Was Marx right after all?

6 Sep, 2021 at 18:33 | Posted in Economics | 3 Comments


Analytical bias

5 Sep, 2021 at 16:41 | Posted in Economics | 2 Comments

Expectation vs reality concept business analysis Vector ImageThe world is made up of systems.  Our body is a system, or in fact a system of systems.  What we call “society” is another system of systems, as is the natural environment …

But these systems are very complex, difficult to explain or predict.  One successful strategy, which has had a revolutionary impact on how we live, is analysis …

By biting off chewable portions of a much larger world, science makes it possible to achieve progress in our understanding of how things work …

But this approach, for all its benefits, fails to capture most of the interactive effects that make a system a system.  It leads us to overstate the separateness of the things we study and observe and to understate their connectedness.  This is not an argument against thinking analytically, but for not being surprised by what this thinking fails to see so we can at least somewhat compensate for its shortcomings.

Peter Dorman

Using the ‘analytical’ method — “biting off chewable portions of a much larger world” — may indeed sound as a convincing and good scientific approach. But — as Dorman  notices — there is a snag!

The procedure only really works when you have a machine-like whole/system/economy where the parts appear in more or less fixed and stable configurations. And if there is anything we know about reality, it is that it is not a machine! The world we live in is not a ‘closed’ system. On the contrary. It is an essentially ‘open’ system. Things are uncertain, relational, interdependent, complex, and ever-changing.

Without assuming that the underlying structure of the economy that you try to analyze remains stable/invariant/constant, there is no chance the equations of the model remain constant. That’s the very rationale why economists use (often only implicitly) the assumption of ceteris paribus. But — nota bene — this can only be a hypothesis. You have to argue the case. If you cannot supply any sustainable justifications or warrants for the adequacy of making that assumption, then the whole analytical economic project becomes pointless non-informative nonsense. Not only have we to assume that we can shield off variables from each other analytically (external closure). We also have to assume that each and every variable themselves are amenable to be understood as stable and regularity producing machines (internal closure). Which, of course, we know is as a rule not possible. Some things, relations, and structures are not analytically graspable. Trying to analyse parenthood, marriage, employment, etc, piece by piece doesn’t make sense. To be a chieftain, a capital-owner, or a slave is not an individual property of an individual. It can come about only when individuals are integral parts of certain social structures and positions. Social relations and contexts cannot be reduced to individual phenomena. A cheque presupposes a banking system and being a tribe-member presupposes a tribe.  Not taking account of this in the ‘analytical’ approach, economic ‘analysis’ becomes rather uninformative nonsense.

Modern macro — ‘genuine plurality’ vs. ‘axiomatic variation’

5 Sep, 2021 at 13:13 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Modern macro — ‘genuine plurality’ vs. ‘axiomatic variation’

out-of-the-fryingThe DSGE mainstream — which is made up of new classical macroeconomics and neo-Keynesianism — is unanimously based on the core assumptions that characterize the paradigm of social exchange theory. These are rationality, ergodicity and substitutionality, the exclusive acceptance of a formal mathematical-deductive, positivist reductionism. After the ‘empirical turn’ of the last two or three decades, these have been combined with sophisticated micro- and macroeconometrics, or with experimental arrangements, such as are familiar from the leading natural sciences (physics and chemistry). The postulate of stability and optimality (Walras’s law), which is implemented a priori in the core assumptions, serves as a ‘model solution,’ and thus functions as a marker of a negative heuristic. The apparently very different model prognoses of new classical macroeconomics (hyper-balanced and hyper-stable) on the one hand, and of standard and neo-Keynesianism (unbalanced, open to intervention) on the other hand are based on changes to assumptions in the ‘protective belt’ (e.g. about the speed of adjustment, the rigidity of prices and quantities, the formation of expectations etc.), but do not actually point to a different paradigmatic origin of the two schools of theory.

Arne Heise & Sebastian Thieme

Maintaining that economics is a science in the ‘true knowledge’ business, yours truly remains a skeptic of the pretences and aspirations of New Classical and ‘New Keynesian’ macroeconomics. So far, I cannot really see that they have yielded very much in terms of realistic and relevant economic knowledge.

