Archive for the ‘Economist’ Category

How the cold war led CIA to promote government financed human capital theory..

May 18, 2017

Fascinating piece by Prof. Peter Fleming of Cass Business School.

We in economics rarely figure how the guys at the top push certain ideas onto us. He says human capital is one such idea. The idea emerged as Profs. Theodore ‘Teddy’ Schultz and Milton Friedman debated how to beat USSR in the ideas battle during Cold War.

USSR announced how it will smash capitalist system by pushing state driven growth in agri and industry. The question was how should US respond?

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Should Walmart be allowed to get into banking?

May 17, 2017

Prof Lawrence White of Stern School has a piece on Walmart entry into banking. He says we should actually ask the following question: Why shouldn’t Walmart get into banking?

By the way I also learnt from the article that the retail giant entered banking in Canada and Mexico. In Mexico it sold off its banking business in 2014. The one in Canada continues. The issue is whether it should be allowed in America as well.

Prof White says:

One question to ask might be, “Why should Walmart be allowed to enter banking?” But a more relevant question would be, “Why shouldn’t Walmart be allowed to enter banking?” 

After all, the U.S. economy is generally market-oriented, and entry is generally recognized as potentially beneficial for consumers, as entrants can bring new ideas, innovations, and efficiencies to the market. Of course, incumbents usually don’t like the idea of entrants’ disrupting the status quo; and often those incumbents lobby for regulation and/or legislation that creates barriers to entry. But, for most markets, the presumption in broad U.S. economic policy is that entry should be encouraged—or at least, that policy should be neutral between incumbents and entrants—so that the benefits of entry can be enjoyed by consumers.

Of course, banking is special—as the regular readers of this blog are well aware. And how the specialness of banking and the presence of Walmart in banking can be reconciled must be addressed, and will be addressed below.

But first, consider what the entry of Walmart into banking might well achieve: Walmart is well known for providing reasonably priced goods to low- and moderate-income households. Its position as the largest company in the United States—as measured by sales and by employment—is a testament to that reputation.

But it is exactly this demographic group—low- and moderate-income households—that is most in need of reasonably priced financial services. The percentage of U.S. households that are unbanked (i.e., do not have a bank account) or underbanked (i.e., have an account but rely on non-bank providers for some financial services and products) has been a longstanding policy concern. The most recent data (from a FDIC report that covers 2015) in this regard—based on a survey of more than 36,000 households nationwide—show that 7% of all households were unbanked and an additional 20% of all households were underbanked. Unsurprisingly, the percentages are substantially larger for low- and moderate-income households (see table)

Hmmm.

The post also has a interesting discussion on the complex financial regulation setup in US:

So, how would the entry of Walmart—and, presumably, other non-financial companies that are interested in entering banking—fit into that system of prudential regulation?

The crucial concept is that the “Walmart Bank” that would provide banking services to the public would be organized as a separate subsidiary of the parent Walmart company. In essence, the parent Walmart company would be a bank holding company (BHC), which is a common ownership structure for U.S. banks. The Walmart Bank subsidiary would be expected to abide by all prudential regulations—including adequate net worth (capital) requirements—that apply to banks.

…..

However, because it is relatively easy for the owners (including BHCs) of a bank to drain the bank of its assets—for example, by paying excessive dividends to its owners, or by making loans to the owners that are not repaid, or even by paying excessive prices for any materials that it buys from the owners—it is essential that any transactions between the bank and its owners be on arm’s-length terms. U.S. bank regulators have long been aware of this danger of the draining of a bank by its owners and have rules in place (which are embodied in Sections 23A and 23B of the Federal Reserve Act) that insist on this arm’s-length standard.

