After more than 7 years of economic recovery, the Federal Reserve is positioning itself to tighten monetary policy by raising interest rates. In light of the wobbly reaction in financial markets, an important question that must be asked is whether raising interest rates is the right tool.

It could well be that the world’s leading central bank is going about the process of tightening in the wrong way. Owing to the dollar’s preeminent standing, that could have severe global repercussions.

Just as the Fed has had to rethink how it combats recessions, so too it must rethink how it transitions from an easy monetary policy stance to a tighter stance.

A quick review

In December 2015, the U.S. Federal Reserve increased interest rates for the first time in almost a decade. This move came with the expectation of gradually raising its interest rate to a new normal of 3%. Initially, normalization aimed to lighten pressure on the monetary policy pedal, and only later would it turn to hitting the monetary policy brake.
Read more…

Protest of the century

September 13, 2016 3 comments

David Ruccio

During the past couple of weeks, the only real India economic news in the Western press was the decision by “the Ranbir Kapoor of banking,” Raghuram G. Rajan, to step down from his position as the head of the Reserve Bank of India.

But we read almost nothing about the 2 September nationwide strike by 150 million Indian workers [ht: Magpie], which was certainly the largest strike in India’s long labor history—and may have been the largest general strike in world history.

As Vijay Prashad explained,  Read more…

As UK productivity growth falls to zero, John Harris at the Guardian tells readers that technology is making old workplace relations obsolete

September 12, 2016 1 comment

from Dean Baker

The efforts by many elite types to deny basic statistics and to tout the new technologies transforming the workplace are truly Trumpian in their nature. According to the OECD, productivity growth in the UK was essentially zero between 2007 and 2014 (the most recent year for which it has data). So we would naturally expect that the Guardian would run a column telling us that globalization and new technologies are making old workplace relations obsolete.

As John Harris tells readers:

“In a world in which businesses can survey their order books on an hourly basis and temporarily hire staff at the touch of a button, why would they base their arrangements on agreements that last for years?”

Well, a big part of the story is that the UK (like the U.S.) has a very weak labor market. This was a result of conscious policy decisions. The Conservative government put in a policy of austerity that had the effect of reducing demand in the UK and slowing the rate of job creation. In this context, of course employers get to call the shots.

Serious people would address the context which has denied workers bargaining power. It is not “technology” as Harris and his elite Trumpians would like to pretend, it is macroeconomic policy. But Harris has no time for talking about macroeconomic policy. He dismisses a plan put forward by Labor Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn to produce full employment as, “either naive or dishonest” adding “but they reflect delusions that run throughout Labour and the left.”

There we have it, in elite Trumpland we don’t have to deal with data or arguments; we can just dismiss people and ideas with ad hominem arguments.  Read more…

But not as wrong as Paul Krugman …

September 12, 2016 8 comments

from Lars Syll

In his review of Mervyn King’s The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy Krugman writes:

Economist KrugmanIs this argument right, analytically? I’d like to see King lay out a specific model for his claims, because I suspect that this is exactly the kind of situation in which words alone can create an illusion of logical coherence that dissipates when you try to do the math. Also, it’s unclear what this has to do with radical uncertainty. But this is a topic that really should be hashed out in technical working papers.

This passage really says it all.

Despite all his radical rhetoric, Krugman is — where it really counts — nothing but a die-hard mainstream neoclassical economist. Just like Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas or Greg Mankiw.

The only economic analysis that Krugman and other mainstream economists accept is the one that takes place within the analytic-formalistic modeling strategy that makes up the core of mainstream economics. All models and theories that do not live up to the precepts of the mainstream methodological canon are pruned. You’re free to take your models — not using (mathematical) models at all is, as made clear by Krugman’s comment on King, totally unthinkable —  and apply them to whatever you want – as long as you do it within the mainstream approach and its modeling strategy. If you do not follow this particular mathematical-deductive analytical formalism you’re not even considered doing economics. ‘If it isn’t modeled, it isn’t economics.’

That isn’t pluralism.

That’s a methodological reductionist straightjacket.  Read more…

Schumpeter and aggregate demand

September 11, 2016 7 comments

Did low interest rates contribute to the growth of tourism and tehrewith to higher aggregate demand? Yes. but not like the models predict. Lower rates on existing debts (instead of on new loans) fired the animal spirits of consumers (instead of producers).


Read more…

What shared prosperity?!

