You’re so vain (personal)

15 Apr, 2016 at 19:18 | Posted in Varia | Comments Off on You’re so vain (personal)


På silverfat (personal)

15 Apr, 2016 at 18:57 | Posted in Varia | Comments Off on På silverfat (personal)

Den här låten torterade jag min käre fader Uno med en hel vår för 40 år sedan, när jag insisterade på att den skulle på i bilstereon varje morgon på väg till arbete/skola. Jag var überjoyed — och han undrade hur ända in i helv… någon kunde komma på något så urbota dumt som ‘jag bjuder dig min kropp på SILVERFAT.’

Oh, om man ändå hade en tidsmaskin …

Reinhard Sippel’s modern classic

14 Apr, 2016 at 17:19 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Reinhard Sippel’s modern classic

timthumbThe experiment reported here was designed to reflect the fact that revealed preference theory is concerned with hypothetical choices rather than actual choices over time. In contrast to earlier experimental studies, the possibility that the different choices are made under different preference patterns can almost be ruled out. We find a considerable number of violations of the revealed preference axioms, which contradicts the neoclassical theory of the consumer maximising utility subject to a given budget constraint. We should therefore pay closer attention to the limits of this theory as a description of how people actually behave, i.e. as a positive theory of consumer behaviour. Recognising these limits, we economists should perhaps be a little more modest in our ‘imperialist ambitions’ of explaining non-market behaviour by economic principles.

Reinhard Sippel 

Sippel’s experiment showed considerable violations of the revealed preference axioms and that from a descriptive point of view — as a theory of consumer behaviour — the revealed preference theory was of a very limited value.

The neoclassical theory of consumer behaviour has been developed in great part as an attempt to justify the idea of a downward-sloping demand curve. What forerunners like e.g. Cournot (1838) and Cassel (1899) did was merely to assert this law of demand. The utility theorists tried to deduce it from axioms and postulates on individuals’ economic behaviour. Revealed preference theory — in the hands of Paul Samuelson and Hendrik Houthakker — tried to build a new theory and to put it in operational terms, but ended up with just giving a theory logically equivalent to the old one. As such it also shares its shortcomings of being empirically nonfalsifiable and of being based on unrestricted universal statements.

The theory is nothing but an empty tautology — and pondering on Reinhard Sippel’s experimental results and Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen’s apt description, a harsh assessment of what the theory accomplishes is inevitable:

analytLack of precise definition should not … disturb us in moral sciences, but improper concepts constructed by attributing to man faculties which he actually does not possess, should. And utility is such an improper concept … [P]erhaps, because of this impasse … some economists consider the approach offered by the theory of choice as a great progress … This is simply an illusion, because even though the postulates of the theory of choice do not use the terms ‘utility’ or ‘satisfaction’, their discussion and acceptance require that they should be translated into the other vocabulary … A good illustration of the above point is offered by the ingenious theory of the consumer constructed by Samuelson.

Why monetarism — and ‘New Keynesianism’ — failed

13 Apr, 2016 at 19:28 | Posted in Economics | 3 Comments

Paul Krugman has a post up today on why monetarism has more or less disappeared from economics nowadays. Milton Friedman’s project was, according to Krugman, doomed to failure. The key point for this argument is the following:

On the intellectual side, the “neoclassical synthesis” — of which Friedman-style monetarism was essentially part, despite his occasional efforts to make it seem completely different — was inherently an awkward construct. Economists were urged to build everything from “micro foundations” — which was taken to mean perfect rationality and clearing markets, not realistic descriptions of individual behavior. But to get a macro picture that looked anything like the real world, and which justified monetary activism, you needed to assume that for some reason wages and prices were slow to adjust.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yes, indeed, that is exactly what Krugman’s ‘New Keynesian’ buddies — Greg Mankiw, Olivier Blanchard, David Romer, Simon Wren-Lewis et consortes — are doing today!

So being consistent to his own argument, Krugman has to conclude that their project is ‘doomed to failure.’

Mirabile dictu!

Back in 1994 Laurence Ball and Greg Mankiw argued that

although traditionalists are often called ‘New Keynesians,’ this label is a misnomer. They could just as easily be called ‘New Monetarists.’

