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Science, PseudoScience and Society

Advance of Zombie ideas in XX and XXI centuries

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  Programmers have a very precise understanding of truth. You can’t lie to a compiler. Try it sometime. Garbage in, garbage out. Booleans, the ones and zeros, trues and falses, make up the world programmers live in. That’s all there is! I think programming is deep, it teaches us about the non-cyber universe we live in. There’s something spiritual about computers, and I want to understand it.

Nick Geoghegan

Science has been misused for political purposes many times in history. However, the most glaring examples of politically motivated pseudoscience happened just recently, in XX century. That means that it is useful to review historic examples of "Zombie ideas" used for political purposes and the pattern that defines that abuse.

The important lesson of XX century is that discredited economic and political ideas, no matter how absurd,  don't die as long as they serve well power that be.  In a way they are real living dead, sucking blood from humans.  Those ideas that should have died long ago, still shamble forward, like Zombies. Usage of such ideas is one of the most dangerous deception schemes practiced  by modern elites

It's not easy to write about pseudo science. The problem has to do with the fluid nature of the concept. It has no single, precise meaning and there is little agreement about its constituent elements. But first and foremost it involved subjugation of scientific aims to political goals and deliberate attempt in deception and subsequent cover up. But recently almost all social and economic science became political and all politics involved deception: to say that a politician is not lying is the same as to say that an alcoholic is not drinking. Still there are different degrees of lies and different level of density of the "cloud of deception".

Discredited ideas with political support or "Zombies" can be extremely dangerous for people who oppose them.  Lysenkoism probably represents classic early example when an set of obvious lies was supported by repressive apparatus of state and dissenters were prosecuted and sentenced to Gulag.  For nearly 45 years, the Soviet government used propaganda to foster unproven theories of agriculture promoted by Trofim Lysenko. Scientists seeking favor with the Soviet hierarchy produced fake experimental data in support of Lysenko’s false claims. Contradicting scientific evidence from the fields of biology and genetics was simply banned. University programs taught only Lysenkoism . This state supported attempt to suppress generics  continued for over forty years, until 1964, and even managed to spread to other communist countries, such as  China.

What we saw it as a tragedy in Stalin's Russia genetics, we now see it as a farce in USA economics with neo-classical economics flourishing with the supportive guidance of neoliberal state and financial oligarchy.

The whole neoclassical economics is essentially a set of zombie ideas which are kept in the forefront by financial oligarchy. The financial crisis of 2008 buried key ideas of  'free market liberalism' (aka neoliberalism), such as the 'Efficient Markets Hypothesis', yet these zombie ideas still were dug our, dressed and continue to be sold via major newspapers and journals. Much like Lysenkoism in the USSR by CPSU. See

This is  a real Faustian bargain for academic scholars. One can trade the independence for political influence, good salary and other perks. It is also helps in the power grab. And despite popular image of scientists, they proved to be as corruptible, if not more corruptible, as anybody else. Historically the scientific community is generally held together and all its affairs are peacefully managed through its joint acceptance of the same fundamental scientific beliefs. Science is best practiced in a voluntary, peaceful and free atmosphere.

But that idyllic arrangement firmly belongs to  the past. Now we can talk only about the level of political pressure on scientists via research grants, not so much about presence or absence of such a pressure.  What really matters as far as politics and science is concerned is what type of environment the individual scientists have to work in and what degree of freedom they can enjoy.

Historically the situation changed irrevocably since early XX contrary, which signified discovery of atomic particles.  It should be understood that the modern scientist, built in the modern "neoliberal" democracies, is at the same time - and it is possible that even in the first place - a political agent, a manipulator. For the unwashed masses a public scientist represent the ultimate carrier of truth for a given discipline, so his opinion have a distinct political weight. And the architects of these systems use this values of scientists to the fullest extent possible. Like we can see with neoclassical economics, scientists have turned into an instrument of cognitive manipulation, when  under the guise of science financial oligarchy promote beneficial to itself a false and simplistic picture of the world, which brainwash the masses into "correct" thinking.

In this sense one can say that Lysenkoism represented a natural side effect of  shrinking of freedom of the scientific community and growing influence of political power on science. As by Frederick Seitz noted in his The Present Danger To Science and Society

Everyone knows that the scientific community faces financial problems at the present time. If that were its only problem, some form of restructuring and allocation of funds, perhaps along lines well tested in Europe and modified in characteristic American ways, might provide solutions that would lead to stability and balance well into the next century. Unfortunately, the situation is more complex, made so by the fact that the scientific establishment has become the object of controversy from both outside and inside its special domain. The most important aspects of the controversy are of a new kind and direct attention away from matters that are sufficiently urgent to be the focus of a great deal of the community's attention.

The assaults on science from the outside arise from such movements as the ugly form of "political correctness" that has taken root in important portions of our academic community. There are to be found, in addition, certain tendencies toward a home-grown variant of the anti-intellectual Lysenkoism that afflicted science in the Stalinist Soviet Union. So-called fraud cases are being dealt with in new, bureaucratic ways that cut across the traditional methods of arriving at truth in science. From inside the scientific community, meanwhile, there are challenges that go far beyond those that arise from the intense competition for the limited funds that are available to nourish the country's scientific endeavor.

The critical issue of arriving at a balanced approach to funding for science is being subordinated to issues made to seem urgent by unhealthy alliances of scientists and bureaucrats. Science and the integrity of its practitioners are under attack and, increasingly, legislators and bureaucrats shape the decisions that determine which paths scientific research should take. There is, in addition, a sinister tendency, especially in environmental affairs, toward considering the undertaking of expensive projects that are proposed by some scientists to remedy worst-case formulations of problems before the radical and expensive remedies are proven to be needed. They are viewed seriously though they are based on the advice of opportunistic alarmists in science who leap ahead of what is learned from solid research to encourage support for the expensive remedies they perceive to be necessary. The potential for very great damage to science and society is real.

Of course, the rise of 'Lysenkoism' in the Soviet Union in the late 40th of the twentieth century is one of the most tragic pages of the history of science.  Trofim Lysenko, a Soviet agronomist, came to prominence as the proponent of a theory of heredity that stood in direct opposition to Mendelianism. The details of this theory need not concern us, except to note that it was 'Larmarckist' in its contention that it is possible for organisms to inherit acquired characteristics.  This was wrong and the principles of Mendelianism - the theory of heredity - were well understood by then. But Lysenko theory fitted nicely with the Soviet ideology. Particularly, the idea that acquired characteristics could be inherited held out the promise of the perfectibility of mankind which as strange as it may sound was the necessary precondition to irreversible victory of socialism/communism (later when nationalistic forces  tore apart the USSR  it became clear that such hopes are completely misplaced). 

So the Stalinist state intervened in the pre-exiting scientific struggle by declaring the victor and the consequences, certainly for many of the scientists involved and arguably also for the USSR agriculture, were disastrous.  The essence of Lysenkoism is that pseudo-scientific theory became a pseudo-religious cult and the power of state was used to suppress dissidents. Many scientists were exiled; some killed. Unfortunately we cannot dismiss the obviously pernicious use of ideology by Lysenko and his supporters simply as an aberration of the era that is often brushed aside as 'the cult of personality' (with or without naming the personality in question). This proved to be much more dangerous and at the same time remarkably resilient phenomenon that survived the dissolution of the USSR. Actually the situation repeated with the USA economics when anything that was not neo-classic was suppressed was by-and-large similar although this time this time it happened without any killings.

Do not fool yourself that Lysenkoism is irrevocably connected with communist ideology. The link was poorly accidental. In reality Lysenkoism emerged more like a cult which was extremely convenient for the control freaks in high position in government. It's not a secret that a lot of high-level administrators in academic institutions belong to the category of micromanagers and as such they are naturally predisposed to Lysenkoism.  

In general "Lysenkovisation of  science" occurs when the state tries to control both the methodologies and goals of scientific activity and that happens all over the world, although to different degree.

In the USSR huge bureaucratic institutions such as VASKhNIL and VIEM had been set up with the specific goal to control resources and, especially, scientific press.  Part of the reason that Lysenkoism gained official support in the Soviet Union was because the Mendelian approach to genetics contradicted official ideology, in particular, Engels's dialectical materialism. In early 50th, just before his death Stalin began to sense that Lysenkoism can hinder practical science by interfering with the academic atmosphere of toleration of dissent most conducive to scientific accomplishment. He even went as far as to declare that

“no science can develop and proper without the clash of opinions, without freedom of criticism.”

But it was too late...

Other governments are also far from being immune from this kind of tendency to select between scientific theories on the basis of ideology rather than the balance of evidence.

More benign variant of Lysenkoism that does not rely on the power of the state is usually called Cargo Cult ScienceAnother related term is "Mayberry Machiavellis". A long time ago -- well, actually it was just a year, but it seems like a lot longer than that -- a former Bush advisor John DiIulio got into quite a bit of trouble for revealing to Esquire that the White House did not possess, in any conventional definition of the term, a policy-making process:

...on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking—discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue...

This gave rise to what you might call Mayberry Machiavellis—staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible.

Dan Gardner - Senior Writer for The Ottawa Citizen writes: "Cabinet meetings were scripted, Mr. O'Neill discovered, by White House staffers who sent advance notes to cabinet secretaries telling them when they were 'supposed to speak, about what, and for how long.'" Is this the shadow of Politburo or what?

There are also strong analogies between Reaganomics and Lysenkoism. Useful discussion is at  "The Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics"

The Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics, by David Colander, Hans Föllmer, Armin Haas, Michael Goldberg, Katarina Juselius, Alan Kirman, and Thomas Lux: [From the conclusion] ..."We believe that economics has been trapped in a sub-optimal equilibrium in which much of its research efforts are not directed towards the most prevalent needs of society. Paradoxically self-reinforcing feedback effects within the profession may have led to the dominance of a paradigm that has no solid methodological basis and whose empirical performance is, to say the least, modest. Defining away the most prevalent economic problems of modern economies and failing to communicate the limitations and assumptions of its popular models, the economics profession bears some responsibility for the current crisis. It has failed in its duty to society to provide as much insight as possible into the workings of the economy and in providing warnings about the tools it created. It has also been reluctant to emphasize the limitations of its analysis. We believe that the failure to even envisage the current problems of the worldwide financial system and the inability of standard macro and finance models to provide any insight into ongoing events make a strong case for a major reorientation in these areas and a reconsideration of their basic premises."

While at the surface it looks like rent-seeking behavior of dishonest economists the analogy is pretty strong. A broad critique of Neoclassical economics has been put forward in the book Debunking Economics by Steve Keen  See, for example:

Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov


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If history repeats itself...how incapable must Man be of learning from experience

George Bernard Shaw

"No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power."

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974),
British scientist, author.
Encounter (London, July 1971).

[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 24, 2019] Elusive and allusive indeterminacy characterizes everything in the culture of postmodernity

Aug 24, 2019 | off-guardian.org

People hunger for these stories, not for the real truth that impacts their lives, but for the titillation that gives a frisson to their humdrum lives. It is why post-modern detective stories are so popular, as if never solving the crime is the point.

To say "we will never know" is the mantra of a postmodern culture created to keep people running in circles. (Note the commentaries about the Jeffrey Epstein case.) Elusive and allusive indeterminacy characterizes everything in the culture of postmodernity.

Robert Pfaller, a professor at the University of Art and Industrial Design in Linz, Austria and a founding member of the Viennese psychoanalytic research group "stuzzicandenti," put it clearly in a recent interview :

The ruling ideology since the fall of the Berlin Wall, or even earlier, is postmodernism. This is the ideological embellishment that the brutal neoliberal attack on Western societies' welfare (that was launched in the late 1970s) required in order to attain a "human", "liberal" and "progressive" face. This coalition between an economic policy that serves the interest of a tiny minority, and an ideology that appears to "include" everybody is what Nancy Fraser has aptly called "progressive neoliberalism". It consists of neoliberalism, plus postmodernism as its ideological superstructure.

The propagandists know this; they created it.

They are psychologically astute, having hijacked many intelligent but soul-less people of the right and left to do their handiwork.

Money buys souls, and the number of those who have sold theirs is numerous, including those leftists who have been bought by the CIA, as Cord Meyer, the CIA official phrased it so sexually in the 1950s: we need to "court the compatible left." He knew that drawing leftists into the CIA's orbit was the key to efficient propaganda.

For so many of the compatible left, those making a lot of money posing as opponents of the ruling elites but taking the money of the super-rich, the JFK assassination and the truth of September 11, 2001 are inconsequential, never to be broached, as if they never happened, except as the authorities say they did.

By ignoring these most in-your-face events with their eyes wide shut, a coterie of influential leftists has done the work of Orwell's crime-stop and has effectively succeeded in situating current events in an ahistorical and therefore misleading context that abets U.S. propaganda.

[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.

[May 13, 2019] I studied this phenomenon experientially for over 8 years among conservative Republican followers, and believe it is totally Cult behavior.

May 13, 2019 | discussion.theguardian.com

MindandHeart , 13 Sep 2016 01:23

I studied this phenomenon experientially for over 8 years among conservative Republican followers, and believe it is totally Cult behavior. I've seen contrary evidence literally "switch off" the thinking brain, erasing it, then finding the appropriate Party Line to answer. There seems to be no way to "de-program," that I know of. It is impervious to reason, evidence, or facts. When they were left with no other choices, I saw how Donald Trump was transformed from an initially appalling character to them into an image of a "leader of the Free World," in their realities. They had already been conditioned by some 30 years of Hillary bashing, to unmercifully hate her. Their leaders used the same propaganda machine on Obama. "Liberals" were the ultimate "enemy" and to blame for all our ills.

Barring further evidence to the contrary, I concluded that those most vulnerable to this Cult phenomenon had a strong, authoritarian religious upbringing in childhood, and perhaps some significant life hurt or trauma.

Many of our religious "leaders" have jumped on the gravy train, to control and exploit them, using the same methods used by Donald Trump. Scapegoating is constant. Questioning and critical thinking are not allowed. These folks were "primed" to believe and follow the superb conservative Republican media propaganda machine that now boasts 24/7 coverage "coast to coast." I read that the average American watches television 5 hours a day. The average American over 65 watches it 7 hours a day. Adolf Hitler would have loved it. Such fertile ground for dictators and demagogues. Now we have some, what, 13 million? programmed American zombies on our hands. Not only that, but ALL of us have been "affected" by the Hillary/Obama/"liberal" bashing to some extent. I don't know a single individual personally who speaks out enthusiastically for Hillary, even those going to vote for her: they always use apologies, excuses, caveats. By odds, that's just not normal. As John Dean wrote, Republicans can no longer govern, but they are superb at the "politics of personal destruction." They successfully purged their own moderates and liberals, turned the Grand Old Party's principles upside down, and created a Trump Godzilla. They've become a gang of thugs and thieves, the Poison Party. Some are playing "coy" right now, for the limelight they love -- and trying to hedge their bets. But if Trump wins he'll be welcomed with open arms, and he will fit right in, with what's now left of the GOP.

