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Against 'Ideology for Ideology's Sake'—Note to Self

Lincoln douglas

Smart young whippersnapper and Equitable Growth alumnus Marshall Steinbaum attempts to solve the problem of corrupt interests and corrupt ideology with... MOAR IDEOLOGY! Ideology that he hopes, somehow, will be reality-based.

I do not think this will work:

Marshall Steinbaum: 'In order to know what to do https://twitter.com/Noahpinion/status/1016333284320526337, we have to know how things work. To me, the sentiment @Noahpinion expresses here is the moment I get off the 'empirical revolution' train, because this is where it turns toward 'maybe we can avoid ideology after all'. Nope..."

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Werning, Rodrik, Dube, DeLong: Market & Government Failure—Dawn Procrastination Department

Classical economists

https://twitter.com/delong/status/1282300712718725121 Ivan Werning**: 'Many economists repeat (without thinking?) that the burden of the proof is on showing a market failure. Perhaps makes sense in some politico-economy perspective, to avoid lobbies. But scientifically, I cannot make sense of it from a Bayesian perspective.'

Dani Rodrik: 'It doesn't make sense even from a political-economy perspective (typically there are "barbarians" on the laissez-faire side of an issue as well). Here's something I wrote on this a while back, distinguishing first-best and second-best economists: Why do economists disagree? Non-economists are often baffled by the disagreements among professional economists on the issues of the day--from international trade to the minimum wage, from economic development to health policy... https://github.com/braddelong/public-files/blob/master/readings/weblog-rodrik-2007-disagree.pdf'

Arindrajit Dube: 'Exactly. I think since the 1970s, there has been a remarkably cavalier assumption that intellectual deviations from competitive, efficient, neoclassicism are somehow more amenable to capture by interest groups than fairy tales about how markets work.'

Brad DeLong: Say, perhaps, that we have very good theories of individual narow market failures, but no institutional ability to include them in our background model of how the economy outside of our narrow era of focus is working. Keynes's General Theory:

If effective demand is deficient, not only is the public scandal of wasted resources intolerable, but the individual enterpriser who seeks to bring these resources into action is operating with the odds loaded against him. The game of hazard which he plays is furnished with many zeros, so that the players as a whole will lose if they have the energy and hope to deal all the cards...

being only one of a very few attempts to even think about the implications for market Y of market failure in market Z.

And say that, while we have good models of market failure, we do not have good models of government failure. As Larry the S said a decade ago, on the one hand we have naive social democratic pollyannaish overconfidence about regulation, and on the other hand "the public choice school... driven... relentlessly towards nihilism in a way that isn’t actually helpful for those charged with designing regulatory institutions... https://github.com/braddelong/public-files/blob/master/readings/conversation-summers-wolf-bretton-woods.pdf

Cf.: Bill C. https://twentycentparadigms.blogspot.com/2007/08/two-kinds-of-economists.html

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John Maynard Keynes: How Much Does Finance Matter?

John Maynard Keynes: How Much Does Finance Matter https://github.com/braddelong/public-files/blob/master/readings/article-keynes-finance-matter.pdf: ‘Where we are using up resources, do not let us submit to the vile doctrine of the nineteenth century that every enterprise must justify itself in pounds, shillings and pence of cash income, with no other denominator of values but this. I should like to see that war memorials of this tragic struggle take the shape of an enrichment of the civic life of every great centre of population. Why should we not set aside, let us say, £50 millions a year for the next twenty years to add in every substantial city of the realm the dignity of an ancient university or a European capital to our local schools and their surroundings, to our local government and its offices, and above all perhaps, to provide a local centre of refreshment and entertainment with an ample theatre, a concert hall, a dance hall, a gallery, a British restaurant, canteens, cafes and so forth. Assuredly we can afford this and much more. Anything we can actually do we can afford. Once done, it is there. Nothing can take it from us. We are immeasurably richer than our predecessors. Is it not evident that some sophistry, some fallacy, governs our collective action if we are forced to be so much meaner than they in the embellishments of life?…

