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Fifth Column of Financial Oligarchy: Chicago School of Market Fundamentalism

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Neoclassicism is the ideology of the plutocracy which still governs the USA

Lewis L. Smith

Neoclassical economics—and especially that derived from Milton Friedman’s pen—is mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Steve Keen

"The only thing in common between noted [Chicago school] economists is sheer incompetence"

Willem Buiter

For those who buy into fairy tale about how markets operate independently of political power, and  state’s instruments of violence (the police and the military), I have a nice piece of oceanfront property in Arizona.

Chicago neoclassical economics school is a well known pseudo-science school, one of the pillars of Economic Lysenkoism (along with  Supply Side Economics).  This is an economic cult, an ideology of financial oligarchy. So it is more proper to this school not neoclassical, but as aptly suggested by Bill Black “theoclassical”   or  Chicago Ponzinomics.  It is a neoliberal phenomenon, not neoclassical. High level of support by financial oligarchy was crucial for it break into mainstream and even (despite compete absurdness of its postulates) make it dominant during 1980-2000. 

Like in Lysenkoism, and high demand sects anybody who strays from the cult is in danger of being ostracized. As Mark Thoma observed:

Some years ago, when I first presented an empirical paper questioning some of the conventional views on trade to a high profile economics conference, a member of the audience (a very prominent economist and a former co-author of mine) shocked me with the question "why are you doing this?

There is a useful part of neoclassical economy related to thinking about an aggregate social phenomena in terms of costs and benefits of individual participants, and that can be sometimes (but not always) as a useful supplementary approach. Bastartized version of this notion which tries to imply cost-benefit motives in all human interactions is called Freakonomics. Still you can view some choices people make as tradeoffs between desired goals and social constraints (which can interpreted as costs). 

Still neoclassical economics as practiced by Chicago school  is driven by ideology and financed by financial oligarchy.

And like  Trofim Lysenko and his followers those people are as close to criminals as one can get.  Like Rabbies and Catholic Priests can be criminals, the same is true about people in academic mantles. Corruption of academics is nothing new, but corruption of economists is a very dangerous mass form of  white-collar crime as close to Madoff  and his associates as one can get. This is the way we should look at the Chicago schools: kind of incarnation of Lysenko henchmen or, if you wish, Chicago mafia in a university environment. Actually similar way of thinking can be applied to Harvard (see Harvard Mafia, Andrei Shleifer and the economic rape of Russia ).

Is neoclassical economics a mafia? Sort of, says Christopher Hayes in a very well-written and very interesting piece in The Nation. He says orthodox economists are a close-knit group and are quick to penalize those among them or from outside who overstep the boundaries. Here is an excerpt:

So extreme is the marginalization of heterodox economists, most people don't even know they exist. Despite the fact that as many as one in five professional economists belongs to a professional association that might be described as heterodox, the phrase "heterodox economics" has appeared exactly once in the New York Times since 1981. During that same period "intelligent design," a theory endorsed by not a single published, peer-reviewed piece of scholarship, has appeared 367 times.

It doesn't take much to call forth an impressive amount of bile from heterodox economists toward their mainstream brethren. John Tiemstra, president of the Association for Social Economics and a professor at Calvin College, summed up his feelings this way: "I go to the cocktail parties for my old schools, MIT and Oberlin, and people are all excited about Freakonomics. I kind of wince and go off to another corner or have another drink." After the EPI gathering, Peter Dorman, an economist at Evergreen State College with a gentle, bearded air, related an e-mail exchange he once had with Hal Varian, a well-respected Berkeley economist who's moderately liberal but firmly committed to the neoclassical approach. Varian wrote to Dorman that there was no point in presenting "both sides" of the debate about trade, because one side--the view that benefits from unfettered trade are absolute--was like astronomy, while any other view was like astrology. "So I told him I didn't buy the traditional trade theory," Dorman said. "'Was I an astrologer?' And he said yes!"

Please note that some of the most close to Lysenkoism figures at Chicago, such as Cochrane and Fama, are in the business school rather than the econ department.   And they were key enablers of  Goldman Sacks and Co. looters. Deregulation wave was promoted by right wing extremists who recruited corrupted academicians like Milton Friedman to perform specific role of Trojan horse to undermine New Deal.  He managed to made the "invisible hand" a prefect pocket picker!  And the method of spreading influence was essentially borrowed from the Lysenko book: control the economic department and those who went to college and studied those theories in the 70’s and 80’s would then go to Wall St and Government and enact them. Control the key academic magazines and conferences and any aspiring economists need either to conform or leave the field.

Here is one telling comment about corruption of those modern day Lysenkoists in the blog Crooked Timber

ogmb 09.18.09 at 12:01 pm

...Cochrane is the AQR Capital Management Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth [formerly Graduate] School of Business. Which incidentally also makes his whining that Krugman ‘accuses us literally of adopting ideas for pay, selling out for “sabbaticals at the Hoover institution” and fat “Wall street paychecks”’ a bit malnourished in the introspection department, coming from someone who holds a chair sponsored by a quantitative trading firm at a school sponsored by the founder of an EMH investment firm. (Nevermind that Krugman never, literally or otherwise, accused Cochrane and his peers of selling out to Wall Street…)

In this ideology Milton Friedman has playied the role of false prophet. Surrounded by "lesser giants" of neoclassical economics,  producing continued stream of detached from reality papers and speeches. It also includes several clown who as Krugman noted have some qualities of irritable adolescents, but actually are proper heirs of Academician Trofim Lysenko:

And that same adolescent quality was evident in the reactions to the Obama administration’s attempts to deal with the crisis — as Brad DeLong points out, people like Robert Lucas and John Cochrane (not to mention Richard Posner, who isn’t a macroeconomist but gets his take from his colleagues) didn’t say that when serious scholars like Christina Romer based policy recommendations on Keynesian economics, they were wrong; the freshwater crowd declared that anyone with Keynesian views was, by definition, either a fool or intellectually dishonest. So the freshwater outrage over finding their own point of view criticized is, you might think, a classic case of people who can dish it out but can’t take it.
But it’s actually even worse than that.
When freshwater macro came in, there was an active purge of competing views: students were not exposed, at all, to any alternatives. People like Prescott boasted that Keynes was never mentioned in their graduate programs. And what has become clear in the recent debate — for example, in the assertion that Ricardian equivalence rules out any effect from government spending changes, which is just wrong — is that the freshwater side not only turned Keynes into an unperson, but systematically ignored the work being done in the New Keynesian vein. Nobody who had read, say, Obstfeld and Rogoff would have been as clueless about the logic of temporary fiscal expansion as these guys have been. Freshwater macro became totally insular.And hence the most surprising thing in the debate over fiscal stimulus: the raw ignorance that has characterized so many of the freshwater comments. Above all, we’ve seen the phenomenon of well-known economists “rediscovering” Say’s Law and the Treasury view (the view that government cannot affect the overall level of demand), not because they’ve transcended the Keynesian refutation of these views, but because they were unaware that there had ever been such a debate.It’s a sad story. And the even sadder thing is that it’s very unlikely that anything will change: freshwater macro will get even more insular, and its devotees will wonder why nobody in the real world of policy and action pays any attention to what they say.

The proper label for neo-classical economics might be "theological voluntarism", the term which has some academic aura... There are several issues here:

  1. Excessive dependence or even open prostitution to the financial oligarchy. It's deplorable but probably unavoidable as the grip of financial community of economic profession does not requires any additional commentary. Also there are always exceptions to the rule.
  2. Mathematical masturbation instead of science (Mathiness). When, for example, a paper that propose even a linear equation (or God forbid differential equation) does not provide any estimate of errors of input data such a paper in a narrow sense can be called mathematical masturbation. Classic example here would be any paper that has inflation as an input variable. In a more broad sense this occurs when research paper contains results or mathematical model which rely on idealised, with little connections to reality postulates about the structure of economic activities. Many supply/demand models belong to this category as they rely on existence of equilibrium between supply and demand and/or are ignoring Minsky instability hypothesis. Most neo-classical economics can be called a theory in a desperate search for suitable reality.
  3. Relying on discredited and openly anti-scientific assumptions or hypothesis. Examples include, but not limited to "supply side voodoo", "monetarism", "Taylor rule", "permanent equilibrium fallacy", "invisible hand" (both as a postulate about absence of manipulation of the markets and the idea that "free markets lead to efficient outcomes" disregarding the role of government and almost permanent government intervention as well as issues of economic rent and taxation of participants to support an aristocracy or oligarchy).

Chicago (or as some called it freshwater) school specializes in deification of the market (often in the form of "invisible hand" deification, see The Invisible Hand, Trumped by Darwin - NYTimes.com). 

The Measured Version of My Screaming
John Quiggin finally makes explicit What Everyone Knows: that the clusterfuck that has been made of Macroeconomics is due largely to an attempt to leverage (insufficiently robust) Microeconomic Theory:
the search for a macroeconomic theory founded on (roughly) neoclassical micro, which has been the main direction of macro research for 40 years or so, was a wrong turning, forcing us to retrace our steps and look for another route.
Think Lucas and Prescott as Mirror-Moses, leading gullible Macroites further and further from the Promised Land, themselves evermore unable to ask for directions.* Couldn't have said it better, or with so few expletives, myself. But then, that's why he has a book contract.

Read the Whole Thing.

Here are some postulates of Chicago school as described in  Economics: A Clandestine Religion Masquarading As A Science ( The American Monetary Institute):

As Wikipedia noted

...Chicago School economists are associated with Washington Consensus,[12][13] which John Williamson says is "disappointing".[14]

The history of Chicago school is complex (THE CHICAGO SCHOOL):

The "Chicago School" is perhaps one of the better known American "schools" of economics.   In its strictest sense, the "Chicago School"  refers to the approach of the members of the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago over the past century.  In a looser sense, the term "Chicago School" is associated with a particular brand of economics which adheres strictly to Neoclassical price theory in its economic analysis, "free market" libertarianism in much of its policy work and a methodology which is relatively averse to too much mathematical formalism and willing to forego careful general equilibrium reasoning in favor of more results-oriented partial equilibrium analysis.  In recent years, the "Chicago School" has  been associated with "economic imperialism", i.e. the application of economic reasoning to areas traditionally considered the prerogative of other fields such as political science, legal theory, history and sociology.  

The "Chicago School" has had various phases with quite different characteristics.  Nonetheless, the main consistent factor seems to be that it has always held a unique,distinct and influential place in the realm of economics at any time.  In the modern day, under the "Chicago School" umbrella, we can count various further schools of thought which are discussed in more detail elsewhere:  e.g. Monetarism in the 1960s, New Classical/Real Business Cycle macroeconomics from the 1970s until today, and more recently, the New Institutionalism, New Economic History and Law-and-Economics movements.

The University of Chicago was founded in 1892 by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller.   Its initial economics department, under the leadership of the American apologist, J. Laurence Laughlin, counted radical American Institutionalists such as Thorstein Veblen, Wesley Mitchell and John Maurice Clark among its faculty.  In this period, the department was like any other in the United States.

The "Chicago School" really began in the 1920s with the diumvurate of Frank H. Knight and Jacob Viner.  They were, for the most part, theoreticians (Knight more in the Jevonian-Austrian tradition, Viner leaning towards the Marshallian).  In an age when empiricism ruled most of American economics, Knight and Viner set up the economics department at Chicago as a bastion of counter-institutionalism and, as such, the department soon acquired something of a "siege" mentality.    Also at Chicago during this time were the "Mathematical Trio" --   Oskar Lange, Henry Schultz and Paul H. Douglas -- economists with a particular bent for the theoretical approach of the Lausanne School.   Younger faculty included monetary theorists Henry C. Simons and Lloyd Mints.

The characteristics of the early Chicago School of 1920-1950 differ considerably from the later Chicago School.  They were highly suspicious of "positivistic" economic methodology and denounced economic imperialism, arguing for a confined role for economic analysis (esp. Knight).  They were suspicious of the efficiency claims of laissez-faire economics, arguing for it only on a "non-consequential" basis.  They welcomed active government policies to cure recessions (esp. Viner's recommendations on "reinflating" the economy, and Simons's  "Chicago Plan" for counter-cyclical monetary policy), and counted a fully-fledged  socialist in their ranks (Lange).   Furthermore, most of the faculty was not averse to rigorous, theoretical general equilibrium reasoning, but were leading practitioners of the art (Lange, Schultz, Douglas).

However, like the later Chicago School, the early Chicago School was hostile to "alternative" economic paradigms.  For the most part, they did not welcome the Keynesian Revolution in macroeconomics and denounced the Monopolistic Competition approach in microeconomic theory.  To a good extent, the issues these "alternative" paradigms purported to solve, they felt could be handled reasonably well within the confines of Neoclassical theory. 

The economics department underwent an upheaval during the 1940s.  Schultz died with tragic suddenness, Viner left for Princeton, Lange left for political life in Poland and Douglas became a U.S. Senator.  Knight, whose interests were moving away from economic theory, went into semi-retirement, handing the reigns of the department over to Simons, Mints and Director.

There was a new injection of blood during this period as the department tried to regain its bearings.  The first lurch was towards Walrasian economics.  Several students associated with the departed Lange and Schultz remained -- such as Yntema and Mosak -- and Chicago went on to welcome Jacob Marschak, Tjalling Koopmans and the the Cowles Commission right next door.  The Walrasian period lasted until 1955, when it moved (was hounded off?) to Yale.

The 1940s also saw the appointment of development theorists H. Gregg Lewis and Bert F. Hoselitz. These appointments were accompanied by a group of agricultural economists, Theodore W. Schultz, D. Gale Johnson and Walter Nicholls, who had been left Iowa State in protest over one of the most famous violations of academic freedom. Apparently, the powers-that-be of Iowa, home of the American dairy industry, had pressured the university to force a young economist to recant a study in which he had concluded that margarine was no less nutritious than butter.

In the 1960s, the department began to congeal into a new shape, led by George J. Stigler and Milton Friedman.   This is what became the "Second" Chicago School, which is perhaps the most famous and polemical one.  Stigler and Friedman were avowed Marshallians, and eschewed the methodology of the now-departed Walrasians of the Cowles Commission.  As the contemporary ditty went:

"I read my Marshall completely through
From beginning to end and backward too
I read my Marshall so carefully
That now I am Professor at U of C". 

The Stigler-Friedman period was characterized by faithful adherence to Neoclassical economics and maintained itself dead against the concept of market failures, reinforcing the Chicago School stance against  imperfect competition and Keynesian economics. Through their influential journals -- notably, the Journal of Political Economy and the Journal of Law and Economics -- the research programme of the Chicago School was advanced and diffused.  It was the Second Chicago School that is often accused of being the modern version of  Manchester School liberalism (or, as some maintain, the more conservative tradition of  American apologism).

In microeconomics, led by George Stigler, the guiding maxim in the Chicago approach was to preserve the Neoclassical paradigm whenever possible, never to doubt it. When there is no obvious solution to a particular problem, the recommended course was to extend the Neoclassical paradigm by incorporating new concepts into it that would make the subject matter amenable to economic analysis. Examples of extensions to the Neoclassical paradigm conceived by Chicago economists are search theory (due to George Stigler), human capital theory (due to Gary Becker and T.W. Schultz) and property rights/transaction cost theory (due to Ronald H. Coase).  

The Chicago School's impulse for extension of Neoclassical price theory is largely responsible for the "imperialist" character of which it is often accused.   Business and finance, previously the prerogative of practitioners and business schools, were brought into the economic spotlight by Chicago economists such as A.W. Wallis, Harry Markowitz, Merton H. Miller and Eugene F. Fama.  Further afield, political science and institutional theory were brought into Neoclassical economics by Chicago School economists such as G.J. Stigler, R.H. Coase, James Buchanan, Armen Alchian and Harold Demsetz.  Economic history were given a Neoclassical reading by Robert W. Fogel and Douglas C. North, while the Chicago Law School (esp. Richard Posner and William M. Landes) used economics to rethink swathes of legal theory.  Perhaps most famously, sociological issues like addiction, family and even marriage were given a thoroughly economic interpretation in the hands of Gary S. Becker and Jacob Mincer.

[Naturally, not all the "Chicago School" economists are at the University of Chicago, e.g. Alchian, Mincer, North, etc., but it is not unreasonable to argue that they are part of that school of thought.]

[George P. Shultz, better known as the Secretary of Labor and subsequently of the Treasury under Richard Nixon and later Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, Shultz was also professor of industrial relations and later dean of the Business School at Chicago during the 1960s.]

[It is revealing that the adamantly anti-imperialist Friedrich A. von Hayek,  who was at Chicago during the 1950s, was confined to an appointment on an interdisciplinary "Committee on Social Thought", rather than the economics department proper.  Walrasian theory, which has tended to be of more limited scope, has also had very little presence at Chicago over the past half-century: the only theorist to have successfully infiltrated the Chicago citadel was Hugo Sonnenschein, but then he came as president of the university.  With the exception of the work of Lester Telser, the "alternative" paradigm of game theory has also been conspicuously absent until recently.]

In macroeconomics, the most renowned phase of the Chicago School has been that of "Monetarism" under the leadership of Milton Friedman, its best-known advocate. For the longest time, Chicago was the only school in America not swept by the Keynesian Revolution (the presence of Lloyd A. Metzler  for a brief period on the faculty was exceptional). This does not mean that the old Chicago School was opposed to government intervention - indeed, Viner's policy conclusions are at times hard to distinguish from Keynes'sBut in Friedman's Monetarism, it found a theoretical and empirical means by which to begin rolling back the Keynesian revolution. Although prominent in the 1960s, Friedman has always claimed that the main tenets of Monetarism can be found in the work of early Chicago School economists such as Henry Simons.  (see our  survey of Monetarism).

Monetarism has since given way to the more mathematically rigorous "New Classical" economics of Robert E. Lucas in the 1970s and 1980s.  The quantitatively-oriented "Walrasian" flavor of New Classicism meant that the appointments of Robert Lucas, Thomas Sargent, Michael Woodford and Robert Townsend at Chicago met with quite some opposition from the older hands.  Nonetheless, in its policy conclusions and rigorous adherence to Neoclassical theory, the New Classical school remains by most accounts the natural inheritor of the Chicago School mantle in modern macroeconomics.

Despite, or perhaps as a result of, its mischievous but always unique perspective, the University of Chicago has taken in a lion's share of Nobel Prizes in economics: Milton Friedman, T.W. Schultz, G.J.Stigler, R.H. Coase, G.S. Becker, M.H. Miller, R.W. Fogel and R.E.Lucas were all on the Chicago faculty when they received their awards.  If we were to add  Chicago-trained economists, the list of Nobelists would expand to include Hebert Simon, James Buchanan, Harry Markowitz and Myron Scholes.

Early Chicago of 1892 - 1920s

The First Chicago School of 1920-1945

Post-War Chicago of the 1945-1960

The Second Chicago School of the 1960s-1970s

The Third Chicago School (1970s-Today)

Chicago Business and Finance

Resources on the Chicago School


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[Oct 05, 2019] Everything is fake in the current neoliberal discourse, be it political or economic, and it is not that easy to understand how they are deceiving us. Lies that are so sophisticated that often it is impossible to tell they are actually lies, not facts

Highly recommended!
Oct 05, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

likbez -> anne... , October 05, 2019 at 04:40 PM

Anne,

Let me serve as a devil advocate here.

Japan has a shrinking population. Can you explain to me why on the Earth they need economic growth?

This preoccupation with "growth" (with narrow and false one dimensional and very questionable measurements via GDP, which includes the FIRE sector) is a fallacy promoted by neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism proved to be quite sophisticated religions with its own set of True Believers in Eric Hoffer's terminology.

A lot of current economic statistics suffer from "mathiness".

For example, the narrow definition of unemployment used in U3 is just a classic example of pseudoscience in full bloom. It can be mentioned only if U6 mentioned first. Otherwise, this is another "opium for the people" ;-) An attempt to hide the real situation in the neoliberal "job market" in which has sustained real unemployment rate is always over 10% and which has a disappearing pool of well-paying middle-class jobs. Which produced current narco-epidemics (in 2018, 1400 people were shot in half a year in Chicago ( http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-met-weekend-shooting-violence-20180709-story.html ); imagine that). While I doubt that people will hang Pelosi on the street post, her successor might not be so lucky ;-)

Everything is fake in the current neoliberal discourse, be it political or economic, and it is not that easy to understand how they are deceiving us. Lies that are so sophisticated that often it is impossible to tell they are actually lies, not facts. The whole neoliberal society is just big an Empire of Illusions, the kingdom of lies and distortions.

I would call it a new type of theocratic state if you wish.

And probably only one in ten, if not one in a hundred economists deserve to be called scientists. Most are charlatans pushing fake papers on useless conferences.

It is simply amazing that the neoliberal society, which is based on "universal deception," can exist for so long.

[Oct 03, 2019] Infectious Narratives in Economics

Oct 03, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

anne , October 02, 2019 at 06:25 AM

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-10-01/robert-shiller-on-infectious-narratives-in-economics-excerpt

October 1, 2019

Infectious Narratives in Economics
By Robert Shiller - Bloomberg

"Narrative EconomicsHow Stories Go Viral & Drive Major Economic Events"

Concerns that inventions of new machines powered by water, wind, horse, or steam, or that use human power more efficiently, might replace workers and cause massive unemployment have an extremely long history, going back to ancient times. Aristotle imagined a future in which "the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them." In such a world, "chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves," he concluded.

Still, it wasn't until the 19th century, an era that brought innovations such as the water-powered textile loom, the mechanical thresher, and the Corliss steam engine, that concerns about technology-based unemployment took center stage. The narrative was particularly contagious during economic depressions when many were unemployed.

The phrase "technological unemployment" first appeared in 1917, but it started its epidemic upswing in 1928. The count for "technological unemployment" skyrockets in the 1930s in Google Ngrams, tracing a hump-shaped pattern, rising through time for a while and then falling, much as is regularly seen with infection diseases. The "technological unemployment" curve peaked in 1933, the worst year of the Great Depression.

Frequency of Appearance
Appearances in books, as a share of all words

[Graph]

It is curious that the narrative epidemic of technological unemployment began in 1928, a time of prosperity before the Great Depression. How did the epidemic start? In March 1928, U.S. Senator Robert Wagner stated his belief that unemployment was much higher than recognized, and he asked the Department of Labor to do a study. Later that month the department delivered the study that produced the first official unemployment rates published by the U.S. government. The study estimated that there were 1,874,030 unemployed people in the United States and 23,348,602 wage earners, implying an unemployment rate of 7.4%. This high estimated unemployment rate came at a time of great prosperity, and it led people to question what would cause such high unemployment amidst abundance.

A month later, the Baltimore Sun ran an article referring to the theories of Sumner H. Slichter, who in later decades became a prominent labor economist. In the article, readers are told that Slichter noted several causes of unemployment but said technological unemployment was "at present the most serious." The reason: "We are eliminating jobs through labor-saving methods faster than we are creating them." These words, alongside the new official reporting of unemployment statistics, created a contagion of the idea that a new era of technological unemployment had arrived. The earlier agricultural depression, with its associated fears of labor-saving machinery, began to look like a model for an industrial depression to follow.

Stuart Chase, who later coined the term the "New Deal," published Men and Machines in May 1929, during a period of rapidly rising stock prices. The real, inflation-corrected, U.S. stock market, as measured by the S&P Composite Index, rose a final 20% in the five months after the book's publication, before the infamous October 1929 crash. But concerns about rising unemployment were apparent even during the boom period. According to Chase, we were approaching the "zero hour of accelerating unemployment":

Machinery saves labour in a given process; one man replaces ten. A certain number of these men are needed to build and service a new machine, but some of them are permanently displaced.   If purchasing power has reached its limits of expansion because mechanization is progressing at an unheard of rate, only unemployment can result. In other words, from now on, the better able we are to produce, the worse we shall be off.  This is the economy of the madhouse.

This is significant: The narrative of out-of-control unemployment was already starting to go viral before there was any sign of the stock market crash of 1929.

During the week before the October 28–29 stock market crash, a national business show was running in New York in a convention center (since demolished) adjacent to Grand Central Station that many Wall Street people passed through to and from work. The show emphasized immense progress in robot technology in the office workplace. After the show moved to Chicago in November, the following description appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

Exhibits in the national business show yesterday revealed that the business office of the future will be a factory in which machines will replace the human element, when the robot -- the mechanical man -- will be the principal office worker. 

There were addressers, autographers, billers, calculators, cancelers, binders, coin changers, form printers, duplicators, envelope sealers and openers, folders, labelers, mail meters, pay roll machines, tabulators, transcribers, and other mechanical marvels. 

A typewriting machine pounded out letters in forty different languages. A portable computing machine which could be carried by a traveling salesman was on exhibit.

By 1930 the crash itself was often attributed to the surplus of goods made possible by new technology. According to the Washington Post, "When the climax was reached in the last months of 1929 a period of adversity was inevitable because the people did not have enough money to buy the surplus goods which they had produced."

Fear of robots was not strong in most of the 1920s, when the word robot was coined. Historian Amy Sue Bix offers a theory to explain why this was so: The kinds of innovations that received popular acclaim in the 1920s didn't obviously replace jobs. If asked to describe new technology, people would perhaps think first of the Model T Ford, whose sales had burgeoned to 1.5 million cars a year by the early part of the decade. Radio stations, which first appeared around 1920, provided an exciting new form of information and entertainment, but they did not obviously replace many existing jobs. More and more homes were getting wired for electricity, with many possibilities for new gadgets that required electricity.

By the 1930s, Bix notes, the news had replaced stories of exciting new consumer products with stories of job-replacing innovations. Dial telephones replaced switchboard operators. Mammoth continuous-strip steel mills replaced steel workers. New loading equipment replaced coal workers. Breakfast cereal producers bought machines that automatically filled cereal boxes. Telegraphs became automatic. Armies of linotype machines in multiple cities allowed one central operator to set type for printing newspapers by remote control. New machines dug ditches. Airplanes had robot copilots. Concrete mixers laid and spread new roads. Tractors and reaper-thresher combines created a new agricultural revolution. Sound movies began to replace the orchestras that played at movie theaters. And, of course, the decade of the 1930s saw massive unemployment in the United States, with the unemployment rate reaching an estimated 25% in 1933.

It is difficult to know which came first, the chicken or the egg. Were all these stories of job-threatening innovations spurred by the exceptional pace of such innovations? Or did the stories reflect a change in the news media's interest in such innovations because of public concern about technological unemployment? The likely answer is "a little of both."

The "labor-saving machines" narrative was strongly connected to an underconsumption or overproduction theory: the idea that people couldn't possibly consume all of the output produced by machines, with chronic unemployment the inevitable result. The theory's origins date to the 1600s, but it picked up steam in the 1920s. It was mentioned in newspaper articles within days of the stock market crash of October 28–29, 1929.

The real peak of these narratives was in the 1930s, during which time they appeared five times as often as in any other decade, according to a search of Proquest's database of newspapers.

The topic now appears largely in articles about the history of economic thought, but it is worth considering why it had such a strong hold on the popular imagination during the Great Depression, why the narrative epidemic could recur, and the appropriate mutations or environmental changes that would increase contagion.

Today, underconsumption sounds like a bland technical phrase, but it had considerable emotional charge during the Great Depression, as it symbolized a deep injustice and collective folly. At the time it was mostly a popular theory, not an academic theory.

In the 1932 presidential campaign, Franklin Roosevelt ran against incumbent Herbert Hoover, who had been unsuccessful with deficit spending to restore the economy. Roosevelt gave a speech in which he articulated the already-popular theory of underconsumption. His masterstroke was putting it in the form of a story inspired by Lewis Carroll's famous children's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In that book, a bright and inquisitive little girl named Alice meets many strange creatures that talk in nonsense and self-contradictions. Roosevelt's version of this story replaced his opponent with the Jabberwock, a speaker of nonsense:

A puzzled, somewhat skeptical Alice asked the Republican leadership some simple questions.

Will not the printing and selling of more stocks and bonds, the building of new plants and the increase of efficiency produce more goods than we can buy? No, shouted the Jabberwock, the more we produce the more we can buy.

What if we produce a surplus? Oh, we can sell it to foreign consumers.

How can the foreigners buy it? Why we will lend them the money.

Of course, these foreigners will pay us back by sending us their goods? Oh, not at all, says Humpty Dumpty. We sit on a high wall called a tariff.

How will the foreigners pay off these loans? That is easy. Did you ever hear of a moratorium?

On the face of it, underconsumption seemed to explain the high unemployment of the Great Depression, but academic economists never seriously embraced the theory, which had never been soundly explained.

The massive unemployment caused by the Great Depression set off serious social problems. For example, in the United States it caused the forced deportation (then called repatriation) of a million workers of Mexican origin. The goal was to free up jobs for "real" Americans. The popular narrative supported these deportations, and there was little public protest. Newspaper reports showed photos of happy Mexican Americans waving goodbye at the train station on their way back to their original home to help the Mexican nation.

The dial telephone also played an important part in narratives about unemployment and the associated underconsumption. During the Great Depression, there rose a narrative focus on the loss of telephone operators' jobs, and the transition to dial telephones was troubled by moral qualms that by adopting the dial phone one was complicit in destroying a job. Three weeks after dial phones were installed in the U.S. Senate in 1930, Senator Carter Glass introduced a resolution to have them torn out and replaced with the older phones. Noting that operators' jobs would be lost, he expressed true moral indignation against the new phones:

I ask unanimous consent to take from the table Senate resolution 74 directing the sergeant at arms to have these abominable dial telephones taken out on the Senate side .  I object to being transformed into one of the employees of the telephone company without compensation.

His resolution passed, and the dial phones were removed. It is hard to imagine that such a resolution would have passed if the nation had not been experiencing high unemployment. This story fed a contagious economic narrative that helped augment the atmosphere of fear associated with the contraction in aggregate demand during the Great Depression.

The loss of jobs to robots (that is, automation) became a major explanation of the Great Depression, and, hence, a perceived major cause of it. Even if the man hasn't lost his job yet, he will consume less owing to the prospect or possibility of losing his job. The U.S. presidential candidate who lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928, Al Smith, wrote in the Boston Globe in 1931:

We know now that much unemployment can be directly traced to the growing use of machinery intended to replace man power.   The human psychology of it is simple and understandable to everybody. A man who is not sure of his job will not spend his money. He will rather hoard it and it is difficult to blame him for so doing as against the day of want.

Albert Einstein, the world's most celebrated physicist, believed this narrative, saying in 1933 that the Great Depression was the result of technical progress:

According to my conviction it cannot be doubted that the severe economic depression is to be traced back for the most part to internal economic causes; the improvement in the apparatus of production through technical invention and organization has decreased the need for human labor, and thereby caused the elimination of a part of labor from the economic circuit, and thereby caused a progressive decrease in the purchasing power of the consumers.

By that time, people had begun to label labor-saving inventions as "robots," even if there were no mechanical men to be seen. One article in the Los Angeles Times in early 1931, about a year into the Great Depression, said that robots then were already the "equivalent of 80 million hand-workers in the United States alone," while the male labor force was only 40 million.

Though the technological unemployment narrative faded after 1935 (as revealed by Google Ngrams), it did not go away completely. Instead, it continued to exert some influence in the runup to World War II, until new narrative constellations about the war became contagious.

Many historians point to massive unemployment in Germany to explain the accession to power of the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler in the election of 1933, the worst year of the Depression. But rarely mentioned today is the fact that a Nazi Party official promised that year to make it illegal in Germany to replace men with machines.

To go viral again, the labor-saving machines narrative needed a new twist after World War II, a twist that could seem to reinforce the newly rediscovered appreciation of human intelligence, and, ultimately, of the human brain. The narrative turned to the new "electronic brains" -- that is, computers.

anne -> anne... , October 02, 2019 at 06:29 AM
Correcting spacing:

Narrative Economics
How Stories Go Viral & Drive Major Economic Events
By Robert Shiller

[Sep 26, 2019] The real trouble with Capitalism: stupid/corrupt economists

Sep 26, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke , September 25, 2019 at 02:30 PM

ICYMI

The real trouble with Capitalism: stupid/corrupt economists
Comment on Chris Dillow on 'The trouble with capitalism'

For the full text (4950 characters) see here
https://axecorg.blogspot.com/2019/09/the-real-trouble-with-capitalism.html

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

likbez -> Egmont Kakarot-Handtke ... , September 25, 2019 at 05:39 PM
Great, thank you !

I would argue that

(1) They are not stupid, they were simply bought

(2) This is not Capitalism, this is Neoliberalism.

But with those minor modifications you point stands: "The real trouble with Neoliberalism: bought/corrupt economists" ... "And this means that [neoliberal/neo-classical] economics is proto-scientific garbage."

Here is an extended quote from your comment so that people can more fully appreciate this line of thinking:

== quote ==

Chris Dillow quotes Martin Wolf: "What we increasingly seem to have is an unstable rentier capitalism, weakened competition, feeble productivity growth, high inequality and, not coincidentally, an increasingly degraded democracy."

Chris Dillow then sets out to explain the trouble with Capitalism: "The Bank of England has given us a big clue here. It points out that the rising profit share (a strong sign of increased monopoly) is largely confined to the US. In the UK, the share of profits in GDP has flatlined in recent years. Few, however, would argue that UK capitalism is less dysfunctional than its US counterpart. Which suggests that the problem with capitalism is not increased monopoly. So what is it? Here, I commend some brilliant work by Michael Roberts. Many of the faults Martin discusses have their origin in a declining rate of profit ― a decline which became acute in the 1970s but which was never wholly reversed."

The whole intellectual/moral misery of economists is contained in this paragraph. Chris Dillow's explanation starts with the "share of profits in GDP" and ends with the "rate of profit". Not only are these entirely different things but macroeconomic profit is not defined, to begin with.

The simple reason is that neither Chris Dillow nor Martin Wolf nor Michael Roberts knows what profit is.#1 This sad fate they share with Walrasians, Keynesians, Marxians, Austrians, and MMTers. The dirty secret of economics is that since Adam Smith/Karl Marx economists do not know what profit is.#2, #3

And this means that economics is proto-scientific garbage but economists have not realized it to this day.

... ... ...
== end ==

[Sep 25, 2019] Capitalism, Alone: Four important -- but somewhat hidden -- themes by Branko Milanovic

Sep 25, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

anne , September 24, 2019 at 10:26 AM

https://glineq.blogspot.com/2019/09/capitalism-alone-four-important-but.html

September 24, 2019

Capitalism, Alone: Four important--but somewhat hidden--themes

I review here four important, but perhaps not immediately apparent, themes from my Capitalism, Alone. The book contains many other, more topical, subjects that are likely to attract readers' and reviewers' attention much more than the somewhat abstract or philosophical issues briefly reviewed here.

1. Capitalism as the only mode of production in the world. During the previous high point of the British-led globalization, capitalism shared the world with various feudal or feudal-like systems characterized with unfree labor: forced labor was abolished in Austria-Hungary in 1848, serfdom in Russia in 1861, slavery ended in the US in 1865, and in Brazil only in 1888, And labor tied to land continued to exist in India and to a lesser degree in China. Then, after 1917, capitalism had to share the world with communism which, at its peak, included almost a third of the world population. It is only after 1989, that capitalism is not only a dominant, but the sole, system of organizing production (Chapter 1).

2. The global historical role of communism. The existence of capitalism (economic way to organize society) throughout the world does not imply that the political systems must be organized in the same way everywhere. The origins of political systems are very different. In China and Vietnam, communism was the tool whereby indigenous capitalism was introduced (explained below). The difference in the "genesis" of capitalism, that is, in the way capitalism was "created" in various countries explains why there are at least two types of capitalism today. I am doubtful that there would ever be a single type of capitalism covering the entire globe.

To understand the point about the different origins, one needs to start from the question of the role of communism in global history and thus from the interpretation (histoire raisonéee) of the 20th century (Chapter 3).

There are two major narratives of the 20th century: liberal and Marxist; they are both "Jerusalem"-like in the Russian philosopher Berdiaff's terminology. They see the world evolving from less developed toward more developed stages ending in either a terminus of liberal capitalist democracy or Communism (society of plenty).

Both narratives face significant problems in the interpretation of the 20th century. Liberal narrative is unable to explain the outbreak of the First World War which, given the liberal arguments about the spread of capitalism, (peaceful) trade, and interdependence between countries and individuals that ostensibly abhor conflict should never have happened, and certainly not in the way it did -- namely by involving in the most destructive war up to date all advanced capitalism countries. Second, liberal narrative treats both fascism and communism as essentially "mistakes" (cul de sacs) on the road to a chiliastic liberal democracy without providing much of reasoning as to why these two "mistakes" happened. Thus the liberal explanations for both the outbreak of the War and the two "cul de sacs" are often ad hoc, emphasizing the role of individual actors or idiosyncratic events.

Marxist interpretation of the 20th century is much more convincing in both its explanation of World War I (imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism) and fascism (an attempt by the weakened bourgeoise to thwart left-wing revolutions). But Marxist view is entirely powerless to explain 1989, the fall of communist regimes, and hence unable to provide any explanation for the role of communism in global history. The fall of communism, in a strict Marxist view of the world, is an abomination, as inexplicable as if a feudal society having had experienced a bourgeois revolution of rights were suddenly to "regress" and to reimpose serfdom and the tripartite class division. Marxism has therefore given up trying to provide an explanation for the 20th century history.

The reason for this failure lies in the fact that Marxism never made a meaningful distinction between standard Marxist schemes regarding the succession of socio-economic formations (what I call the Western Path of Development, WPD) and the evolution of poorer and colonized countries. Classical Marxism never asked seriously whether the WPD is applicable in their case. It believed that poorer and colonized countries will simply follow, with a time lag, the developments in the advanced countries, and that colonization and indeed imperialism will produce the capitalist transformation of these societies. This was Marx's explicit view on the role of English colonialism in Asia. But colonialism proved too weak for such a global task, and succeeded in introducing capitalism only in small entropot enclaves such as Hong Kong, Singapore and parts of South Africa.

Enabling colonized countries to effect both their social and national liberations (note there was never a need for the latter in advanced countries) was the world-historical role of communism. It was only Communist or left-wing parties that could prosecute successfully both revolutions. The national revolution meant political independence. The social revolution meant abolishment of feudal growth-inhibiting institutions (power of usurious landlords, labor tied to land, gender discrimination, lack of access to education by the poor, religious turpitude etc.). Communism thus cleared the path for the development of indigenous capitalism. Functionally, in the colonized Third World societies, it played the same role that domestic bourgeoisies played in the West. For indigenous capitalism could be established only once feudal institutions were swept away.

The concise definition of communism is hence: communism is a social system that enabled backward and colonized societies to abolish feudalism, regain economic and political independence, and build indigenous capitalism.

3. The global dominion of capitalism was made possible thanks to (and in turn it exacerbates) certain human traits that, from an ethical point, are questionable . Much greater commercialization and greater wealth have in many ways made us more polished in our manners (as per Montesquieu) but have done so using what were traditionally regarded as vices -- desire for pleasure, power and profit (as per Mandeville). Vices are both fundamental for hyper-commercialized capitalism to be "born" and are supported by it. Philosophers accept them not because they are by themselves desirable, but because allowing their limited exercise allows the achievement of a greater social good: material affluence (Smith; Hume).

Yet the contrast between acceptable behavior in hyper-commercialized world and traditional concepts of justice, ethics, shame, honor, and loss of face, create a chasm which is filled with hypocrisy; one cannot openly accept that one has sold for a sum of money his/her right to free speech or ability to disagree with one's boss, and thus arises the need to cover up these facts with lies or misrepresentation of reality.

From the book:

"The domination of capitalism as the best, or rather the only, way to organize production and distribution seems absolute. No challenger appears in sight. Capitalism gained this position thanks to its ability, through the appeal to self-interest and desire to own property, to organize people so that they managed, in a decentralized fashion, to create wealth and increase the standard of living of an average human being on the planet by many times -- something that only a century ago was considered almost utopian.

But this economic success made more acute the discrepancy between the ability to live better and longer lives and the lack of a commensurate increase in morality, or even happiness. The greater material abundance did make people's manners and behavior to each other better: since elementary needs, and much more than that, were satisfied, people no longer needed to engage in a Hobbesian struggle of all against all. Manners became more polished, people more considerate.

But this external polish was achieved at the cost of people being increasingly driven by self-interest alone, even in many ordinary and personal affairs. The capitalist spirit, a testimony to the generalized success of capitalism, penetrated deeply into people's individual lives. Since extending capitalism to family and intimate life was antithetical to centuries-old views about sacrifice, hospitality, friendship, family ties, and the like, it was not easy to openly accept that all such norms had become superseded by self-interest. This unease created a huge area where hypocrisy reigned. Thus, ultimately, the material success of capitalism came to be associated with a reign of half-truths in our private lives."

4. Capitalist system cannot be changed. The dominion of hyper-commercial capitalism was established thanks to our desire to permanently keep on improving our material conditions, to keep on getting richer, a desire which capitalism satisfies the best. This has led to the creation of a system of values that puts monetary success as its top. In many ways it is a desirable evolution because "believing" in money alone does away with other traditional and discriminatory hierarchical markers.

In order for capitalism to exist it needs to grow and to expand to ever new areas and new products. But capitalism exists not outside of us, as a external system. It is individuals, that is, us, who, in our daily lives, create capitalism and provide it with new fields of action -- so much that we had transformed our homes into capital, and our free time into a resource. This extraordinary commodification of almost all, including what used to be very private, activities was made possible by our internalization of the system of values where money acquisition is placed on the pinnacle. If this were not the case, we would not have commodified practically all that can be (as of now) commodified.

Capitalism, in order to expand, needs greed. Greed has been entirely accepted by us. The economic system and the system of values are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Our system of values enables hyper-commercialized capitalism to function and expand. It then follows that no change in the economic system can be imagined without a change in the system of values that underpins it, which the system promotes, and with which we are, in our everyday activities, fully comfortable. But to produce such a change in values seems, at present, to be an impossible task. It has been tried before and ended in the most ignominious failure. We are thus locked in capitalism. And in our activities, day in, day out, we support and reinforce it.

-- Branko Milanovic

[Sep 22, 2019] Neoliberalism Political Success, Economic Failure Portside by Robert Kuttner

Highly recommended!
The key to the success of neoliberal was a bunch on bought intellectual prostitutes like Milton Friedman and the drive to occupy economic departments of the the universities using money from the financial elite. which along with think tank continued mercenary army of neoliberalism who fought and win the battle with weakened New Del capitalism supporters. After that neoliberalism was from those departments like the centers of infection via indoctrination of each new generation of students. Which is a classic mixture of Bolsheviks methods and Trotskyite theory adapted tot he need of financial oligarchy.
Essentially we see the tragedy of Lysenkoism replayed in the USA. When false theory supported by financial oligarchy and then state forcefully suppressed all other economic thought and became the only politically correct theory in the USA and Western Europe.
Notable quotes:
"... The neoliberal counterrevolution, in theory and policy, has reversed or undermined nearly every aspect of managed capitalism -- from progressive taxation, welfare transfers, and antitrust, to the empowerment of workers and the regulation of banks and other major industries. ..."
"... Neoliberalism's premise is that free markets can regulate themselves; that government is inherently incompetent, captive to special interests, and an intrusion on the efficiency of the market; that in distributive terms, market outcomes are basically deserved; and that redistribution creates perverse incentives by punishing the economy's winners and rewarding its losers. So government should get out of the market's way. ..."
"... Now, after nearly half a century, the verdict is in. Virtually every one of these policies has failed, even on their own terms. ..."
"... Economic power has resulted in feedback loops of political power, in which elites make rules that bolster further concentration. ..."
"... The culprit isn't just "markets" -- some impersonal force that somehow got loose again. This is a story of power using theory. The mixed economy was undone by economic elites, who revised rules for their own benefit. They invested heavily in friendly theorists to bless this shift as sound and necessary economics, and friendly politicians to put those theories into practice. ..."
"... The grand neoliberal experiment of the past 40 years has demonstrated that markets in fact do not regulate themselves. Managed markets turn out to be more equitable and more efficient. ..."
"... The British political economist Colin Crouch captured this anomaly in a book nicely titled The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism . Why did neoliberalism not die? As Crouch observed, neoliberalism failed both as theory and as policy, but succeeded superbly as power politics for economic elites. ..."
"... The neoliberal ascendance has had another calamitous cost -- to democratic legitimacy. As government ceased to buffer market forces, daily life has become more of a struggle for ordinary people. ..."
"... After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, ours was widely billed as an era when triumphant liberal capitalism would march hand in hand with liberal democracy. But in a few brief decades, the ostensibly secure regime of liberal democracy has collapsed in nation after nation, with echoes of the 1930s. ..."
"... As the great political historian Karl Polanyi warned, when markets overwhelm society, ordinary people often turn to tyrants. In regimes that border on neofascist, klepto-capitalists get along just fine with dictators, undermining the neoliberal premise of capitalism and democracy as complements. ..."
"... Classically, the premise of a "free market" is that government simply gets out of the way. This is nonsensical, since all markets are creatures of rules, most fundamentally rules defining property, but also rules defining credit, debt, and bankruptcy; rules defining patents, trademarks, and copyrights; rules defining terms of labor; and so on. Even deregulation requires rules. In Polanyi's words, "laissez-faire was planned." ..."
"... Around the same time, the term neoconservative was used as a self-description by former liberals who embraced conservatism, on cultural, racial, economic, and foreign-policy grounds. Neoconservatives were neoliberals in economics. ..."
"... Lavishly funded centers and tenured chairs were underwritten by the Olin, Scaife, Bradley, and other far-right foundations to promote such variants of free-market theory as law and economics, public choice, rational choice, cost-benefit analysis, maximize-shareholder-value, and kindred schools of thought. These theories colonized several academic disciplines. All were variations on the claim that markets worked and that government should get out of the way. ..."
"... Market failure was dismissed as a rare special case; government failure was said to be ubiquitous. Theorists worked hand in glove with lobbyists and with public officials. But in every major case where neoliberal theory generated policy, the result was political success and economic failure. ..."
"... For example, supply-side economics became the justification for tax cuts, on the premise that taxes punished enterprise. ..."
"... Robert Bork's "antitrust paradox," holding that antitrust enforcement actually weakened competition, was used as the doctrine to sideline the Sherman and Clayton Acts. Supposedly, if government just got out of the way, market forces would remain more competitive because monopoly pricing would invite innovation and new entrants to the market. In practice, industry after industry became more heavily concentrated. ..."
"... Human capital theory, another variant of neoliberal application of markets to partly social questions, justified deregulating labor markets and crushing labor unions. Unions supposedly used their power to get workers paid more than their market worth. Likewise minimum wage laws. But the era of depressed wages has actually seen a decline in rates of productivity growth ..."
"... Financial deregulation is neoliberalism's most palpable deregulatory failure, but far from the only one ..."
"... Air travel has been a poster child for advocates of deregulation, but the actual record is mixed at best. Airline deregulation produced serial bankruptcies of every major U.S. airline, often at the cost of worker pay and pension funds. ..."
"... Ticket prices have declined on average over the past two decades, but the traveling public suffers from a crazy quilt of fares, declining service, shrinking seats and legroom, and exorbitant penalties for the perfectly normal sin of having to change plans. ..."
"... A similar example is the privatization of transportation services such as highways and even parking meters. In several Midwestern states, toll roads have been sold to private vendors. The governor who makes the deal gains a temporary fiscal windfall, while drivers end up paying higher tolls often for decades. Investment bankers who broker the deal also take their cut. Some of the money does go into highway improvements, but that could have been done more efficiently in the traditional way via direct public ownership and competitive bidding. ..."
"... The Affordable Care Act is a form of voucher. But the regulated private insurance markets in the ACA have not fully lived up to their promise, in part because of the extensive market power retained by private insurers and in part because the right has relentlessly sought to sabotage the program -- another political feedback loop. The sponsors assumed that competition would lower costs and increase consumer choice. But in too many counties, there are three or fewer competing plans, and in some cases just one. ..."
"... In practice, this degenerates into an infinite regress of regulator versus commercial profit-maximizer, reminiscent of Mad magazine's "Spy versus Spy," with the industry doing end runs to Congress to further rig the rules. Straight-ahead public insurance such as Medicare is generally far more efficient. ..."
"... Several forms of deregulation -- of airlines, trucking, and electric power -- began not under Reagan but under Carter. Financial deregulation took off under Bill Clinton. Democratic presidents, as much as Republicans, promoted trade deals that undermined social standards. Cost-benefit analysis by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) was more of a choke point under Barack Obama than under George W. Bush. ..."
"... Dozens of nations, from Latin America to East Asia, went through this cycle of boom, bust, and then IMF pile-on. Greece is still suffering the impact. ..."
"... In fact, Japan, South Korea, smaller Asian nations, and above all China had thrived by rejecting every major tenet of neoliberalism. Their capital markets were tightly regulated and insulated from foreign speculative capital. They developed world-class industries as state-led cartels that favored domestic production and supply. East Asia got into trouble only when it followed IMF dictates to throw open capital markets, and in the aftermath they recovered by closing those markets and assembling war chests of hard currency so that they'd never again have to go begging to the IMF ..."
"... The basic argument of neoliberalism can fit on a bumper sticker. Markets work; governments don't . If you want to embellish that story, there are two corollaries: Markets embody human freedom. And with markets, people basically get what they deserve; to alter market outcomes is to spoil the poor and punish the productive. That conclusion logically flows from the premise that markets are efficient. Milton Friedman became rich, famous, and influential by teasing out the several implications of these simple premises. ..."
"... The failed neoliberal experiment also makes the case not just for better-regulated capitalism but for direct public alternatives as well. Banking, done properly, especially the provision of mortgage finance, is close to a public utility. Much of it could be public. ..."
Aug 25, 2019 | portside.org
The invisible hand is more like a thumb on the scale for the world's elites. That's why market fundamentalism has been unmasked as bogus economics but keeps winning politically. This article appears in the Summer 2019 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here .

Since the late 1970s, we've had a grand experiment to test the claim that free markets really do work best. This resurrection occurred despite the practical failure of laissez-faire in the 1930s, the resulting humiliation of free-market theory, and the contrasting success of managed capitalism during the three-decade postwar boom.

Yet when growth faltered in the 1970s, libertarian economic theory got another turn at bat. This revival proved extremely convenient for the conservatives who came to power in the 1980s. The neoliberal counterrevolution, in theory and policy, has reversed or undermined nearly every aspect of managed capitalism -- from progressive taxation, welfare transfers, and antitrust, to the empowerment of workers and the regulation of banks and other major industries.

Neoliberalism's premise is that free markets can regulate themselves; that government is inherently incompetent, captive to special interests, and an intrusion on the efficiency of the market; that in distributive terms, market outcomes are basically deserved; and that redistribution creates perverse incentives by punishing the economy's winners and rewarding its losers. So government should get out of the market's way.

By the 1990s, even moderate liberals had been converted to the belief that social objectives can be achieved by harnessing the power of markets. Intermittent periods of governance by Democratic presidents slowed but did not reverse the slide to neoliberal policy and doctrine. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party approved.

Now, after nearly half a century, the verdict is in. Virtually every one of these policies has failed, even on their own terms. Enterprise has been richly rewarded, taxes have been cut, and regulation reduced or privatized. The economy is vastly more unequal, yet economic growth is slower and more chaotic than during the era of managed capitalism. Deregulation has produced not salutary competition, but market concentration. Economic power has resulted in feedback loops of political power, in which elites make rules that bolster further concentration.

The culprit isn't just "markets" -- some impersonal force that somehow got loose again. This is a story of power using theory. The mixed economy was undone by economic elites, who revised rules for their own benefit. They invested heavily in friendly theorists to bless this shift as sound and necessary economics, and friendly politicians to put those theories into practice.

Recent years have seen two spectacular cases of market mispricing with devastating consequences: the near-depression of 2008 and irreversible climate change. The economic collapse of 2008 was the result of the deregulation of finance. It cost the real U.S. economy upwards of $15 trillion (and vastly more globally), depending on how you count, far more than any conceivable efficiency gain that might be credited to financial innovation. Free-market theory presumes that innovation is necessarily benign. But much of the financial engineering of the deregulatory era was self-serving, opaque, and corrupt -- the opposite of an efficient and transparent market.

The existential threat of global climate change reflects the incompetence of markets to accurately price carbon and the escalating costs of pollution. The British economist Nicholas Stern has aptly termed the worsening climate catastrophe history's greatest case of market failure. Here again, this is not just the result of failed theory. The entrenched political power of extractive industries and their political allies influences the rules and the market price of carbon. This is less an invisible hand than a thumb on the scale. The premise of efficient markets provides useful cover.

The grand neoliberal experiment of the past 40 years has demonstrated that markets in fact do not regulate themselves. Managed markets turn out to be more equitable and more efficient. Yet the theory and practical influence of neoliberalism marches splendidly on, because it is so useful to society's most powerful people -- as a scholarly veneer to what would otherwise be a raw power grab. The British political economist Colin Crouch captured this anomaly in a book nicely titled The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism . Why did neoliberalism not die? As Crouch observed, neoliberalism failed both as theory and as policy, but succeeded superbly as power politics for economic elites.

The neoliberal ascendance has had another calamitous cost -- to democratic legitimacy. As government ceased to buffer market forces, daily life has become more of a struggle for ordinary people. The elements of a decent middle-class life are elusive -- reliable jobs and careers, adequate pensions, secure medical care, affordable housing, and college that doesn't require a lifetime of debt. Meanwhile, life has become ever sweeter for economic elites, whose income and wealth have pulled away and whose loyalty to place, neighbor, and nation has become more contingent and less reliable.

Large numbers of people, in turn, have given up on the promise of affirmative government, and on democracy itself. After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, ours was widely billed as an era when triumphant liberal capitalism would march hand in hand with liberal democracy. But in a few brief decades, the ostensibly secure regime of liberal democracy has collapsed in nation after nation, with echoes of the 1930s.

As the great political historian Karl Polanyi warned, when markets overwhelm society, ordinary people often turn to tyrants. In regimes that border on neofascist, klepto-capitalists get along just fine with dictators, undermining the neoliberal premise of capitalism and democracy as complements. Several authoritarian thugs, playing on tribal nationalism as the antidote to capitalist cosmopolitanism, are surprisingly popular.

It's also important to appreciate that neoliberalism is not laissez-faire. Classically, the premise of a "free market" is that government simply gets out of the way. This is nonsensical, since all markets are creatures of rules, most fundamentally rules defining property, but also rules defining credit, debt, and bankruptcy; rules defining patents, trademarks, and copyrights; rules defining terms of labor; and so on. Even deregulation requires rules. In Polanyi's words, "laissez-faire was planned."

The political question is who gets to make the rules, and for whose benefit. The neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman invoked free markets, but in practice the neoliberal regime has promoted rules created by and for private owners of capital, to keep democratic government from asserting rules of fair competition or countervailing social interests. The regime has rules protecting pharmaceutical giants from the right of consumers to import prescription drugs or to benefit from generics. The rules of competition and intellectual property generally have been tilted to protect incumbents. Rules of bankruptcy have been tilted in favor of creditors. Deceptive mortgages require elaborate rules, written by the financial sector and then enforced by government. Patent rules have allowed agribusiness and giant chemical companies like Monsanto to take over much of agriculture -- the opposite of open markets. Industry has invented rules requiring employees and consumers to submit to binding arbitration and to relinquish a range of statutory and common-law rights.

