Three symptoms of the sorry state of economics2 December, 2015 at 16:46 | Posted in Economics | 3 Comments
1. The best-selling economic book explains Sumo, but not economics.
Freakonomics has sold more than 4 million copies making it one of the best-selling economic books in history. It tells us, for example, that Sumo wrestlers are likely to throw matches when their opponent is in danger of losing status with a loss. Freakonomics is, however, silent on monetary or fiscal policy. This is not negative statement about the book or the authors, but it is a negative statement on the field. Where is the best-selling book that correctly explains how to grow the economy?
2. Nobel Prize winner Professor Harry Markowitz does not use his own theory.
Professor Harry Markowitz won his Nobel Prize for a theory on how to make investments. When investors decide to buy stocks or bonds, for example, Professor Markowitz’s theory argues the optimal mix requires examination not only of historic risk and return, but also the correlation (or co-variance) between returns.
Does Professor Markowitz use his theory when he buys stocks and bonds? No. He splits his money 50-50. He is quoted as saying, “I should have computed the historical co-variances” but through psychological introspection he instead just split his money equally into stocks and bonds.
3. Nobel Prize winners Professor Myron Scholes and Robert C. Merton did use their own theory and almost blew up the world.
Q: What is worse than an economist who doesn’t use his Nobel prize winning theory?
A: Economists who do use their theory (and almost collapse the world economy).
Professor Myron S. Scholes and Robert C. Merton won the Nobel Prize in 1997. Both men were principals in the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM). Soon after their Nobel Prizes, LTCM went bust …
Economics is a lost field. More than 200 years after Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations, economics has no answer to the most important economic questions. Fields go through periods of growth and periods of stasis; I believe we are in a period of prolonged stasis in that we do not know more than we did 10 or 100 years ago.