Archive for the ‘Speech / Interviews’ Category

The Austrian School: The History, The Principles, and How It Got Its Name

February 16, 2015

This is as good as it gets. A really useful audio interview of Mark Thornton on the school which remains ignored in economic teaching.

Right at the beginning Dr. Thornton points how the school teachings were missed in all his economic courses. Then there is a great discussion on how Fischer remains relevant to policymakers but not Mises. He calls central banks as legal counterfeiters of currency which is an interesting oxymoron of sorts.

In this informative interview, Mark Thornton details how Carl Menger started the Austrian school of economics, and the possible Greek and Roman philosophical roots the school observes. Dr. Thornton and host Frank Conway also discuss the important limitations to Austrian economic thinking, how von Mises’ papers got in the hands of Nazi Germany and then the Soviets, and the different economic perspectives and predictions of Ludwig von Mises and Irving Fischer.

India is the world’s largest psephocracy… only secondarily the world’s largest democracy.

February 16, 2015

Nice interview of Ashis Nandy. Pretty straight forward and front foot batting.

He reflects on recent AAP victory and future for BJP:


Transformative Rise of Austrian Economics…

February 9, 2015

Superb interview of Prof Peter Boettke of GMU.

One major loss of the economic teaching is this school is hardly taught. At best someone is going to mention it randomly or some book will have a box briefing about the school. It is a pity that with economists talking so much about free markets , do not give much space to the school which is freest of them all.

But then as Prof Boettke says, the school is finding a resurgence in popularity given massive failures of the current economic thinking. I mean it is not about figuring who is right and who is wrong. Students have to first know what the ideas of various schools are before they can decide the right and wrong.

What is FSLRC all about?

February 3, 2015

Ajay Shah links to this speech by Justice Srikrishna, the chair of FSLRC report.

A pretty straight forward speech. He starts with the proposed changes in FSLRC which range from consumer protection to macro management.

In the end he says:


How macroeconomics has changed since the crisis…(getting more behavioral)

December 31, 2014
Wouter den Haan of London School of Economics sums up the changes in “the discipline”. The best bit is it is an interview which one can actually just hear rather than read the piece:


Building family businesses in Arab world..

December 16, 2014

Nice interview of Sulaiman Abdulkadir Al-Muhaidib, chairman of Saudi conglomerate Al Muhaidib. Gives you glimpse of the strong tradition of family business in Saudi.

First some bit about the group. It is an investment company:


How the Banking Union has transformed banks’ IT requirements..

December 10, 2014

This is an unusual speech but seeing how banking is shaping up could be the most usual thing to talk about. In things like banking union, one would usually see things like banks’ capital requirements, quality of assets and so on.

Dr Joachim Nagel, of the Bundesbank talks on IT requirements of banks post the banking union:


Improving the security and cost-effectiveness of banknotes…

December 8, 2014

Management of currency notes is  one of the least focused tasks of monetary management. The origin of central banks largely came from this activity. There were many banks which issued their own notes convertible into some commodity (mainly gold). Some of these banks over-issued these notes, leading to problems of liability management. The governments then decided to have one bank issue notes which eventually came to be known as central bank. Then gradually, these banks were given additional tasks. Earlier, the banks had both deposits and currency as liabilities. But with central banks coming in picture, the currency became liabilityty of the central bank and deposits of banks.

Mr François Groepe of the South African Reserve Bank has comments  on this currency management business:


Will Hong Kong become irrelevant as Mainland China opens up?

December 8, 2014

Nice speech by Mr, Norman Chan of HKMA.

He says there is no reason why HK should decline as mainland China opens up. Both have their own strengths. He shows through statistics how things between the two regions have only improved overtime.

By leveraging on each other’s strengths bot can gain:


Bank of Finland’s 200 years..

November 18, 2014

Seppo Honkapohja of Bank of Finland has this interesting speech covering history of the central bank. It was established in 1811 making it the 4th oldest central bank.

The journey from being a central bank established by Russians to becoming a EMU member is all captured:


Evolution of money…from playing cards to e-currency

November 18, 2014

Superb speech from Carolyn Wilkins of Bank of Canada.

In particular she points to this picture placed in one of BoC  halls which shows evolution of money.


50 years of Solow growth model…implications and impact

November 17, 2014

A nice interview of Prof. Robert Solow in McKinsey Quarterly (MQ). The interview celebrates 50 years of both the model and MQ.