Current U.S. banking policy has much of this story right.  But where policy has gone “off the rails” is the insistence that a BHC cannot be engaged in commerce—that is, in non-financial services activities. This restriction on scope was embodied in the Bank Holding Company Acts of 1956 and 1970 and remains established policy for banks and banking in 2017. Its persistence as policy is more a testament to the lobbying strength of the incumbent bankers (who clearly prefer less competition) rather than to a concern about the economic welfare of consumers. It also yields the economically absurd result that it is okay for a local car dealer to own a bank (so long as the dealer doesn’t form a BHC that involves the car dealership); but it is not okay for AutoNation (a publicly traded company that operates hundreds of car dealerships) to own a bank.

Until 1999 there was a potential way around this no-commerce restriction on the activities of a holding company: the holding company of a savings and loan (S&L or thrift) institution faced no such restriction, and at various times companies such as the Ford Motor Company, Fuqua Industries, Weyerhaeuser, ITT, Gulf & Western, Household International, and Sears, Roebuck have owned S&Ls via the formation of thrift holding companies.

In the middle of the 1990s, Walmart decided to try to enter banking by becoming a thrift holding company. However, before Walmart was able to become a thrift holding company, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (which was primarily focused on allowing commercial banks—via BHCs—to enter investment banking) forbade the creation of any new thrift holding companies that could engage in commerce. It also restricted the sale of an existing thrift holding company to a non-financial company, such as Walmart.

There was a second, more limited way around the “no commercial owner” restriction: a few states—most notably Utah—offered “industrial loan company” (ILC) charters that allowed a commercial firm to own a financial institution that could issue deposits and make loans and thus could function as a bank. But in order to operate, the ILC would need to obtain deposit insurance from the FDIC.

Walmart duly obtained a Utah ILC charter and in 2005 applied for FDIC deposit insurance. In 2007 Walmart withdrew its application after it was clear that the FDIC would not grant it deposit insurance. Further, the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 placed a three-year moratorium on the granting of deposit insurance to any new (or newly acquired) ILC. Although the moratorium expired in 2013, bank regulators appear to have “gotten the message” that the commerce-finance barrier should remain intact.

Another example of how despite best intentions, regulations leave many gaps to be filled.

But overall a good discussion about many aspects of economics and finance..

Reading and Listening to Dead Economists…

May 16, 2017

Good friend Niranjan once told me how at a conference on so called new economics. To his shock and amusement,  none of what they were saying was new but old economics!

In the same spirit, Jeff Deist of Mises Institute says we should read and listen to dead economists:

We don’t revere dead economists to maintain their place in some academic hierarchy, or to satisfy an atavistic desire for an unchanging intellectual order. We revere them because their ideas still have purchase, because their work yields knowledge that is sorely needed today. We read them and promote them in order to understand the world as it is, filled with billions of purposeful but often irrational human actors. We need dead economists to save us from ourselves and to refute the stubborn myths of collectivism. We need them most of all because their work and their insights are far superior to those of most economists alive today. There is no “New Economics,” only new academic work that painstakingly advances the the knowledge bequeathed to us.

Totally agree!

What Nassim Taleb can teach us: The importance of having skin in the game..

May 3, 2017

Prof. Jeff Deist points to lessons from Nassim Taleb.

Most advice from the economic elite causes least amount of damage to them when the advise goes wrong:

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Why Europe still needs cash…

May 3, 2017

Yves Merschodf European Central Bank argues why Europe still needs cash.

He says there are 3 camps which argue for digital payments. However, their arguments are off the curve:

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Joan Robinson: Solutions offered by economists are no less delusory than those of the theologians

May 2, 2017

From Economic Sociology blog. How stalwarts of economics questioned the value of economics:

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25 Years Later, Is It Still the Hayek Century?

March 24, 2017

Hayek died 25 years ago on 23 March 1992.