[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.

[Apr 03, 2019] The political genius of supply-side economics by Martin Wolf&

Jul 25, 2010 | blogs.ft.com

The future of fiscal policy was intensely debated in the FT last week. In this Exchange, I want to examine what is going on in the US and, in particular, what is going on inside the Republican party. This matters for the US and, because the US remains the world's most important economy, it also matters greatly for the world.

My reading of contemporary Republican thinking is that there is no chance of any attempt to arrest adverse long-term fiscal trends should they return to power. Moreover, since the Republicans have no interest in doing anything sensible, the Democrats will gain nothing from trying to do much either. That is the lesson Democrats have to draw from the Clinton era's successful frugality, which merely gave George W. Bush the opportunity to make massive (irresponsible and unsustainable) tax cuts. In practice, then, nothing will be done.

Indeed, nothing may be done even if a genuine fiscal crisis were to emerge. According to my friend, Bruce Bartlett , a highly informed, if jaundiced, observer, some "conservatives" (in truth, extreme radicals) think a federal default would be an effective way to bring public spending they detest under control. It should be noted, in passing, that a federal default would surely create the biggest financial crisis in world economic history.

To understand modern Republican thinking on fiscal policy, we need to go back to perhaps the most politically brilliant (albeit economically unconvincing) idea in the history of fiscal policy: "supply-side economics". Supply-side economics liberated conservatives from any need to insist on fiscal rectitude and balanced budgets. Supply-side economics said that one could cut taxes and balance budgets, because incentive effects would generate new activity and so higher revenue.

The political genius of this idea is evident. Supply-side economics transformed Republicans from a minority party into a majority party. It allowed them to promise lower taxes, lower deficits and, in effect, unchanged spending. Why should people not like this combination? Who does not like a free lunch?

How did supply-side economics bring these benefits? First, it allowed conservatives to ignore deficits. They could argue that, whatever the impact of the tax cuts in the short run, they would bring the budget back into balance, in the longer run. Second, the theory gave an economic justification – the argument from incentives - for lowering taxes on politically important supporters. Finally, if deficits did not, in fact, disappear, conservatives could fall back on the "starve the beast" theory: deficits would create a fiscal crisis that would force the government to cut spending and even destroy the hated welfare state.

In this way, the Republicans were transformed from a balanced-budget party to a tax-cutting party. This innovative stance proved highly politically effective, consistently putting the Democrats at a political disadvantage. It also made the Republicans de facto Keynesians in a de facto Keynesian nation. Whatever the rhetoric, I have long considered the US the advanced world's most Keynesian nation – the one in which government (including the Federal Reserve) is most expected to generate healthy demand at all times, largely because jobs are, in the US, the only safety net for those of working age.

True, the theory that cuts would pay for themselves has proved altogether wrong. That this might well be the case was evident: cutting tax rates from, say, 30 per cent to zero would unambiguously reduce revenue to zero. This is not to argue there were no incentive effects. But they were not large enough to offset the fiscal impact of the cuts (see, on this, Wikipedia and a nice chart from Paul Krugman).

Indeed, Greg Mankiw, no less, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush, has responded to the view that broad-based tax cuts would pay for themselves, as follows: "I did not find such a claim credible, based on the available evidence. I never have, and I still don't." Indeed, he has referred to those who believe this as " charlatans and cranks ". Those are his words, not mine, though I agree. They apply, in force, to contemporary Republicans, alas,

Since the fiscal theory of supply-side economics did not work, the tax-cutting eras of Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush and again of George W. Bush saw very substantial rises in ratios of federal debt to gross domestic product. Under Reagan and the first Bush, the ratio of public debt to GDP went from 33 per cent to 64 per cent. It fell to 57 per cent under Bill Clinton. It then rose to 69 per cent under the second George Bush . Equally, tax cuts in the era of George W. Bush, wars and the economic crisis account for almost all the dire fiscal outlook for the next ten years ( see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ).

Today's extremely high deficits are also an inheritance from Bush-era tax-and-spending policies and the financial crisis, also, of course, inherited by the present administration. Thus, according to the International Monetary Fund, the impact of discretionary stimulus on the US fiscal deficit amounts to a cumulative total of 4.7 per cent of GDP in 2009 and 2010, while the cumulative deficit over these years is forecast at 23.5 per cent of GDP . In any case, the stimulus was certainly too small, not too large.

The evidence shows, then, that contemporary conservatives (unlike those of old) simply do not think deficits matter, as former vice-president Richard Cheney is reported to have told former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill . But this is not because the supply-side theory of self-financing tax cuts, on which Reagan era tax cuts were justified, has worked, but despite the fact it has not. The faith has outlived its economic (though not its political) rationale.

So, when Republicans assail the deficits under President Obama , are they to be taken seriously? Yes and no. Yes, they are politically interested in blaming Mr Obama for deficits, since all is viewed fair in love and partisan politics. And yes, they are, indeed, rhetorically opposed to deficits created by extra spending (although that did not prevent them from enacting the unfunded prescription drug benefit, under President Bush). But no, it is not deficits themselves that worry Republicans, but rather how they are caused: deficits caused by tax cuts are fine; but spending increases brought in by Democrats are diabolical, unless on the military.

Indeed, this is precisely what John Kyl (Arizona), a senior Republican senator, has just said:

"[Y]ou should never raise taxes in order to cut taxes. Surely Congress has the authority, and it would be right to -- if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the cost of increased spending, and that's what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans"

What conclusions should outsiders draw about the likely future of US fiscal policy?

First, if Republicans win the mid-terms in November, as seems likely, they are surely going to come up with huge tax cut proposals (probably well beyond extending the already unaffordable Bush-era tax cuts).

Second, the White House will probably veto these cuts, making itself even more politically unpopular.

Third, some additional fiscal stimulus is, in fact, what the US needs, in the short term, even though across-the-board tax cuts are an extremely inefficient way of providing it.

Fourth, the Republican proposals would not, alas, be short term, but dangerously long term, in their impact.

Finally, with one party indifferent to deficits, provided they are brought about by tax cuts, and the other party relatively fiscally responsible (well, everything is relative, after all), but opposed to spending cuts on core programmes, US fiscal policy is paralysed. I may think the policies of the UK government dangerously austere, but at least it can act.

This is extraordinarily dangerous. The danger does not arise from the fiscal deficits of today, but the attitudes to fiscal policy, over the long run, of one of the two main parties. Those radical conservatives (a small minority, I hope) who want to destroy the credit of the US federal government may succeed. If so, that would be the end of the US era of global dominance. The destruction of fiscal credibility could be the outcome of the policies of the party that considers itself the most patriotic.

In sum, a great deal of trouble lies ahead, for the US and the world.

Where am I wrong, if at all?

July 25, 2010 4:18pm in Financial crisis , Supply-side economics | 10 comments

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  1. Report Martin Wolf | July 25 5:04pm | Permalink

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    Bruce Bartlett writes "I think my friend Martin is a bit too hard on Reagan, who did try to cut spending and signed 11 major tax increases into law to bring down the deficit. And Bush 41 initiated a budget deal in 1990 that eventually led to budget surpluses. It was Bush 43 and his willing accomplices among the Republicans who controlled Congress that deserve the vast bulk of the blame."

    This is my response: "Fair comment. But, as you have often noted, his followers have repudiated president Reagan's willingness to raise taxes. Nor are they making any credible commitments to large-scale cuts in public spending. It is also the case that, despite a boom in the 1980s, the end of the Reagan and George H. Bush era saw much higher public debt ratios than the beginning. I think you have to recognise that today's Republicans are Reagan's children and, as is often the case, are more uncompromising than their parents."

  2. Report ralbin | July 25 6:59pm | Permalink

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    Mr. Wolf - Your comment is entirely correct though perhaps incomplete. Implicit, and sometimes explicit, in the supply-side argument was that low taxes wouldn't involve any public sacrifices. The Republicans promised the benefits of the liberal state while arguing that the needed tax revenues wouldn't be needed. This is what made it and continues to make it a successful political strategy. This is an actual Big Lie.

    Its worth delineating the other Big Lie of Republican political strategy, the the USA is so powerful that it can do anything it wants on the international stage. Add in consistent appeals to racial and religious bigotry (from which the personally decent Mr. Reagan was not immune) and you have almost the whole Republican political strategy of the last 30 years. Very successful and almost all of it based on deception and appeals to the electorate's worst tendencies.

  3. Report Kent Willard | July 25 7:06pm | Permalink

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    Running up the debt in order to default and cut spending is like having a heart attack in order to get serious about diet and exercise. It is crazy, but they will do it, and then blame it on someone else.

    Any bets on a gov't shutdown attempt next year?

  4. Report Dana Houle | July 25 7:09pm | Permalink

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    I think you're assuming a lot about the results of the November elections that are far from certain. In fact, it's highly, highly unlikely that the Republicans will win the Senate, and not particularly likely they'll win the House. They will certainly pick up seats in the House, maybe a lot, but there are only a handful of Dem-held Senate seats that I would say today are pretty much lost for the Democrats (North Dakota, Arkansas), while there are also up to 8 Republican-held seats that could be in play. Democrats would have to lose 10 seats that they currently hold and not win any seats currently held by Republicans (even though 5 of those are open and Vitter in Louisiana is so scandal-plagued he may not survive). It's just about implausible the Democrats will lose a net of 10 or more seats.

    Even in the House, Democrats will have to lose almost all the contested seats, at a time when the most recent generic ballot from Gallup shows Democrats nationally with an 8 point advantage and most of the vulnerable Democratic incumbents have huge cash advantages over their Republican challengers.

    I agree with your interpretation of the political appeal of supply side economics, but I think you're greatly overestimating the ability of the Republicans to win enough seats in November to fully enact their fiscal will on the White House.

  5. Report toweypat | July 25 7:42pm | Permalink

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    "Second, the White House will probably veto these cuts"

    I wish I could agree. Given what we have seem from President Obama this past year and a half, I think he is just as likely to go along with them as part of some nebulous plan to angle for concessions from the other side, or simply to burnish his bipartisan credentials.

  6. Report JoelS | July 25 8:24pm | Permalink

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    Thanks for saying out loud what has been apparent: that Republicanism has become fundamentally destructive. I don't think there's any doubt that the empire is coming to an end, as all empires do, with the unwillingness of the populace to bear the costs and burdens. The tax revolt is, at its heart, a cancer destroying American power and prosperity.

    This is doubly unhealthy because the United States needs a healthy opposition. In its absence, the Democrats are also becoming corrupt. Their electoral appeal has increasingly become: "Vote for us. We're not insane." That's necessary, of course, but hardly sufficient. So we end up with a health care bill with no cost containment, a financial regulatory bill that does not address the speculation and institutional giantism that was at the heart of the collapse, and a stimulus bill half the size that it should have been and heavily tilted against hiring the unemployed in favor of tax cuts. The Republicans would have done worse, but that is small comfort.

    Where are you wrong? If anywhere, in having any doubts that we are on the path to destruction, will no reason to think that we will turn back.

  7. Report Till Schreiber | July 25 9:02pm | Permalink

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    A wild card in the events you outline could be the report of the bipartisan commission on reducing the long-term budget deficit. Larry Summers mentioned it in his contribution to the austerity debate. If, and it's a big if, this report is substantive enough, it might provide cover for Republicans, Democrats, and the White House to tackle long-term deficits.

    In addition, I also feel you are a bit generous in labeling the Democrats relatively fiscally responsible. Certainly, the president's budget had rather high projected deficits over the next decade (and beyond).

    Ultimately, according to the CBO a lot comes down to health care costs, particularly Medicare. Reforming Medicare and controlling the explosion of costs currently projected for it is the key. Everything else is secondary.

  8. Report Edward Hatfield | July 25 9:22pm | Permalink

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    At last you have it spot on. There will have to be a crisis because Weston democracies will not vote for wage cuts. May be it could be done if the elite took a big cut first but that will not happen as most of the elite do not see the problem as their fault.

    You recently replied to one of my emails about thestateBritainis in with the words

    "I also don't understand this masochism" Well you surely must now

  9. Report Barry Thompson | July 25 9:24pm | Permalink

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    James Galbraith says you are wrong:

    "So long as U.S. banks are required to accept U.S. government checks -- which is to say so long as the Republic exists -- then the government can and does spend without borrowing, if it chooses to do so Insolvency, bankruptcy, or even higher real interest rates are not among the actual risks to this system."

    The only real risk to the system is inflation. The need for any sovereign government that can issue its own currency to balance its budget is merely a useful fiction, of political importance but not a real economic constraint.

    Otherwise, keep up the great work!

  10. Report Richard W | July 25 9:25pm | Permalink

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    ' Those radical conservatives (a small minority, I hope) who want to destroy the credit of the US federal government may succeed. If so, that would be the end of the US era of global dominance. The destruction of fiscal credibility could be the outcome of the policies of the party that considers itself the most patriotic. '

    That prospect holds no fear for the majority of contemporary Republican thinking in the party and throughout the conservative base. Withdrawal from NATO, UN and the global stage is precisely the plan. The contemporary Republican party is now more than ever aligned with the populist, reactionary and isolationist sentiments of conservative small town America. It will take many years, but I suspect America is on a long slide to an ungovernable failed state and eventual break-up of the union.

[Apr 03, 2019] Krugman is irrelevant and his promotion of Hillary is disingenuous

This is from 2015 and it certainly characterize Krugman as a despicable political hack...
Notable quotes:
"... The big story he won't write about is that the Republicans wouldn't be such a threat if Team D was worth a damn. ..."
"... The spectacle of 2009-2010 cured me of any lingering desire to vote Democrat ever again – or to waste my time reading Krugman. ..."
"... Krugman is a collaborator. His wealth and prestige is built on his capacity for perpetuating falsehoods that have had vast and deadly consequences (Obama care, for instance). ..."
"... Not to mention he was a huge advocate of NAFTA. Something he never mentions. ..."
"... Krugman's defense of Obama care either indicates a lack of intellect, or in my view the more probable possibility, the inability to accept that the system is thoroughly corrupt, including most dems and economists ..."
"... It's no excuse for someone who actually thinks and writes about public policy, but could it be that Krugman is like my fellow guests and just never had to think about the cost of his health insurance simply because he could always afford it. So, I mean, he's never done the math. He's just done the "responsible thing" and carried insurance his whole life. ..."
www.nakedcapitalism.com

Steven D.