Neoliberalism as Theory, Policy, and Power

It's worth taking a moment to unpack the term "neoliberalism." The coinage can be confusing to American ears because the "liberal" part refers not to the word's ordinary American usage, meaning moderately left-of-center, but to classical economic liberalism otherwise known as free-market economics. The "neo" part refers to the reassertion of the claim that the laissez-faire model of the economy was basically correct after all.

Few proponents of these views embraced the term neoliberal . Mostly, they called themselves free-market conservatives. "Neoliberal" was a coinage used mainly by their critics, sometimes as a neutral descriptive term, sometimes as an epithet. The use became widespread in the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

To add to the confusion, a different and partly overlapping usage was advanced in the 1970s by the group around the Washington Monthly magazine. They used "neoliberal" to mean a new, less statist form of American liberalism. Around the same time, the term neoconservative was used as a self-description by former liberals who embraced conservatism, on cultural, racial, economic, and foreign-policy grounds. Neoconservatives were neoliberals in economics.

Beginning in the 1970s, resurrected free-market theory was interwoven with both conservative politics and significant investments in the production of theorists and policy intellectuals. This occurred not just in well-known conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage, Cato, and the Manhattan Institute, but through more insidious investments in academia. Lavishly funded centers and tenured chairs were underwritten by the Olin, Scaife, Bradley, and other far-right foundations to promote such variants of free-market theory as law and economics, public choice, rational choice, cost-benefit analysis, maximize-shareholder-value, and kindred schools of thought. These theories colonized several academic disciplines. All were variations on the claim that markets worked and that government should get out of the way.

Each of these bodies of sub-theory relied upon its own variant of neoliberal ideology. An intensified version of the theory of comparative advantage was used not just to cut tariffs but to use globalization as all-purpose deregulation. The theory of maximizing shareholder value was deployed to undermine the entire range of financial regulation and workers' rights. Cost-benefit analysis, emphasizing costs and discounting benefits, was used to discredit a good deal of health, safety, and environmental regulation. Public choice theory, associated with the economist James Buchanan and an entire ensuing school of economics and political science, was used to impeach democracy itself, on the premise that policies were hopelessly afflicted by "rent-seekers" and "free-riders."

Click here to read how Robert Kuttner has been unmasking the fallacies of neoliberalism for decades

Market failure was dismissed as a rare special case; government failure was said to be ubiquitous. Theorists worked hand in glove with lobbyists and with public officials. But in every major case where neoliberal theory generated policy, the result was political success and economic failure.

For example, supply-side economics became the justification for tax cuts, on the premise that taxes punished enterprise. Supposedly, if taxes were cut, especially taxes on capital and on income from capital, the resulting spur to economic activity would be so potent that deficits would be far less than predicted by "static" economic projections, and perhaps even pay for themselves. There have been six rounds of this experiment, from the tax cuts sponsored by Jimmy Carter in 1978 to the immense 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by Donald Trump. In every case some economic stimulus did result, mainly from the Keynesian jolt to demand, but in every case deficits increased significantly. Conservatives simply stopped caring about deficits. The tax cuts were often inefficient as well as inequitable, since the loopholes steered investment to tax-favored uses rather than the most economically logical ones. Dozens of America's most profitable corporations paid no taxes.

Robert Bork's "antitrust paradox," holding that antitrust enforcement actually weakened competition, was used as the doctrine to sideline the Sherman and Clayton Acts. Supposedly, if government just got out of the way, market forces would remain more competitive because monopoly pricing would invite innovation and new entrants to the market. In practice, industry after industry became more heavily concentrated. Incumbents got in the habit of buying out innovators or using their market power to crush them. This pattern is especially insidious in the tech economy of platform monopolies, where giants that provide platforms, such as Google and Amazon, use their market power and superior access to customer data to out-compete rivals who use their platforms. Markets, once again, require rules beyond the benign competence of the market actors themselves. Only democratic government can set equitable rules. And when democracy falters, undemocratic governments in cahoots with corrupt private plutocrats will make the rules.

Human capital theory, another variant of neoliberal application of markets to partly social questions, justified deregulating labor markets and crushing labor unions. Unions supposedly used their power to get workers paid more than their market worth. Likewise minimum wage laws. But the era of depressed wages has actually seen a decline in rates of productivity growth. Conversely, does any serious person think that the inflated pay of the financial moguls who crashed the economy accurately reflects their contribution to economic activity? In the case of hedge funds and private equity, the high incomes of fund sponsors are the result of transfers of wealth and income from employees, other stakeholders, and operating companies to the fund managers, not the fruits of more efficient management.

There is a broad literature discrediting this body of pseudo-scholarly work in great detail. Much of neoliberalism represents the ever-reliable victory of assumption over evidence. Yet neoliberal theory lived on because it was so convenient for elites, and because of the inertial power of the intellectual capital that had been created. The well-funded neoliberal habitat has provided comfortable careers for two generations of scholars and pseudo-scholars who migrate between academia, think tanks, K Street, op-ed pages, government, Wall Street, and back again. So even if the theory has been demolished both by scholarly rebuttal and by events, it thrives in powerful institutions and among their political allies.

The Practical Failure of Neoliberal Policies

Financial deregulation is neoliberalism's most palpable deregulatory failure, but far from the only one. Electricity deregulation on balance has increased monopoly power and raised costs to consumers, but has failed to offer meaningful "shopping around" opportunities to bring down prices. We have gone from regulated monopolies with predictable earnings, costs, wages, and consumer protections to deregulated monopolies or oligopolies with substantial pricing power. Since the Bell breakup, the telephone system tells a similar story of re-concentration, dwindling competition, price-gouging, and union-bashing.

Air travel has been a poster child for advocates of deregulation, but the actual record is mixed at best. Airline deregulation produced serial bankruptcies of every major U.S. airline, often at the cost of worker pay and pension funds.

Ticket prices have declined on average over the past two decades, but the traveling public suffers from a crazy quilt of fares, declining service, shrinking seats and legroom, and exorbitant penalties for the perfectly normal sin of having to change plans. Studies have shown that fares actually declined at a faster rate in the 20 years before deregulation in 1978 than in the 20 years afterward, because the prime source of greater efficiency in airline travel is the introduction of more fuel-efficient planes.

The roller-coaster experience of airline profits and losses has reduced the capacity of airlines to purchase more fuel-efficient aircraft, and the average age of the fleet keeps increasing. The use of "fortress hubs" to defend market pricing power has reduced the percentage of nonstop flights, the most efficient way to fly from one point to another.

Robert Bork's spurious arguments that antitrust enforcement hurt competition became the basis for dismantling antitrust. Massive concentration resulted. Charles Tasnadi/AP Photo

In addition to deregulation, three prime areas of practical neoliberal policies are the use of vouchers as "market-like" means to social goals, the privatization of public services, and the use of tax subsides rather than direct outlays. In every case, government revenues are involved, so this is far from a free market to begin with. But the premise is that market disciplines can achieve public purposes more efficiently than direct public provision.

The evidence provides small comfort for these claims. One core problem is that the programs invariably give too much to the for-profit middlemen at the expense of the intended beneficiaries. A related problem is that the process of using vouchers and contracts invites corruption. It is a different form of "rent-seeking" -- pursuit of monopoly profits -- than that attributed to government by public choice theorists, but corruption nonetheless. Often, direct public provision is far more transparent and accountable than a web of contractors.

A further problem is that in practice there is often far less competition than imagined, because of oligopoly power, vendor lock-in, and vendor political influence. These experiments in marketization to serve social goals do not operate in some Platonic policy laboratory, where the only objective is true market efficiency yoked to the public good. They operate in the grubby world of practical politics, where the vendors are closely allied with conservative politicians whose purposes may be to discredit social transfers entirely, or to reward corporate allies, or to benefit from kickbacks either directly or as campaign contributions.

Privatized prisons are a case in point. A few large, scandal-ridden companies have gotten most of the contracts, often through political influence. Far from bringing better quality and management efficiency, they have profited by diverting operating funds and worsening conditions that were already deplorable, and finding new ways to charge inmates higher fees for necessary services such as phone calls. To the extent that money was actually saved, most of the savings came from reducing the pay and professionalism of guards, increasing overcrowding, and decreasing already inadequate budgets for food and medical care.

A similar example is the privatization of transportation services such as highways and even parking meters. In several Midwestern states, toll roads have been sold to private vendors. The governor who makes the deal gains a temporary fiscal windfall, while drivers end up paying higher tolls often for decades. Investment bankers who broker the deal also take their cut. Some of the money does go into highway improvements, but that could have been done more efficiently in the traditional way via direct public ownership and competitive bidding.

Housing vouchers substantially reward landlords who use the vouchers to fill empty houses with poor people until the neighborhood gentrifies, at which point the owner is free to quit the program and charge market rentals. Thus public funds are used to underwrite a privately owned, quasi-social housing sector -- whose social character is only temporary. No permanent social housing is produced despite the extensive public outlay. The companion use of tax incentives to attract passive investment in affordable housing promotes economically inefficient tax shelters, and shunts public funds into the pockets of the investors -- money that might otherwise have gone directly to the housing.

The Affordable Care Act is a form of voucher. But the regulated private insurance markets in the ACA have not fully lived up to their promise, in part because of the extensive market power retained by private insurers and in part because the right has relentlessly sought to sabotage the program -- another political feedback loop. The sponsors assumed that competition would lower costs and increase consumer choice. But in too many counties, there are three or fewer competing plans, and in some cases just one.

As more insurance plans and hospital systems become for-profit, massive investment goes into such wasteful activities as manipulation of billing, "risk selection," and other gaming of the rules. Our mixed-market system of health care requires massive regulation to work with tolerable efficiency. In practice, this degenerates into an infinite regress of regulator versus commercial profit-maximizer, reminiscent of Mad magazine's "Spy versus Spy," with the industry doing end runs to Congress to further rig the rules. Straight-ahead public insurance such as Medicare is generally far more efficient.

An extensive literature has demonstrated that for-profit voucher schools do no better and often do worse than comparable public schools, and are vulnerable to multiple forms of gaming and corruption. Proprietors of voucher schools are superb at finding ways of excluding costly special-needs students, so that those costs are imposed on what remains of public schools; they excel at gaming test results. While some voucher and charter schools, especially nonprofit ones, sometimes improve on average school performance, so do many public schools. The record is also muddied by the fact that many ostensibly nonprofit schools contract out management to for-profit companies.

Tax preferences have long been used ostensibly to serve social goals. The Earned Income Tax Credit is considered one of the more successful cases of using market-like measures -- in this case a refundable tax credit -- to achieve the social goal of increasing worker take-home pay. It has also been touted as the rare case of bipartisan collaboration. Liberals get more money for workers. Conservatives get to reward the deserving poor, since the EITC is conditioned on employment. Conservatives get a further ideological win, since the EITC is effectively a wage subsidy from the government, but is experienced as a tax refund rather than a benefit of government.

Recent research, however, shows that the EITC is primarily a subsidy of low-wage employers, who are able to pay their workers a lot less than a market-clearing wage. In industries such as nursing homes or warehouses, where many workers qualified for the EITC work side by side with ones not eligible, the non-EITC workers get substandard wages. The existence of the EITC depresses the level of the wages that have to come out of the employer's pocket.

Neoliberalism's Influence on Liberals

As free-market theory resurged, many moderate liberals embraced these policies. In the inflationary 1970s, regulation became a scapegoat that supposedly deterred salutary price competition. Some, such as economist Alfred Kahn, President Carter's adviser on deregulation, supported deregulation on what he saw as the merits. Other moderates supported neoliberal policies opportunistically, to curry favor with powerful industries and donors. Market-like policies were also embraced by liberals as a tactical way to find common ground with conservatives.

Several forms of deregulation -- of airlines, trucking, and electric power -- began not under Reagan but under Carter. Financial deregulation took off under Bill Clinton. Democratic presidents, as much as Republicans, promoted trade deals that undermined social standards. Cost-benefit analysis by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) was more of a choke point under Barack Obama than under George W. Bush.

"Command and control" became an all-purpose pejorative for disparaging perfectly sensible and efficient regulation. "Market-like" became a fashionable concept, not just on the free-market right but on the moderate left. Cass Sunstein, who served as Obama's anti-regulation czar,uses the example of "nudges" as a more market-like and hence superior alternative to direct regulation, though with rare exceptions their impact is trivial. Moreover, nudges only work in tandem with regulation.

There are indeed some interventionist policies that use market incentives to serve social goals. But contrary to free-market theory, the market-like incentives first require substantial regulation and are not a substitute for it. A good example is the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which used tradable emission rights to cut the output of sulfur dioxide, the cause of acid rain. This was supported by both the George H.W. Bush administration and by leading Democrats. But before the trading regime could work, Congress first had to establish permissible ceilings on sulfur dioxide output -- pure command and control.

There are many other instances, such as nutrition labeling, truth-in-lending, and disclosure of EPA gas mileage results, where the market-like premise of a better-informed consumer complements command regulation but is no substitute for it. Nearly all of the increase in fuel efficiency, for example, is the result of command regulations that require auto fleets to hit a gas mileage target. The fact that EPA gas mileage figures are prominently disclosed on new car stickers may have modest influence, but motor fuels are so underpriced that car companies have success selling gas-guzzlers despite the consumer labeling.

Image removed

Bill Clinton and his Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, were big promoters of financial deregulation.

Politically, whatever rationale there was for liberals to make common ground with libertarians is now largely gone. The authors of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made no attempt to meet Democrats partway; they excluded the opposition from the legislative process entirely. This was opportunistic tax cutting for elites, pure and simple. The right today also abandoned the quest for a middle ground on environmental policy, on anti-poverty policy, on health policy -- on virtually everything. Neoliberal ideology did its historic job of weakening intellectual and popular support for the proposition that affirmative government can better the lives of citizens and that the Democratic Party is a reliable steward of that social compact. Since Reagan, the right's embrace of the free market has evolved from partly principled idealism into pure opportunism and obstruction.

Neoliberalism and Hyper-Globalism

The post-1990 rules of globalization, supported by conservatives and moderate liberals alike, are the quintessence of neoliberalism. At Bretton Woods in 1944, the use of fixed exchange rates and controls on speculative private capital, plus the creation of the IMFand World Bank, were intended to allow member countries to practice national forms of managed capitalism, insulated from the destructive and deflationary influences of short-term speculative private capital flows. As doctrine and power shifted in the 1970s, the IMF, the World Bank, and later the WTO, which replaced the old GATT, mutated into their ideological opposite. Rather than instruments of support for mixed national economies, they became enforcers of neoliberal policies.

The standard package of the "Washington Consensus" of approved policies for developing nations included demands that they open their capital markets to speculative private finance, as well as cutting taxes on capital, weakening social transfers, and gutting labor regulation and public ownership. But private capital investment in poor countries proved to be fickle. The result was often excessive inflows during the boom part of the cycle and punitive withdrawals during the bust -- the opposite of the patient, long-term development capital that these countries needed and that was provided by the World Bank of an earlier era. During the bust phase, the IMF typically imposes even more stringent neoliberal demands as the price of financial bailouts, including perverse budgetary austerity, supposedly to restore the confidence of the very speculative capital markets responsible for the boom-bust cycle.

Dozens of nations, from Latin America to East Asia, went through this cycle of boom, bust, and then IMF pile-on. Greece is still suffering the impact. After 1990, hyper-globalism also included trade treaties whose terms favored multinational corporations. Traditionally, trade agreements had been mainly about reciprocal reductions of tariffs. Nations were free to have whatever brand of regulation, public investment, or social policies they chose. With the advent of the WTO, many policies other than tariffs were branded as trade distorting, even as takings without compensation. Trade deals were used to give foreign capital free access and to dismantle national regulation and public ownership. Special courts were created in which foreign corporations and investors could do end runs around national authorities to challenge regulation for impeding commerce.

At first, the sponsors of the new trade regime tried to claim the successful economies of East Asia as evidence of the success of the neoliberal recipe. Supposedly, these nations had succeeded by pursuing "export-led growth," exposing their domestic economies to salutary competition. But these claims were soon exposed as the opposite of what had actually occurred. In fact, Japan, South Korea, smaller Asian nations, and above all China had thrived by rejecting every major tenet of neoliberalism. Their capital markets were tightly regulated and insulated from foreign speculative capital. They developed world-class industries as state-led cartels that favored domestic production and supply. East Asia got into trouble only when it followed IMF dictates to throw open capital markets, and in the aftermath they recovered by closing those markets and assembling war chests of hard currency so that they'd never again have to go begging to the IMF. Enthusiasts of hyper-globalization also claimed that it benefited poor countries by increasing export opportunities, but as the success of East Asia shows, there is more than one way to boost exports -- and many poorer countries suffered under the terms of the global neoliberal regime.

Nor was the damage confined to the developing world. As the work of Harvard economist Dani Rodrik has demonstrated, democracy requires a polity. For better or for worse, the polity and democratic citizenship are national. By enhancing the global market at the expense of the democratic state, the current brand of hyper-globalization deliberately weakens the capacity of states to regulate markets, and weakens democracy itself.

When Do Markets Work?

The failure of neoliberalism as economic and social policy does not mean that markets never work. A command economy is even more utopian and perverse than a neoliberal one. The practical quest is for an efficient and equitable middle ground.

The neoliberal story of how the economy operates assumes a largely frictionless marketplace, where prices are set by supply and demand, and the price mechanism allocates resources to their optimal use in the economy as a whole. For this discipline to work as advertised, however, there can be no market power, competition must be plentiful, sellers and buyers must have roughly equal information, and there can be no significant externalities. Much of the 20th century was practical proof that these conditions did not describe a good part of the actual economy. And if markets priced things wrong, the market system did not aggregate to an efficient equilibrium, and depressions could become self-deepening. As Keynes demonstrated, only a massive jolt of government spending could restart the engines, even if market pricing was partly violated in the process.

Nonetheless, in many sectors of the economy, the process of buying and selling is close enough to the textbook conditions of perfect competition that the price system works tolerably well. Supermarkets, for instance, deliver roughly accurate prices because of the consumer's freedom and knowledge to shop around. Likewise much of retailing. However, when we get into major realms of the economy with positive or negative externalities, such as education and health, markets are not sufficient. And in other major realms, such as pharmaceuticals, where corporations use their political power to rig the terms of patents, the market doesn't produce a cure.

The basic argument of neoliberalism can fit on a bumper sticker. Markets work; governments don't . If you want to embellish that story, there are two corollaries: Markets embody human freedom. And with markets, people basically get what they deserve; to alter market outcomes is to spoil the poor and punish the productive. That conclusion logically flows from the premise that markets are efficient. Milton Friedman became rich, famous, and influential by teasing out the several implications of these simple premises.

It is much harder to articulate the case for a mixed economy than the case for free markets, precisely because the mixed economy is mixed. The rebuttal takes several paragraphs. The more complex story holds that markets are substantially efficient in some realms but far from efficient in others, because of positive and negative externalities, the tendency of financial markets to create cycles of boom and bust, the intersection of self-interest and corruption, the asymmetry of information between company and consumer, the asymmetry of power between corporation and employee, the power of the powerful to rig the rules, and the fact that there are realms of human life (the right to vote, human liberty, security of one's person) that should not be marketized.

And if markets are not perfectly efficient, then distributive questions are partly political choices. Some societies pay pre-K teachers the minimum wage as glorified babysitters. Others educate and compensate them as professionals. There is no "correct" market-derived wage, because pre-kindergarten is a social good and the issue of how to train and compensate teachers is a social choice, not a market choice. The same is true of the other human services, including medicine. Nor is there a theoretically correct set of rules for patents, trademarks, and copyrights. These are politically derived, either balancing the interests of innovation with those of diffusion -- or being politically captured by incumbent industries.

Governments can in principle improve on market outcomes via regulation, but that fact is complicated by the risk of regulatory capture. So another issue that arises is market failure versus polity failure, which brings us back to the urgency of strong democracy and effective government.

After Neoliberalism

The political reversal of neoliberalism can only come through practical politics and policies that demonstrate how government often can serve citizens more equitably and efficiently than markets. Revision of theory will take care of itself. There is no shortage of dissenting theorists and empirical policy researchers whose scholarly work has been vindicated by events. What they need is not more theory but more influence, both in the academy and in the corridors of power. They are available to advise a new progressive administration, if that administration can get elected and if it refrains from hiring neoliberal advisers.

There are also some relatively new areas that invite policy innovation. These include regulation of privacy rights versus entrepreneurial liberties in the digital realm; how to think of the internet as a common carrier; how to update competition and antitrust policy as platform monopolies exert new forms of market power; how to modernize labor-market policy in the era of the gig economy; and the role of deeper income supplements as machines replace human workers.

The failed neoliberal experiment also makes the case not just for better-regulated capitalism but for direct public alternatives as well. Banking, done properly, especially the provision of mortgage finance, is close to a public utility. Much of it could be public. A great deal of research is done more honestly and more cost-effectively in public, peer-reviewed institutions such as the NIH than by a substantially corrupt private pharmaceutical industry.

Social housing often is more cost-effective than so-called public-private partnerships. Public power is more efficient to generate, less prone to monopolistic price-gouging, and friendlier to the needed green transition than private power. The public option in health care is far more efficient than the current crazy quilt in which each layer of complexity adds opacity and cost. Public provision does require public oversight, but that is more straightforward and transparent than the byzantine dance of regulation and counter-regulation.

The two other benefits of direct public provision are that the public gets direct evidence of government delivering something of value, and that the countervailing power of democracy to harness markets is enhanced. A mixed economy depends above all on a strong democracy -- one even stronger than the democracy that succumbed to the corrupting influence of economic elites and their neoliberal intellectual allies beginning half a century ago. The antidote to the resurrected neoliberal fable is the resurrection of democracy -- strong enough to tame the market in a way that tames it for keeps.


Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy . In addition to writing for the Prospect, he writes for HuffPost, The Boston Globe, and The New York Review of Books.

Read the original article at Prospect.org.

Used with the permission. © The American Prospect, Prospect.org, 2019. All rights reserved.

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[Sep 19, 2019] Form vs. substance in the neoliberal university

Highly recommended!
This is a classic catch 22 situation with this "oath" described below...
Also I think a lot of professors of neo-classical economics look like the member of Komsomol described below ;-) For them it is about opening new opportunities for advancement not about the truth and the level of corresponding to the reality of this pseudo-scientific neo-classical garbage, with the smoke screen of mathematics as a lipstick on the pig (mathiness)
Most such people will teach students complete garbage understanding that this is a complete garbage with a smile. Still, in in Soviet way it is possible for some to accept the position and work to undermine neo-classical economics acting within the institution using Aesopian language in lectures and papers.
The book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More The Last Soviet Generation (In-Formation) by Alexei Yurchak is a recommended reading for those who want to understand the perversion of neoliberal way of life in the USA today, as they mirror the perversions of Soviet life in a very uncanny way.
Notable quotes:
"... Consider an example from the contemporary United States. Today a number of private universities, colleges, and schools in several states require teachers and professors to take a "loyalty oath" to ensure that they do not "hold or foster undesirable political beliefs.... ..."
"... From a political standpoint she disagreed with the practice of taking loyalty oaths, and later, in her role as professor of the sociology of law, she voiced political positions counter to those mentioned in the oath and challenged the oath-taking practice itself. ..."
"... However, before she could do this, she first had to take the oath, understanding that without this act she would not be employed or recognized by the institution as a legitimate member with a voice authorized to participate in teaching, research, and the institution's politics (committees, meetings, elections, and so forth), including even the possibility to question publicly the practice of taking oaths. ..."
"... "The oath did not mean much if you took it, but it meant a lot if you didn't." ..."
"... However, "when a vote had to be taken, everyone roused -- a certain sensor clicked in the head: 'Who is in favor?' -- and you raised your hand automatically" (see a discussion of such ritualized practices within the Komsomol in chapter a). ..."
"... Participating in these acts reproduced oneself as a "normal" Soviet person within the system of relations, collectivities, and subject positions, with all the constraints and possibilities that position entailed, even including the possibility, after the meetings, to engage in interests, pursuits, and meanings that ran against those that were stated in the resolutions one had voted for. ..."
"... These acts are not about stating facts and describing opinions but about doing things and opening new possibilities. ..."
Sep 19, 2019 | www.amazon.com

Originally from: Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More The Last Soviet Generation (In-Formation) by Alexei Yurchak

formal Shift

A general shift at the level of concrete ritualized forms of discourse, in which the formal dimension's importance grows, while the
informal, substantiative dimension opens up to new meanings, can and does occur in different historical and cultural contexts.

Consider an example from the contemporary United States. Today a number of private universities, colleges, and schools in several states require teachers and professors to take a "loyalty oath" to ensure that they do not "hold or foster undesirable political beliefs....

While the statutes vary, [these institutions] generally deny the right to teach to those who cannot or will not take the loyalty oath" (Chin and Rao 2003, 431 -32). Recently, a sociologist of law took such a loyalty oath at a Midwestern university when her appointment as a professor began.

From a political standpoint she disagreed with the practice of taking loyalty oaths, and later, in her role as professor of the sociology of law, she voiced political positions counter to those mentioned in the oath and challenged the oath-taking practice itself.

However, before she could do this, she first had to take the oath, understanding that without this act she would not be employed or recognized by the institution as a legitimate member with a voice authorized to participate in teaching, research, and the institution's politics (committees, meetings, elections, and so forth), including even the possibility to question publicly the practice of taking oaths.

Here, the informal, substantiative dimension of the ritualized act experiences a shift, while the formal dimension remains fixed and important: taking the oath opens a world of possibilities where new informal, substantiative meanings become possible, including a professorial position with a recognized political voice within the institution. In the sociologist's words, "The oath did not mean much if you took it, but it meant a lot if you didn't." 3 ^

This example illustrates the general principle of how some discursive acts or whole types of discourse can drift historically in the direction of an increasingly expanding formal dimension and increasingly open or even irrelevant informal, substantiative dimension. During Soviet late socialism, the formal dimension of speech acts at formal gathering and rituals became particularly important in most contexts and during most events.

One person who participated in large Komsomol meetings in the 1970s and 1980s described how he often spent the meetings reading a book. However, "when a vote had to be taken, everyone roused -- a certain sensor clicked in the head: 'Who is in favor?' -- and you raised your hand automatically" (see a discussion of such ritualized practices within the Komsomol in chapter a).

Here the emphasis on the formal dimension of organizational discourse was unique both in scale and substance. Most ritualized acts of "organizational discourse" during this time underwent such a transformation.

Participating in these acts reproduced oneself as a "normal" Soviet person within the system of relations, collectivities, and subject positions, with all the constraints and possibilities that position entailed, even including the possibility, after the meetings, to engage in interests, pursuits, and meanings that ran against those that were stated in the resolutions one had voted for.

It would obviously be wrong to see these acts of voting simply as informal, substantiative statements about supporting the resolution that are either true (real support) or false (dissimulation of support). These acts are not about stating facts and describing opinions but about doing things and opening new possibilities.

[Sep 18, 2019] China did the right thing: it shut down "free market" theologician maskeraling as economics from the academia

After 2008 free market economists should be treated at their face value: as academic charlatans. Now they are treated as goods which are past their shelf life in China and that's a progress.
Notable quotes:
"... The Chinese don't need, and don't want, a bunch of arrogant pro-US intellectuals giving them lectures. I can't say I blame them. ..."
"... No, that is because after WW2 the US was the only major economy left standing that hadn't been wrecked, and they were in the box seat to set the agenda post Bretton-Woods (and cement for themselves the leading dominant role). The USD is being used increasingly as a cudgel to enforce US hegemony, and that will lead much of the world to seek alternatives. It's happening now, slowly at first, and will only gain speed from here. ..."
Sep 18, 2019 | nationalinterest.org

During my last visit I stopped by the offices of what remained of the Unirule Institute of Economics. The well-respected organization was formed in 1993 by six economists, most importantly Mao Yushi (no relation to Mao Zedong) and Sheng Hong. My organization, the Cato Institute, gave the former the 2012 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty to honor his work on behalf of human freedom. Now retired at the age of ninety, Mao Yushi paid a price for activism. Noted his award citation, Mao "has faced severe punishment, exile, and near starvation for remarks critical of a command-based economy and society." The late Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel laureate, said of Mao: his "bravery is worthy of our respect."

However, despite the hardship of its founder, Unirule was no revolutionary political organization. Its name stood for "universal rules," essentially the rule of law. Its focus was moving toward a more market-oriented economy. The group's work was scholarly, performed by economists and academics. Its publications were high-brow, its books often published in China. Unirule's international contacts were mainstream and focused on economic reform.

That Unirule prospered demonstrated how far the PRC had come from the bad old days under Mao Zedong. Economic integration with the West by no means delivered a libertarian China. Still, the increasingly vibrant private economy expanded personal autonomy, opening up space absent since the PRC's founding seventy years ago.

As for politics, other than the question of the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly of power, most issues could be at least discussed and sometimes debated in academic and other settings. A vaguely independent media developed, which reported on misdeeds of local governments and officials. Although this slightly diluted authoritarianism might have appeared to be weakness to a few who pined for the days of the Cultural Revolution, the system offered a release valve for people who had no control over their rulers.

That gave CCP officials additional ideas to consider and solutions to employ. Unirule sponsored lectures, ran conferences, and published books. The group consulted with both local governments and state companies. Even the national authorities appeared to respect if not necessarily love Unirule. (In 1980 the government even invited Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman to Beijing to get his advice.) Asked Jude Blanchette, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: "Without independent voices offering alternative viewpoints, how can China's leaders make effective decisions."

Allowing discussion -- if not exactly dissent -- also might have drained away some of the dissatisfaction that otherwise would have accumulated against the regime. The pervasiveness of corruption and intensity of resulting public disgust highlighted the threat both from and to Communist rule, which came much more from the natural consequences of the monopoly of power rather than from the expression of discontent with that monopoly.

However, Xi Jinping's ascension to head of both party and government became a dramatic political inflexion point...

... ... ...

The state agency which sponsored it dropped the affiliation. Newspapers stopped running articles by its staffers. Discussions of its activities on social media, including the Chinese phenomenon WeChat, were blocked. Venues cancelled Unirule events. The website was closed down. Then the organization was twice pushed out of professional spaces. Last year the landlord, under pressure from regulators, welded the office door shut with staffers still inside; they had to call the police for rescue. About ten employees and a mass of books, papers and files ultimately crammed into a small apartment ten floors up in an aged apartment building in a distant suburb.

The group's latest book, a collection of academic papers, is ready for publication but was rejected by the PRC's information overseers. The process has been transferred from state to party, ensuring that everything will be assessed for its propaganda value. More seriously, Unirule's business license was cancelled, a move the group was fighting. Sheng said he planned to focus on economic research if the CCP interdict took hold.

... ... ...

A few weeks after my visit Unirule's life appears to have run out. The group announced that the local government had declared it to be "unregistered and unauthorized." Although Unirule plans to fight the diktat in court, Sheng admitted that it had essentially no chance of prevailing and has begun the liquidation process. "We no longer have any space for survival," Sheng told the Wall Street Journal . He previously noted that Unirule had been careful to follow the rules, so the Xi regime wished for the reformers to "disappear by ourselves." Apparently Xi or someone else high up grew tired of waiting.

... ... ...

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire .


jonathanpulliam 2 days ago ,

Come to think of it, why ISN'T Boeing's CEO in jail??

Gary Sellars 3 days ago ,

The Chinese don't need, and don't want, a bunch of arrogant pro-US intellectuals giving them lectures. I can't say I blame them.

... ... ...

Mephisto 3 days ago ,

Nixon's initiative to integrate China with the USA was the biggest strategic mistake the US ever did. It did not lead to democratization, but rather helped build a powerful totalitarian Orwellian state.

China clearly has a long term strategic plan how to become the world leader, and to this end, it steals western technology, locks other nations into dept traps, builds fifth columns in other countries, uses propaganda and cultural subversion. It is not yet too late to withdraw all western investment from China and to isolate the country. Due to the behavior of the CCP, it has very few actual friends.

jonathanpulliam Mephisto 2 days ago ,

PRC China & the U.S. share one thing at least in common, they lack dignity

Rudi Matich Mephisto 2 days ago ,

The strategic plan and task to defeat capitalism had been handed over to China after the Soviet Union has failed in this endeavor because economically it was no match for capitalist USA, plus it did not integrate science and technological innovation which without it capitalism can not be defeated.

China has achieved economic quantity and quality, and is heading towards full scientific and technological superiority over capitalist USA in the long run.

In this way socialism through science defeats and overtakes capitalism. Science and more science, the only way to defeat capitalism.

Swift Laggard II Rudi Matich 2 days ago ,

China is a hard core capitalist state. Even state ownership is state capitalism

Gary Sellars Mephisto 3 days ago ,

"Due to the behavior of the USA, it has very few actual friends."

Thats better...

Mephisto Gary Sellars 3 days ago ,

out of the 3 countries - USA, Russia, China - most of the world is clearly happy with USA having the leading role, because it is the least evil. Yes, USA is not perfect, Trump is not a great leader (to say it diplomatically), they have made mistakes (the invasion of Iraq etc), but they are still much better than USSRv2.0 or totalitarian China.

Even in Asia, China is widely disliked due to its arrogant and bullying behavior. The Japanese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Indonesians, none of them really like China.

The fact, that US dollar is the leading currency has much to do with the world public perception of the stability of the country. Ie all countries believe the US is the most stable country. So China will have real trouble convincing the world that yuan is better. I do not believe that China will become a leading power anytim soon.

Gary Sellars Mephisto 2 days ago • edited ,

You can keep telling yourself that, but its a crock and we non-Americans know it only too well. Dishonesty and an inability to face truth seems to be an American trait, and the corruption is only growing worse as the US declines.

"The Japanese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Indonesians, none of them really like China"

News for you buddy. None of these nations like each other... LOL!! You ever hear Koreans talking about the Japanese? Now that's hatred...

" The fact, that US dollar is the leading currency has much to do with the world public perception of the stability of the country."

No, that is because after WW2 the US was the only major economy left standing that hadn't been wrecked, and they were in the box seat to set the agenda post Bretton-Woods (and cement for themselves the leading dominant role). The USD is being used increasingly as a cudgel to enforce US hegemony, and that will lead much of the world to seek alternatives. It's happening now, slowly at first, and will only gain speed from here.

Pound Sterling used to dominate the world, now where is it? In the future, people will say the same of the greenback.

Swift Laggard II Mephisto 2 days ago ,

speak for yourself; don't speak for Asian nations. How many have joined AIIB, or BRI? What you believe about China is irrelevant

Mephisto Swift Laggard II 2 days ago ,

https://www.pewresearch.org...
it is interesting, that China is least popular in Asia with its direct neighbors

commit Mephisto 2 days ago ,

It would be interesting to know how the research was made and who they ask.

Mephisto commit 2 days ago ,

I traveled for 1 year across Asia - SE Asia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and 5 months across china. China is almost universally disliked all over Asia due to its arrogant behavior. And even the famous Chinese investments are increasingly being perceived as a form of Chinese neocolonialism and rejected
https://www.washingtonpost....

Redmond Mephisto 2 days ago ,

You know how African-Americans commit all sorts of violent crimes, hate speech, and racist slurs just because they were victims of racial discrimination in America decades ago? It's the same justification for violence Chinese mainlanders commit against everyone else just because they suffered from century of humiliation. I'm suspecting that the CCP/PLA is being coached by the black lefists in the US who have deep hatred against their perceived WASP establishment. The pattern of angst and diatribes are almost the same.

commit Redmond 2 days ago • edited ,

IDK, the trade war and other US actions against China are pretty recent. They have good reasons to hate your establishment. No need to look into past.

commit Mephisto 2 days ago • edited ,

> universally disliked all over Asia

In the survey you posted above, China is more popular than the USA in Indonesia. Other countries like Malaysia, Laos, Bangladesh, North Korea are missing. Also, people generally tell to English speaking foreigners what they expect they want to hear. If the survey was made by Chinese, the results would be different.

Redmond 3 days ago ,

The answer is simple and obvious. Democracy and rule of law means that they all go to jail. In all post-authoritarian shifts, the judicial branch of the government goes into overdrive, prosecuting past leaders for their crimes. They're really stuck to authoritarianism no-matter how hard they want democracy.

The CCP is just like a mafia. You won't get in unless you have blood in your hands, and death is the only way out (unless you can defect to another country and if you can stomach your immediate family members going to jail for you).

Swift Laggard II Redmond 3 days ago ,

what rule of law are you talking about? do you practice it in your own country?

Gary Sellars Swift Laggard II 3 days ago ,

Law of the Jungle. It's all that the Washingtonian primitives understand...

Walter Tseng 3 days ago ,

China is doing just great. Its citizens are enjoying a quality of life unprecedented in China's history (even the author do not dispute this). So why should a democratic majority 89% (PEW) happy individuals must suffer for the selfish few?

History has shown that intellectuals make lousy leaders but great at fomenting chaos + rebellions. And everyone knows that "soft-spoken criticisms", when weaponized, can kill millions just as effectively as a nuclear bomb!

[Sep 17, 2019] A Requiem for the Fiscal Theory of the Price Level by Roger E. A. Farmer

Sep 17, 2019 | www.rogerfarmer.com

Our results have profound implications for the idea that the financial markets are Pareto efficient which I explore here in my paper on asset pricing in perpetual youth models. In that paper I assume that monetary and fiscal policy are passive to generate realistic asset market volatility. My paper with Pawel shows that the same results can be generated in a realistic OLG model even when monetary and fiscal policy are active.

The way out of this apparent degeneracy of theory is to adopt an idea I first advocated in my book on self-fulfilling prophecies . The way that people form beliefs must be modeled as a new fundamental with the same methodological status as preferences, technologies and endowments.

Our paper makes a mockery of the attempt to ground neoclassical theory in 'fundamentals'.

[Sep 15, 2019] Americar real Conflict in Trump era is between the two factions of neoliberal elites: financial oligarchy (and associated with them Silicon Valley Moduls) and old manufacturing elite

This is the conflict between financial elite and Silicon Valley modules against traditional manufactures and extractive industries like oil, gas, coil, iron ore, etc.
Notable quotes:
"... The First Estate, once the province of the Catholic Church, has morphed into what Samuel Coleridge in the 1830s called "the Clerisy," a group that extends beyond organized religion to the universities, media, cultural tastemakers and upper echelons of the bureaucracy. The role of the Second Estate is now being played by a rising Oligarchy, notably in tech but also Wall Street, that is consolidating control of most of the economy. ..."
Sep 15, 2019 | dailycaller.com

A recent OECD report , is under assault, and shrinking in most places while prospects for upward mobility for the working class also declines.T

he anger of the Third Estate, both the growing property-less Serf class as well as the beleaguered Yeomanry, has produced the growth of populist, parties both right and left in Europe, and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. In the U.S., this includes not simply the gradual, and sometimes jarring, transformation of the GOP into a vehicle for populist rage, but also the rise on the Democratic side of politicians such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, each of whom have made class politics their signature issue.

(RELATED: Bernie Sanders Says Middle Class Will Pay More In Taxes)

The Rise of Neo-Feudalism

Today's neo-feudalism recalls the social order that existed before the democratic revolutions of the 17th and 18th Century, with our two ascendant estates filling the roles of the former dominant classes.

The First Estate, once the province of the Catholic Church, has morphed into what Samuel Coleridge in the 1830s called "the Clerisy," a group that extends beyond organized religion to the universities, media, cultural tastemakers and upper echelons of the bureaucracy. The role of the Second Estate is now being played by a rising Oligarchy, notably in tech but also Wall Street, that is consolidating control of most of the economy.

Together these two classes have waxed while the Third Estate has declined. This essentially reversed the enormous gains made by the middle and even the working class over the past 50 years. The top 1% in America captured just 4.9 percent of total U.S. income growth in 1945-1973, but since then the country's richest classes has gobbled up an astonishing 58.7% of all new wealth in the U.S., and 41.8 percent of total income growth during 2009-2015 alone.

In this period, the Oligarchy has benefited from the financialization of the economy and the refusal of the political class in both parties to maintain competitive markets. As a result, American industry has become increasingly concentrated. For example, the five largest banks now account for close to 50 percent of all banking assets, up from barely 30 percent just 20 years ago. (RELATED: The Biggest Bank You've Never Heard Of)

Warren Buffett, Jeffrey Immelt, Charles Schwab and Jamie Dimon, at Georgetown University. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Warren Buffett, Jeffrey Immelt, Charles Schwab and Jamie Dimon, at Georgetown University. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The concentration numbers in tech are even more frightening. Once a highly competitive industry, it is now among the most concentrated . Like the barbarian chieftains who seized land after the fall of Rome, a handful of companies -- Facebook , Google , Apple, Microsoft and Amazon -- have gained total control over a host of markets, from social media to search, the software operating systems, cloud computing and e-commerce. In many key markets such as search, these companies enjoy market shares reaching to eighty or ninety percent.

As they push into fields such as entertainment, space travel, finance and autonomous vehicles, they have become, as technology analyst Izabella Kaminska notes, the modern-day "free market" equivalents of the Soviet planners who operated Gosplan, allocating billions for their own subjective priorities. Libertarians might point out that these tech giants are still privately held firms but they actually represent , as one analyst put it, "a new form of monopoly power made possible by the 'network effect' of those platforms through which everyone must pass to conduct the business of life."

The role of the Clerisy

The new feudalism, like the original, is not based simply around the force of arms, or in this case what Marx called "the cash nexus." Like the church in Medieval times, the Clerisy sees itself as anointed to direct human society, a modern version of what historian Marc Bloch called the "oligarchy of priests and monks whose task it was to propitiate heaven." This modern-day version of the old First Estate sets down the ideological tone in the schools, the mass media, culture and the arts. There's also a Clerisy of sorts on the right, and what's left of the center, but this remains largely, except for Fox, an insignificant remnant.

Like their predecessors, today's Clerisy embraces an orthodoxy, albeit secular, on a host of issues from race and gender to the environment. Universities have become increasingly dogmatic in their worldview. One study of 51 top colleges found the proportion of liberals to conservatives as much as 70:1, and usually at least 8:1. At elite liberal arts schools like Wellesley, Swarthmore and Williams, the proportion reaches 120:1.

Similar attitudes can be seen in virtually all other culturally dominant institutions, starting with Hollywood. Over 99 percent of all major entertainment executives' donations went to Democrats in 2018, even though roughly half the population would prefer they keep their politics more to themselves. (RELATED: Here Are Reactions From Democrats, Liberal Celebrities To The Mueller Testimony)

The increasing concentration of media in ever fewer centers -- London, New York, Washington, San Francisco -- and the decline of the local press has accentuated the elite Clerisy's domination. With most reporters well on the left, journalism, as a 2019 Rand report reveals, is steadily moving from a fact-based model to one that is dominated by predictable opinion. This, Rand suggests has led to what they called "truth decay."

The new geography of feudalism

The new feudalism increasingly defines geography not only in America but across much of the world. The great bastion of both the Oligarchy and high reaches of the Clerisy lies in the great cities, notably New York, London, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. These are all among the most expensive places to live in the world and play a dominant role in the global media.

Yet these cities are not the progressive, egalitarian places evoked by great urbanists like the late Jane Jacobs, but more closely resemble the "gated" cities of the Middle Ages, and their equivalents in places as diverse as China and Japan. American cities now have higher levels of inequality, notes one recent study , than Mexico. In fact, the largest gaps ( between the bottom and top quintiles of median incomes are in the heartland of progressive opinion, such as in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, New York, San Jose, and Los Angeles. (RELATED: Got Income Inequality? Least Affordable Cities Are Also the Bluest)

In some of the most favored blue cities, such as Seattle , Portland and San Francisco , not only is the middle class disappearing, but there has been something equivalent of "ethnic cleansing" amidst rising high levels of inequality, homelessness and social disorder. Long-standing minority communities like the Albina neighborhood in Portland are disappearing as 10,000 of the 38,000 residents have been pushed out of the historic African-American section. In San Francisco, the black population has dropped from 18% in the 1970s to single digits and what remains, notes Harry Alford , National Black Chamber of Commerce president, "are predominantly living under the poverty level and is being pushed out to extinction."

This exclusive and exclusionary urbanity contrasts with the historic role of cities. The initial rise of the Third Estate was tied intimately to the " freedom of the city . " But with the diminishing prospects for blue-collar industries, as well as high housing costs, many minorities and immigrants are increasingly migrating away from multi-culturally correct regions like Chicago , New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco for less regulated, generally less "woke" places like Phoenix, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Atlanta and Las Vegas.

Yet even as the middle-class populations flee, poverty remains deeply entrenched in our big cities, with a rate roughly twice that of the suburbs. The much-celebrated urban renaissance has been largely enjoyed by the upper echelons but not the working classes. In the city of Philadelphia , for example, the "center city" income rose, but citywide between 2000 and 2014, for every district that, like downtown, gained in income, two suffered income declines. Similarly, research shows that the number of high poverty (greater than 30 percent below the poverty line) neighborhoods in the U.S. has tripled since 1970 from 1,100 to 3,100.

Undermining the Third Estate

The impact of the rising Clerisy and Oligarchs poses a direct threat to the future of the Third Estate. On the economic side, relentless consolidation and financialization has devastated Main Street. In the great boom of the 1980s, small firms and start-ups powered the economy, but more recently the rates of entrepreneurship have dropped as mega-mergers, chains and on-line giants slowly reduced the scope of opportunities. Perhaps most disturbing of all has been the decline in new formations among younger people.

This phenomenon is most evident in the tech world. Today is not a great time to start a tech company unless you are in the charmed circle of elite firms with access to venture and private equity funds. The old garage start-up culture of Silicon Valley is slowly dying, as large firms gobble up or crush competitors. Indeed, since the rise of the tech economy in the 1990s, the overall degree of industry concentration has grown by 75 percent.

Like the peasant farmer or artisan in the feudal era, the entrepreneur not embraced by the big venture firms lives largely at the sufferance of the tech overlords. As one online publisher notes on his firm's status with Google:

If you're a Star Trek fan, you'll understand the analogy. It's a bit like being assimilated by the Borg. You get cool new powers. But having been assimilated, if your implants were ever removed, you'd certainly die. That basically captures our relationship to Google.

The Clerisy's War on the Middle Class

For generations, the Clerisy has steadfastly opposed the growth of suburbia, driven in large part by the aesthetic concerns –the conviction that single-family homes are fundamentally anti-social– and, increasingly, by often dubious assertions on their environmental toxicity. In places like California, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, government policies discourage peripheral construction where home ownership rates tend to be higher, in favor of dense, largely rental housing.

This marks a dramatic turnaround. During the middle of the 20th Century, ownership rates in the United States leaped from 44 percent in 1940 to 63 percent in the late 1970s. Yet in the new generation this prospect is fading. In the United States, home ownership among post-college millennials (aged 25-34) has dropped from 45.4 percent in 2000 to 37.0 percent in 2016, a drop of 18 percent from the 1970s, according to Census Bureau data . In contrast, their parents and grandparents witnessed a dramatic rise of homeownership from 44 percent in 1940 to 63 percent 30 years later.

But the Clerisy's war on middle- and working-class aspiration goes well beyond housing. Climate change policies already enacted in California and Germany have driven millions into "energy poverty." If adopted, many of the latest proposals for such things as the Green New Deal all but guarantee the rapid reduction of millions of highly productive and often well-paying energy, aerospace, automobile and logistics jobs.

Political implications

The war of the Estates is likely to shape our political landscape for decades to come. Parts of the Third Estate –those working with their hands or operating small businesses– increasingly flock to the GOP, according to a recent CityLab report. Trump also has a case to make with these workers, as real wages for blue-collar workers are now rising for the first time in decades. Unemployment is near record lows not only for whites but also Latinos and African-Americans. Of course, if the economy weakens, he may lose some of this support. (RELATED: Trump Blasts Media For 'Barely' Covering 'Great' Economy, Low Unemployment)

But the emergence of neo-feudalism also lays the foundation for a larger, more potent and radicalized left. As opportunities for upward mobility shrink, a new generation, indoctrinated in leftist ideology sometimes from grade school and ever more predictably in undergraduate and graduate school, tilts heavily to the left, embracing what is essentially an updated socialist program of massive redistribution, central direction of the economy and racial redress.

Antifa members in Berkeley, California. AFP/Getty/Amy Osborne.

Antifa members in Berkeley, California. AFP/Getty/Amy Osborne.

In France's most recent presidential election, the former Trotskyite Jean-Luc Melenchon won the under-24 vote, beating the "youthful" Emmanuel Macron by almost two to one. Similarly in the United Kingdom, the birthplace of modern capitalism, the Labour Party , under the neo- Marxist Jeremy Corbyn , won over 60 percent of the vote among voters under 40, compared to just 23 percent for the Conservatives. Similar trends can be seen across Europe, where the Red and Green Party enjoys wide youth support.

The shift to hard-left politics also extends to the United States– historically not a fertile area for Marxist thinking. In the 2016 primaries , the openly socialist Bernie Sanders easily outpolled Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined. A 2016 poll by the Communism Memorial Foundation found that 44 percent of American millennials favored socialism while another 14 percent chose fascism or communism. By 2024, these millennials will be by far the country's biggest voting bloc .

In the current run-up to the Democratic nomination these young voters overwhelming tilt toward Sanders and his slightly less radical colleague Warren, while former Vice President Joe Biden retains the support of older Democrats. The common themes of the "new" Left, with such things as guaranteed annual incomes, rent control, housing subsidies, and free college might prove irresistible to a generation that has little hope of owning a home, could remain childless, and might never earn enough money to invest in much of anything. (RELATED: Bernie Sanders Says 'Health Care For All' Will Require Tax Increases)

At the end, the war of the estates raises the prospect of rising autocracy, even under formally democratic forms. In his assessment in "Democracy in America ," Alexis de Tocqueville suggests a new form of tyranny -- in many ways more insidious than that of the monarchical state -- that grants favors and entertainments to its citizens but expects little in obligation. Rather than expect people to become adults, he warns, a democratic state can be used to keep its members in "perpetual childhood" and "would degrade men rather than tormenting them."

With the erosion of the middle class, and with it dreams of upward mobility, we already see more extreme, less liberally minded class politics. A nation of clerics, billionaires and serfs is not conducive to the democratic experiment; only by mobilizing the Third Estate can we hope that our republican institutions will survive intact even in the near future.

Mr. Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and the executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His next book, "The Coming Of Neo-Feudalism," will be out this spring.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.

[Sep 15, 2019] Thomas Piketty's New Book Brings Political Economy Back to Its Sources

Sep 15, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

anne , September 13, 2019 at 06:38 PM

https://promarket.org/thomas-piketty-new-book-brings-political-economy-back-to-its-sources/

September 6, 2019

Thomas Piketty's New Book Brings Political Economy Back to Its Sources
In the same way that Capital in the Twenty-First Century transformed the way economists look at inequality, Piketty's new book Capital and Ideology will transform the way political scientists look at their own field.
By Branko Milanovic

Thomas Piketty's books are always monumental. Some are more monumental than others. His Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901–1998 (published in French as Les hauts revenus en France au XXe siècle) covered more than two centuries of income and wealth inequality, in addition to social and political changes in France. His international bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Le capital au XXI siècle) broadened this approach to the most important Western countries (France, the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany). His new book Capital and Ideology (to be published in English in March 2020; already published in France as Capital et idéologie) broadens the scope even further, covering the entire world and presenting a historical panorama of how ownership of assets (including people) was treated, and justified, in various historical societies, from China, Japan, and India, to the European-ruled American colonies, and feudal and capitalist societies in Europe. Just the mention of the geographical and temporal scope of the book suffices to give the reader an idea of its ambition.

Before I review Capital and Ideology, it is worth mentioning the importance of Piketty's overall approach, present in all three of his books. His approach is characterized by the methodological return of economics to its original and key functions: to be a science that illuminates the interests and explains the behaviors of individuals and social classes in their quotidian (material) life. This methodology rejects the dominant paradigm of the past half-century, which increasingly ignored the role of classes and heterogeneous individuals in the process of production and instead treated all people as abstract agents that maximize their own income under certain constraints. The dominant paradigm has emptied almost all social content from economics and presented a view of society that was as abstract as it was false.

The reintroduction of actual life into economics by Piketty and several other economists (not entirely coincidentally, most of them are economists interested in inequality) is much more than just a return to the sources of political economy and economics. This is because today, we have vastly more information (data) than was available to economists a century ago, not only about our own contemporary societies but also about past societies. This combination between political economy's original methodology and big data is what I call "turbo-Annales," after the French group of historians that pioneered the view of history as a social science focusing on the broad social, economic, and political forces that shape the world. The topics that interested classical political economy and the authors associated with the Annales School can now be studied empirically, and even econometrically and experimentally -- things which they could not do, both because of the scarcity of data and unavailability of modern methodologies.

It is within this context that, I believe, we ought to consider Piketty's Capital and Ideology. How successful was his approach, applied now to the world and over a very long time-horizon?

"The dominant paradigm has emptied almost all social content from economics and presented a view of society that was as abstract as it was false."

For the purposes of this review, I divide Piketty's book into two parts: the first, which I already mentioned, looks at ideological justifications of inequality across different societies (Parts 1 and 2 of the book, and to some extent Part 3); the second introduces an entirely new way of studying recent political cleavages in modern societies (Part 4). I am somewhat skeptical about Piketty's success in the first part, despite his enormous erudition and his skills as a raconteur, because success in discussing something so geographically and temporally immense is difficult to reach, even by the best-informed minds who have studied different societies for the majority of their careers. Analyzing each of these societies requires an extraordinarily high degree of sophisticated historical knowledge regarding religious dogmas, political organization, social stratification, and the like. To take two examples of authors who have tried to do it, one older and one more recent: Max Weber, during his entire life (and more specifically in Economy and Society), and Francis Fukuyama in his two-volume masterpiece on the origins of the political and economic order. In both cases, the results were not always unanimously approved by specialists studying individual societies and religions.

In his analysis of some of these societies, Piketty had to rely on somewhat "straightforward" or simplified discussions of their structure and evolution, discussions which at times seem plausible but superficial. In other words, each of these historical societies, many of which lasted centuries, had gone through different phases in their developments, phases which are subject to various interpretations. Treating such evolutions as if they were a simple, uncontested story is reductionist. It is a choice of one plausible historical narrative where many exist. This compares unfavorably with Piketty's own rich and nuanced narrative in Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century.

While I am somewhat skeptical about that first part of the book, I am not skeptical about the second. In this part, we find the Piketty who plays to his strength: bold and innovative use of data which produces a new way of looking at phenomena that we all observe but were unable to define so precisely. Here, Piketty is "playing" on the familiar Western economic history "terrain" that he knows well, probably better than any other economist.

This part of the book looks empirically at the reasons that left-wing, or social democratic parties have gradually transformed themselves from being the parties of the less-educated and poorer classes to become the parties of the educated and affluent middle and upper-middle classes. To a large extent, traditionally left parties have changed because their original social-democratic agenda was so successful in opening up education and high-income possibilities to the people who in the 1950s and 1960s came from modest backgrounds. These people, the "winners" of social democracy, continued voting for left-wing parties but their interests and worldview were no longer the same as that of their (less-educated) parents. The parties' internal social structure thus changed -- the product of their own political and social success. In Piketty's terms, they became the parties of the "Brahmin left" (La gauche Brahmane), as opposed to the conservative right-wing parties, which remained the parties of the "merchant right" (La droite marchande).