September 10, 2016 8 comments

from David Ruccio


In a recent New York Times article, Quoctring Bui reveals some fascinating details about the geography of inequality in the United States—including the fact that  Read more…

Hicks’ misrepresentation of Keynes — the Wicksellian connection

September 9, 2016 1 comment

from Lars Syll

Having read my post on Krugman and Hicks’ IS-LM misrepresentation of Keynes’ theory, professor Jan Kregel kindly sent an unpublished article he wrote back in 1984 — The Importance of Choosing a Model: Hicks vs. Keynes on Money, Interest and Prices — in which it is argued that Hicks’ particular presentation of Keynes’ theory and choice of model was “crucial to its destruction”:
Read more…

Arctic meltdown

September 9, 2016 1 comment

meltAt this very moment (9 september 2016), arctic sea ice may have reached its yearly minimum extent. Does global warming cause a decline of this minimum? Business cycle economists use the phrase ‘months for cyclical dominance’: how many months does it take before trend movements are larger than monthly fluctuations of variables like consumption of exports? In the case of sea ice I used ‘years for cyclical dominance (YCD)’: a fourteen year moving average shows a continuous decline (the max. extent of arctic sea ice has a 10 year YCD). The decline is not linear. Remarkably, pre-2002 minima of the minimum are higher than post-2006 maxima of the minimum – a very robust indicator of a downward trend. Antarctic sea ice shows much less dramatic developments. This reminds us that we have to look at the global picture. Which is clear: 2016 is set to be the hottest year on record (breaking the 2015 record).

The simple way to crack down on Apple’s tax games

September 9, 2016 12 comments

from Dean Baker

While Elizabeth Warren is praising the European Union’s crackdown on Apple’s Ireland tax scheme, Jack Lew and the Obama Treasury Department are going to bat for corporate tax cheating. Warren is far too optimistic about the prospect of a successful crackdown. These folks are prepared to spend a lot of money to hide their profits from tax authorities and they are likely to find accomplices in many Irelands around the world.

It would be good to look in a different direction. I remain a big fan of my proposal for companies to turn over non-voting shares of stock to the government. In that case, what goes to the shareholders also goes to the government. Unless you cheat your shareholders, you can’t cheat the government.

I know this is probably too simple to be taken seriously in policy circles, but those who care about an efficient and effective way to collect corporate taxes should be thinking about it.

Capitalism vs. democracy

September 8, 2016 31 comments

from David Ruccio

I have been arguing for some time on this blog that contemporary capitalism faces a profound legitimation crisis. It has failed to deliver on its promises, and therefore is being calling into question.

As it turns out, Martin Wolf, the chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, has also sounded a warning about the ongoing legitimacy crisis. But for him it’s a bit different. The problem, as he sees it, is the tension between democracy and capitalism.

A natural connection exists between liberal democracy — the combination of universal suffrage with entrenched civil and personal rights — and capitalism, the right to buy and sell goods, services, capital and one’s own labour freely. They share the belief that people should make their own choices as individuals and as citizens. Democracy and capitalism share the assumption that people are entitled to exercise agency. Humans must be viewed as agents, not just as objects of other people’s power.

Yet it is also easy to identify tensions between democracy and capitalism. Democracy is egalitarian. Capitalism is inegalitarian, at least in terms of outcomes. If the economy flounders, the majority might choose authoritarianism, as in the 1930s. If economic outcomes become too unequal, the rich might turn democracy into plutocracy.

Historically, the rise of capitalism and the pressure for an ever-broader suffrage went together. This is why the richest countries are liberal democracies with, more or less, capitalist economies. Widely shared increases in real incomes played a vital part in legitimising capitalism and stabilising democracy. Today, however, capitalism is finding it far more difficult to generate such improvements in prosperity. On the contrary, the evidence is of growing inequality and slowing productivity growth. This poisonous brew makes democracy intolerant and capitalism illegitimate.

Read more…

Draghi’s trap (towards a more national euro-system?)

September 8, 2016 1 comment

From: Erwan Mahé

‘Mr Draghi may have laid a fairly sophisticated trap to ensnare his most reticent colleagues.’. Read more…

No man is an island!

September 7, 2016 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll

Given how sweeping the changes wrought by SMD (Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu) theory seem to be, it is understandable that some very broad statements about the character of general equilibrium theory were made. Fifteen years after General Competitive Analysis, Arrow (1986) stated that the hypothesis of rationality had few implications at the aggregate level. Kirman (1989) held that general equilibrium theory could not generate falsifiable propositions, given that almost any set of data seemed consistent with the theory. concoctionsThese views are widely shared … General equilibrium theory “poses some arduous challenges” as a “paradigm for organizing and synthesizing economic data” so that “a widely accepted empirical counterpart to general equilibrium theory remains to be developed” (Hansen and Heckman 1996). This seems to be the now-accepted view thirty years after the advent of SMD theory …

S. Abu Turab Rizvi

And so what? Why should we care about Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu?

Because  Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu ultimately explains why New Classical, Real Business Cycles, Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium (DSGE) and “New Keynesian” microfounded macromodels are such bad substitutes for real macroeconomic analysis!  Read more…

Inequality in the US and mainstream macroeconomics

September 7, 2016 1 comment

from David Ruccio

I have argued many times over the years that mainstream economists, especially mainstream macroeconomists, largely ignore the issue of inequality. And when they do see it, they tend to misunderstand both its causes (often attributing it to exogenous events, such as globalization and technical change) and its consequences (often failing to connect it, other than through “political capture,” to events like the crash of 2007-08).