The best thing about the interview is that it discusses how Solow model was actually applied to the real industries. What is Solow model? Well it says what matters for growth is not labor or capital but technology. What did the actual evidence show?

The Quarterly: What, if anything, surprised you about the findings of the early MGI studies?

Robert Solow: What came as something completely new to me was that if you looked at the same industry across countries, there were almost always dramatic differences in either labor productivity or total factor productivity. To my surprise, it turned out that most of the time, certainly more often than not, the difference in productivity—in the auto industry or the steel industry or the residential-construction industry in the US and in countries in Europe—was not only substantial but couldn’t seriously be explained by differences in access to technology.

We also found that the productivity differences could not be traced to differences in access to investment capital. The French automobile industry, much to my surprise, turned out to be more capital intensive than the American automobile industry. So it was not that either. The MGI studies instead traced these differences in productivity to organizational differences, to the way tasks were allocated within a firm or a division—essentially, to failures in managerial decisions.

I was, of course, instantly suspicious of this. I figured to myself, “What do you expect a bunch of management consultants to find but differences in management capacities? That’s in their genes. That’s not in my genes.” But MGI made a very convincing case for this. And I came to believe that it was right.

:-) Gave some legitimacy to the consulting industry..

What drove management? Competition..

The Quarterly: So management was the primary factor in productivity differences?

Robert Solow: Yes, and there was another surprise, for which there was partly anecdotal, partly statistical evidence. If you asked why there were differences that could be erased or diminished by better management, the answer was that it took the spur of sharp competition to induce managers to do what they were in principle capable of doing. So the idea that everybody is everywhere and always maximizing profits turned out to be not quite right.

MGI made a very good case that what was lacking in these trailing industries in other countries—or in the US, in cases where the US trailed—was enough exposure to competition from whoever in the world had the best practice. And this, of course, can apply within a country. We know that in any industry, there is a whole distribution of productivity levels across firms and even, sometimes, across establishments within a firm. And much of that must be due to the absence of any spur to do more.

So an interesting conclusion to me was that international trade serves a purpose beyond exploiting comparative advantage. It exposes high-level managers in various countries to a little fright. And fright turns out to be an important motivation.

The Quarterly: So competing against the global best-practice leaders is a way to encourage your own industry to use best practice?

Robert Solow: Yes, and it goes beyond that, even. Competing as part of the world economy is an important way of gaining access to scale. If you’re a Belgian company or even a French company, it may be that best practice requires a scale of production larger than the French domestic market will provide for French producers.

So it’s important for such companies to have access to the international market. That was not something I had thought of. And I don’t think anyone had—at least I had no reason to think, within economics, that there had been much thought about management activities as a big difference between best practice and less good practice. We had always thought, “Well, people seek profits. And if they seek profits, they’ll have to adopt best practice.” Not so.

He says the future research shd look at productivity in services sector:

The Quarterly: Looking toward the future, are there other issues in economics that MGI’s sector-level approach might be helpful for?

Robert Solow: I would like to see more work on the determinants of productivity and productivity increases within the service sector. To begin with, I don’t think we even have a very clear idea about the relative capital intensity within the service sector or between the service sector and goods-producing sector.

I remember I was once writing something in which I was describing the service sector as being of relatively low capital intensity. And then I stopped and remembered that the following day I had an appointment with my dentist and that my dentist’s office was as capital intensive a 500 square feet as I had ever seen in my life.

So I think the place where the MGI approach is most needed right now is in the service sector. There has been service-sector work within MGI, and outside of it as well, but not as much as is warranted in view of the 70 percent or more of all employment in advanced economies that’s in service industries.

The Quarterly: Are there particular places in the service sector where you’d look first?

Robert Solow: Well, that brings me to another MGI result that I found fascinating. At one point, we were trying to understand the industrial basis, the sectoral basis, for the acceleration and deceleration of productivity growth. And one of the things we found was that the two largest sectoral contributions to the acceleration of productivity growth when it was accelerating and, presumably, to the deceleration when it was decelerating came from wholesaling and retailing.1 Both of them, at the time, were low-productivity sectors and low-productivity-growth sectors. But they employ so many people that a slight improvement in the productivity of retailing makes a large contribution to the increase in national productivity.