Used to be an avid Krugman reader. But I get bored reading about how bad the Republicans are. Tell me something I don't know. The big story he won't write about is that the Republicans wouldn't be such a threat if Team D was worth a damn.

It's like they got the ball in 2009 with the field wide open for a touchdown. But since the game was fixed Team D just danced around their own 20-yard line looking for the feeble Republican defense to block them. Every time they have an opening for a good play they panic over the prospect of scoring big and contrive to fumble the ball. The most they ever want is field goals and to prevent the Republicans from running away with the game too much.

That's why Krugman can write about how scary the Republicans are. But so what? Everyone knows that. Why are they in such a position? That's the interesting story.

Barmitt O'Bamney

Indeed, and seconded: Kruggers is irrelevant. However correct his critique may be, as far as it goes, it never goes far enough since he has chosen to mutilate himself into playing the role of partisan hack. There is a beam in the Republicans' eye? Well, there is a beam in his eye, too.

The spectacle of 2009-2010 cured me of any lingering desire to vote Democrat ever again – or to waste my time reading Krugman. If my choice is between voting against my own interests on the one hand, and voting against my interests on the other, I'll just stay home or else make my vote a protest against the party that assumes it has an unconditional right to my vote. Reading about how the Republicans are always wrong, with nary a mention of how Democrats are right there with them in the latrine of wrongness isn't worth a minute more of my time – and my time isn't even very valuable.

Benedict@Large

The problem (that leads to the boredom) with reading Krugman is not that he's always talking about how bad the Republicans are. That after all is true. The problem with reading Krugman is that he's always picking on the lowest hanging fruit; the easy cases that require no special nuance or understanding. Krugman is a smart man, and he is better than this. We have all too many of us capable of picking apart the 4th grade thinking and analysis that is so common in the GOP. To add Krugman to that list is a waste of (his and our) time.

tongorad

Krugman is a smart man, and he is better than this.

Evidence, please.

Krugman is a collaborator. His wealth and prestige is built on his capacity for perpetuating falsehoods that have had vast and deadly consequences (Obama care, for instance).

hidflect

Not to mention he was a huge advocate of NAFTA. Something he never mentions.

fresno dan

Krugman's defense of Obama care either indicates a lack of intellect, or in my view the more probable possibility, the inability to accept that the system is thoroughly corrupt, including most dems and economists

Ulysses

I think the most serious problem that Paul Krugman has, in accepting that the system is thoroughly corrupt, is his internalization of the meritocratic myth. The syllogism runs as follows:

1) I have "merit"

2)The system has lavished wealth and renown on me

3)Therefore, those who claim that our system "isn't really meritocratic" must themselves lack "merit," or be deluded from too much sentimentality, or too much attention to "exceptions that prove the rule."

Tom Allen

He's also prone to defending politicians and economists with whom he's personal friends - and there are a lot of them. That's human nature, but it tends to make one skeptical of his objectivity when, for example, Larry Summers or Ben Bernanke is involved.

NotTimothyGeithner

He's also preaching to the choir. Who is Krugthullu's audience? Outside of New Yorkers, it's largely people who fantasize about finishing the Sunday crossword despite not actually trying and love to have a simplified "liberal" world view reinforced. Given how Obots use to swarm, would he have survived not towing the company line? Without his column, Krugthullu is just another economics professor without the backing of a billionaire who keeps him around as a pet. Maybe Warren Buffet would put up a nice fence to keep Krugthullu in his yard, but he would likely have to spend time in Omaha.

The flip side is Krugthullu has likely burned too many bridges to regain his 2009 status. The Obots can't handle criticism, and it's rather late to join the Obama anonymous support group.

jrs

I mostly think they keep Krug around to justify "trade" agreements. That the little battles don't matter so much compared to "trade" agreements (and in fact they don't, on the issue of healthcare, "trade" agreements are a serious threat to even those countries with better medical systems. "Trade" agreements can override other political battles, even those where Krugs position might be decent).

jo6pac

Thanks for LOL, so true.

GlobalMisanthrope

Yeah, I am completely mystified by his defense of the ACA. My employers think of themselves as good liberals (although they do not provide health insurance but rather a health stipend to a handful of top managers that we can apply toward our purchase of insurance on the exchange) and have trotted out Krugman on occasion when I have argued against the Act.

I was at a dinner party before Christmas with a diverse group of professionals hosted by a friend who is a wine maker. There were several people from the food and beverage industry, a university professor and her law school administrator spouse, an obstetrical surgeon, a rancher and three others I never got a chance to learn anything about. The subject of "Obamacare" came up. I was truly astonished by the completely fact-free conversation that ensued. So much so that I stayed silent for a long time, really not knowing what to say.

My friend, the host, noticed my expression and asked me what I thought about Obamacare. So I described it as the boondoggle that it is and went into some detail debunking many of the claims made by the other guests. Honestly, I mean they were more or less polite, but they didn't think I knew what I was talking about. What can account for this?

Well, one of the things that came out was that I was, by some distance, the lowest paid person at the table.

It's no excuse for someone who actually thinks and writes about public policy, but could it be that Krugman is like my fellow guests and just never had to think about the cost of his health insurance simply because he could always afford it. So, I mean, he's never done the math. He's just done the "responsible thing" and carried insurance his whole life.

Anyway, it was a cold shower to realize how intractable their belief in the system is. As I find myself saying a lot lately, I was not heartened.

flora

The whole ACA thing reminds me of the urban renewal projects of the 50s and 60s. Those were supposedly progressive projects to replace blighted areas with modern housing. In fact it was political snake oil that didn't help the poor so much as help large cities fill their coffers. It replaced poor dwellings with middle class dwellings that increased the cities' tax revenues. The poor were left to fend for themselves as their poor but stable neighborhoods were destroyed. The designers of the projects thought they were doing good.

I wonder how many people sitting around the table with you tried to buy their mandated insurance on the ACA web portal or on the open market? ACA sounds good in theory.

Lexington

It's no excuse for someone who actually thinks and writes about public policy, but could it be that Krugman is like my fellow guests and just never had to think about the cost of his health insurance simply because he could always afford it. So, I mean, he's never done the math. He's just done the "responsible thing" and carried insurance his whole life.

Yup.

I have my frustrations with Krugman too, but I think progressives need to cut the guy some slack: he's a professor at Princeton, a Nobel laureate, and has a trophy case full of professional honours and twenty books plus a couple of hundred articles under his belt. He's in the sanctum sanctorum of the elite.

If he never penned another op ed or blog post or participated in another public debate it wouldn't make the slightest difference to his legacy. Yet there he is, the very model of a public intellectual, actually inviting non specialists to engage in a discussion about economics and public policy, and fighting the good fight for liberalism. You can be sure he isn't doing it to win plaudits from his peers. ...

[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 09, 2019] The Incoherence of Larry Summers, a Serious Economist by J. D. Alt

Notable quotes:
"... To borrow Henry Ford's quote: "It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning." ..."
"... Note to Larry, please follow this logic: Money is Fiat; Fiat is cooperation; Cooperation is fiscal control; and fiscal control is civilization. Nowhere in this chain of thought does debt; interest; austerity; or any of your other little techniques even exist. Those bizarre ideas exist in more primitive thinking about power and slavery and savage exploitation. You know the routine. ..."
Mar 07, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
Yves here. Larry Summers, like Hillary Clinton, does not seem willing to get the message that it would behoove him to retreat from public life.

By J. D. Alt, author of The Architect Who Couldn't Sing , available at Amazon.com or iBooks. Originally published at www.realprogressivesusa.com

Lawrence Summers, according to Lawrence Summers, is a "serious economist." He has just written an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he seriously explains why Modern Money Theory -- as proposed by "fringe economists," as he calls them -- is a recipe for disaster. I am going to leave it to the "fringe economists" to rebut Mr. Summers; (I'm confident that professors Wray, Kelton, Tcherneva, Tymoigne, and Fullwiler can take care of that job quite easily). What I want to consider is something even more fundamental: How is it that someone who presents himself as a "serious economist" can get away with speaking incoherently while expecting us -- the everyday citizens of America -- to take what he is saying as true?

Here is Summers' first point about why MMT is a recipe for disaster: "Modern monetary theory holds out the prospect that somehow by printing money, the government can finance its deficits at zero cost. In fact, in today's economy, the government pays interest on any new money it creates, which takes the form of its reserves held by banks at the Federal Reserve. Yes, there is outstanding currency in circulation, but because that can always be deposited in a bank, its quantity is not controlled by the government. Even money-financed deficits cause the government to incur debt."

Yes, that's very clear and logical, isn't it? The government "prints" money and then pays interest on it? The interest it pays become the "reserves" in the Federal Reserve system? And what exactly does that have to do with "outstanding currency in circulation"? And what is it exactly that happens when that "outstanding currency" gets deposited in a bank? And if "money-financed" deficits cause the government to incur debt, maybe we should think about financing our deficits with something other than money? These are all serious economic questions.

Summers' incoherent rambling reminds me of another case of incoherent ramblings reported, coincidentally, in the same edition of the Washington Post: Donald Trump's CPAC speech as evaluated by columnist Eugene Robinson . Here are a few instances of Trump apparently giving his best impersonation of Lawrence Summers:

"When the wind stops blowing, that's the end of your electric. Let's hurry up. 'Darling -- Darling, is the wind blowing today? I'd like to watch television, Darling.' No, but it's true . Now Robert Mueller never received a vote, and neither did the person that appointed him. And as you know, the attorney general says, 'I'm going to recuse myself. I'm going to recuse.' And I said, why the hell didn't he tell me that before I put him in? How do you recuse yourself?"

Lawrence Summers' second point about the fallacy of MMT goes like this: "Contrary to the claims of modern monetary theorists, it is not true that governments can simply create new money to pay all liabilities coming due and avoid default. As the experience of any number of emerging markets demonstrates, past a certain point, this approach leads to hyperinflation. Indeed, in emerging markets that have practiced modern monetary theory, situations could arise where people could buy two drinks at bars at once to avoid the hourly price increases. As with any tax, there is a limit to the amount of revenue that can be raised via such an inflation tax. If this limit is exceeded, hyperinflation will result."

Really, that all must be true, because Summers is a serious economist. Didn't really know there were third world countries that have been practicing Modern Money Theory for a long time -- but obviously it didn't work out well for them. And, clearly, you can't tax people more than they possess, so that proves it: hyperinflation!

Donald Trump had more to ramble about as well: "And they showed -- they showed from the White House all the way down There were people. Nobody has ever seen it. The Capitol down to the Washington Monument -- people. But I saw pictures that there were no people. Those pictures were taken hours before . They had to walk with high-heels, in many cases. They had to walk all the way down to the Washington Monument and then back. And I looked, and I made a speech, and I said, before I got on -- I said to the people who were sitting next to me, 'I've never seen anything like this.'"

Lawrence Summers' third denunciation of MMT is as follows: "Modern monetary theorists typically reason in terms of a closed economy. But a policy of relying on central bank finance of government deficits, as suggested by modern monetary theorists, would likely result in a collapsing exchange rate. This would in turn lead to increased inflation, increased long-term interest rates (because of inflation), risk premiums, capital fleeing the country, and lower real wages as the exchange rate collapsed and the price of imports soared."

But of course! That's all obvious, isn't it? Mr. Summers is just pointing it out. Exchange rates would collapse. It's the most obvious thing any reader of his argument can easily grasp and understand -- and that means "risk premiums" too (which clearly nobody wants).

At one point in his CPAC speech Donald Trump says this: "You know I'm totally off-script right now. And this is how I got elected, by being off-script. True. And if we don't go off-script, our country is in big trouble, folks. Because we have to get it back."

What strikes me is that our country is, indeed, in big trouble -- but it's because the "script" that's being read to us by our political leaders, commentators, and "serious economists" is nothing more than an incoherent babbling.


bruce wilder , March 7, 2019 at 10:15 am

"somehow by printing money" is a significant tell -- the stupider the clichéd metaphor, the more incoherent the economics. Summers in using that cliche is confusing currency with money, which error really ought to embarrass him, but obviously does not.

paulmeli , March 7, 2019 at 12:06 pm

Summers' Op-Ed is bafflegab of the highest order. It's sad that that's what passes for informed commentary these days, but I think for monetary issues that's always been the case. Any school that dares to teach monetary economics is defunded, exiled to 2nd or 3rd tier status.

There has been a lot of pushback on this Op-Ed and Krugman's from unexpected sources (Forbes, Bloomberg). This response is especially good:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johntharvey/2019/03/05/mmt-sense-or-nonsense/#489e306c5852

Also, demonstrating what a careerist Krugman is: Paul Krugman to Bernard Lietaer: "Never touch the money system" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6nL9elK0EY . (short – 44 sec.)

Carey , March 7, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Good stuff! Thanks for those links.

Susan the Other , March 7, 2019 at 2:05 pm

Well of course Krug, "never look at money" because if you do you'll be blinded by reality.

sgt_doom , March 7, 2019 at 2:10 pm

Krugman has been a member of the lobbyist group for the central bankers, the Group of Thirty (www.group30.org) ever since it was founded by the Rockefeller Foundation back in 1978.

Carla , March 7, 2019 at 3:27 pm

I read the John T Harvey piece this a.m. because Yves had it in Links. It was so good I sent him a fan letter.

Tomonthebeach , March 7, 2019 at 4:27 pm

I read it 2 days ago and felt no compulsion to praise. Harvey includes some Summersian bullshit of his own. For example: "Just as the President's daughter said days ago, people like to work. Quite right."

Harvey clearly does not live on the beach where the slacker-surfer lifestyle dominates. Likewise, it seems likely that he has never had to manage human resources in a large organization where more than just a few workers are obviously not liking what they are doing.

The biggest barrier to full-employment is that not everybody wants to work or at least work very hard. That causes co-worker resentment, an unproductive workplace climate, and if ignored long enough, it can impair productivity to the extent that everybody becomes out of work.

Grebo , March 7, 2019 at 5:56 pm

So, you don't consider surfing work? Perhaps you're right, but I don't consider lack of enthusiasm for bullshit jobs evidence that people don't want to work.

paulmeli , March 7, 2019 at 6:02 pm

The biggest barrier to full-employment is that not everybody wants to work or at least work very hard.

Thank God for those people, it makes my life so much easier. You wouldn't like working in a world where everyone and anyone could replace you.

I've never worked in an environment where everyone pulled their own weight, but it's also true that we tend to hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.

