Tag Archives: Economics

The real Adam Smith

By Paul Sagar – If you’ve heard of one economist, it’s likely to be Adam Smith. He’s the best-known of all economists, and is typically hailed as the founding father of the dismal science itself.

As he put it in The Wealth of Nations: ‘People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.’

The merchants had spent centuries securing their position of unfair advantage. In particular, they had invented and propagated the doctrine of ‘the balance of trade’, and had succeeded in elevating it into the received wisdom of the age.

The basic idea was that each nation’s wealth consisted in the amount of gold that it held. Playing on this idea, the merchants claimed that, in order to get rich, a nation had to export as much, and import as little, as possible, thus maintaining a ‘favorable’ balance. They then presented themselves as servants of the public by offering to run state-backed monopolies that would limit the inflow, and maximize the outflow, of goods, and therefore of gold.

But as Smith’s lengthy analysis showed, this was pure hokum: what were needed instead were open trading arrangements, so that productivity could increase generally, and collective wealth would grow for the benefit of all.

When he argued that markets worked remarkably efficiently – because, although each individual ‘intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention’ – this was an appeal to free individuals from the constraints imposed upon them by the monopolies that the merchants had established, and were using state power to uphold. The invisible hand was originally invoked not to draw attention to the problem of state intervention, but of state capture. more>

Economics is quantum

BOOK REVIEW

The Money Formula: Dodgy Finance, Pseudo-Science, and How Mathematicians Took Over the Markets, Author: David Orrell.
Quantum Mind and Social Science, Author: Alexander Wendt.
Laws of Media: The New Science, Author: Marshall McLuhan.

Money and brains are both quantum phenomena – so it’s not surprising that economics is overdue for a quantum revolution
By David Orrell – In recent years there have been many calls for economics to reinvent itself, most noticeably from student groups such as the Post-Crash Economics Society, and Rethinking Economics. In 2017, the United Kingdom’s Economic and Social Research Council announced that it was setting up a network of experts from outside economics whose task it would be to ‘revolutionize’ the field. And there have been countless books on the topic, including my own Economyths (2010), which called for just such an intervention by non-economists.

But progress has been slow.

One problem is that, while there have been many demands for a revolution, the exact nature of the revolution is less clear. Critics agree that the foundations of economics are rotten, but there are different views on what should be built in its place.

But what if the problems with economics run even deeper?

What if the traditional approach has hit a wall, and the field needs to be completely reinvented?

What if, as with 19th-century physics, the problem comes down to ontology – our entire way of thinking and talking about the economy? more>

Economists Are Obsessed with “Job Creation.” How About Less Work?

By Peter Gray – We have an ever-growing number of jobs that seem completely useless or even harmful.

As examples, we have administrators and assistant administrators in ever larger numbers shuffling papers that don’t need to be shuffled, corporate lawyers and their staffs helping big companies pay less than their fair share of taxes, countless people in the financial industries doing who knows what mischief, lobbyists using every means possible to further corrupt our politicians, and advertising executives and sales personnel pushing stuff that nobody needs or really wants.

The real problem, of course, is an economic one. We’ve figured out how to reduce the amount of work required to produce everything we need and realistically want, but we haven’t figured out how to distribute those resources except through wages earned from the 40-hour (or more) workweek.

In fact, technology has had the effect of concentrating more and more of the wealth in the hands of an ever-smaller percentage of the population, which compounds the distribution problem.

Moreover, as a legacy of the industrial revolution, we have a cultural ethos that says people must work for what they get, and so we shun any serious plans for sharing wealth through means other than exchanges for work.

So, I say, down with the work ethic, up with the play ethic!

We are designed to play, not to work. We are at our shining best when playing. Let’s get our economists thinking about how to create a world that maximizes play and minimizes work. more>

The new astrology

BOOK REVIEW

The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat, Author: lan Jay Levinovitz.
Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth, Author: Paul Romer.
The Rhetoric of Economics, Author: Deirdre N McCloskey.
Economics as Religion, Author: Robert H Nelson.
Astral Science in Early Imperial China, Author: Daniel P Morgan.
Book of Documents, Author: king Yao.

By lan Jay Levinovitz – Unlike engineers and chemists, economists cannot point to concrete objects – cell phones, plastic – to justify the high valuation of their discipline. Nor, in the case of financial economics and macroeconomics, can they point to the predictive power of their theories.

In the hypothetical worlds of rational markets, where much of economic theory is set, perhaps. But real-world history tells a different story, of mathematical models masquerading as science and a public eager to buy them, mistaking elegant equations for empirical accuracy.

The notion that an entire culture – not just a few eccentric financiers – could be bewitched by empty, extravagant theories might seem absurd. How could all those people, all that math, be mistaken?

This was my own feeling as I began investigating mathiness and the shaky foundations of modern economic science. Yet, as a scholar of Chinese religion, it struck me that I’d seen this kind of mistake before, in ancient Chinese attitudes towards the astral sciences.

Back then, governments invested incredible amounts of money in mathematical models of the stars. more> https://goo.gl/tYDpbv

The economy is more a messy, fractal living thing than a machine

BOOK REVIEW

In Our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence, Author: George Zarkadakis.

By George Zarkadakis – Mainstream economics is built on the premise that the economy is a machine-like system operating at equilibrium. According to this idea, individual actors – such as companies, government departments and consumers – behave in a rational way.

Ever since the invention of the assembly line, corporations have been like medieval cities: building walls around themselves and then trading with other ‘cities’ and consumers.