David Boaz of Cato Institue pays a tribute:

Hayek lived long enough to see the rise and fall of fascism, national socialism, and Soviet communism. In the years since Hayek’s death economic freedom around the world has been increasing, and liberal values such as human rights, the rule of law, equal freedom under law, and free access to information have spread to new areas. But today liberalism is under challenge from such disparate yet symbiotic ideologies as resurgent leftism, right-wing authoritarian populism, and radical political Islamism. I am optimistic because I think that once people get a taste of freedom and prosperity, they want to keep it. The challenge for Hayekian liberals is to help people understand that freedom and prosperity depend on liberal values, the values explored and defended in his many books and articles.

There is more here

Do economists really ever retire?

March 23, 2017

Bad news, they don’t. Infact their aura and prestige could be even more post retirement.

David Price has a piece:

No doubt there are some economists who retire so they can put their profession in the rear-view mirror. But many, it seems, never truly leave eco­nomics behind. They continue practicing economics long after they’ve nominally retired or taken emeritus status — and even when they eventually stop, the economist’s way of thinking sticks with them.

For some, the compulsion to do economics in retirement takes the form of publishing. Elmus Wicker, 90, a former Rhodes Scholar who retired from Indiana University in 1992, turned to writing and publishing three books for university presses on economic history. Not resting on his laurels, he has drafted a fourth.

“It never occurred to me that retirement meant doing something else,” he says. “And it never occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t still qualified.”

Bruce Yandle retired from Clemson University in 2000, then returned in 2005 to serve for two years as a dean, then retired again for good. But he has maintained an adjunct affiliation with another institution, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where, among other activities, he advises graduate students on their master’s and doctoral theses. “Interaction with young people who are excited about ideas has a contagion associated with it,” he observes. (See also “Interview: Bruce Yandle,” Region Focus, Second Quarter 2011.)

After Leonard Schifrin retired from the College of William and Mary in 1998, he found a lot of work coming his way in his field of health care economics, especially contract research for the federal government and expert-witness work in litigation. “I was busy for eight years traveling and doing interesting things,” he recalls. “That was a lot of fun and really postponed my retirement from being an economist.

All this sounds good for this blog but perhaps not so much for its visitors…Though it is still many years away from retirement….

How three students caused a global crisis in teaching of economics..

February 27, 2017

A superb review of what looks like a must read book titled Econocracy by three students Joe Earle, Cahal Moran and Zach Ward-Perkins.

n the autumn of 2011, as the world’s financial system lurched from crash to crisis, the authors of this book began, as undergraduates, to study economics. While their lectures took place at the University of Manchester the eurozone was in flames. The students’ first term would last longer than the Greek government. Banks across the west were still on life support. And David Cameron was imposing on Britons year on year of swingeing spending cuts.

Yet the bushfires those teenagers saw raging each night on the news got barely a mention in the seminars they sat through, they say: the biggest economic catastrophe of our times “wasn’t mentioned in our lectures and what we were learning didn’t seem to have any relevance to understanding it”, they write in The Econocracy. “We were memorising and regurgitating abstract economic models for multiple-choice exams.”

Part of this book describes what happened next: how the economic crisis turned into a crisis of economics. It deserves a good account, since the activities of these Manchester students rank among the most startling protest movements of the decade.

After a year of being force-fed irrelevancies, say the students, they formed the Post-Crash Economics Society, with a sympathetic lecturer giving them evening classes on the events and perspectives they weren’t being taught. They lobbied teachers for new modules, and when that didn’t work, they mobilised hundreds of undergraduates to express their disappointment in the influential National Student Survey. The economics department ended up with the lowest score of any at the university: the professors had been told by their pupils that they could do better.

The protests spread to other economics faculties – in Glasgow, Istanbul, Kolkata. Working at speed, students around the world published a joint letter to their professors calling for nothing less than a reformation of their discipline.

Economics has been challenged by would-be reformers before, but never on this scale. What made the difference was the crash of 2008. Students could now argue that their lecturers hadn’t called the biggest economic event of their lifetimes – so their commandments weren’t worth the stone they were carved on. They could also point to the way in which the economic model in the real world was broken and ask why the models they were using had barely changed.

Hmm.