To simplify, the elite became divided between the educated "Brahmins" and the more commercially-minded "investors," or capitalists. This development, however, left the people who failed to experience upward educational and income mobility unrepresented, and those people are the ones that feed the current "populist" wave. Quite extraordinarily, Piketty shows the education and income shifts of left-wing parties' voters using very similar long-term data from all major developed democracies (and India). The fact that the story is so consistent across countries lends an almost uncanny plausibility to his hypothesis.

It is also striking, at least to me, that such multi-year, multi-country data were apparently never used by political scientists to study this phenomenon. This part of Piketty's book will likely transform, or at least affect, how political scientists look at new political realignments and class politics in advanced democracies in the years to come. In the same way that Capital in the Twenty-First Century has transformed how economists look at inequality, Capital and Ideology will transform the way political scientists look at their own field.


Branko Milanovic is a senior scholar at the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

[Sep 10, 2019] Neoliberal Capitalism at a Dead End by Utsa Patnaik and Prabhat Patnaik

Highly recommended!
This is a Marxist critique of neoliberalism. Not necessary right but they his some relevant points.
Notable quotes:
"... The ideology of neoliberal capitalism was the promise of growth. But with neoliberal capitalism reaching a dead end, this promise disappears and so does this ideological prop. ..."
"... The ex ante tendency toward overproduction arises because the vector of real wages across countries does not increase noticeably over time in the world economy, while the vector of labor productivities does, typically resulting in a rise in the share of surplus in world output. ..."
"... While the rise in the vector of labor productivities across countries, a ubiquitous phenomenon under capitalism that also characterizes neoliberal capitalism, scarcely requires an explanation, why does the vector of real wages remain virtually stagnant in the world economy? The answer lies in the sui generis character of contemporary globalization that, for the first time in the history of capitalism, has led to a relocation of activity from the metropolis to third world countries in order to take advantage of the lower wages prevailing in the latter and meet global demand. ..."
"... The current globalization broke with this. The movement of capital from the metropolis to the third world, especially to East, South, and Southeast Asia to relocate plants there and take advantage of their lower wages for meeting global demand, has led to a desegmentation of the world economy, subjecting metropolitan wages to the restraining effect exercised by the third world's labor reserves. Not surprisingly, as Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out, the real-wage rate of an average male U.S. worker in 2011 was no higher -- indeed, it was marginally lower -- than it had been in 1968. 5 ..."
"... This ever-present opposition becomes decisive within a regime of globalization. As long as finance capital remains national -- that is, nation-based -- and the state is a nation-state, the latter can override this opposition under certain circumstances, such as in the post-Second World War period when capitalism was facing an existential crisis. But when finance capital is globalized, meaning, when it is free to move across country borders while the state remains a nation-state, its opposition to fiscal deficits becomes decisive. If the state does run large fiscal deficits against its wishes, then it would simply leave that country en masse , causing a financial crisis. ..."
"... The state therefore capitulates to the demands of globalized finance capital and eschews direct fiscal intervention for increasing demand. It resorts to monetary policy instead since that operates through wealth holders' decisions, and hence does not undermine their social position. But, precisely for this reason, monetary policy is an ineffective instrument, as was evident in the United States in the aftermath of the 2007–09 crisis when even the pushing of interest rates down to zero scarcely revived activity. 6 ..."
"... If Trump's protectionism, which recalls the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1931 and amounts to a beggar-my-neighbor policy, does lead to a significant export of unemployment from the United States, then it will invite retaliation and trigger a trade war that will only worsen the crisis for the world economy as a whole by dampening global investment. Indeed, since the United States has been targeting China in particular, some retaliatory measures have already appeared. But if U.S. protectionism does not invite generalized retaliation, it would only be because the export of unemployment from the United States is insubstantial, keeping unemployment everywhere, including in the United States, as precarious as it is now. However we look at it, the world would henceforth face higher levels of unemployment. ..."
"... The second implication of this dead end is that the era of export-led growth is by and large over for third world economies. The slowing down of world economic growth, together with protectionism in the United States against successful third world exporters, which could even spread to other metropolitan economies, suggests that the strategy of relying on the world market to generate domestic growth has run out of steam. Third world economies, including the ones that have been very successful at exporting, would now have to rely much more on their home market ..."
"... In other words, we shall now have an intensification of the imperialist stranglehold over third world economies, especially those pushed into unsustainable balance-of-payments deficits in the new situation. By imperialism , here we do not mean the imperialism of this or that major power, but the imperialism of international finance capital, with which even domestic big bourgeoisies are integrated, directed against their own working people ..."
"... In short, the ideology of neoliberal capitalism was the promise of growth. But with neoliberal capitalism reaching a dead end, this promise disappears and so does this ideological prop. To sustain itself, neoliberal capitalism starts looking for some other ideological prop and finds fascism. ..."
"... The first is the so-called spontaneous method of capital flight. Any political formation that seeks to take the country out of the neoliberal regime will witness capital flight even before it has been elected to office, bringing the country to a financial crisis and thereby denting its electoral prospects. And if perchance it still gets elected, the outflow will only increase, even before it assumes office. The inevitable difficulties faced by the people may well make the government back down at that stage. The sheer difficulty of transition away from a neoliberal regime could be enough to bring even a government based on the support of workers and peasants to its knees, precisely to save them short-term distress or to avoid losing their support. ..."
"... The third weapon consists in carrying out so-called democratic or parliamentary coups of the sort that Latin America has been experiencing. Coups in the old days were effected through the local armed forces and necessarily meant the imposition of military dictatorships in lieu of civilian, democratically elected governments. Now, taking advantage of the disaffection generated within countries by the hardships caused by capital flight and imposed sanctions, imperialism promotes coups through fascist or fascist-sympathizing middle-class political elements in the name of restoring democracy, which is synonymous with the pursuit of neoliberalism. ..."
"... And if all these measures fail, there is always the possibility of resorting to economic warfare (such as destroying Venezuela's electricity supply), and eventually to military warfare. Venezuela today provides a classic example of what imperialist intervention in a third world country is going to look like in the era of decline of neoliberal capitalism, when revolts are going to characterize such countries more and more. ..."
"... Despite this opposition, neoliberal capitalism cannot ward off the challenge it is facing for long. It has no vision for reinventing itself. Interestingly, in the period after the First World War, when capitalism was on the verge of sinking into a crisis, the idea of state intervention as a way of its revival had already been mooted, though its coming into vogue only occurred at the end of the Second World War. 11 Today, neoliberal capitalism does not even have an idea of how it can recover and revitalize itself. And weapons like domestic fascism in the third world and direct imperialist intervention cannot for long save it from the anger of the masses that is building up against it. ..."
Aug 25, 2019 | portside.org
Originally from: Monthly Review printer friendly
The ideology of neoliberal capitalism was the promise of growth. But with neoliberal capitalism reaching a dead end, this promise disappears and so does this ideological prop.

Harry Magdoff's The Age of Imperialism is a classic work that shows how postwar political decolonization does not negate the phenomenon of imperialism. The book has two distinct aspects. On the one hand, it follows in V. I. Lenin's footsteps in providing a comprehensive account of how capitalism at the time operated globally. On the other hand, it raises a question that is less frequently discussed in Marxist literature -- namely, the need for imperialism. Here, Magdoff not only highlighted the crucial importance, among other things, of the third world's raw materials for metropolitan capital, but also refuted the argument that the declining share of raw-material value in gross manufacturing output somehow reduced this importance, making the simple point that there can be no manufacturing at all without raw materials. 1

Magdoff's focus was on a period when imperialism was severely resisting economic decolonization in the third world, with newly independent third world countries taking control over their own resources. He highlighted the entire armory of weapons used by imperialism. But he was writing in a period that predated the onset of neoliberalism. Today, we not only have decades of neoliberalism behind us, but the neoliberal regime itself has reached a dead end. Contemporary imperialism has to be discussed within this setting.

Globalization and Economic Crisis

There are two reasons why the regime of neoliberal globalization has run into a dead end. The first is an ex ante tendency toward global overproduction; the second is that the only possible counter to this tendency within the regime is the formation of asset-price bubbles, which cannot be conjured up at will and whose collapse, if they do appear, plunges the economy back into crisis. In short, to use the words of British economic historian Samuel Berrick Saul, there are no "markets on tap" for contemporary metropolitan capitalism, such as had been provided by colonialism prior to the First World War and by state expenditure in the post-Second World War period of dirigisme . 2

The ex ante tendency toward overproduction arises because the vector of real wages across countries does not increase noticeably over time in the world economy, while the vector of labor productivities does, typically resulting in a rise in the share of surplus in world output. As Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy argued in Monopoly Capital , following the lead of Michał Kalecki and Josef Steindl, such a rise in the share of economic surplus, or a shift from wages to surplus, has the effect of reducing aggregate demand since the ratio of consumption to income is higher on average for wage earners than for those living off the surplus. 3 Therefore, assuming a given level of investment associated with any period, such a shift would tend to reduce consumption demand and hence aggregate demand, output, and capacity utilization. In turn, reduced capacity utilization would lower investment over time, further aggravating the demand-reducing effect arising from the consumption side.

While the rise in the vector of labor productivities across countries, a ubiquitous phenomenon under capitalism that also characterizes neoliberal capitalism, scarcely requires an explanation, why does the vector of real wages remain virtually stagnant in the world economy? The answer lies in the sui generis character of contemporary globalization that, for the first time in the history of capitalism, has led to a relocation of activity from the metropolis to third world countries in order to take advantage of the lower wages prevailing in the latter and meet global demand.

Historically, while labor has not been, and is still not, free to migrate from the third world to the metropolis, capital, though juridically free to move from the latter to the former, did not actually do so , except to sectors like mines and plantations, which only strengthened, rather than broke, the colonial pattern of the international division of labor. 4 This segmentation of the world economy meant that wages in the metropolis increased with labor productivity, unrestrained by the vast labor reserves of the third world, which themselves had been caused by the displacement of manufactures through the twin processes of deindustrialization (competition from metropolitan goods) and the drain of surplus (the siphoning off of a large part of the economic surplus, through taxes on peasants that are no longer spent on local artisan products but finance gratis primary commodity exports to the metropolis instead).

The current globalization broke with this. The movement of capital from the metropolis to the third world, especially to East, South, and Southeast Asia to relocate plants there and take advantage of their lower wages for meeting global demand, has led to a desegmentation of the world economy, subjecting metropolitan wages to the restraining effect exercised by the third world's labor reserves. Not surprisingly, as Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out, the real-wage rate of an average male U.S. worker in 2011 was no higher -- indeed, it was marginally lower -- than it had been in 1968. 5

At the same time, such relocation of activities, despite causing impressive growth rates of gross domestic product (GDP) in many third world countries, does not lead to the exhaustion of the third world's labor reserves. This is because of another feature of contemporary globalization: the unleashing of a process of primitive accumulation of capital against petty producers, including peasant agriculturists in the third world, who had earlier been protected, to an extent, from the encroachment of big capital (both domestic and foreign) by the postcolonial dirigiste regimes in these countries. Under neoliberalism, such protection is withdrawn, causing an income squeeze on these producers and often their outright dispossession from their land, which is then used by big capital for its various so-called development projects. The increase in employment, even in countries with impressive GDP growth rates in the third world, falls way short of the natural growth of the workforce, let alone absorbing the additional job seekers coming from the ranks of displaced petty producers. The labor reserves therefore never get used up. Indeed, on the contrary, they are augmented further, because real wages continue to remain tied to a subsistence level, even as metropolitan wages too are restrained. The vector of real wages in the world economy as a whole therefore remains restrained.

Although contemporary globalization thus gives rise to an ex ante tendency toward overproduction, state expenditure that could provide a counter to this (and had provided a counter through military spending in the United States, according to Baran and Sweezy) can no longer do so under the current regime. Finance is usually opposed to direct state intervention through larger spending as a way of increasing employment. This opposition expresses itself through an opposition not just to larger taxes on capitalists, but also to a larger fiscal deficit for financing such spending. Obviously, if larger state spending is financed by taxes on workers, then it hardly adds to aggregate demand, for workers spend the bulk of their incomes anyway, so the state taking this income and spending it instead does not add any extra demand. Hence, larger state spending can increase employment only if it is financed either through a fiscal deficit or through taxes on capitalists who keep a part of their income unspent or saved. But these are precisely the two modes of financing state expenditure that finance capital opposes.

Its opposing larger taxes on capitalists is understandable, but why is it so opposed to a larger fiscal deficit? Even within a capitalist economy, there are no sound economic theoretical reasons that should preclude a fiscal deficit under all circumstances. The root of the opposition therefore lies in deeper social considerations: if the capitalist economic system becomes dependent on the state to promote employment directly , then this fact undermines the social legitimacy of capitalism. The need for the state to boost the animal spirits of the capitalists disappears and a perspective on the system that is epistemically exterior to it is provided to the people, making it possible for them to ask: If the state can do the job of providing employment, then why do we need the capitalists at all? It is an instinctive appreciation of this potential danger that underlies the opposition of capital, especially of finance, to any direct effort by the state to generate employment.

This ever-present opposition becomes decisive within a regime of globalization. As long as finance capital remains national -- that is, nation-based -- and the state is a nation-state, the latter can override this opposition under certain circumstances, such as in the post-Second World War period when capitalism was facing an existential crisis. But when finance capital is globalized, meaning, when it is free to move across country borders while the state remains a nation-state, its opposition to fiscal deficits becomes decisive. If the state does run large fiscal deficits against its wishes, then it would simply leave that country en masse , causing a financial crisis.

The state therefore capitulates to the demands of globalized finance capital and eschews direct fiscal intervention for increasing demand. It resorts to monetary policy instead since that operates through wealth holders' decisions, and hence does not undermine their social position. But, precisely for this reason, monetary policy is an ineffective instrument, as was evident in the United States in the aftermath of the 2007–09 crisis when even the pushing of interest rates down to zero scarcely revived activity. 6

It may be thought that this compulsion on the part of the state to accede to the demand of finance to eschew fiscal intervention for enlarging employment should not hold for the United States. Its currency being considered by the world's wealth holders to be "as good as gold" should make it immune to capital flight. But there is an additional factor operating in the case of the United States: that the demand generated by a bigger U.S. fiscal deficit would substantially leak abroad in a neoliberal setting, which would increase its external debt (since, unlike Britain in its heyday, it does not have access to any unrequited colonial transfers) for the sake of generating employment elsewhere. This fact deters any fiscal effort even in the United States to boost demand within a neoliberal setting. 7

Therefore, it follows that state spending cannot provide a counter to the ex ante tendency toward global overproduction within a regime of neoliberal globalization, which makes the world economy precariously dependent on occasional asset-price bubbles, primarily in the U.S. economy, for obtaining, at best, some temporary relief from the crisis. It is this fact that underlies the dead end that neoliberal capitalism has reached. Indeed, Donald Trump's resort to protectionism in the United States to alleviate unemployment is a clear recognition of the system having reached this cul-de-sac. The fact that the mightiest capitalist economy in the world has to move away from the rules of the neoliberal game in an attempt to alleviate its crisis of unemployment/underemployment -- while compensating capitalists adversely affected by this move through tax cuts, as well as carefully ensuring that no restraints are imposed on free cross-border financial flows -- shows that these rules are no longer viable in their pristine form.

Some Implications of This Dead End

There are at least four important implications of this dead end of neoliberalism. The first is that the world economy will now be afflicted by much higher levels of unemployment than it was in the last decade of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first, when the dot-com and the housing bubbles in the United States had, sequentially, a pronounced impact. It is true that the U.S. unemployment rate today appears to be at a historic low, but this is misleading: the labor-force participation rate in the United States today is lower than it was in 2008, which reflects the discouraged-worker effect . Adjusting for this lower participation, the U.S. unemployment rate is considerable -- around 8 percent. Indeed, Trump would not be imposing protection in the United States if unemployment was actually as low as 4 percent, which is the official figure. Elsewhere in the world, of course, unemployment post-2008 continues to be evidently higher than before. Indeed, the severity of the current problem of below-full-employment production in the U.S. economy is best illustrated by capacity utilization figures in manufacturing. The weakness of the U.S. recovery from the Great Recession is indicated by the fact that the current extended recovery represents the first decade in the entire post-Second World War period in which capacity utilization in manufacturing has never risen as high as 80 percent in a single quarter, with the resulting stagnation of investment. 8

If Trump's protectionism, which recalls the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1931 and amounts to a beggar-my-neighbor policy, does lead to a significant export of unemployment from the United States, then it will invite retaliation and trigger a trade war that will only worsen the crisis for the world economy as a whole by dampening global investment. Indeed, since the United States has been targeting China in particular, some retaliatory measures have already appeared. But if U.S. protectionism does not invite generalized retaliation, it would only be because the export of unemployment from the United States is insubstantial, keeping unemployment everywhere, including in the United States, as precarious as it is now. However we look at it, the world would henceforth face higher levels of unemployment.

There has been some discussion on how global value chains would be affected by Trump's protectionism. But the fact that global macroeconomics in the early twenty-first century will look altogether different compared to earlier has not been much discussed.

In light of the preceding discussion, one could say that if, instead of individual nation-states whose writ cannot possibly run against globalized finance capital, there was a global state or a set of major nation-states acting in unison to override the objections of globalized finance and provide a coordinated fiscal stimulus to the world economy, then perhaps there could be recovery. Such a coordinated fiscal stimulus was suggested by a group of German trade unionists, as well as by John Maynard Keynes during the Great Depression in the 1930s. 9 While it was turned down then, in the present context it has not even been discussed.

The second implication of this dead end is that the era of export-led growth is by and large over for third world economies. The slowing down of world economic growth, together with protectionism in the United States against successful third world exporters, which could even spread to other metropolitan economies, suggests that the strategy of relying on the world market to generate domestic growth has run out of steam. Third world economies, including the ones that have been very successful at exporting, would now have to rely much more on their home market.

Such a transition will not be easy; it will require promoting domestic peasant agriculture, defending petty production, moving toward cooperative forms of production, and ensuring greater equality in income distribution, all of which need major structural shifts. For smaller economies, it would also require their coming together with other economies to provide a minimum size to the domestic market. In short, the dead end of neoliberalism also means the need for a shift away from the so-called neoliberal development strategy that has held sway until now.

The third implication is the imminent engulfing of a whole range of third world economies in serious balance-of-payments difficulties. This is because, while their exports will be sluggish in the new situation, this very fact will also discourage financial inflows into their economies, whose easy availability had enabled them to maintain current account deficits on their balance of payments earlier. In such a situation, within the existing neoliberal paradigm, they would be forced to adopt austerity measures that would impose income deflation on their people, make the conditions of their people significantly worse, lead to a further handing over of their national assets and resources to international capital, and prevent precisely any possible transition to an alternative strategy of home market-based growth.

In other words, we shall now have an intensification of the imperialist stranglehold over third world economies, especially those pushed into unsustainable balance-of-payments deficits in the new situation. By imperialism , here we do not mean the imperialism of this or that major power, but the imperialism of international finance capital, with which even domestic big bourgeoisies are integrated, directed against their own working people.

The fourth implication is the worldwide upsurge of fascism. Neoliberal capitalism even before it reached a dead end, even in the period when it achieved reasonable growth and employment rates, had pushed the world into greater hunger and poverty. For instance, the world per-capita cereal output was 355 kilograms for 1980 (triennium average for 1979–81 divided by mid–triennium population) and fell to 343 in 2000, leveling at 344.9 in 2016 -- and a substantial amount of this last figure went into ethanol production. Clearly, in a period of growth of the world economy, per-capita cereal absorption should be expanding, especially since we are talking here not just of direct absorption but of direct and indirect absorption, the latter through processed foods and feed grains in animal products. The fact that there was an absolute decline in per-capita output, which no doubt caused a decline in per-capita absorption, suggests an absolute worsening in the nutritional level of a substantial segment of the world's population.

But this growing hunger and nutritional poverty did not immediately arouse any significant resistance, both because such resistance itself becomes more difficult under neoliberalism (since the very globalization of capital makes it an elusive target) and also because higher GDP growth rates provided a hope that distress might be overcome in the course of time. Peasants in distress, for instance, entertained the hope that their children would live better in the years to come if given a modicum of education and accepted their fate.

In short, the ideology of neoliberal capitalism was the promise of growth. But with neoliberal capitalism reaching a dead end, this promise disappears and so does this ideological prop. To sustain itself, neoliberal capitalism starts looking for some other ideological prop and finds fascism. This changes the discourse away from the material conditions of people's lives to the so-called threat to the nation, placing the blame for people's distress not on the failure of the system, but on ethnic, linguistic, and religious minority groups, the other that is portrayed as an enemy. It projects a so-called messiah whose sheer muscularity can somehow magically overcome all problems; it promotes a culture of unreason so that both the vilification of the other and the magical powers of the supposed leader can be placed beyond any intellectual questioning; it uses a combination of state repression and street-level vigilantism by fascist thugs to terrorize opponents; and it forges a close relationship with big business, or, in Kalecki's words, "a partnership of big business and fascist upstarts." 10

Fascist groups of one kind or another exist in all modern societies. They move center stage and even into power only on certain occasions when they get the backing of big business. And these occasions arise when three conditions are satisfied: when there is an economic crisis so the system cannot simply go on as before; when the usual liberal establishment is manifestly incapable of resolving the crisis; and when the left is not strong enough to provide an alternative to the people in order to move out of the conjuncture.

This last point may appear odd at first, since many see the big bourgeoisie's recourse to fascism as a counter to the growth of the left's strength in the context of a capitalist crisis. But when the left poses a serious threat, the response of the big bourgeoisie typically is to attempt to split it by offering concessions. It uses fascism to prop itself up only when the left is weakened. Walter Benjamin's remark that "behind every fascism there is a failed revolution" points in this direction.

Fascism Then and Now

Contemporary fascism, however, differs in crucial respects from its 1930s counterpart, which is why many are reluctant to call the current phenomenon a fascist upsurge. But historical parallels, if carefully drawn, can be useful. While in some aforementioned respects contemporary fascism does resemble the phenomenon of the 1930s, there are serious differences between the two that must also be noted.

First, we must note that while the current fascist upsurge has put fascist elements in power in many countries, there are no fascist states of the 1930s kind as of yet. Even if the fascist elements in power try to push the country toward a fascist state, it is not clear that they will succeed. There are many reasons for this, but an important one is that fascists in power today cannot overcome the crisis of neoliberalism, since they accept the regime of globalization of finance. This includes Trump, despite his protectionism. In the 1930s, however, this was not the case. The horrors associated with the institution of a fascist state in the 1930s had been camouflaged to an extent by the ability of the fascists in power to overcome mass unemployment and end the Depression through larger military spending, financed by government borrowing. Contemporary fascism, by contrast, lacks the ability to overcome the opposition of international finance capital to fiscal activism on the part of the government to generate larger demand, output, and employment, even via military spending.

Such activism, as discussed earlier, required larger government spending financed either through taxes on capitalists or through a fiscal deficit. Finance capital was opposed to both of these measures and it being globalized made this opposition decisive . The decisiveness of this opposition remains even if the government happens to be one composed of fascist elements. Hence, contemporary fascism, straitjacketed by "fiscal rectitude," cannot possibly alleviate even temporarily the economic crises facing people and cannot provide any cover for a transition to a fascist state akin to the ones of the 1930s, which makes such a transition that much more unlikely.

Another difference is also related to the phenomenon of the globalization of finance. The 1930s were marked by what Lenin had earlier called "interimperialist rivalry." The military expenditures incurred by fascist governments, even though they pulled countries out of the Depression and unemployment, inevitably led to wars for "repartitioning an already partitioned world." Fascism was the progenitor of war and burned itself out through war at, needless to say, great cost to humankind.

Contemporary fascism, however, operates in a world where interimperialist rivalry is far more muted. Some have seen in this muting a vindication of Karl Kautsky's vision of an "ultraimperialism" as against Lenin's emphasis on the permanence of interimperialist rivalry, but this is wrong. Both Kautsky and Lenin were talking about a world where finance capital and the financial oligarchy were essentially national -- that is, German, French, or British. And while Kautsky talked about the possibility of truces among the rival oligarchies, Lenin saw such truces only as transient phenomena punctuating the ubiquity of rivalry.

In contrast, what we have today is not nation-based finance capitals, but international finance capital into whose corpus the finance capitals drawn from particular countries are integrated. This globalized finance capital does not want the world to be partitioned into economic territories of rival powers ; on the contrary, it wants the entire globe to be open to its own unrestricted movement. The muting of rivalry between major powers, therefore, is not because they prefer truce to war, or peaceful partitioning of the world to forcible repartitioning, but because the material conditions themselves have changed so that it is no longer a matter of such choices. The world has gone beyond both Lenin and Kautsky, as well as their debates.

Not only are we not going to have wars between major powers in this era of fascist upsurge (of course, as will be discussed, we shall have other wars), but, by the same token, this fascist upsurge will not burn out through any cataclysmic war. What we are likely to see is a lingering fascism of less murderous intensity , which, when in power, does not necessarily do away with all the forms of bourgeois democracy, does not necessarily physically annihilate the opposition, and may even allow itself to get voted out of power occasionally. But since its successor government, as long as it remains within the confines of the neoliberal strategy, will also be incapable of alleviating the crisis, the fascist elements are likely to return to power as well. And whether the fascist elements are in or out of power, they will remain a potent force working toward the fascification of the society and the polity, even while promoting corporate interests within a regime of globalization of finance, and hence permanently maintaining the "partnership between big business and fascist upstarts."

Put differently, since the contemporary fascist upsurge is not likely to burn itself out as the earlier one did, it has to be overcome by transcending the very conjuncture that produced it: neoliberal capitalism at a dead end. A class mobilization of working people around an alternative set of transitional demands that do not necessarily directly target neoliberal capitalism, but which are immanently unrealizable within the regime of neoliberal capitalism, can provide an initial way out of this conjuncture and lead to its eventual transcendence.

Such a class mobilization in the third world context would not mean making no truces with liberal bourgeois elements against the fascists. On the contrary, since the liberal bourgeois elements too are getting marginalized through a discourse of jingoistic nationalism typically manufactured by the fascists, they too would like to shift the discourse toward the material conditions of people's lives, no doubt claiming that an improvement in these conditions is possible within the neoliberal economic regime itself. Such a shift in discourse is in itself a major antifascist act . Experience will teach that the agenda advanced as part of this changed discourse is unrealizable under neoliberalism, providing the scope for dialectical intervention by the left to transcend neoliberal capitalism.

Imperialist Interventions

Even though fascism will have a lingering presence in this conjuncture of "neoliberalism at a dead end," with the backing of domestic corporate-financial interests that are themselves integrated into the corpus of international finance capital, the working people in the third world will increasingly demand better material conditions of life and thereby rupture the fascist discourse of jingoistic nationalism (that ironically in a third world context is not anti-imperialist).

In fact, neoliberalism reaching a dead end and having to rely on fascist elements revives meaningful political activity, which the heyday of neoliberalism had precluded, because most political formations then had been trapped within an identical neoliberal agenda that appeared promising. (Latin America had a somewhat different history because neoliberalism arrived in that continent through military dictatorships, not through its more or less tacit acceptance by most political formations.)

Such revived political activity will necessarily throw up challenges to neoliberal capitalism in particular countries. Imperialism, by which we mean the entire economic and political arrangement sustaining the hegemony of international finance capital, will deal with these challenges in at least four different ways.

The first is the so-called spontaneous method of capital flight. Any political formation that seeks to take the country out of the neoliberal regime will witness capital flight even before it has been elected to office, bringing the country to a financial crisis and thereby denting its electoral prospects. And if perchance it still gets elected, the outflow will only increase, even before it assumes office. The inevitable difficulties faced by the people may well make the government back down at that stage. The sheer difficulty of transition away from a neoliberal regime could be enough to bring even a government based on the support of workers and peasants to its knees, precisely to save them short-term distress or to avoid losing their support.

Even if capital controls are put in place, where there are current account deficits, financing such deficits would pose a problem, necessitating some trade controls. But this is where the second instrument of imperialism comes into play: the imposition of trade sanctions by the metropolitan states, which then cajole other countries to stop buying from the sanctioned country that is trying to break away from thralldom to globalized finance capital. Even if the latter would have otherwise succeeded in stabilizing its economy despite its attempt to break away, the imposition of sanctions becomes an additional blow.

The third weapon consists in carrying out so-called democratic or parliamentary coups of the sort that Latin America has been experiencing. Coups in the old days were effected through the local armed forces and necessarily meant the imposition of military dictatorships in lieu of civilian, democratically elected governments. Now, taking advantage of the disaffection generated within countries by the hardships caused by capital flight and imposed sanctions, imperialism promotes coups through fascist or fascist-sympathizing middle-class political elements in the name of restoring democracy, which is synonymous with the pursuit of neoliberalism.

And if all these measures fail, there is always the possibility of resorting to economic warfare (such as destroying Venezuela's electricity supply), and eventually to military warfare. Venezuela today provides a classic example of what imperialist intervention in a third world country is going to look like in the era of decline of neoliberal capitalism, when revolts are going to characterize such countries more and more.

Two aspects of such intervention are striking. One is the virtual unanimity among the metropolitan states, which only underscores the muting of interimperialist rivalry in the era of hegemony of global finance capital. The other is the extent of support that such intervention commands within metropolitan countries, from the right to even the liberal segments.

Despite this opposition, neoliberal capitalism cannot ward off the challenge it is facing for long. It has no vision for reinventing itself. Interestingly, in the period after the First World War, when capitalism was on the verge of sinking into a crisis, the idea of state intervention as a way of its revival had already been mooted, though its coming into vogue only occurred at the end of the Second World War. 11 Today, neoliberal capitalism does not even have an idea of how it can recover and revitalize itself. And weapons like domestic fascism in the third world and direct imperialist intervention cannot for long save it from the anger of the masses that is building up against it.

Notes
  1. Harry Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969).
  2. Samuel Berrick Saul, Studies in British Overseas Trade, 1870–1914 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1960).
  3. Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966).
  4. One of the first authors to recognize this fact and its significance was Paul Baran in The Political Economy of Growth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1957).
  5. Joseph E. Stiglitz, " Inequality is Holding Back the Recovery ," New York Times , January 19, 2013.
  6. For a discussion of how even the recent euphoria about U.S. growth is vanishing, see C. P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh, " Vanishing Green Shoots and the Possibility of Another Crisis ," The Hindu Business Line , April 8, 2019.
  7. For the role of such colonial transfers in sustaining the British balance of payments and the long Victorian and Edwardian boom, see Utsa Patnaik, "Revisiting the 'Drain,' or Transfers from India to Britain in the Context of Global Diffusion of Capitalism," in Agrarian and Other Histories: Essays for Binay Bhushan Chaudhuri , ed. Shubhra Chakrabarti and Utsa Patnaik (Delhi: Tulika, 2017), 277-317.
  8. Federal Reserve Board of Saint Louis Economic Research, FRED, "Capacity Utilization: Manufacturing," February 2019 (updated March 27, 2019), http://fred.stlouisfed.org .
  9. This issue is discussed by Charles P. Kindleberger in The World in Depression, 1929–1939 , 40th anniversary ed. (Oakland: University of California Press, 2013).
  10. Michał Kalecki, " Political Aspects of Full Employment ," Political Quarterly (1943), available at mronline.org.
  11. Joseph Schumpeter had seen Keynes's The Economic Consequences of the Peace as essentially advocating such state intervention in the new situation. See his essay, "John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946)," in Ten Great Economists (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1952).

Utsa Patnaik is Professor Emerita at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her books include Peasant Class Differentiation (1987), The Long Transition (1999), and The Republic of Hunger and Other Essays (2007). Prabhat Patnaik is Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His books include Accumulation and Stability Under Capitalism (1997), The Value of Money(2009), and Re-envisioning Socialism(2011).

[Sep 07, 2019] Thomas Piketty's New Book Brings Political Economy Back to Its Sources

Sep 07, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

anne , September 06, 2019 at 01:10 PM

https://promarket.org/thomas-piketty-new-book-brings-political-economy-back-to-its-sources/
September 6, 2019

Thomas Piketty's New Book Brings Political Economy Back to Its Sources
By Branko Milanovic

In the same way that Capital in the Twenty-First Century transformed the way economists look at inequality, Piketty's new book Capital and Ideology will transform the way political scientists look at their own field.
Thomas Piketty's books are always monumental. Some are more monumental than others. His Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901–1998(published in French as Les hauts revenus en France au XXe siècle) covered more than two centuries of income and wealth inequality, in addition to social and political changes in France. His international bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century(Le capital au XXI siècle) broadened this approach to the most important Western countries (France, the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany). His new book Capital and Ideology (to be published in English in March 2020; already published in France as Capital et idéologie) broadens the scope even further, covering the entire world and presenting a historical panorama of how ownership of assets (including people) was treated, and justified, in various historical societies, from China, Japan, and India, to the European-ruled American colonies, and feudal and capitalist societies in Europe. Just the mention of the geographical and temporal scope of the book suffices to give the reader an idea of its ambition.

Before I review Capital and Ideology, it is worth mentioning the importance of Piketty's overall approach, present in all three of his books. His approach is characterized by the methodological return of economics to its original and key functions: to be a science that illuminates the interests and explains the behaviors of individuals and social classes in their quotidian (material) life. This methodology rejects the dominant paradigm of the past half-century, which increasingly ignored the role of classes and heterogeneous individuals in the process of production and instead treated all people as abstract agents that maximize their own income under certain constraints. The dominant paradigm has emptied almost all social content from economics and presented a view of society that was as abstract as it was false.

The reintroduction of actual life into economics by Piketty and several other economists (not entirely coincidentally, most of them are economists interested in inequality) is much more than just a return to the sources of political economy and economics. This is because today, we have vastly more information (data) than was available to economists a century ago, not only about our own contemporary societies but also about past societies. This combination between political economy's original methodology and big data is what I call "turbo-Annales," after the French group of historians that pioneered the view of history as a social science focusing on the broad social, economic, and political forces that shape the world. The topics that interested classical political economy and the authors associated with the Annales School can now be studied empirically, and even econometrically and experimentally -- things which they could not do, both because of the scarcity of data and unavailability of modern methodologies.

It is within this context that, I believe, we ought to consider Piketty's Capital and Ideology. How successful was his approach, applied now to the world and over a very long time-horizon?

"The dominant paradigm has emptied almost all social content from economics and presented a view of society that was as abstract as it was false."

For the purposes of this review, I divide Piketty's book into two parts: the first, which I already mentioned, looks at ideological justifications of inequality across different societies (Parts 1 and 2 of the book, and to some extent Part 3); the second introduces an entirely new way of studying recent political cleavages in modern societies (Part 4). I am somewhat skeptical about Piketty's success in the first part, despite his enormous erudition and his skills as a raconteur, because success in discussing something so geographically and temporally immense is difficult to reach, even by the best-informed minds who have studied different societies for the majority of their careers. Analyzing each of these societies requires an extraordinarily high degree of sophisticated historical knowledge regarding religious dogmas, political organization, social stratification, and the like. To take two examples of authors who have tried to do it, one older and one more recent: Max Weber, during his entire life (and more specifically in Economy and Society), and Francis Fukuyama in his two-volume masterpiece on the origins of the political and economic order. In both cases, the results were not always unanimously approved by specialists studying individual societies and religions.

In his analysis of some of these societies, Piketty had to rely on somewhat "straightforward" or simplified discussions of their structure and evolution, discussions which at times seem plausible but superficial. In other words, each of these historical societies, many of which lasted centuries, had gone through different phases in their developments, phases which are subject to various interpretations. Treating such evolutions as if they were a simple, uncontested story is reductionist. It is a choice of one plausible historical narrative where many exist. This compares unfavorably with Piketty's own rich and nuanced narrative in Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century.

While I am somewhat skeptical about that first part of the book, I am not skeptical about the second. In this part, we find the Piketty who plays to his strength: bold and innovative use of data which produces a new way of looking at phenomena that we all observe but were unable to define so precisely. Here, Piketty is "playing" on the familiar Western economic history "terrain" that he knows well, probably better than any other economist.

This part of the book looks empirically at the reasons that left-wing, or social democratic parties have gradually transformed themselves from being the parties of the less-educated and poorer classes to become the parties of the educated and affluent middle and upper-middle classes. To a large extent, traditionally left parties have changed because their original social-democratic agenda was so successful in opening up education and high-income possibilities to the people who in the 1950s and 1960s came from modest backgrounds. These people, the "winners" of social democracy, continued voting for left-wing parties but their interests and worldview were no longer the same as that of their (less-educated) parents. The parties' internal social structure thus changed -- the product of their own political and social success. In Piketty's terms, they became the parties of the "Brahmin left" (La gauche Brahmane), as opposed to the conservative right-wing parties, which remained the parties of the "merchant right" (La droite marchande).

To simplify, the elite became divided between the educated "Brahmins" and the more commercially-minded "investors," or capitalists. This development, however, left the people who failed to experience upward educational and income mobility unrepresented, and those people are the ones that feed the current "populist" wave. Quite extraordinarily, Piketty shows the education and income shifts of left-wing parties' voters using very similar long-term data from all major developed democracies (and India). The fact that the story is so consistent across countries lends an almost uncanny plausibility to his hypothesis.

It is also striking, at least to me, that such multi-year, multi-country data were apparently never used by political scientists to study this phenomenon. This part of Piketty's book will likely transform, or at least affect, how political scientists look at new political realignments and class politics in advanced democracies in the years to come. In the same way that Capital in the Twenty-First Century has transformed how economists look at inequality, Capital and Ideology will transform the way political scientists look at their own field.


Branko Milanovic is a senior scholar at the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

[Sep 07, 2019] New Keynesian economic theory is wrong.

Sep 07, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

Joe , September 05, 2019 at 07:52 PM

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/central-banks-flawed-economic-theory-by-roger-farmer-2019-09

When the Fed or the ECB raises rates, New Keynesian economic theory predicts that the hike will eventually lead to a decrease in inflation, and that the path from point A to point B will inevitably be accompanied by higher unemployment. But my own research suggests that New Keynesian economic theory is wrong. After all, if the Fed were to raise the short-term rate slowly and support equity markets with a guarantee to purchase a broad-based exchange-traded fund at a fixed price, there is no reason why the rate increase should cause higher unemployment.

----

Roger Farmer dumping on the Fed. Somehow a lot of economists have figured out that 'Uncle cannot do it later'.

I have a different disagreement. First I note that the Fed always follows the One Year Treasury, it is in the charts, that chart cannot be avoided. Second, once Treasury has started the rate cycles, it is all over, we will complete the rate cycle, including a down turn. This has been the case since 1980, likely earlier.

So, why do we fake it? For what purpose, except to say something stupid like Uncle can fix it later. We always end up in the same place, imbalances that need correction, Treasury has to take its losses. All the fakery does no one any good.

[Sep 07, 2019] The end of Mankiw and his Phillips Curve

Sep 07, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke , September 05, 2019 at 11:34 AM

The end of Mankiw and his Phillips Curve
Comment on David Glasner on 'Mankiw's Phillips-Curve Agonistes'

Gregory Mankiw starts his history of the Phillips Curve with gossiping and name dropping: "The economist George Akerlof, a Nobel laureate and the husband of the former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, once called the Phillips curve 'probably the single most important macroeconomic relationship.' So it is worth recalling what the Phillips curve is, why it plays a central role in mainstream economics and why it has so many critics. The story begins in 1958, when the economist A. W. Phillips published an article reporting an inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation in Britain. He reasoned that when unemployment is high, workers are easy to find, so employers hardly raise wages, if they do so at all. But when unemployment is low, employers have trouble attracting workers, so they raise wages faster. Inflation in wages soon turns into inflation in the prices of goods and services."

David Glasner immediately spots the fatal mistake of Mankiw's account: "I must note parenthetically that, as I have written recently, a supply-demand framework (aka partial equilibrium analysis) is not really the appropriate way to think about unemployment, because the equilibrium level of wages and the rates of unemployment must be analyzed, as, using different terminology, Keynes argued, in a general equilibrium, not a partial equilibrium, framework." Unfortunately, David Glasner then gets lost in supply-demand-equilibrium blather.

The Phillips Curve (better: Bastard or NAIRU Phillips Curve) is the centerpiece of standard employment theory. Economists get employment theory wrong for 200+ years.#1-#5

The materially/formally inconsistent NAIRU Phillips Curve has to be replaced by the correct macroeconomic Employment Law which is shown on Wikimedia.#6

From this equation follows:
(i) An increase in the expenditure ratio ρE leads to higher employment L (the Greek letter ρ stands for ratio). An expenditure ratio ρE greater than 1 indicates a budget deficit = credit expansion, a ratio ρE less than 1 indicates credit contraction.
(ii) Increasing investment expenditures I exert a positive influence on employment.
(iii) An increase in the factor cost ratio ρF=W/PR leads to higher employment.

The complete employment equation contains in addition profit distribution, the public sector, and foreign trade.

Items (i) and (ii) cover Keynes' familiar arguments about aggregate demand. The factor cost ratio ρF as defined in (iii) embodies the macroeconomic price mechanism. The fact of the matter is that overall employment INCREASES if the AVERAGE wage rate W INCREASES relative to average price P and productivity R. Roughly speaking, price inflation is bad for employment and wage inflation is good. This is the exact OPPOSITE of what microfounded supply-demand-equilibrium economics teaches.

The testable Employment Law tells one that the best policy to stabilize employment on a high level is a price inflation of zero and a wage inflation equal to productivity increases. The 2 percent inflation target has always been political idiocy based on defective theory.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 NAIRU, wage-led growth, and Samuelson's Dyscalculia
https://axecorg.blogspot.com/2015/01/nairu-wage-led-growth-and-samuelsons.html

#2 Keynes' Employment Function and the Gratuitous Phillips Curve Disaster
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2130421

#3 NAIRU and the scientific incompetence of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy
https://axecorg.blogspot.com/2017/02/nairu-and-scientific-incompetence-of.html

#4 Full employment, the Phillips Curve, and the end of Gaganomics
https://axecorg.blogspot.com/2018/04/full-employment-phillips-curve-and-end.html

#5 For more details of the big picture see cross-references Employment/Phillips Curve
http://axecorg.blogspot.com/2015/08/employmentphillips-curve-cross.html

#6 Wikimedia AXEC62 Employment Law
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AXEC62.png

[Sep 04, 2019] Remember, it was the academics that got this started in the wrong direction, arguably

Sep 04, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Warren: "Monopolist's Worst Nightmare: The Elizabeth Warren Interview" [The American Prospect].

Warren: "Remember, it was the academics that got this started in the wrong direction, arguably."

[Sep 02, 2019] Where is Margaret Thatcher now?

Highly recommended!
Sep 02, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

ambrit , , August 31, 2019 at 11:55 am

Thatcher was an English politico. It is not what she said, but what she did that counts. She is probably down in Dante's Inferno, Ring 8, sub-rings 7-10. (Frauds and false councilors.) See, oh wayward sinners: http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/circle8b.html

The Rev Kev , , September 2, 2019 at 12:37 am

Ring 8, sub-rings 7-10? She will probably find Milton Friedman in the basement there.

ambrit , September 2, 2019 at 7:09 am

Ah, you think that Milton should be at the bottom, eh? Then, I hope that he knows how to ice skate. (He was the worst kind of 'class traitor.' [His parents were small store owner/managers.])

Ring 8 of the Inferno is for 'frauds' of all sorts, sub-rings 7-10 are reserved for Thieves, Deceivers, Schismatics, and Falsifiers. Maggie should feel right at home there.

[Sep 02, 2019] A Question of Character naked capitalism

Sep 02, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

I'm not sure the end of homogeneity was the driver of diminished respect for what was once called character. In the US, I hazard that a bigger factor was the widespread acceptance of libertarian/neoliberal values. As we've documented, that world view was marketed aggressively and very successfully by a loosely coordinated but well funded right wing campaign, whose seminal document was the Powell Memo of 1971 which laid out the vision and many of the tactics for their war on the New Deal and the community values that supported it. For instance, it would have been well-nigh impossible for a Mike Milken, who'd gone to prison for securities law violations (and was widely believed to have engaged in considerably more questionable conduct) to have rehabilitated himself to the degree he did.

From Amar:

John McArthur, in memoriam

He was one of a kind -- and his kindness and empathy (a much used word I know) was unbounded. It touched all from dining and custodial staff to taxi drivers. My parents apart, few other people have had such an influence on me. (And he did me the honor of reading everything I read: every book every article, every draft, the pages a sea of yellow highlight)

He was also astute, ruthless and got things done. His mind was extraordinary and his reading voracious and eclectic -- although you would never guess it from his aw shucks manner and country bumpkin style.

I first actually talked to him in my second year as assistant professor. We had a long long lunch at his corner table in the faculty club. We talked about everything -- except why we were having lunch. At the end he said, "Perhaps you'd like to know why i asked you to lunch. Well I've been reading your stuff and I wanted to put a face to the writing, to know who this person was who was writing this stuff."

A few days later a copy of Knight's Risk Uncertainty and Profit arrived in interoffice mail with one of John's classic handwritten notes, which went something along the following lines. "I think this will suit the way you think of the world."

I had never encountered the book in my doctoral studies, and it was revelatory.

We had lunches, lasting 2-3 hours nearly every year for the last 20 years after I left HBS. Always at the Charles ("If we ate at HBS there would be someone stopping by every minute" he said. At the Charles it was only every 10 minutes. And of course he knew every single waiter and waitress by name).

The stories he told at the lunches.. Such a pity he did not put his wisdom into a memoir. But that was not his way.

John, RIP.

ambrit , August 31, 2019 at 12:34 am

The benefits of a "classical" education.
One of the main supports of the 'civilized' social interactions that you observe here 'Down South' is a stubborn refusal to put a price on everything. It is not universal, but it lingers in pockets of calm salted among the storms of modern living.
Welcome to the South.

Carolinian , August 31, 2019 at 10:04 am

I have some neighbors who are the opposite of me politically (in fact most of my neighbors) but are wonderfully nice people on a personal level. Some of us who grew up here have had the opposite experience of Yves and lived for awhile in the North where all that politeness is dismissed as a false front.

Which in many cases it is, but the usefulness of all that unthinking social glue should not be dismissed out of hand. After decades of elites in thrall to Ayn Rand the country may be in need a few of those social norms that beatnik rebels in the 1950s found so stultifying. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Epstein was how all those rich people around him thought that his three teenager a day habit was perfectly acceptable.

bassmule , August 31, 2019 at 10:47 am

I don't know anything about anything, but after living in the Northeast for my whole life I spent 10 years in North Carolina. After a decade, I realized that I was never going to stop being a Yankee, and that I detested "Southern courtesy" which mostly involved people telling me to "Have a Blessed Day!"

I take part of this back: My favorite item of Southern Courtesy is that you can slander anyone as long as you end the sentence with " bless his heart!"

Seriously, it's a different culture, and not one that I was ever comfortable with.

[Aug 26, 2019] The real problem is that since probably late 60th most academic economists were and still are elite prostitutes of financial oligarchy

Aug 26, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

JohnH -> Christopher H.... , August 25, 2019 at 09:27 AM

Blame Economists for the Mess We're In
Binyamin Appelbaum, Aug. 25, 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/24/opinion/sunday/economics-milton-friedman.html

"In the early 1950s, a young economist named Paul Volcker worked as a human calculator in an office deep inside the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He crunched numbers for the people who made decisions, and he told his wife that he saw little chance of ever moving up. The central bank's leadership included bankers, lawyers and an Iowa hog farmer, but not a single economist. The Fed's chairman, a former stockbroker named William McChesney Martin, once told a visitor that he kept a small staff of economists in the basement of the Fed's Washington headquarters. They were in the building, he said, because they asked good questions. They were in the basement because ''they don't know their own limitations.''

Martin's distaste for economists was widely shared among the midcentury American elite. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dismissed John Maynard Keynes, the most important economist of his generation, as an impractical ''mathematician.'' President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, urged Americans to keep technocrats from power. Congress rarely consulted economists; regulatory agencies were led and staffed by lawyers; courts wrote off economic evidence as irrelevant.

But a revolution was coming. As the quarter century of growth that followed World War II sputtered to a close, economists moved into the halls of power, instructing policymakers that growth could be revived by minimizing government's role in managing the economy. They also warned that a society that sought to limit inequality would pay a price in the form of less growth. In the words of a British acolyte of this new economics, the world needed ''more millionaires and more bankrupts.''
In the four decades between 1969 and 2008, economists played a leading role in slashing taxation of the wealthy and in curbing public investment. They supervised the deregulation of major sectors, including transportation and communications. They lionized big business, defending the concentration of corporate power, even as they demonized trade unions and opposed worker protections like minimum wage laws. Economists even persuaded policymakers to assign a dollar value to human life -- around $10 million in 2019 -- to assess whether regulations were worthwhile.

The revolution, like so many revolutions, went too far. Growth slowed and inequality soared, with devastating consequences. Perhaps the starkest measure of the failure of our economic policies is that the average American's life expectancy is in decline, as inequalities of wealth have become inequalities of health. Life expectancy rose for the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans between 1980 and 2010. Over the same three decades, life expectancy declined for the poorest 20 percent of Americans. Shockingly, the difference in average life expectancy between poor and wealthy women widened from 3.9 years to 13.6 years.
Rising inequality also is straining the health of liberal democracy. The idea of ''we the people'' is fading because, in this era of yawning inequality, there is less we share in common. As a result, it is harder to build support for the kinds of policies necessary to deliver broad-based prosperity in the long term, like public investment in education and infrastructure.
Economists began to enter public service in large numbers in the middle of the 20th century, as policymakers struggled to manage the rapid expansion of the federal government. The number of economists employed by the government rose from about 2,000 in the mid-1950s to more than 6,000 by the late 1970s. At first they were hired to rationalize the administration of policy, but they soon began to shape the goals of policy, too. Arthur F. Burns became the first economist to lead the Fed in 1970. Two years later, George Shultz became the first economist to serve as Treasury secretary. In 1978, Volcker completed his rise from the Fed's bowels, becoming the central bank's chairman.
The most important figure, however, was Milton Friedman, an elfin libertarian who refused to take a job in Washington, but whose writings and exhortations seized the imagination of policymakers. Friedman offered an appealingly simple answer for the nation's problems: Government should get out of the way. He joked that if bureaucrats gained control of the Sahara, there would soon be a shortage of sand.

He won his first big victory in an unlikely battle, helping to persuade President Nixon to end military conscription in 1973. Friedman and other economists showed that a military comprised solely of volunteers, recruited by offering market-rate wages, was financially viable as well as politically preferable. The Nixon administration also embraced Friedman's proposal to let markets determine the exchange rates between the dollar and foreign currencies, and it was the first to put a price tag on human life to justify limits on regulation.
But the turn toward markets was a bipartisan affair. The reduction of federal income taxation began under President Kennedy. President Carter initiated an era of deregulation in 1977 by naming an economist, Alfred Kahn, to dismantle the bureaucracy that supervised commercial aviation. President Clinton restrained federal spending in the 1990s as the economy boomed, declaring that ''the era of big government is over.''
Liberal and conservative economists conducted running battles on key questions of public policy, but their areas of agreement ultimately were more important. Although nature tends toward entropy, they shared a confidence that markets tend toward equilibrium. They agreed that the primary goal of economic policy was to increase the dollar value of the nation's output. And they had little patience for efforts to limit inequality. Charles L. Schultze, the chairman of Mr. Carter's Council of Economic Advisers, said in the early 1980s that economists should fight for efficient policies ''even when the result is significant income losses for particular groups -- which it almost always is.'' A generation later, in 2004, the Nobel laureate Robert Lucas warned against any revival of efforts to reduce inequality. ''Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution.''

Accounts of the rise of inequality often take a fatalistic view. The problem is described as a natural consequence of capitalism, or it is blamed on forces, like globalization or technological change, that are beyond the direct control of policymakers. But much of the fault lies in ourselves, in our collective decision to embrace policies that prioritized efficiency and encouraged the concentration of wealth, and to neglect policies that equalized opportunity and distributed rewards. The rise of economics is a primary reason for the rise of inequality.

And the fact that we caused the problem means the solution is in our power, too.

Markets are constructed by people, for purposes chosen by people -- and people can change the rules. It's time to discard the judgment of economists that society should turn a blind eye to inequality. Reducing inequality should be a primary goal of public policy.

The market economy remains one of humankind's most awesome inventions, a powerful machine for the creation of wealth. But the measure of a society is the quality of life throughout the pyramid, not just at the top, and a growing body of research shows that those born at the bottom today have less chance than in earlier generations to achieve prosperity or to contribute to society's general welfare -- even if they are rich by historical standards.

This is not just bad for those who suffer, although surely that is bad enough. It is bad for affluent Americans, too. When wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, studies show, total consumption declines and investment lags. Corporations and wealthy households increasingly resemble Scrooge McDuck, sitting on piles of money they can't use productively.

Willful indifference to the distribution of prosperity over the last half century is an important reason the very survival of liberal democracy is now being tested by nationalist demagogues. I have no special insight into how long the rope can hold, or how much weight it can bear. But I know our shared bonds will last longer if we can find ways to reduce the strain."

likbez -> JohnH... , August 26, 2019 at 10:22 AM
If we discard political correctness issues, the real problem is that since probably late 60th most academic economists were and still are elite prostitutes of financial oligarchy.

The level of corruption of academic economists reached really unprecedented levels under neoliberalism. The level of remuneration (direct but mostly indirect) was raised probably ten fold.

Because one of the way neoliberals got to power is the infiltration of economic departments in universities via grants and specially created positions. As well as creating think tanks staffed with "professional neoliberal revolutionaries" as a proxy of Bolsheviks Party full time party functionaries.

[Aug 23, 2019] I believe being oblivious is the main qualification for being a successful mainstream economist.

Notable quotes:
"... I believe being oblivious is the main qualification for being a successful mainstream economist. ..."
Aug 23, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Skip Intro , , August 23, 2019 at 2:29 pm

I believe being oblivious is the main qualification for being a successful mainstream economist.

[Aug 23, 2019] Austerity is Prosperity

Aug 23, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Ian Perkins , August 23, 2019 at 10:57 am

"War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, Ignorance Is Strength." And if Orwell were still around, perhaps he would add: Austerity is Prosperity.

Synoia , August 23, 2019 at 11:24 am

Warriors are Peacekeepers

[Aug 15, 2019] How Richard Vague Discovered Gravity An Interview + Book Review of A Brief History of Doom Two Hundred Years of Financial Cri

Aug 15, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Sound of the Suburbs , August 13, 2019 at 5:25 am

What was the problem with Classical Economics?

The Classical Economists soon noticed those at the top don't do anything economically productive, but maintained themselves in luxury and leisure through the hard work of everyone else.

They couldn't miss it as the European aristocracy never did a stroke of real work.