That is still true today — the macroeconomics of people like Greg Mankiw and Paul Krugman has theoretically and methodologically a lot more to do with Milton Friedman than with John Maynard Keynes.

Uncertainty — the crucial question

13 Apr, 2016 at 13:01 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Uncertainty — the crucial question

analytIt may be argued … that the betting quotient and credibility are substitutable in the same sense in which two commodities are: less bread but more meat may leave the consumer as well off as before. If this were, then clearly expectation could be reduced to a unidimensional concept … However, the substitutability of consumers’ goods rests upon the tacit assumption that all commodities contain something — called utility — in a greater or less degree; substitutability is therefore another name for compensation of utility. The crucial question in expectation then is whether credibility and betting quotient have a common essence so that compensation of this common essence would make sense.


Just like Keynes underlined with his concept of ‘weight of argument,’ Georgescu-Roegen, with his similar concept of ‘credibility,’ underlines the impossibility of reducing uncertainty to risk and thereby being able to describe  choice under uncertainty with a unidimensional probability concept.

In ‘modern’ macroeconomics — Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium, New Synthesis, New Classical and New ‘Keynesian’ — variables are treated as if drawn from a known ‘data-generating process’ that unfolds over time and on which we therefore have access to heaps of historical time-series. If we do not assume that we know the ‘data-generating process’ – if we do not have the ‘true’ model – the whole edifice collapses. And of course it has to. I mean, who really honestly believes that we should have access to this mythical Holy Grail, the data-generating process?

‘Modern’ macroeconomics obviously did not anticipate the enormity of the problems that unregulated ‘efficient’ financial markets created. Why? Because it builds on the myth of us knowing the ‘data-generating process’ and that we can describe the variables of our evolving economies as drawn from an urn containing stochastic probability functions with known means and variances.

This is like saying that you are going on a holiday-trip and that you know that the chance the weather being sunny is at least 30%, and that this is enough for you to decide on bringing along your sunglasses or not. You are supposed to be able to calculate the expected utility based on the given probability of sunny weather and make a simple decision of either-or. Uncertainty is reduced to risk.

But as both Georgescu-Roegen and Keynes convincingly argued, this is not always possible. Often we simply do not know. According to one model the chance of sunny weather is perhaps somewhere around 10% and according to another – equally good – model the chance is perhaps somewhere around 40%. We cannot put exact numbers on these assessments. We cannot calculate means and variances. There are no given probability distributions that we can appeal to.

In the end this is what it all boils down to. We all know that many activities, relations, processes and events are of the Georgescu-Roegen-Keynesian uncertainty-type. The data do not unequivocally single out one decision as the only ‘rational’ one. Neither the economist, nor the deciding individual, can fully pre-specify how people will decide when facing uncertainties and ambiguities that are ontological facts of the way the world works.

wrongrightSome macroeconomists, however, still want to be able to use their hammer. So they decide to pretend that the world looks like a nail, and pretend that uncertainty can be reduced to risk. So they construct their mathematical models on that assumption. The result: financial crises and economic havoc.

How much better – how much bigger chance that we do not lull us into the comforting thought that we know everything and that everything is measurable and we have everything under control – if instead we could just admit that we often simply do not know, and that we have to live with that uncertainty as well as it goes.

Fooling people into believing that one can cope with an unknown economic future in a way similar to playing at the roulette wheels, is a sure recipe for only one thing — economic disaster.


Post-keynesiansk nationalekonomi

13 Apr, 2016 at 11:09 | Posted in Economics | 4 Comments

Yours truly håller ett föredrag/seminarium onsdagen den 27 april kl. 15.30 i Hedénsalen på ABF-Stockholm (Sveavägen 41). Ämnet som avhandlas är


Kom gärna och lyssna och diskutera.

Behovet av ökad pluralism inom nationalekonomin diskuteras numera intensivt bland ekonomer och studenter världen över. Så ta chansen att lära känna ett av de viktigare heterodoxa alternativen till den förhärskande neoklassiska teoribildningen inom den moderna nationalekonomin.

Aggregate production functions — neoclassical fairytales

12 Apr, 2016 at 18:33 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Aggregate production functions — neoclassical fairytales

When one works – as one must at an aggregate level – with quantities measured in value terms, the appearance of a well-behaved aggregate production function tells one nothing at all about whether there really is one. Such an appearance stems from the accounting identity that relates the value of outputs to the value of inputs – nothing more.