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Weekend Reading: John Maynard Keynes: On Speculation, from The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money


Weekend Reading: John Maynard Keynes: On Speculation, from The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money https://www.bradford-delong.com/2015/02/weekend-reading-john-maynard-keynes-the-general-theory-of-employment-interest-and-money-by-john-maynard-keynes-1.html: 'The professional investor is forced to concern himself with the anticipation of impending changes, in the news or in the atmosphere, of the kind by which experience shows that the mass psychology of the market is most influenced. This is the inevitable result of investment markets organised with a view to so-called ‘liquidity’. Of the maxims of orthodox finance none, surely, is more anti-social than the fetish of liquidity, the doctrine that it is a positive virtue on the part of investment institutions to concentrate their resources upon the holding of ‘liquid’ securities. It forgets that there is no such thing as liquidity of investment for the community as a whole. The social object of skilled investment should be to defeat the dark forces of time and ignorance which envelop our future. The actual, private object of the most skilled investment to-day is ‘to beat the gun’, as the Americans so well express it, to outwit the crowd, and to pass the bad, or depreciating, half-crown to the other fellow...

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How Damaging Is Plutocracy for Economic Policy?

Is Plutocracy Really the Problem by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

No Longer Fresh at Project Syndicate: Is Plutocracy Really the Problem?: After the 2008 financial crisis, economic policymakers in the United States did enough to avert another Great Depression, but fell far short of what was needed to ensure a strong recovery. Attributing that failure to the malign influence of the plutocracy is tempting, but it misses the root of the problem.... In fact, big money does not always find a way, nor does its influence necessarily increase as the top 0.01% captures a larger share of total income.... The larger issue...is an absence of alternative voices. If the 2010s had been anything like the 1930s, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Conference Board would have been aggressively calling for more investment in America, and these arguments would have commanded the attention of the press. Labor unions would have had a prominent voice as advocates for a high-pressure economy. Both would have had very powerful voices inside the political process through their support of candidates. Did the top 0.01% put something in the water to make the media freeze out such voices after 2008?... Read MOAR at Project Syndicate

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Weekend Reading: Charles Kindleberger: Anatomy of a Typical Financial Crisis

Weekend Reading: Charles Kindleberger: Anatomy of a Typical Financial Crisis: From Charlie Kindleberger, A Financial History of Western Europe:

p. 90 ff: No discretion was allowed in the issuance of bank notes, however.... Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, first contemplated allowing a relaxing power in the 1844 legislation, but ultimately decided against it.... Peel protected himself... in a letter from Windsor Castle, written on 4 June 1844: "My confidence is unshaken that we have taken all the precautions which legislation can prudently take against a recurrence of a pecuniary crisis. It may occur in spite of our precautions; and if it does and if it be necessary to assume a grave responsibility, I dare say men will be found willing to assume such a responsibility (BPP 1847 [1969], Vol. 2, p. xxix)"...

The difficulty in making the note issue inelastic... is that it became inelastic at all times, when the requirement in an internal financial crisis is that money be freely available...

The Bank of England came to the rescue of the South Sea Company... belatedly, and at a punishing price... to dispose of a dangerous rival. Its recognition of its responsibilities in preventing, or at least mitigating, financial crisis in the public interest took more time. There was a lag in understanding the need to have the money supply inelastic in the long run but elastic in the short. A further question was whose task it was to serve as lender of last resort...

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Apropos of the Hayekian "the market knows many things that no individual knows": In the fifth century BC those casting the statue of Athena-Fighting-in-Front in Attica had no clue that the tin from which they made their bronze came from Cornwall; and those mining the tin in Cornwall had no clue that its highest-and-best market use would be to make a giant statue of Athens's patron goddess:

James D. Muhly: Sources of Tin and the Beginnings of Bronze Metallurgy: "Herodotus: 'Of the extreme tracts of Europe towards the west, I cannot speak with any certainty; for I do not... know of any islands called the Tin Islands, whence the tin comes which we use.... I have never been able to get an eye-witness that there is any sea on the further side of Europe. Nevertheless, tin and amber do certainly come to us from the ends of the earth...