"The labour and time of the poor is in civilised countries sacrificed to the maintaining of the rich in ease and luxury. The Landlord is maintained in idleness and luxury by the labour of his tenants. The moneyed man is supported by his extractions from the industrious merchant and the needy who are obliged to support him in ease by a return for the use of his money. But every savage has the full fruits of his own labours; there are no landlords, no usurers and no tax gatherers." Adam Smith

Economics was a big problem for the powerful vested interests of the 19th century and it was always far too dangerous to be allowed to reveal the truth about the economy.

How can we protect those powerful vested interests at the top of society?

The early neoclassical economists hid the problems of rentier activity in the economy by removing the difference between "earned" and "unearned" income and they conflated "land" with "capital".

They took the focus off the cost of living that had been so important to the Classical Economists to hide the effects of rentier activity in the economy.

The landowners, landlords and usurers were now just productive members of society again.

William White (BIS, OECD) talks about how economics really changed over one hundred years ago as classical economics was replaced by neoclassical economics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6iXBQ33pBo&t=2485s

He thinks we have been on the wrong path for one hundred years.

This was the old switcheroo.

Economics, the time line:

We thought small state, unregulated capitalism was something that it wasn't as our ideas came from neoclassical economics, which has little connection with classical economics.

On bringing it back again, we had lost everything that had been learned in the 1930s and 1940s, by which time it had already demonstrated its flaws.

Sound of the Suburbs , August 13, 2019 at 5:48 am

In the second half of the 20th century, the Mont Pelerin society developed the neoliberal ideology from neoclassical economics, under the impression that capitalism was a self-stabilising system that doesn't need regulation.

Their expectations were rather different from the small state, unregulated capitalism that had been observed and documented by the Classical Economists in the 19th Century.

"The interest of the landlords is always opposed to the interest of every other class in the community" Ricardo 1815 / Classical Economist

"But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with the prosperity and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin." Adam Smith / Classical Economist

Their belief in the markets came from neoclassical economics, which doesn't consider the elements that ensures markets don't reach stable equilibriums; debt and the money creation of bank loans.

Richard Vague has studied many of those 19th century financial crises in his book "A Brief History of Doom" and charts the rollercoaster progress of 19th century small state, unregulated capitalism.

A self-stabilising system it is not.

Sound of the Suburbs , August 13, 2019 at 5:33 am

Why do policymakers think debt isn't a problem?

Ben Bernanke is famous for his study of the Great Depression and here it is discussed in the Wall Street Journal.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB113392265577715881

"Theoretically, neither deflation nor inflation ought to affect long-run growth or employment. After a while, people and businesses get used to changing prices. If prices fall, eventually so will wages, and the impact on profits, employment and purchasing power will be neutral. Borrowers suffer during deflation because their debts are fixed in value, but creditors benefit because the dollars they get back will buy more. For the economy as a whole, deflation ought to be a wash."

What has Ben Bernanke got wrong? He thinks banks are financial intermediaries.

Our knowledge of privately created money has been going backwards since 1856.

Credit creation theory -> fractional reserve theory -> financial intermediation theory

"A lost century in economics: Three theories of banking and the conclusive evidence" Richard A. Werner
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1057521915001477

It went backwards between Milton Freidman and Ben Bernanke.

Milton Freidman used fractional reserve theory, which was better than financial intermediation theory, but still wrong.

This is why his Monetarism didn't work.

He though banks lending and the moony supply were controlled by central bank reserves, but they aren't.

Brooklin Bridge , August 13, 2019 at 7:06 am

I like the title. Also, this is one of those cases where the interviewer brings quite a lot to the table as well as the author. An excellent introduction and a well carried/developed near metaphor as in, nail on the is a head.

Daniel Romig , August 13, 2019 at 7:24 am

That was a logical thesis to investigate. It seems strange that it has remained out of sight for so long until Mr. Vague's research and analysis.

The student debt in the USA is currently at $1.5 trillion. That is about 7% of GDP – and growing. I wonder how this may affect the economy in the US going forward.

As Yogi Berra reminds us, "You can observe a lot by watching."

Thank you for observing, Mr. Vague.

Samuel Conner , August 13, 2019 at 9:07 am

I don't think it has been "out of sight" so much as "in sight, but ignored". The relation of private debt to economic downturns has been noticed by others. Irving Fisher in the 20th Century, Steve Keen today come to mind.

The connection between "over-capacity" and "inability to service" may be new.

I would like to see analysis like this subjected to peer review; I think that there must be at least a few journals sympathetic to heterodox approaches to economics that would give a new synthesis like this a fair review process. Going "directly to the people" via popular writing raises a small concern in my mind.

Telee , August 13, 2019 at 2:23 pm

Steve Keen mathematized the Minsky Hypothesis. The results could be displayed in three dimensions. The graphs showed that when private debt was included in the calculations, the recession in 2007 was accurately predicted. Interestingly, there is a period of moderation which is followed by a rapid crash. During this period of moderation Bernanke was saying that all the indicators showed that the economy was in good shape. Of course he didn't consider private debt.

Steve H. , August 13, 2019 at 7:43 am

Some points of discussion, I'm not mad if disproven:

: Is the 2.5 Quadrillion dollars in derivatives considered debt? Or is the ability to create derivatives what drives the excess lending?

: Is the ability to generate excess debt a function of the fractional reserve system, and thus mostly a benefit for robbers who own banks? The Templars couldn't generate excess debt, they needed gold on hand to pay the notes, but wasn't there increased trade from their system, and thus general benefit?

vlade , August 13, 2019 at 8:19 am

No.
The stupid sums on derivatives are notional principals, and usually grossed up. If I have a swap with 10m notional with you, it could be worth anything (and most likely the only debt exposure is any margin-call amount, which would be on 10m swap trivial), but would add 20m to that dumb number.

I can easily enough generate almost any number for the notional principal w/o increasing the risk to the system (for example by creating any number of equal-but-opposite trades between two parties which have a netting agreement)

I can equally (a bit harder, as it requires some thinking) do a few "well placed" derivatives with notionals in say few billions (but nicely levered) that can sink the whole system.

No.
In a full reserve system there's no debt, hence no question of "excess debt". As an aside, "fractional reserve system is a myth". Bank lending is constrained only by capital, not by any reserves (cf number of banking systems that don't even have any rules on reserves).

Steve H. , August 13, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Thank you, Vlade.

Thorstein's Ghost , August 13, 2019 at 8:01 am

I have not read Mr. Vague's book. However, I am curious as to whether he adds anything to the work of Steve Keen, who predicted the 2007-09 financial crisis, and Hyman Minsky. See, for example, Keen's "Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis?" (2017).

Adam Eran , August 13, 2019 at 8:00 pm

Looks like a nice validation of Keen's (and Michael Hudson's) work. That's fine with me, although a nod in their direction certainly looks warranted since private debt was what led Keen to predict the Great Recession (and win the Revere Prize for doing so).

Hudson's work on ancient debt jubilees exactly parallels Vague's.

vlade , August 13, 2019 at 8:09 am

I can't remember where I wrote it before.

Debt is the only working time machine mankind invented. But the conservation-over-time still holds.

Technically, for any individual, over their lifetime integral of (income + debt destruction) >= integral(expenses+ debt creation) [I'm ignoring cases where debt can be inherited]

So are we heading for a crisis? Right now I(income + debt destruction) < I(expenses + debt creation) for a large number of indivduals over their lifetime. So unless their income raises dramatically (expenses for them are often way less discretionary), yes we are, as the debt destruction will have to compensate.

But to guess the timing – well, that very much depends on the aggregate of those individuals.A trigger that would further reduce income or increase expense (across the population) would make it more probable. A small but not sufficient increase in income (across the population) would postpone it.

John , August 13, 2019 at 8:13 am

"The student debt in the USA is currently at $1.5 trillion."
Thanks to some skillful intervention with the somnolent Congress this debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. That seems to fly in the face of Mr. Vague's conclusions while redounding to the benefit of the rentier financial class.

Carla , August 13, 2019 at 9:10 am

@ John -- Please make everyone you know aware that Democrat candidate for president Joe Biden holds a great deal of responsibility for student debt not being dischargeable in bankruptcy. This is only one of his high crimes and misdemeanors. Don't let anyone forget!

Bugs Bunny , August 13, 2019 at 10:06 am

That's only one of many reasons that Biden should be defeated. Here's a really good explanation of how he helped remove educational loans (nearly all of them, not only student loans) from discharge in bankruptcy.

https://www.consumerbankers.com/cba-media-center/cba-news/joe-biden-backed-bills-make-it-harder-americans-reduce-their-student-debt

Telee , August 13, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Biden also strongly supported the Iraq War preventing any opposition views to testify in his committee. Also a strong supporter of NAFTA anf the TTTP. ( Trump will hammer on this if he runs against Biden.) His cooperation with southern segregationists resulted in the unequal drug penalties that fed the prison industrial complex he supported. He had mutiple committee meeting to rail against black crime when it was expedient. He threw Anita Hill under the bus and thus aided in putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. He says he's a union man as he goes to Comcast, a union buster, for financial aid. He is known as a representative working for the credit card companies. etc. What's not to like if you're a corporate democrat?

Steve Ruis , August 13, 2019 at 2:35 pm

Duh. That was exactly the purpose. That bankruptcy exempt law for student loans was passed based upon falsehoods. Its actual purpose was to enslave the college educated youth (make them debt slaves) so that they don't go on a rampage like they did in the 1960's and 70's vis-a-vis the Vietnam War.

John Merryman. , August 13, 2019 at 8:29 am

I think part of the problem is that we treat money as a store of value, as well as a medium of exchange.
As a medium, it is a contract, with one side an asset and the other a debt, so in order to store the asset, similar amounts of debt have to be created.
This results in a centripedial effect, as positive feedback draws the asset to the center of the system, while negative feedback pushes the debt to the edges.
Since money and finance serve as the value circulation mechanism, this is like the heart telling the hands and feet to go suck dirt, because they don't get any blood.
A medium and a store are distinct functions. Blood is a medium, fat is a store. Roads are a medium, parking lots are a store.
As a medium, we own money like we own the section of road we are using, or the beer passing through our bodies. It's functionality is in its fungibility.
If we store value in healthy communities, we wouldn't need banks to mediate every relationship.
The irony of our individualistic culture, is it leaves us in our atomized cocoons, allowing more effective top down control and a parasitic feedback mechanism. Sort of like The Matrix.

susan the other` , August 13, 2019 at 6:05 pm

good description of the way an ME and a SoV work against each other; I can never think through what I'm sure is this very contradiction in terms. thanks.

Bobby Gladd , August 13, 2019 at 9:43 am

Sound like an interesting book. Just ordered it. I am reminded of "This Time is Different: 700 years of financial folly."

I worked in subprime risk modeling & mgmt during 2000 – 2005 . We made successive record profits every year of my tenure.

I quit to go back to health care analytics. It was too slimy. I knew it was not gonna end well.

Chauncey Gardiner , August 13, 2019 at 10:15 am

Appears to build on the work of economists Hyman Minsky and Steve Keen. Not as concerned with developments in "Asia" (China), as there seems to be a policy willingness there to substitute state money for private sector debt, and to allow currency depreciation as an adjustment mechanism for the implicit debt writedowns. The policy also plays into China's exports-driven macro model. Similar to the US government and central bank "foaming the runway" for the banks and large corporations in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Contemplating the role of compound interest in private sector debt growth in a period of low economic growth. Recent rapid growth of leveraged loans and junk bonds to fund corporate stock buybacks, negative real interest rates to push up financial asset and real estate prices/collateral values, and a lax regulatory environment appear to support an intentional policy of excessive growth in private sector debt. Whether the GFC is entirely in the rearview mirror or is till unfolding in terms of ultimately leading to systemic change also remains open IMO, although neoliberal policies remain firmly entrenched at this time.

Summer , August 13, 2019 at 11:40 am

The part about the financial sector, including housing, being the main components of US "industrial policy" shows the country as whole isn't taking the first advice financial advisors usually give for stability: DIVERSIFY ..

And yet again here is another book/article on the US economy that says nothing about defense spending.

Synoia , August 13, 2019 at 12:20 pm

US Defense spending is not debt. The MMT discussions state that clearly.

One test for "debt" is a simple question: Who can demand the debt be paid?

In the case of USG spending, the only party who could "call the debt" is the USG, and a single party cannot be both debtor and creditor on a debt, that is: cannot owe oneself money.

Summer , August 13, 2019 at 1:59 pm

"Debt" is invested, however, and defense spending is a big use of it and still – boom and bust.

Adam Eran , August 13, 2019 at 8:06 pm

Well all government spending is debt if it spends currency. The dollars are debt. Your checking account is debt too to the bank. When you write a check, you're assigning a portion of the bank's debt to the payee. Dollars are just checks made out to "cash" in fixed amounts. They appear in the Fed's books a liability, too.

What are we owed for a dollar? Answer: relief from a dollar's worth of (inevitable) tax liability.

Back to the original post: It's even ambiguous whether defense spending is consumption. After all, the internet is a product of DARPA (the "D" is for "Defense"). Marianna Mazzucato has a nice TED talk about government as innovator.

tegnost , August 13, 2019 at 12:22 pm

" In both cases, the result is about 16% growth to GDP over 15 years. But in the second case, you don't have a financial crisis."

also in the second case there are not foreclosures and repossessions whereby concentrated financial power confiscates what they sold so they can sell it again by the way where does that activity (repos and foreclosures) go in the calculation of GDP

Adam Eran , August 13, 2019 at 8:06 pm

Disaster capitalism!

Susan the other` , August 13, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Gosh. Where has Mr. Vague been? If this isn't the understatement of the century, I don't know what is. Even dear old Ordoliberal Wolfgang Schaeuble said right up front: "We are overbanked." Steve Keen is still fighting with Krugman about the significance of private debt. And to imply that we have an unspoken "industrial policy" that uses real estate to get us out of a slow patch begs the question. It is not industrial policy, it is the blatant chickenshit avoidance of industrial policy. But never mind all that, the sea change Mr. Vague is avoiding is that industrial manufacturing is being drastically trimmed back, limited, maybe even rationed by country for all we know. To forgive debts won't really cut it. Not that we shouldn't do it. We should simply because debt service is nearly impossible these days. We need to have massive fiscal infusions; money spent wisely to improve civilization and save the environment. Please Mr. Vague. You're more like Mr. Vacuous.

Another Amateur Economist , August 13, 2019 at 11:22 pm

No. It is the "Destruction of Industry Policy." Why make and build, when institutionalized theft, graft, and fraud have become more profitable?

p. Fitzsimon , August 13, 2019 at 3:09 pm

" .industrial policy, even though it was largely unstated: namely, support for the financial and real estate sectors"
I would add the agricultural sector to government supported industry.

Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg , August 13, 2019 at 3:09 pm

The brother needs to have a look a Portland, Oregon. Overcapacity, a housing bubble and a homeless crisis all at once. It's bound to crash. Yet there're so many boomers retiring from the first wave of the Tech Era (the folks whose awesome ideas and disruption gave us Dot-Bomb. So they've run up the price of beer in a town famous for craft brewing to unaffordability. They never seem to pay the price.

Jack Parsons , August 13, 2019 at 4:43 pm

The earliest worldwide financial crisis that I'm aware of was the Habsburg silver crisis. Fascinating story.

https://aeon.co/essays/potosi-the-mountain-of-silver-that-was-the-first-global-city

Tim , August 13, 2019 at 8:46 pm

Bush Junior tightened the Bankruptcy laws in his final term before the great recession. I still don't think that was coincidence.

The smart people with all the money DO know this is how economics works, and execute their strategies on their behalf accordingly. The rest of us, get the idiot's guide to the galaxy to work with.

none , August 15, 2019 at 12:07 am

"Debt, the first 5000 years" by David Graeber is on my list of probably-good books that I'm unlikely to get around to reading. Is that similar to this one?

[Aug 15, 2019] Ideology is Dead! Long Live Ideology!

Aug 14, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Yves here. Quelle surprise! Economists engage in groupthink, which sounds a little less bad if you call it "ideology".

By Mohsen Javdani, Associate Professor of Economics, University of British Columbia – Okanagan Campus and Ha-Joon Chang, Professor, University of Cambridge. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Mainstream (neoclassical) economics has always put a strong emphasis on the positivist conception of the discipline, characterizing economists and their views as objective, unbiased, and non-ideological. This is still true today, even after the 2008 economic crisis exposed the discipline to criticisms for lack of open debate, intolerance for pluralism, and narrow pedagogy. [1] Even mainstream scholars who do not blatantly refuse to acknowledge the profession's shortcomings still resist identifying ideological bias as one of the main culprits. They often favor other "micro" explanations, such as individual incentives related to academic power, career advancement, and personal and editorial networks. Economists of different traditions do not agree with this diagnosis, but their claims have been largely ignored and the debate suppressed.

Acknowledging that ideology resides quite comfortably in our economics departments would have huge intellectual implications, both theoretical and practical. In spite (or because?) of that, the matter has never been directly subjected to empirical scrutiny.

In a recent study , we do just that. Using a well-known experimental "deception" technique embedded in an online survey that involves just over 2400 economists from 19 countries, we fictitiously attribute the source of 15 quotations to famous economists of different leanings. In other words, all participants received identical statements to agree or disagree with, but source attribution was randomly changed without the participants' knowledge . The experiment provides clear evidence that ideological bias strongly influences the ideas and judgements of economists. More specifically, we find that changing source attributions from mainstream to less-/non-mainstream figures significantly reduces the respondents' reported agreement with statements. Interestingly, this contradicts the image economists have of themselves, with 82% of participants reporting that in evaluating a statement one should only pay attention to its content and not to the views of its author.

Moreover, we find that our estimated ideological bias varies significantly by the personal characteristics of economists in our sample. For example, economists' self-reported political orientation strongly influences their ideological bias, with estimated bias going up as respondents' political views move to the right. The estimated bias is also stronger among mainstream than among heterodox economists, with macroeconomists exhibiting the strongest bias. Men also display more bias than women. Geographical differences also play a major role, with less bias among economists in Africa, South America, and Mediterranean countries like Italy, Portugal, and Spain. In addition, economists with undergraduate degrees in economics or business/management tend to show stronger ideological biases.

We give more details about our methodology and findings in the following sections, but first let us anticipate some of the conclusions and implications. Theoretically, the implications are upsetting for the positivist methodology dominating the neoclassical economics. As Boland (1991) suggests, "[p]ositive economics is now so pervasive that every competing view has been virtually eclipsed." Yet, the strong influence of ideological bias on views among economists that is evident in our empirical results cannot be reconciled with it.

Practically, our results imply that it is crucial to adopt changes in the profession that protect academic discourse, as well as the consumers of the economic ideas, from the damaging impacts of ideological bias. In fact, there exists growing evidence that suggests value judgements and political orientation of economists affect not just research ( Jelveh et al. 2018 , Saint-Paul 2018 ), but also citation networks ( Önder and Terviö 2015 ), faculty hiring ( Terviö 2011 ), as well as economists' positions on positive and normative issues related to public policy (e.g. Beyer and Pühringer 2019 ; Fuchs, Krueger and Poterba 1998 ; Mayer 2001 ; van Dalen 2019 ; Van Gunten, Martin, and Teplitskiy 2016 ). It is therefore not a long stretch to imagine that ideological bias could play an important role in suppressing plurality, narrowing pedagogy, and delineating biased research parameters in economics.

One important step that helps identify the appropriate changes necessary to minimize the influence of ideological biases is to understand their roots.

As argued by prominent social scientists (e.g. Althusser 1976 , Foucault 1969 , Popper 1955 , Thompson 1997 ), the main source of ideological bias is knowledge-based, influenced by the institutions that produce discourses. Mainstream economics, as the dominant and most influential institution in economics, propagates and shapes ideological views among economists through different channels.

Economics education, through which economic discourses are disseminated to students and future economists, is one of these important channels. It affects the way students process information, identify problems, and approach these problems in their research. Not surprisingly, this training may also affect the policies they favor and the ideologies they adhere to. In fact, there already exists strong evidence that, compared to various other disciplines, students in economics stand out in terms of views associated with greed, corruption, selfishness, and willingness to free-ride (e.g. Frank and Schulze 2000 , Frank et al. 1993 and 1996 , Frey et al. 1993 , Marwell and Ames 1981 , Rubinstein 2006 , Want et al. 2012 ). [2]

Another important channel through which mainstream economics shapes ideological views among economists is by shaping the social structures and norms in the profession. While social structures and norms exist in all academic disciplines, economics seems to stand out in at least several respects, resulting in the centralization of power and the creation of incentive mechanisms for research, which in turn hinder plurality, encourage conformity, and adherence to the dominant (ideological) views.

Our own exposure to different parts of this social structure while working on this project has in fact been an unpleasant yet eye-opening experience, and a testament to dominant biases in the discipline that strongly impede critical thinking, new perspectives, and plurality. We have been threatened, accused, and insulted for simply asking an important and legitimate question. We have also had first-hand experience with the Top Five journals in economics and some of their (associate) editors' exertion of their strong prejudiced views, which is often disguised under the vail of "inevitably subjective nature of editors' decision-making process," which is supported by the absolute and unaccountable power that is at their disposal. In some cases, the decision regarding our submission blatantly lacked professionalism and respect for plurality of views.

Our world today is characterized by critical issues that economics has a lot to say about, such as inequality, austerity, the future of work, and climate change. However, relying on one dominant discourse which ignores or isolates alternative views will make the economics profession ill-equipped to engage in balanced conversations regarding these issues. This also makes the consumers of economic ideas skeptical about economists and the views and policies they advocate for. We believe that addressing the issue of ideological bias in economics first requires economists to find out about their own biases. Persistent denial of these biases is going to be more harmful than being aware of their presence and influence, even if mainstream economists do not necessarily change their views. Moreover, the economics profession needs to have an in-depth introspection and a real and open debate about the factors underpinning these biases, including economics training and social structures within the discipline that centralize power, encourage group thinking and conformity, dampen innovative thinking and creativity, and hinder plurality.

Experimental Design

Examining issues such as the impact of bias, prejudice, or discrimination on individual views and decisions is very challenging, given the complex nature of these types of behaviour. This has given rise to a field experimentation literature in economics that has relied on the use of deception -- for example, through sending out fictitious resumes and applications, to examine the prevalence and consequences of discrimination against different groups in the labor market. [3] We take a similar approach, namely using fictitious source attributions, in order to investigate the effect of ideological bias on economists (See Section 4 in our online appendix for a more detailed discussion on the use of deception in economics). More specifically, we employ a randomized controlled experiment embedded in an online survey. Economists from 19 different countries were invited to complete an online survey where they were asked to evaluate fifteen statements from prominent economists on a wide range of topics. We received just over 2,400 responses, with the majority of responses (around 92%) from academics with a PhD degree in economics. As reported in our online appendix , our sample includes a very diverse group of economists from a diverse set of institutions. While all participants received identical statements in the same order, source attribution for each statement was randomly changed without the participants' knowledge . For each statement, participants either received the name of a mainstream economist as the source (Control Group), or an ideologically different less-/non-mainstream economist (Treatment 1), or no source attribution (Treatment 2). See Table A8 in our online appendix for a complete list of statements and sources.

The Findings, in Detail

Our analysis of the experimental results reveals several important findings. First, examining the probability of different agreement levels for each statement as well as their comparative degree of consensus (using relative entropy index derived from information theory), we find evidence of clear dissent among economists on the wide variety of topics evaluated (see Figure 1 below). Given that our statements either deal with different elements of the mainstream economics paradigm -- including its methodology, assumptions, and the sociology of the profession -- or issues related to economic policy, the significant disagreement evident in our results highlights the lack of paradigmatic and policy consensus among economists on evaluated issues.

Figure 1: Probability of different agreement levels – By statement

Note: See Table A8 in our online appendix for a complete list of statements and sources.

Second, we find evidence of a strong ideological bias among economists. More specifically, we find that for a given statement, the agreement level is 7.3% (or 22% of a standard deviation) lower among economists who were told that the statement was from a less-/non-mainstream source. Examining statements individually also reveals that in all but three statements, agreement level drops significantly (both quantitatively and statistically, ranging from 3.6% to 16.6%) when the source is less-/non-mainstream.

For example, when a statement criticizing "symbolic pseudo-mathematical methods of formalizing a system of economic analysis" is attributed to its real source, John Maynard Keynes, instead of its fictitious source, Kenneth Arrow, the agreement level among economists drops by 11.6%. Similarly, when a statement criticizing intellectual monopoly (i.e. patent, copyright) is attributed to Richard Wolff, the American Marxian economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, instead of its real source, David Levine, professor of economics at the Washington University in St. Louis, the agreement level drops by 6.6%.

Interestingly, these results stand in sharp contrast with the image economists project of themselves in our survey. In an accompanying questionnaire that appears at the end of the survey, a strong majority of participants (around 82%) agreed that in evaluating a statement, one should only pay attention to its content, rather than its author. Only 18% of participants agreed that both the content of the statement as well as the views of the author matter, and only a tiny minority (around 0.5%) reported the views of the author should be the sole basis to evaluate a statement.

Third, we find that economists' self-reported political orientation strongly influences their views. More specifically, our results suggest that even when we focus on statements with mainstream sources attributed to them , there exists a very significant difference in average agreement level among economists with different political orientations. For example, for a given statement, the average agreement level among economists self-identified as left is 8.4% lower than those self-identified as far left. This already large difference widens consistently as we move to the far right, reaching a difference of 19.6% between the far right and the far left, which is an increase of 133%. This strong effect of political orientation on economists' evaluation of our statements, which does not change after controlling for a wide set of observed characteristics, is another clear manifestation of ideological bias.

The effect of political orientation on economists' views is even more drastic when we examine how changes in attributed sources affects economists with different political orientations. More specifically, for those on the far left, altering the sources only reduces the average agreement level by 1.5%, which is less than one-fourth of the overall effect of 7.3% we discussed before. However, moving from the far left to the far right of the political orientation consistently and significantly increases the effect of changing the source to a 13.3% reduction in agreement level, which is almost 8 times (780%) larger compared to the far left. Interestingly, this is despite the fact that relative to the far left, those at the far right are 17.5% more likely to agree that in evaluating a statement one should only pay attention to its content.

Fourth, our results uncover striking differences by gender. More specifically, we find that the estimated ideological bias is 44% larger among male economists as compared to their female counterparts, even after controlling for potential gender differences in observed characteristics including political orientation and political/economic typology. Moreover, our results highlight a startling difference between male and female economists in their perception of gender problems in the profession. When faced with the statement " Unlike most other science and social science disciplines, economics has made little progress in closing its gender gap over the last several decades. Given the field's prominence in determining public policy, this is a serious issue. Whether explicit or more subtle, intentional or not, the hurdles that women face in economics are very real. ", the agreement level was a whopping 26% higher among female economists than among their male peers.

In addition, when participants were told that the statement was made by the left-wing British feminist economist Diane Elson (rather than the real source, Carmen Reinhart, a mainstream economist at Harvard), male economists showed ideological biases -- their agreement level fell by 5.8%. Interestingly, however, it stayed unchanged for female economists. This seems to suggest that the gender problem in economics is so severe that female economists, who exhibited ideological biases on many other issues (although less than did their male colleagues), put aside their biases in this particular case and focused on the content of the statement.

The discussion around the gender problem in economics has recently taken the center stage. During the recent 2019 AEA meeting, and in one of the main panel discussions titled "How can economics solve its gender problem?" several top female economists talked about their own struggles with the gender problem in economics. In another panel discussion, Ben Bernanke, the current president of the AEA, suggested that the discipline has "unfortunately, a reputation for hostility toward women ." This is following the appointment of an Ad Hoc Committee by the Executive Committee of the AEA in April 2018 to explore "issues faced by women [ ] to improve the professional climate for women and members of underrepresented groups." AEA also conducted a climate survey recently to "provide more comprehensive information on the extent and nature of these [gender] issues." It is well-understood that approaching and solving the gender problem in economics first requires a similar understanding of the problem by both men and women. However, our results suggest that unfortunately there exists a very significant divide between male and female economists in their recognition of the problem.

Fifth, we find systematic and significant heterogeneity in our estimated effect of ideological bias by country, area of research, country where PhD was completed, and undergraduate major, with some groups of economists exhibiting little or no ideological bias and some others showing very strong bias.

For example, we find that economists with a PhD degree from Asia, Canada, Scandinavia, and the U.S. exhibit the strongest ideological bias. On the opposite end we find that economists with PhD degrees from South America, Africa, Italy, Spain, and Portugal exhibit the smallest ideological bias. Similarly, our results suggest that there is the smallest ideological bias from economists whose main area of research is history of thought, methodology, heterodox approaches; cultural economics, economic sociology, economic anthropology, or economic development. On the other hand, we find that economists whose main area of research is macroeconomics, public economics, international economics, and financial economics are among those with the largest ideological bias.

We also find that undergraduate training in economics has a strong effect on our estimated effect of ideological bias. We find that those economists with an undergraduate major in economics, or business/management, exhibit the strongest bias, while those who studied law; history, language and literature; or anthropology, sociology, and psychology show no ideological bias. These results are consistent with the growing evidence that suggests economic training, either directly or indirectly, induces ideological views in students (e.g. Allgood et al. 2012 , Colander and Klamer 1987 , Colander 2005 , Rubinstein 2006 ).

Discussion

Scholars hold different views on whether economics can be a "science" in the strict sense and be free from ideological biases. However, perhaps it is possible to have a a consensus that the type of ideological bias that could result in endorsing or denouncing an argument on the basis of (one's interpretation of) its author's views rather than its substance is unhealthy and in conflict with scientific tenor and the subject's scientific aspiration, especially when the knowledge regarding rejected views is limited .

Some economists might object that economists are human beings and therefore these biases are inevitable. But economists cannot have their cake and eat it too! Once you admit the existence of ideological bias, the widely-held view that "positive economics is, or can be, an 'objective' science, in precisely the same sense as any of the physical sciences" (Friedman 1953) must be rejected.

Furthermore, the differences we find in the estimated effects across personal characteristics such as gender, political orientation, country, and undergraduate major clearly suggest that there are ways to limit those ideological effects, and ways to reinforce them.

Our finding that those with an undergraduate degree in economics exhibit the strongest ideological bias highlights the importance of economic training in shaping ideological views. In doing so, our study contributes to the literature on economic education, suggesting that ideology can be at least limited by changes in the curricula at earlier stages.

Rubinstein (2006) argues that "students who come to us to 'study economics' instead become experts in mathematical manipulation" and that "their views on economic issues are influenced by the way we teach, perhaps without them even realizing." Stiglitz (2002) also argues that "[economics as taught] in America's graduate schools bears testimony to a triumph of ideology over science."

Economics teaching not only influences students' ideology in terms of academic practice but also in terms of personal behavior. Colander and Klamer (1987) and Colander (2005) survey graduate students at top-ranking graduate economic programs in the U.S. and find that, according to these students, techniques are the key to success in graduate school, while understanding the economy and knowledge about economic literature only help a little. This lack of depth in knowledge acquired, not only in economics but in any discipline or among any group of people, makes individuals lean more easily on ideology. Frank et al. (1993) similarly highlight the importance of economics training in shaping behavior among students by criticizing the exposure of economics students to the self-interest model in economics where "motives other than self-interest are peripheral to the main thrust of human endeavor, and we indulge them at our peril." They also provide evidence that such exposure does have an impact on self-interested behavior.

But education is not the only problem: social structures and norms within the profession also deeply influence economists' adherence to dominant ideological views.

For example, in his comprehensive analysis of pluralism in economics, Wright (2019) highlights several features of the discipline that make the internal hierarchical system in economics "steeper and more consequential" compared to most other academic disciplines. These features include: (1) particular significance of journal ranking, especially the Top Five, in various key aspects of academic life including receiving tenure ( Heckman and Moktan 2018) , securing research grants, invitation to seminars and conferences, and request for professional advice; (2) dominant role of "stars" in the discipline ( Goyal et al. 2006 , Offer and Söderberg 2016 ); (3) governance of the discipline by a narrow group of economists ( Fourcade et al. 2015 ); (4) strong dominance of both editorial positions and publications in high-prestige journals by economists at highly ranked institutions ( Colussi 2018 , Fourcade et al. 2015 , Heckman & Moktan 2018 ; Wu 2007 ); and the strong effect of the ranking of one's institution, as a student or as an academic, in career success ( Han 2003 , Oyer 2006 ).

As another example, in a 2013 interview with the World Economic Association, Dani Rodrik highlights the role of social structure in economics by suggesting that "there are powerful forces having to do with the sociology of the profession and the socialization process that tend to push economists to think alike. Most economists start graduate school not having spent much time thinking about social problems or having studied much else besides math and economics. The incentive and hierarchy systems tend to reward those with the technical skills rather than interesting questions or research agendas. An in-group versus out-group mentality develops rather early on that pits economists against other social scientists." Interestingly, a very similar picture of the profession was painted in 1973 by Axel Leijonhufvud in his light-hearted yet insightful article titled " The life among the Econ ."

It is hard to imagine that the biased reactions we find in our study only emerge in a low-stakes environment, such as our experiment, without spilling over to other areas of academic life. After all, as we discussed at the beginning, there already exists growing evidence which suggests that the political leanings and the personal values of economists influence different aspects of their academic lives. It is also not a long stretch to imagine that such ideological biases impede economists' engagement with alternative views, narrow the pedagogy, and delineate biased research parameters. We believe that recognizing their own biases, especially when there exists evidence suggesting that they could operate through implicit or unconscious modes, is the first step for economists who strive to be objective and ideology-free. This is also consistent with the standard to which most economists in our study hold themselves. To echo the words of Alice Rivlin in her 1987 American Economic Association presidential address, "economists need to be more careful to sort out, for ourselves and others, what we really know from our ideological biases."

Notes

[1] Several scholars have highlighted the connection between ideological views and the lack of plurality in economics and the failure of the profession to predict the 2008 crisis, or to even have an honest and in-depth retrospective explanation that would help develop accountable counter-measures against future crises (e.g. Barry 2017 ; Cassidy 2009 ; Dow 2012 ; Freeman 2010 ; Heise 2016 ; Lawson 2009 ; Stilwell 2019 ). There are also those who believe the 2008 crisis was not predictable, but fault the profession, as Colander (2010) puts it, "for failing to develop and analyze models that, at least, had the possibility of such a failure occurring" (e.g. Cabalerro 2010 ; Colander et al. 2013 ).

[2] Even if this relationship is not strictly casual, it suggests that there exists something about economic education that leads to a disproportionate self-selection of such students into economics.

[3] See Bertrand and Duflo (2017) and Riach and Rich (2002) for a review. Also see Currie et al. (2014) as another example of experimental audit studies with deception.

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Cripes , August 14, 2019 at 4:49 am

20 years ago Dr Sam Tsemberis conducted a double-blind trial of chronically homeless mentally ill people in an effort to learn whether being housed first led to better medical outcomes then placing barriers of compliance before getting housed would produce.

Happily, the common sense proposition that having a secure roof improves people's health or medication adherence was proven, and the concept of Housing First as a best practice is accepted today.

Economics is always political economy no matter how hard they try to pretend its algebra.

Paul O , August 14, 2019 at 5:43 am

+1

I read this elsewhere yesterday. Seems Econ mags were not keen to publish or link to it :-)

The Rev Kev , August 14, 2019 at 6:15 am

If ideology is dead then good riddance to it. I have seen and read about too many ideologues that have caused massive damage and deaths over the centuries and economics is no different. Personally I am of the school of thought of doing things in an empirical way and ignoring labels but just seeing what works. If it works, adopt it. If it does not, try something else. The economics of today does not do that. It does not work. It never saw the 2008 crisis coming and it has never proposed and backed reforms so that it will not happen again. It is used to justify a world economy that is causing climate change as it refuses to include most factors into their equations. I find it fascinating too how modern economics makes use of labels to stop discussions of possible paths to explore. Ideological labels has itself proven a huge hindrance. Here is what I mean.

"We should have health care for all."
"That is socialism that!"
"Well I guess that we can't do that then!

I think that Blair Fix's article "No, Productivity Does Not Explain Income" ( https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2019/08/no-productivity-does-not-explain-income.html ) shows you how modern economists work. You juggle around processes like you do mathematical formulas and expect that it still reflects the real world. In scientific discussion you throw out a theory in a journal. Ideally it should be reproducible in the real world and should be picked apart for any flaws in data or reasoning. But like in Blair Fix's article. the outcome is designated first and then you work you way back to justify it. It fails blind tests like mentioned here which shows it's flawed processes. In Washington DC there is the Victims of Communism Memorial but I do think that there should also be a Victims of Neoliberalism Memorial to reflect current economic thought. In the former there is the Goddess of Democracy statue as a centerpiece. For a statue for the Victims of Neoliberalism I would suggest another statue but based on the acronym BOHICA.

@pe , August 14, 2019 at 7:09 am

The more you see yourself as beyond ideology, the more likely it is that you are a victim of ideology. That's what the post shows: it's the very fields such as business management that see themselves as non-ideological, "common sense" and empirical which are the most ideological, least common sense and least empirical.

If you are aware of your bias, you can minimize (but not eliminate) those affects. But if you believe that you have *perfect* vision, no measurement can show you that you have an astigmatism.

Remember, Obama and Merkel see themselves as pragmatists -- but an objective observer can be assured of finding deep ideological biases and assumption underlying their thought process.

Amfortas the hippie , August 14, 2019 at 8:54 am

aye.
the position of Ignorance .Socratic Perplexity is hard.
but i reckon it' the only way to avoid the mental traps this talks about.
I'm the only one i know in meatspace that even attempts to begin an investigation there("I know that i don't know").
the idea that economics is just like Physics was always suspect, and i think it's pretty amazing that it's taken this long and this many economic disasters to get to the point that the idea of econ=hard science is challenged more or less in the open.
I'd add to this that i figure that the break in Philosophy, early in the last century, between Anglo-American and "Continental" probably precedes and enables this strange phenomena in economics(logical positivism, etc avoiding all that messy humanity attempting to shoehorn everything into a neat equation)
there's a similar phenomenon in a lot of the Humanities anthropology, for instance: taking into account the inherent and largely unconscious bias of the anthropologist embedded with the "savages" he's studying.
"Orthodoxy is Unconsciousness"-Orwell

Mark , August 14, 2019 at 7:33 am

A general observation: Economics without ideology or politics is only a rather peculiar way of using math. Without a reference what positive or negative actually means it is impossible to render jugdement or make policy. While economic outcomes are at the same time always political outcomes and vice versa. That is why the discipline used to call itself political economy.

About the experiment: If I understand it correctly all participants receive the questions only once. How then is it possible to attribute a specific answer towards bias regarding the source? Given that the questions are not of a clear 2+2=4 varietiy but at least somewhat open. Intuitively it seems far more likely that the specific answer is determined by the respondents own beliefs than by their bias regarding the source.

Bobby Gladd , August 14, 2019 at 8:18 am

"The willingness to indulge in ideological thinking -- that is, in thinking that by definition is not one's own, which is blind to experience and to the contradictions that arise when broader fields of knowledge are consulted -- is a capitulation no one should ever make. It is a betrayal of our magnificent minds and of all the splendid resources our culture has prepared for their use."

Robinson, Marilynne. What Are We Doing Here? (p. 2). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

diptherio , August 14, 2019 at 8:39 am

Towards the end of my final year of econ education I pointed out to a professor that the claim that economics should be a positive science, as opposed to a normative one, was itself a normative claim and hence self-contradictory. He looked at me like I was a crazy person and he was one of the 'leftists' in the department.

a different chris , August 14, 2019 at 9:30 am

Haha are you sure that the source of "crazy person" look was your view itself, or rather was it that in your young naivete you spoke what anybody who needs to put food on the table as a working economist would not dare?

m sam , August 14, 2019 at 11:56 am

Huh. So ideology influences our thinking even when we think it doesn't. So in other words water really is wet after all.

m sam , August 14, 2019 at 11:58 am

(Apologies, this was meant as a top level post)

Eclair , August 14, 2019 at 12:16 pm

I had a similar experience, diptherio. It was at the beginning of semester picnic, and one of the profs was holding forth on how the mathematical and analytical methodology would allow us to find the solutions to business questions. Probably because I had drunk too much wine, I piped up, but don't we first have to define what are the critical questions? Deafening silence.

diptherio , August 14, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Yes, questions like "how do we squeeze more out of our workers?" and "how can we crappify our product while simultaneously raising the price?"

diptherio , August 14, 2019 at 9:07 am

It is crazy, is it not, that "Life among the Econ" is still locked behind a paywall, despite being written 46 years ago. Thankfully, there is sci-hub .

Carey , August 14, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Maybe this is it?

http://www.ibiblio.org/philecon/life-econ-crop.pdf

T.town Tom , August 14, 2019 at 10:22 am

Reminds me of my counselor journey when therapist became aware of the blinders and prejudices that one's theories of behavior imposed (good & bad) on clients. The admonition became, "don't marry your theory" which another fellow revised that to "it's best only to flirt with your theory."

A friend of mine was an IT Director for a large Insurance company. After the crash in '08, he said in one meeting an executive said "you know why we employ Economists, to lend credibility to the Astrologers"

funemployed , August 14, 2019 at 10:25 am

The fact that this article has a reason to exist at all shows how poorly educated our highly trained economists are. It's not just that they reject the better portion of the core concepts and practices of the humanities and social sciences as being somewhere between useless and harmful. It's also that, as this article illustrates without quite saying, pretenses aside, most economists are worse than clueless with regards to the basics of conducting research in the "hard" sciences.

For family blog's sake, they don't even know how to pretend to be scientists. I'm not practicing researcher, but I know enough about research methods and questions to be pretty sure that robust empirical positivist economic research should look a lot more like something from the medical sciences than like something out of a cut rate theoretical physics or math journal. That would have serious epistemological problems of it's own, but sheesh, at least it might be mildly convincing to people with a modicum of a liberal arts education who couldn't be bothered to look under the hood.

The only thing that shocks me more than the shoddyness of work from "superstar" economists is their undying faith that their methods make them experts not just on economics, but on basically anything that you can slap a mathematical model on.

Steve Ruis , August 14, 2019 at 10:43 am

What economics lacks is an arbiter. In the physical sciences, nature will bitch slap anyone getting out of line. Economists need to come up with an agreed-upon set of test or natural experiments or something that constitutes independent feedback on the merit of an idea. There is nothing more important for the future of the discipline than this.

diptherio , August 14, 2019 at 12:53 pm

Well, the historical data refutes the Phillip's Curve but I bet they still teach that. 2008 was a natural experiment that refuted the Efficient Market Hypothesis, as well as the idea that the Federal Reserve could stop a major economic catastrophe through monkeying with interest rates but I'm sure those things are still being taught. Which is to say that economics does not lack an arbiter -- rather, most economists simply refuse to give it any credence.

Synoia , August 14, 2019 at 11:37 am

Given that theories in economics are not testable, an application of group think would result in "everybody was predicting that," and the consequent "who could have know" blame avoidance, coupled with the economist selecting the analytic method that best confirmed the answers the management wanted.

The only thing missing is a display of the set of Chrystal Balls.

Do Economists speak truth to power, or just confirm what power wants?

PKMKII , August 14, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Ideology is like accents, it's easy to fall into thinking that other people have them, but your voice/worldview is just "normal".

nothing but the truth , August 14, 2019 at 6:49 pm

in the real world, not saying what the client/boss/thesis advisor expects you to say is a severely career and bank account limiting move.

more so in humanities like law, economics which are closely tied to advising the powerful.

anon y'mouse , August 14, 2019 at 6:53 pm

i'm just going to leave this here, shall i?

http://changingminds.org/explanations/research/design/types_validity.htm

the rest of the social scientists at least test their theories against these standards (or make an appearance of doing so). econ seems to get around them by use of "definitions" so specific that in the end they are describing tautologies.

John Rose , August 14, 2019 at 10:07 pm

An interesting study to supplement this one is of funding sources for economics departments and the extent to which the funding is tied to hiring and model building. Then reanalize the date in this study for correlations with the influence of funding sources.

[Aug 04, 2019] to the liberal economists, free markets were markets free from rent seeking, while to the neoliberals free markets are free from government regulation.

Highly recommended!
Aug 04, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Ian Perkins , August 4, 2019 at 10:16 am

Excellent article, I agree.
As regards clear language and definitions, I much prefer Michael Hudson's insistence that, to the liberal economists, free markets were markets free from rent seeking, while to the neoliberals free markets are free from government regulation.
"As governments were democratized, especially in the United States, liberals came to endorse a policy of active public welfare spending and hence government intervention, especially on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged. neoliberalism sought to restore the centralized aristocratic and oligarchic rentier control of domestic politics."
http://michael-hudson.com/2014/01/l-is-for-land/ – "Liberal"

[Jul 25, 2019] The destiny of the USA is now tied to the destiny of neoliberalism (much like the USSR and Bolshevism)

Highly recommended!
Notable quotes:
"... The USA hegemony is based on ideological hegemony of neoliberalism. And BTW both Russia and China are neoliberal countries. That's probably why President Putin calls the USA administration "partners," despite clearly anti-Russian policies of all US administrations since 1991. ..."
"... One fascinating fact that escapes my understanding is why the USA elite wasted colossal advantage it got after the collapse of the USSR in just 25 years or so. I always thought that the USA elite is the most shrewd out of all countries. ..."
"... May be because they were brainwashed by neocon "intellectuals." I understand that most neocons are simply lobbyists of MIC, and MIC has huge political influence, but still neocon doctrine is so primitive that no civilized elite can take it seriously. ..."
"... I also understand Eisenhower hypocritical laments that "train with MIC left the station" and that the situation can't be reversed (lament disguised as a "warning"; let's remember that it was Eisenhower who appointed Allen Dulles to head the CIA. ..."
Dec 25, 2018 | www.unz.com

likbez , says: December 25, 2018 at 8:02 am GMT

@guitarzan

>US hegemony is imposed militarily, both covertly and overtly, throughout the world. It is maintained through the petrodollar, corporate power, and the Federal Reserve Bank and its overseas counterparts

All true, but the key element is missing. The USA hegemony is based on ideological hegemony of neoliberalism. And BTW both Russia and China are neoliberal countries. That's probably why President Putin calls the USA administration "partners," despite clearly anti-Russian policies of all US administrations since 1991.

Ability to use military is important but secondary. Without fifth column of national elites which support neoliberalism that would be impossible, or at least more difficult to use. Like it was when the USSR existed (Vietnam, Cuba, etc). The USSR has had pretty powerful military, which was in some narrow areas competitive, or even superior to the USA, but when the ideology of Bolshevism collapsed, the elite changed sides and adopted a neoliberal ideology. This betrayal led to the collapse of the USSR and all its mighty military and the vast KGB apparatus proved to be useless.

In this sense, the article is weak, and some comments are of a higher level than the article itself in the level of understanding of the situation (Simon in London at December 21, 2018, at 9:23 am one example; longevity of neoliberalism partially is connected to the fact that so far there is no clear alternative to it and without the crisis similar to Great Depression adoption of New Deal style measures is impossible )

It is really sad that the understanding that the destiny of the USA is now tied to the destiny of neoliberalism (much like the USSR and Bolshevism) is foreign for many.

So it might well be that the main danger for the US neoliberal empire now is not China or Russia, but the end of cheap oil, which might facilitate the collapse of neoliberalism as a social system based on wasteful use on commodities (and first of all oil)

One fascinating fact that escapes my understanding is why the USA elite wasted colossal advantage it got after the collapse of the USSR in just 25 years or so. I always thought that the USA elite is the most shrewd out of all countries.

May be because they were brainwashed by neocon "intellectuals." I understand that most neocons are simply lobbyists of MIC, and MIC has huge political influence, but still neocon doctrine is so primitive that no civilized elite can take it seriously.

I also understand Eisenhower hypocritical laments that "train with MIC left the station" and that the situation can't be reversed (lament disguised as a "warning"; let's remember that it was Eisenhower who appointed Allen Dulles to head the CIA.

[Jul 06, 2019] >Neoliberal economics and other fairytales about money by Peter McKenna

Notable quotes:
"... Aditya Chakrabortty ( It's reckless. But a Tory cash splurge could win an election , 3 July) is right to point out the hypocrisy of the political right about public expenditure. While progressive proposals for public spending are decried as burdening the hard-pressed taxpayer, the right is happy to use public money to rescue the banks or boost their electoral chances. ..."
"... As I explain in my book Money: Myths, Truths and Alternatives, neoliberal economics is built on a fairytale about money that distorts our view of how a contemporary public money system operates. It is assumed that public spending depends on extracting money from the market and that money (like gold) is always in short supply. Neither is true. Both the market and the state generate money – the market through bank lending and the state through public spending. Both increase the money supply, while bank loan repayments and taxation reduce it. There is no natural shortage of money – which today mainly exists only as data. ..."
Jul 04, 2019 | www.theguardian.com

Neoliberal economics and other fairytales about money Politics is not about a struggle over a fixed pot of money, says Mary Mellor, and the best way to end austerity is to reject it as an ideology, says Peter McKenna

Aditya Chakrabortty ( It's reckless. But a Tory cash splurge could win an election , 3 July) is right to point out the hypocrisy of the political right about public expenditure. While progressive proposals for public spending are decried as burdening the hard-pressed taxpayer, the right is happy to use public money to rescue the banks or boost their electoral chances.

As I explain in my book Money: Myths, Truths and Alternatives, neoliberal economics is built on a fairytale about money that distorts our view of how a contemporary public money system operates. It is assumed that public spending depends on extracting money from the market and that money (like gold) is always in short supply. Neither is true. Both the market and the state generate money – the market through bank lending and the state through public spending. Both increase the money supply, while bank loan repayments and taxation reduce it. There is no natural shortage of money – which today mainly exists only as data.

ss="rich-link tone-news--item rich-link--pillar-news"> Business Today: sign up for a morning shot of financial news Read more

The case for austerity missed the point. Politics is not about a struggle over a fixed pot of money. What is limited are resources (particularly the environment) and human capacity. How these are best used should be a matter of democratic debate. The allocation of money should depend on the priorities identified. In this the market has no more claim than the public economy to be the source of sustainable human welfare.
Professor Mary Mellor
Newcastle upon Tyne

• Over the years Aditya Chakrabortty has provided us with powerful critiques of austerity. His message now – that EU membership "is the best way to end austerity" – overlooks the fact that the UK was in the EU all that time.

Moreover, the EU's stability and growth pact requires that budget deficits and public debt be pegged below 3% and 60% of GDP respectively.

Such notions are the beating heart of austerity, and the European commission's excessive deficit procedure taken against errant states has almost universally resulted in swingeing austerity programmes. These were approved and monitored by the commission and council, with the UK only taken off the naughty step in 2017 after years of crippling austerity finally reduced the deficit to 2.3% of GDP.

The best way to end austerity – and to sway voters – is to reject austerity as an ideology regardless of remain or leave, and rehabilitate the concept of public investment in a people's economy.
Peter McKenna

[Jun 22, 2019] Use of science by the US politicians

Highly recommended!
Notable quotes:
"... "the administrator uses social science the way the drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination." Scholars' disinclination to be used in this way helps explain more of the distance. ..."
Jun 16, 2019 | www.theamericanconservative.com

The evidence suggests that foreign policymakers do not seek insight from scholars, but rather support for what they already want to do.

As Desch quotes a World War II U.S. Navy anthropologist, "the administrator uses social science the way the drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination." Scholars' disinclination to be used in this way helps explain more of the distance.

[Jun 19, 2019] Bias bias the inclination to accuse people of bias by James Thompson

Highly recommended!
Notable quotes:
"... Early in any psychology course, students are taught to be very cautious about accepting people's reports. A simple trick is to stage some sort of interruption to the lecture by confederates, and later ask the students to write down what they witnessed. Typically, they will misremember the events, sequences and even the number of people who staged the tableaux. Don't trust witnesses, is the message. ..."
"... The three assumptions -- lack of rationality, stubbornness, and costs -- imply that there is slim chance that people can ever learn or be educated out of their biases; ..."
"... So, are we as hopeless as some psychologists claim we are? In fact, probably not. Not all the initial claims have been substantiated. For example, it seems we are not as loss averse as previously claimed. Does our susceptibility to printed visual illusions show that we lack judgement in real life? ..."
"... Well the sad fact is that there's nobody in the position to protect "governments" from their own biases, and "scientists" from theirs ..."
"... Long ago a lawyer acquaintance, referring to a specific judge, told me that the judge seemed to "make shit up as he was going along". I have long held psychiatry fits that statement very well. ..."
"... Here we have a real scientist fighting the nonsense spreading from (neoclassical) economics into other realms of science/academia. ..."
"... Behavioral economics is a sideline by-product of neoclassical micro-economic theory. It tries to cope with experimental data that is inconsistent with that theory. ..."
"... Everything in neoclassical economics is a travesty. "Rational choice theory" and its application in "micro economics" is false from the ground up. It basically assumes that people are gobbling up resources without plan, meaning or relevant circumstances. Neoclassical micro economic theory is so false and illogical that I would not know where to start in a comment, so I should like to refer to a whole book about it: Keen, Steve: "Debunking economics". ..."
"... As the theory is totally wrong it is really not surprising that countless experiments show that people do not behave the way neoclassical theory predicts. How do economists react to this? Of course they assume that people are "irrational" because they do not behave according to their studied theory. (Why would you ever change your basic theory because of some tedious facts?) ..."
"... The title of the 1st ed. of Keen's book was "Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences" which was simply a perfect title. ..."
Jun 19, 2019 | www.unz.com

Early in any psychology course, students are taught to be very cautious about accepting people's reports. A simple trick is to stage some sort of interruption to the lecture by confederates, and later ask the students to write down what they witnessed. Typically, they will misremember the events, sequences and even the number of people who staged the tableaux. Don't trust witnesses, is the message.

Another approach is to show visual illusions, such as getting estimates of line lengths in the Muller-Lyer illusion, or studying simple line lengths under social pressure, as in the Asch experiment, or trying to solve the Peter Wason logic problems, or the puzzles set by Kahneman and Tversky. All these appear to show severe limitations of human judgment. Psychology is full of cautionary tales about the foibles of common folk.

As a consequence of this softening up, psychology students come to regard themselves and most people as fallible, malleable, unreliable, biased and generally irrational. No wonder psychologists feel superior to the average citizen, since they understand human limitations and, with their superior training, hope to rise above such lowly superstitions.

However, society still functions, people overcome errors and many things work well most of the time. Have psychologists, for one reason or another, misunderstood people, and been too quick to assume that they are incapable of rational thought?

Gerd Gigerenzer thinks so.

https://www.nowpublishers.com/article/OpenAccessDownload/RBE-0092

He is particularly interested in the economic consequences of apparent irrationality, and whether our presumed biases really result in us making bad economic decisions. If so, some argue we need a benign force, say a government, to protect us from our lack of capacity. Perhaps we need a tattoo on our forehead: Diminished Responsibility.

The argument leading from cognitive biases to governmental paternalism -- in short, the irrationality argument -- consists of three assumptions and one conclusion:

1. Lack of rationality. Experiments have shown that people's intuitions are systematically biased.

2. Stubbornness. Like visual illusions, biases are persistent and hardly corrigible by education.

3. Substantial costs. Biases may incur substantial welfare-relevant costs such as lower wealth, health, or happiness.

4. Biases justify governmental paternalism. To protect people from theirbiases, governments should "nudge" the public toward better behavior.