Frank%20300dpi-1v2All these facts should be well known. They are not, or, if they are, their implications are simply ignored by macroeconomists who go on treating the aggregate production function as the most fundamental construct of neoclassical macroeconomics …

The consequences of the non-existence of aggregate production functions have been too long overlooked. I am reminded of the story that, during World War II, a sign in an airplane manufacturing plant read: “The laws of aerodynamics tell us that the bumblebee cannot fly. But the bumblebee does fly, and, what is more, it makes a little honey each day.” I don’t know about bumblebees, but any honey supposedly made by aggregate production functions may well be bad for one’s health.

Attempts to explain the impossibility of using aggregate production functions in practice are often met with great hostility, even outright anger. To that I say … that the moral is: “Don’t interfere with fairytales if you want to live happily ever after.”

Franklin Fisher

Neoclassical production functions are fairytales generating pure fictional results. So why do mainstream economists still use these useless constructs? Probably because it’s tough for people to admit that what they have built their academic careers around is nothing but meaningless nonsense on stilts.

On minimum wage and value-free economics

12 Apr, 2016 at 13:44 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on On minimum wage and value-free economics

I’ve subsequently stayed away from the minimum wage literature for a number of reasons. First, it cost me a lot of friends. People that I had known for many years, for instance, some of the ones I met at my first job at the University of Chicago, became very angry or disappointed. They thought that in publishing our work we were being traitors to the cause of economics as a whole.

David Card

Back in 1992, New Jersey raised the minimum wage by 18 per cent while its neighbour state, Pennsylvania, left its minimum wage unchanged. Unemployment in New Jersey should — according to mainstream economics textbooks — have increased relative to Pennsylvania. However, when economists David Card and Alan Krueger gathered information on fast food restaurants in the two states, it turned out that unemployment had actually decreased in New Jersey relative to that in Pennsylvania. Counter to mainstream demand theory we had an anomalous case of a backward-sloping supply curve.

Lo and behold!

But of course — when facts and theory don’t agree, it’s the facts that have to be wrong …

Mainstream economics — non-ideological and valuefree? I’ll be dipped!


In the long run — economics as ideology

12 Apr, 2016 at 10:24 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on In the long run — economics as ideology


Although I never believed it when I was young and held scholars in great respect, it does seem to be the case that ideology plays a large role in economics. How else to explain Chicago’s acceptance of not only general equilibrium but a particularly simplified version of it as ‘true’ or as a good enough approximation to the truth? Or how to explain the belief that the only correct models are linear and that the von Neuman prices are those to which actual prices converge pretty smartly? This belief unites Chicago and the Classicals; both think that the ‘long-run’ is the appropriate period in which to carry out analysis. There is no empirical or theoretical proof of the correctness of this. But both camps want to make an ideological point. To my mind that is a pity since clearly it reduces the credibility of the subject and its practitioners.

Frank Hahn

Macroeconomic models — beautiful but irrelevant

11 Apr, 2016 at 12:08 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Macroeconomic models — beautiful but irrelevant

2-format2010Roman Frydman is Professor of Economics at New York University and a long time critic of the rational expectations hypothesis. In his seminal 1982 American Economic Review article Towards an Understanding of Market Processes: Individual Expectations, Learning, and Convergence to Rational Expectations Equilibrium — an absolute must-read for anyone with a serious interest in understanding what are the issues in the present discussion on rational expectations as a modeling assumption — he showed that macroeconomic models founded on the rational expectations hypothesis are inadequate as representation of economic agents’ decision making.

Those who want to build macroeconomics on microfoundations usually maintain that the only robust policies and institutions are those based on rational expectations and representative actors. As yours truly has tried to show in On the use and misuse of theories and models in economics there is really no support for this conviction at all. On the contrary. If we want to have anything of interest to say on real economies, financial crisis and the decisions and choices real people make, it is high time to place macroeconomic models building on representative actors and rational expectations-microfoundations where they belong – in the dustbin of history.