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Debt Derangement Syndrome: Fresh at Project Syndicate

Debt Derangement Syndrome by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

Project Syndicate: Debt Derangement Syndrome: Standard policy economics dictates that the public sector needs to fill the gap in aggregate demand when the private sector is not spending enough. After a decade of denial, the Global North may finally be returning to economic basics: For the past decade, politics in the Global North has been in a state of high madness owing to excessive fear of government debts and deficits. But two recent straws in the wind suggest that this may at long last be changing.... Ken Rogoff.... Brendan Greeley... reported... “a panicked email” from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB)... Olivier Blanchard.... What Rogoff and Blanchard are saying today is standard policy economics. In fact, I always found it hard to believe–and still do–that anybody can take exception to it. Whenever the private sector stops spending enough to keep unemployment low and jobs easy to find, the public sector needs to fill the gap in aggregate demand... Read MOAR at Project Syndicate

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Note to Self: Trying and failing to gain conceptual clarity about and work my way through the algebra involved in a minor point in Blanchard's excellent and stimulating presidential address: Public Debt and Low Interest Rates: https://nbviewer.jupyter.org/github/braddelong/WS2019/blob/master/Thinking_About_Blanchard%27s_Presidential_Address....ipynb?flushcache=true...

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Yes, There Are Individual Economists Worth Paying Respect to. But Is Economics Worth Paying Respect to?

Lorenzetti ambrogio bad govern det The Allegory of Good and Bad Government Wikipedia

Blush. To be one of fifteen good economists name-checked by Larry Summers genuinely makes my day—nay, makes my week.

But this gets into a topic I have been worrying at for a long time now. And so let me try once again to say what needs to be said, for I do have to admit that, contrary to what Larry maintains, Fareed Zakaria does have a point when he says that "events have hammered... nails into the coffin of traditional economics" and that, while the question mark at the end is important, it is time to speak of "the end of economics?". Yes, there are very many good economists worth listening to. But does economics as a whole have any claim to authority, or is it better for outsiders' first reaction to be to dismiss its claims as some combination of ideology on the one hand and obsequious toadying to political masters on the other?

Open right now on my virtual desktop, as has been true about 5% of the time over the past fourteen months, is an article forecasting the economic effects of the 2017 Trump-McConnell-Ryan tax cut by nine academic economists: Robert J. Barro, Michael J. Boskin, John Cogan, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Glenn Hubbard, Lawrence B. Lindsey, Harvey S. Rosen, George P. Shultz and John. B. Taylor: How Tax Reform Will Lift the Economy: We believe the Republican bills could boost GDP 3% to 4% long term by reducing the cost of capital. It is, bluntly, unprofessional.

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Larry Summers: Has economics failed us? Hardly: "My friend Fareed Zakaria... writing... “The End of Economics?,” doubting the relevance and utility of economics and economists. Because Fareed is so thoughtful and echoes arguments that are frequently made, he deserves a considered response. Fareed ignores large bodies of economic thought, fails to recognize that economists have been the sources of most critiques of previous economic thinking, tilts at straw men and offers little alternative to economic approaches to public policy...

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Is There Any Reason to Fear Low Interest Rates?

Il Quarto Stato

Paul Krugman tells us: Paul Krugman: @paulkrugman: "The American Economic Association has a new discussion forum set up by Olivier Blanchard. First up is the question of whether low interest rates are leading to excessive risk-taking https://www.aeaweb.org/forum/311/have-low-interest-rates-led-to-excessive-risk-taking..." So I mossed on over and left three comments: one on the forum, one on secular stagnation, and one on whether there is any reason to fear low interest rates:

Is There Any Reason to Fear Low Interest Rates?: Have low interest rates led to excessive risk taking?: I suspect that the right way to make the accurate point that this line of discussion is hunting for is to focus not on the amount of risk but on, rather, who is bearing the risk...

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