The three assumptions -- lack of rationality, stubbornness, and costs -- imply that there is slim chance that people can ever learn or be educated out of their biases; instead governments need to step in with a policy called libertarian paternalism (Thaler and Sunstein, 2003).

So, are we as hopeless as some psychologists claim we are? In fact, probably not. Not all the initial claims have been substantiated. For example, it seems we are not as loss averse as previously claimed. Does our susceptibility to printed visual illusions show that we lack judgement in real life?

In Shepard's (1990) words, "to fool a visual system that has a full binocular and freely mobile view of a well-illuminated scene is next to impossible" (p. 122). Thus, in psychology, the visual system is seen more as a genius than a fool in making intelligent inferences, and inferences, after all, are necessary for making sense of the images on the retina.

Most crucially, can people make probability judgements? Let us see. Try solving this one:

A disease has a base rate of .1, and a test is performed that has a hit rate of .9 (the conditional probability of a positive test given disease) and a false positive rate of .1 (the conditional probability of a positive test given no disease). What is the probability that a random person with a positive test result actually has the disease?

Most people fail this test, including 79% of gynaecologists giving breast screening tests. Some researchers have drawn the conclusion that people are fundamentally unable to deal with conditional probabilities. On the contrary, there is a way of laying out the problem such that most people have no difficulty with it. Watch what it looks like when presented as natural frequencies:

Among every 100 people, 10 are expected to have a disease. Among those 10, nine are expected to correctly test positive. Among the 90 people without the disease, nine are expected to falsely test positive. What proportion of those who test positive actually have the disease?

In this format the positive test result gives us 9 people with the disease and 9 people without the disease, so the chance that a positive test result shows a real disease is 50/50. Only 13% of gynaecologists fail this presentation.

Summing up the virtues of natural frequencies, Gigerenzer says:

When college students were given a 2-hour course in natural frequencies, the number of correct Bayesian inferences increased from 10% to 90%; most important, this 90% rate was maintained 3 months after training (Sedlmeier and Gigerenzer, 2001). Meta-analyses have also documented the "de-biasing" effect, and natural frequencies are now a technical term in evidence-based medicine (Akiet al., 2011; McDowell and Jacobs, 2017). These results are consistent with a long literature on techniques for successfully teaching statistical reasoning (e.g., Fonget al., 1986). In sum, humans can learn Bayesian inference quickly if the information is presented in natural frequencies.

If the problem is set out in a simple format, almost all of us can all do conditional probabilities.

I taught my medical students about the base rate screening problem in the late 1970s, based on: Robyn Dawes (1962) "A note on base rates and psychometric efficiency". Decades later, alarmed by the positive scan detection of an unexplained mass, I confided my fears to a psychiatrist friend. He did a quick differential diagnosis on bowel cancer, showing I had no relevant symptoms, and reminded me I had lectured him as a student on base rates decades before, so I ought to relax. Indeed, it was false positive.

Here are the relevant figures, set out in terms of natural frequencies

Every test has a false positive rate (every step is being taken to reduce these), and when screening is used for entire populations many patients have to undergo further investigations, sometimes including surgery.

Setting out frequencies in a logical sequence can often prevent misunderstandings. Say a man on trial for having murdered his spouse has previously physically abused her. Should his previous history of abuse not be raised in Court because only 1 woman in 2500 cases of abuse is murdered by her abuser? Of course, whatever a defence lawyer may argue and a Court may accept, this is back to front. OJ Simpson was not on trial for spousal abuse, but for the murder of his former partner. The relevant question is: what is the probability that a man murdered his partner, given that she has been murdered and that he previously battered her.

Accepting the figures used by the defence lawyer, if 1 in 2500 women are murdered every year by their abusive male partners, how many women are murdered by men who did not previously abuse them? Using government figures that 5 women in 100,000 are murdered every year then putting everything onto the same 100,000 population, the frequencies look like this:

So, 40 to 5, it is 8 times more probable that abused women are murdered by their abuser. A relevant issue to raise in Court about the past history of an accused man.

Are people's presumed biases costly, in the sense of making them vulnerable to exploitation, such that they can be turned into a money pump, or is it a case of "once bitten, twice shy"? In fact, there is no evidence that these apparently persistent logical errors actually result in people continually making costly errors. That presumption turns out to be a bias bias.

Gigerenzer goes on to show that people are in fact correct in their understanding of the randomness of short sequences of coin tosses, and Kahneman and Tversky wrong. Elegantly, he also shows that the "hot hand" of successful players in basketball is a real phenomenon, and not a stubborn illusion as claimed.

With equal elegance he disposes of a result I had depended upon since Slovic (1982), which is that people over-estimate the frequency of rare risks and under-estimate the frequency of common risks. This finding has led to the belief that people are no good at estimating risk. Who could doubt that a TV series about Chernobyl will lead citizens to have an exaggerated fear of nuclear power stations?

The original Slovic study was based on 39 college students, not exactly a fair sample of humanity. The conceit of psychologists knows no bounds. Gigerenzer looks at the data and shows that it is yet another example of regression to the mean. This is an apparent effect which arises whenever the predictor is less than perfect (the most common case), an unsystematic error effect, which is already evident when you calculate the correlation coefficient. Parental height and their children's heights are positively but not perfectly correlated at about r = 0.5. Predictions made in either direction will under-predict in either direction, simply because they are not perfect, and do not capture all the variation. Try drawing out the correlation as an ellipse to see the effect of regression, compared to the perfect case of the straight line of r= 1.0

What diminishes in the presence of noise is the variability of the estimates, both the estimates of the height of the sons based on that of their fathers, and vice versa. Regression toward the mean is a result of unsystematic, not systematic error (Stigler,1999).

Gigerenzer also looks at the supposed finding that people are over-confidence in predictions, and finds that it is another regression to the mean problem.

Gigerenzer then goes on to consider that old favourite, that most people think they are better than average, which supposedly cannot be the case, because average people are average.

Consider the finding that most drivers think they drive better than average. If better driving is interpreted as meaning fewer accidents, then most drivers' beliefs are actually true. The number of accidents per person has a skewed distribution, and an analysis of U.S. accident statistics showed that some 80% of drivers have fewer accidents than the average number of accidents (Mousavi and Gigerenzer, 2011)

Then he looks at the classical demonstration of framing, that is to say, the way people appear to be easily swayed by how the same facts are "framed" or presented to the person who has to make a decision.

A patient suffering from a serious heart disease considers high-risk surgery and asks a doctor about its prospects.

The doctor can frame the answer in two ways:

Positive Frame: Five years after surgery, 90% of patients are alive.
Negative Frame: Five years after surgery, 10% of patients are dead.

Should the patient listen to how the doctor frames the answer? Behavioral economists say no because both frames are logically equivalent (Kahneman, 2011). Nevertheless, people do listen. More are willing to agree to a medical procedure if the doctor uses positive framing (90% alive) than if negative framing is used (10% dead) (Moxeyet al., 2003). Framing effects challenge the assumption of stable preferences, leading to preference reversals. Thaler and Sunstein (2008) who presented the above surgery problem, concluded that "framing works because people tend to be somewhat mindless, passive decisionmakers" (p. 40)

Gigerenzer points out that in this particular example, subjects are having to make their judgements without knowing a key fact: how many survive without surgery. If you know that you have a datum which is more influential. These are the sorts of questions patients will often ask about, and discuss with other patients, or with several doctors. Furthermore, you don't have to spin a statistic. You could simply say: "Five years after surgery, 90% of patients are alive and 10% are dead".

Gigerenzer gives an explanation which is very relevant to current discussions about the meaning of intelligence, and about the power of intelligence tests:

In sum, the principle of logical equivalence or "description invariance" is a poor guide to understanding how human intelligence deals with an uncertain world where not everything is stated explicitly. It misses the very nature of intelligence, the ability to go beyond the information given (Bruner, 1973)

The key is to take uncertainty seriously, take heuristics seriously, and beware of the bias bias.

One important conclusion I draw from this entire paper is that the logical puzzles enjoyed by Kahneman, Tversky, Stanovich and others are rightly rejected by psychometricians as usually being poor indicators of real ability. They fail because they are designed to lead people up the garden path, and depend on idiosyncratic interpretations.

For more detail: http://www.unz.com/jthompson/the-tricky-question-of-rationality/

Critics of examinations of either intellectual ability or scholastic attainment are fond of claiming that the items are "arbitrary". Not really. Scholastic tests have to be close to the curriculum in question, but still need to a have question forms which are simple to understand so that the stress lies in how students formulate the answer, not in how they decipher the structure of the question.

Intellectual tests have to avoid particular curricula and restrict themselves to the common ground of what most people in a community understand. Questions have to be super-simple, so that the correct answer follows easily from the question, with minimal ambiguity. Furthermore, in the case of national scholastic tests, and particularly in the case of intelligence tests, legal authorities will pore over the test, looking at each item for suspected biases of a sexual, racial or socio-economic nature. Designing an intelligence test is a difficult and expensive matter. Many putative new tests of intelligence never even get to the legal hurdle, because they flounder on matters of reliability and validity, and reveal themselves to be little better than the current range of assessments.

In conclusion, both in psychology and behavioural economics, some researchers have probably been too keen to allege bias in cases where there are unsystematic errors, or no errors at all. The corrective is to learn about base rates, and to use natural frequencies as a guide to good decision-making.

Don't bother boosting your IQ. Boost your understanding of natural frequencies.


res , says: June 17, 2019 at 3:29 pm GMT

Good concrete advice. Perhaps even more useful for those who need to explain things like this to others than for those seeking to understand for themselves.
ThreeCranes , says: June 17, 2019 at 3:34 pm GMT
"intelligence deals with an uncertain world where not everything is stated explicitly. It misses the very nature of intelligence, the ability to go beyond the information given (Bruner, 1973)"

"The key is to take uncertainty seriously, take heuristics seriously, and beware of the bias bias."

Why I come to Unz.

Tom Welsh , says: June 18, 2019 at 8:36 am GMT
@Cortes Sounds fishy to me.

Actually I think this is an example of an increasingly common genre of malapropism, where the writer gropes for the right word, finds one that is similar, and settles for that. The worst of it is that readers intuitively understand what was intended, and then adopt the marginally incorrect usage themselves. That's perhaps how the world and his dog came to say "literally" when they mean "figuratively". Maybe a topic for a future article?

Biff , says: June 18, 2019 at 10:16 am GMT
In 2009 Google finished engineering a reverse search engine to find out what kind of searches people did most often. Seth Davidowitz and Steven Pinker wrote a very fascinating/entertaining book using the tool called Everybody Lies

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28512671-everybody-lies

Everybody Lies offers fascinating, surprising, and sometimes laugh-out-loud insights into everything from economics to ethics to sports to race to sex, gender, and more, all drawn from the world of big data. What percentage of white voters didn't vote for Barack Obama because he's black? Does where you go to school effect how successful you are in life? Do parents secretly favor boy children over girls? Do violent films affect the crime rate? Can you beat the stock market? How regularly do we lie about our sex lives, and who's more self-conscious about sex, men or women?

Investigating these questions and a host of others, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers revelations that can help us understand ourselves and our lives better. Drawing on studies and experiments on how we really live and think, he demonstrates in fascinating and often funny ways the extent to which all the world is indeed a lab. With conclusions ranging from strange-but-true to thought-provoking to disturbing, he explores the power of this digital truth serum and its deeper potential – revealing biases deeply embedded within us, information we can use to change our culture, and the questions we're afraid to ask that might be essential to our health – both emotional and physical. All of us are touched by big data every day, and its influence is multiplying. Everybody Lies challenges us to think differently about how we see it and the world.

dearieme , says: June 18, 2019 at 11:25 am GMT
I shall treat this posting (for which many thanks, doc) as an invitation to sing a much-loved song: everybody should read Gigerenzer's Reckoning with Risk. With great clarity it teaches what everyone ought to know about probability.

(It could also serve as a model for writing in English about technical subjects. Americans and Britons should study the English of this German – he knows how, you know.)

Inspired by "The original Slovic study was based on 39 college students" I shall also sing another favorite song. Much of Psychology is based on what small numbers of American undergraduates report they think they think.

Anon [410] • Disclaimer , says: June 18, 2019 at 3:47 pm GMT
" Gigerenzer points out that in this particular example, subjects are having to make their judgements without knowing a key fact: how many survive without surgery. "

This one reminds of the false dichotomy. The patient has additional options! Like changing diet, and behaviours such as exercise, elimination of occupational stress , etc.

The statistical outcomes for a person change when the person changes their circumstances/conditions.

Cortes , says: June 18, 2019 at 4:14 pm GMT
@Tom Welsh A disposition (conveyance) of an awkwardly shaped chunk out of a vast estate contained reference to "the slither of ground bounded on or towards the north east and extending two hundred and twenty four meters or thereby along a chain link fence " Not poor clients (either side) nor cheap lawyers. And who never erred?

Better than deliberately inserting "errors" to guarantee a stream of tidy up work (not unknown in the "professional" world) in future.

Tom Fix , says: June 18, 2019 at 4:25 pm GMT
Good article. 79% of gynaecologists fail a simple conditional probability test?! Many if not most medical research papers use advanced statistics. Medical doctors must read these papers to fully understand their field. So, if medical doctors don't fully understand them, they are not properly doing their job. Those papers use mathematical expressions, not English. Converting them to another form of English, instead of using the mathematical expressions isn't a solution.
SafeNow , says: June 18, 2019 at 5:49 pm GMT
Regarding witnesses: When that jet crashed into Rockaway several years ago, a high percentage of witnesses said that they saw smoke before the crash. But there was actually no smoke. The witnesses were adjusting what they saw to conform to their past experience of seeing movie and newsreel footage of planes smoking in the air before a crash. Children actually make very good witnesses.

Regarding the chart. Missing, up there in the vicinity of cancer and heart disease. The third-leading cause of death. 250,000 per year, according to a 2016 Hopkins study. Medical negligence.

Anon [724] • Disclaimer , says: June 18, 2019 at 9:48 pm GMT

1. Lack of rationality. Experiments have shown that people's intuitions are systematically biased.

2. Stubbornness. Like visual illusions, biases are persistent and hardly corrigible by education.

3. Substantial costs. Biases may incur substantial welfare-relevant costs such as lower wealth, health, or happiness.

4. Biases justify governmental paternalism. To protect people from theirbiases, governments should "nudge" the public toward better behavior.

Well the sad fact is that there's nobody in the position to protect "governments" from their own biases, and "scientists" from theirs.

So, behind the smoke of all words and rationalisations, the law is unchanged: everyone strives to gain and exert as much power as possible over as many others as possible. Most do that without writing papers to say it is right, others write papers, others books. Anyway, the fundamental law would stay as it is even if all this writing labour was spared, wouldn't it? But then another fundamental law, the law of framing all one's drives as moral and beneffective comes into play the papers and the books are useful, after all.

Curmudgeon , says: June 19, 2019 at 1:42 am GMT
An interesting article. However, I think that the only thing we have to know about how illogical psychiatry is this:

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) asked all members attending its convention to vote on whether they believed homosexuality to be a mental disorder. 5,854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM, and 3,810 to retain it.

The APA then compromised, removing homosexuality from the DSM but replacing it, in effect, with "sexual orientation disturbance" for people "in conflict with" their sexual orientation. Not until 1987 did homosexuality completely fall out of the DSM.

(source https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/hide-and-seek/201509/when-homosexuality-stopped-being-mental-disorder )

The article makes no mention of the fact that no "new science" was brought to support the resolution.

It appears that the psychiatrists were voting based on feelings rather than science. Since that time, the now 50+ genders have been accepted as "normal" by the APA. My family has had members in multiple generations suffering from mental illness. None were "cured". I know others with the same circumstances.

How does one conclude that being repulsed by the prime directive of every living organism – reproduce yourself – is "normal"? That is not to say these people are horrible or evil, just not normal. How can someone, who thinks (s)he is a cat be mentally ill, but a grown man thinking he is a female child is not?

Long ago a lawyer acquaintance, referring to a specific judge, told me that the judge seemed to "make shit up as he was going along". I have long held psychiatry fits that statement very well.

Paul2 , says: June 19, 2019 at 8:08 am GMT
Thank you for this article. I find the information about the interpretation of statistical data very interesting. My take on the background of the article is this:

Here we have a real scientist fighting the nonsense spreading from (neoclassical) economics into other realms of science/academia.

Behavioral economics is a sideline by-product of neoclassical micro-economic theory. It tries to cope with experimental data that is inconsistent with that theory.

Everything in neoclassical economics is a travesty. "Rational choice theory" and its application in "micro economics" is false from the ground up. It basically assumes that people are gobbling up resources without plan, meaning or relevant circumstances. Neoclassical micro economic theory is so false and illogical that I would not know where to start in a comment, so I should like to refer to a whole book about it:
Keen, Steve: "Debunking economics".

As the theory is totally wrong it is really not surprising that countless experiments show that people do not behave the way neoclassical theory predicts. How do economists react to this? Of course they assume that people are "irrational" because they do not behave according to their studied theory. (Why would you ever change your basic theory because of some tedious facts?)

We live in a strange world in which such people have control over university faculties, journals, famous prizes. But at least we have some scientists who defend their area of knowledge against the spreading nonsense produced by economists.

The title of the 1st ed. of Keen's book was "Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences" which was simply a perfect title.

Dieter Kief , says: June 19, 2019 at 8:22 am GMT
@Curmudgeon Could it be that you expect psychiatrists in the past to be as rational as you are now?

Would the result have been any different, if members of a 1973 convention of physicists or surgeons would have been asked?

[May 28, 2019] he economy is a complex system, our data are imperfect and our models inevitably fail to account for all the interactions

May 28, 2019 | www.zerohedge.com

As economist Russ Roberts once wrote in the Wall Street Journal,

"The economy is a complex system, our data are imperfect and our models inevitably fail to account for all the interactions. The bottom line is that we should expect less of economists. Economics is a powerful tool, a lens for organizing one's thinking about the complexity of the world around us. That should be enough. We should be honest about what we know, what we don't know and what we may never know. Admitting that publicly is the first step toward respectability."

In the same vein, I would urge new graduates to be skeptical of those in power who flatter them with the lie that they can, if only they are sufficiently resolute, solve big social problems through government interventions. The truth is that even the best-intentioned government officials do not -- indeed, cannot possibly -- have the knowledge necessary to deliver on any grand promises.

Sadly, this lack of knowledge never stops politicians from spending all of their time pretending that they know it all and none of their time humbly reflecting on the arrogance of attempts to boss the rest of us around. Making matters worse is the fact that the decision-making process in government is not conducive to the best policies. Quite the opposite, in fact. See, politicians spend other people's money and are unduly influenced by special interests. As such, their interests are never served by their taking account of the true costs of their programs, or acknowledging the (too-often invisible) victims of their interventions.

[Apr 08, 2019] Economists are ideologically biased

Sometime neoliberal economics act as the Thought Police. Peddling neoclassic economy bullshit create a dreadful environments of a cult and there are enforces on each corner to ensure students indoctrination.
Apr 08, 2019 | www.moonofalabama.org
vk , Apr 7, 2019 5:50:27 PM | 55 ">link

From Michael Roberts' facebook:

Economists are ideologically biased - finds a survey of their views on modern economies conducted by Mark Horowitz, Associate Professor of Sociology at Seton Hall University, New Jersey, entitled Political Identity and Economists' Perceptions of Capitalist Crises.

Economists' Politics Loom Large in their Views of Capitalist Crises

"Surveying academic economists in the United States, we find the field quite skeptical of the prospects of capitalist crises. Despite considerable consensus, political orientation is a highly significant predictor of respondents' outlooks."

"economists are generally skeptical of the prospects of capitalist crises. Very few see mass structural unemployment on the horizon due to automation (Q2) or incompatibility between capitalism and secure or meaningful employment (Q4, Q5). Only a third or so anticipates global financial contagion (Q1), while even fewer affirm a systemic tendency toward monopoly (Q11). Finally, at least two-thirds believe the global economy will likely be capitalist in 200 years (Q8)".

Marx on 'vulgar political economy': "It was henceforth no longer a question, whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested enquirers, there were hired prize-fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic"

[Apr 05, 2019] I felt mathematicians were not examining the role of their discipline in the crisis; they were not behaving ethically.

Apr 05, 2019 | magic-maths-money.blogspot.com
I frequently refer to Gillian Tett's Fools' Gold as an account of ethical mathematical practice. Tett explains how J.P. Morgan came out of the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis because it used mathematics critically rather than blindly accepting the outputs of "black boxes". I felt the approach Tett described was oddly discordant with the attitude of mathematicians. During the crisis, I co-ordinated a response from UK mathematicians, through the Council of Mathematical Sciences, to criticism of the use of mathematics in finance, this information was also passed onto the UK Science Minister of the time.

The standard response from (senior) UK mathematicians was along the lines that finance hadn't used mathematics but abused it.

The solution was to have "more" and "better" mathematicians. This was underpinned by some adopting a logical positivist line, attributed to Hume, that the role of mathematicians is to describe the world as it is, not as it ought to be.

At the time I felt mathematicians were not examining the role of their discipline in the crisis; they were not behaving ethically. This was the start of my journey that transformed me from an "uncritical" (unethical?) mathematician to someone who feels mathematics is vital, so long as it is critical.

[Mar 22, 2019] Responding to some of the critiques of our paper on secular stagnation and fiscal policy

Mar 22, 2019 | larrysummers.com

My paper with Lukasz Rachel on secular stagnation and fiscal policy summarized here has attracted a number of interesting responses including from Martin Wolf , David Leonhardt , Martin Sandbu and Brad DeLong and also many participants at the Brookings conference.

I'm gratified that there seems to be general acceptance of the core secular stagnation argument. "Normal" policy settings of real interest rates in the 2 percent range, balanced primary budgets and stable financial markets are a prescription for stagnation and underemployment. Such economic success as the industrial world has enjoyed in recent decades has reflected a combination of very low real rates, big budget deficits, private leveraging up and asset bubbles.

No one from whom I have heard doubts the key conclusion that a combination of meaningfully positive real interest rates and balanced budgets would likely be a prescription for sustained recession if not depression in the industrial world.

Notice that this is a much more fundamental argument than the suggestion that the some effective lower bound on interest rates may impede stabilizing the economy. The argument is that because of chronic private sector tendency towards oversaving, economies may be prone to underemployment and financial stability absent policy responses which are themselves problematic.

This is an argument much more in the spirit of Keynes, the early Keynesians, and today's Post-Keynesians than the New Keynesians who have set the terms for much of contemporary macroeconomic discourse both in academia and in the world's central banks.

The central feature of New Keynesian models is an idea that economies have an equilibrium to which they naturally revert independent of policies pursued. Good central bank policy achieves a desired inflation target (assumed to be feasible) while minimizing the amplitude of fluctuations around that equilibrium.

In contrast contemporary experience, where inflation has been below target almost throughout the industrial world for a decade and is expected by markets to remain below target for decades, and where output is sustained only by large budget deficits or extraordinary monetary policies, suggest that central banks acting alone cannot necessarily attain inflation targets and that misguided policy could easily not just raise the volatility of output but also reduce its average level.

While there seems to be little doubt that real interest rates–short and long, ex ante and ex post -- have declined very substantially even as (other things equal) budget deficits and expanded social security programs should have increased them, there remains debate about how to analyze these trends. Lukasz and I argue that adjustment to balance saving and investment is the best way understand declining real rates. DeLong wonders about changing risk premiums and Wolf cites BIS work arguing that low rates reflect the monetary policy regime. There is no reason why there needs to be only one cause of low real rates so these factors may enter. But as I expect we will illustrate in the revised version of the paper, the largest part of the low frequency variation in ex ante real returns is accounted for by a downward trending factor common to all asset prices. This is illustrated for the US in the figure below. So risk premiums or factors specific to Treasuries are likely not high order.

Figure: Decline in US real asset returns

Granting that secular stagnation is a problem, there is the question of policy response. The right policy response will be the one that assures that full employment is maintained with a minimum of collateral problems. Sandbu argues against the notion of secular stagnation in part because he thinks it may lead in unconstructive directions like protectionism and because he believes that stagnation issues can be feasibly and relatively easily addressed by lowering rates. Wolf, relying on the BIS, is alarmed by the toxic effects of very low rates on financial stability in the short run and economic performance in the long run, and prefers fiscal stimulus. Leonhardt prefers a broad menu of measures to absorb saving and promote investment.

I am not certain of the right approach and I wish there was more evidence to bring to bear on the question. I can certain see the logic of the "zero is just another number" view, that holds that the current environment poses no new fundamental issues but just may require technical changes to make more negative interest rates possible. I am skeptical because (i) I am not sure how large the stimulus effect of rates going more negative is because of damage to banks, reduced interest income for consumers, and because capital cost is already not the barrier to investment; (ii) I wonder about the quality of any investment that was not made at a zero rate but was made at a negative rate; and (iii) I suspect that a world of significantly negative nominal rates if sustained will be a world of leveraging, risk seeking and bubbles. I have trouble thinking about behavior in situations where people and firms are paid to borrow!

I am inclined to prefer more reliance on reasonably managed fiscal policies as a response to secular stagnation: government borrowing at negative real rates and investing seems very attractive in a world where there are many projects with high social returns. Moreover, we are accustomed to thinking in terms of debt levels but it may be more appropriate to think in terms of sustained debt service levels. With near zero rates these are below average in most industrial countries. The content of fiscal policies is crucial. Measures which run up government debt without stimulating demand like large parts of the Trump tax cut are ill advised. In contrast measures which promote investment and raise the tax base down the road are much more attractive.

There are of course other measures beyond stabilization policies like fighting monopolies, promoting a more equal income distribution, and strengthening retirement security for which the desire to maintain macroeconomic stability provides an additional rationale.

[Mar 16, 2019] Martin Wolf Why Economists Failed as "Experts" -- and How to Make Them Matter Again

That's what neoliberal bottomfeeders like Summers, Krugman and Dejong should read and memorize
Notable quotes:
"... Neoclassical economics became important in large measure to show that markets delivered efficient outcomes, and efficiency was seen as tantamount to socially desirable. That's before considering that highly efficiency almost always comes at the expense of safety and robustness, and that efficient solutions may not be equitable. ..."
"... So, maybe the proper distinction to be made is between "trustworthy" experts and "untrustworthy" ones. The question then become what makes experts trustworthy -- not, I should stress, intrinsically trustworthy, but rather perceived by the public to be so. ..."
"... The third point is that trust in expertise seems to be quite generally declining. This is partly perhaps because education is more widespread, which makes possession of an education appear in itself less authoritative. It is also partly because of the rapid dissemination of information. It is partly because of the easy formation of groups of the disaffected and dissemination of conspiracy theories. The internet and the new social media it has spawned have turned out to be powerful engines for the spreading of disinformation aimed at manipulation of the unwary. ..."
Mar 14, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
Yves here. Even though Martin Wolf's post makes many important observations, I feel the need to take issue with his conclusion. Economists have been and continue to be enormously successful as experts. PhDs in economics make roughly twice as much as those in other social sciences. Economists are the only social scientists to have a seat at the policy table. And they continue to do so, despite their colossal failure in the global financial crisis, with no serious change in the discipline and no loss of reputation of any prominent economists.

Neoclassical economics became important in large measure to show that markets delivered efficient outcomes, and efficiency was seen as tantamount to socially desirable. That's before considering that highly efficiency almost always comes at the expense of safety and robustness, and that efficient solutions may not be equitable.

The importance of economists as policy advisers grew in the post World War II era, after the USSR managed the impressive feat of industrializing in the 20th century. US officials were concerned that a command and control economy could beat a messy, consumer oriented capitalist one, and turned to economists to give guidance on how to achieve high growth rates so as to produce enough guns and butter.

As for the specific impetus for Wolf's article, it appears to be due to voters ignoring the dire warnings made by the Remain campaign during the Brexit referendum campaign that Brexit would have large economic costs. But based on reports after the vote came in, that repudiation came not just because the public might well have good reason not to believe economists as a result of the crisis, but how the Remain campaign carried itself in the debates. That side apparently made arrogant-seeming, data heavy arguments, while the Leavers made stirring appeals about sovereignty .a UK version of MAGA.

By Martin Wolf, Associate Editor and Chief Economics Commentator, Financial Times. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

"I think people in this country have had enough of experts."
-Michael Gove

Michael Gove, winner of the Brexit referendum (though loser in the game of politics, having failed to become leader of his party, and so, maybe, no true expert either) hit the nail on the head. The people of this country have, it seems, had enough of those who consider themselves experts, in some domains. The implications of this rejection of experts seem enormous. That should be of particular significance for economists, because economists were, after all, the "experts" against whom Mr. Gove was inveighing.

Yet it is not really true that the people of this country have had enough of experts. When they fall ill, they still go to licensed doctors. When they fly, they trust qualified pilots. When they want a bridge, they call upon qualified engineers. Even today, in the supposed "post-fact" world, such people are almost universally recognized as experts.

So, maybe the proper distinction to be made is between "trustworthy" experts and "untrustworthy" ones. The question then become what makes experts trustworthy -- not, I should stress, intrinsically trustworthy, but rather perceived by the public to be so.

One might make three, admittedly speculative, points about this distinction between experts deemed by the public to be deserving of trust and those who are not.

The first is that some forms of expertise appear simply to be more solidly based than others in a body of theory and/or evidence, with recognizable successes to their credit. By and large, doctors are associated with cures, pilots with keeping airplanes in the sky and engineers with bridges that stay up. Such successes -- and there are many other comparable fields of expertise -- self-evidently make people with the relevant expertise appear trustworthy.

The second is that some forms of expertise are more politically contentious than others. Nearly everybody, for example, agrees that curing people, flying airplanes and building bridges are good things. Social and political arrangements -- and economics is inescapably about social and political arrangements -- are always and everywhere contentious. They affect not only how people think the human world works, but also how it ought to work. These forms of expertise are about values.

The third point is that trust in expertise seems to be quite generally declining. This is partly perhaps because education is more widespread, which makes possession of an education appear in itself less authoritative. It is also partly because of the rapid dissemination of information. It is partly because of the easy formation of groups of the disaffected and dissemination of conspiracy theories. The internet and the new social media it has spawned have turned out to be powerful engines for the spreading of disinformation aimed at manipulation of the unwary.

It might be encouraging for economists that they are not the only experts who are mistrusted. Consider the anti-vaccination movement, hostility to evolutionary theory, or rejection of climate science. All these are the products of doubts fueled by a combination of core beliefs and suspicion of particular forms of expertise. The anti-vaccination movement is driven by parents' concerns about their children. The hostility to evolution is driven by religion. The rejection of climate science is clearly driven by ideology. Every climate denier I know is a free marketeer. Is this an accident? No. The desire to believe in the free market creates an emotional justification for denying climate science. In principle, after all, belief in free markets and in the physics of the climate system have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

So economists are in good company with other forms of politically or socially contentious expertise. But they have a special difficulty. Not only are they engaged in an essentially controversial, because political, arena, and so also an inherently ideological one, but they suffer to a high degree from the first point I made above: their "science", if science it is, just does not look to the public to be solidly based. It does not work as well as the public wants and economists have claimed. Economists claim a certain scientific status. But much of it looks to the outsider more like "scientism" -- the use of an incomprehensible intellectual apparatus to obscure ignorance rather than reveal truth.

This does not mean that economists don't know useful things. It is quite clear that they do. Markets are extraordinary institutions, for example. Economists' elucidation of markets or of the principle of comparative advantage is a great intellectual achievement. Yet suspicion of economics and economists is both long-standing and understandable.

The problem became far more serious after the financial crisis. The popular perception is that the experts -- macroeconomists and financial economists -- did not appreciate the dangers before the event and did not understand the longer-run consequences after it. Moreover, the popular perception seems to be in large part correct. This has damaged the acceptance of the expertise of economists to a huge extent.

So how, in this suspicious contemporary environment, might economists persuade the public they are experts who deserve to be listened to?

I decided to ask my colleagues this question. One answered that:

1. Good economists have a clear (if incomplete) understanding of how the world works. This is a pre-requisite to making it a better place.

2. Economists have a sense of scale. They understand the difference between big and small and how to make that distinction. This is vital for policy.

3. Economics is all about counterfactuals. It understands the relevant comparators even if they are difficult to work out.

4. Economists are experts on incentives and motivations and empirically try to measure them rather than relying on wishful thinking.

5. Generally, good economists are expert in understanding the limits of their knowledge and forecasting abilities.

Another colleague added:

The general public usually associate economists with:
-A small set of macroeconomic forecasts (growth, inflation mainly), and
-A belief that markets always produce perfect outcomes

And they attribute failure to them if either:
-point forecasts (inevitably) prove wrong, or
-markets produce some bad outcomes

Whereas the expertise of economists is really in the building blocks that enable you to construct sensible forecasts and to understand how people are likely to behave and respond to a given set of circumstances/policies. This structure for understanding the world allows economists to take on board new developments, understand whether they reflect a rejection of their existing theories or merely a (possibly tail) outcome that was consistent with their "model," and push forward their understanding of the world from there. Rather than throwing away all existing wisdom when circumstances change somewhat.

I agree with these propositions. Properly understood, economics remains very useful. One realizes this as soon as one is engaged with someone who knows nothing at all about the subject. But I still have four qualifications to make.

First, a large part of what economists actually do, namely forecasting, is not very soundly based. It would be a good idea if economists stated that loudly, strongly, and repeatedly. Indeed, there should be ceaseless public campaigning by the professional bodies, emphasizing what economists don't know. Of course, that would not -- as economists might predict -- be in their interests.

Second, in important areas of supposed economic expertise, the analytical basis is really weak. This is true of the operation of the monetary and financial systems. It is also true of the determinants of economic growth.

Third, economists are not disinterested outsiders. They are part of the political process. It is crucial to remember that certain propositions favor the interests of powerful people and groups. Economists can find themselves easily captured by such groups. "Invisible hand" theorems are particularly open to such abuse.

Finally, the division between economic aspects of society and the rest is, in my view, analytically unsound. The relationship between, say, economics and sociology or anthropology is not like that between physics and chemistry. The latter rests upon the former. But economics and anthropology lie side by side. I increasingly feel that the educated economist, certainly those engaged in policy, must also understand political science, sociology, anthropology, and sociology. Otherwise, they will fail to understand what is actually happening.

If I am right, the challenge is not just to purify economics of exaggerated claims, though that is indeed needed. It is rather to recognize the limited scope of economic knowledge. This does not mean there is no such thing as economic expertise: there is. But its scope and generality are more limited than many suppose.

Michael Gove was wrong, in my view, about expertise applied in the Brexit debate. But he was not altogether wrong about the expertise of economists. If we were more humble and more honest, we might be better recognized as experts able to contribute to public debate.

With this in mind, what should be the goal of an education in economics at the university level? A part of the answer will come from developments within the field. In time, the incorporation of new ideas and techniques may make the academic discipline better at addressing the intellectual and policy challenges the world now confronts.

Another part of the answer, however, must come from asking what an undergraduate education ought to achieve. The answer should not be to produce apprentices in a highly technical and narrow discipline taught as a branch of applied mathematics. For the great majority of those who learn economics, what matters is appreciation of both a few core ideas and of the complexity of the economic reality.

At bottom, economics is a field of inquiry and a way of thinking. Among its valuable core concepts are: opportunity cost, marginal cost, rent, sunk costs, externalities, and effective demand. Economics also allows people to make at least some sense of debates on growth, taxation, monetary policy, economic development, inequality, and so forth.

It is unnecessary to possess a vast technical apparatus to understand these ideas. Indeed the technical apparatus can get in the way of such an understanding. Much of the understanding can also be acquired in a decent, but not inordinately technical, undergraduate education. That is what I was fortunate enough to acquire in my own years studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford in the late 1960s. Today, I believe, someone with my background in the humanities would never become an economist. I am absolutely sure I would not have done so. It might be arrogant to make this claim. But I think that would have been a pity -- and not just for me.

In addition, it would be helpful to expose students to some of the heterodox alternatives to orthodox economics. This can only be selective. But exposure to the ideas of Hyman Minsky, for example, would be very helpful to anybody seeking to understand the macroeconomic implications of liberalized finance.

The teaching of economics to undergraduates must focus on core ideas, essential questions, and actual realities. Such a curriculum might not be the best way to produce candidates for PhD programs. So be it. The study of economics at university must not be seen through so narrow a lens. Its purpose is to produce people with a broad economic enlightenment. That is what the public debate needs. It is what education has to provide.


greg , March 14, 2019 at 1:14 am

I am afraid a worse problem with economists is that they don't seem interested in anyone's opinions except their own.

They even hold ecology in disdain, not having any interest in learning what is, in fact, the foundational system of their own 'science.' The booms and busts of capitalism show familiar patterns to ecologists. Why, ecologists even have equations for them!

But I guess ecology is just too simple for the attentions of economists : Stupid animals. They don't even use money! What kind of economy can that be?

So economists look for models everywhere except where to find them. The hubris of humanity, not needing to give due attention to the economies of 'animal' societies.

Sanxi , March 14, 2019 at 7:04 am

To Yves. Well, I nearly lack the heart to respond, but I feel I must. Taking yesterday's NC's lessons of looking at a human facing and having eye contact to remain human online, I now do both – a human sits next to me. I read aloud to her.

Ok, you are a strong advocate of becoming a certified economist. Because 1.they make a lot of money and 2. only they sit at the policy table.

Further claims made in your preamble: in no particular order of importance: something about efficient outcomes that may not be equitable; command & control and guns and butter; and sadly an analysis of Brexit voters in either camp.

(One exception to all that I say is those using MMT, certified, with a degree or not. Again something I first learned about on NC.)

Yesterday, somewhere in the NC collective was the notion that the above mentioned economists tell tho' we may be so out of balance with the world that our extinction as a species is a legitimate issue to discuss, that in the end there ain't any money to not only not fix the problem but not even deal with it. And these guys/gals you laud? I and others have argued this gang provided the intellectual nonsense that put us where we are now.

What is your point that Econ grads make the most amount of money compared to what? Philosophy majors? True or not I still say it's a waste of a life. Not the knowing, but the being of one. I don't see what value there is for civilization in general but specifically that just because they make a lot of money, it's good?

All social science grads you say v Econ grads make more money. I doubt that. Seems every school district requires a PhD in Education, and a PhD in Business is very lucrative (not saying useful, just pays well).

The policy table. I'm truly baffled as to what you refer. If they are the only ones at said table then it follows they are the only ones at it. In my long life I'm trying to think were we ever let an economist have the final say, or even a moderate say in any political, governmental, or military policy. Some input yes, but deterministic, no. If they were sitting at their own table, when asked they came to table with those that had the votes, give their opinion and then left. Sociological impact statements had far bigger influence on policy. And policy is no more then the data we can agree on to make decisions.

Sure, many governments, NGOs, multinationals all have jobs for economists but in someway this is self serving, not a necessity. Kuhn's book on "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", does a good job of explain how authority gets established, vested, and in the end becomes useless. That it exists is not an argument that it is necessary or good. That there needs to be some way to define and explain things economic I no have issue with, that outside of MMT that is has been, using system theory I don't see it.

As to efficient outcomes that may not be equitable that speaks for itself. It doesn't. No 'may not' about it, said with respect.

As to command & control and guns and butter, seems like a long time ago. A long time ago, using science to help in making decisions was new and it took awhile to get it right, or at least to get it working.

(Small note, I have dual US & UK citizenships)

An analysis of Brexit voters in either camp. I can tell you why I voted the way I did but I need to make an appeal to Stephen Pinker's, "The Blank Slate". Either I have the free will to make a decision and accept responsibility for it or I don't. I believe I do and did. I voted to leave and yes their are economic impacts, as well as social, political, historical, psychological, and philosophical. As did in electing Trump. As did the 1776 revolution, as in the US Civil War, almost anything. Money is not everything nor the only thing. And the future isn't what it used to be. The Long Emergency is here.

skippy , March 14, 2019 at 7:15 am

Hayek liked banding around watery terms like freedom and liberty its when he stopped being an economist [political theory in times past] and jointed the ranks of ideologues .

Pay check included oops and health care .

Yves Smith Post author , March 14, 2019 at 1:17 pm

Boy are you shooting the messenger. I'm not saying the way the economics discipline has become influential is a good thing, but that is the way it is. How economics operates as a discipline is great for economists, so why should they change? So what if their prescription fail way too often? For instance, there haven't been any bad consequences to anyone who didn't see the crisis coming and (even worse) advocated bank deregulation, starting with Larry Summers (but he had plenty of company).

And you are simply wrong about the influence economists have. In the US, CBO budget scoring is fundamental to how Congress views various proposed programs, even though we have described how the CBOs methods are crap and the CBO operates as an a big enforcer of deficit hysteria (as in they play a politicized role). The Fed and other central banks, the most powerful single government economic actors, are all run by monetary economists. The IMF, another very powerful institution, has deeply embraced and implements neoliberal policies, namely, balanced budgets and squeezing labor (labor "reforms"). In the US, economists in op eds and even in Congressional testimony (see Bernanke for instance) argue for balanced budgets and argue the supposed necessity of cutting Social Security and Medicare and NEVER mention cutting military spending. They are acting not just as enforcers of overall spending, but by advocating what to cut, are influencing priorities.

Avery T , March 14, 2019 at 9:53 am

Back in my former life as an economist-in-training, I ran into ecological economics as a branch of natural resource economics. It was completely backwards – the extent ecological theory was brought in didn't extend beyond simple predator-prey-plant models, and the goal was to find the macroeconomic general equilibrium of biomass in the ecosystem.

That was probably just the most striking example of the institutional close-mindedness I saw back among the economists.

deplorado , March 14, 2019 at 3:08 am

Mr Wolf says, among the important concepts are "externalities" Like everything that supports economic activity. Economics reduces the real world to "externalities" and simple equations about things measured in crude tokens – money. How good can it be then.

Also, "Such a curriculum might not be the best way to produce candidates for PhD programs" – is that a goal in itself? Like, the world needs a certain amount of economics PhDs produced? What for?

Prof. Michael Hudson, Prof. Richard Wolff and others have long ago explained what's wrong with mainstream economics, but that can't be said in FT.

This reminds me of the party press during the Perestroika in the 80ies talking about reform in a similar soft and obfuscatory of the truth way, full of wishful recommendations, striking a demurely optimistic tone supposed to convey integrity. It was bullshit and when the real things started happening, everybody forgot about it, because it had no depth and no bearing on real life.

diptherio , March 14, 2019 at 10:40 am

It seems obvious to most people that not all values are commensurable with each other. For instance, things like literary and artistic quality, friendships, and human lives cannot defensibly be measured in dollar terms. However, this is just what economics attempts to do. Hence, environmental economics simply aims to put a dollar value on environmental quality (or degredation). Hence, the entirety of my Labor Economics course was focused on how you place a monetary value on a human life, when the human happens to die because of their job.

So, I tend to agree with you. The whole discipline is of questionable value, so long as economists refuse to accept some very basic truths and incorporate much more than money into their analyses.

JEHR , March 14, 2019 at 12:31 pm

That comment strikes me as strange because one of the weaknesses of classical economic models was the fact that how money works was not part of their inquiry.

The Rev Kev , March 14, 2019 at 4:00 am

In trying to judge the abilities of an expert, the best that most people can do is to see the results on what they practice. If a doctor has a reputation of getting his patients drug-addicted, then you would not go to them. If an engineer built a building but the roof constantly leaked, you would think twice about giving them another contract. But let us think about how well economists are judged. You might say that a lot of people in the UK discounted their advice during Brexit but it has been noted that a lot of the Leave campaign was based in depressed areas. Why were so many areas depressed? Because the people knew that the government was using the advice of economists as to which areas to prioritize for resources. And usually that meant London and its outer areas – which voted Remain.
People are fully aware of what happens too when WTO economists go into a country – social services are cut, public transport is cut way back, the cost of living for the poor skyrocket while the rich seem to be protected. And take a look at the economic state of the United States. Wages have flatlined since the 70s, infrastructure is falling into disrepair, whole swathes of the country are abandoned to their own devices, de-industrialisation is a fact, etc, etc etc but the point is that the people that were giving all the advice to have this done were economists like Ken Rogoff and his wonky austerity study. It may have been the politicians that pulled the trigger but it was economists that were loading the gun.
if you want a breed of economists more grounded in reality, then I would suggest having them work in a fulfillment center for a week to show the the consequences of what happens when you get priorities wrong. Certainly they need to study the work of economists like Hyman Minsky and Susan Strange who had gone out of fashion before the crash but the long and short of it is to see what works and what does not work. I do not mean to be insulting here but as far as I can see, modern economic theory has really been a theory for the top 20% and not for the rest of the population. And now we are seeing the result up close and personal and until this changes, people will not feel the need to take the advice of economist, even when they should. Martin Wolf is fortunate in having also a humanities background but how true is that nowadays?

Jos Oskam , March 14, 2019 at 4:04 am

The sentence " So, maybe the proper distinction to be made is between "trustworthy" experts and "untrustworthy" ones " is important. Unfortunately, in the article I miss a key aspect in making that distinction.

I seem to notice that the "trustworthy" areas of expertise in general tend to be removed from political ideas or preferences. Left or right, liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, it does not affect the way in which trustworthy experts go about their business. It does not influence the way in which a doctor cures patients, a pilot flies a plane or an engineer constructs a bridge. However, as soon as we start discussing things like the economy, talk is full of "liberal" or "left" economists as opposed to "conservative" or "right" economics. I have never heard of one bridge being more at risk of collapse because it was designed by a liberal engineer versus a conservative one, or the other way round. When discussing the strength of a bridge political leanings simply do not come into play, it is not a factor like the strength of the steel used. But for all economic debate, these leanings often seem to be the essence of the discussion.

Given the general public's intensifying distrust of politicians and all things political, it does not surprise me that disciplines tainted by political colouring (like economics) are considered "untrustworthy" compared to disciplines where political colouring is not a factor (like the aforementioned doctors, pilots and engineers).

Since economics *is* in fact very interwoven with politics, I think the general public will always treat economists the same way they treat politicians, that is with a healthy dose of distrust. And who can blame them?

Ptb , March 14, 2019 at 9:07 am

Yes, ability vs integrity.
And you can take 10 of the most honest and well meaning people, dedicated to the public good and advancement of learning, employ them in a structure set up to profit first and ask questions second, and the whole is going to be not the same as the sum of the parts.

bruce wilder , March 14, 2019 at 10:45 am

I'd say an unhealthy dose of distrust is more likely and more common.

People tend to treat conventional econospeak as so much blah, blah, blah and then turn around and credit or discredit what has been said on the basis of the tone with which it was said.

Economists working for the kleptocracy get a lot of mileage out of sounding serious, while talking complete rubbish. And, sadly, many economists working the left, get away with lame one-liners and a rudderless iconoclasm.

SJ , March 14, 2019 at 4:32 am

I had an e-mail exchange with Mr. Wolf many years ago – before the 2008 crash – where he basically told me that we live in the best of all possible worlds and that nothing needs to change – he has changed his tune since then, I suppose to try to avoid looking like a complete idiot and also to try to deflect criticism on to others. Maybe he has öearned something in the meantime, but maybe he is just faking for the sake of appearences.

deplorado , March 14, 2019 at 11:02 am

I think he is faking it. It's the party line. It is the beginning of the neoliberal Perestroika (see also Brad DeLong).

I quite like to look at it this way – it is very clarifying (as I lived in the Perestroika) and I recommend it. Don't for a moment trust the Perestroika – it is half-measures at best and purposeful deception at worst.

johnf , March 14, 2019 at 5:24 am

" The answer should not be to produce apprentices in a highly technical and narrow discipline taught as a branch of applied mathematics ." With apologies to Mr. Richter, economics is taught more like a branch of mathematical sophistry, and that is slighting the original sophists.

I was an undergraduate studying applied mathematics at the time and place, present day neoclassical economics was being developed, published and starting to be taught. I can think of just one economics-and-finance classmate who continued to study mathematics beyond first year calculus – which everyone had to take.

Our introductory numerical analysis professor was scathing about his colleagues at the other side of the Quads. He made it quite plain that we could not skip the rigor and "try to prove something like an economist". Pretty much all the econ students dropped his course when they discovered that. The specific problem they could not address, can be simply stated. If you know a number but don't know its error, you don't know the number. The difficulty the great mass of economists have with just that, excludes economics as a branch of applied mathematics.

bruce wilder , March 14, 2019 at 10:50 am

interesting insight

pretty much the sum total of neoclassical economics is trying to work out the counterfactual of how the economy would work if everyone had more-or-less complete information to work with.

introduce genuine uncertainty, and pretty much the whole apparatus turns topsy-turvy and all the "laws" of economics disappear or become highly contingent on circumstances unlikely to obtain.

Thuto , March 14, 2019 at 5:40 am

"Fixing" economics must start with a wholesale divestment from the idea of this profession being a "science", said divestment openly promoted by economists themselves. All manner of hardwired, warped thinking, to say nothing of obstinacy in changing one's views when confronted with contradictory evidence, results from people believing that they're scientists practising a real science. When such thinking seeps into the subconscious, the obstinacy is locked into place and even events of the scale of the GFC aren't enough to shake loose the erroneous biases held by the mainstream profession.

How else would an entire profession place so much faith in the predictive powers of its models if not having such faith resting on a (supposed) firm foundation of science? An engineer designing a beam for a bridge has justifiable faith in continuum mechanics (a real science) as a sound foundation for their work, economics is devoid of such sound foundations and its time the profession loudly and publicly declared this in an unprecedented act of intellectual honesty.

Additionally, we see weak to non-existent culpability enforcement when policy recommendations put on the table by economists wreck lives (as they have over decades), this in stark contrast with e.g. an engineer designing a bridge that collapses and kills hundreds. In other words, economists have outsized influence in matters of policy out of proportion with the amount of actual skin they have in the game. On the other side, this "economics is a science" narrative disarms a public already deficient in the marginal capacity for independent, critical thinking to question anything economists say, said public including politicians who, as aptly put by the Rev Kev, pull the trigger of a policy gun loaded by economists.

cnchal , March 14, 2019 at 8:50 am

>. . . economics is devoid of such sound foundations and its time the profession loudly and publicly declared this in an unprecedented act of intellectual honesty.

Not one economist, with their ass planted firmly on their throne at the policy table, will admit to that. The operating principle is venality.

Now that they have lost the respect of the peasants, I don't want them to matter again. What I would like to see is mass firings of eclownomists, so they can experience life as lived by the peasants, just once. It may even free up resources to pay people to actually do good things instead of perpetuating one failure after another, and being grossly rewarded for those failures.

dearieme , March 14, 2019 at 6:35 am

I think he gets the wrong end of the stick here: "Consider the anti-vaccination movement, hostility to evolutionary theory, or rejection of climate science."

No doubt there are occasions when vaccinations can do serious harm: a niece of mine was excused a standard vaccination because of a contra-indication in her family medical history.The anti-vaxers, though, seem to have elevated some small kernel of truth into a stupid all-encompassing doctrine without giving the matter enough critical thought.

The anti-evolutionists seem to have failed to devote any critical thought to the matter at all.

But the sceptics about "climate science" have deployed critical thinking to identify this new religion as being composed largely of incompetence, dishonesty, and hysteria. It's the likes of old Wolfie who are lacking in critical thought on this issue. Maybe he's one of those people who is uneducated in science, and so too easily swayed by chaps shouting excitedly about models, measurements, and so forth.

It's very odd. Goebbels Warming is now old enough that you can check the historical record of its predictions of dreadful tipping points, of the disappearance of snow from Britain, of the flooding of this and that Pacific island group, and so on. All false. So why should anyone rational believe a word of it? After all, almost from the beginning its proponents believed that the science was settled – it was inarguable. In which case why have their predictions proved so lousy?

Consult a poet: humankind cannot bear very much reality.
Consult an economist: incentives matter.

mle detroit , March 14, 2019 at 8:01 am

Dearie me, Dearieme, your comment appears to lack sources, citations, examples. Please provide.

Steve Ruis , March 14, 2019 at 8:38 am

So, Yves, you are saying ("Economists are the only social scientists to have a seat at the policy table," etc.) that economists are like weathermen. They still have a time slot on the evening news and are respected, even though their accuracy is abysmal. They make a lot of money doing this.

Basically, this is because we expect very little of economists and because they have stopped using ordinary language professionally, they have the status equivalent to someone actually helpful.

I think economics has become an asocial science with too many economists willing to provide some sort of academic cover for whatever the plutocrats want to do.

Arthur Dent , March 14, 2019 at 11:24 am

I think the analogy to meteorologists is interesting. As an engineer, I have some perspective on this.

In engineering design, frequent failure of what we design is generally undesirable. So we have our analytical tools based on both scientific theory and empirical data, and then apply a factor of safety (sometimes called factor of ignorance, but more accurately is a recognition that there is a probabilistic distribution of outcomes and the factors of safety shift the design towards success instead of high probability of failure).

Airline pilots operate similar to engineers in that they aren't flying close to the edge of the airplane's flight characteristics. Instead they stay in a zone quite a ways away from what the airplane could potentially do. This is one of the reasons that airplane travel is very safe, especially compared to car travel.

Meteorologists are trying to make predictions of the most likely scenario which means they are trying to hit the center of the distribution of the potential outcomes. As a results, they frequently are shown to have "missed" in that some other lower probability event occurred instead. Over the past couple of decades, we have gotten used to seeing weather forecasts with probabilities or ranges of outcomes.

I think the public presentation of economics has two separate problems, but both undermine economics credibility.

First, economics is a field that is trying to predict the most likely event and the range of potential outcomes, similar to the weather forecasts, but does not present the predictions this way. So people don't cut economists slack because their public presentations don't recognize the range of potential outcomes and the frank recognition of the inaccuracy of their predictions that we are used to with the weather people, especially once they get past 24 hrs of predictions.

Second, many of the economists that make public predictions are funded by interest groups. When we see a lawyer on TV, we know that he is being paid by a client to be an advocate and that is his job as a lawyer. So we may disregard what he has to say but we understand the context he is speaking in. However, the economists don't say who they are being paid by and so they are presumed to be independent experts when they are sometimes not. I believe this is a fundamental ethical issue within the economics profession.

So when the economics predictions (e.g. effects of tax cuts) fail to be accurate, it needs to be parsed out if it was simply a lower probability event or if the predictions were intentionally biased to begin with. None of this is well-addressed by the economics profession, which greatly undermines credibility.

JEHR , March 14, 2019 at 12:40 pm

+1

jfleni , March 14, 2019 at 8:55 am

I was just getting used to the idea that economists are like clocks: right twice a
day -- at Noon and sundown!

Ptb , March 14, 2019 at 9:14 am

Economists also use the term 'efficiency' to denote pareto optimality, which causes much confusion.

Especially when communicating with both analytical people of a hard-sciencey or engineering background (efficiency = a context specific figure, some-measure-of-output/some-measure-of-input, strict limits in how far you can generalize), and business people (efficient = low cost)

bruce wilder , March 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

economists also routinely distinguish the allocative efficiency they focus upon almost exclusively from the kinds of technical or managerial efficiency that most of the rest of the world focuses upon, but they rarely admit that their focus is so narrow and does not generalize to encompass common sense notions of cost and efficiency -- it is almost as if they want to avoid the critical examination engineering enables while providing double-talk as cover for business people trying to privatize the profits while socializing the costs.