At any rate, I still don't want them to starve.

tegnost , March 7, 2019 at 6:35 pm

I'm not sure where you're surfing but in my experience it's doctors, lawyers, mba, engineers, and their kids. This link tells the story of the modern day surfer vs the stereotypical slacker surfer
http://www.surfparkcentral.com/surfer-statistics-infographic-the-common-us-surfer/

wetsuits cost hundreds of dollars, my cheapest new board was an ellington for $400 like 15 years ago (no, it can't really be that long ago?) My brothers quiver is easily worth $10,000, which is lucky for me because he can't ride them all at once. Not to say there isn't a large transient population, beaches have bathrooms and showers, but the surfer/slacker may not be a real thing?

tegnost , March 7, 2019 at 6:46 pm

also
https://brandongaille.com/22-surfing-industry-statistics-trends/
FTL
#12. In a survey about surfing in the United Kingdom, surfers were disproportionally represented in managerial, professional, or business-owning employment classes. Nearly 80% of surfers fit into these employment categories, compared to just 54% of the general population. (Surfers Against Sewage)

#13. Surfers also have a higher level of education attainment compared to the general population. In the UK, 64% of surfers reported having a higher education, compared to just 27% of the general population. (Surfers Against Sewage)

Carey , March 7, 2019 at 5:14 pm

I thought it was notably good too, and clearly written. Agree or not, what he was saying was not in question, unlike Summers's/ Krugman's slippery stuff.

WheresOurTeddy , March 7, 2019 at 2:00 pm

Larry Summers is on a list of people I've created where if I read or hear something they write or say and agree with it, I go back and check my premise on said topic.

Have never had to do so with Summers. This entire editorial reeks of Upton Sinclair's famous quote "it's impossible to get someone to understand something when his paycheck depends on him not understanding it."

John Harvey in Forbes takes Summers, Rogoff, and clown prince Krugman down point by point as well.

Phil in KC , March 7, 2019 at 10:18 am

Because I have only a single college course in Macro (taken 40 years ago), I am hardly any kind of economist, certainly not a serious one. But I do have some ability to parse a sentence and figure out the meaning–usually. Thanks for pointing out that the garble I can make no sense of is just garble. I thought I was just one of the uninitiated and ignorant masses.

I am curious about the audience Summers had in mind when he wrote or uttered this. Who are they?

voteforno6 , March 7, 2019 at 11:58 am

I think the important information is conveyed to his intended audience via the title – the rest of it is filler, to justify printing it.

You're not alone in your interpretation of his column. I have enough confidence in my reading comprehension abilities to state affirmatively that his column is full of Thomas Friedman-like gibberish.

polecat , March 7, 2019 at 12:51 pm

Tatooine IS a hard language to parse, afterall ..

WheresOurTeddy , March 7, 2019 at 2:01 pm

this effort by Summers is the editorial equivalent of spinning wheels furiously in a pit of mud

Carey , March 7, 2019 at 2:37 pm

I see it more as a holding action by the usual cast of characters.
For how long will it work?

Colonel Smithers , March 7, 2019 at 10:19 am

Thank you, Yves.

In the UK, we have a what you may call reverse Churchill problem, i.e. Churchill provokes mixed emotions in the UK, but is revered in the US. In the US, Summers provokes mixed emotions, but is revered in the UK, at least by the usual neo-liberal suspects. God Forbid. The family blogger has even been floated as a potential successor to Carney, probably a ploy by his vermin acolytes at the FT.

You will be delighted to hear that Summers' vicar on earth, or at least in the UK, New Labour family blogger Ed Balls was ousted from the Commons and some of public life by Andrea Jenkins. Jenkins is an Ultra Brexiteer, but History will be kind to her for sparing the long-suffering UK public from more of Balls. Oh, yes, she will be elevated to the Pantheon for that ouster alone.

diptherio , March 7, 2019 at 10:53 am

Larry Summers, famous for stating that there is a "good economic case" to be made for exporting all our toxic waste to Africa. Larry Summers, famous for claiming that there aren't more women in STEM fields because "girls are bad at math." Larry Summers, beloved of neo-liberals everywhere.

allan , March 7, 2019 at 10:57 am

How Larry Summers' memo hobbled Obama's stimulus plan [Dean Baker in The Guardian, 2012]

How Larry begat Donald. Austerity has consequences – who knew?

susan the Other , March 7, 2019 at 2:11 pm

indeed.

allan , March 8, 2019 at 10:41 am

Fiscal space and the aftermath of financial crises: How it matters and why [Christina Romer
and David Romer]

Abstract: In OECD countries over the period 1980–2017, countries with lower debt-to-GDP ratios responded to financial distress with much more expansionary fiscal policy and suffered much less severe aftermaths. Two lines of evidence together suggest that the relationship between the debt ratio and the policy response is driven partly by problems with sovereign market access, but even more so by the choices of domestic and international policymakers. First, although there is some relationship between more direct measures of market access and the fiscal response to distress, incorporating the direct measures attenuates the link between the debt ratio and the policy response only slightly. Second, contemporaneous accounts of the policymaking process in episodes of major financial distress show a number of cases where shifts to austerity were driven by problems with market access, but at least as many where the shifts resulted from policymakers' choices despite an absence of difficulties with market access. These results point to a twofold message: conducting policy in normal times to maintain fiscal space provides valuable insurance in the event of financial crises, and domestic and international policymakers should not let debt ratios determine the response to crises unnecessarily. [emphasis added]

If only one of the authors had been in a position to shape the administration's response in early 2009

La vendetta è un piatto che va servito freddo.

JCC , March 7, 2019 at 4:29 pm

Not to mention the article published here on NC back in 2013:

The very thing that the former endowment chiefs had worried about and warned of for so long then came to pass. Amid plunging global markets, Harvard would lose not only 27 percent of its $37 billion endowment in 2008, but $1.8 billion of the general operating cash – or 27 percent of some $6 billion invested. Harvard also would pay $500 million to get out of the interest-rate swaps Summers had entered into, which imploded when rates fell instead of rising. The university would have to issue $1.5 billion in bonds to shore up its cash position, on top of another $1 billion debt sale. And there were layoffs, pay freezes, and deep, university-wide budget cuts.

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/07/why-larry-summers-should-not-be-permitted-to-run-anything-more-important-than-a-dog-pound.html

shinola , March 7, 2019 at 4:40 pm

From that article:

"Summers is your man if you are a banker, looter, or plutocrat."

'nuff said.

WheresOurTeddy , March 7, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Churchill is revered in America by people whose memory only goes back to 1941 and even then, only plays the highlights.

This American thinks he was a war criminal many times over and in a just world would have died in a prison cell, but I recognize I'm the minority in my country

RBHoughton , March 7, 2019 at 8:39 pm

I don't believe anyone is completely useless. Al Gore made a follow-up film "An Inconvenient Sequel" which mentioned, inter alia, the likely failure of COP21 because India needed hundreds of gigawatts of new energy and the banks would dun them 13% on loans plus 2% for the exchange if they opted for green energy. Gore got onto Summers and a deal was thrashed out that was satisfactory to India. The country then signed the agreement along with the rest of the world. A man with that kind of clout with the hooligans in banking as valuable.

pretzelattack , March 7, 2019 at 8:47 pm

does he still have that kind of clout?

Redlife2017 , March 8, 2019 at 3:21 am

+1000 for some beautiful snark

Nina , March 7, 2019 at 10:21 am

I have considered Larry's presence in any political campaign the kiss of death, since Obama first ran for president. Fair warning, contenders for 2020! You do not want to be seen so much as shaking Larry's hand in public!

Matt Young , March 7, 2019 at 10:48 am

MMT is what we do. We cycle like MMT says we should, we tax and sequester like MMT says we should, we devalue once a generation as MMT says we should. We are MMT, Larry SUmmers is simply faking it to protect the Keynesian form of MMT. The difference between Keynes and MMT? MMTers have no assumption about smooth trajectories.

This is all the most useless debate among economists I have seen, and I have watched a ton of useless debates in the ten years of the last 'MMT' cycle. So, let us get on with the next MMT cycle, starting with a period of extraordinary means, followed by Tax and sequester, then if we are lucky, we get a devaluation, in proper MMT order.

bushtheidiot , March 7, 2019 at 12:19 pm

Bingo this guy gets it, we already print off a bunch of money to finance spending, lower interest rates to prop up spending and decrease debt costs, etc. Except the way we do it now benefits the rich by forcing the rest of us to spend spend spend because our money does nothing in the savings account. Meantime, the money gets pushed into stocks and bonds which benefits only a certain class.

This essentially paves the way for MMT, which is just to reallocate who gets the benefit of this money printing from the rich to the rest of us.

The current system clearly doesn't work, however, and the idea that we can just spend money we make up out of thin air as a stable plan is nonsense. Just like it was in 2008, and just like it is now with a 23 trilliion national debt.

We want medicare for all, increase the payroll tax and a small income tax, and that will do it. Charge everyone a "premium" for health coverage in their pay check that is far cheaper than what it is now, or let employers pay for it and get a tax deduction.

No need to print monopoly money for anyone–rich or poor. We are wealthy enough to afford this stuff.

WheresOurTeddy , March 7, 2019 at 2:08 pm

the rich have had socialism for decades. it has worked so well for them, now the rest of us want a bite.

Oh , March 7, 2019 at 3:28 pm

I agree regarding Medicare for all but it should be free. If money's needed, let's tax the banksters to pay for it. After all the owe us $23 trillion.

jsn , March 7, 2019 at 1:59 pm

This is really no different from the dust big tobacco kicked up for 30 years to deny cancer, or big oil and climate denialism: there are a bunch of greedy b******s out there who have been making a killing off of looting, asset stripping and environmental and social market externalities doing all they can to milk the last dollar from a completely rotten system.

Summers is pitching in to obscure perceptions of the rot that serves him so well.

WheresOurTeddy , March 7, 2019 at 2:07 pm

Stop any significant % of the war machine spending $1T+ per year and spend it at home in the US on crushing the price of housing and providing a jobs guarantee; you wouldn't be able to run from the economic boom anywhere

shinola , March 7, 2019 at 11:03 am

How dare anyone question Mr. Summers proclamations!

He has the credentials, the experience, the insights of a world class economist!

Just look at what Mr. Summers & his crew did for the Russian economy after the collapse of the USSR.
[sarc off]

Summers is the pet economist of the ultra neoliberal crowd.

WheresOurTeddy , March 7, 2019 at 2:10 pm

the word for people like Summers is "gatekeeper". He's doing his best to keep things within "the acceptable parameters of debate."

His is failing, will ultimately fail completely, and be discredited. I just hope he lives long enough to see it all happen.

Yves Smith Post author , March 7, 2019 at 4:12 pm

Look at what he did to Harvard! Wrecked its endowment by a stupid interest rate swaps bet. Harvard had to get rid of hot breakfasts and an expansion in Alford as a result.

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/07/why-larry-summers-should-not-be-permitted-to-run-anything-more-important-than-a-dog-pound.html

John Wright , March 7, 2019 at 11:20 am

Disclaimer: I'm no economist as my degree is in electrical engineering.

I prefer to look at MMT as somewhat similar to a company issuing additional common and preferred stock.

The company, in this case is a government.

In this view, common stock issuance (that pays no dividend) is new currency issued and preferred stock issuance = US treasury certificates that pay interest ( similar to a preferred stock dividend ).

One can argue that "the market" will not penalize a company (or government) when it raises funds via new stock issuance, IF the proceeds are perceived will be invested wisely.

But if the new stock issuance proceeds are perceived to be used foolishly than one would expect the issuing "company" will see the value of their preferred and common stock drop (as inflation decreases the value of its currency).

For example, if MMT minded US government issues new monetary "common/preferred stock" (creates new currency and issues treasury securities) and uses this purchasing power to improve US infrastructure, improve the bloated USA healthcare/financial industries or educates its people more cost effectively, then the global market could be completely happy with this use of the world's resources.

And the relative value of the US currency might be stable or even increase.

On the other hand, if the MMT minded US government issues more currency/securities and funds a destructive war, one might expect the existing global holders of the USA's currency and securities to be disappointed and push the relative value down.

Just as a corporation has to have some sort of resources (IP, customer list, inventories, market dominance, new products in development) that are valued for it to issue stock, a MMT minded government must be viewed as having resources and power.

For example, Haiti is a sovereign nation with its own currency, the Haitian gourde.

But I suspect Haiti will have a very difficult time using MMT (issuing gourde denominated securities) to improve its economy as it is perceived has having few resources and a prior history of resource squandering corruption (Papa/Baby Doc Duvalier) .

deplorado , March 7, 2019 at 2:55 pm

This is an excellent and very useful analogy, thank you!

Tomonthebeach , March 7, 2019 at 4:37 pm

I betcha that Haiti's debts are not in Gourdes but in Euros, Pounds, and Dollars. Most US debit to itself and foreign countries in our own currency. As Mosler points out, inflation often hurts our trading partners worse than it does us.

jsn , March 7, 2019 at 7:37 pm

A great analogy! And the value of a nations currency is a statement of market perception of the quality and effectiveness of its institutions.

charles 2 , March 8, 2019 at 12:37 am

I share your analogy 100% and I think this is the right way to present monetary theory (I don't want to say "modern" because it is more than a century that it works like this already). Although, I would add a twist : the government also distributes dividends in non monetary terms, by providing, say, free roads, free education or free healthcare ( In the preceding century, there were actually railroads issuing bonds that paid interest with free tickets !)
Of course, the amount of "paid in kind" dividend is similar whether one holds one dollar in the pocket or a million, so it is not popular with the wealthy class.
I think it is an important component to point out because one frequently encounters people who frequently complain that a dollar today is worth less than a dollar yesterday, but forget that between yesterday and today, the government provided services to the dollar holder regardless of him/her earning an income and paying taxes.

PlutoniumKun , March 7, 2019 at 11:22 am

I was going to ask the serious question 'how did Larry Summers get to his esteemed position in the first place ?' Nothing I've ever read by or about him over the years has indicated that he is anything but a second rate bluffer with a talent for impressing other bluffers, and yet in many quarters he seems to be held in significant awe.

But mindful of the rules here about 'setting homework' I looked up his career in Wikipedia. It seems he was quite influential in developmental economics, which no doubt led to his gig in the World Bank. So someone who is considered a Harvard expert in development economics writes:

Lawrence Summers' second point about the fallacy of MMT goes like this: "Contrary to the claims of modern monetary theorists, it is not true that governments can simply create new money to pay all liabilities coming due and avoid default. As the experience of any number of emerging markets demonstrates, past a certain point, this approach leads to hyperinflation. Indeed, in emerging markets that have practiced modern monetary theory, situations could arise where people could buy two drinks at bars at once to avoid the hourly price increases. As with any tax, there is a limit to the amount of revenue that can be raised via such an inflation tax. If this limit is exceeded, hyperinflation will result."

If someone talking in a bar said that, you'd consider him an idiot, or at best, someone who just hasn't read very much. And yet a Harvard professor can, without embarrassment, write such nonsense. And still be taken seriously. It really is unbelievable.

