Daily Archives: May 28, 2020

Evidence for Tribalism in Economics

While economists like to pretend otherwise, humans are social animals.
By Blair Fix – The ideal of science is beautifully summarized by the motto of the Royal Society: nullius in verba. It means ‘take nobody’s word for it’. In science, there is no authority. There are no gods, no kings, and no masters. Only evidence.

In this post, I reflect on how ‘taking nobody’s word for it’ cuts against some of our deepest instincts as humans. As social animals, we have evolved to trust members of our group. Among these group members, our instinct is to ‘take their word for it’. I call this the ‘tribal instinct’.

When we do science, we have to fight against this tribal instinct. Not surprisingly, we often fail. Rational skepticism gets overpowered by the instinct to trust members of our group. If the group happens to be powerful — say it dominates academia in a particular discipline — then false ideas get entrenched as ‘facts’.

This is a problem in all areas of science. But it’s a rampant problem in economics. The teaching of economics is dominated by the neoclassical sect, which has managed to entrench itself in academia. Among this sect, I believe, tribal instincts trump the rational appeal to evidence. more>

Updates from McKinsey

A transformative moment for philanthropy
Here’s how the positive changes in individual and institutional philanthropy sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic can take root and grow.
By Tracy Nowski, Maisie O’Flanagan, and Lynn Taliento – The philanthropic response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the sector at its best. From the launch of community-based rapid-response funds to the development of diagnostics and vaccines, philanthropy is showing up both to help flatten the curve in the short term and to address the inequities the crisis will exacerbate over the long term.

What’s striking is not only the scale of capital being committed by major philanthropists (at least $10.3 billion globally in May 2020, according to Candid, which is tracking major grants) but also how it is being given: at record speed, with fewer conditions, and in greater collaboration with others. According to the Council on Foundations, almost 750 foundations have signed a public pledge to streamline grant-making processes, and individual donors are partnering with their peers to make sizable grants with less paperwork.

Confronted with the global pandemic, individual and institutional philanthropy has been responsive, engaged, and nimble. The challenge—and opportunity—for the sector will be to make those features stick. The gravitational pull toward old ways of working will be strong, especially as philanthropies grapple with the impact of an economic downturn on their own endowments. But many of the practices that have emerged during this pandemic, including the five that we highlight in this article, should be expanded and formalized as the world heads into the long process of recovery.

Over the past 20 years, the philanthropic sector has adopted a more data-driven and rigorous approach. While those developments have strengthened the field in many ways, they have made the process of seeking and managing grants more cumbersome, especially for small, community-based organizations. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated moves to reduce those hurdles, prompting many foundations to relax grant requirements, speed up decision making, and give recipients additional flexibility in how they use funds.

What would it take to simplify further the processes for grant approval and reporting? Looking to college admissions for inspiration, imagine a common application for grant seekers, similar to the Common App platform that enables students to apply to many colleges using a single application. more>

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China in the Firing Line

By Clare Goldsberry – A two-hour webinar held by the Alliance of American Manufacturing last Thursday provided a forum for four members of Congress along with a business owner, a representative from the United Steelworkers, and the President and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations to talk about bringing manufacturing back to the United States.

“Crisis Brings Consensus: Prioritizing U.S. Industrial Policy in a COVID-19 World” began with a Q&A moderated by Josh Rogin featuring Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO). Rubio noted that the increased push to bring back manufacturing and the need to change U.S. policies regarding trade with China is not “unique to a pandemic,” which has exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain across several industries.

“This issue needs more than anger at China,” said Rubio. “While the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to dominate the world in key sectors are evident, we’ve allowed them to do this. We need a strategy, then tactics to put in place the strategy to bring back U.S. manufacturing.” That would include developing incentives for companies to return their manufacturing to the United States.

Hawley began his remarks by noting that we live in a very different world today than we did after WWII. “The economic order is very different, and we need to address the rise of imperialist China,” he said. “We need very serious reform to address this different world and different [economic] system.” Hawley is not in favor of abolishing the WTO, while that issue has been raised by some. “I would rather ‘fix’ it than ‘nix’ it,” he added.

Hawley, who said he’s heard more about bringing U.S. manufacturing back home in the past four months than in the 14 months he’s been in Congress, does not approve of isolationism. “We are a trading nation and will continue to be, but we need reforms such as dispute resolution, which is a mess,” he stated. “We need an American economy that is strong and a strong American worker. Manufacturing is vitally important to the future of the United States. We need to bring back our supply chains.” more>

Could “banksters” become bankers again?

By Lena Deros – The term “bankster” has become trendy recently due to the various financial problems governments and economies are facing. Problems arise and somehow get resolved, but only through financial ruses.

In the 1980s, I was working with one of the world top Investment Banks in Europe. At that time hedge funds, derivatives and all kind of paper products were traded through the capital markets and were the top theme for any sophisticated investor.

One of the most legendary traders in the bank at that time was recruiting the best minds in math and physics from the top schools in the UK to train them and create financial products (derivatives).

The profits that the boys were accumulating were out of proportion to what a normal business person or executive could earn in a normal business, especially as they were just coming out of the university.

Of course, they were all ecstatic. The simplified procedure was based on the real economy. They were creating products 3 or 4 levels over the real assets and these were bought and traded by hedge and pension funds. Since trading was done in big amounts, and on a daily basis, the profits were excellent, but the result when viewed from the perspective of the economy, was that strong minds were deprived from producing real services and products. Instead, profit was created through paper trading. This generated claims to real wealth without creating one potato.

This enhanced inflation and created bubbles. Of course, no banker, financial consultant, or investor wanted to use their logic at the time as they were all plunging into the flood of increased profits without thinking of the immediate future.

It took some years until the surprised sector began to see what it knew all-to-well to be wrong as it was going bankrupt. Everyone was looking for a scapegoat, and most of the solutions were, again, based on 2+2=5 logic. more>