The so-called ‘gig economy’ is only the beginning of a profound economic, social and political transformation. For the moment, these new ways of working are still controlled by old-style businesses models – platforms that essentially sell ‘trust’ via reviews and verification, or by plugging into existing financial and legal systems.

Blockchain technologies promise to replace these trusted third parties with a huge digital record book, spreading out organically across a network of computers that grows and changes but can’t be meddled with.

By getting rid of middlemen, they’re likely to radically reduce transaction costs, and accelerate the mixing of many different actors in the new economy who have been freed from the grip of leaders or institutions. more> https://goo.gl/Gs6f4B

What Economics Models Really Say

BOOK REVIEW

Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science, Author: Dani Rodrik.

Why is there such an enormous gulf between what economists know and what they say in public?
By Peter Turchin – Rodrik notes early in the book, “economics is by and large the only social science that remains almost entirely impenetrable to those who have not undertaken the requisite apprenticeship in graduate school.”

And economics is “impenetrable” not because of mathematical models, at least not to someone trained in mathematical natural sciences (the math is universal), but because economists have developed an entirely distinct jargon that sets them apart from other disciplines and creates artificial barriers to understanding the many truly worthwhile insights from economics models.

In popular press, comparative advantage is always used as a justification for advocating free trade. Rodrik does an admirable job explaining why, under many conditions, free trade can lead to really negative consequences for economies and populations of countries that open themselves to international competition.

For example, there is strategic behavior. A country may choose to protect its domestic industry with high tariffs and subsidize its exports in order to gain market share.

Perhaps its leaders don’t understand the Principle of Comparative Advantage, not having the benefit of apprenticeship in economics. Or perhaps they care more about their country’s long-term survival in an anarchic international environment than about making immediate profit.

As Rodrik correctly stresses, these cases do not prove that standard economics is wrong. In short, “someone who advocates free trade because it will benefit everyone probably does not understand how comparative advantage really works.” more> https://goo.gl/mQr9tV

Old economics is based on false ‘laws of physics’ – new economics can save us

By Kate Raworth – In the 1870s, a handful of aspiring economists hoped to make economics a science as reputable as physics. Awed by Newton’s insights on the physical laws of motion – laws that so elegantly describe the trajectory of falling apples and orbiting moons – they sought to create an economic theory that matched his legacy. And so pioneering economists such as William Stanley Jevons and Léon Walras drew their diagrams in clear imitation of Newton’s style and, inspired by the way that gravity pulls a falling object to rest, wrote enthusiastically of the role played by market forces and mechanisms in pulling an economy into equilibrium.

Their mechanical metaphor sounds authoritative, but it was ill-chosen from the start – a fact that has been widely acknowledged since the astonishing fragility and contagion of global financial markets was exposed by the 2008 crash.

The most pernicious legacy of this fake physics has been to entice generations of economists into a misguided search for economic laws of motion that dictate the path of development. People and money are not as obedient as gravity, so no such laws exist. Yet their false discoveries have been used to justify growth-first policymaking. more> https://goo.gl/hbL9yx

Economists Get Too Much Credit — and Blame

By Victoria Bateman – Now, with the threat of deglobalization hanging over us, economists stand on the sidelines, feeling ignored.

This recent turn of events might leave us wondering: Do economists have the power and influence required to affect political and policy outcomes, or is it politics that determines which strains of economics are cherry-picked and ultimately championed?

Were John Maynard Keynes alive today, he would no doubt argue that the global financial crisis, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are all a result of a failed free-market economic agenda, resulting in rising inequality and a slowdown in economic growth, leaving the general public reeling. Economists would be squarely in the dock.

As far as that great rival to Keynesian thinking, Milton Friedman, was concerned, it is the public’s experiences and not the writings of economists that drive economic and policy revolutions. more> https://goo.gl/4J5c2x

Economics is fundamentally flawed

By David Spencer – Economics should be in crisis. But in reality it is not. Rather, economics remains largely the same as it was before the financial crisis – in effect, it remains just as problematic now as in the past. This is an issue not just for economics but for society as a whole, given the enduring power and influence of the discipline on policy and public life.

To think of economics in terms of forecasting is to limit its nature and scope. Economics ought to be about explanation. It should be able to make sense of the world beyond forecasts of the future. It is not clear that as it exists now, economics is able to understand the world in its present form. To this extent, it cannot help understand the frequency and depth of crises.

As things stand, there is little chance that economics will open up to the ideas and methods of other disciplines. Instead, the discipline has embraced a project of “economic imperialism” seeking to colonize other social sciences. Genuine interdisciplinary debate has lost out in this process. more> https://goo.gl/xDk2Mv

Michael Hudson Names the Pathogens in Our Economic Thinking

BOOK REVIEW

J is for Junk Economics, Author: Michael Hudson.

By Alexander Reed Kelly – “I know that’s [a] technical word but to create a way of looking at the economy of making national income statistics that make it appear as if Goldman Sachs is productive. As if Donald Trump is productive. To make it appear that people who take money from the rest of the economy without working, without really providing any service [are] actually contributing to [Gross National Product] and to economic growth.”

“Well under Thatcherism or Clintonism or whatever you want to call it, the idea is to turn the sidewalks over to the monopolists financed by Wall Street, to all of a sudden begin charging and the result is to make America a high cost economy. So, that when people like Donald Trump come in and say we’re going to make America great again, what he means is competitive again. But how can you make it competitive if you make Americans pay so much more in healthcare, as much in healthcare as an Asian would earn in an entire year. If you gave Americans all of their food and clothing and everything they buy and [sell] for nothing, they still couldn’t compete because of all of the costs that other countries pay for through the government; government healthcare, government spending, government roads.” more> https://goo.gl/oLat2t