Mel , March 7, 2019 at 12:08 pm

The argument, shorn of the beebling and handwaving, does make some sense. A Haitian government, say, that tries to issue more gourdes (HTG) to pay off a US$ (or ECU, or anything foreign) debt is going to find out that no number of gourdes will be enough. It will have to be US$, and they will only be acquired on the terms the US$ creditor specifies. This has been true ever since independence, when the whole world insisted that the Haitians buy themselves back from France.
They can used gourdes to mobilize their own efforts and their own resources, and hope to achieve something with those.

Grant , March 7, 2019 at 12:30 pm

"A Haitian government, say, that tries to issue more gourdes (HTG) to pay off a US$"

That is a government creating its own currency, which it then has to exchange for another currency. That is roughly what Germany was forced to do with after the massive WWI debts were forced on it and it went through hyperinflation. The issue is owing money in another currency. MMT economists have said again and again that countries should try to avoid, if they can, owing money in a foreign currency. Obviously, many poor countries have no option. Different than a government issuing bonds in its own currency. If the Haitian government injected its own currency into the economy, then issued bonds in its own currency as a means of reaching its central bank's targeted interest rate, and Haiti owed money in its own currency, that would be a good comparison to our situation. Summers doesn't understand (or pretends not to) the problem of bringing up hyperinflation in places like Peru and Venezuela, or the problems poor countries face in regards to external debt, versus what the situation is in the US. We are in no way comparable to those countries or situations. It's absurd, and he knows better, or he should.

In regards to the debt of developing and underdeveloped countries; the big issue is the need for a massive debt write down (among a host of other things). On that, Éric Toussaint's work is hugely important.

a different chris , March 7, 2019 at 12:58 pm

>The issue is owing money in another currency.

Even in this case -- the point is how much of your own currency can you create? The runaway debt inflation is just getting the information the hard way. And it is irreversible, unless you can send out assassins to kill your off-shore debt holders.

If you can come up with a good idea of how much you can safely print, why borrow it? If there was just some academic profession that could come up with useful answers to that question

Grant , March 7, 2019 at 2:12 pm

"Even in this case -- the point is how much of your own currency can you create? "

This has been discussed many times. The broad limit is the productive capacity of the economy. Are we at full employment, are we at full productive capacity? If the change in the money stock is proportionally larger than the value of the goods and services created with that money, then you could have inflation. Could, because inflation is more complex than that. If the government were to create a bunch of money (forget private credit creation for a second since we can't control that much right now), but that money went to rich people that hoarded it, if it was used by companies to buy up their own shares, if it was used to buy goods from other countries, if it was put in a tax shelter, among countless other things, that money wouldn't circulate around the economy and wouldn't cause much inflation. It is possible for the government to create lots of money and for deflation to set it. Happened after the crash in 1929, that was Friedman's argument as to why the Great Depression happened. He said that even though the Fed was creating lots of money, the economy was contracting at a greater rate and so in real terms the money supply was shrinking. Steve Keen responded to that and showed the problems with that argument, but this dynamic is well known. Private banks creating credit money are a part of this and the crash in 1929 too. After the crash in 2007/2008, it is pretty well established that while the government did create a lot of money, it didn't create enough and it didn't channel to the parts of the economy that could have led to a recovery for working people. So, not only how much money is created, but where that money goes in the economy, whether or not more stuff can be produced, expectations of the future, among other things, will determine inflation.

"If you can come up with a good idea of how much you can safely print, why borrow it? If there was just some academic profession that could come up with useful answers to that question "

Not trying to be rude, but have you actually read MMT literature? Cause all this stuff is addressed. We don't borrow money in the way you think. The government, the US government, doesn't need to borrow or tax in order to spend. The particular way we have chosen to create money was developed decades ago, when we were on the gold standard and had either the value of dollars fixed to an ounce of gold, or later all currencies fixed to the dollar which could be exchanged in a given amount for gold. We aren't on gold anymore. We could just have the government spend the money into the economy and use taxes to manage inflation. We don't have to issue bonds, and Wray I believe has said that states that have control over their own currencies shouldn't issue bonds in this way anymore. But those bonds come with no risk at all (the government will not default on the bonds unless forced to by politicians) and they accrue interest, so investors like them, especially when there is uncertainty. But we don't have to issue bonds AFTER the government spends to manage inflation. My understanding is that the Fed is the buyer of last resort on the secondary market for bonds, and those that take part in bond auctions are required to actually bid. I don't see why investors would all of a sudden not like US bonds (it would have to be something with geopolitical implications) but even if they did, the situations could be dealt with, and again, we don't need to even issue bonds in order to spend anyway. That is a radically different situation than Haiti owing money in another currency and being massively in debt to other countries in other currencies, with little ability to export value added goods that have strong terms of trade. Read up on the amount of debt owed by Haiti to France since the Haitian revolution, and the amount of debt paid but still owed by developing and underdeveloped countries in the post-WWII era. You think Summers cares? How in the world is that comparable to the US in 2019? It is ridiculous, and Summers knows it.

Oh , March 7, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Great response!

ChrisPacific , March 7, 2019 at 3:24 pm

That is true and it's one of the key factors that can lead to hyperinflation. However, Summers isn't talking about that scenario. Nothing in his argument mentions foreign currency denominated debt. He's simply claiming that there is some upper limit on deficit spending beyond which the economy will automatically tip over into hyperinflation. I'd love to see him point out one instance in history where that's happened without external factors like foreign currency debt playing a role. The closest thing I can think of is credit bubbles, but those are self-correcting in the long run and can't spiral out of control like hyperinflation.

urblintz , March 7, 2019 at 2:07 pm

He was brought into politics by wait for it. Ronald Reagan.

"Summers was on the staff of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan in 1982–1983." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Summers#Public_official

And most people still don't know how he helped plunder post-Soviet Russia and the real scandal he survived at Harvard.

https://directeconomicdemocracy.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/larry-summers-the-shleifer-russia-fiasco-and-kleptocracy-as-a-guiding-ethos/

WheresOurTeddy , March 7, 2019 at 2:12 pm

he came in with the armada of economic pirates that was 1981 and has been looting ever since

Yves Smith Post author , March 7, 2019 at 4:14 pm

He has two uncles each of whom was a Nobel Prize winners: Paul Samuelson and Ken Arrow. Summers was to the economic manor born.

PlutoniumKun , March 7, 2019 at 6:01 pm

Wow, I'd no idea of that. Whatever about Samuelson (yes, I suffered through his textbook), Arrow did some very interesting and incisive work. I guess Summers was, as the Vietnamese would say 'second rice crop'.

charles 2 , March 8, 2019 at 12:50 am

'how did Larry Summers get to his esteemed position in the first place?'

Larry Summers became a famous economist like Donald Trump became a famous property developer : through family

From his own website :

"I remember the fall night in 1972, after Kenneth was awarded the Nobel Prize. The other American Nobel Prize winner at that moment, Paul Samuelson, also my uncle, hosted a party for Kenneth and the Cambridge economics community. I was a sophomore economics major at MIT, so I was hardly appropriate company for such an august gathering, but I was a little unique in being related to both the host and the honoree, so I was invited and I participated as best I could in the conversation."

timbers , March 7, 2019 at 11:39 am

Reminds me a scene in John Carpenter's Christine: "There's no smoking in this garage!" the owner says having gotten up from a card game where all his buddies are sitting around a table waiting for him to rejoin them, as they all smoke." "Sir, those men over there are smoking. You better them them to stop."

Jerry B , March 7, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Here is an article discussing the recent dust up on MMT:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johntharvey/2019/03/05/mmt-sense-or-nonsense/

From the article a quote from Keynes:

"The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds."

And this from the author of the article:

"Those prominent economists aren't even so much rejecting MMT as holding tight to their own orthodox views. This is not necessarily on purpose, but it's extremely difficult for anyone to make a paradigm shift. MMT, aka macroeconomics done properly, is, as Keynes says, "extremely simple and should be obvious." The problem we have here is the difficulty in escaping from antiquated notions of macro modeling (Krugman), inflation (Summers), and debt financing (Rogoff)."

I think one of the problems we have in this country and the world is that what we think of as the mainstream educational model is actually socialization, indoctrination, brainwashing, and or ideological training. And then "jobs" are based on how well you bought in to that brainwashing.

Various education reformers over the past decades such as Ivan Illich and John Taylor Gatto have mentioned similar critiques of education in the US and the world in that our educational system does not foster problem solving and critical thinking.

It is my belief that our educational system creates a type of false self in people. In order to get the "right" answers and do well on tests, etc, you have to compromise your truth, your experience, and your true self and allow yourself to be programmed in the particular models of your profession.

Maybe in Summers, Hillary, and Trump's case, as they have gotten older that "programming memory/false self" is starting to become fractured due to cognitive decline, physical issues, stress, fatigue, etc. and as they desperately try to regurgitate their brainwashing it is coming out in an incoherent mess.

As Summers is only 64, before Yves jumps on me for equating cognitive decline with being older or in one's 60's I think it is specific to each individual. I just turned 60 and my brain is as sharp as ever, it is my body that is slowing the train down!!

To illustrate my point, a while back I read Anthony Atkinson's book, Inequality: What Can Be Done? He mentions in the book that Greg Mankiw's Principle of Micro/Macro economics textbooks have very little on the subject of inequality. How could a mainstream textbook on economics not have a significant portion on inequality?? IMO because in Mankiw's case inequality does not fit his ideology.

NC has a way of posting articles the same day that can be connected. I think this post can be related to the " Is a Harvard MBA Bad for You?" post. The MBA becomes brainwashing. Instead of trying to solve a problem MBA'ers and other professions try to fit the ideology of what they were taught in school to the problem.

To use an analogy: there are usually multiple routes to get from one town to the other. It does not always have to be the "main road". Sometimes the main road is not always the fastest, shortest, etc. And sometimes by taking the same road all the time, one's perspective becomes narrow and hinders thinking outside of the box.

To borrow Henry Ford's quote: "It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning."

After decades of allowing ourselves to be brainwashed, I think we are starting to, as J.D. Alt mentions above, "question the scripts" and are finding them to be a house of cards.

Susan the Other , March 7, 2019 at 2:32 pm

Well you are just a kid. I'm 72 and I think I'm a family blogging genius but it could be just the first symptom. Whatever I'm going to tell you guys what I think about this stuff until I get politely censored. I never studied economics – but I studied languages until words were falling out of my ears. And in my lexicon Larry doesn't even have the integrity of an idiot. Sometimes an idiot is spot on. Larry is a deceptive, self-serving power tripper dedicated to a time gone by and never to return. Too bad.

Jerry B , March 7, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Thanks Susan! Recently I went to my doctor and he asked me how I was feeling. I said physiological (my term for non-skeletal) I am 40. Structurally (arthritis, herniated discs, etc. etc.) I feel like I am 70!

===but I studied languages until words were falling out of my ears===

I have always had an intuitive sense for language. Verbal and non verbal language. The words used, tone, inflections, etc. Andrew Carnegie once said that the older he became the less he paid attention to what people said and the more he paid attention to their behavior. And I think that is partly true but language is important.

And as you mention language can be used to convey power. Pierre Bourdieu wrote Language and Symbolic Power which I have been wanting to read. I have also skimmed through some of Michel Foucault's work on discourse analysis.

Also I have read some of Kenneth Burke's work such as A Grammar of Motive's and A Rhetoric of Motives. After reading Burke's books I became more curious about people's motives behind their language and behavior, and also the idea of rhetoric. IMO Obama is a master at rhetoric and hence could fool a lot of people, while Trump sucks at it.

If you have not done so already I suggest looking up the Logical Fallacies links on NC's policies page. I believe a lot of language uses for power are in snowing the public in using arguments or propaganda that contain logical fallacies and heuristics. I have learned a lot in examining what people say and their arguments from NC.

Grant , March 7, 2019 at 12:18 pm

Yeah, I found what he said to be absolutely absurd. He seems to believe that MMT describes something we might do, as opposed to explaining how things are, at least in countries like the US. If he can't understand, or pretends to not understand, the difference between a country owing money in a foreign currency versus issuing bonds in a country's own currency, and the actual role of bonds in the US system or how money is actually created, then he isn't trying. Cause, whatever we want to say about Summers and all he represents, he isn't a stupid man. I haven't seen a single critique of MMT from the likes of Krugman or Summers that demonstrates that they understand the thing they think they are critiquing, or that they understand how things actually work. In response to MMT, they either respond with some models that they were taught that aren't based in reality, or they just lie about MMT. It is the economic version of people like Pelosi lying about single payer in the political sphere using ridiculous logic.

That, to me, is frightening, given how much power he has and who he has been hired to give advice to. People like Summers seem to freak out, really when you look at it, by the fact that we are questioning a fantasy account of how things are. They want to continue to make policies on the assumption that things are in reality what they say they are in their models, and there is a huge gap between the assumptions in their models and reality. If he were to acknowledge the insights from MMT about how things work, many of the excuses those in power have for doing nothing as the country falls apart would crumble, and those doing nothing are then more directly responsible for the impact of their policies. Once you realize that they are not investing in communities being neglected by private interests, they aren't investing in things needed to deal with the environmental crisis, they aren't helping to fund programs to get people healthcare or things like clean water (communities like Flint say hello) because they are paid by interests to do those things, and for ideological and class reasons, they can no longer pretend that the government "can't afford" those things. The debate switches to a place they don't want to be in, and they are then more responsible for the decisions they make. It is no longer about circumstances forcing themselves on these worthless politicians.

skippy , March 7, 2019 at 1:26 pm

Larry Summer: We Print Our Own Money

Published on Apr 3, 2014

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuqQ3FZuSUs

I also think some need to observe that Keynes was not a Keynesian in the manner that mainstream use the IS-LM. One is the use of econometrics and the other is the IS-LM was a – starting point – of observation that needed more fleshing out and not some "economic law [tm] carried down the mount.

Would additionally point out good old Ralph Musgrave over at TJN proclaiming his long support for MMT with caveats, sadly anyone with with a functional memory would know key MMT'ers stance with Musgrave does not support those claims.

PS. great start to the day 50kg black German Sheppard just bound up on the bed – all wet – and wanted to share his eagerness for the day .

Gary Gray , March 7, 2019 at 3:36 pm

Keynes believed in governments planning more investment, especially during down times. This is the blunder modern day "sheep" don't understand. It isn't deficits that matter, but pushing the investment into usage/production. Deficits like we have now are nothing more than public debt underwriting private debt expansion via financial engineering. Of course market statists would hate the government with a bigger % of total investment, as they would lose control of the economic system and bow to the will of another.

Its amazing how dopamine release and other "feel good" consumption based games and circuses so rules the people. All they live for is the fix. The bourgeois sells it them as "their fix", "their ownership" of said fix while they rake in profits and destroy the environment. Truly like the Roman end times. No wonder the Christians are so worried. They see themselves replaced like the old rituals and traditions that proceeded it.