We have moved from one extreme to another:

The Econocracy makes three big arguments. First, economics has shoved its way into all aspects of our public life. Flick through any newspaper and you’ll find it is not enough for mental illness to cause suffering, or for people to enjoy paintings: both must have a specific cost or benefit to GDP. It is as if Gradgrind had set up a boutique consultancy, offering mandatory but spurious quantification for any passing cause.

Second, the economics being pushed is narrow and of recent invention. It sees the economy “as a distinct system that follows a particular, often mechanical logic” and believes this “can be managed using a scientific criteria”. It would not be recognised by Keynes or Marx or Adam Smith

(Third)… By making their discipline all-pervasive, and pretending it is the physics of social science, economists have turned much of our democracy into a no-go zone for the public. This is the authors’ ultimate charge: “We live in a nation divided between a minority who feel they own the language of economics and a majority who don’t.”

This status quo works well for the powerful and wealthy and it will be fiercely defended. As Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn have found, suggest policies that challenge the narrow orthodoxy and you will be branded an economic illiterate – even if they add up. Academics who follow different schools of economic thought are often exiled from the big faculties and journals,

Interesting stuff..

RIP: Prof Kenneth Arrow..

February 22, 2017

Another giant passes away. Prof Kenneth Arrow was a giant of the giants. His work continues to inspire (or mentally harass!) students till date.

Here is a nice obituary.

Want to understand the economy? Don’t study economics!

February 17, 2017

Peter Radford has a hard hitting piece and one has little choice but to agree on most points.

One of the most nervous moments one faces as an economist is when one is crowded by families/friends asking you for suggestions to improve their well-being. After all, this is an impression economists have created over the years that “they are the ones”. The bombard of media has also strengthened the impression when so many economists come before the box to tell us about state of economy/investments and so on. We are seen as these magicians. So it is but natural for people to ask you to improve their well-being.

However, here is irony of it all.  It is one thing to talk on TV about things and completely another when family/friends ask for suggestions. One realises how inadequate economics training has been all these years. If one has any suggestion, it either comes out from work experience (say in financial markets) or plain observing/reading about  things outside of economics (following newspaper for local news). The disconnect between modern economics training and reality is so wide (and continues to widen) that it is perhaps one of the biggest Houdini acts that public continues to believe in power of economics.  The crisis has dented the image for sure but given lack of alternatives economists continue to dominate.

Radford sums this dilemma. Don’t study economics to understand economy:

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In a time of great powers and empires, just Europe experienced extraordinary economic growth. How and Why?

February 16, 2017

Prof Joel Mokyr of Northwestern University sums up years of his scholarship in this article.

One of the holy grails of economic history is how and why did Europe experience economic growth in 18th century. Prof Mokyr says there is no one answer:

How and why did the modern world and its unprecedented prosperity begin? Learned tomes by historians, economists, political scientists and other scholars fill many bookshelves with explanations of how and why the process of modern economic growth or ‘the Great Enrichment’ exploded in western Europe in the 18th century. One of the oldest and most persuasive explanations is the long political fragmentation of Europe. For centuries, no ruler had ever been able to unite Europe the way the Mongols and the Mings had united China.

It should be emphasised that Europe’s success was not the result of any inherent superiority of European (much less Christian) culture. It was rather what is known as a classical emergent property, a complex and unintended outcome of simpler interactions on the whole. The modern European economic miracle was the result of contingent institutional outcomes. It was neither designed nor planned. But it happened, and once it began, it generated a self-reinforcing dynamic of economic progress that made knowledge-driven growth both possible and sustainable.

How did this work? In brief, Europe’s political fragmentation spurred productive competition. It meant that European rulers found themselves competing for the best and most productive intellectuals and artisans. The economic historian Eric L Jones called this ‘the States system’. The costs of European political division into multiple competing states were substantial: they included almost incessant warfare, protectionism, and other coordination failures. Many scholars now believe, however, that in the long run the benefits of competing states might have been larger than the costs. In particular, the existence of multiple competing states encouraged scientific and technological innovation.