For if this microfounded macroeconomics has nothing to say about the real world and the economic problems out there, why should we care about it? It is not enough being able to construct ‘beautiful’ models as long as they are irrelevant for explaining and understanding real world phenomena. The final court of appeal for macroeconomic models is the real world, and as long as no convincing justification is put forward for how the inferential bridging de facto is made, macroeconomic modelbuilding is little more than hand waving that give us rather little warrant for making inductive inferences from models to the real world. If substantive questions about the real world are being posed, it is the formalistic-mathematical representations utilized to analyze them that have to match reality, not the other way around.

Contemporary economists’ reliance on mechanical rules to understand – and influence – economic outcomes extends to macroeconomic policy as well, and often draws on an authority, John Maynard Keynes, who would have rejected their approach. Keynes understood early on the fallacy of applying such mechanical rules. “We have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle,” he warned, “having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand.”

To put it bluntly, the belief that an economist can fully specify in advance how aggregate outcomes – and thus the potential level of economic activity – unfold over time is bogus …

Roman Frydman & Michael Goldberg

The real macroeconomic challenge is to face and accept uncertainty and still try to explain why economic transactions take place – instead of simply conjuring the problem away by assuming rational expectations and treating uncertainty as if it was possible to reduce to stochastic risk. That is scientific cheating. And it has been going on for too long now.

‘Some are like water, some are like the heat’

11 Apr, 2016 at 09:41 | Posted in Varia | Comments Off on ‘Some are like water, some are like the heat’


When science becomes dogmatism

9 Apr, 2016 at 12:48 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment

GW239H358Abstraction is the most valuable ladder of any science. In the social sciences, as Marx forcefully argued, it is all the more indispensable since there ‘the force of abstraction’ must compensate for the impossibility of using microscopes or chemical reactions. However, the task of science is not to climb up the easiest ladder and remain there forever distilling and redistilling the same pure stuff. Standard economics, by opposing any suggestions that the economic process may consist of something more than a jigsaw puzzle with all its elements given, has identified itself with dogmatism. And this is a privilegium odiosum that has dwarfed the understanding of the economic
process wherever it has been exercised.

Modern economics — an abstract monstrosity

8 Apr, 2016 at 16:46 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment

The paradox of modern economics is that while the computers are churning out more and more figures, giving more and more spurious precision to economic pronouncements, the assumptions behind this fiesta of quantification are looking less and less safe. Economic model making was never easier to undertake and never more disconnected from reality.

howellSomewhere along the way economics took a wrong turn. What has occurred, and what has been vastly accentuated by the information revolution and its impact, is that economists have drained economic analysis both out of philosophy and out of real life, and have produced an abstract monstrosity, a world of models and assumptions increasingly disconnected from everyday experience and from discernible patterns of human behaviour, whether at the individual or the institutional level.

As a result, economists have not only failed to discern, explain or predict most of the ills which beset the world economy and society, but they have actively encouraged a deformity of perception amongst policy makers and communicators …

This misleading `black box’ view of the world purveyed by the economics profession (with heroic exceptions), at all levels from the most intimate micro workings of markets to the macro level of nation states and their jurisdictions, has been vastly reinforced by compliant statisticians who have brought a spurious precision and quantification to entities and concepts which may not in fact have any existence outside economic theory …

Yours truly on economics rules and deductivism

7 Apr, 2016 at 20:45 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Yours truly on economics rules and deductivism

Yours truly has two (!) articles in the latest issue (74) of Real-World Economics Review.

rodrikOne is a review of Dani Rodrik’s Economics Rules (Oxford University Press 2015) — When the model becomes the message — a critique of Rodrik  — on which I run a series of blogposts here in December last year.

Rodrik’s book is one of those rare examples where a mainstream economist — instead of just looking the other way — takes his time to ponder on the tough and deep science-theoretic and methodological questions that underpin the economics discipline.

There’s much in the book to like and appreciate, but there is also a very disturbing apologetic tendency to blame all of the shortcomings on the economists and depicting economics itself as a problem-free smorgasbord collection of models. If you just choose the appropriate model from the immense and varied smorgasbord there’s no problem. I sure wish it was that simple, but having written more than ten books on the history and methodology of economics, and having spent almost forty years ‘among them econs,’ I have to confess I don’t quite recognize the picture …

deductThe other article — Deductivism — the fundamental flaw of mainstream economics — argues that the more mainstream economics is aspiring to the ‘rigour’ and ‘precision’ of formal logic, the less it has to say about the real world. Although the formal logic focus may deepen our insights into the notion of validity, the rigour and precision has a devastatingly important trade-off: the higher the level of rigour and precision, the smaller is the range of real world application.