WestcoastDeplorable , March 7, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Yves, I'm not a MMT fan, but you're spot-on about Summers. Didn't he lose the Harvard Endowment over $1 Billion with his "sage management"? He's an idiot.

skippy , March 7, 2019 at 2:28 pm

One would think after the Chicago boys foray with Born and its after math people would question the use of such people as PR tools – well must be running dry.

Suggest you look into the groundings of MMT and not emotive processes – see link above. Keynes started a process to refute orthodox thinking, seems some post morte folded parts [tm] into orthodox thinking so they could own – manage that perspective. Hence when needed mainstream will utilize Keynes to say money is not a problem and then completely reverse azimuth and say Keynes said money is a problem ..

Can't wait till they take Marx out of context to support some elitist social views ..

Grant , March 7, 2019 at 3:03 pm

I am curious, just want to know. When you say you aren't a fan of MMT, what is the reason? I am interested in good critiques of its insights, just hard to come by, since it does seem to describe present really pretty well.

Adam1 , March 7, 2019 at 2:25 pm

As with most "serious economists" he's really an overpaid fraud. The man professes to understand government deficits, yet he has no idea how the accounting works.

From Warren Mosler
"Several years ago I had a meeting with Senator Tom Daschle and then Asst. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. I had been discussing these innocent frauds with the Senator, and explaining how they were working against the well being of those who voted for him. So he set up this meeting with the Asst. Treasury Secretary who was also a former Harvard economics professor and had two uncles who had won Nobel prizes in economics, to get his response and hopefully confirm what I was saying.

I opened with a question: "Larry, what's wrong with the budget deficit?"

To which he replied: "It takes away savings that could be used for investment".

To which I replied: "No it doesn't, all Treasury securities do is offset operating factors at the Fed. It has nothing to do with savings and investment".

To which he replied: "Well, I really don't understand reserve accounting so I can't discuss it at that level".

Senator Daschle was looking at all this in disbelief. The Harvard professor of economics Asst. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers didn't understand reserve accounting? Sad but true."

Susan the Other , March 7, 2019 at 3:06 pm

Note to Larry, please follow this logic: Money is Fiat; Fiat is cooperation; Cooperation is fiscal control; and fiscal control is civilization. Nowhere in this chain of thought does debt; interest; austerity; or any of your other little techniques even exist. Those bizarre ideas exist in more primitive thinking about power and slavery and savage exploitation. You know the routine.

Gary Gray , March 7, 2019 at 3:19 pm

Maybe, but debt expansion is debt expansion. Globally debt exhaustion looks to have been reached and we are at the top of the mountain. We are at the first stage, the next stage is what triggers the recession. The last stage, the Minsky moment.

Summers is a cluck, but a useful one in this case. The move from a mixed economy to financial engineering is very addictive to the "people". Moving back to a mixed economy won't be all giggles for everybody as consumption is naturally cut.

Like all junkies, the detox won't be easy and in some cases, fatal.

Susan the Other , March 8, 2019 at 10:09 am

Yes, it is what is so frightening about our current breakdown. Debt is the whole system. It was necessary to maintain that system. But there's no reason why debt can't be put in what banksters call a "bad bank" and just let it run off the books. It can all be done in some resolution that forgives some and allows some to linger without interfering in the economy anymore. There will always be private debt, so caveat friends and neighbors. But there's no reason to suffer an impossible debt burden as a sovereign nation. And from here on in we should not buy anything unless it can be purchased in US dollars/treasuries. The debt to ourselves doesn't matter. The thing that matters is how we spend our money, do we waste time on bad projects or do we create a more valuable civilization with good ones? Debt is just a monkeywrench, useful to gamblers and middlemen. We could configure a completely different economics with very little pain if we put our minds to it.

Samuel Conner , March 7, 2019 at 4:45 pm

I find it profoundly encouraging that it seems that the best that the best credentialed opponents of MMT can do is what is described here.

They aren't ridiculing MMT; they are embarrassing themselves.

KLG , March 7, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Another good link to Larry Summers, Serious Economist. I remembered this passage from Herman Daly's book, and the magic of DuckDuckGo found this. Long but worth the few minutes. NB, I don't know anything about this blogger:
https://sallywengrover.wordpress.com/tag/herman-daly/

Carey , March 7, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Yes, that was a good link. Bookmarked that site.

The Rev Kev , March 7, 2019 at 7:32 pm

Not much love for Larry Summers here – and rightly so. I remember reading a conversation that he was in where he explained how things worked. I'll see if I can summarize it-

Larry Summers is a serious person.
Important people listen to serious people.
This is how serious people express power – by having important people listen to them.
Golden rule is that serious people never criticize each other in public – ever.

I'm sure that people here can pick out the flaw in this arrangement – as in Garbage In, Garbage Out as far as important people are concerned and the information & opinions that they receive.

KLG , March 7, 2019 at 9:57 pm

I saw what you did there.

charles 2 , March 8, 2019 at 1:07 am

Seriously, what would you expect from a person who writes this at the first paragraph for his biography (emphasis mine) :
"Dr. Summers' tenure at the U.S. Treasury coincided with the longest period of sustained economic growth in U.S. history. He is the only Treasury Secretary in the last half century to have left office with the national budget in surplus . Dr. Summers has played a key role in addressing every major financial crisis for the last two decades."

Change "addressing" by "participating in the genesis of", and you are quite close to the truth

Susan the Other , March 8, 2019 at 10:19 am

Mmmm, and all that treasury surplus was accrued by Larry's Austerity which exponentiated the private debt and turned into the 2008 tsunami. Heck of a job, Larry.

Mike Barry , March 8, 2019 at 7:14 am

Larry Summers, a Serious Economist

"You cannot be serious." -- John Mcenroe

Stillfeelinthebern , March 8, 2019 at 9:30 pm

"Larry Summers, like Hillary Clinton, does not seem willing to get the message that it would behoove him to retreat from public life."

Love this sentence!

Fazal Majid , March 9, 2019 at 12:11 am

Larry Summers is useful as a canary. The day Obama appointed him as an adviser (before his inauguration) was the day I understood Obama would do diddly squat about fixing the root causes of the Great Recession.

The part I don't understand is how he gained his prominence, other than literal nepotism. You'd think the fact he lost Harvard's endowment a cool billion would have killed his career given how prominent Harvard grads are in the US' power structure.

Sound of the Suburbs , March 9, 2019 at 3:50 am

2008 was the wakeup call global policymakers slept through.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." Albert Einstein

This is exactly what we've been trying to do since 2008.

https://cdn.opendemocracy.net/neweconomics/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2017/04/Screen-Shot-2017-04-21-at-13.52.41.png

Our policymakers thought this was a "black swan", and if your economics doesn't consider debt it is.

One question led me to the answer. "How does money get destroyed in the system?"

This is what happened, how did it happen?

It can't happen if banks are financial intermediaries as our policymaker's believe.

Other people have been looking into this and so there is a lot of work that has already been done to help you get to the answer.

The central bankers later confirmed how money gets destroyed in the system.

https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/quarterly-bulletin/2014/money-creation-in-the-modern-economy.pdf

We were flying blind during globalisation and policymakers didn't understand the monetary system.

The FT revealed the Chinese were undertaking a major study of the West.

I think they must have worked out things are fundamentally wrong as they have made all the classic mistakes everyone else has made since 2008.

They have already worked out inflated asset prices and the private debt-to-GDP ratio are indicators of coming financial crises and these were the indicators that showed 1929 and 2008 were coming.

By the time they understood what was going on the Minsky Moment was dead ahead, and they could no longer use the debt fuelled growth model they had used before.

When US policymakers understand the monetary system they may be able to make some valid comments.

[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.

[Feb 02, 2019] As goes January, so goes the year Old Wall Street indicator puts odds of 2019 gain at more than 80% by Patti Domm

This is a classic, textbook example of financial astrology... You probably should read it in full to appreciate the depth of junk science here. But this is financial casino my friends, and they try to entice you with naked girls and drinks...
Feb 01, 2019 | finance.yahoo.com

Stocks had their best January gains in more than 30 years, and that should mean 2019 will be a pretty good year for the market.

That's what the widely watched January barometer tells you - as goes January, so goes the year. According to Stock Trader's Almanac, going back to 1950, that metric of January's performance predicting the year has worked 87 percent of the time with only nine major errors, through 2017. In the years January was positive, going back to 1945, the market ended higher 83 percent of the time, according to CFRA.

But the indicator also signaled a positive year last year, and the market suffered an unusual late-year sell-off, wiping out all of the gains. The S&P 500 ended 2018 down 6.6 percent, despite rising 5.6 percent in January. But the S&P also defied history with a terrible December decline of 9.6 percent , the biggest loss for the final month of the year since 1931.

This January, the S&P 500 was up 7.9 percent. The best January performance since 1987, when it rose 13.2 percent. It was its best overall month since October 2015.

Some market pros worry the sharp snapback in stocks since the late December low means January could be stealing the gains from the rest of the year. Some also believe there could be another test at lower levels in the not too distant future. Yet, Wall Street forecasters have a median target of 2,950 for the S&P 500 at year end, a big leap from the current 2,704.

"I'm still struck between the contrast of a year ago and now," said James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthhold Group. "We came in last year with nothing but optimism. At this point last year, we had synchronized global growth, confidence had spiked to record post-war highs, and everyone knew we had this steroid-induced earnings boost coming. The thought was how could stocks lose, and of course they did."

The market has sprung back from December's low, with the S&P gaining 15 percent since Dec. 26.

"This year, we came in with nothing but bad news - the economy was slowing down. ... The rest of the world is slowing. We have trade wars. We have the shutdown, and analysts are revising earnings lower," Paulsen added. "We're worried about a recession and a bear market. It's strikingly different, and yet it's kind of like how can stocks win, but they are and I think they will."

Strategists also point to the differences in the way the market traded in each January. This January has been full of volatile swings, with ultimately larger gains than losses. Last year, the market was at the end of a long smooth glide path higher.

Last year didn't work

Stocks did well through most of January 2018, but by the end of the month, a correction started. "On January 30, in 2018, it was the first 1 percent decline in 112 days. That was basically the start of the fall off the cliff. In terms of percent gains, this January is similar to last, but in terms of where we've come from, it's very different. That was one of the calmest advances in history," said Frank Cappelleri, executive director at Instinet.

Cappelleri said it's important to put this year's market move in context, when considering the January barometer. "You have one of the biggest snapbacks after a very bad December, so the odds were in the market's favor to do better than that. I think maybe you have to look where we are now. You're up 15, 20 percent from the low depending on where you look. Are we going to go up that much more for the rest of the year?" he said.

Paulsen sees the gains continuing, after a possible pause. "I think it's going to continue to be a fairly good year, and I think we probably go up and get close to the highs or 3,000 on the S&P, and I'm not expecting hardly anything on the economy, and earnings are going to be weak, if not flat or maybe down," Paulsen said.

He said the slowing economy and a potential U.S.-China trade deal could push the dollar down and that would be a positive for stocks. At the same time, the Fed has paused in interest rate hikes and may even stop its balance sheet unwind.

Jeff Hirsch, editor-in-chief of the Stock Trader's Almanac, said there's another set of statistics that are in the market's favor for a positive 2019, though they also failed last year. He said for the years when the S&P 500 was positive in the first five days of the year, plus gained during the Santa rally period, and was up for the month of January, the S&P 500 had a positive year 27 out of 30 times. It also had an average gain of 17.1 percent in those years, since 1950.

Nick 29 minutes ago

Job growth is solid. Unemployment remains near all time lows even while labor force participation increases. Wage growth outpaced inflation last year. The economy is humming right along...its just the liberal media wants to bombard us with articles claiming the Trump recession is imminent.

I'm surprised they actually published an article sayings its going to be a good year.

[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 12, 2019] Arthur Laffer is the idiotic tax-cut patron saint economist of the Grand Old Phonies who helped Ronnie Reagan raid the US Treasury for the uber-wealthy.

Jan 12, 2019 | www.nytimes.com

Socrates Downtown Verona. NJ Jan. 5

To anyone who thinks that the Republican Party knows a thing about economics or business: you're delusional. Republicans know a tremendous amount about greed, theft and selfishness. Arthur Laffer is the idiotic tax-cut patron saint economist of the Grand Old Phonies who helped Ronnie Reagan raid the US Treasury for the uber-wealthy.

George W Bush re-implemented Laffer-economics and drove the nation into a Depression.

Trump and the GOP are in the process of driving America over another bankrupting 0.1% welfare tax-cut cliff -- remember it took Bush-Cheney a good seven years to do it.

And guess who recently helped drive Kansas bankrupt with tax cuts for the rich ?

GOP tax-cut saint Arthur Laffer. He helped former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) pass tax cuts through the Kansas legislature. In August 2012, Laffer promised a crowd at a small business forum in Kansas that the cuts would produce "enormous prosperity," adding that they'll "make a big difference in a decade." They did make a big difference.

Kansas employment and the Kansas state economy both grew slower than the national rates, and the drastic decline in tax revenue coming into the state's treasury blew a gigantic hole in its budget.

Kansas reversed the destructive tax cuts in order save Kansas. The lesson is plain and simple and happens over and over again. Republicans are economic wrecking balls hellbent on destroying society for corrupt billionaires. D to go forward. R for nationally-assisted suicide.

[Jan 07, 2019] Joining a Group Makes Us Nastier to Outsiders

Notable quotes:
"... By Michal Bauer, Associate Professor of Economics, CERGE-EI and Charles University; Jana Cahlíková, Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance; Dagmara Celik Katreniak, Assistant Professor, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow; Julie Chytilová, Associate Professor of Economics, Charles University; Researcher, CERGE-EI; Lubomír Cingl, Assistant Professor, University of Economics, Prague; and Tomáš Želinský, Associate Professor, Technical University of Košice. Originally published at VoxEU ..."
"... The economic consensus is that groups behave in a more self-regarding way than individuals, which affects their members' decision-making. This column describes new evidence from experiments in Slovakia and Uganda that supports an alternative hypothesis from social psychology that simply being a member of a group makes us more anti-social to outsiders. Within-group cohesion in organisations may also have a dark side, fostering hostility to outsiders. ..."
"... See original post for references ..."
"... anti social ..."
Jan 07, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Joining a Group Makes Us Nastier to Outsiders Posted on January 5, 2019 by Yves Smith By Michal Bauer, Associate Professor of Economics, CERGE-EI and Charles University; Jana Cahlíková, Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance; Dagmara Celik Katreniak, Assistant Professor, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow; Julie Chytilová, Associate Professor of Economics, Charles University; Researcher, CERGE-EI; Lubomír Cingl, Assistant Professor, University of Economics, Prague; and Tomáš Želinský, Associate Professor, Technical University of Košice. Originally published at VoxEU

The economic consensus is that groups behave in a more self-regarding way than individuals, which affects their members' decision-making. This column describes new evidence from experiments in Slovakia and Uganda that supports an alternative hypothesis from social psychology that simply being a member of a group makes us more anti-social to outsiders. Within-group cohesion in organisations may also have a dark side, fostering hostility to outsiders.