Matthew G. Saroff , March 14, 2019 at 9:50 am

Let me start by saying that I object to the term "Dismal Science" for economics.

This is not because of the "dismal" part, it's because of the "science" part.

That being said, the devaluing of expertise is due in large part to something not mentioned by Mr. Wolf: corruption, particularly for the field of macroeconomics.

We have seen this repeatedly in the past few decades, where nominally independent researchers have been found to slant their research to accommodate the results desired by their patrons. (The sad state of pharma and medical research come to mind as well)

In fact, ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN "RATIONAL ACTOR" THEORIES , academics in general, and economists in particular,will behave in ways that will most strongly benefit themselves, and not in ways that serve the truth or reality. (Studies have shown that economists are the most selfish academics )

I believe that if you discuss the devaluation of knowledge and expertise without discussing the pervasive corruption in western society, you are ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room.

john Wright , March 14, 2019 at 3:04 pm

I object to the "Dismal" part.

Economic Science is very optimistic that what they characterize as "economic growth" in using up the world's resources in its pursuit, is a "good thing".

Economists are selling a limitless planet on which humans will always "pull the rabbit out of the hat", to solve any resource issue, including climate change and overpopulation.

That being said, I view the economic profession, as largely practiced by its well-paid members, as a mechanism to justify what the political and business elite want to do.

The elite are simply getting what they pay to hear.

Steven Greenberg , March 14, 2019 at 10:02 am

I worked on simulation software for integrated circuits. My friend studied economics with all the famous people. When I described to him what I did if there seemed to be a discrepancy between what my simulator said and how the integrated circuit behaved in real life or the intuition that an electrical engineer had about how it would behave in real life he was amazed. I was amazed that he was amazed. How could you possibly believe a simulator that necessarily has bugs in it, if you don't track down discrepancies to understand which is right, your intuition or the simulator?

Sometimes, I had to be very inventive to find another way to make a complex calculation in a way that would test out if the simulator was right. If economics students are taught the math, but not how to check their work, and the necessity of checking their work, then they shouldn't be in positions to make policy recommendations.

bruce wilder , March 14, 2019 at 11:09 am

Yes!

Many economists avoid operational modeling of the processes of the actual, institutional economy. And, that which does take place in narrowly conceived research by specialists is never allowed to feed back on the methods or theories embodied in the core doctrines.

WobblyTelomeres , March 14, 2019 at 3:32 pm

Other than setting Friedman's Chicago Boys upon Chile, isn't it very difficult to model/test anything macro in the real world?

bruce wilder , March 14, 2019 at 5:35 pm

One way mainstream macroeconomics defeats its own feeble efforts at empiricism is to set the problems in a frame of time-series regression analysis of highly aggregated data: national GDP and its high-level components year-by-year or quarter-by-quarter.

The behavior of tens or hundreds of millions of people reduced to statistics for largely formless accounting conventions relating to a single somewhat amorphous entity (a country) over time. History, however it happens, only ever happens one way, so there's always zero degrees of freedom in the aggregate time-series.

There is so little information left in the data, even the most clever econometricians would need a thousand years of data to "test" the most basic hypotheses. It is absurd to approach the task in the way they do.

Is it necessarily as difficult a task as they make it, to learn something useful about the way the economy works?

The problems of statistical aggregation and time-series are not rooted in the object of study -- the actual political economy -- so much as they are created by the conceptual apparatus.

In short form, economists have an analytic theory -- in form and epistemic status, something akin to Euclid's geometry. A geometry is not itself a map of the world and no one doing geometry confuses geometry with cartography or land surveying, but most economists do not understand that their theory is not itself a model of the actual political economy. Someone like Paul Krugman actually thinks he has "a map" of the political economy in, say, IS/LM . No student of geometry expects to find a dimensionless point in the bathroom or an isoceles triangle growing in the garden. Yet, economists regularly purport to casually observe perfectly competitive markets in equilibrium or the natural interest rate.

I think economists could do as well as, say, meteorologists or geologists in developing an empirically grounded understanding of the observable political economy, if they focused their attention on concrete and measurable mechanisms of the institutional economy and stopped talking meaninglessly about formless "markets" that have no existence.

Reality Bites , March 14, 2019 at 10:12 am

This article reminds me of why I stopped reading The Economist after the GFC. The Economist was quite explicit in advocating for a weak regulatory environment. I remember articles talking about how great it was for the Office of Thrift Supervision to regulate banks alongside others like the Fed because regulatory competition was good. After the GFC they were writing articles about how they opposed this all along.
It's not just that so many economists are wrong. It's that many times their models and predictions are wrong and they claim that it is either not what they argued for or 'externalities' intervened. Of course they never mentioned such externalities before. Many just outright conjure up unicorns. There were no shortage of economists claiming that the housing bubble was not a problem and the economy will grow to the point where things just naturally level off. Of course there was no accountability for those peddling these falsehoods.

Candy , March 14, 2019 at 11:01 am

I love the way people shrink down what Michael Gove said.

Here is his full exchange with his interviewer:

Gove: I think the people in this country have had enough of experts, with organizations from acronyms, saying --

Interviewer: They've had enough of experts? The people have had enough of experts? What do you mean by that?

Gove: People from organizations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.

Inteviewer: The people of this country have had enough of experts?

Gove: Because these people are the same ones who got consistently wrong what was happening.

shinola , March 14, 2019 at 12:04 pm

Perhaps it's changed since I started out as an econ. major in the mid '70's, but what disillusioned me was the total disregard for actual human behavior. Real people do NOT always behave rationally or honestly. Emotions/psychology do figure greatly in real people making "economic" decisions – just ask anyone who makes their living based on selling something.

Every economic model should be prefaced with "In an ideal world " (or perhaps more honestly "In an economist's construct of an ideal world )

Arizona Slim , March 14, 2019 at 12:18 pm

I share your disillusionment, shinola. I was a late 1970s econ major. By the time I graduated, I was done with economics.

hunkerdown , March 14, 2019 at 4:42 pm

Real people don't, but they should, say those who hire economists. If the algorithm doesn't work, change the inputs.

Wukchumni , March 14, 2019 at 12:09 pm

How many brand name economists up and quit in disgust 11 years ago when the powers that be decided to go against everything they stood for, and bailed out those that deserved to go down in financial flames?

not a one

bruce wilder , March 14, 2019 at 12:47 pm

A parenthetical lifted from Randy Wray's post responding to DeLong on MMT:

an exasperated Wynne Godley came into my office a couple of decades ago and announced that every [mainstream model] he had looked at was incoherent

That's the base problem, imho: economists are very successful as "experts" in a sociological sense, slotting into the role with firm claims on salary, status and ritual respect, as Yves Smith observed, but economics as a civic doctrine and a common frame of reference for political discourse is incoherent and economics as a scholarly discipline or "social science" fails methodological or epistemic standards.

There is a history of imperviousness to absolutely devastating critiques that isn't explained. Is that persistent "wrongness" related to professional success or only a by-product of an unfortunate pedagogy? Who puts the dogmatism into a dogma . . . and keeps it there?

(disclosure: i was a professional economist myself many years ago -- neither ambitious nor particularly successful, but I did attend ruling class schools for what that was worth)

deplorado , March 14, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Prof. Richard Werner has a fantastic talk (at the Russian Academy of Sciences) about, among other things, "the unresolved puzzles of modern economics" – to me the most striking there was how he dispenses with concept of "equilibrium".
He talks about the "puzzles" ~30 min in.

It is enough to see that and know that mainstream economists are little more than the high priests of the peculiar modern religion guiding our society.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Um9wR46Ir4

Adam1 , March 14, 2019 at 3:21 pm

"The teaching of economics to undergraduates must focus on core ideas, essential questions, and actual realities."

Sadly Mr. Wolf suffers from the same delusions that so many mainstream economist suffer. They think they have actually considered "actual realities".

Yet the foundations of mainstream economics ignores these ACTUAL REALITIES
– Assumes Loanable Funds yet the Bank of England & the Bundesbank both publicly published research say endogenous money is correct. Loans create Deposits. They are clueless as to how finance works. I recall the infamous intro to econ question "If I double you income and double prices for beer, how much beer can you now purchase?" The standard econ answer is the same amount of beer. But in the real world the correct answer is you don't know. The professor never told you how large the fixed debt payments of the person were which most definitely impacts the amount of disposable income you have to buy beer. But then again most economists would likely fail any advanced accounting class. Long gone are the days when undergraduate economics students in economics had to take 2 or 3 semesters of accounting. Even my alma mater which is definitely heterodox in faculty and has MMT / UMKC taught faculty only require 1 these days. You need a strong foundation in accounting to be stock flow consistent in your modeling of a highly monetary modern economy.
– Assumes upward sloping supply curve is the market norm. At least 3 economic studies have attempted to measure this on large cross industry scales and every time concludes that over 1/2 of all businesses face downward sloping cost curves (natural monopoly stuff, and we wonder why industry concentration is the norm) and another 1/3 face flat cost curves. An upward sloping supply curve, for those not taking advanced or graduate level economics IS the assumed upward sloping marginal cost curve of the industry or nation if you're crazy enough to apply it at the macro level.

There are dozens more piss pore assumptions that underpin mainstream economics. In this day and age far more EMPIRICAL, real word data can be used to confirm what really makes an economy work, but sadly what we teach in college is garbage where the ACTUAL REALITIES are ignored.

Steven , March 14, 2019 at 5:07 pm

Soddy (paraphrasing John Ruskin) yet again:

a logical definition of wealth is absolutely needed for the basis of economics if it is to be a science."

Frederick Soddy, WEALTH, VIRTUAL WEALTH AND DEBT,
2nd edition, p. 102
Economists and financiers seem to be incapable of understanding we live on a finite planet. Nor do they seem to be able to get beyond equating money with wealth. It is much easier to just put a price on something like a Beethoven symphony (or call it 'priceless') than to attempt a definition of wealth. But for most of us the ingredients of a definition are much simpler. Topping the list has to be energy. You can't create it but you can dissipate it, i.e. render it useless, by for example manufacturing useless junk that falls apart quickly enough for people who run or own the business to make a lot of money.

Or if your customers can no longer afford the junk because you have automated or off-shored their jobs, you can sell guns and bombs to your wholly owned government – to use in blowing up people who stand in the way of your accumulating more of the money created by your bankers, financiers and politicians. Then there is the basic intelligence required to run the machinery and discern better – i.e. more energy and resource efficient – ways of doing things. With real wealth creation comes power. The Chinese may have figured this out. The West's 1%, its economists, bankers and politicians don't appear to have a clue.

RBHoughton , March 14, 2019 at 11:19 pm

Did Kenneth Rogoff apologise for his hit on Iceland and his subsequent dismay defense in Ferguson's "Inside Job"? At least one of the Chicago boys (Jonathan Sachs) has resiled from the opinions of Friedman and rejoined the human race but only after a raft of countries were ground down by the mill of the moneymen. Chile and Poland seem to have survived at horrible social cost but what of the others?

The plaint is partly true. When governments were advised by economists, they replaced the wishes of the electorate. The economist brought along their army of lawyers who instantly appeared as mercenary terrorists to browbeat and coerce officials with various threats to do as the moneymen asked and cease attending to the people. This is still the state of play in UK and USA and those core paper-issuers drag the 'also rans' along with carrots and sticks.

I believe the fault lies in lazy officials who seldom run trials on new ideas in limited areas but drop the entire country into one speculative foray after another. Its a shame that its not mentioned. There is no good reason why the whole country has to be volunteered for these new scheme. Why has the UK Treasury shut down every competing form of banking to the high street banks – the trust banks, coop bank, post office bank, municipal banks, mutuals – all thrown away as infringers of the BoE's monopoly. The country needs an Oliver Cromwell or Napoleon to lead it not the present bunch of ragamuffins and hooligans.

That brings me to the second problem the disastrous state of the representation. It is mainly due to the control factions have brought to bear on the selection of candidates for office. That has to stop and the way to do it to have primary assemblies of every 200-300 people who select one of their number to represent them. He's a school friend or neighbor and a known quantity. Several primary assemblies select a chap to represent them and so on up this new structure of democracy to the top.

The business community have sought to keep everyone's nose to the grindstone with statistics justifying under payment by understating inflation. That has to stop. The economics trade belongs with astrology and weather forecasting until it acknowledges the fundamentals that drive prices.

Yves Smith Post author , March 14, 2019 at 11:30 pm

It wasn't Ken Rogoff but Frederic Mishkin. He was on the Fed Board of Governors and had been vice chairman.

RBHoughton , March 15, 2019 at 4:00 am

Apologies to Mr Rogoff and grateful thanks to Yves for the correction. I'll take a pill now

Cal2 , March 15, 2019 at 12:29 am

It seems to me from my citizen's non-professional perspective that the only real economists are experts in resource extraction, manufacturing and end use of same.

IOW, a forester, mining, petroleum, construction engineer and even a naval admiral, sitting around a table, all beholden to and obeying the supreme chairmanship of an ecologist, would be a better and less destructive thing for the world than a bunch of money only maximum value extraction Wall Streeters controlling the engineers mentioned above.

Can there even be an economy without resource extraction? It seems like most new economic schemes are attempting this with humans bodies, credit ratings and bank accounts being the last available commodity.

Sound of the Suburbs , March 15, 2019 at 7:07 am

The economists got Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage, but they missed this:

"The interest of the landlords is always opposed to the interest of every other class in the community" Ricardo 1815 / Classical Economist

What does our man on free trade mean?
He was an expert on the small state, unregulated capitalism he observed in the world around him. He was part of the new capitalist class and the old landowning class were a huge problem with their rents that had to be paid both directly and through wages.

Disposable income = wages – (taxes + the cost of living)

Employees get less disposable income after the landlords rent has gone.
Employers have to cover the landlord's rents in wages reducing profit.

Ricardo is just talking about housing costs, employees all rented in those days.

Employees get their money from wages and so the employer pays through wages.

Look at the US cost of living:
The cost of living = housing costs + healthcare costs + student loan costs + food + other costs of living

Employees get their money from wages, so it is the employer that pays through wages, reducing profit and driving off shoring from the US.

Maximising profit requires minimising labour costs; i.e. wages.

China, Asia and Mexico look good, the US is awful.

(This is Michael Hudson's argument in a slightly different from)

There are some fundamental problems with today's economics, like this and the fact it doesn't look at money, debt or banks.

Also, it hasn't worked out financial markets are not like other markets.

The supply of stocks stays fairly fixed and central banks can create a "wealth effect" by just adding liquidity. More money is now chasing a fairly fixed number of financial assets and the price (e.g. stock market) goes up.

[Mar 11, 2019] The university professors, who teach but do not learn: neoliberal shill DeJong tries to prolong the life of neoliberalism in the USA

Highly recommended!
DeJong is more dangerous them Malkin... It poisons students with neoliberalism more effectively.
Mar 11, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Kurtismayfield , , March 10, 2019 at 10:52 am

Re:Wall Street Democrats

They know, however, that they've been conned, played, and they're absolute fools in the game.

Thank you Mr. Black for the laugh this morning. They know exactly what they have been doing. Whether it was deregulating so that Hedge funds and vulture capitalism can thrive, or making sure us peons cannot discharge debts, or making everything about financalization. This was all done on purpose, without care for "winning the political game". Politics is economics, and the Wall Street Democrats have been winning.

notabanker , , March 10, 2019 at 12:26 pm

For sure. I'm quite concerned at the behavior of the DNC leadership and pundits. They are doubling down on blatant corporatist agendas. They are acting like they have this in the bag when objective evidence says they do not and are in trouble. Assuming they are out of touch is naive to me. I would assume the opposite, they know a whole lot more than what they are letting on.

urblintz , , March 10, 2019 at 12:49 pm

I think the notion that the DNC and the Democrat's ruling class would rather lose to a like-minded Republican corporatist than win with someone who stands for genuine progressive values offering "concrete material benefits." I held my nose and read comments at the kos straw polls (where Sanders consistently wins by a large margin) and it's clear to me that the Clintonista's will do everything in their power to derail Bernie.

polecat , , March 10, 2019 at 1:00 pm

"It's the Externalities, stupid economists !" *should be the new rallying cry ..

rd , , March 10, 2019 at 3:26 pm

Keynes' "animal spirits" and the "tragedy of the commons" (Lloyd, 1833 and Hardin, 1968) both implied that economics was messier than Samuelson and Friedman would have us believe because there are actual people with different short- and long-term interests.

The behavioral folks (Kahnemann, Tversky, Thaler etc.) have all shown that people are even messier than we would have thought. So most macro-economic stuff over the past half-century has been largely BS in justifying trickle-down economics, deregulation etc.

There needs to be some inequality as that provides incentives via capitalism but unfettered it turns into France 1989 or the Great Depression. It is not coincidence that the major experiment in this in the late 90s and early 2000s required massive government intervention to keep the ship from sinking less than a decade after the great unregulated creative forces were unleashed.

MMT is likely to be similar where productive uses of deficits can be beneficial, but if the money is wasted on stupid stuff like unnecessary wars, then the loss of credibility means that the fiat currency won't be quite as fiat anymore. Britain was unbelievably economically powerfully in the late 1800s but in half a century went to being an economic afterthought hamstrung by deficits after two major wars and a depression.

So it is good that people like Brad DeLong are coming to understand that the pretty economic theories have some truths but are utter BS (and dangerous) when extrapolated without accounting for how people and societies actually behave.

Chris Cosmos , , March 10, 2019 at 6:43 pm

I never understood the incentive to make more money -- that only works if money = true value and that is the implication of living in a capitalist society (not economy)–everything then becomes a commodity and alienation results and all the depression, fear, anxiety that I see around me. Whereas human happiness actually comes from helping others and finding meaning in life not money or dominating others. That's what social science seems to be telling us.

Oregoncharles , , March 10, 2019 at 2:46 pm

Quoting DeLong:

" He says we are discredited. Our policies have failed. And they've failed because we've been conned by the Republicans."

That's welcome, but it's still making excuses. Neoliberal policies have failed because the economics were wrong, not because "we've been conned by the Republicans." Furthermore, this may be important – if it isn't acknowledged, those policies are quite likely to come sneaking back, especially if Democrats are more in the ascendant., as they will be, given the seesaw built into the 2-Party.

The Rev Kev , , March 10, 2019 at 7:33 pm

Might be right there. Groups like the neocons were originally attached the the left side of politics but when the winds changed, detached themselves and went over to the Republican right. The winds are changing again so those who want power may be going over to what is called the left now to keep their grip on power. But what you say is quite true. It is not really the policies that failed but the economics themselves that were wrong and which, in an honest debate, does not make sense either.

marku52 , , March 10, 2019 at 3:39 pm

"And they've failed because we've been conned by the Republicans.""

Not at all. What about the "free trade" hokum that DeJong and his pal Krugman have been peddling since forever? History and every empirical test in the modern era shows that it fails in developing countries and only exacerbates inequality in richer ones.

That's just a failed policy.

I'm still waiting for an apology for all those years that those two insulted anyone who questioned their dogma as just "too ignorant to understand."

Glen , , March 10, 2019 at 4:47 pm

Thank you!

He created FAILED policies. He pushed policies which have harmed America, harmed Americans, and destroyed the American dream.

Kevin Carhart , , March 10, 2019 at 4:29 pm

It's intriguing, but two other voices come to mind. One is Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste by Mirowski and the other is Generation Like by Doug Rushkoff.

Neoliberalism is partially entrepreneurial self-conceptions which took a long time to promote. Rushkoff's Frontline shows the Youtube culture. There is a girl with a "leaderboard" on the wall of her suburban room, keeping track of her metrics.

There's a devastating VPRO Backlight film on the same topic. Internet-platform neoliberalism does not have much to do with the GOP.

It's going to be an odd hybrid at best – you could have deep-red communism but enacted for and by people whose self-conception is influenced by decades of Becker and Hayek? One place this question leads is to ask what's the relationship between the set of ideas and material conditions-centric philosophies? If new policies pass that create a different possibility materially, will the vise grip of the entrepreneurial self loosen?

Partially yeah, maybe, a Job Guarantee if it passes and actually works, would be an anti-neoliberal approach to jobs, which might partially loosen the regime of neoliberal advice for job candidates delivered with a smug attitude that There Is No Alternative. (Described by Gershon). We take it seriously because of a sense of dread that it might actually be powerful enough to lock us out if we don't, and an uncertainty of whether it is or not.

There has been deep damage which is now a very broad and resilient base. It is one of the prongs of why 2008 did not have the kind of discrediting effect that 1929 did. At least that's what I took away from _Never Let_.

Brad DeLong handing the baton might mean something but it is not going to ameliorate the sense-of-life that young people get from managing their channels and metrics.

Take the new 1099 platforms as another focal point. Suppose there were political measures that splice in on the platforms and take the edge off materially, such as underwritten healthcare not tied to your job. The platforms still use star ratings, make star ratings seem normal, and continually push a self-conception as a small business. If you have overt DSA plus covert Becker it is, again, a strange hybrid,

Jeremy Grimm , , March 10, 2019 at 5:13 pm

Your comment is very insightful. Neoliberalism embeds its mindset into the very fabric of our culture and self-concepts. It strangely twists many of our core myths and beliefs.

Raulb , , March 10, 2019 at 6:36 pm

This is nothing but a Trojan horse to 'co-opt' and 'subvert'. Neoliberals sense a risk to their neo feudal project and are simply attempting to infiltrate and hollow out any threats from within.

There are the same folks who have let entire economics departments becomes mouthpieces for corporate propaganda and worked with thousands of think tanks and international organizations to mislead, misinform and cause pain to millions of people.

They have seeded decontextualized words like 'wealth creators' and 'job creators' to create a halo narrative for corporate interests and undermine society, citizenship, the social good, the environment that make 'wealth creation' even possible. So all those take a backseat to 'wealth creator' interests. Since you can't create wealth without society this is some achievement.

Its because of them that we live in a world where the most important economic idea is protecting people like Kochs business and personal interests and making sure government is not 'impinging on their freedom'. And the corollary a fundamental anti-human narrative where ordinary people and workers are held in contempt for even expecting living wages and conditions and their access to basics like education, health care and living conditions is hollowed out out to promote privatization and become 'entitlements'.

Neoliberalism has left us with a decontextualized highly unstable world that exists in a collective but is forcefully detached into a context less individual existence. These are not mistakes of otherwise 'well meaning' individuals, there are the results of hard core ideologues and high priests of power.

Dan , , March 10, 2019 at 7:31 pm

Two thumbs up. This has been an ongoing agenda for decades and it has succeeded in permeating every aspect of society, which is why the United States is such a vacuous, superficial place. And it's exporting that superficiality to the rest of the world.

VietnamVet , , March 10, 2019 at 7:17 pm

I read Brad DeLong's and Paul Krugman's blogs until their contradictions became too great. If anything, we need more people seeing the truth. The Global War on Terror is into its 18th year. In October the USA will spend approximately $6 trillion and will have accomplish nothing except to create blow back. The Middle Class is disappearing. Those who remain in their homes are head over heels in debt.

The average American household carries $137,063 in debt. The wealthy are getting richer.

The Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates families together have as much wealth as the lowest half of Americans. Donald Trump's Presidency and Brexit document that neoliberal politicians have lost contact with reality. They are nightmares that there is no escaping. At best, perhaps, Roosevelt Progressives will be reborn to resurrect regulated capitalism and debt forgiveness.

But more likely is a middle-class revolt when Americans no longer can pay for water, electricity, food, medicine and are jailed for not paying a $1,500 fine for littering the Beltway.

A civil war inside a nuclear armed nation state is dangerous beyond belief. France is approaching this.

[Mar 05, 2019] On origin of the phase There ain't no such thing as a free lunch

Mar 20, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com

RC AKA Darryl, Ron -> mulp ... "...TANSTAAFL" March 20, 2017 at 04:59 AM

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_ain%27t_no_such_thing_as_a_free_lunch

"There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" (alternatively, "There is no such thing as a free lunch" or other variants) is a popular adage communicating the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing.

The acronyms TANSTAAFL, TINSTAAFL, and TNSTAAFL, are also used. Uses of the phrase dating back to the 1930s and 1940s have been found, but the phrase's first appearance is unknown.[1]

The "free lunch" in the saying refers to the nineteenth-century practice in American bars of offering a "free lunch" in order to entice drinking customers.

The phrase and the acronym are central to Robert Heinlein's 1966 science-fiction novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which helped popularize it.[2][3]

The free-market economist Milton Friedman also popularized the phrase[1] by using it as the title of a 1975 book,[4] and it is used in economics literature to describe opportunity cost.[5]

Campbell McConnell writes that the idea is "at the core of economics".

[I was a bigger fan of Robert Heinlein's than I was of Milton Friedman and even then it was "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" rather than later works that appealed to me.]

[Mar 05, 2019] Milton Friedman now firmly belongs to the dustbin of history

Mar 05, 2019 | crookedtimber.org

reason 02.15.19 at 8:12 am 21 (no link)

Just as an aside. It is worth remembering where the current globalization came from historically.

It started with the 1970s inflation, (caused partly by the oil crisis) and the coincident abuse of monopoly power by a number of unions (please those on the outer left don't try to pretend it didn't happen, it did).

Uncle Milton came along with plausible sounding solutions (monetarism and increasing foreign competition). Increasing foreign competition worked for a while – until the mergers starting being international and industry concentration increased on an international scale (and so was harder to combat).

Uncle Milton has since been proved wrong about almost everything. His one big idea that never got tried (negative income tax – which could implemented more simply and effectively as a universal basic income) ironically is the only one I think was good.

[Mar 05, 2019] Hurrah ! Mankiw to Leave Flagship Harvard Ec 10 Course News by Molly C. McCafferty

One neoliberal jerk less...
The Harvard Crimson

After more than a decade at the helm of one of Harvard's largest courses, Economics Professor N. Gregory Mankiw announced in an email to graduate students Monday that he will step down from teaching Economics 10: "Principles of Economics" at the end of this semester.

[Feb 13, 2019] Mathiness and game thoery

Any good mathematical theory can be misapplied and perverted if there is social pressure and money to do so..
Feb 13, 2019 | www.alternet.org

Game Theory:

A glossary of exploitive economics 'Lean in' and 8 other bad business buzzwords that should be phased out – Alternet.org

The use of mathematics to model human reality; one of the more bizarre offshoots that followed the mathematization of economic thought in the 20th century.

Game theory focuses on strategies used by competing actors to make rational decisions. What should I do given my opponent may subsequently decide A, B, C, or D? It was pioneered by John von Neumann, John Nash, and Oskar Morgenstern. The assumption that social life is a game of logic between conniving actors is foundational to this view of economics. But do we really behave in such a "me versus you" manner?

Game Theory's rational individualism closely resonates with neoliberal capitalism because it reconceptualizes everyone as mini corporations who are totally selfish.

Individuals compete rather than share; seek to outsmart the next person rather than empathize. Proponents of the approach often use the "as if" defense. The model might not perfectly match reality, but we can approximate how someone behaves in the real world by assuming they act "as if" they're Nashian plotters.

It's the normative assumptions underlying this "as if" that are problematic that at bottom we're all greedy and impatient bankers. One could just as well argue that people act "as if" they're trusting and altruistic socialists, but Game Theory won't have any of that.

[Jan 30, 2019] The Natural Rate of Interest Is Anything But

Notable quotes:
"... By Enrico Sergio Levrero, Associate Professor of Economics, Roma Tre University. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website ..."
Jan 30, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

By Enrico Sergio Levrero, Associate Professor of Economics, Roma Tre University. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

In contrast to Keynes's emphasis on the monetary nature of interest rates, the modern theory of central banking focuses on a benchmark rate for monetary policy that reflect "fundamental forces" supposedly unaffected by monetary factors. Its theoretical underpinning stems from Wicksell's analysis of the relationship between market and natural interest rates as restated in the so-called New Keynesian theory which combines real-business-cycle general equilibrium models with imperfect competition and nominal rigidities.

Here, at least in the short run, discrepancies between the actual and natural interest rate are deemed to lead to a rate of price inflation different from the desired and expected one. If some kind of price rigidity is present, the interest rate difference will also lead to a discrepancy between actual and potential output. The resulting rule for monetary policy is that authorities should credibly commit themselves to following the natural rate of interest (NRI). They must therefore forecast this "neutral" rate, namely, the real rate that, if maintained, would keep the economy at its production potential over time.

Despite the mainstream consensus on this approach, determining the "equilibrium interest rate" is a murky business . A first problem is that, while the "benchmark rate" ought to be based on sound theoretical foundations that allow a meaningful interpretation of its behaviour, all sorts of definitions of it appear in the literature when assuming real shocks away from balanced growth. They reflect the theory's reliance on notions of perfect or imperfect competition in commodities and factor markets as well as the possible influence of transitory or only permanent components of the natural rate.

The result is usually a view in which we have a "short-run" natural rate of interest that varies (usually pro-cyclically) during the cycle, resembling Dennis Robertson's old prescription that monetary policies should follow temporary shifts of the demand for and supply of loanable funds, along with a long run natural rate that corresponds to potential output for a given degree of market imperfections when both causal shocks and lags of adjustment are averaged out.

The two approaches lead to divergent monetary policies. If you try to conduct policy by reference to the long run notion of the natural rate determined by the steady state IS curve when all the lags and random shocks disappear, you will not favour sharp changes in the short-term interest rate during the cycle. By contrast, if you rely on a "short run" natural rate that could fall during a crisis, you would see a slow decrease in the policy rates as too little to stimulate economic activity.

Compounding these difficulties is the variability induced by the estimation methods of the natural rate of interest. The benchmark rate of the monetary policy should in fact be readily computable from observable economic data, but its counterfactual nature inevitably leads to a variety of estimation methods with results that recall the early criticism by Myrdal and Lindahl that Wicksell's natural rate is not an operational notion in the sense that it was incapable of practical application. With each the econometric method raising special problems of its own, the resulting variety and uncertainty of the value of the natural rate cannot but pose significant challenges for practical monetary policy.

The divergent estimates of the NRI advanced during the recent 2008 crisis are a case in point. The estimates vary hugely, with model-based and filtering methods producing higher volatility than semi-structural approaches or peak-to-peak averages. Some estimates of the NRI provided negative values on average and not only as a possible (short-lived) effect of temporary shocks, whereas others suggested that the NRI remained close to but higher than zero. These differences imply drastically different evaluations of the stance of monetary policy as policymakers weighed whether it made sense to drive the nominal policy rates towards their zero lower bound.

But the limits of the NRI as a benchmark for monetary policy are not only statistical or related to the difficulty of distinguishing among the kind and persistency of economic shocks. They pertain to the theory itself, specifically to model specification and the alleged independence of the average or normal interest rate from monetary policy.

Firstly, New-Classical and New-Keynesian models focus on the volatility of output, that is, its variance, on the assumption that the output gap will be closed by market forces. This hides the fact that potential output may fall during the crisis due to the destruction of productive capacity stemming from a fall in effective demand. This would break down the distinction between short-lived demand shocks on the one hand and supply shocks on the other, thus complicating any estimate of the NRI and raising questions about its theoretical relevance.

Secondly, in both the theoretical models and estimate procedures, an inverse relation between the interest rates and components of aggregate demand is postulated as well as between the former and the price level, although such relations are acknowledged as being weak and doubtful. In practice, output elasticity with respect to interest rates appears low and asymmetric, and investments in fixed capital are determined mainly by expected changes in aggregate demand. Moreover, the Gibson paradox and its modern restatement in the price puzzle suggest that a direct relation between prices and the interest rate may exist due to prices adjusting to the monetary costs of production which include the pure remuneration of capital, that is interest costs. All this implies that, if, after a fall in the interest rate, we observe a fall in prices (or una tantum a lower rate of inflation), this would not signal that the NRI should be lower. Nor should a low elasticity of output to the interest rate be interpreted as a reliable sign that the natural rate of interest has fallen.

But a more fundamental criticism can be advanced concerning the sheer existence of a natural rate of interest determined by "productivity and thrift" independent of the monetary policy. New-Keynesian models restate the loanable funds theory, viewing the market rate of interest as determined by the supply of and demand for credit, with the natural rate of interest set by the supply of and demand for savings when output is at its potential level. This theory was already criticised by Keynes, who questioned whether investments adjust to savings through changes in interest rates. On the grounds of the principle of effective demand, Keynes argued that savings equalise investments by means of income changes and considered the notion of the NRI as not useful. He instead viewed the rate of interest as a monetary phenomenon to which capital profitability would adjust. He also argued that credit is not an alternative to savings but the necessary preparation for them and that until potential output is achieved, investments are financed by the finance process and income changes rather than by any previous saving supply.

This criticism of Keynes and his idea that there is no mechanical tendency to full employment was strengthened later by the Cambridge capital controversy which showed that it was impossible to derive a decreasing demand curve for investments with regard to the interest rate -- a decreasing curve which is at the root of the neoclassical mechanism guaranteeing the tendency of actual output toward potential output. Unless a single commodity economy is assumed, a surrogate production function cannot in fact be derived due to the phenomena of re-switching and reverse capital deepening. Moreover, in the market for savings and investment, there may be multiple equilibria, the capital-labour ratio is not necessarily higher for a lower interest rate, and changes in the rate of interest out of equilibrium may be so strong that they question the validity of the theory.

If we put aside the loanable funds theory, due prominence can be given to Keynes's idea that the rate of interest is a highly conventional phenomenon. It opens the way for levels of rates of interest that are shaped by monetary authorities that affect income distribution, and this possibility casts a different light on the purposes and channels of transmission of the monetary policies. Of course, monetary policy is not advanced in a vacuum but takes into account the course of money wages and, more generally, the economic and financial conditions of the country involved. Yet, the benchmark rate to which monetary authorities anchor their decisions does not appear to reflect "fundamental forces" acting independently of monetary factors, and therefore those decisions cannot be conceived simply as a technical device used to find out the "true" natural interest rate.

Summing up, estimates of the NRI are misleading both on empirical and theoretical grounds and monetary policy is not neutral, primarily because it may influence the division of the surplus product among different classes and social groups. Quite paradoxically, however, the tricky nature of those estimates, with their consequent downward revision during the crisis due to their sensitivity to current economic conditions, has been used by Central Banks to pursue a regime of low interest rates that was required by the macroeconomic situation of industrialized countries after the 2008 crisis. The cost of doing this has been to hide the asymmetric effects and delay in the transmission of monetary policy, since the scant reactivity of output to the fall in interest rates has been explained precisely by appeals to an alleged fall in the natural rate of interest even to negative values due to reaching the zero-lower bound for policy nominal interest rates. This makes a murky business even more opaque.


Synoia , January 29, 2019 at 12:03 pm

I can provide an interest rate dartboard.

Bring you own darts.

Is the natural rate of interest that of Home loans, Student loans, or Credit Cards?

That's my world.

Susan the Other , January 29, 2019 at 12:04 pm

"production potential" = return on investment potential and/or debt service potential?

Ignacio , January 29, 2019 at 12:34 pm

All this econospeak naturally wakes up assasin instincts. Anyway, any recommendation?

ape , January 29, 2019 at 12:42 pm

"A first problem is that, while the "benchmark rate" ought to be based on sound theoretical foundations that allow a meaningful interpretation of its behaviour, all sorts of definitions of it appear in the literature when assuming real shocks away from balanced growth."

Has anyone ever shown that in fact the diff eqs being used actually are insensitive to small perturbations? That the solutions are actually numerically stable? If they're not -- and in general, this is something that has to be shown for the constrained parameters -- the rest is a waste.

If it's not a concave system, but the solutions are saddle points, for example given the number of parameters and the equations steady state solutions don't require "shocks" at all to be unstable but are inherently unstable. And most systems are unstable

Synoia , January 29, 2019 at 1:43 pm

And most systems are unstable

All systems with non-linear feedback (eg: Fear and Greed), are Chaotic, not Unstable. A system with Unstable but not Chaotic behavior falls to a predictable state.

It is arguable that Greed is feed-forward, possibly in all cases. Fear is both, feed forward and feedback. For example fear of the unknown is feed forward, fear of loss generally feedback.

A classic fear which is both, feed forward and feedback, is fear of unwanted pregnancy. It is well know that fears of unwanted pregnancy are always handled rationally. /s.

JEHR , January 29, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Exactly how I felt after reading a paragraph.

d , January 29, 2019 at 5:47 pm

dont really see the difference in chaotic and unstable. different words that describe the same thing

anon y'mouse , January 29, 2019 at 8:09 pm

Chaotic would mean no discernible pattern. Unstable would mean it has patterns that lurch from some state to some other state, but which are discernible.

Gavin , January 29, 2019 at 1:47 pm

I'm very rusty, but I do believe that money, or capital, is itself a good, so it follows that an interest rate is little more than the price of money. And which rate is the natural rate, the inter bank rate, mortgage rates, brokers call, maybe the whatever a payday lender charges? All those rates just reflect different markets, or am I really wrong?

Grebo , January 29, 2019 at 3:09 pm

This article is implying that there is no natural rate of interest.
That would imply that money is not subject to the laws of supply and demand so is not a good.

Accepting that would kick away one of the pillars of Liberalism and neoclassical economics. It would also reveal that money and capital are not equivalent, except to a banker.

hemeantwell , January 29, 2019 at 3:27 pm

He gets close to saying that the idea is sheer ideology, serving a normalizing function kind of like the "state of nature" in classical political theory, e.g. Rousseau or Locke, that would be used to justify a set of political institutions. But he won't allow himself a paragraph to step away from econospeak long enough for the point to become fully salient.

Grebo , January 29, 2019 at 3:53 pm

He's only an associate professor. Maybe when he gets tenure

Massinissa , January 29, 2019 at 2:01 pm

Guys, I think there might actually be a natural rate of interest.

I think its 0%.

coboarts , January 29, 2019 at 2:20 pm

I think it was something about money left alone fornicating in dark vaults to produce interest that was considered unnatural.

JEHR , January 29, 2019 at 2:52 pm

"Fornicating Money"–a nice picture I must say.

paulmeli , January 29, 2019 at 2:54 pm

I think its 0%

so does Warren Mosler among others:

http://www.cfeps.org/pubs/wp-pdf/WP37-MoslerForstater.pdf

Joey , January 29, 2019 at 10:41 pm

Amen. The fundamental flaw is the concept of perpetual growth. Lots of fancy words for a pseudo science. At least meteorological predictions get judged, not fudged.

d , January 29, 2019 at 5:48 pm

how can there be a natural state for some thing that is man made?

anon y'mouse , January 29, 2019 at 8:07 pm

You could write that question as the epitaph to the entire field of what we know as Standard Economics. Real question:does anyone care?

[Jan 04, 2019] Michael Hudson describes the Orwellian approach of today's mainstream economics: "Viewing the economic vocabulary as propaganda, I saw that we can understand how the words you hear as largely propaganda words..."

Jan 04, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

JohnH -> anne... , December 31, 2018 at 02:45 PM

Top 5 professional journals (T5) serve as gatekeepers for professional advancement of academic economists: "strong evidence for the influence of the T5. Without doubt, publication in the T5 is a powerful determinant of tenure and promotion in academic economics."
https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/the-tyranny-of-the-top-five-journals

When this happens, acceptable research and discourse tend to get established and limited … Chinese economists probably need not apply...as well as unorthodox views in the US.

Michael Hudson describes the Orwellian approach of today's mainstream economics: "Viewing the economic vocabulary as propaganda, I saw that we can understand how the words you hear as largely propaganda words. They’ve changed the meaning to the opposite of what the classical economists meant. But if you untangle the reversal of meaning and juxtapose a more functional vocabulary you can better understand what ís actually happening."
https://michael-hudson.com/2018/12/guns-butter-the-vocabulary-of-economic-deception/

[Jan 04, 2019] Krugman as a neoliberal stooge

Notable quotes:
"... Hard core neoliberals say Social Security is a ponzi scheme because too few workers can't pay too many retirees, it should have bought stocks and bonds. Ok, if all the boomers had bought stocks and bonds instead of paying FICA, would too many boomers selling stocks relative to the younger workers saving for retirement buying stocks magically keep share prices rising? Was the crash the day before Chriistmas caused by too many buyers of stocks and bonds, or too many sellers? ..."
"... Hard core neoliberals have been pushing free lunch economics for several decades by erasing the connection between labor and money and real value. ..."
Jan 04, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

mulp -> anne... , December 31, 2018 at 06:51 PM

Why oh why can't Krugman explain economics, and especially how "voodoo" conservative free lunch economics is.

First, why has Krugman self lobotomized and remove the economic basic axiom that everything is about labor, especially money.

Money is labor, labor in the past or labor in the future. Eliminate work, ie, robots completely replace all workers, then someone will tell their robot to build more robots and tell those robots to do the same until everyone can be given as many robots as they want for free to produce as much as the new own want, whether to consume or not, so no one will be willing to pay anything for any thing.

So, until someone can explain how money has value without human labor, and "property" is not the reason because I will order my robots to build an army to kill you if you refuse to vacate the land I want as my own. And I'll build the biggest robot army to fight off any "government" that tries to take the liberty I have gained with my robots eliminating any requirement for me to work for what I consume or desire.

So, again, money is past or future labor, just as goods and capital are past labor, the Fed merely ensures liquidity of labor IOUs, but if no one will pay workers to work with these IOUs, no one will get a job no matter how many labor IOUs the Fed prints.

And it i give you labor IOUs, but no one will produce anything by work in exchange for those labor IOUs, they are worthless. Like in Venezuela where you buy stuff paying in eggs or fuel or other things produced by workers with capital, ie, labor.

And Trump never sees any value in money because he never works. He'll promise you money, but if you believe he'll do any work to make his promise honest, you are a fool. And thats true for pretty muchh all Hard core neoliberals these days.

Hard core neoliberals tell you to work more than the money paid in exchange for other working to produce stuff for you in the future. First it was by pensions. But now they refuse. Then is was by government IOUs, but now they are saying "nope" to redeeming the bonds.

Anyone think the businesses with skyhigh share prices are going to pay dividends, or buy back shares at sky high prices when sellers exceed buyers?

Hard core neoliberals say Social Security is a ponzi scheme because too few workers can't pay too many retirees, it should have bought stocks and bonds. Ok, if all the boomers had bought stocks and bonds instead of paying FICA, would too many boomers selling stocks relative to the younger workers saving for retirement buying stocks magically keep share prices rising? Was the crash the day before Chriistmas caused by too many buyers of stocks and bonds, or too many sellers?

Hard core neoliberals have been pushing free lunch economics for several decades by erasing the connection between labor and money and real value.

Hard core neoliberals see work as too costly, and paying workers to crushingly costly, but they want others to give them both stuff and money. A free lunch.

And they cleverly created clever lines like, "cutting taxes puts money in yoour pockets" and "costly givernment regulations kills jobs" and "we must cut costs to create jobs".

So, voters who just got told GM is cutting costs by eliminating 10,000 jobs and closing 5 factories listen to Trump promise to cut costs to bring back factories and jobs end up voting for Trump???

So genious Krugman can't point out the lie Trump and the GOP are telling by simply pointing outt to those workers they lost their job because of cost cutting.

Why can't workers understand that anytime a politician says "cut" he means "fire" or "impoverish"???

[Jan 04, 2019] Bad Faith, Pathos and G.O.P. Economics: On professionals who sold their integrity, and got nothing in return.

Jan 04, 2019 | economistsview.typepad.com

anne , December 31, 2018 at 06:07 PM

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/27/opinion/republican-economists-bad-faith.html

December 27, 2018

Bad Faith, Pathos and G.O.P. Economics: On professionals who sold their integrity, and got nothing in return.
By Paul Krugman

As 2018 draws to an end, we're seeing many articles about the state of the economy. What I'd like to do, however, is talk about something different -- the state of economics, at least as it relates to the political situation. And that state is not good: The bad faith that dominates conservative politics at every level is infecting right-leaning economists, too.

This is sad, but it's also pathetic. For even as once-respected economists abase themselves in the face of Trumpism, the G.O.P. is making it ever clearer that their services aren't wanted, that only hacks need apply.

What you need to know when talking about economics and politics is that there are three kinds of economist in modern America: liberal professional economists, conservative professional economists and professional conservative economists.

By "liberal professional economists" I mean researchers who try to understand the economy as best they can, but who, being human, also have political preferences, which in their case puts them on the left side of the U.S. political spectrum, although usually only modestly left of center. Conservative professional economists are their counterparts on the center right.

Professional conservative economists are something quite different. They're people who even center-right professionals consider charlatans and cranks; they make a living by pretending to do actual economics -- often incompetently -- but are actually just propagandists. And no, there isn't really a corresponding category on the other side, in part because the billionaires who finance such propaganda are much more likely to be on the right than on the left.

But let me leave the pure hacks on one side for a moment, and talk about the people who at least used to seem to be trying to do real economics.

Do economists' political preferences shape their research? They surely affect the choice of subject: Liberals are more likely to be interested in rising inequality or the economics of climate change than conservatives. And human nature being what it is, some of them -- O.K., of us -- occasionally engage in motivated reasoning, reaching conclusions that cater to their politics.

I used to believe, however, that such lapses were the exception, not the rule, and the liberal economists I know try hard to avoid falling into that trap, and apologize when they do.

But do conservative economists do the same? Increasingly, the answer seems to be no, at least for those who play a prominent role in public discourse.

Even during the Obama years, it was striking how many well-known Republican-leaning economists followed the party line on economic policy, even when that party line was in conflict with the nonpolitical professional consensus.

Thus, when a Democrat was in the White House, G.O.P. politicians opposed anything that might mitigate the costs of the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath; so did many economists. Most famously, in 2010 a who's who of Republican economists denounced the efforts of the Federal Reserve to fight unemployment, warning that they risked "currency debasement and inflation."

Were these economists arguing in good faith? Even at the time, there were good reasons to suspect otherwise. For one thing, those terrible, irresponsible Fed actions were pretty much exactly what Milton Friedman prescribed for depressed economies. For another, some of those Fed critics engaged in Donald Trump-like conspiracy theorizing, accusing the Fed of printing money, not to help the economy, but to "bail out fiscal policy," i.e., to help Barack Obama.

It was also telling that none of the economists who warned, wrongly, about looming inflation were willing to admit their error after the fact.

But the real test came after 2016. A complete cynic might have expected economists who denounced budget deficits and easy money under a Democrat to suddenly reverse position under a Republican president.

And that total cynic would have been exactly right. After years of hysteria about the evils of debt, establishment Republican economists enthusiastically endorsed a budget-busting tax cut. After denouncing easy-money policies when unemployment was sky-high, some echoed Trump's demands for low interest rates with unemployment under 4 percent -- and the rest remained conspicuously silent.

What explains this epidemic of bad faith? Some of it is clearly ambition on the part of conservative economists still hoping for high-profile appointments. Some of it, I suspect, may be just the desire to stay on the inside with powerful people.

But there's something pathetic about this professional self-abasement, because the rewards center-right economists long for haven't come, and never will.

It's not just that Trump has assembled an administration of the worst and the dimmest. The truth is that the modern G.O.P. doesn't want to hear from serious economists, whatever their politics. It prefers charlatans and cranks, who are its kind of people.

So what we've learned about economics these past two years is that many conservative economists were, in fact, willing to compromise their professional ethics for political ends -- and that they sold their integrity for nothing.

[Dec 31, 2018] Academic bottomfeeders at service of financial oligarchy by George Monbiot

Notable quotes:
"... By abetting the ad industry, universities are leading us into temptation, when they should be enlightening us ..."
Dec 31, 2018 | www.theguardian.com

Originally from: Advertising and academia are controlling our thoughts. Didn't you know- - George Monbiot - Opinion - The Guardian

By abetting the ad industry, universities are leading us into temptation, when they should be enlightening us

... ... ...

I ask because, while considering the frenzy of consumerism that rises beyond its usual planet-trashing levels at this time of year, I recently stumbled across a paper that astonished me . It was written by academics at public universities in the Netherlands and the US. Their purpose seemed to me starkly at odds with the public interest. They sought to identify "the different ways in which consumers resist advertising, and the tactics that can be used to counter or avoid such resistance".

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Among the "neutralising" techniques it highlighted were "disguising the persuasive intent of the message"; distracting our attention by using confusing phrases that make it harder to focus on the advertiser's intentions; and "using cognitive depletion as a tactic for reducing consumers' ability to contest messages". This means hitting us with enough advertisements to exhaust our mental resources, breaking down our capacity to think.

Intrigued, I started looking for other academic papers on the same theme, and found an entire literature. There were articles on every imaginable aspect of resistance, and helpful tips on overcoming it. For example, I came across a paper that counsels advertisers on how to rebuild public trust when the celebrity they work with gets into trouble. Rather than dumping this lucrative asset, the researchers advised that the best means to enhance "the authentic persuasive appeal of a celebrity endorser" whose standing has slipped is to get them to display "a Duchenne smile", otherwise known as "a genuine smile". It precisely anatomised such smiles, showed how to spot them, and discussed the "construction" of sincerity and "genuineness": a magnificent exercise in inauthentic authenticity.

ss="rich-link tone-news--item rich-link--pillar-news"> Facebook told advertisers it can identify teens feeling 'insecure' and 'worthless' Read more

Another paper considered how to persuade sceptical people to accept a company's corporate social responsibility claims, especially when these claims conflict with the company's overall objectives. (An obvious example is ExxonMobil's attempts to convince people that it is environmentally responsible, because it is researching algal fuels that could one day reduce CO2 – even as it continues to pump millions of barrels of fossil oil a day ). I hoped the paper would recommend that the best means of persuading people is for a company to change its practices. Instead, the authors' research showed how images and statements could be cleverly combined to "minimise stakeholder scepticism".

A further paper discussed advertisements that work by stimulating Fomo – fear of missing out . It noted that such ads work through "controlled motivation", which is "anathema to wellbeing". Fomo ads, the paper explained, tend to cause significant discomfort to those who notice them. It then went on to show how an improved understanding of people's responses "provides the opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of Fomo as a purchase trigger". One tactic it proposed is to keep stimulating the fear of missing out, during and after the decision to buy. This, it suggested, will make people more susceptible to further ads on the same lines.

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Yes, I know: I work in an industry that receives most of its income from advertising, so I am complicit in this too. But so are we all. Advertising – with its destructive impacts on the living planet, our peace of mind and our free will – sits at the heart of our growth-based economy. This gives us all the more reason to challenge it. Among the places in which the challenge should begin are universities, and the academic societies that are supposed to set and uphold ethical standards. If they cannot swim against the currents of constructed desire and constructed thought, who can?

• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

[Dec 14, 2018] Hidden neoliberal inner party : US chamber of commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and The Business Roundtable

Notable quotes:
"... The American Chamber of Commerce subsequently expanded its base from around 60,000 firms in 1972 to over a quarter of a million ten years later. Jointly with the National Association of Manufacturers (which moved to Washington in 1972) it amassed an immense campaign chest to lobby Congress and engage in research. The Business Roundtable, an organization of CEOs 'committed to the aggressive pursuit of political power for the corporation', was founded in 1972 and thereafter became the centrepiece of collective pro-business action. ..."
"... Nearly half the financing for the highly respected NBER came from the leading companies in the Fortune 500 list. Closely integrated with the academic community, the NBER was to have a very significant impact on thinking in the economics departments and business schools of the major research universities. ..."
"... In order to realize this goal, businesses needed a political class instrument and a popular base. They therefore actively sought to capture the Republican Party as their own instrument. The formation of powerful political action committees to procure, as the old adage had it, 'the best government that money could buy' was an important step. ..."
"... The Republican Party needed, however, a solid electoral base if it was to colonize power effectively. It was around this time that Republicans sought an alliance with the Christian right. The latter had not been politically active in the past, but the foundation of Jerry Falwell's 'moral majority' as a political movement in 1978 changed all of that. The Republican Party now had its Christian base. ..."
"... It also appealed to the cultural nationalism of the white working classes and their besieged sense of moral righteousness. This political base could be mobilized through the positives of religion and cultural nationalism and negatively through coded, if not blatant, racism, homophobia, and anti feminism. ..."
"... The alliance between big business and conservative Christians backed by the neoconservatives consolidated, not for the first time has a social group been persuaded to vote against its material, economic, and class interests ..."
"... Any political movement that holds individual freedoms to be sacrosanct is vulnerable to incorporation into the neoliberal fold. ..."
"... Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multiculturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. ..."
"... By capturing ideals of individual freedom and turning them against the interventionist and regulatory practices of the state, capitalist class interests could hope to protect and even restore their position. Neoliberalism was well suited to this ideological task. ..."
"... Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than a little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'postmodernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s. ..."
"... Powell argued that individual action was insufficient. 'Strength', he wrote, 'lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations'. The National Chamber of Commerce, he argued, should lead an assault upon the major institutions––universities, schools, the media, publishing, the courts––in order to change how individuals think 'about the corporation, the law, culture, and the individual'. US businesses did not lack resources for such an effort, particularly when they pooled their resources together. ..."
Nov 27, 2018 | discussion.theguardian.com

Themiddlegound -> Themiddlegound , 11 Jun 2013 05:42

The American Chamber of Commerce subsequently expanded its base from around 60,000 firms in 1972 to over a quarter of a million ten years later. Jointly with the National Association of Manufacturers (which moved to Washington in 1972) it amassed an immense campaign chest to lobby Congress and engage in research. The Business Roundtable, an organization of CEOs 'committed to the aggressive pursuit of political power for the corporation', was founded in 1972 and thereafter became the centrepiece of collective pro-business action.

The corporations involved accounted for 'about one half of the GNP of the United States' during the 1970s, and they spent close to $900 million annually (a huge amount at that time) on political matters. Think-tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institute, the Center for the Study of American Business, and the American Enterprise Institute, were formed with corporate backing both to polemicize and, when necessary, as in the case of the National Bureau of Economic Research, to construct serious technical and empirical studies and political-philosophical arguments broadly in support of neoliberal policies.

Nearly half the financing for the highly respected NBER came from the leading companies in the Fortune 500 list. Closely integrated with the academic community, the NBER was to have a very significant impact on thinking in the economics departments and business schools of the major research universities. With abundant finance furnished by wealthy individuals (such as the brewer Joseph Coors, who later became a member of Reagan's 'kitchen cabinet') and their foundations (for example Olin, Scaife, Smith Richardson, Pew Charitable Trust), a flood of tracts and books, with Nozick's Anarchy State and Utopia perhaps the most widely read and appreciated, emerged espousing neoliberal values. A TV version of Milton Friedman's Free to Choose was funded with a grant from Scaife in 1977. 'Business was', Blyth concludes, 'learning to spend as a class.

In singling out the universities for particular attention, Powell pointed up an opportunity as well as an issue, for these were indeed centers of anti-corporate and anti-state sentiment (the students at Santa Barbara had burned down the Bank of America building there and ceremonially buried a car in the sands). But many students were (and still are) affluent and privileged, or at least middle class, and in the US the values of individual freedom have long been celebrated (in music and popular culture) as primary. Neoliberal themes could here find fertile ground for propagation. Powell did not argue for extending state power. But business should 'assiduously cultivate' the state and when necessary use it 'aggressively and with determination'

In order to realize this goal, businesses needed a political class instrument and a popular base. They therefore actively sought to capture the Republican Party as their own instrument. The formation of powerful political action committees to procure, as the old adage had it, 'the best government that money could buy' was an important step. The supposedly 'progressive' campaign finance laws of 1971 in effect legalized the financial corruption of politics.