In my view, mainstream economists overlook or forget about the role inequality plays, especially in macroeconomic events, for two major reasons. First, their theoretical and empirical models—either based on a representative agent or undifferentiated macroeconomic relationships (such as consumption and investment)—can be solved without ever conceptualizing or measuring inequality. The models they use create a theoretical blindspot. But, second, even when it’s clear they could include inequality as a significant factor, they don’t. They literally choose not to see inequality as a relevant issue in making sense of macroeconomic fluctuations. So, as I see it, when it comes to inequality, mainstream economics (especially, as I say, mainstream macroeconomics) is haunted by both a theoretical and an ethical problem.


Read more…

General equilibrium theory — still dead after all these years

September 6, 2016 3 comments

from Lars Syll

Raphaële Chappe has written a very interesting article about the value of general equilibrium theory, concluding in the following words:

For a student of real world markets, general equilibrium theory appears strangely distant. It is not surprising that a highly abstract framework consisting of hyper-rational agents might be ill equipped to provide a sufficiently credible account of markets in modern capitalism. 24958274What is more surprising is that despite these obvious limitations (some even claim that general equilibrium has been “dead” since the Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu results in the 1970s) the framework is still central to the Ph.D. curriculum, and continues to play a preeminent role in the high theory of economics. To the extent it shows the limits of the way of thinking, this is fair enough, but that is not how the subject is approached, by Mas-Colell/ Whinston/Green or any other major text. Is this an example of the greater importance given in our ‘science’ to the rites of justification than to the task of explanation? When a way of thinking limits our thinking then it’s time, with due appreciation for those who built it, to ‘throw away the ladder’.

The economist considering general equilibrium since the SMD results dead, is Frank Ackerman, and this is what he has to say on general equilibrium:   Read more…

IMF backs away from neoliberalism?

September 6, 2016 3 comments

from Asad Zaman

The IMF has been among the principal architects, executors and enforcers of the neoliberal agenda all over the globe for several decades. This is why an IMF publication with an article entitled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” is as surprising as an ISIS article entitled “Violence: Oversold?” would be. Has neoliberalism become so unpopular that even the IMF does not want to be associated with it? In this essay, we study the lessons that the IMF claims to have learnt from experience with its single-minded drive to enforce the neoliberal agenda throughout the globe.

The article by Ostry, Loungani, and Furceri, starts out by praising the neoliberal agenda for getting many things right. The authors write that they will confine their critique to two aspects. The first is capital account liberalisation, which means freely allowing capital flows across national borders. The second is “austerity”, which requires tight control of budget deficits, raising taxes, lowering expenses and making borrowing costly for the government.  read more

Incorporating energy into production functions

September 5, 2016 7 comments

from Steve Keen

In my last post on my Debtwatch blog, I finished by saying that the Physiocrats were the only School of economics to properly consider the role of energy in production. They ascribed it solely to agriculture exploiting the free energy of the Sun, and specifically to land, which absorbed this free energy and stored it in agricultural products. As Richard Cantillon put it in 1730:

The Land is the Source or Matter from whence all Wealth is produced. The Labour of man is the Form which produces it: and Wealth in itself is nothing but the Maintenance, Conveniencies, and Superfluities of Life. (Cantillon, Essai sur la Nature du Commerce in Général (Essay on the Nature of Trade in General)

Quesnay’s famous but neglected “Tableau Economique” therefore described the agricultural sector as “the productive sector” and manufacturing as “sterile”—see Figure 1. Read more…

Beyond the carried interest tax loophole

September 4, 2016 Leave a comment

from David Ruccio

capital gains

Everyone (from President Obama to venture capitalist Alan Patricof) agrees the carried tax loophole—which allows investment fund managers to treat much of their income as capital gains (taxed at a top rate of 23.8 percent) rather than as income (for which the top rate is 39.6 percent)—should be closed.

But, as Michael Hiltzik reminds us, it’s a tax break the super rich are willing to give up in order to keep the loophole they really value: the capital gains tax break. Read more…

Krugman’s gadget interpretation of economics

September 3, 2016 41 comments

from Lars Syll

Paul 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 Krugman not being a real Keynesian, Krugman writes:

Skrugmanurely 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.
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Will Ireland go bankrupt?

September 2, 2016 5 comments


Ireland (the government plus the private sector) has by far the largest net international debt of all EU countries (measured as a % of GDP). To an extent this is caused because the Irish state was pressured, by its EU friends, to borrow money from other countries to bail out (the creditors of) Irish banks. The large and fast deterioration of the Irish position in 2014 and 2015 might be caused because large international companies finance their Irish headquarters with inter company international debt. But whatever the cause – it is ridiculous that a country like Greece, which is in a much better state when it comes to its net international investment position, is pressured (among others: by Ireland!) to cut pensions, sell government assets and raise taxes – while the Irish government even refuses to collect taxes due.