There has been some work on that, but I think the work is needed now more in personal services. God knows, in healthcare. And education. Or child care. All sorts of things.

Nice bit..Calls himself an ordinary macroeconomist…hope most of us really ordinary economists also believe the same..


Central Bankers and bahavioral biases

November 17, 2014

Andy Haldane of BoE discusses the issue in this speech.

He first lists the behavioral biases and then suggests what central banks can do to overcome the biases:

Preference biases – where the decision maker might put “personal objectives over societal ones, such as personal power or wealth”   

Myopia biases – “people differ materially in their capacity to defer gratification” and studies suggest that people who show greater patience “outperform their impatient counterparts in everything from school examinations, to salaries, to reported life satisfaction”. 
Hubris biases – over-confident individuals are “more likely to be promoted to positions of influence” but tend to pursue “over ambitious targets” like “undertaking over-complex company takeovers. That way nemesis lies”

Groupthink biases – people tend to adapt their view to confirm to those around them and also have a “tendency to search and synthesize information in ways which confirm their prior beliefs”.     
There is little doubt that central banks have suffered from either all or some of these biases over the period with hubris bias being the biggest.
BoE (and others in their own ways) have tried to get out of these biases:
To tackle preference bias, the Bank’s does not set its own objectives.  It has three policy making committees – for monetary policy (MPC), financial policy (FPC) and prudential regulation (PRA Board). In addition, “to ensure the actions of the Bank’s policy committees are well-aligned with society’s wishes” their targets are “set ex-ante in legislation by Parliament acting on behalf of society”. 
To prevent myopia, the Bank of England has been made independent from government when choosing how to set monetary and financial policy to achieve their respective objectives.  These decisions have been given to an institution “whose time horizon stretches beyond the political cycle”.  Andrew suggests that central bank independence has been successful at taming “the inflation tiger” but he warns that “as some countries are finding today, the tiger is capable of biting back” in the form of low and falling inflation expectations. Andrew notes that while inflation expectations in the UK have held up pretty well, this is something he is “watching like a dove.”
To guard against Hubris at the Bank, “all policy decisions … are made by Committee rather than an individual” which “provides some natural safeguard against over-confidence bias”.  Andrew notes that external MPC members have contributed importantly to the diversity of opinion on the committee “on average they have been around twice as likely as internals to dissent from monetary policy decisions”. 
Finally to ward off groupthink, each member of the policy committees is individually accountable for their vote or view, and this should encourage “a variety of analytical perspectives”. That said Andrew notes that analysis of MPC minutes suggests that they did not devote enough time to discussing banking issues in the run up to the financial crisis, something that in hindsight, “looks like a collective analytical blind-spot”. He argues that despite all the changes to the Bank’s policy responsibilities since the crisis, “it is too soon to tell whether any remaining blind-spots remain”. Also, in his view “improvements to the Bank’s forecasting process have some considerable distance still to travel”.
Have these committees worked? I mean it just has people with very similar backgrounds trained in the same kind of economics. How can views be any different? We make a big deal of dissents. Have these dissents dissuaded the chief of the central bank from taking a different path? All we have is hype around dissents, nothing more nothing less. Groupthink continues despite committees
Much of fight against inflation was brought during highly comfortable global times. We are now seeing serious limitations on what central banks can achieve on inflation as well. Despite so much easing, deflation pressures remain in most adv economies. This is against expectations that we will have high inflation due to these policies by many experts. The  standard ideas have just failed really. But hubris continues..
All these biases can only be avoided if alternate schools of thought are encouraged in economics. The subject should be more interdisciplinary and humble. Just by saying we have committees and encourage diversity, it does not happen.  When most students are made to think in one standard way, diversity is just a myth and groupthink a reality..

Political economy of Bihar’s development..

November 11, 2014

In UP we continue to get news whuch we have been hearing for decades now. And then there is its neighbor Bihar which also had simialr stories for a while but is now trying its best to change.

IdeasforIndia has a nice interview of Anjani Kumar Singh, Bihar’s Secretary.


Eurozone banks…do we finally know their status?

November 6, 2014

There is huge buzz around European banks stress test. There have been tests before as well but did not exude enough confidence.

Wharton Prof Richard Herring discusses what is new in these tests and do we finally know the true status of European banks.

The basic complications over who shall fund the bill remain despite ECB coming into the picture now:


Heineken’s CEO on leading a 150-year-old company..