A crucial set of Supreme Court decisions began in 1976 when it was first established that the right of a corporation to make unlimited money contributions to political parties and political action committees was protected under the First Amendment guaranteeing the rights of individuals (in this instance corporations) to freedom of speech.15 Political action committees could thereafter ensure the financial domination of both political parties by corporate, moneyed, and professional association interests. Corporate PACs, which numbered eighty-nine in 1974, had burgeoned to 1,467 by 1982.

The Republican Party needed, however, a solid electoral base if it was to colonize power effectively. It was around this time that Republicans sought an alliance with the Christian right. The latter had not been politically active in the past, but the foundation of Jerry Falwell's 'moral majority' as a political movement in 1978 changed all of that. The Republican Party now had its Christian base.

It also appealed to the cultural nationalism of the white working classes and their besieged sense of moral righteousness. This political base could be mobilized through the positives of religion and cultural nationalism and negatively through coded, if not blatant, racism, homophobia, and anti feminism.

The alliance between big business and conservative Christians backed by the neoconservatives consolidated, not for the first time has a social group been persuaded to vote against its material, economic, and class interests the evangelical Christians eagerly embraced the alliance with big business and the Republican Party as a means to further promote their evangelical and moral agenda.

Themiddlegound -> Themiddlegound , 11 Jun 2013 05:23

Any political movement that holds individual freedoms to be sacrosanct is vulnerable to incorporation into the neoliberal fold.

The worldwide political upheavals of 1968, for example, were strongly inflected with the desire for greater personal freedoms. This was certainly true for students, such as those animated by the Berkeley 'free speech' movement of the 1960s or who took to the streets in Paris, Berlin, and Bangkok and were so mercilessly shot down in Mexico City shortly before the 1968 Olympic Games. They demanded freedom from parental, educational, corporate, bureaucratic, and state constraints. But the '68 movement also had social justice as a primary political objective.

Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multiculturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. It has long proved extremely difficult within the US left, for example, to forge the collective discipline required for political action to achieve social justice without offending the the Construction of Consent desire of political actors for individual freedom and for full recognition and expression of particular identities. Neoliberalism did not create these distinctions, but it could easily exploit, if not foment, them.

In the early 1970s those seeking individual freedoms and social justice could make common cause in the face of what many saw as a common enemy. Powerful corporations in alliance with an interventionist state were seen to be running the world in individually oppressive and socially unjust ways. The Vietnam War was the most obvious catalyst for discontent, but the destructive activities of corporations and the state in relation to the environment, the push towards mindless consumerism, the failure to address social issues and respond adequately to diversity, as well as intense restrictions on individual possibilities and personal behaviors by state-mandated and 'traditional' controls were also widely resented. Civil rights were an issue, and questions of sexuality and of reproductive rights were very much in play.

For almost everyone involved in the movement of '68, the intrusive state was the enemy and it had to be reformed. And on that, the neoliberals could easily agree. But capitalist corporations, business, and the market system were also seen as primary enemies requiring redress if not revolutionary transformation: hence the threat to capitalist class power.

By capturing ideals of individual freedom and turning them against the interventionist and regulatory practices of the state, capitalist class interests could hope to protect and even restore their position. Neoliberalism was well suited to this ideological task. But it had to be backed up by a practical strategy that emphasized the liberty of consumer choice, not only with respect to particular products but also with respect to lifestyles, modes of expression, and a wide range of cultural practices. Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than a little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'postmodernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s.

In the US case a confidential memo sent by Lewis Powell to the US Chamber of Commerce in August 1971. Powell, about to be elevated to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, argued that criticism of and opposition to the US free enterprise system had gone too far and that 'the time had come––indeed it is long overdue––for the wisdom, ingenuity and resources of American business to be marshaled against those who would destroy it'.

Powell argued that individual action was insufficient. 'Strength', he wrote, 'lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations'. The National Chamber of Commerce, he argued, should lead an assault upon the major institutions––universities, schools, the media, publishing, the courts––in order to change how individuals think 'about the corporation, the law, culture, and the individual'. US businesses did not lack resources for such an effort, particularly when they pooled their resources together.

[Dec 09, 2018] The fatal flaw of neoliberalism: it s bad economics: Neoliberalism and its usual prescriptions – always more markets, always less government – are in fact a perversion of mainstream economics by Dani Rodrik

Notable quotes:
"... The term is used as a catchall for anything that smacks of deregulation, liberalisation, privatisation or fiscal austerity. Today it is routinely reviled as a shorthand for the ideas and practices that have produced growing economic insecurity and inequality, led to the loss of our political values and ideals, and even precipitated our current populist backlash ..."
"... The use of the term "neoliberal" exploded in the 1990s, when it became closely associated with two developments, neither of which Peters's article had mentioned. One of these was financial deregulation, which would culminate in the 2008 financial crash and in the still-lingering euro debacle . The second was economic globalisation, which accelerated thanks to free flows of finance and to a new, more ambitious type of trade agreement. Financialisation and globalisation have become the most overt manifestations of neoliberalism in today's world. ..."
"... That neoliberalism is a slippery, shifting concept, with no explicit lobby of defenders, does not mean that it is irrelevant or unreal. ..."
"... homo economicus ..."
"... A version of this article first appeared in Boston Review ..."
"... Main illustration by Eleanor Shakespeare ..."
Nov 14, 2017 | www.theguardian.com
As even its harshest critics concede, neoliberalism is hard to pin down. In broad terms, it denotes a preference for markets over government, economic incentives over cultural norms, and private entrepreneurship over collective action. It has been used to describe a wide range of phenomena – from Augusto Pinochet to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, from the Clinton Democrats and the UK's New Labour to the economic opening in China and the reform of the welfare state in Sweden.

The term is used as a catchall for anything that smacks of deregulation, liberalisation, privatisation or fiscal austerity. Today it is routinely reviled as a shorthand for the ideas and practices that have produced growing economic insecurity and inequality, led to the loss of our political values and ideals, and even precipitated our current populist backlash .

We live in the age of neoliberalism, apparently. But who are neoliberalism's adherents and disseminators – the neoliberals themselves? Oddly, you have to go back a long time to find anyone explicitly embracing neoliberalism. In 1982, Charles Peters, the longtime editor of the political magazine Washington Monthly, published an essay titled A Neo-Liberal's Manifesto . It makes for interesting reading 35 years later, since the neoliberalism it describes bears little resemblance to today's target of derision. The politicians Peters names as exemplifying the movement are not the likes of Thatcher and Reagan, but rather liberals – in the US sense of the word – who have become disillusioned with unions and big government and dropped their prejudices against markets and the military.

The use of the term "neoliberal" exploded in the 1990s, when it became closely associated with two developments, neither of which Peters's article had mentioned. One of these was financial deregulation, which would culminate in the 2008 financial crash and in the still-lingering euro debacle . The second was economic globalisation, which accelerated thanks to free flows of finance and to a new, more ambitious type of trade agreement. Financialisation and globalisation have become the most overt manifestations of neoliberalism in today's world.

That neoliberalism is a slippery, shifting concept, with no explicit lobby of defenders, does not mean that it is irrelevant or unreal. Who can deny that the world has experienced a decisive shift toward markets from the 1980s on? Or that centre-left politicians – Democrats in the US, socialists and social democrats in Europe – enthusiastically adopted some of the central creeds of Thatcherism and Reaganism, such as deregulation, privatisation, financial liberalisation and individual enterprise? Much of our contemporary policy discussion remains infused with principles supposedly grounded in the concept of homo economicus , the perfectly rational human being, found in many economic theories, who always pursues his own self-interest.

But the looseness of the term neoliberalism also means that criticism of it often misses the mark. There is nothing wrong with markets, private entrepreneurship or incentives – when deployed appropriately. Their creative use lies behind the most significant economic achievements of our time. As we heap scorn on neoliberalism, we risk throwing out some of neoliberalism's useful ideas.

The real trouble is that mainstream economics shades too easily into ideology, constraining the choices that we appear to have and providing cookie-cutter solutions. A proper understanding of the economics that lie behind neoliberalism would allow us to identify – and to reject – ideology when it masquerades as economic science. Most importantly, it would help us to develop the institutional imagination we badly need to redesign capitalism for the 21st century.


N eoliberalism is typically understood as being based on key tenets of mainstream economic science. To see those tenets without the ideology, consider this thought experiment. A well-known and highly regarded economist lands in a country he has never visited and knows nothing about. He is brought to a meeting with the country's leading policymakers. "Our country is in trouble," they tell him. "The economy is stagnant, investment is low, and there is no growth in sight." They turn to him expectantly: "Please tell us what we should do to make our economy grow."

The economist pleads ignorance and explains that he knows too little about the country to make any recommendations. He would need to study the history of the economy, to analyse the statistics, and to travel around the country before he could say anything.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Tony Blair and Bill Clinton: centre-left politicians who enthusiastically adopted some of the central creeds of Thatcherism and Reaganism. Photograph: Reuters

But his hosts are insistent. "We understand your reticence, and we wish you had the time for all that," they tell him. "But isn't economics a science, and aren't you one of its most distinguished practitioners? Even though you do not know much about our economy, surely there are some general theories and prescriptions you can share with us to guide our economic policies and reforms."

The economist is now in a bind. He does not want to emulate those economic gurus he has long criticised for peddling their favourite policy advice. But he feels challenged by the question. Are there universal truths in economics? Can he say anything valid or useful?

So he begins. The efficiency with which an economy's resources are allocated is a critical determinant of the economy's performance, he says. Efficiency, in turn, requires aligning the incentives of households and businesses with social costs and benefits. The incentives faced by entrepreneurs, investors and producers are particularly important when it comes to economic growth. Growth needs a system of property rights and contract enforcement that will ensure those who invest can retain the returns on their investments. And the economy must be open to ideas and innovations from the rest of the world.

But economies can be derailed by macroeconomic instability, he goes on. Governments must therefore pursue a sound monetary policy , which means restricting the growth of liquidity to the increase in nominal money demand at reasonable inflation. They must ensure fiscal sustainability, so that the increase in public debt does not outpace national income. And they must carry out prudential regulation of banks and other financial institutions to prevent the financial system from taking excessive risk.

Now he is warming to his task. Economics is not just about efficiency and growth, he adds. Economic principles also carry over to equity and social policy. Economics has little to say about how much redistribution a society should seek. But it does tell us that the tax base should be as broad as possible, and that social programmes should be designed in a way that does not encourage workers to drop out of the labour market.

By the time the economist stops, it appears as if he has laid out a fully fledged neoliberal agenda. A critic in the audience will have heard all the code words: efficiency, incentives, property rights, sound money, fiscal prudence. And yet the universal principles that the economist describes are in fact quite open-ended. They presume a capitalist economy – one in which investment decisions are made by private individuals and firms – but not much beyond that. They allow for – indeed, they require – a surprising variety of institutional arrangements.

So has the economist just delivered a neoliberal screed? We would be mistaken to think so, and our mistake would consist of associating each abstract term – incentives, property rights, sound money – with a particular institutional counterpart. And therein lies the central conceit, and the fatal flaw, of neoliberalism: the belief that first-order economic principles map on to a unique set of policies, approximated by a Thatcher/Reagan-style agenda.

Consider property rights. They matter insofar as they allocate returns on investments. An optimal system would distribute property rights to those who would make the best use of an asset, and afford protection against those most likely to expropriate the returns. Property rights are good when they protect innovators from free riders, but they are bad when they protect them from competition. Depending on the context, a legal regime that provides the appropriate incentives can look quite different from the standard US-style regime of private property rights.

This may seem like a semantic point with little practical import; but China's phenomenal economic success is largely due to its orthodoxy-defying institutional tinkering. China turned to markets, but did not copy western practices in property rights. Its reforms produced market-based incentives through a series of unusual institutional arrangements that were better adapted to the local context. Rather than move directly from state to private ownership, for example, which would have been stymied by the weakness of the prevailing legal structures, the country relied on mixed forms of ownership that provided more effective property rights for entrepreneurs in practice. Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs), which spearheaded Chinese economic growth during the 1980s, were collectives owned and controlled by local governments. Even though TVEs were publicly owned, entrepreneurs received the protection they needed against expropriation. Local governments had a direct stake in the profits of the firms, and hence did not want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

China relied on a range of such innovations, each delivering the economist's higher-order economic principles in unfamiliar institutional arrangements. For instance, it shielded its large state sector from global competition, establishing special economic zones where foreign firms could operate with different rules than in the rest of the economy. In view of such departures from orthodox blueprints, describing China's economic reforms as neoliberal – as critics are inclined to do – distorts more than it reveals. If we are to call this neoliberalism, we must surely look more kindly on the ideas behind the most dramatic poverty reduction in history.

One might protest that China's institutional innovations were purely transitional. Perhaps it will have to converge on western-style institutions to sustain its economic progress. But this common line of thinking overlooks the diversity of capitalist arrangements that still prevails among advanced economies, despite the considerable homogenisation of our policy discourse.

What, after all, are western institutions? The size of the public sector in OECD countries varies, from a third of the economy in Korea to nearly 60% in Finland. In Iceland, 86% of workers are members of a trade union; the comparable number in Switzerland is just 16%. In the US, firms can fire workers almost at will; French labour laws have historically required employers to jump through many hoops first. Stock markets have grown to a total value of nearly one-and-a-half times GDP in the US; in Germany, they are only a third as large, equivalent to just 50% of GDP.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest 'China turned to markets, but did not copy western practices ... ' Photograph: AFP/Getty

The idea that any one of these models of taxation, labour relations or financial organisation is inherently superior to the others is belied by the varying economic fortunes that each of these economies have experienced over recent decades. The US has gone through successive periods of angst in which its economic institutions were judged inferior to those in Germany, Japan, China, and now possibly Germany again. Certainly, comparable levels of wealth and productivity can be produced under very different models of capitalism. We might even go a step further: today's prevailing models probably come nowhere near exhausting the range of what might be possible, and desirable, in the future.

The visiting economist in our thought experiment knows all this, and recognises that the principles he has enunciated need to be filled in with institutional detail before they become operational. Property rights? Yes, but how? Sound money? Of course, but how? It would perhaps be easier to criticise his list of principles for being vacuous than to denounce it as a neoliberal screed.

Still, these principles are not entirely content-free. China, and indeed all countries that managed to develop rapidly, demonstrate the utility of those principles once they are properly adapted to local context. Conversely, too many economies have been driven to ruin courtesy of political leaders who chose to violate them. We need look no further than Latin American populists or eastern European communist regimes to appreciate the practical significance of sound money, fiscal sustainability and private incentives.


O f course, economics goes beyond a list of abstract, largely common-sense principles. Much of the work of economists consists of developing stylised models of how economies work and then confronting those models with evidence. Economists tend to think of what they do as progressively refining their understanding of the world: their models are supposed to get better and better as they are tested and revised over time. But progress in economics happens differently.

Economists study a social reality that is unlike the physical universe. It is completely manmade, highly malleable and operates according to different rules across time and space. Economics advances not by settling on the right model or theory to answer such questions, but by improving our understanding of the diversity of causal relationships. Neoliberalism and its customary remedies – always more markets, always less government – are in fact a perversion of mainstream economics. Good economists know that the correct answer to any question in economics is: it depends.

Does an increase in the minimum wage depress employment? Yes, if the labour market is really competitive and employers have no control over the wage they must pay to attract workers; but not necessarily otherwise. Does trade liberalisation increase economic growth? Yes, if it increases the profitability of industries where the bulk of investment and innovation takes place; but not otherwise. Does more government spending increase employment? Yes, if there is slack in the economy and wages do not rise; but not otherwise. Does monopoly harm innovation? Yes and no, depending on a whole host of market circumstances.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest 'Today [neoliberalism] is routinely reviled as a shorthand for the ideas that have produced growing economic inequality and precipitated our current populist backlash' Trump signing an order to take the US out of the TPP trade pact. Photograph: AFP/Getty

In economics, new models rarely supplant older models. The basic competitive-markets model dating back to Adam Smith has been modified over time by the inclusion, in rough historical order, of monopoly, externalities, scale economies, incomplete and asymmetric information, irrational behaviour and many other real-world features. But the older models remain as useful as ever. Understanding how real markets operate necessitates using different lenses at different times.

Perhaps maps offer the best analogy. Just like economic models, maps are highly stylised representations of reality . They are useful precisely because they abstract from many real-world details that would get in the way. But abstraction also implies that we need a different map depending on the nature of our journey. If we are travelling by bike, we need a map of bike trails. If we are to go on foot, we need a map of footpaths. If a new subway is constructed, we will need a subway map – but we wouldn't throw out the older maps.

Economists tend to be very good at making maps, but not good enough at choosing the one most suited to the task at hand. When confronted with policy questions of the type our visiting economist faces, too many of them resort to "benchmark" models that favour the laissez-faire approach. Kneejerk solutions and hubris replace the richness and humility of the discussion in the seminar room. John Maynard Keynes once defined economics as the "science of thinking in terms of models, joined to the art of choosing models which are relevant". Economists typically have trouble with the "art" part.

This, too, can be illustrated with a parable. A journalist calls an economics professor for his view on whether free trade is a good idea. The professor responds enthusiastically in the affirmative. The journalist then goes undercover as a student in the professor's advanced graduate seminar on international trade. He poses the same question: is free trade good? This time the professor is stymied. "What do you mean by 'good'?" he responds. "And good for whom?" The professor then launches into an extensive exegesis that will ultimately culminate in a heavily hedged statement: "So if the long list of conditions I have just described are satisfied, and assuming we can tax the beneficiaries to compensate the losers, freer trade has the potential to increase everyone's wellbeing." If he is in an expansive mood, the professor might add that the effect of free trade on an economy's longterm growth rate is not clear either, and would depend on an altogether different set of requirements.

This professor is rather different from the one the journalist encountered previously. On the record, he exudes self-confidence, not reticence, about the appropriate policy. There is one and only one model, at least as far as the public conversation is concerned, and there is a single correct answer, regardless of context. Strangely, the professor deems the knowledge that he imparts to his advanced students to be inappropriate (or dangerous) for the general public. Why?

The roots of such behaviour lie deep in the culture of the economics profession. But one important motive is the zeal to display the profession's crown jewels – market efficiency, the invisible hand, comparative advantage – in untarnished form, and to shield them from attack by self-interested barbarians, namely the protectionists . Unfortunately, these economists typically ignore the barbarians on the other side of the issue – financiers and multinational corporations whose motives are no purer and who are all too ready to hijack these ideas for their own benefit.

As a result, economists' contributions to public debate are often biased in one direction, in favour of more trade, more finance and less government. That is why economists have developed a reputation as cheerleaders for neoliberalism, even if mainstream economics is very far from a paean to laissez-faire. The economists who let their enthusiasm for free markets run wild are in fact not being true to their own discipline.


H ow then should we think about globalisation in order to liberate it from the grip of neoliberal practices? We must begin by understanding the positive potential of global markets. Access to world markets in goods, technologies and capital has played an important role in virtually all of the economic miracles of our time. China is the most recent and powerful reminder of this historical truth, but it is not the only case. Before China, similar miracles were performed by South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and a few non-Asian countries such as Mauritius . All of these countries embraced globalisation rather than turn their backs on it, and they benefited handsomely.

Defenders of the existing economic order will quickly point to these examples when globalisation comes into question. What they will fail to say is that almost all of these countries joined the world economy by violating neoliberal strictures. South Korea and Taiwan, for instance, heavily subsidised their exporters, the former through the financial system and the latter through tax incentives. All of them eventually removed most of their import restrictions, long after economic growth had taken off.

But none, with the sole exception of Chile in the 1980s under Pinochet, followed the neoliberal recommendation of a rapid opening-up to imports. Chile's neoliberal experiment eventually produced the worst economic crisis in all of Latin America. While the details differ across countries, in all cases governments played an active role in restructuring the economy and buffering it against a volatile external environment. Industrial policies, restrictions on capital flows and currency controls – all prohibited in the neoliberal playbook – were rampant.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Protest against Nafta in Mexico City in 2008: since the reforms of the mid-90s, the country's economy has underperformed. Photograph: EPA

By contrast, countries that stuck closest to the neoliberal model of globalisation were sorely disappointed. Mexico provides a particularly sad example. Following a series of macroeconomic crises in the mid-1990s, Mexico embraced macroeconomic orthodoxy, extensively liberalised its economy, freed up the financial system, sharply reduced import restrictions and signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). These policies did produce macroeconomic stability and a significant rise in foreign trade and internal investment. But where it counts – in overall productivity and economic growth – the experiment failed . Since undertaking the reforms, overall productivity in Mexico has stagnated, and the economy has underperformed even by the undemanding standards of Latin America.

These outcomes are not a surprise from the perspective of sound economics. They are yet another manifestation of the need for economic policies to be attuned to the failures to which markets are prone, and to be tailored to the specific circumstances of each country. No single blueprint fits all.


A s Peters's 1982 manifesto attests, the meaning of neoliberalism has changed considerably over time as the label has acquired harder-line connotations with respect to deregulation, financialisation and globalisation. But there is one thread that connects all versions of neoliberalism, and that is the emphasis on economic growth . Peters wrote in 1982 that the emphasis was warranted because growth is essential to all our social and political ends – community, democracy, prosperity. Entrepreneurship, private investment and removing obstacles that stand in the way (such as excessive regulation) were all instruments for achieving economic growth. If a similar neoliberal manifesto were penned today, it would no doubt make the same point.

ss="rich-link"> Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world Read more

Critics often point out that this emphasis on economics debases and sacrifices other important values such as equality, social inclusion, democratic deliberation and justice. Those political and social objectives obviously matter enormously, and in some contexts they matter the most. They cannot always, or even often, be achieved by means of technocratic economic policies; politics must play a central role.

Still, neoliberals are not wrong when they argue that our most cherished ideals are more likely to be attained when our economy is vibrant, strong and growing. Where they are wrong is in believing that there is a unique and universal recipe for improving economic performance, to which they have access. The fatal flaw of neoliberalism is that it does not even get the economics right. It must be rejected on its own terms for the simple reason that it is bad economics.

A version of this article first appeared in Boston Review

Main illustration by Eleanor Shakespeare

[Dec 03, 2018] Neoliberalism is a secular religion because it relies of beliefs (which in this case are presented using the mathematical notation of neoclassic economics)

Like bolshevism this secular regions is to a large extent is a denial of Christianity. While Bolshevism is closer to the Islam, Neoliberalism is closer to Judaism.
The idea of " Homo economicus " -- a person who in all his decisions is governed by self-interest and greed is bunk.
Notable quotes:
"... There is not a shred of logical sense in neoliberalism. You're doing what the fundamentalists do... they talk about what neoliberalism is in theory whilst completely ignoring what it is in practice. ..."
"... In theory the banks should have been allowed to go bust, but the consequences where deemed too high (as they inevitable are). The result is socialism for the rich using the poor as the excuse, which is the reality of neoliberalism. ..."
"... Neoliberalism is based on the thought that you get as much freedom as you can pay for, otherwise you can just pay... like everyone else. In Asia and South America it has been the economic preference of dictators that pushes profit upwards and responsibility down, just like it does here. ..."
"... We all probably know the answer to this. In order to maintain the consent necessary to create inequality in their own interests the neoliberals have to tell big lies, and keep repeating them until they appear to be the truth. They've gotten so damn good at it. ..."
"... Neoliberalism is a modern curse. Everything about it is bad and until we're free of it, it will only ever keep trying to turn us into indentured labourers. ..."
"... It's acolytes are required to blind themselves to logic and reason to such a degree they resemble Scientologists or Jehovah's Witnesses more than people with any sort of coherent political ideology, because that's what neoliberalism actually is... a cult of the rich, for the rich, by the rich... and it's followers in the general population are nothing but moron familiars hoping one day to be made a fully fledged bastard ..."
"... Who could look at the way markets function and conclude there's any freedom? Only a neoliberal cult member. They cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be dissuaded. They cannot be persuaded. Only the market knows best, and the fact that the market is a corrupt, self serving whore is completely ignored by the ideology of their Church. ..."
Dec 03, 2018 | discussion.theguardian.com
TedSmithAndSon -> theguardianisrubbish , 8 Jun 2013 12:24
@theguardianisrubbish -

Unless you are completely confused by what neoliberalism is there is not a shred of logical sense in this.

There is not a shred of logical sense in neoliberalism. You're doing what the fundamentalists do... they talk about what neoliberalism is in theory whilst completely ignoring what it is in practice.

In theory the banks should have been allowed to go bust, but the consequences where deemed too high (as they inevitable are). The result is socialism for the rich using the poor as the excuse, which is the reality of neoliberalism.

Savers in a neoliberal society are lambs to the slaughter. Thatcher "revitalised" banking, while everything else withered and died.

Neoliberalism is based on the thought of personal freedom, communism is definitely not. Neoliberalist policies have lifted millions of people out of poverty in Asia and South America.

Neoliberalism is based on the thought that you get as much freedom as you can pay for, otherwise you can just pay... like everyone else. In Asia and South America it has been the economic preference of dictators that pushes profit upwards and responsibility down, just like it does here.

I find it ironic that it now has 5 year plans that absolutely must not be deviated from, massive state intervention in markets (QE, housing policy, tax credits... insert where applicable), and advocates large scale central planning even as it denies reality, and makes the announcement from a tractor factory.

Neoliberalism is a blight... a cancer on humanity... a massive lie told by rich people and believed only by peasants happy to be thrown a turnip. In theory it's one thing, the reality is entirely different. Until we're rid of it, we're all it's slaves. It's an abhorrent cult that comes up with purest bilge like expansionary fiscal contraction to keep all the money in the hands of the rich.

Jacobsadder , 8 Jun 2013 11:35
Bloody well said Deborah!

Why, you have to ask yourself, is this vast implausibility, this sheer unsustainability, not blindingly obvious to all?

We all probably know the answer to this. In order to maintain the consent necessary to create inequality in their own interests the neoliberals have to tell big lies, and keep repeating them until they appear to be the truth. They've gotten so damn good at it.

iluvanimals54 , 8 Jun 2013 07:58
Today all politicians knee before the Altar that is Big Business and the Profit God, with his minions of multinational Angels.
TedSmithAndSon , 8 Jun 2013 06:01
Neoliberalism is a modern curse. Everything about it is bad and until we're free of it, it will only ever keep trying to turn us into indentured labourers.

It's acolytes are required to blind themselves to logic and reason to such a degree they resemble Scientologists or Jehovah's Witnesses more than people with any sort of coherent political ideology, because that's what neoliberalism actually is... a cult of the rich, for the rich, by the rich... and it's followers in the general population are nothing but moron familiars hoping one day to be made a fully fledged bastard.

Who could look at the way markets function and conclude there's any freedom? Only a neoliberal cult member. They cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be dissuaded. They cannot be persuaded. Only the market knows best, and the fact that the market is a corrupt, self serving whore is completely ignored by the ideology of their Church.

It's subsumed the entire planet, and waiting for them to see sense is a hopeless cause. In the end it'll probably take violence to rid us of the Neoliberal parasite... the turn of the century plague.

[Nov 05, 2018] How neoliberals destroyed University education and then a large part of the US middle class and the US postwar social order by Edward Qualtrough

Notable quotes:
"... Every academic critique of neoliberalism is an unacknowledged memoir. We academics occupy a crucial node in the neoliberal system. Our institutions are foundational to neoliberalism's claim to be a meritocracy, insofar as we are tasked with discerning and certifying the merit that leads to the most powerful and desirable jobs. Yet at the same time, colleges and universities have suffered the fate of all public goods under the neoliberal order. We must therefore "do more with less," cutting costs while meeting ever-greater demands. The academic workforce faces increasing precarity and shrinking wages even as it is called on to teach and assess more students than ever before in human history -- and to demonstrate that we are doing so better than ever, via newly devised regimes of outcome-based assessment. In short, we academics live out the contradictions of neoliberalism every day. ..."
"... Whereas classical liberalism insisted that capitalism had to be allowed free rein within its sphere, under neoliberalism capitalism no longer has a set sphere. We are always "on the clock," always accruing (or squandering) various forms of financial and social capital. ..."
Aug 24, 2016 | www.amazon.com

From: Amazon.com Neoliberalism's Demons On the Political Theology of Late Capital (9781503607125) Adam Kotsko Books

Every academic critique of neoliberalism is an unacknowledged memoir. We academics occupy a crucial node in the neoliberal system. Our institutions are foundational to neoliberalism's claim to be a meritocracy, insofar as we are tasked with discerning and certifying the merit that leads to the most powerful and desirable jobs. Yet at the same time, colleges and universities have suffered the fate of all public goods under the neoliberal order. We must therefore "do more with less," cutting costs while meeting ever-greater demands. The academic workforce faces increasing precarity and shrinking wages even as it is called on to teach and assess more students than ever before in human history -- and to demonstrate that we are doing so better than ever, via newly devised regimes of outcome-based assessment. In short, we academics live out the contradictions of neoliberalism every day.

... ... ...

On a more personal level it reflects my upbringing in the suburbs of Flint, Michigan, a city that has been utterly devastated by the transition to neoliberalism. As I lived through the slow-motion disaster of the gradual withdrawal of the auto industry, I often heard Henry Ford s dictum that a company could make more money if the workers were paid enough to be customers as well, a principle that the major US automakers were inexplicably abandoning. Hence I find it [Fordism -- NNB] to be an elegant way of capturing the postwar model's promise of creating broadly shared prosperity by retooling capitalism to produce a consumer society characterized by a growing middle class -- and of emphasizing the fact that that promise was ultimately broken.

By the mid-1970s, the postwar Fordist order had begun to breakdown to varying degrees in the major Western countries. While many powerful groups advocated a response to the crisis that would strengthen the welfare state, the agenda that wound up carrying the day was neoliberalism, which was most forcefully implemented in the United Kingdom by Margaret Thatcher and in the United States by Ronald Reagan. And although this transformation was begun by the conservative part)', in both countries the left-of-centcr or (in American usage) "liberal"party wound up embracing neoliberal tenets under Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, ostensibly for the purpose of directing them toward progressive ends.

With the context of current debates within the US Democratic Party, this means that Clinton acolytes are correct to claim that "neoliberalism" just is liberalism but only to the extent that, in the contemporary United States, the term liberalism is little more than a word for whatever the policy agenda of the Democratic Party happens to be at any given time. Though politicians of all stripes at times used libertarian rhetoric to sell their policies, the most clear-eyed advocates of neoliberalism realized that there could be no simple question of a "return" to the laissez-faire model.

Rather than simply getting the state "out of the way," they both deployed and transformed state power, including the institutions of the welfare state, to reshape society in accordance with market models. In some cases creating markets where none had previously existed, as in the privatization of education and other public services. In others it took the form of a more general spread of a competitive market ethos into ever more areas of life -- so that we are encouraged to think of our reputation as a "brand," for instance, or our social contacts as fodder for "networking." Whereas classical liberalism insisted that capitalism had to be allowed free rein within its sphere, under neoliberalism capitalism no longer has a set sphere. We are always "on the clock," always accruing (or squandering) various forms of financial and social capital.

[Nov 05, 2018] Publishing and Promotion in Economics The Tyranny of the Top Five by James Heckman

Notable quotes:
"... By James Heckman, Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, University of Chicago; Founding Director, Center for the Economics of Human Development and Sidharth Moktan, Predoctoral Fellow, Center for the Economics of Human Development, University of Chicago. Originally published at VoxEU ..."
"... Anecdotal evidence suggests that the 'Top Five' economics journals have a strong influence on tenure and promotion decisions, but actual evidence on their influence is sparse. This column uses data on employment and publication histories for tenure-track faculty hired by the top US economics departments between 1996 and 2010 to show that the impact of the Top Five on tenure decisions dwarfs that of non-Top Five journals. A survey of US economics department faculties confirms the Top Five's outsized influence. ..."
"... American Economic Review ..."
"... Journal of Political Economy ..."
"... Quarterly Journal of Economics ..."
"... Review of Economic Studies ..."
"... We find that the Top Five has a large impact on tenure decisions within the top 35 US departments of economics, dwarfing the impact of publications in non-Top Five journals. A survey of current tenure-track faculty hired by the top 50 US economics departments confirms the Top Five's outsize influence. ..."
"... Review of Economics and Statistics ..."
"... Journal of Political Economy ..."
"... Review of Economic Studies ..."
"... Definition of journal abbreviations ..."
"... See original post for references ..."
Nov 02, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
Yves here. In case you hadn't noticed it, the economics discipline has doctrinal norms. Academics who stray too far from it find themselves welcome only at the small number of colleges and universities, such as the University of Missouri – Kansas City and the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, that embrace heterodox views.

The top five economics journals play a large role in enforcing the orthodoxy. Jamie Galbraith has described how he'd submit suitably mathed-up papers to one of the heavyweights, get an initial positive response, but when they understood where he was going, they'd alway reject the paper. The reviewers would claim that the mathematics were flawed, when that was not the case. But being published by the top five is essential to advancing in prestigious economics faculties, such as Harvard, Chicago, Princeton, and MIT.

It should be noted that no real science has a rigid hierarchy of journals like this. The article documents disfunction among the editors at these journals, such as incest and clientelism.

By James Heckman, Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, University of Chicago; Founding Director, Center for the Economics of Human Development and Sidharth Moktan, Predoctoral Fellow, Center for the Economics of Human Development, University of Chicago. Originally published at VoxEU

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the 'Top Five' economics journals have a strong influence on tenure and promotion decisions, but actual evidence on their influence is sparse. This column uses data on employment and publication histories for tenure-track faculty hired by the top US economics departments between 1996 and 2010 to show that the impact of the Top Five on tenure decisions dwarfs that of non-Top Five journals. A survey of US economics department faculties confirms the Top Five's outsized influence.

Anyone who talks with young economists entering academia about their career prospects and those of their peers cannot fail to note the importance they place on publication in the so-called Top Five journals in economics: the American Economic Review , Econometrica ,the Journal of Political Economy ,the Quarterly Journal of Economics , and the Review of Economic Studies .The discipline's preoccupation with the Top Five is reflected in the large number of scholarly papers that study aspects of the these journals, many of which acknowledge the Top Five's de facto role as arbiter in tenure and promotion decisions (e.g. Ellison 2002, Frey 2009, Card and DellaVigna 2013, Anauti et al. 2015, Hamermesh 2013, 2018, Colussi 2018).

While anecdotal evidence suggests that the Top Five has a strong influence on tenure and promotion decisions, actual evidence on such influence is sparse. Our paper (Heckman and Moktan 2018) fills this gap in the literature. We find that the Top Five has a large impact on tenure decisions within the top 35 US departments of economics, dwarfing the impact of publications in non-Top Five journals. A survey of current tenure-track faculty hired by the top 50 US economics departments confirms the Top Five's outsize influence.

Our empirical and survey-based findings of the Top Five's influence beg the question: is the Top Five an adequate filter of quality? Extending the analysis of Hamermesh (2018), we show that appearance of an article in the Top Five is a poor predictor of quality as measured by citations. Substantial variation in the citations accrued by papers published in the Top Five and overlap in article quality across journals outside the Top Five make aggregate measures of journal quality such as the Top Five label and Impact Factors poor measures of individual article quality. This is a view expressed by many economists and non-economists alike. 1

There are many consequences of the discipline's reliance on the Top Five. It subverts the essential process of assessing and rewarding original research. Using the Top Five to screen the next generation of economists incentivises professional incest and creates clientele effects whereby career-oriented authors appeal to the tastes of editors and biases of journals. It diverts their attention away from basic research toward strategising about formats, lines of research, and favoured topics of journal editors, many with long tenures. It raises the entry costs for new ideas and persons outside the orbits of the journals and their editors. An over-emphasis on Top Five publications perversely incentivises scholars to pursue follow-up and replication work at the expense of creative pioneering research, since follow-up work is easier to judge, is more likely to result in clean publishable results, and is hence more likely to be published. 2 This behaviour is consistent with basic common sense: you get what you incentivise.

In light of the many adverse and potentially severe consequences associated with current practices, we believe that it is unwise for the discipline to continue using publication in the Top Five as a measure of research achievement and as a predictor of future scholarly potential. The call to abandon the use of measures of journal influence in career advancement decisions has already gained momentum in the sciences. As of the time of the writing of this column, 667 organisations and 13,019 individuals have signed the San Francisco Declaration of Research Assessment, a declaration denouncing the use of journal metrics in hiring, career advancement, and funding decisions within the sciences. 3 Economists should take heed of these actions. We provide suggestions for change in the concluding portion of this column.

Documenting the Power of the Top Five

We find strong evidence of the influence of the Top Five. Without doubt, publication in the Top Five is a powerful determinant of tenure and promotion in academic economics. We analyse longitudinal data on employment and publication histories for tenure-track faculty hired by the top 35 US economics department between 1996 and 2010. We find that Top Five publications greatly increase the probability of receiving tenure during the first spell of tenure-track employment (see Figure 1). This is true if we limit samples to the first seven years of employment. Estimates from duration analyses of time to tenure show that publishingthree Top Five articles is associated with a 370% increase in the rate of receiving tenure, compared to candidates with similar levels of publication in non-Top Five journals. The estimated effects of publication in non-Top Five journals pale in comparison.

Figure 1 Predicted probabilities for receipt of tenure in the first spell of tenure-track employment

Notes : The figures plot the predicted probabilities associated with different levels of publications by authors in different journal categories, where the predictions are obtained from a logit model. White diamonds on the bars indicate that the prediction is significantly different than zero at the 5% level.

A survey of current assistant and associate professors hired by the top 50 US economics departments corroborates these findings. On average, junior faculty rank Top Five publications as being the single most influential determinant of tenure and promotion outcomes (see Figure 2). 4

Figure 2 Ranking of performance areas based on their perceived influence on tenure and promotion decisions

Notes : The figure summarises respondents' rankings of either performance areas. Responses are summarised by type of career advancement: tenure receipt, promotion to assistant professor, and promotion to associate professor. The bars present mean responses for each performance area. Respondents were given the option to not rank any or all of the eight performance areas. As a result, the number of respondents varies across the performance areas.

Responses to our survey reveal a widespread belief among junior faculty that the effect of the Top Five on career advancement operates independently of differences in article quality. To separate quality effects from a Top Five placement effect, we ask respondents to report the probability that their department awards tenure or promotion to an individual with Top Five publications compared to an individual identical to the first individual in every way except that he/she has published the same number and quality of articles in non-Top Five journals. If the Top Five influence operates solely through differences in article impact and quality, the expected reported probability would be 0.5. The results in Figure 3 show large and statistically significant deviations from 0.5 in favour of Top Five publication. On average, respondents from top 10 departments believe that the Top Five candidate would receive tenure with a probability of 0.89. The mean probability increases slightly for lower-ranked departments.

Figure 3 Probability that a candidate with Top Five publications receives tenure or promotion instead of an identical candidate with non-Top Five publications, ceteris paribus

Notes : The figure summarises respondents' perceptions about the probability that a candidate with Top Five publications is granted tenure or promotion by the respondent's department instead of a candidate with non-Top Five publications, ceteris paribus. Responses are summarised by type of career advancement: tenure receipt, promotion to assistant professor, and promotion to associate professor. The bars present mean responses for each performance area. White diamonds indicate that the mean response is significantly different than 50% at the 10% level.

The Top Five as a Filter of Quality

The current practice of relying on the Top Five has weak empirical support if judged by its ability to produce impactful papers as measured by citation counts. Extending the citation analysis of Hamermesh (2018), we find considerable heterogeneity in citations within journals and overlap in citations across Top Five and non-Top Five journals (see Figure 4). Moreover, the overlap increases considerably when one compares non-Top Five journals to the less-cited Top Five journals. For instance, while the median Review of Economics and Statistics article ranks in the 38thpercentile of the overall Top Five citation distribution, the same article outranks the median-cited article in the combined Journal of Political Economy and Review of Economic Studies distributions.

Figure 4 Distribution of residualalog citations for articles published between 2000 and 2010 (as at July 2018)

Source : Scopus.com (accessed July 2018)
Note : a The table plots distributions of residual log citations obtained from a model that estimates log(citations+1) as a function of third-degree polynomial for years elapsed between the date of publication and 2018, the year citations were measured. This residualisation adjusts log citations for exposure effects, thereby allowing for comparison of citations received by papers from different publication cohorts.

Definition of journal abbreviations : QJE–Quarterly Journal Of Economics, JPE–Journal Of Political Economy, ECMA–Econometrica, AER–American Economic Review, ReStud–Review Of Economic Studies, JEL–Journal Of Economic Literature, JEP–Journal Of Economic Perspectives, ReStat–Review Of Economics And Statistics, JEG–Journal Of Economic Growth, JOLE–Journal Of Labor Economics, JHR–Journal Of Human Resources, EJ–Economic Journal, JHE–Journal Of Health Economics, ICC–Industrial And Corporate Change, WBER–World Bank Economic Review, RAND–Rand Journal Of Economics, JDE–Journal Of Development Economics, JPub–Journal Of Public Economics, JOE–Journal Of Econometrics, HE–Health Economics, ILR–Industrial And Labor Relations Review, JEEA–Journal Of The European Economic Association, JME–Journal Of Monetary Economics, JRU–Journal Of Risk And Uncertainty, JInE–Journal Of Industrial Economics, JOF–Journal Of Finance, JFE–Journal Of Financial Economics, ReFin–Review Of Financial Studies, JFQA–Journal Of Financial And Quantitative Analysis, and MathFin–Mathematical Finance.

Restricting the citation analysis to the top of the citation distribution produces the same conclusion. Among the top 1% most-cited articles in our citations database, 5 13.6% were published by three non-Top Five journals. 6

Low Editorial Turnover and Incest

Figure 5 Density plot of the number of years served by editors between 1996 and 2016

Source : Brogaard et al. (2014) for data up to 2011. Data for subsequent years collected from journal front pages.

Compounding the privately rational incentive to curry favour with editors is the phenomenon of longevity of editorial terms, especially at house journals (see Figure 5). Low turnover in editorial boards creates the possibility of clientele effects surrounding both journals and their editors. We corroborate the literature that documents the inbred nature of economics publishing (Laband and Piette 1994, Brogaard et al. 2014, Colussi 2018) by estimating incest coefficients that quantify the degree of inbreeding in Top Five publications. We show that network effects are empirically important – editors are likely to select the papers of those they know. 7

Table 1 Incest coefficients: Publications in Top Five between 2000 and 2016, by author affiliation listed during publication

Source : Elsevier, Scopus.com.

Notes : The table reports three columns for each Top Five journal. The left most columns report the number of articles that were affiliated to each university. The middle columns present the percentage of articles published in the journal that were affiliated to the university out of all articles affiliated to the list top universities. The right most columns present the percentage of articles published in the journal that were affiliated to the university out of all articles published in the journal. An author is defined as being affiliated with a university during a given year if he/she listed the university as an affiliation in any publication that was made during that specific year. An article is defined as being affiliated with a university during a specific year if at least one author was affiliated to the university during the year.

Discussion

Reliance on the Top Five as a screening device raises serious concerns. Our findings should spark a serious conversation in the economics profession about developing implementable alternatives for judging the quality of research. Such solutions necessarily de-emphasise the role of the Top Five in tenure and promotion decisions, and redistribute the signalling function more broadly across a range of high-quality journals.

However, a proper solution to the tyranny will likely involve more than a simple redefinition of the Top Five to include a handful of additional influential journals. A better solution will need to address the flaw that is inherent in the practice of judging a scholar's potential for innovative work based on a track record of publications in a handful of select journals. The appropriate solution requires a significant shift from the current publications-based system of deciding tenure to a system that emphasises departmental peer review of a candidate's work. Such a system would give serious consideration to unpublished working papers and to the quality and integrity of a scholar's work. By closely reading published and unpublished papers rather than counting placements of publications, departments would signal that they both acknowledge and adequately account for the greater risk associated with scholars working at the frontiers of the discipline.

A more radical proposal would be to shift publication away from the current journal system with its long delays in refereeing and publication and possibility for incest and favoritism, towards an open source arXiv or PLOS ONE format. 8 Such formats facilitate the dissemination rate of new ideas and provide online real-time peer review for them. Discussion sessions would vet criticisms and provide both authors and their readers with different perspectives within much faster time frames. Shorter, more focused papers would stimulate dialogue and break editorial and journal monopolies. Ellison (2011 )notes that online publication is already being practiced by prominent scholars. Why not broaden the practice across the profession and encourage spirited dialogue and rapid dissemination of new ideas? This evolution has begun with a recently launched economics version of arXiv .

Under any event, the profession should reduce incentives for crass careerism and promote creative activity. Short tenure clocks and reliance on the Top Five to certify quality do just the opposite. In the long run, the profession will benefit from application of more creativity-sensitive screening of its next generation.

See original post for references

[Oct 02, 2018] Randy Wray Modern Monetary Theory How I Came to MMT and What I Include in MMT naked capitalism

Notable quotes:
"... By L. Randall Wray, Professor of Economics at Bard College. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives ..."
"... Treatise on Money ..."
"... State Theory of Money ..."
"... Money and Credit in Capitalist Economies ..."
"... Understanding Modern Money ..."
"... Modern Money Theory ..."
"... Payback: Debt and the shadow side of wealth ..."
"... Reclaiming the State ..."
"... Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea ..."
"... permanent Zirp (zero interest rate policy) is probably a better policy since it reduces the compounding of debt and the tendency for the rentier class to take over more of the economy. ..."
"... that one of the consequences of the protracted super-low interest rate regime of the post crisis era was to create a world of hurt for savers, particularly long-term savers like pension funds, life insurers and retirees. ..."
"... income inequality ..."
"... even after paying interest ..."
"... It seems to me that the US macroeconomic policy has been operating under MMT at least since FDR (see for example Beardsley Ruml from 1945). ..."
"... After learning MMT I've occasionally thought I should get a refund for the two economics degree's I originally received. ..."
"... See: https://mythfighter.com/2018/08/27/ten-answers-that-are-contrary-to-popular-wisdom/ ..."
"... There is no avoiding bad government. ..."
"... "Taxes or other obligations (fees, fines, tribute, tithes) drive the currency." ..."
"... "JG is a critical component of MMT. It anchors the currency and ensures that achieving full employment will enhance both price and financial stability." ..."
Oct 02, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Randy Wray: Modern Monetary Theory – How I Came to MMT and What I Include in MMT Posted on October 2, 2018 by Yves Smith By L. Randall Wray, Professor of Economics at Bard College. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives

I was asked to give a short presentation at the MMT conference. What follows is the text version of my remarks, some of which I had to skip over in the interests of time. Many readers might want to skip to the bullet points near the end, which summarize what I include in MMT.

I'd also like to quickly respond to some comments that were made at the very last session of the conference -- having to do with "approachability" of the "original" creators of MMT. Like Bill Mitchell, I am uncomfortable with any discussion of "rockstars" or "heroes". I find this quite embarrassing. As Bill said, we're just doing our job. We are happy (or, more accurately pleasantly surprised) that so many people have found our work interesting and useful. I'm happy (even if uncomfortable) to sign books and to answer questions at such events. I don't mind emailed questions, however please understand that I receive hundreds of emails every day, and the vast majority of the questions I get have been answered hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of times by the developers of MMT. A quick reading of my Primer or search of NEP (and Bill's blog and Warren's blogs) will reveal answers to most questions. So please do some homework first. I receive a lot of "questions" that are really just a thinly disguised pretense to argue with MMT -- I don't have much patience with those. Almost every day I also receive a 2000+ word email laying out the writer's original thesis on how the economy works and asking me to defend MMT against that alternative vision. I am not going to engage in a debate via email. If you have an alternative, gather together a small group and work for 25 years to produce scholarly articles, popular blogs, and media attention -- as we have done for MMT -- and then I'll pay attention. That said, here you go: wrayr@umkc.edu .

******************************************************************************

As an undergraduate I studied psychology and social sciences -- but no economics, which probably gave me an advantage when I finally did come to economics. I began my economics career in my late 20's studying mostly Institutionalist and Marxist approaches while working for the local government in Sacramento. However, I did carefully read Keynes's General Theory at Sacramento State and one of my professors -- John Henry -- pushed me to go to St. Louis to study with Hyman Minsky, the greatest Post Keynesian economist.

I wrote my dissertation in Bologna under Minsky's direction, focusing on private banking and the rise of what we called "nonbank banks" and "off-balance sheet operations" (now called shadow banking). While in Bologna, I met Otto Steiger -- who had an alternative to the barter story of money that was based on his theory of property. I found it intriguing because it was consistent with some of Keynes's Treatise on Money that I was reading at the time. Also, I had found Knapp's State Theory of Money -- cited in both Steiger and Keynes–so I speculated on money's origins (in spite of Minsky's warning that he didn't want me to write Genesis ) and the role of the state in my dissertation that became a book in 1990 -- Money and Credit in Capitalist Economies -- that helped to develop the Post Keynesian endogenous money approach.

What was lacking in that literature was an adequate treatment of the role of the state–which played a passive role -- supplying reserves as demanded by private bankers -- that is the Post Keynesian accommodationist or Horzontalist approach. There was no discussion of the relation of money to fiscal policy at that time. As I continued to read about the history of money, I became more convinced that we need to put the state at the center. Fortunately I ran into two people that helped me to see how to do it.

First there was Warren Mosler, who I met online in the PKT discussion group; he insisted on viewing money as a tax-driven government monopoly. Second, I met Michael Hudson at a seminar at the Levy Institute, who provided the key to help unlock what Keynes had called his "Babylonian Madness" period -- when he was driven crazy trying to understand early money. Hudson argued that money was an invention of the authorities used for accounting purposes. So over the next decade I worked with a handful of people to put the state into monetary theory.

As we all know, the mainstream wants a small government, with a central bank that follows a rule (initially, a money growth rate but now some version of inflation targeting). The fiscal branch of government is treated like a household that faces a budget constraint. But this conflicts with Institutionalist theory as well as Keynes's own theory. As the great Institutionalist Fagg Foster -- who preceded me at the University of Denver–put it: whatever is technically feasible is financially feasible. How can we square that with the belief that sovereign government is financially constrained? And if private banks can create money endogenously -- without limit -- why is government constrained?

My second book, in 1998, provided a different view of sovereign spending. I also revisited the origins of money. By this time I had discovered the two best articles ever written on the nature of money -- by Mitchell Innes. Like Warren, Innes insisted that the dollar's value is derived from the tax that drives it. And he argued this has always been the case. This was also consistent with what Keynes claimed in the Treatise, where he said that money has been a state money for the past four thousand years, at least. I called this "modern money" with intentional irony -- and titled my 1998 book Understanding Modern Money as an inside joke. It only applies to the past 4000 years.

Surprisingly, this work was more controversial than the earlier endogenous money research. In my view it was a natural extension -- or more correctly, it was the prerequisite to a study of privately created money. You need the state's money before you can have private money. Eventually our work found acceptance outside economics -- especially in law schools, among historians, and with anthropologists.

For the most part, our fellow economists, including the heterodox ones, attacked us as crazy.

I benefited greatly by participating in law school seminars (in Tel Aviv, Cambridge, and Harvard) on the legal history of money -- that is where I met Chris Desan and later Farley Grubb, and eventually Rohan Grey. Those who knew the legal history of money had no problem in adopting MMT view -- unlike economists.

I remember one of the Harvard seminars when a prominent Post Keynesian monetary theorist tried to argue against the taxes drive money view. He said he never thinks about taxes when he accepts money -- he accepts currency because he believes he can fob it off on Buffy Sue. The audience full of legal historians broke out in an explosion of laughter -- yelling "it's the taxes, stupid". All he could do in response was to mumble that he might have to think more about it.

Another prominent Post Keynesian claimed we had two things wrong. First, government debt isn't special -- debt is debt. Second, he argued we don't need double entry book-keeping -- his model has only single entry book-keeping. Years later he agreed that private debt is more dangerous than sovereign debt, and he's finally learned double-entry accounting. But of course whenever you are accounting for money you have to use quadruple entry book-keeping. Maybe in another dozen years he'll figure that out.

As a student I had read a lot of anthropology -- as most Institutionalists do. So I knew that money could not have come out of tribal economies based on barter exchange. As you all know, David Graeber's book insisted that anthropologists have never found any evidence of barter-based markets. Money preceded market exchange.

Studying history also confirmed our story, but you have to carefully read between the lines. Most historians adopt monetarism because the only economics they know is Friedman–who claims that money causes inflation. Almost all of them also adopt a commodity money view -- gold was good money and fiat paper money causes inflation. If you ignore those biases, you can learn a lot about the nature of money from historians.

Farley Grubb -- the foremost authority on Colonial currency -- proved that the American colonists understood perfectly well that taxes drive money. Every Act that authorized the issue of paper money imposed a Redemption Tax. The colonies burned all their tax revenue. Again, history shows that this has always been true. All money must be redeemed -- that is, accepted by its issuer in payment. As Innes said, that is the fundamental nature of credit. It is written right there in the early acts by the American colonies. Even a gold coin is the issuer's IOU, redeemed in payment of taxes. Once you understand that, you understand the nature of money.

So we were winning the academic debates, across a variety of disciplines. But we had a hard time making progress in economics or in policy circles. Bill, Warren, Mat Forstater and I used to meet up every year or so to count the number of economists who understood what we were talking about. It took over decade before we got up to a dozen. I can remember telling Pavlina Tcherneva back around 2005 that I was about ready to give it up.

But in 2007, Warren, Bill and I met to discuss writing an MMT textbook. Bill and I knew the odds were against us -- it would be for a small market, consisting mostly of our former students. Still, we decided to go for it. Here we are -- another dozen years later -- and the textbook is going to be published. MMT is everywhere. It was even featured in a New Yorker crossword puzzle in August. You cannot get more mainstream than that.

We originally titled our textbook Modern Money Theory , but recently decided to just call it Macroeconomics . There's no need to modify that with a subtitle. What we do is Macroeconomics. There is no coherent alternative to MMT.

A couple of years ago Charles Goodhart told me: "You won. Declare victory but be magnanimous about it." After so many years of fighting, both of those are hard to do. We won. Be nice.

Let me finish with 10 bullet points of what I include in MMT:

1. What is money: An IOU denominated in a socially sanctioned money of account. In almost all known cases, it is the authority -- the state -- that chooses the money of account. This comes from Knapp, Innes, Keynes, Geoff Ingham, and Minsky.

2. Taxes or other obligations (fees, fines, tribute, tithes) drive the currency. The ability to impose such obligations is an important aspect of sovereignty; today states alone monopolize this power. This comes from Knapp, Innes, Minsky, and Mosler.

3. Anyone can issue money; the problem is to get it accepted. Anyone can write an IOU denominated in the recognized money of account; but acceptance can be hard to get unless you have the state backing you up. This is Minsky.

4. The word "redemption" is used in two ways -- accepting your own IOUs in payment and promising to convert your IOUs to something else (such as gold, foreign currency, or the state's IOUs).

The first is fundamental and true of all IOUs. All our gold bugs mistakenly focus on the second meaning -- which does not apply to the currencies issued by most modern nations, and indeed does not apply to most of the currencies issued throughout history. This comes from Innes and Knapp, and is reinforced by Hudson's and Grubb's work, as well as by Margaret Atwood's great book: Payback: Debt and the shadow side of wealth .