Superb read..

There are so many things which we just take for granted now but were so instrumental back then..

The economist as an expert: a prince, a servant or a citizen?

February 9, 2017

Recently Esther Duflo’s Economist as a plumber speech made huge waves in economic circles. Earlier Keynes had suggested economists to be humble and competent like dentists and also added various qualities for an economist.

However, all these attributes put economists and their craft on a pedestal over other social sciences (0r studies?).

In this  superb post written from the lens of history of economic thought, Alessandro Roncaglia explores this idea of economist as an expert.

The author says we can divide the role as three types:

  • A prince who leads from the front say an economist as a Prime Minister/Finance Minister etc.
  • A servant who makes policies on behalf of the government
  • A citizen who engages with the public writing and debating actively on policy issues.

The author says increasingly economists are seen in the first two categories but they should try and remain in the third one:

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Understanding the war on cash (Why, who and problems)?

January 30, 2017

A three essay series by Tony Joseph of Business World. He looks at the various political economy factors behind the digital cash drive. This go digital drive is hardly as rosy as it is presented to the masses. There are several players involved who are using governments to rush/push through policies to make that quick killing.

In the first essay he says:

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What are US economists going to do in Trump era?

January 18, 2017

The world of US economists post Trump can be summed in two words – reality check.

Justin Fox has a nice piece summarising the key thoughts and sessions at the annual American Economic Association meeting:

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Study economics not to be deceived by clever economists..

January 16, 2017

An interesting comment by Dr Manmohan Singh. More so they coming  at launch of a book on history of economic ideas by Vinay Bharat Ram:

Economics should be studied not to find settled answers to unsettled questions but to warn on how not to be deceived by clever economists, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said quoting economist Joan Robinson. “When we study economics, what is the purpose of the study of the economics? It is not to find settled answers to unsettled questions but to warn us how not to be deceived by clever economists,” Singh said at launch of the book ‘Evolution of Economic Ideas – Smith to Sen and beyond’ by DCM Limited’s Chairman Vinay Bharat Ram.

“When we study economics, our impulse is not the philosopher’s impulse, knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but for the healing that knowledge may have to bring. It is for the heart to suggest our problems, it is for the intellect to solve them. The only purpose of intellect is to be a servant of social sympathies. That gives you one idea of what economics is all about,” Singh said.

This is superb bit of quoting by Dr Singh from history of economic thought.

As students of economics, these ideas/statements should be really well known to us. But it is a pity (or a shame?) that as none of this is taught, we get to read about them so randomly and then ponder/wonder over the words of wisdom….

Crises in economies vs Crisis in Economics…

January 16, 2017

Some interesting links on the topic (HT:Economist’s View Blog)

  • Andy Haldane of Bank of England raised concerns on state of economics. His main idea is econs failed to see the crisis
  • David Miles, former Bank of England official responds saying no such crisis. Most economics models confirmed the crisis.
  • Simon Wren Lewis sums up and says problem is to think economics only means macroeconomics and finance. The other areas of economics like micro, public etc did not face any such crisis.  Moreover, even within the two macro and finance, former mostly excluded the latter. So there is no crisis as such but a case of overlooking the data. He says if there was someone who should have spotted risks it was Bank of England!

Then there is another article by Prof Paola Subacchi of University of Bologna. She hits the nail on its head:

Where do we go from here? While we should appreciate Haldane’s candid admission, apologizing for past mistakes is not enough. Economists, especially those involved in policy debates, need to be held explicitly accountable for their professional behavior. Toward that end, they should bind themselves with a voluntary code of conduct.

Above all, this code should recognize that economics is too complex to be reduced to sound bites and rushed conclusions. Economists should pay closer attention to when and where they offer their views, and to the possible implications of doing so. And they should always disclose their interests, so that proprietary analysis is not mistaken for an independent perspective.