To read the other articles — by e.g. Thomas Palley, Alejandro Nadal, and Robert Locke — make sure to subscribe to RWER (click here).

Keynes’ critique of scientific atomism

7 Apr, 2016 at 19:12 | Posted in Theory of Science & Methodology | Comments Off on Keynes’ critique of scientific atomism

The kind of fundamental assumption about the character of material laws, on which scientists appear commonly to act, seems to me to be much less simple than the bare principle of uniformity. They appear to assume something much more like what mathematicians call the principle of the superposition of small effects, or, as I prefer to call it, in this connection, the atomic character of natural law. 3The system of the material universe must consist, if this kind of assumption is warranted, of bodies which we may term (without any implication as to their size being conveyed thereby) legal atoms, such that each of them exercises its own separate, independent, and invariable effect, a change of the total state being compounded of a number of separate changes each of which is solely due to a separate portion of the preceding state. We do not have an invariable relation between particular bodies, but nevertheless each has on the others its own separate and invariable effect, which does not change with changing circumstances, although, of course, the total effect may be changed to almost any extent if all the other accompanying causes are different. Each atom can, according to this theory, be treated as a separate cause and does not enter into different organic combinations in each of which it is regulated by different laws …

The scientist wishes, in fact, to assume that the occurrence of a phenomenon which has appeared as part of a more complex phenomenon, may be some reason for expecting it to be associated on another occasion with part of the same complex. Yet if different wholes were subject to laws qua wholes and not simply on account of and in proportion to the differences of their parts, knowledge of a part could not lead, it would seem, even to presumptive or probable knowledge as to its association with other parts. Given, on the other hand, a number of legally atomic units and the laws connecting them, it would be possible to deduce their effects pro tanto without an exhaustive knowledge of all the coexisting circumstances.

Keynes’ incisive critique is of course of interest in general for all sciences, but I think it is also of special interest in economics as a background to much of Keynes’ doubts about inferential statistics and econometrics.

Since econometrics doesn’t content itself with only making ‘optimal predictions’ but also aspires to explain things in terms of causes and effects, econometricians need loads of assumptions. Most important of these are the ‘atomistic’ assumptions of additivity and linearity.

overconfidenceThese assumptions — as underlined by Keynes — are of paramount importance and ought to be much more argued for — on both epistemological and ontological grounds — if at all being used.

Limiting model assumptions in economic science always have to be closely examined since if we are going to be able to show that the mechanisms or causes that we isolate and handle in our models are stable in the sense that they do not change when we ‘export’ them to our ‘target systems,’ we have to be able to show that they do not only hold under ceteris paribus conditions and a fortiori only are of limited value to our understanding, explanations or predictions of real economic systems.

Econometrics may be an informative tool for research. But if its practitioners do not investigate and make an effort of providing a justification for the credibility of the assumptions on which they erect their building, it will not fulfill its tasks. There is a gap between its aspirations and its accomplishments, and without more supportive evidence to substantiate its claims, critics like Keynes — and yours truly — will continue to consider its ultimate argument as a mixture of rather unhelpful metaphors and metaphysics.

The marginal return on its ever higher technical sophistication in no way makes up for the lack of serious under-labouring of its deeper philosophical and methodological foundations that already Keynes complained about. Firmly stuck in an empiricist tradition, econometrics is only concerned with the measurable aspects of reality, and a rigorous application of econometric methods in economics really presupposes that the phenomena of our real world economies are ruled by stable causal relations.

But — real world social systems are not governed by stable causal mechanisms or capacities. The kinds of ‘laws’ and relations that econometrics has established, are laws and relations about entities in models that presuppose causal mechanisms being atomistic and additive. As Keynes argued, when causal mechanisms operate in the real world they only do it in ever-changing and unstable combinations where the whole is more than a mechanical sum of parts. If economic regularities obtain they do it as a rule only because we engineered them for that purpose. Outside man-made ‘nomological machines’ they are rare, or even non-existant.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at
Entries and Comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: