This one is on one of Friedman’s core ideas – assumptions don’t matter as long as predictions are in line with the model/theory:
Archive for the ‘Economist’ Category
This is a hard hitting post on the economics profession by Bill Bronner. He has written a book recently called Hormegeddon: How Too Much of a Good Thing Leads to Disaster.
The post is based on his book.
EPW has a piece from its archives (06 Aug, 1949) which remains relevant till date. Though, things have moved in terms of availability of data (lack of which leads to failure) etc but still we need a lot more as shocks keep coming from all kinds of sources.
Life is a circle unlike a linear graph which we are taught especially in economics. The economic imperialism is slowly ending as people are increasingly rejecting the advice of economic experts. And all this rejection is not coming in Asian economies but in their own homes. Now they can no more say these other countries just don’t understand principles of economics.
Jeffry Snider (of Alhambra Partners, Florida based fund!)has a great piece on the topic. He lashes out at a recent piece by Greg Mankiw:
It is fashionable in the financial media to project certain economists as superheroes. How certain economist came and changed the country/world is a common theme. In this story creation, lots of myths are hyped and facts ignored. Much of economic changes in any country are a combination of many factors and persons. It is hardly about a few people here and there.
Even given this limitation, it is for certain believed that and Hayek and Friedman played a central role in Thatcher and Reagan regimes in early 1980s. It would be a huge shock if anyone disagreed with this now well accepted fact.
Prof James Forder of University of Oxford does just that. He says there is hardly any evidence of Friedman playing any big role in Thatcher era.
Extracting from the PDF is difficult so can’t discuss the paper. Prof Forder digs through plenty of sources to question this well accepted fact as a piece of fiction. Infact he points to a similar paper which questioned influence of Friedman in Israel economic policy in 1977 as well.
Given the debate on economic advisory in India (and elsewhere), one obviously wonders how global should economic advice be? Here too much of discussion is biased as Global or International advice essentially means advice coming from US based think-tanks and universities. Globalisation should also mean that the US (and rest of the west) be open to hearing views from other countries, but that of course is a joke. The rest of the world is hardly good enough to advice the best in the world. But how is it that those based in rest of the world are not even seen worthy of advising their own economies? Is it possible that experts based in US ivy league think-tanks and universities will know about most economies in the world?
The usual discourse in media is how external economic advice helped save some of the countries from an impending economic disaster. One thing which is missing in such discussions is how the external advice has brought ruin as well.
Peter Bauer in this tribute to Prof B.R. Shenoy points how Indian govt’s second five year plan was equally supported by the distinguished external experts. He warns against relying too much such expertise:
Didn’t know about this book at all – Who cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? It is by Katrine Marcal who has written a scathing review of economics built around “rational man”:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest
When Adam Smith wrote that all our actions stem from self-interest and the world turns because of financial gain he brought to life ‘economic man’. Selfish and cynical, economic man has dominated our thinking ever since and his influence has spread from the market to how we shop, work and date. But every night Adam Smith’s mother served him his dinner, not out of self-interest but out of love.
Today, our economics focuses on self-interest and excludes all other motivations. It disregards the unpaid work of mothering, caring, cleaning and cooking. It insists that if women are paid less, then that’s because their labour is worth less – how could it be otherwise?
Economics has told us a story about how the world works and we have swallowed it, hook, line and sinker. Now it’s time to change the story.
In this courageous look at the mess we’re in, Katrine Marçal tackles the biggest myth of our time and invites us to kick out economic man once and for all.
Malcolm Harris reviews the book:
As the Korean translator of an Austrian text put it, “Keynes must die so the economy may live.” With your help, we can hasten that glorious day.
The piece goes onto show how Keynes successfully captured economics and politicians minds (but obviously) despite being a”tissue of distortions, fallacies, and drastically unrealistic assumptions”.
Steven Horwitz points to the 12 articles all wannabes must read. The list is for all those wanting to enrol into PhD in economics. I am pretty sure students of most econ places barely recommend reading all these pieces unless students discover them by themselves. The list has Tullock, Hayek, Friedman, Coase and so on..
Simon Wren Lewis introduced this term called media macro. It basically meant financial media taking control over economic matters. Using their propoganda they kept highlighting macro issues which they thought were important. The problem is their understanding of these macro issues is mostly flawed and actually creates further problems. He shows how British media’s obsession over austerity in early part of the crisis got the economy into tailspin laters.