Plato wrote about the limits of democracy, as did the founding fathers of the American constitution. More recently, social scientists have also worried about the dynamics of group decision-making, speculating that being part of a group may increase the motivation to harm outsiders and destroy social welfare. The causal effect of group membership on decision-making has been prominent on the research agenda in behavioural economics in the past 20 years, partly because so many political, military, and business decisions are made by groups rather than individuals.

Across many laboratory experiments, a pattern has emerged. Group decisions are less pro-social and cooperative than individual decisions. Groups are less willing to sacrifice their resources to increase social welfare, or to achieve a fair allocation. The consensus interpretation is that groups behave in a more self-regarding way. They are more likely to maximise a group payoff, and disregard the welfare of others (Charness and Sutter 2012, Kugler et al. 2012).

It is usually assumed that group members communicate among themselves, helping them to recognise a profit-maximising strategy. This interpretation suggests that group decisions can be modelled as more rational and less 'behavioural' than individual decisions, an important implication for economic theory.

Why Are Groups Less Cooperative Than Individuals?

Our recent paper (Bauer et al. 2018) uses an alternative explanation for the difference in cooperative behaviour of groups, compared to individuals. Social psychologists have a long-standing hypothesis that simply being a member of a group may inspire aggressively competitive anti-social behaviour (Durlauf 1999, Hewstone et al. 2002, Sambanis et al. 2012).

This hypothesis implies that groups do not cooperate less because they are self-regarding, but because they are more inclined to cause harm to outsiders – even at a cost to themselves. We define anti-social behaviour as non-strategic destructive behaviour that is costly for the decision maker, reduces welfare of others, and is not a response to inequality or a hostile behaviour of a counterpart. Experiments in previous research, including the Prisoners' Dilemma game, Trust game, and Dictator game, were designed to measure the positive side of human social behaviour. They do not, however, distinguish whether a lack of willingness to cooperate or share has been caused by greater selfishness, or by this anti-social behaviour.

These distinctions matter if one wants to predict willingness to engage in self-destructive conflict:

Being anti-social is very different from being self-regarding. Economic agents motivated purely by self-interest will destroy the resources of others only when they stand to gain. But there is much more scope for harming others if they also derive utility from relative status or feel pleasure from beating an opponent. It is also important to understand whether simply being placed into a group creates an 'us versus them' psychology that influences behaviour of group members, or whether the behavioural difference is an outcome of deliberation. If the mere fact of deciding in a group makes an individual more willing to cause harm, a broad range of situations may create an increased tendency to behave anti-socially.

Measuring Anti-Social Behaviour

Our experiments were conducted among large and diverse samples of adolescents in two very different settings – Uganda (N=1,679) and Slovakia (N=630) – using a comparable design. We compare the (anti-)social behaviour of individuals, and the team decision of groups made up of three randomly selected individuals.

The experiment is designed to distinguish self-regarding from anti-social motivations, and also to decompose the overall group effect into the effect of group decision-making, and the effect of the group context on individual behaviour.

To do so, we complement the prisoners' dilemma game, a standard experiment to measure willingness to cooperate, with the joy of destruction game, an experiment that uncovers anti-social behaviour.

Also, to separate the effects of group context on individual behaviour and the effect of group deliberation and decision-making, we elicit individual choices made in isolation, preferences of individual group members for group decisions before a group deliberation, and the ultimate group decisions.

Groups Behave More Anti-Socially Than Individual Decision-Makers

Groups are less likely than individuals to cooperate in the prisoners' dilemma game, in line with findings in previous experiments. Importantly, however, they are also more likely to harm opponents in the joy of destruction game, in which the dominant strategy for self-regarding agents is not to engage in destructive behaviour. This is primarily due to a greater prevalence of anti-social behaviour among groups.

The stronger anti-social behaviour of groups as compared to individuals cannot be explained by differences in beliefs, reciprocal motives, inequality aversion or diffusion of individual responsibility. Groups are more willing than individuals to pay to cause harm even when they respond to a kind act from an experimental counterpart, and when destroying resources increases inequality.

Furthermore, anti-social behaviour in a group setting is elevated simultaneously with willingness to enter competition with outsiders, as measured in the competitiveness game in Uganda (Niederle and Vesterlund 2007). Together, these findings indicate that individuals in groups are more aggressively competitive.

Decomposing the overall group effects shows that both the group context as well as deliberation among group members matter. Group context makes individuals more willing to engage in anti-social behaviour and to compete, whereas the group decision-making slightly increases the prevalence of self-regarding choices.

All these effects are strikingly similar across the Slovak (Figure 1) and Ugandan (Figure 2) samples, suggesting that the preference for competing aggressively when deciding in a group is a deeply rooted response.

Figure 1 Slovakia: The effect of group decision-making on choices in the joy of destruction game and the prisoners' dilemma game

Source : Bauer et al. (2018).

Figure 2 Uganda: The effect of group decision-making on choices in the joy of destruction game and the prisoners' dilemma game

Source : Bauer et al. (2018).

Concluding Remarks

Earlier research on identity has shown that creating coherent teams fosters efficiency in military and business-oriented organisations (Akerlof and Kranton 2005, Goette et al. 2006, Costa and Kahn 2001), by making in-group cooperation easier. Our results suggest that this may come at the expense of aggressive competitiveness against members of other groups.

This may help to explain the ubiquity of inter-group violence (Blattman and Miguel 2014) or mutually destructive competition within and across firms. It also strengthens the case for policies to counteract narrow group identities.

Competitiveness also has an import role when determining individual career choices. Economists are attempting to identify factors which may foster competitiveness in individuals (Gneezy et al. 2009, Andersen et al. 2013, Almås et al. 2015) and design institutions that help to close gender gaps in willingness to compete (Sutter et al. 2016, Niederle et al. 2013, Balafoutas and Sutter 2012). Our findings show that the factor that increases willingness to enter competitive environment also raises anti-social behaviour, and thus suggests there is a potential trade-off. Competitive environments may lead to efficiency gains in some settings, but also to more socially harmful behaviour.

See original post for references

witters , January 5, 2019 at 4:12 am

So individuals without group loyalty are intrinsically better people?

Sound of the Suburbs , January 5, 2019 at 4:58 am

Labour unions were never very co-operative and kept looking after the interests of their members.

Big business realised they needed to smash the unions.

The Rev Kev , January 5, 2019 at 5:05 am

When I want good advice on brickwork, I would ask for advice from a bricklayer. I would certainly not go looking for advice on bricks from an upholsterer. In the same vein, if I was looking for solid information on a sociological issue, I would not necessarily go believing people with a background in economics or tax law & finance as is the case here. The general point of this article seems to be either the justification of the atomization of individuals or an anti-democratic diatribe showing how certain individuals are better qualified than others.
They may try to use the prisoners' dilemma game or the the joy of destruction game as proof of their thoughts but sociologists have shown the falsehood of applying western standard games to other countries when these standards were found to be entirely based in ( http://hci.ucsd.edu/102b/readings/WeirdestPeople.pdf ) Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) people.
Humans are social animals which is why they do not generally cope well when put alone. That is why solitary confinement is regarded as a punishment. Groups may be more likely to maximize a group payoff and disregard the welfare of others but that is a flexible concept and not set in cement. In fact, it is scalable. As an example, take a look at Afghanistan which is normally full of infighting. There, they say me against my brother, my brother and I against our cousin, my brother and I and our cousin against the outsider. See? These groups are scalable.
They do mention cohesive groups with the military but miss the significance. Military organization is based on the squad which is the basic building block and as akin to a hunting band. Back in Roman times it was called a Contubernium which shows how long this basic organizational principle has been working. Next up is the company which is an analogue to an extended family. Above that is the battalion which is an analogue to the maximum number of people that you can know i.e. a tribe. The Romans had the Cohort here and the British had the Regiment. All these organizations are built on the foundations of basic human psychology and cannot be ignored or refuted as the authors do here.

Norb , January 5, 2019 at 8:29 am

Trouble is introduced when sociopathic individuals gain control of the organizational structures that you describe. My experience is that most people are reasonable, but can be easily manipulated to perform questionable tasks. It is a question of leadership and social goals.

During a crisis, there are individuals dedicated to turning towards the direction of crisis, while the majority can be seen running in the opposite direction due to raw self-preservation. Fire, police, medical, and military services are just some examples.

Economists in a neoliberal era are the last people to turn to for answers to social ills. Their worldview and sentiment created the problems in the first place and perpetuate the continuance of suffering on many levels.

Gambling and speculating must be relegated to a much lower level of social acceptance then what is tolerated today. It truly is madness.

Brooklin Bridge , January 5, 2019 at 11:43 am

:-) If it was news you wanted, would you go to a reporter or anchor (Rachel Maddow comes to mind) first or would you go instead to a financial analyst and economist that has started her own blog with a name that might even be considered racy by some? (thinking NC here). :-)

Couldn't resist, though I agree with your conclusions. Whether it's the substance of an argument first and source credibility second or visa-versa would seem to depend on context at the very least.

knowbuddhau , January 5, 2019 at 3:15 pm

Amen, Rev! On the provenance of horsessh!t, tho, as in that post about NYC sidewalks, who better than an economist to ask? This economist's assumptions about human nature just reek.

In social psychology, Baiting Crowd and Bystander Apathy research looked into this, too. Leon Festinger et al described Deindividuaion beginning in the mid 50s. Robert Wicklund delved into Objective vs Subjective Self-Awareness.

Kitty Genovese was murdered in her NYC apartment, while many witnesses heard her screams. The Group failed her. Crowds often egg on people signifying suicide. We do things, when masked, we don't dare do when known.

It was thought that, the more one felt as a singular, individuated, objectively defineable, person-in-society, the more pro-social would be ones behavior. When we're knowing ourselves subjectively, especially if we "lose ourself" in a crowd, we're more selfish and willing to "go off the reservation."

I went down the Empathic Altruism Hypothesis rabbit hole. Turns out, it meets up with sociobiology's Reciprocal Altruism.

Back to basics: how do groups work? First, you can't draw a one-sided distinction; for every inside, there's an outside. Ingroup/outgroup arise mutually. As soon as you think, "I am!", in that same moment, there They are.

Us "versus" them is fundamentally flawed: it's Us&Them. The proper basis for being human, in ones self and in society, is compassion. Naturally, amirite?

Tommy S. , January 6, 2019 at 9:15 am

just one note .the kitty story was mostly false since the beginning .much new info on web now..

Barry , January 6, 2019 at 12:06 pm

Humans are social animals which is why they do not generally cope well when put alone.

On top of meaning humans don't cope well alone, being social animals means we are evolved to be parts of groups. A corollary to that is that we know how to be part of the group; how to process group interests as well as personal interests. This includes not only an adjustment of the prioritization of options but an awareness of who is in-group and who is out-group.

Any model of political economy that denies this or posits that it is a problem to be overcome is starting from false premises that will lead to false conclusions.

But pushing individualism on the world makes perfect sense to me as a ploy by a very powerful in-group (e.g. the Kochtopus) to dissipate the power and threat of other groups (governments, communities, unions ).

Steve H. , January 5, 2019 at 6:23 am

The Naked Capitalism commentariat is the best commentariat.

Louos Fyne , January 5, 2019 at 7:09 am

You beat me to post the exact same thing.

Unfortunately people here lean/skew/are open-minded to be iconoclasts. need a spine and smarts to be one.

Unfortunate cuz (arguably) humans are default programmed to herd behavior.

Donald , January 5, 2019 at 10:47 am

Yeah, me too. Though I really do think this group is less bad than others. The commentariat at The American Conservative is the best commentariat anywhere, because the ideological range is very wide and the best commenters there have some respect for each other despite their differences. They become smarter, able to see common ground where it exists.

But most blog comment sections are extremely tribal. Step even slightly outside the local consensus and you will be mobbed.

Simeon Hope , January 6, 2019 at 2:17 am

I've found that, too. I'm atheist and over several years I've tried commenting in various atheist blogs and forums. They seem to be highly sensitive to even small criticisms, such as my suggesting that not all believers are evil. Usually, they instantly block me.

Arizona Slim , January 5, 2019 at 7:52 am

Does this mean that we are a group?

diptherio , January 5, 2019 at 9:15 am

Yeah! Now who wants to go beat the tar out of some those Marginal Revolution commenters? Some may say that it will make us look bad, but I say they've got it coming!

Craig H. , January 5, 2019 at 11:32 am

Isn't Zero Hedge the preferred hangout of people we throw bricks at?

Also Groucho Marxists.

Dave , January 5, 2019 at 7:38 am

Funny, I have always said to my spouse and kids I am skeptical and not fond of our species on a global scale. On an individual basis I am quite good at being accepting and open to dialogue and interaction.

This article helps me understand my predicament.

Samuel , January 6, 2019 at 11:39 pm

Theoretical background:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realistic_conflict_theory

Potential solution:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superordinate_goals

David , January 5, 2019 at 8:03 am

I'm not impressed, because this provides us with absolutely no insights into how groups behave in real life. And Plato thought that democracy led to tyranny, not to bad behaviour to outsiders.
There's a huge anthropological and historical literature to do with how groups actually function, and their functioning depends on the surrounding circumstances, the nature of the group and the way in which it came together. The authors could have started by reading some of it.
The fundamental distinction is between groups which arise naturally (usually based on territory, ethnicity, family relations), groups which arise by affiliation (religious, political, trades unions etc) and groups which are thrown together in response to some threat or difficult circumstances. There's obviously some overlap. In general, groups set up in opposition to others, or to protect against others will be, by their very nature, hostile. So various sorts of Marxist groups, feminists, religious factions etc. who take as a point of departure that they are right and others are wrong, and that they are threatened and must stick together, will almost by definition be hostile to outsiders. A reading circle, a charitable association, or even just a traditional community will be much less so.
In addition, groups cooperate with each other according to rules. The Arabic proverb cited by the Rev is a case in point, and the organisation of tribal life in the Middle East and South Asia (including Afghanistan) is highly complex and goes well beyond the simple dichotomies proposed here. In fact, it's hardly worth continuing to pick holes on this study – go and research something where you are qualified, guys.

pjay , January 5, 2019 at 8:51 am

"There's a huge anthropological and historical literature to do with how groups actually function "

That's one of the key problems. Experimental research like this, even with a cross-cultural sample of subjects, is supposedly designed to filter out such messy anthropological, historical, or sociological (Rev Kev) factors. Such social psychological research can be informative if the limits are recognized. But when artificial lab games are projected as objective reality without social context, you have problems similar to those in the economics Yves and NC so effectively criticize.

hemeantwell , January 5, 2019 at 8:28 am

Whew, this is sure a horse that's been around the track a few times.

