How The Federal Reserve Bought The Economics Profession

These conspiracy economics stories are an amazing read. Post-crisis we keep getting many such types which look at how bad and scheming the whole thing was.

This one is on Federal Reserve (HT: TGS Blog). The article explores how Fed has so many economists where there is no role for dissenting with the mainstream view. Joining Fed as an economist is a prized job for the networks it helps one build. So econs just write what is the in-thing.

The Federal Reserve, through its extensive network of consultants, visiting scholars, alumni and staff economists, so thoroughly dominates the field of economics that real criticism of the central bank has become a career liability for members of the profession, an investigation by the Huffington Post has found.

This dominance helps explain how, even after the Fed failed to foresee the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the central bank has largely escaped criticism from academic economists. In the Fed’s thrall, the economists missed it, too.

“The Fed has a lock on the economics world,” says Joshua Rosner, a Wall Street analyst who correctly called the meltdown. “There is no room for other views, which I guess is why economists got it so wrong.”

The article looks at an interesting conflict of interest — Fed employs (directly and indirectly) most of the editors of Journal of Monetray Economics. The Journal in turn away all the papers which go against Fed and its views:

One critical way the Fed exerts control on academic economists is through its relationships with the field’s gatekeepers. For instance, at the Journal of Monetary Economics, a must-publish venue for rising economists, more than half of the editorial board members are currently on the Fed payroll — and the rest have been in the past.

 It adds how Alan Blinder who was Vice Chairman of FOMC was not liked for his different questioning ways. Then there is the well-known story of how Krugman was not invited to Fed’s New Econ Geography conference, a field Krugman invented:

Rob Johnson, who watched the Blinder ordeal, says Blinder made the mistake of behaving as if the Fed was a place where competing ideas and assumptions were debated. “Sociologically, what was happening was the Fed staff was really afraid of Blinder. At some level, as an applied empirical economist, Alan Blinder is really brilliant,” says Johnson.

In closed-door meetings, Blinder did what so few do: challenged assumptions. “The Fed staff would come out and their ritual is: Greenspan has kind of told them what to conclude and they produce studies in which they conclude this. And Blinder treated it more like an open academic debate when he first got there and he’d come out and say, ‘Well, that’s not true. If you change this assumption and change this assumption and use this kind of assumption you get a completely different result.’ And it just created a stir inside–it was sort of like the whole pipeline of Greenspan-arriving-at-decisions was disrupted.”

It didn’t sit well with Greenspan or his staff. “A lot of senior staff…were pissed off about Blinder — how should we say? — not playing by the customs that they were accustomed to,” Johnson says.

And celebrity is no shield against Fed excommunication. Paul Krugman, in fact, has gotten rough treatment. “I’ve been blackballed from the Fed summer conference at Jackson Hole, which I used to be a regular at, ever since I criticized him,” Krugman said of Greenspan in a 2007 interview with Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! “Nobody really wants to cross him.”

An invitation to the annual conference, or some other blessing from the Fed, is a signal to the economic profession that you’re a certified member of the club. Even Krugman seems a bit burned by the slight. “And two years ago,” he said in 2007, “the conference was devoted to a field, new economic geography, that I invented, and I wasn’t invited.”

Three years after the conference, Krugman won a Nobel Prize in 2008 for his work in economic geography.

This Krugman treatment  was given to others as well who were invited to the conferences – Raghuram Rajan and BIS economists faced ire as well.

Then there were cases of how one analyst’s paper was not accepted  as he called the crash

Rosner, the Wall Street analyst who foresaw the crash, says that the Fed’s ideological dominance of the journals hampered his attempt to warn his colleagues about what was to come. Rosner wrote a strikingly prescient paper in 2001 arguing that relaxed lending standards and other factors would lead to a boom in housing prices over the next several years, but that the growth would be highly susceptible to an economic disruption because it was fundamentally unsound.

He expanded on those ideas over the next few years, connecting the dots and concluding that the coming housing collapse would wreak havoc on the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) and mortgage backed securities (MBS) markets, which would have a ripple effect on the rest of the economy. That, of course, is exactly what happened and it took the Fed and the economics field completely by surprise.

“What you’re doing is, actually, in order to get published, having to whittle down or narrow what might otherwise be oppositional or expansionary views,” says Rosner. “The only way you can actually get in a journal is by subscribing to the views of one of the journals.

He eventually found a co-author, Joseph Mason, an associate Professor of Finance at Drexel University LeBow College of Business, a senior fellow at the Wharton School, and a visiting scholar at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. But the pair could only land their papers with the conservative Hudson Institute. In February 2007, they published a paper called “How Resilient Are Mortgage Backed Securities to Collateralized Debt Obligation Market Disruptions?” and in May posted another, “How Misapplied Bond Ratings Cause Mortgage Backed Securities and Collateralized Debt Obligation Market Disruptions.”

Together, the two papers offer a better analysis of what led to the crash than the economic journals have managed to put together – and they were published by a non-PhD before the crisis.

List of crash predictors rises each time. And how they were ignored/snubbed gets stronger…

Read the whole thing. Very interesting. Few economists have dissented and say this is not how Fed works…

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