October 28, 2014

Didn’t realise Heineken is a 15o yr old company.

Here is a nice interview of its CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer who discusses balancing traditions along with growth.

UK monetary policy and Cricket…Switching gears from frontfoot to backfoot..

October 28, 2014

Andy Haldane reviews economic conditions in UK and change of mon pol stance. Using analogy from cricket, he had earlier said that in the batting (economic) corridor of uncertainty it is better to be on frontfoot:


Inequality in US– Some Trends

October 22, 2014

Yellen has this useful speech to show how inequality has risen so much in US.

This is a trend which has clearly caught US econs napping. Economists is around two questions: How much to produce and how to distribute. The question of distribution was dismissed by most economists in recent years. There was a widely held belief that just like econs have resolved the problem of depression, they have  resolved for distribution as well.

And now both, depression and inequaity have hit these economies hard. And what is worse that there were clear signs of this but were ignored.

Will Swiss National Bank move to quasi gold standard?

October 9, 2014

A fascinating speech by SNB’s Jean-Pierre Danthine. The title of the speech is “Are central banks doing too much?”. To which he of course says no 9it is surprising to hear that he thinks we will be surprised to hear his answer as no).

Anyways,  what interested me in the speech was this thing called “Save our Swiss Gold” referendum. Referendums have become fashionable but I read somewhere they decide everything in Swissland via referendums. It is as close to near people’s democracy as one can get. So what is this?

The initiative is calling for three things: first, the SNB should hold at least 20% of its assets in gold; second, it should no longer be allowed to sell any gold at any time; and third, all of its gold reserves should be stored in Switzerland.

Hmmm. The voting is to happen on 30 Nov. If yes, SNB shall back to quasi gold standard…

This worries SNB:

Let me address the last point first. Today, 70% of our gold reserves are stored in Switzerland, 20% are held at the Bank of England and 10% at the Bank of Canada. As you know, a country’s gold reserves usually have the function of an asset to be used only in emergencies. For that reason, it makes sense to diversify the storage locations. In addition, it makes sense to choose locations where gold is traded, so that it can be sold faster and at lower transaction costs. The UK and Canada both meet that criterion. In addition, they both have a strong and reliable legal system and we have every assurance that our gold is safe there.

The initiative’s demand to hold at least 20% of our assets in gold would severely restrict the conduct of monetary policy. Monetary policy transactions directly change our balance sheet. Restrictions on the composition of the balance sheet therefore restrict our monetary policy options. A telling example is our decision to implement the exchange rate floor vis-à-vis the euro that I mentioned above: with the initiative’s legal limitation in place, we would have been forced during our defence of the minimum exchange rate not only to buy euros, but also to buy gold in large quantities. Our defence of the minimum exchange rate would thus have involved huge costs, which would almost certainly have caused foreign exchange markets to doubt our resolve to enforce the rate by all means.

Even worse consequences would result from the initiative’s proposal to prohibit the sale of gold at any time. An increase in gold holdings could not be reversed, even if necessary from a monetary policy perspective. In combination with the obligation to hold at least 20% of total assets in gold, this could gradually lead the SNB into a situation where its assets would mainly consist of gold: each extension of the balance sheet for monetary policy reasons would necessitate gold purchases, but whenever the balance sheet needed to be reduced again for the same reasons, we would not be able to resell our gold holdings. This would severely restrict our room for manoeuvre.

Furthermore, because gold pays no interest or dividends, the SNB’s ability to generate profits and distribute them to the Confederation and the Cantons would be impaired.

As a final point, note that currency reserves which cannot be sold are not truly reserves. It does not make sense to call for an increase in emergency reserves – gold holdings – and simultaneously prohibit the use of these reserves even in emergencies.

The SNB’s overriding objection to the gold initiative stems from the danger it poses to the conduct of a successful monetary policy. It would severely impair the SNB’s ability to fulfil its constitutional and legal mandate to ensure price stability while taking due account of economic developments, in the interests of the country as a whole.

Hmm.. Basically the points people had towards gold standard apply here as well.

Will be really interesting to see how Swiss vote on this..

Reforming NY Fed and changing its culture…

October 9, 2014

WSJ Blog interviews Professor David Beim who was behind the report to study and reform NY Fed.  Though NY Fed did not do much to change and we have quite a story on the cards now.

So what did he find in NY Fed:



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