5. Sovereign debt is different. There is no chance of involuntary default so long as the state only promises to accept its currency in payment. It could voluntarily repudiate its debt, but this is rare and has not been done by any modern sovereign nation.

6. Functional Finance: finance should be "functional" (to achieve the public purpose), not "sound" (to achieve some arbitrary "balance" between spending and revenues). Most importantly, monetary and fiscal policy should be formulated to achieve full employment with price stability. This is credited to Abba Lerner, who was introduced into MMT by Mat Forstater.

In its original formulation it is too simplistic, summarized as two principles: increase government spending (or reduce taxes) and increase the money supply if there is unemployment (do the reverse if there is inflation). The first of these is fiscal policy and the second is monetary policy. A steering wheel metaphor is often invoked, using policy to keep the economy on course. A modern economy is far too complex to steer as if you were driving a car. If unemployment exists it is not enough to say that you can just reduce the interest rate, raise government spending, or reduce taxes. The first might even increase unemployment. The second two could cause unacceptable inflation, increase inequality, or induce financial instability long before they solved the unemployment problem. I agree that government can always afford to spend more. But the spending has to be carefully targeted to achieve the desired result. I'd credit all my Institutionalist influences for that, including Minsky.

7. For that reason, the JG is a critical component of MMT. It anchors the currency and ensures that achieving full employment will enhance both price and financial stability. This comes from Minsky's earliest work on the ELR, from Bill Mitchell's work on bufferstocks and Warren Mosler's work on monopoly price setting.

8. And also for that reason, we need Minsky's analysis of financial instability. Here I don't really mean the financial instability hypothesis. I mean his whole body of work and especially the research line that began with his dissertation written under Schumpeter up through his work on Money Manager Capitalism at the Levy Institute before he died.

9. The government's debt is our financial asset. This follows from the sectoral balances approach of Wynne Godley. We have to get our macro accounting correct. Minsky always used to tell students: go home and do the balances sheets because what you are saying is nonsense. Fortunately, I had learned T-accounts from John Ranlett in Sacramento (who also taught Stephanie Kelton from his own, great, money and banking textbook -- it is all there, including the impact of budget deficits on bank reserves). Godley taught us about stock-flow consistency and he insisted that all mainstream macroeconomics is incoherent.

10. Rejection of the typical view of the central bank as independent and potent. Monetary policy is weak and its impact is at best uncertain -- it might even be mistaking the brake pedal for the gas pedal. The central bank is the government's bank so can never be independent. Its main independence is limited to setting the overnight rate target, and it is probably a mistake to let it do even that. Permanent Zirp (zero interest rate policy) is probably a better policy since it reduces the compounding of debt and the tendency for the rentier class to take over more of the economy. I credit Keynes, Minsky, Hudson, Mosler, Eric Tymoigne, and Scott Fullwiler for much of the work on this.

That is my short list of what MMT ought to include. Some of these traditions have a very long history in economics. Some were long lost until we brought them back into discussion. We've integrated them into a coherent approach to Macro. In my view, none of these can be dropped if you want a macroeconomics that is applicable to the modern economy. There are many other issues that can be (often are) included, most importantly environmental concerns and inequality, gender and race/ethnicity. I have no problem with that.

Hilary Barnes , October 2, 2018 at 3:01 am

Out of my depth: "7. For that reason, the JG is a critical component of MMT." The JG?

BillC , October 2, 2018 at 3:07 am

Job guarantee (especially as distinguished from a basic income guarantee). See here for fairly recent coverage by Lambert.

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 6:16 am

I had exactly the same question. Thank you.

skippy , October 2, 2018 at 7:04 am

A JG is to discontinue NAIRU or structural under-unemployment with attendant monetarist/quasi inflation views. Something MMT has be at pains to point out wrt fighting a nonexistent occurrence due to extended deflationary period.

dcrane , October 2, 2018 at 5:31 am

The paragraph on "double entry book-keeping" is also a bit too inside-baseball. Otherwise I enjoyed the essay.

PlutoniumKun , October 2, 2018 at 6:11 am

Yup, he lost me on quadruple entry book-keeping, thats the first time I ever heard of that concept.

Quanka , October 2, 2018 at 8:02 am

Its double entry accounting counting both sides of the equation. Fed deposits money into bank requires 4 entries, a double entry for the Fed and for the bank. Typical double entry accounting only looks at the books of 1 entity at a time. Quadruple Entry accounting makes the connection between the government monetary policy and private business accounting. I'm not an accountant, I may have butchered that.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 12:15 pm

that's pretty much it

Peter Pan , October 2, 2018 at 1:37 pm

Does Steve Keen's "Minsky" program utilize quadruple-entry bookkeeping?

Todde , October 2, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Double entry

Grebo , October 2, 2018 at 3:12 pm

Yes it does. Double entry for each party to the transaction.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 3:29 pm

you are right – it does give each parties transactions.

horostam , October 2, 2018 at 8:43 am

think about banks and reserves, your money is on the bank's liability side (and your asset), while the reserves are on the bank's asset side (and gov't or fed's liability.)

i think its the reserves that quadruple it, reserves are confusing because when you move $5 from a bank account to buy ice cream its not just one copy of the $5 that moves between checking accounts, there is another $5 that moves "under the hood" so to speak in reserve world

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Very briefly, double entry bookkeeping keeps track of how money comes in/out, and where it came from/went. Cash is the determining item (although there may be a few removes). Hence, say I buy a $20 dollar manicure from you. I record my purchase as "Debit (increase) expense: manicure $20, credit (decrease) cash, $20". Bonus! If my bookkeeping is correct, my debits and credits are equal and if I add them up (credits are minus and debits are plus) the total is zero – my books "balance". So, double-entry bookkeeping is also a hash-total check on my accounting accuracy. But I digress.

On your books, the entry would be "Debit (increase) cash $20, credit (decrease) sales, $20".

So, your double-entry book plus my double-entry books would be quadruple-entry accounting.

JCC , October 2, 2018 at 9:40 am

#7 was my immediate stopper, too. It drives me nuts when people introduce 2-3-4 letter acronyms with no explanation (I work for the DoD and I'm surrounded by these "code words". I rarely know what people are talking about and when I ask, the people talking rarely know what these TLAs – T hree L etter A cronyms – stand for either!).

Next question regarding #7: What is ELR?

Other than #7, I really appreciate this article. NC teaches and/or clarifies on a daily basis.

Mel , October 2, 2018 at 10:11 am

Employer of Last Resort? (Wikipedia)

Matthew Platte , October 2, 2018 at 11:29 am

DoD?

JCC , October 2, 2018 at 2:45 pm

Guilty as charged :-)

For non-US readers, DoD is D epartment o f D efense, the undisputed-by-many home of TLAs.

lyman alpha blob , October 2, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Ha! I really love this blog.

somecallmetim , October 2, 2018 at 12:51 pm

NC?

;)

Bill C , October 2, 2018 at 3:02 am

Thank you for this post!

This quick, entertaining read is IMHO nothing less than a "Rosetta Stone" that can bring non-specialists to understand MMT: not just how , but why it differs from now-conventional neoliberal economics. I hope it finds a wide readership and that its many references to MMT's antecedents inspire serious study by the unconvinced (and I hope they don't take Wray's invitation to skip the 10 bullet points).

This piece is a fine demonstration of why I've missed Wray as he seemed to withdraw from public discourse for the last few years.

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 12:14 pm

No no! He said "Many readers might want to skip to the bullet points near the end, which summarize what I include in MMT."

el_tel , October 2, 2018 at 4:55 am

Thank you! The (broad) analogies with my own experience are there. I had a decidedly "mainstream" macro education at Cambridge (UK); though many of the "old school" professors/college Fellows who, although not MMT people as we'd currently understand (or weren't at *that* stage – Godley lectured a module I took but this was in the early 1990s) were still around, in hindsight the "university syllabus" (i.e. what you needed to regurgitate to pass exams) had already steered towards neoliberalism. I never really understood why I never "got" macro and it was consistently my weakest subject.

It was later, having worked in the City of London, learned accountancy in my actuarial training, and then most crucially starting reading blogs from people who went on to become MMT leading lights, that I realised the problem wasn't ME, it was the subject matter. So I had to painfully unlearn much of what I was taught and begin the difficult process of getting my head around a profoundly different paradigm. I still hesitate to argue the MMT case to friends, since I don't usually have to hand the "quick snappy one liners" that would torpedo their old discredited understanding.

I'm still profoundly grateful for the "old school" Cambridge College Fellows who were obviously being sidelined by the University and who taught me stuff like the Marxist/Lerner critiques, British economic history, political economy of the system etc. Indeed whilst I had "official" tutorials with a finance guy who practically came whenever Black-Scholes etc was being discussed, an old schooler was simultaneously predicting that it would blow the world economy up at some point (and of course he was in the main , correct). I still had to fill in some gaps in my knowledge (anthropology was not a module, though Marxist economics was), with hindsight I appreciate so much more of what the "old schoolers" said on the sly during quiet points in tutorials – Godley being one, although he wasn't ready at that time to release the work he subsequently published and was so revolutionary. Having peers educated elsewhere during my Masters and PhD who knew nothing of the subjects that – whilst certainly not the "key guide" to "proper macro" described in the article – began to horrify me later in my career.

skippy , October 2, 2018 at 5:07 am

Thanks for your efforts Mr Wray, your provide a rich resource to familiarize most and in some cases refute doctrinaire attitudes. Kudos.

BTW completely agree with the perspective against PR marketing of the topic or individuals wrt MMT or PK.

Lambert Strether , October 2, 2018 at 5:23 am

This is really great. Thanks a ton, as Yves would say.

I know I have used to "rock star" metaphor on occasion, so let me explain that to me what is important in excellent (i.e., live) rock and roll is improvisational interplay among the group members -- the dozen or so who understood MMT in the beginning, in this case -- who know the tune, know each other, and yet manage to make the song a little different each time. It's really spectacular to see in action. Nothing to do with spotlights, or celebrity worship, or fandom!

DavidEG , October 2, 2018 at 5:54 am

I'm no MMT expert, but I think this article does a good job of juxtaposing MMT with classic (non-advanced) macroeconomics. I quote:

In the language of Tinbergen (1952), the debate between MMT and mainstream macro can be thought of as a debate over which instrument should be assigned to which target. The consensus assignment is that the interest rate, under the control of an independent central bank, should be assigned to the output gap target, while the fiscal position, under control of the elected budget authorities, should be assigned to the debt sustainability target. [ ] The functional finance assignment is the reverse -- the fiscal balance under the budget authorities is assigned to the output target, while any concerns about debt sustainability are the responsibility of the monetary authority.

What about interest rate fixing? The central bank would remain in charge of that, but in an MMT context this instrument would lose most of its relevance:

[W]hile a simple swapping of instruments and targets is one way to think about functional finance, this does not describe the usual MMT view of how the policy interest rate should be set. What is generally called for, rather, is that the interest rate be permanently kept at a very low level, perhaps zero. In an orthodox policy framework, of course, this would create the risk of runaway inflation; but keep in mind that in the functional framework, the fiscal balance is set to whatever level is consistent with price stability.

It may be a partial reconstruction of MMT, but to me this seems to be a neat way to present MMT to most people. Saying that taxes are there just to remove money from the economy or to provide incentives is a rather extreme statement that is bound to elicit some fierce opposition.

Having said that, I've never seen anyone address what I think are two issues to MMT: how to make sure that the power to create money is not exploited by a political body in order to achieve consensus, and how to assure that the idea of unlimited monetary resources do not lead to misallocation and inefficiencies (the bloated, awash-with-money US military industry would probably be a good example).

larry , October 2, 2018 at 6:14 am

The best comparison of MMT with neoliberal neoclassical economics, in my view, is Bill Mitchell's blog post, "How to Discuss Modern Monetary Theory" ( http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=25961 ). I especially recommend the table near the end as a terrific summary of the differences between the mainstream narrative and MMT.

el_tel , October 2, 2018 at 8:53 am

Thanks! I have enormous respect for Mitchell, given the quantity and quality of his blogging. However, my only nitpick is that a lot of his blog entries are quite long and "not easily digestible". I have long thought that one of those clever people who can do those 3 minute rapid animation vids we see on youtube is needed to "do a Lakoff" and change the metaphors/language. But this post of Mitchell (which I missed, since I don't read all his stuff) is, IMHO, his best at "re-orienting us".

kgw , October 2, 2018 at 11:15 am

I get this "http's server IP address could not be found." I'll try, gasp, googling it

el_tel , October 2, 2018 at 11:24 am

FWIW I mucked around with the link in Firefox (although I typically use Opera, which gave me that same error) and could read it.

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 6:34 am

Saying that taxes are there just to remove money from the economy or to provide incentives is a rather extreme statement that is bound to elicit some fierce opposition.

Yes this is a frightening statement. The power to tax is the power to destroy. If this is a foundation point of the proposal then

Having said that, I've never seen anyone address what I think are two issues to MMT: how to make sure that the power to create money is not exploited by a political body in order to achieve consensus, and how to assure that the idea of unlimited monetary resources do not lead to misallocation and inefficiencies (the bloated, awash-with-money US military industry would probably be a good example).

Bingo. My thoughts exactly. Too much power in the hands of the few. Easy to slide into Orwell's Animal Farm – where some people are more equal than others.

MMT is based upon very good intentions but, in my view, there is a moral rot at the root of the US of A's problems, not sure this can be solved by monetary policy and more centralized control.

And the JG? Once the government starts to permanently guarantee jobs

skippy , October 2, 2018 at 7:12 am

I suggest you delve into what is proposed by the MMT – PK camp wrt a JG because its not centralized in the manner you suggest. It would be more regional and hopefully administrated via social democratic means e.g. the totalitarian aspect is moot.

I think its incumbent on commenters to do at least a cursory examination before heading off on some deductive rationalizations, which might have undertones of some book they read e.g. environmental bias.

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 7:38 am

Skippy, I read the article, plus the links, including those links of the comments. I will admit that I am a little more right of center in my views than many on the website.

The idea is interesting, but the administration of such a system would require rewriting the US Constitution, or an Amendment to it if one thinks the process through, would it not? I think of the Amendment required to create the Federal Reserve System when I say this.

skippy , October 2, 2018 at 7:45 am

I think WWII is instructive here.

Clive , October 2, 2018 at 7:58 am

One thing I really don't like at all -- and I've crossed swords with many over this -- is that we do tend to take (not just in the US, this is prevalent in far too many places) things like the constitution, or cultural norms, or traditions or other variants of "that's the way we've always done this" and elevate them to a level of sacrosanctity.

Not for one moment am I suggesting that we should ever rush into tweaking such devices lightly nor without a great deal of analysis and introspective consultations.

Constitutions get amended all the time. The Republic of Ireland changed its to renounce a territorial claim on Northern Ireland. The U.K. created a right for Scotland to secede from the Union. There's even a country in Europe voting whether to formally change its name right now. Britain "gave up" its empire territories (not, I would add speedily, without a lot of prodding, but still, we got there in the end). All of which were, at one time or another, "unthinkable". Even the US, perhaps the most inherently resistant to change country when it thinks it's being "forced" to do so, begrudgingly acknowledged Cuba.

If something is necessary, it should be done.

vlade , October 2, 2018 at 8:06 am

Human laws (any and all, for simplicity I include culture, customs etc.. here) are not laws of nature.

They change over time to survive. The easy way, or the hard way.

Or they don't survive at all, that's an option too.

witters , October 2, 2018 at 9:09 am

"Human laws (any and all, for simplicity I include culture, customs etc.. here) are not laws of nature."

Wave Function Collapse?

voteforno6 , October 2, 2018 at 8:14 am

Why would a jobs guarantee require a constitutional amendment? The federal government creates jobs all the time, with certain defined benefits. This would merely expand upon that, to potentially include anyone who wants a job.

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 8:26 am

I was thinking of implementing the whole concept of MMT, of which the JG is but one part, with this statement. Perhaps I did not make that clear.

voteforno6 , October 2, 2018 at 8:36 am

There are a couple different aspects of this that people are getting mixed together, I think. The core of MMT is not a proposal for government to implement. Rather, it is simply a description of how sovereign currencies actually operate, as opposed by mainstream economics, which has failed in this regard. In other words, we don't need any new laws to implement MMT – we need a paradigm shift.

The Jobs Guarantee is a policy proposal that flows from this different paradigm.

skippy , October 2, 2018 at 3:16 pm

It has been stated many times that it is to inform policy wrt to potential and not some booming voice from above dictating from some ridged ideology.

Persoanly as a capitalist I can't phantom why anyone would want structural under – unemployment. Seems like driving around with the hand brake on and then wondering why performance is restricted or parts wear out early.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 4:37 pm

Power.

I want 12 people lined up at the door to take your job, and then you will know where the power lies

Carla , October 2, 2018 at 11:18 am

Re-writing the U.S. Constitution is something people think about and talk about all the time, FYI.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 1:08 pm

the Amendment required to create the Federal Reserve System

What Amendment was that?

And since the Constitution gives Congress the power to coin money I am unaware of any reason an amendment would be necessary.

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 3:43 pm

Thinking of the Federal Reserve Act being enabled by the Federal Income Tax of the 16th Amendment.

Using Federal taxes to fund the JG; I do not think that this aspect of it (and others) would survive a Constitutional challenge. Therefore ultimately an Amendment might be needed.

Then again I may be wrong. Technically Obamacare should have been implemented by an Amendment were strict Constitutional law applied.

Rights to health care and jobs are not enumerated in either the Constitution or Bill of Rights, as far as I am aware.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 4:05 pm

16th Amendment had nothing to do with the Federal Reserve.

And I think you are confusing 'you must buy health insurance or face a tax", with "You have a right to have healthcare".

If the government forced you to work, you may have a case.

There are 3 things the feds can spend federal funds on, pay debt, provide for the common defense, and the general welfare clause.

The General Welfare clause has been interpreted very widely in regards to Government spending.

New Deal, Social Security, Medicare/aid all survived court challenges, or if they lost, they lost on regulatory issues, and not 'spending' issues

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 7:28 am

Not opposed to some of the principles of MMT, just don't understand, in this modern age where effectively all currency is electronic digits in a banking computer system, the issue of a currency must be tied to taxes. In years past, where currency was printed and in one's pocket, or stuffed under a mattress, or couriered by stagecoach, then yes – taxes would be needed. But today can we not just print (electronically) the cash needed for government operations each year based upon a fixed percentage of private sector GDP? Why therefore do we need government debt? Why do we need an income tax?

skippy , October 2, 2018 at 7:37 am

A. GDP is non distributional.

B. Had taxation not been promoted as theft in some camps Volcker would have not had to jack IR to such a upper bound during the Vietnam war.

C. Government Debt allocated to socially productive activities is a long term asset with distributional income vectors.

D. Ask the Greeks.

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 7:48 am

Skippy, I have lived and worked in countries without income tax (but instead indirect tax) and where government operating revenue was based upon a percentage of projected national revenue. I have been involved in the administration of such budgets.

I am in favor of government spending, or perhaps more accurately termed investing, public money on long-term, economically beneficial projects. But this is not happening. The reality is that government priorities can easily be hijacked by political interests, as we currently witness.

larry , October 2, 2018 at 7:58 am

While I agree that political highjacking is possible and must be dealt with, this is not strictly speaking part of an economic theory, which is what MMT is. While MMT authors may take political positions, the theory itself is politically neutral.

Income taxes, tithes, or any other kind of driver is what drives the monetary circuit. Consider it from first principles. You have just set up a new government with a new currency where this government is the monopoly issuer. No one else has any money yet. So, the government must be the first spender. However, how is this nascent government going to motivate anyone to use this new currency? Via taxation, or like means, that can only be met by using the national currency, whatever form that currency may take, marks on a stick, paper, an entry in a ledger, or the like.

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 8:34 am

Thank you for this explanation. I understand that, for example, this is why the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, I believe, created the Federal Reserve and Federal Income Tax at the same time.

But the US economy functioned adequately, survived a civil war, numerous banking crises, experienced industrialization, national railways, etc without a central bank or federal income tax from the 1790's to 1913.

To me, the US's state of perpetual war is enabled by Federal Income Tax. Without it the MIC would collapse, I am certain.

John k , October 2, 2018 at 10:31 am

Functioned adequately
During the 150 yr hard money period we had recessions/depressions that we're both far more frequent (every three years) and on avg far deeper than what we have had since fdr copied the brits and took us off the gold standard. Great deprecession was neither the longest or deepest.
Two reasons
Banks used to fail frequently, a run on one bank typically leading to runs on other banks, spreading across regions like prairie fires if your bank failed you lost all your money. Consequences were serious.
During GR so many banks failed in the Midwest, leading to farm foreclosures, the region was near armed insurrection in 1932. Fiat meant that the fed can supply unlimited liquidity. Since then banks have failed but immediately taken over by another. Critically, no depositor has lost a penny, even those with far more exposed than the deposit insurance limit. No runs on us banks since 1933.
Second, we now have auto stabilizers, spending continues during downturns because gov has no spending limit. Note previously in an emergency gov borrowed. 10 mil from J.P. Morgan.

Brian , October 2, 2018 at 11:30 am

But at what cost? no depositor loses money, yet huge amounts are required to be printed, thus devaluing the "currency". So is the answer inflation that must by necessity become hyperinflation?
I don't understand why it is important to protect a bank vs. making it perform its function without risking collapse. This is magical thinking as we have found very few banks in this world not ready and willing to pillage their clients, be it nations or just the little folk.
Why would anyone trust a government to do the right thing by its population? When has that ever worked out in favor of the people?
I can not understand the trust being demanded by this concept. It wants trust for the users, but in no way can it expect trust or virtue from the issuer of the "currency"

also, I can't help but think MMT is for growth at all costs. Hasn't the growth shown that it is pernicious in itself? Destroy the planet for the purpose of stabilizing "currency".

Our federal reserve gave banks trillions of dollars, and then demanded they keep much of it with the Fed and are paid interest not to use it. It inflated the "currency" in circulation yet again and now it is becoming clear a great percentage of people in our country can no longer eat, no longer purchase medications, a home, a business

If being on a hard money system as we were causes recessions and depressions, would we find that it was a natural function to cut off the speculators at their knees?

How does MMT promote and retain value for the actual working and producing people that have no recourse with their government? I would like to read about what is left out of this monumental equation.

TroyMcClure , October 2, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Money is not a commodity and does not "lose value" the more of it there is.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 12:57 pm

we used to protect the banks depositors and the government put the the bank in receivership.

That went away in the 21st century for some reason.

Now we protect the bank and put the Government in receivership (Greece).

todde , October 2, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Some points:

US had a federal income tax during the civil war and for a decade or so after.

I have always assumed that mass conscription and the Dreadnought arms race led to the implementation of the modern taxing/monetary system. (gov't needed both warfare and welfare)

Taxes, just as debt, create an artificial demand for currency as one must pay back their taxes in {currency}, and one must pay back debt in {currency}. It doesn't have to be an income tax, and I think a sales tax would be a better driver of demand than an income tax.

The US had land sales that helped fund government expenditures in the 1800s.

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Not all taxes are income taxes. Back in the day (20's/30's/40's),my grandfather could pay off the (county) property taxes on his farm by plowing snow for the county in the winter -- and he was damned careful to make sure that the county commissioners' driveways were plowed out as early as possible after a storm.

In the 30's/40's the property tax laws were changed to be payable only in dollars.

So Grandpa had to make cash crops. Things changed and money became necessary.

Benjamin Wolf , October 2, 2018 at 7:44 am

But today can we not just print (electronically) the cash needed for government operations each year based upon a fixed percentage of private sector GDP?

The élites could, but it would be totally undemocratic and the economics profession's track record of forecasting growth is no better than letting a cat choose a number written on an index card.

Why therefore do we need government debt?

There is no government debt. It's just a record of interest payments Congress has agreed to make because the wealthy wanted another welfare program.

Why do we need an income tax?

The only logically consistent purpose is because people have too much income.

voteforno6 , October 2, 2018 at 8:19 am

I think the point they're driving at, is that by requiring the payment of taxes in a particular currency, a government creates demand for that currency. There are other uses for federal taxes, not the least of which is to keep inflation in check.

Government debt is not needed, at least not at the federal level. My understanding of it is that it's a relic from the days of the gold standard. It's also very useful to some rather large financial institutions, so eliminating it would be politically difficult.

WobblyTelomeres , October 2, 2018 at 9:23 am

Wray has said in interviews that the debt (and associated treasury bonds), while not strictly necessary in a fiat currency, is of use in that it provides a safe base for investment, for pensioners and retirees, etc.

Sure, it could be eliminated by (a) trillion dollar platinum coins deposited at the Federal Reserve followed by (b) slowly paying off the existing debt when the bonds mature or (c) simply decreeing that the Fed must go to a terminal and type in 21500000000000 as the US Gov account balance (hope I got the number of zeroes correct!).

It could be argued that the US doesn't strictly need taxes to drive currency demand as long as our status as the world reserve currency is maintained (see oft-discussed petrodollar, Libya, etc). If that status is imperiled, say by an push by a coalition of nations to establish a different currency as the "world reserve currency") taxes would be needed to drive currency demand.

I think most of this is covered in one way or another here:

http://neweconomicperspectives.org/modern-monetary-theory-primer.html

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 12:39 pm

Government debt is not actually a 'real thing'. It is a residue of double-entry bookkeeping, as is net income (income minus expenses, that's a credit in the double-entry system). It could as well be called 'retained earnings (also a 'book' credit in the double-entry system). If everybody had to take bookkeeping in high school there would be far few knickers in knots!

Todde , October 2, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Its real if you pay an interest rate on it

Grebo , October 2, 2018 at 3:48 pm

There are two kinds of government 'debt': the accumulated deficit which is the money in circulation not a real debt, and outstanding bonds which is real in the sense that it must be repaid with interest.

However, the government can choose the interest rate and pay it (or buy back the bonds at any time) with newly minted money at no cost to itself, cf. QE.

Neither kind warrant bunched panties.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 4:39 pm

no panties bunched.

horostam , October 2, 2018 at 8:51 am

seems to me that the guaranteed jobs would be stigmatized, and make it harder for people to get private sector jobs. "once youre in the JG industry, its hard to get out" etc.

how much of a guarantee is the job guarantee supposed to be? ie. at what point can you get fired from a guaranteed job?

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 9:31 am

Yes, my mind wandered into the same territory. While I agree that something needs to be done, it also has the potential to strike at the heart of a lean, merit-based system by introducing another layer of bureaucracy. In principle, I am not against the idea, but as they say, "God (or the Devil – take your pick) is in the details ".

The Rev Kev , October 2, 2018 at 9:48 am

Is there any point in working for a jobs guarantee when the only sort of jobs that would probably be guaranteed would be MacJobs and Amazon workers?

Newton Finn , October 2, 2018 at 11:23 am

If you haven't already read it, "Reclaiming the State" by Mitchell and Fazi (Pluto Press 2017) provides a detailed and cogent analysis of how neoliberalism came into ascendency, and how the principles of MMT can be used to pave the way to a more humane and sustainable economic system. A new political agenda for the left, drawing in a different way upon the nationalism that has energized the right, is laid out for those progressives who understand the necessity of broadening their appeal. And the jobs guarantee that MMT proposes has NOTHING to do with MacJobs and Amazon workers. It has to do with meeting essential human and environmental needs which are not profitable to meet in today's private sector.

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 12:51 pm

Job guarantee, or govt as employer of last resort -- now there is a social challenge/opportunity if there ever was one.

Well managed, it would guarantee a living wage to anyone who wants to work, thereby setting a floor on minimum wages and benefits that private employers would have to meet or exceed. These minima would also redound to the benefit of self-employed persons by setting standards re income and care (health, vacations, days off, etc) *and* putting money in the pockets of potential customers.

Poorly managed it could create the 'digging holes, filling them in' programs of the Irish Potato Famine ore worse (hard to imagine, but still ). It has often been remarked that the potato blight was endemic across Europe, it was only a famine in Ireland -- through policy choices.

So, MMT aside (as being descriptive, rather than prescriptive), we are down to who controls policy. And that is *really* scary.

Todde , October 2, 2018 at 3:11 pm

Government job guarantees is an idea as old as the pyramids.

Frankly so is mmt

Mel , October 2, 2018 at 11:34 am

In terms of power, the government has the power to shoot your house to splinters, or blow it up, with or without you in it. We say they're not supposed to, but they have the ability, and it has been done.
The question of how to hold your government to the things it's supposed to do applies to issues beyond money. We'd best deal with government power as an issue in itself. I should buckle down and get Mitchell's next-to-newest book Reclaiming the State .

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Ding ding ding!

Grebo , October 2, 2018 at 3:23 pm

Bill Mitchell was not too impressed with the INET paper: Part 1 .
There's three parts! Mitchell rarely has the time to be brief.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 6:02 am

I don't claim to fully understand MMT yet, but I find Wray's use of the derogatory term "gold bugs" to be both disappointing and revealing. To lump those, some of whom are quite sophisticated, who believe that currencies should be backed by something of tangible value (and no, "the military" misses the point), or those who hold physical gold as an insurance policy against political incompetence, and the inexorable degradation of fiat currencies, in with those who promote or hold gold in the hopes of hitting some type of lottery, is disingenuous at best.

Wukchumni , October 2, 2018 at 7:06 am

OMT seemingly has no reason to exist being old school, but for what it's worth, the almighty dollar has lost over 95% of it's value when measured against something that matters, since the divorce in 1971.

I found this passage funny, as in flipping the dates around to 1791, is when George Washington set an exchange rate of 1000-1 for old debauched Continental Currency, in exchange for newly issued specie. (there was no Federal currency issued until 1861)

So yeah, they burned all of their tax revenue, because the money wasn't worth jack.

Farley Grubb -- the foremost authority on Colonial currency -- proved that the American colonists understood perfectly well that taxes drive money. Every Act that authorized the issue of paper money imposed a Redemption Tax. The colonies burned all their tax revenue.

skippy , October 2, 2018 at 7:30 am

Gold bug is akin to money crank e.g. money = morals. That's not to mention all the evidence to date does not support the monetarist view nor how one gets the value into the inanimate object or how one can make it moral.

Benjamin Wolf , October 2, 2018 at 8:01 am

Gold doesn't historically perform as a hedge but as a speculative trade. Those who think it can protect them from political events typically don't realize that a gold standard means public control of the gold industry, thereby cutting any separation from the political process off at the knees.

When a government declares that $20 is equal in value to one ounce of gold, it also declares an ounce of gold is equal to $20 dollars. It is therefore fixing, through a political decision subject to political changes, the price of the commodity.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 9:44 am

Nonsense. When fiat currencies invariably degrade, and especially at a fast rate, gold has proven to be a relative store of value for millennia . All one need do is to look at Venezuela, Argentina, Turkey, etc., to see that ancient dynamic in action today.

You, and others who have replied to my comment, are using the classical gold standard as a straw man, as well. Neither I, nor many other gold "bugs" propose such a simple solution to the obviously failed current economy, which is increasingly based on mountains of debt that can never be repaid.

WobblyTelomeres , October 2, 2018 at 9:48 am

gold has proven to be a relative store of value for millennia.

As long as one is mindful that gold is just another commodity, subject to the same speculative distortions as any other commodity (see Hunt brothers and silver).

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 9:54 am

But that is obviously false, given that no other commodity has remotely performed with such stability over such a long period of time.

It is true that over short periods distortions can appear, and the *true* value of gold has been suppressed in recent years through the use of fraudulent paper derivatives. But again, I'm not arguing for the return of a classical gold standard.

Wukchumni , October 2, 2018 at 10:13 am

The only way the gold standard returns, is if it's forced on the world on account of massive fraud in terms of fiat money, but that'll never happen.

WobblyTelomeres , October 2, 2018 at 10:56 am

Tinky:

I'm curious as to what you consider the "*true* value of gold". Could you elaborate?

I'm dense/obtuse and thus not an economist!

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 11:18 am

Don't worry, I'm likely to be at least equally dense!

I didn't mean to suggest that there is some formula from which a *true* value of precious metals might be derived. I simply meant that gold has clearly been the object of price suppression in recent years through the use of paper derivatives (i.e. future contracts). The reason for such suppression, aside from short-term profits to be made, is that gold has historically acted as a barometer relating to political and economic stability, and those in power have a particular interest in suppressing such warning signals when the system becomes unstable.

So, while the Central Banks created previously unimaginable mountains of debt, it was important not to alarm the commoners.

The suppression schemes have become less effective of late, and will ultimately fail when the impending crisis unfolds in earnest.

Wukchumni , October 2, 2018 at 10:00 am

As long as one is mindful that gold is just another commodity, subject to the same speculative distortions as any other commodity

It sounds good in theory, but history says otherwise.

The value remained more or less the same for well over 500 years as far as an English Pound was concerned, the weight and value of a Sovereign hardly varied, and the exact weight and fineness of one struck today or any time since 1817, is the same, no variance whatsoever.

Thus there was no speculative distortions in terms of value, the only variance being the value of the Pound (= 1 Sovereign) itself.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_(British_coin)

Benjamin Wolf , October 2, 2018 at 12:23 pm

When fiat currencies invariably degrade, and especially at a fast rate, gold has proven to be a relative store of value for millennia.

Currencies do not degrade. Political systems degrade.

Bridget , October 2, 2018 at 8:25 am

" who believe that currencies should be backed by something of tangible value"

As I understand it, MMT also requires that currency be backed by something of tangible value: a well managed and productive economy. It doesn't matter in the least if your debt is denominated in your own currency if you have the economy of Zimbabwe.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 9:48 am

Sounds reasonable in theory, but that was supposed to be the case with the current economic system, as well, and we can all see where that has led.

I'm not arguing that there isn't a theoretically better way to create and use "modern" money, but rather doubt that those empowered to create it out of thin air will ever do so without abusing such power.

Bridget , October 2, 2018 at 10:10 am

Oh, I agree with you. In no universe that I am aware of would the temptation to create money beyond the productive capacity of the economy to back it up be resisted. I think Zimbabwe is a pretty good example of where the theory goes in practice.

TroyMcClure , October 2, 2018 at 12:20 pm

That's exactly wrong. Zimbabwe had a production collapse. Same amount of money to buy a much smaller amount of goods. The gov responded not by increasing goods, but increasing money supply.

Bridget , October 2, 2018 at 1:30 pm

Maybe because the economy did not have the productive capacity to increase goods? It takes more than a magic wand and wishful thinking.

voteforno6 , October 2, 2018 at 8:29 am

Mark Blyth has a good discussion of the gold standard in his book Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea . He makes the point that, in imposing the adjustments necessary to keep the balance of payments flowing, the measures imposed by a government would be so politically toxic, that no elected official in his or her right mind would implement them, and expect to remain in office. In short, you can have either democracy, or a gold standard, but you can't have both.

Also, MMT does recognize that there are real world constraints on a currency, and that is represented by employment, not some artificially-imposed commodity such as gold (or bitcoin, or seashells, etc). The Jobs Guarantee flows out of this.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 9:50 am

As mentioned above, you, among others who have replied to my original comment, are using the classical gold standard as a straw manl. Neither I, nor many other gold "bugs", propose such a simple solution for the failed current economic system, which is increasingly based on mountains of debt that can never be repaid.

WobblyTelomeres , October 2, 2018 at 11:35 am

increasingly based on mountains of debt that can never be repaid.

Huh? I listed two ways they could be repaid above. In the US, the national debt is denominated in dollars, of which we have an infinite supply (fiat). In addition, the Federal Reserve could buy all the existing debt by [defer to quad-entry accounting stuff from Wray's primer] and then figuratively burn it. Sure, the rest of the world would be pissed and inflation *may* run amok, but "can never" is just flat out wrong.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 1:59 pm

Of course it can be extinguished through hyperinflation. I didn't think that it would be necessary to point that out. No "may" about it, though, as if the U.S. prints tens of trillions of dollars to extinguish the debt, hyperinflation will be assured.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 2:14 pm

not if it would be done over time, as the debt comes due.

We could also tax the excess dollars from the system with a large capital gains tax rate.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 3:04 pm

so I don't believe there will be a hyper-inflation of goods, but in asset prices. That is why I would raise the capital gains rate.

The failure of MMT is when the hyper-inflation occurs in goods and services.

Taxing a middle class person while his cost of living is rising will be a tough political act to do.

WobblyTelomeres , October 2, 2018 at 2:19 pm

I didn't think that it would be necessary to point that out.

Sorry, but I'm an old programmer; logic rules the roost. When one's software is expected to execute billions of times a day without fail for years (and this post is very likely routed through a device running an instance of something I've written). Always means every time, no exceptions; never means not ever, no matter what.

You said never.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 3:30 pm

Yes I did. I was simply being lazy, as I typically do add "except via hyperflation", when discussing debts that can only be repaid in that manner.

That "solution" is obviously no solution at all, as it would lead to chaos.

Interpret it any way that you wish.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 11:37 am

So what is the new solution proposed by 'gold bugs'?

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 2:06 pm

I'm sure that there is no one solution proposed, though an alternative to the current system which seems plausible would be a currency backed by a basket of commodities, including gold.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 2:26 pm

and when commodity prices fluctuate you will still have government printing and eliminating money to maintain the price.

I would say, if that was the argument, stick to gold as it is one of the more stable commodities.

AlexHache , October 2, 2018 at 11:43 am

Can I ask what your solution would be? I don't think you've mentioned it.

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 1:08 pm

Hi Tinky, much late but still. Gold will have value as long as people believe it has value. But what will they trade it for? The bottom line is your life.

I don't have any gold, too expensive, and it really has no use. But I remember Dimitri Orlov's advice : I am long in needles, pins, thread, nails and screws, drill bits, saws, files, knives, seeds, manual tools of many sorts, mechanical skills and beer recipes. Plus I can sing.

Bridget , October 2, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Don't forget a nice supply of 30 year old single malt scotch!

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 2:04 pm

The vast majority of people who hold physical gold are well aware of the value of having skills and supplies, etc., in case of a serious meltdown. But it's not a zero-sum game, as you suggest. Gold will inexorably rise sharply in value when today's fraudulent markets crash, and there will be plenty of opportunities for those who own it to trade it for other assets.

Furthermore, as previously mentioned, gold's utility is already on full display, to those who are paying attention, and not looking myopically through a USD lens.

Wukchumni , October 2, 2018 at 2:19 pm

Why not the GOILD standard?, one mineral moves everything, while the other just sits around gathering dust, after being extracted.

David Swan , October 2, 2018 at 2:28 pm

"Mountains of debt that can never be repaid" is a propaganda statement with no reference to any economic fact. Why do you feel that this "debt" needs to be "repaid"? It is simply an accounting artifact. The "debt" is all of the dollars that have been spent *into* the economy without having been taxed back *out*. The word "debt" activates your feels, but has no intrinsic meaning in this context. Please step back from your indoctrinated emotional reaction and understand that the so-called national "debt" is nothing more than money that has been created via public spending, and "repaying" it would be an act of destruction.

WobblyTelomeres , October 2, 2018 at 3:27 pm

THIS!!!

I keep telling (boring, annoying, infuriating) people that, in the simplest terms, the national debt is the money supply and they won't grasp that simple declaration. When I said it to my Freedom Caucus congress critter (we were seated next to each other on an exit aisle) his head started spinning, reminding me of Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 3:44 pm

The debt may not have to be repaid, but the interest does have to be serviced. Good luck with that in the long run.

WobblyTelomeres , October 2, 2018 at 4:18 pm

As I said to my congress critter, if the debt bother's y'all so much, why not just pay it off, dust off your hands, and be done with it?

Personally, if I were President for a day, I'd have the mint stamp out 40 or so trillion dollar platinum coins just to fill the top right drawer of the Resolute desk. Would give me warm fuzzy feelings all day long.

p.s. I also told him that the man with nothing cares not about inflation. He didn't like that either.

MisterMr , October 2, 2018 at 8:46 am

"those, some of whom are quite sophisticated, who believe that currencies should be backed by something of tangible value (and no, "the military" misses the point), or those who hold physical gold as an insurance policy against political incompetence, and the inexorable degradation of fiat currencies"

I suspect that Wray exactly means that these people are the goldbugs, not the ones who speculate on gold.

The whole point that currencies should be backed by something of tangible value IMO is wrong, and I think the MMTers agree with me on this.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 9:56 am

If so, then he should clarify his position, as again, lumping the billions – literally – of people who consider gold to be economically important, together as one, is disingenuous.

skippy , October 2, 2018 at 3:55 pm

I think people that consider gold to be a risk hedge understand its anthro, per se an early example of its use was a fleck of golds equal weight to a few grains of wheat e.g. the gold did not store value, but was a marker – token of the wheat's value – labour inputs and utility. Not to mention its early use wrt religious iconography or vis-à-vis the former as a status symbol. Hence many of the proponents of a gold standard are really arguing for immutable labour tokens, problem here is scalability wrt high worth individuals and resulting distribution distortions, unless one forwards trickle down sorts of theory's.

Not to mention in times of nascent socioeconomic storms many that forward the idea of gold safety are the ones selling it. I think as such the entire thing is more a social psychology question than one of factual natural history e.g. the need to feel safe i.e. like commercials about "peace of mind". I think a reasonably stable society would provide more "peace of mind" than some notion that an inanimate object could lend too – in an atomistic individualistic paradigm.

WobblyTelomeres , October 2, 2018 at 4:26 pm

I once had an co-worker that was a devout Christian. When he realized I wasn't religious, he asked me, incredulously, how I was able to get out of bed in the morning. Meaning, he couldn't face a world without meaning.

I think a lot of people feel that same way about money. They fight over it, lie for it, steal it, kill for it, go to war over it, and most importantly, slave for it. Therefore, it must have intrinsic value. I think gold bugs are in this camp.

Fried , October 2, 2018 at 6:06 am

Talking about Warren's blog ( http://moslereconomics.com/ ), everytime I try to go there, Cloudflare asks me to prove that I am human. Anyone know what's up with that? It's the only website I've ever seen do that.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 6:13 am

No such prompt for me (using Mac desktop computer, OS 10.11.6 and Safari browser.

Fried , October 2, 2018 at 7:35 am

Thanks. It seems to be blocking my IP address, no idea why. Not sure why I have to be human to look at a website.

Epistrophy , October 2, 2018 at 8:46 am

Try running your IP address through a blacklist checker maybe it's been flagged

Fried , October 2, 2018 at 10:03 am

Hm, I can't find anything that would explain it. Maybe the website just generally blocks Austrians. ;-)

el_tel , October 2, 2018 at 10:10 am

That's a good suggestion. Unfortunately, as I sometimes find, you can pass ALL the major test-sites but something (a minor, less-used site using out-of-date info?) can give you grief. NC site managers once (kindly) took the time to explain to me why I might have problems that they had no ability to address at their end. I had to muck around with a link given earlier to Bill Mitchell's blog before my browser would load it.
I think there can be quirks that are beyond our control (unfortunately) – for instance I think a whole block of IP addresses (including mine) used by my ISP have been flagged *somewhere* – no doubt due to another customer doing stuff that the checker(s) don't like. (The issue I mentioned above was more likely due to a strict security protocol in my browser, however.)

kgw , October 2, 2018 at 11:57 am

I ended up physically typing in the url to Bill Mitchell's blog: that worked.

el_tel , October 2, 2018 at 12:43 pm

yeah think that's what I did

larry , October 2, 2018 at 6:45 am

Monetary policy in terms of interest rates is not just weak, it also tends to treat all targets the same. Fiscal policy can be targetted to where it is felt it can do the most good.

William Beyer , October 2, 2018 at 7:00 am

Christine Desan's book, "Making Money," exhaustively documents the history of money as a creature of the state. Recall as well that creating money and regulating its value are among the enumerated POWERS granted to our government by we, the people. Money, indeed, is power.

Grumpy Engineer , October 2, 2018 at 8:26 am

Hmmm Randy Wray states that " permanent Zirp (zero interest rate policy) is probably a better policy since it reduces the compounding of debt and the tendency for the rentier class to take over more of the economy. "

But just last week, Yves stated that " that one of the consequences of the protracted super-low interest rate regime of the post crisis era was to create a world of hurt for savers, particularly long-term savers like pension funds, life insurers and retirees. " [ https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2018/09/crisis-caused-pension-train-wreck.html ]

So are interest rates today too high, or too low? We're getting mixed messages here.

IMO, interest rates are too low . Beyond the harmful effect to savers, it also drives income inequality . How? When interest rates are less than inflation, it is trivial to borrow money, buy some assets, wait for the assets to appreciate, sell the assets, repay the debt, and still have profit left over even after paying interest . Well, it's trivial if you're already rich and have a line of credit that is both large and low-interest. If you're poor with a bad FICO score, you don't get to play the asset appreciation game at all.

I can't think of another reason inequality skyrocketed so badly during the Obama years: https://www.newsweek.com/2013/12/13/two-numbers-rich-are-getting-richer-faster-244922.html . Other than interest rates, his policies weren't all that different from Clinton or Bush.

Tinky , October 2, 2018 at 10:38 am

Not to mention that interest rates are designed to reflect risk . Artificially suppressed rates mask risk, and inevitably lead to gross malinvestment.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 12:31 pm

The rates between riskier and less risky borrowers will still be reflected in the different rates given to each.

The low rates encourage greater risk taking to increase the reward(a higher rate of return). This is what leads to the gross malinvestment.

Case in point: the low rates led to more investments into the stock market, where the returns are unlimited. This is what led to the income inequality of Obama's term, as mentioned above.

todde , October 2, 2018 at 3:07 pm

if government creates money to lend to borrowers it should be at a zero interest rate.

The loans would be based on public policy decisions, and not business decisions.

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 1:36 pm

I cannot speak for Yves, nor or Randy, but IMO, interest rates are too low for people who depend on interest for their living -- as an old person, I have seen my expected income drop to about zilch when I had expected 7 to 10% on my savings. Haha! So yeah, too low for us who saved for 'retirement'.

Too high for people financing on credit, since a decent mortgage on a modestly-priced house will cost you almost the same as the house . And that doesn't even begin to look at unsecured consumer credit (ie, credit card debt), which is used in the US and other barbaric countries for medical expenses, not to mention student debt. The banks can create the principal with their keystrokes, but they don't create the interest. Where do you suppose that comes from? Hint: nowhere, as in foreclosures and bankruptcies.

Adam1 , October 2, 2018 at 3:12 pm

Wray's statement reflects his preferences from an operational policy perspective. Sovereign government debt cares no risk and therefore should not pay interest. The income earned from that interest is basically a subsidy and all income when spent caries a risk of inflation induced excess demand. Therefore who unnecessarily add the risk to the economy and potential risk needing to reduce other policy objectives to accommodate unnecessary interest income subsidies to mostly rich people?

Yves comment reflects the reality of prior decades of economic history. Even if Wray's policy perspective is optimal, there are decades of people with pensions and retirement savings designed around the assumption of income from risk-free government debt. It's this legacy that Yves is commenting on and is a real problem that current policy makers are just ignoring.

As for your comments on how low cost credit can be abused, I believe you'll find most MMT practitioners would recommend far more regulation on the extension of credit for non-productive purposes.

michael hudson , October 2, 2018 at 8:38 am

I just wrote a note to Randy:
The origin of money is not merely for accounting, but specifically for accounting for DEBT -- debt owed to the palatial economy and temples.
I make that clear in my Springer dictionary of money that will come out later this year: Origins of Money and Interest: Palatial Credit, not Barter

horostam , October 2, 2018 at 8:57 am

The Babylonian Madness is contagious thanks prof hudson

gramsci , October 2, 2018 at 9:22 am

Can somebody help me out here? It seems to me that the US macroeconomic policy has been operating under MMT at least since FDR (see for example Beardsley Ruml from 1945).

Since then, insofar as I understand MMT, fiat has been printed and distributed to flow primarily through the MIC and certain other periodically favored sectors (e.g. the Interstate Highway System). Then, rather than destroying this fiat through taxation, the sectoral balances have been kept deliberately out of balance: Taxes on unearned income have been almost eliminated with an eye to not destroying fiat, but to sequestering as much as possible in the private hands of the 1%. This accumulating fiat cannot be productively invested because that would cause overproduction, inflation, and reduce the debt burden by which the 1% retains power over the 99%. So the new royalists, as FDR would have styled them, keep their hoard as a war chest against "socialists".

I get all this, more or less, and I appreciate that it is well and good and important that MMTers insistently point out that the emperor has no clothes. This is a necessary first step in educating the 99%.

But I don't see MMT types discussing the fact that US (and NATO) macroeconomic policy already has a Job Guarantee: if you don't want to work alongside undocumented immigrants on a roof or in a slaughterhouse or suffer the humiliation of US welfare, such as it is, you can always get a job with the army, or the TSA, or the police, or as a prison guard, or if you have some education, with a health unsurance company or pushing drone buttons. You only have to be willing to follow orders to kill–or at least help to kill–strangers.

(Okay, perhaps I overstate. If you're a medical doctor or an "educator" with university debt you don't have to actively kill. You can decline scant Medicaid payments and open a concierge practice, or you can teach to the test in order that nobody learns anything moral.)

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it. Wouldn't it be clarified matters if MMTers acknowledged that we already have a JG?

Wukchumni , October 2, 2018 at 12:50 pm

We have been operating on MMT since the end of WW2, with 2 exceptions in 1968 when Silver Certificate banknotes no longer were redeemable for silver, and in 1971 when foreign central banks (not individuals!) weren't allowed to exchange FRN's for gold @ $35 an ounce anymore.

It's been full on fiat accompli since then and to an outsider looks absurd in that money is entirely a faith-based agenda, but it's worked for the majority of all of lives, so nobody squawks.

It's an economic "the emperor has no clothes" gig.

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 1:54 pm

It seems to me that the US macroeconomic policy has been operating under MMT at least since FDR (see for example Beardsley Ruml from 1945).

Yup, you are correct, IMO. And about the jobs guarantee, too. The point of MMT is not that we have to adopt, believe in, or implement it, but that *this is how things work* and we need to get a %&*^* handle on it *STAT* or they will ride it and us to the graveyard. The conservatives and neo-cons are already on to this, long-time.

I believe the chant is:

We can have anything we want that is available in our (sovereign) currency and for which there are resources

What we get depends on what we want and how well we convince/coerce our 'leaders' to make it so.

David Swan , October 2, 2018 at 2:43 pm

JG is geared toward community involvement to create an open-ended collection of potential work assignments, not top-down provision of a limited number of job slots determined by bureaucrats on a 1% leash.

Wukchumni , October 2, 2018 at 9:31 am

About every 80 years, there has been a great turning in terms of money in these United States

Might as well start with 1793 and the first Federal coins, followed in 1861 by the first Federal paper money, and then the abandonment of the gold standard (a misnomer, as it was one of many money standards @ era, most of them fiat) in 1933.

We're a little past our use-by date for the next incarnation of manna, or is it already here in the guise of the great giveaway orchestrated since 2008 to a selected few?

Adam1 , October 2, 2018 at 9:40 am

After learning MMT I've occasionally thought I should get a refund for the two economics degree's I originally received. One of the primary mainstream teachings that I now readily see as false is the concept of money being a vale over a barter economy. It's lazy, self-serving analysis. It doesn't even pass a basic logical analysis let alone archeological history. Even in a very primitive economy it would be virtually impossible for barter to be the main form of transaction. The strawberry farmer can't barter with the apple farmer. His strawberries will be rotten before the apples are ripe. He could give the apple farmer strawberries in June on the promise of receiving apples in October, but that's not barter that's credit. The apple farmer could default of his own free will or by happenstance (he dies, his apple harvest is destroyed by an act of god, etc ). How does the iron miner get his horse shoed if the blacksmith needs iron before he can make the horse show? Credit has to have always been a key component of any economy and therefore barter could never have been the original core.

HotFlash , October 2, 2018 at 2:00 pm

After learning MMT I've occasionally thought I should get a refund for the two economics degree's I originally received.

Agreed. Richard Wolff notes that in most Impressive Universities there are two schools, one for Economics (theory) and another for Business (practice). Heh. I say, go for the refund, you was robbed.

Wukchumni , October 2, 2018 at 10:11 am

Take Indians for instance

All the Rupee* has done over time is go down in value against other currencies, and up in the spot price measured in Rupees even as gold is trending down now, and that whole stupid demonetization of bank notes gig, anybody on the outside of the fiat curtain looking in, had to be laughing, and ownership there is no laughing matter, as it's almost a state financial religion, never seen anything like it.

* A silver coin larger than a U.S. half dollar pre-post WW2, now worth a princely 1.4 cents U.S.

Chauncey Gardiner , October 2, 2018 at 12:34 pm

Not an economist, but I appreciate both the applicability of MMT and the fierce, but often subtle resistance its proponents have encountered academically, institutionally and politically. However, I have questioned to what extent MMT is uniquely applicable to a nation with either a current account surplus or that controls access to a global reserve currency.

How does a nation that is sovereign in its own currency, say Argentina for example (there are many such examples), lose 60 percent of its value in global foreign exchange markets in a very short time period?

Is this due primarily to private sector debts denominated in a foreign currency (and if so, what sectors of the Argentine economy undertook those debts, for what purposes, and to whom are they owed?), foreign exchange market manipulation by external third parties, the effective imposition of sanctions by those who control the global reserve currency and international payments system, or some combination of those or other factors?

Mel , October 2, 2018 at 12:53 pm

Michael Hudson described some of it earlier this year:
https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2018/07/michael-hudson-argentina-gets-biggest-imf-loan-history.html

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell , October 2, 2018 at 3:48 pm

All hyperinflations are caused by shortages, usually shortages of food. See: https://mythfighter.com/2018/08/27/ten-answers-that-are-contrary-to-popular-wisdom/

There is no avoiding bad government.

PKMKII , October 2, 2018 at 1:57 pm

MMT makes more sense than orthodox neoliberal accounts of currency and sovereign spending to me, as it does a better job of acknowledging reality. MMT recognizes that currency is an artifice and that imagined limitations on it are just that, and real resources are the things which are limited. Neoliberal economics acts as if all sorts of byzantine factors mean currency must be limited, but we can think of resources, and the growth machine they feed, as being infinite.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell , October 2, 2018 at 3:41 pm

"Taxes or other obligations (fees, fines, tribute, tithes) drive the currency."

Specifically, what does "drive" mean? Does it mean:
1. When taxes are reduced, the value of money falls?
2. If taxes were zero, the value of money would be zero?
3. Cryptocurrencies, which are not supported by taxes, have no value?

"JG is a critical component of MMT. It anchors the currency and ensures that achieving full employment will enhance both price and financial stability."

Specifically, what do "anchors" and "critical component" mean? Do they mean:
1. Since JG does not exist, the U.S. dollar is unanchored and MMT does not exist?
2. Providing college graduates with ditch-digging jobs enhances price and financial stability?
3. Forcing people to work is both morally and economically superior to giving them money and benefits?

Grebo , October 2, 2018 at 4:20 pm

"Drive" means "creates initial demand for":
1. No, not for an established currency.
2. See 1.
3. Crypto is worth what you can buy with it.

"Anchors" means it acts against inflation and deflation. "Critical component" means the economy works better if it has it.
1. Yes and no.
2. Yes, if no-one else will hire them.
3. No element of force is implied.