In a longish essay Prof Lewis, explains the issues further:
Perhaps we would have lesser case of economic planning says Karl-Friedrich Israel in this article. Though if the list of awardees remained same post Mises getting it in 1969, likes of Mises would have opted out of the list rather than remain there..
Astral Science in Early Imperial China, a forthcoming book by the historian Daniel P Morgan, shows that in ancient China, as in the Western world, the most valuable type of mathematics was devoted to the realm of divinity – to the sky, in their case (and to the market, in ours). Just as astrology and mathematics were once synonymous in the West, the Chinese spoke of li, the science of calendrics, which early dictionaries also glossed as ‘calculation’, ‘numbers’ and ‘order’. Li models, like macroeconomic theories, were considered essential to good governance. In the classic Book of Documents, the legendary sage king Yao transfers the throne to his successor with mention of a single duty: ‘Yao said: “Oh thou, Shun! Theli numbers of heaven rest in thy person.”’
China’s oldest mathematical text invokes astronomy and divine kingship in its very title – The Arithmetical Classic of the Gnomon of the Zhou. The title’s inclusion of ‘Zhou’ recalls the mythic Eden of the Western Zhou dynasty (1045–771 BCE), implying that paradise on Earth can be realised through proper calculation. The book’s introduction to the Pythagorean theorem asserts that ‘the methods used by Yu the Great in governing the world were derived from these numbers’. It was an unquestioned article of faith: the mathematical patterns that govern the stars also govern the world. Faith in a divine, invisible hand, made visible by mathematics. No wonder that a newly discovered text fragment from 200 BCE extolls the virtues of mathematics over the humanities. In it, a student asks his teacher whether he should spend more time learning speech or numbers. His teacher replies: ‘If my good sir cannot fathom both at once, then abandon speech and fathom numbers, [for] numbers can speak, [but] speech cannot number.’
Modern governments, universities and businesses underwrite the production of economic theory with huge amounts of capital. The same was true for li production in ancient China. The emperor – the ‘Son of Heaven’ – spent astronomical sums refining mathematical models of the stars. Take the armillary sphere, such as the two-metre cage of graduated bronze rings in Nanjing, made to represent the celestial sphere and used to visualise data in three-dimensions. As Morgan emphasises, the sphere was literally made of money. Bronze being the basis of the currency, governments were smelting cash by the metric ton to pour it into li. A divine, mathematical world-engine, built of cash, sanctifying the powers that be.
The enormous investment in li depended on a huge assumption: that good government, successful rituals and agricultural productivity all depended upon the accuracy of li. But there were, in fact, no practical advantages to the continued refinement of li models. The calendar rounded off decimal points such that the difference between two models, hotly contested in theory, didn’t matter to the final product. The work of selecting auspicious days for imperial ceremonies thus benefited only in appearance from mathematical rigour. And of course the comets, plagues and earthquakes that these ceremonies promised to avert kept on coming. Farmers, for their part, went about business as usual. Occasional governmental efforts to scientifically micromanage farm life in different climes using li ended in famine and mass migration.
Like many economic models today, li models were less important to practical affairs than their creators (and consumers) thought them to be. And, like today, only a few people could understand them. In 101 BCE, Emperor Wudi tasked high-level bureaucrats – including the Great Director of the Stars – with creating a new li that would glorify the beginning of his path to immortality. The bureaucrats refused the task because ‘they couldn’t do the math’, and recommended the emperor outsource it to experts.
There are some interesting references and interviews of people in the article.
Why would skeptical astronomers question the emperor’s faith in their models? In a phone conversation, Daniel Hausman, a philosopher of economics at the University of Wisconsin, put it bluntly: ‘If you reject the power of theory, you demote economists from their thrones. They don’t want to become like sociologists.’
George F DeMartino, an economist and an ethicist at the University of Denver, frames the issue in economic terms. ‘The interest of the profession is in pursuing its analysis in a language that’s inaccessible to laypeople and even some economists,’ he explained to me. ‘What we’ve done is monopolise this kind of expertise, and we of all people know how that gives us power.’
Every economist I interviewed agreed that conflicts of interest were highly problematic for the scientific integrity of their field – but only tenured ones were willing to go on the record. ‘In economics and finance, if I’m trying to decide whether I’m going to write something favourable or unfavourable to bankers, well, if it’s favourable that might get me a dinner in Manhattan with movers and shakers,’ Pfleiderer said to me. ‘I’ve written articles that wouldn’t curry favour with bankers but I did that when I had tenure.’