Back in the Studies in Prejudice days in the mid-20th c, the idea was that tendencies of this sort can be weakened if individuals, or the group itself, is aware of the tendency. Social science isn't about describing our fate, it's about helping us to liberate ourselves from it.

Off The Street , January 5, 2019 at 9:28 am

Leaders play a role and influence their groups. If notions of good faith and fair play are deemed important, for example, then they stand a better chance of being communicated and enforced through a type of group ethic. History has shown that people individually and in groups are quite capable of rising above their worst tendencies. That takes work. It may be instructive to identify the malign influences and influencers that undermine human dignity.

pjay , January 5, 2019 at 10:42 am

"Social science isn't about describing our fate, it's about helping us to liberate ourselves from it."

"History has shown that people individually and in groups are quite capable of rising above their worst tendencies. That takes work. It may be instructive to identify the malign influences and influencers that undermine human dignity."

Thanks for these statements. In my opinion, the best social scientists always recognize this. The worst ones claim to have discovered the "fundamental" causes of human behavior, social organization, history, etc. and derive their theories accordingly.

Brooklin Bridge , January 5, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Some of this is just common sense and depends on such things as whether or not the group in question perceives the interaction with outsiders to be beneficial or harmful. When tourists first started going to Spain after it's civil war, they were largely accepted quite well since they were bringing desperately needed money with them and since they were not all that obtrusive. As the numbers swelled by the 70's, and particularly as the tourists themselves became more obnoxious; USA, USA, nasty-fat-and-drunk-all-day, the sentiment of the general population changed quite a bit and might even have been considered, anti social .

JW , January 5, 2019 at 3:33 pm

What a bit of America-bashing.

American tourists to Spain are vastly outnumbered by European tourists. 2.7 million US while 18.8 million UK, 11.9 million German, 11.3 million France, and millions more from other countries.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_Spain

The objections to tourism everywhere are locals being priced out of housing and other markets, and the dubious economic value of all these low-wage and highly seasonal jobs.

Not to mention, between the Spanish Civil war and the 1970s, the country was ruled by a fascist dictatorship, which might have had something to do with blunting criticism of tourism or anything else, if what you said were true.

Brooklin Bridge , January 5, 2019 at 5:55 pm

Oh please. While not all Americans were obnoxious, those who were had such a knack for it that they tended to color people's perception of them in general. The obnoxious ones were truly odious; they certainly didn't need me to bash them. They did a magnificent job of that all by themselves. In close to a decade of living abroad, I never once saw any other nationality pull off what an obnoxious American could do in 5 minutes flat (and back then I could have produced at least two – and probably more – European tour guides that would have corroborated that point without a heart beat of hesitation – but with endless stories).

As to numbers, I didn't in any way limit them to national origin in my comment; my reference to Americans was hardly exclusive except for the obnoxious ones (and I stick by that). That said, 1) at a certain point, sheer numbers of ALL tourists did indeed have a highly negative effect and were often perceived as the cause of the points you made as well as a host of others – such as making the Spanish feel inferior, like servants 2) the obnoxious foreigners always stood out even when they were not the majority and yes they were more often than not of North American origin. My point was that groups react to externals depending on what benefit or harm they perceive the outsiders bring, and my experience in Spain tended to support the claim that sufficiently large numbers was a significant marker and either caused or exacerbated negative issues (such as resource inflation). Such inflation won't occur without the numbers.

I lived in Spain in 1969 and spoke fluently enough, back then alas, to have all night discussions with friends who pulled no punches in describing a general attitude towards Americans that went well beyond the general discomfort they felt with the general hordes of tourists (of all nationalities).

These people were terrified of Franco – they literally wouldn't talk about him, often even among themselves. But about tourists, and Americans in particular? They loved to talk about them – and they had an almost affectionate, if frustrated, way of characterizing Americans with a broad brush – because of the few – even while they understood perfectly – and usually with a healthy sense of humor – that such stereotypes were just that. But again, more generally, it was simply a numbers game.

polecat , January 5, 2019 at 1:57 pm

You wanna example of an extremely nasty group found nakedly exposed .. groping for credibility ??

I give you exhibit H ( for the Hate factor !! ) : the Integrity Initiative

If there ever was a more vile hive of scum and villainy

Samuel Conner , January 5, 2019 at 2:28 pm

I wonder whether it might be that groups are more likely to have antisocial decision-makers. Roughly 4% of the population is reckoned to have sociopathic traits. I read somewhere (maybe in Martha Stout's "The Sociopath Next Door") that the upper reaches of hierarchies tend to have more sociopaths than the population at large. Cooperators in a group led by antisocial leaders might tend to cooperate with antisocial group behavior when they would behave more pro-socially on their own.

shinola , January 5, 2019 at 2:44 pm

Not quite sure why, but this article made me think back to the recent articles about Libertarians and CalPERS.

Curious George , January 5, 2019 at 3:57 pm

Um from a purely instinctive level having been part of groups throughout my life (armed forces, faculty, political party, youth groups (formal and informal)) in different countries (continental Europe and NA) my first thought on reading the study was – of course. As is my second, third and fourth thought.

After all why do groups always form internal cultures, be that a uniform, ranks, language, behavioural patterns, or simple things such as greetings.

And if one really would like to see the ugliness of a group – be part of one and raise questions about the behaviour of the group while part of it. Fun times.

Human nature may impact our desire to form a group or be part of one but we should never loose sight of the individual. The study reinforces that notion.

Grebo , January 5, 2019 at 6:10 pm

Behavioural economics, baby steps.

I don't get the impression from this that the authors are advocating atomization. They are merely saying that previous economic assumptions are incorrect, and it's worse than they thought.

No-one else is surprised though.

dk , January 5, 2019 at 6:32 pm

Joining a group puts one in a better position to decline to interact with unreliable people.

The cohesion of a group demonstrates and consolidates trust within the group. If the group cannot collectively establish and maintain trust, it will collapse.

Outsiders have not participated in the group's trust-building, and are granted less initial trust. This is simple precaution.

So the article is pretty much an argument against verification of trust. It is not, as the authors assert, anti-social to evaluate trustworthiness, it normal and appropriate social behavior. Violation of trust, and bad faith activity generally, are anti-social behaviors, and groups form in part to recognize and discourage such activity.

Social behaviors take time, they are not instantaneous transactions and their resolutions generally remain dynamic (despite complaint of formalists). Thus, examinations of narrowly limited sets of events are without context, insufficient for the development of reliable conclusion about human behavior.

Steve K , January 6, 2019 at 8:44 am

The Rev Kev is correct about the insights from anthropology and some interpretive research, which throw into sharp relief the biases inherent in mainstream group and organizational studies, their bedrock theory of social identity theory (SIT), and SIT's primary investigative tool of the zero-history group.

At the center of SIT is the not necessarily true assumption that participants in experimental groups identify with a group, and that the "group" need be little more than a symbol (i.e., group A, team Red) the experimenter places upon test subjects ("participants" in today's language). Furthermore, in SIT experiments researchers "know" participants identify with a group by their decisions for or against an out-group, not as a result of any tangible observed relations and/or identification to the in-group. Those choices, meanwhile, occur in an artificial context where the status of "we" is under threat from a "them" in a zero-sum struggle for the group's perceived social value compared to others.

SIT is a powerful theory, in that it captures/creates simple situations, defined by intra-group conflict requiring either-or choices among individuals which collectively stand in place of actual collective decisions. It is a narrowly defined perspective, useful in limited cases. Despite those readily available facts, SIT has somehow grown to define how academic group/org research (and virtually all group/org research that get's funding) understand ALL groups.

SIT cannot measure the "group-ness" of the individuals it tests, much less any feature of the complex socio-cultural-political conditions that shape group membership, history, and relations. Studies such as the one reported here have little value outside of the laboratory, and zero relevance in the infinitely complex world of actually existing intra- and inter-group relations. Throw in a few economists from "The Church of Rational-Choice" and you've got a brew that fills the room with a fog of toxic speculation about how groups act in the world; a mist that, over the years, has escaped the learned journals and left a dirty film upon the minds of other specializations and general populations.

georgieboy , January 6, 2019 at 12:14 pm

Try Kevin MacDonald's works for intense scrutiny of in-group vs out-group conduct. Evolution and intentional direction of evolution (culture).

Temporarily Sane , January 6, 2019 at 2:17 pm

Kevin McDonald the far-rights's favorite intellectual. He thinks Jews as a group are undermining and destroying western civilization from within by disempowering the European Christian majority while empowering ethnic and social minorities. This is an evolutionary survival strategy, he says, designed to protect Jews from the deadly waves of antisemitism that culminated with the Nazi Holocaust.

When neo Nazis/the alt-right blame "the Jew" for gay marriage, non-white immigration and everything else they despise, McDonald's writing is what they reach for when they need intellectual cover.

McDonald, for his part, is an enthusiastic supporter of the antisemites and far righters who revere his work.

(I've been noticing an increase in posters popping up in various forums and casually dropping couched hard-right talking points into the conversation or "helpfully" recommending facsistic/antisemitic ideologues for further reading.)

cat sick , January 7, 2019 at 3:38 am

Interestingly I had never heard of this Kevin McDonald, googling him seems to get zero hits of anyone that would seem to be the character who you allude to, however he is the first hit on Bing , whatever his message is it would seem google want to uninvent him .

eg , January 6, 2019 at 2:24 pm

As Peter Gabriel's "Not One of Us" puts it,

How can we be in
If there is no outside?

[Jan 06, 2019] If people don't/won't believe the truth they're being told -- particularly truth that undermines long-held expectations/narratives -- than telling the truth is essentially worthless as those people are unwilling/incapable of changing their minds

Notable quotes:
"... Then there's the zombified/ catatonic segment of society that won't change its mind no matter how much truth it's drowned in. ..."
"... It is as if they have (willingly or unwillingly perhaps) joined a religious cult that has promised them false riches if they cut themselves off from reality and believe and do as they are tol ..."
"... This is the creepy part: our propagandists actually do believe in what they create and disseminate ..."
Jan 06, 2019 | www.moonofalabama.org

karlof1 , Dec 17, 2018 7:41:13 PM | link

78, 79 & 80--

As Caitlin notes in her essay I linked to, if people don't/won't believe the truth they're being told -- particularly truth that undermines long-held expectations/narratives -- than telling the truth is essentially worthless as those people are unwilling/incapable of changing their minds so they then do the right thing in promoting their interests instead of the 1%'s.

Then there's the zombified/ catatonic segment of society that won't change its mind no matter how much truth it's drowned in. I'm not suggesting we cease truth telling; rather, I'm just saying that truth telling isn't as all powerful as it ought to be thanks to centuries of indoctrination and self-censorship.

Jen , Dec 17, 2018 7:37:08 PM | link
Karlof1 @ 77:

Yes I have, thanks.

I don't think it is the general public so much who needs to hear our ridicule - it seems to me that the less university or college education people have had, or the less exposure to so-called "quality news media" they have had, the more skeptical and cynical they are of what they are told to believe - as it is those whose business and livelihoods revolve around creating and delivering the propaganda and the false narratives that are part and parcel of it.

It is as if they have (willingly or unwillingly perhaps) joined a religious cult that has promised them false riches if they cut themselves off from reality and believe and do as they are tol d.

This is the creepy part: our propagandists actually do believe in what they create and disseminate .

[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.

[Jan 02, 2019] That madness of the US neocons comes from having no behavioural limits, no references outside of groupthink, and manipulating the language. Simply put, you don't know anymore what's what outside of the narrative your group pushes. The manipulators ends up caught in their lies.

Highly recommended!
Notable quotes:
"... Some years ago, I noticed the American media and politicians were sort of going soft (actually mushy) in the brain department, but I was told not to be so judgemental. As the months went by, I saw more and more people saying "they have gone nuts". So, it turns out I am not alone after all. ..."
"... That madness comes from having no behavioural limits, no references outside of your own opinion but groupthink, and manipulating the language to suit your ambitions (the Orwellism of the US media has been repeatedly pointed at). Simply put, you don't know anymore what's what outside of the narrative your group pushes, you go nuts. The manipulators ends up caught in their lies. All the more when they makes money out of it, which would be the case of all those think tanks and media. ..."
"... War or the threat of war is needed to distract attention from rapidly devolving societal bonds and immense economic inequality. ..."
Jan 02, 2019 | www.moonofalabama.org

Lea , Feb 21, 2018 6:16:53 AM | link

Some years ago, I noticed the American media and politicians were sort of going soft (actually mushy) in the brain department, but I was told not to be so judgemental. As the months went by, I saw more and more people saying "they have gone nuts". So, it turns out I am not alone after all.

That madness comes from having no behavioural limits, no references outside of your own opinion but groupthink, and manipulating the language to suit your ambitions (the Orwellism of the US media has been repeatedly pointed at). Simply put, you don't know anymore what's what outside of the narrative your group pushes, you go nuts. The manipulators ends up caught in their lies. All the more when they makes money out of it, which would be the case of all those think tanks and media.

One could argue that they are not going mad, that they know full well they are lying, but I beg to differ: they don't see anymore how ridiculous or how dumb or smart their arguments are. That would be congruent with a real loss of touch with reality.

One wonders what they see when they look at themselves in a mirror, a garden variety propagandist or a fearless anti-Putin crusader?

Another example of the narrative gone mad: they are sending CNN journos to meet pro-Trump folks who "have been influenced by Russian trolls on social media". https://twitter.com/yashalevine/status/966177091875168256

WJ , Feb 21, 2018 6:38:11 AM | link
War or the threat of war is needed to distract attention from rapidly devolving societal bonds and immense economic inequality.
Ger , Feb 21, 2018 7:52:44 AM | link
Dan @ 4

It is partially tied direct to the economy of the warmongers as trillions of dollars of new cold war slop is laying on the ground awaiting the MICC hogs. American hegemony is primarily about stealing the natural resources of helpless countries. Now in control of all the weak ones, it is time to move to the really big prize: The massive resources of Russia. They (US and their European Lackeys) thought this was a slam dunk when Yeltsin, in his drunken stupors, was literally giving Russia to invading capitalist. Enter Putin, stopped the looting .........connect the dots.

Guy Thornton , Feb 21, 2018 9:10:47 AM | link
Watching the USA these days is like watching a loved one with progressive dementia. I've reached the stage where I think the sooner it's over the better for everyone.

[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