Moreover, economic debates would benefit from more voices. Economics is a vast discipline that comprises researchers and practitioners whose work spans macro and micro perspectives and theoretical and applied approaches. Like any other intellectual discipline, it produces excellent, good, and mediocre output.

But the bulk of this research does not filter into policymaking and decision-making circles, such as finance ministries, central banks, or international institutions. At the commanding heights, economic-policy debates remain dominated by a relatively small group of white men from American universities and think tanks, nearly all of them well-versed devotees of mainstream economics.

The views held by this coterie are disproportionately represented in the mass media, through commentaries and interviews. But fishing for ideas in such a small and shallow pond leads to a circular and complacent debate, and it may encourage lesser-known economists to tailor their research to fit in.

The public deserves – and needs – a marketplace of ideas in which mainstream and heterodox views are afforded equal attention and balanced discussion. To be sure, this will take courage, imagination, and dynamism – particularly on the part of journalists. But a fairer, more pluralistic discussion of economic ideas may be just what economists need as well.

Amen to that.

I mean the whole thing is such a close circuit (or a circus?) that all this crisis talk reads like a joke. As the author says the coterie of world economic policy comes from selected certain schools (read Ivy leagures in North East USA). The majority of coterie first rejects a mega event coming (amidst some opposition), then they decide the crisis is on applauding the minority dissenters and then they together look for the solutions! It is that simple.  They are least impacted by any crisis as they are always deciding the big world game.

Unless we see more broad basing of economics and look at economists minus the usual tags we are not going anywhere. It will just keep going in circles. It is funny how a local economics person is never seen as an expert despite spending so much time in the region and sector. Whereas anyone from the coterie is seen as an expert on all the issues across the world.

 

 

India’s economic advisery becoming increasingly politicised and polarised..

January 2, 2017

Economists have gone terribly wrong in recent years. From not figuring the fallout of 2008 crisis to European troubles to Brexit to Trump victory and so on. Name it and most likely the outcome has been opposite of what economists had suggested before or at the time of the event.

In India, things are no different. We keep getting things on GDP, inflation wrong most of the times.

However, another emerging aspect is the huge politicisation and polarisation in debates over Indian economy. Earlier, debates on economic issue were whether you are for or against the policy/decision and so on. Now any such economic discussion has become whether you are for or against the government.

This is best epitomised in the summary of top economists view on demonetisation (link 1 and link 2). The debate has been split into these two camps.

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Israel Kirzner Presents the Foundations of Austrian Economics

December 15, 2016

There is so much to learn and figure about economics.

Steven Horowitz points to lectures of Prof Israel Kirzner on Austrian economics.

When people ask me to describe what kind of economist I want to be when I am in my 70s or 80s, I tell them a story about Israel Kirzner. For a number of years, I watched Professor Kirzner give the opening lecture at the Advanced Austrian Economics summer seminar for graduate students at the Foundation for Economic Education. The basic content of the lecture was the same each year, but each one was different in important details. You could tell that Kirzner was, to some degree, unsatisfied with his own presentation the previous year and had tinkered with it to try to make it clearer and more persuasive this time around. The fact that such a brilliant scholar was perpetually self-critical in this way, and that it mattered to him to make it better and get it right, makes him a role model for scholars of all backgrounds.

Just as important, however, was the passion he brought to that talk each year. I knew watching those lectures that he had given a version of this talk hundreds of times over the years to both his own students and audiences across the world. Yet every year, I felt like he was giving it for the first time, mostly because he spoke with such passion and urgency, as if understanding the basics of economics was a task that bore the weight of civilization on its shoulders. And, as he has argued, it in fact does. We should all aspire to the level of intellectual humility and passion that he demonstrated in those lectures.

This should be interesting stuff…

Much of economics is a sham science…

December 12, 2016

Prof. Julie Nelson  slams much of economics as a sham:

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