The marginal return on its ever higher technical sophistication in no way makes up for the lack of serious underlabouring of the deeper philosophical and methodological foundations of mainstream economics. The rather one-sided emphasis of usefulness and its concomitant instrumentalist justification cannot hide it cannot give supportive evidence for considering it fruitful to analyze macroeconomic structures and events as the aggregated result of optimizing representative actors. After having analyzed some of its ontological and epistemological foundations, I cannot but conclude that ‘modern’ macroeconomics on the whole has not delivered anything else than “as if” unreal and irrelevant models.

Science should help us penetrate to “the true process of causation lying behind current events” and disclose “the causal forces behind the apparent facts” [Keynes 1971-89 vol XVII:427]. We should look out for causal relations. But models can never be more than a starting point in that endeavour. There is always the possibility that there are other variables — of vital importance and although perhaps unobservable and non-additive not necessarily epistemologically inaccessible –- that were not considered for the model.

The kinds of laws and relations that economics has established, are laws and relations about entities in models that presuppose causal mechanisms being atomistic and additive. 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. Unfortunately that also makes most of the achievements of macroeconomics — as most of contemporary endeavours of economic theoretical modeling — rather useless.

Most mainstream economists seem to have no problem with the lack of fundamental diversity — not just path-dependent elaborations of the mainstream canon — and vanishingly little real-world relevance that characterize modern mainstream macroeconomics. They usually stick to the view that there is nothing basically wrong with ‘standard theory.’ As long as policymakers​ and economists stick to ‘standard economic analysis’ everything is just fine. Economics is just a common language and method that makes us think straight,  reach correct answers, and produce ‘knowledge.’

Although some mainstream economists try hard to give a picture of modern macroeconomics as a pluralist enterprise, the change and diversity that gets their approval only takes place within the analytic-formalistic modeling strategy that makes up the core of mainstream economics. You’re free to take your analytical formalist models and apply it to whatever you want — as long as you do it with a modeling methodology that is acceptable to the mainstream. If you do not follow this particular mathematical-deductive analytical formalism you’re not even considered doing economics. If you haven’t modeled your thoughts, you’re not in the economics business. But this isn’t pluralism. It’s a methodological reductionist straightjacket.

No matter how precise and rigorous the analysis is, and no matter how hard one tries to cast the argument in modern ‘the model is the message’ form, mainstream economics do not push economic science forwards one millimetre​ since it simply do not stand the acid test of relevance to the target. No matter how clear, precise, rigorous or certain the inferences delivered inside the models are, that is no guarantee whatsoever they have anything interesting or relevant to say about real-world economies.

Levels of aspiration among economists

31 Aug, 2021 at 10:10 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Levels of aspiration among economists

225px-allais_pn_maurice-24x30-2001bSubmission to observed or experimental data is the golden rule which dominates any scientific discipline. Any theory whatever, if it is not verified by empirical evidence, has no scientific value and should be rejected.

Maurice Allais

Formalistic deductive ‘Glasperlenspiel’ can be very impressive and seductive. But in the realm of science it ought to be considered of little or no value to simply make claims about models and lose sight of reality.

Mainstream economics has since long more or less given up on the real world and contents itself with proving things about thought up worlds. Empirical evidence — still — only plays a minor role in economic theory, where models largely function as a substitute for empirical evidence. Hopefully humbled by the ever growing manifest failure of its theoretical pretences, the one-sided, almost religious, insistence on axiomatic-deductivist modeling as the only scientific activity worthy of pursuing in economics will give way to methodological pluralism based on ontological considerations rather than formalistic tractability.

To have valid evidence is not enough. What economics needs is sound evidence. Why? Simply because the premises of a valid argument do not have to be true, but a sound argument, on the other hand, is not only valid, but builds on premises that are true. Aiming only for validity, without soundness, is setting the economics aspiration level too low for developing a realist and relevant science.

Keynes was not a Keynesian. He was a Post Keynesian!

24 Aug, 2021 at 20:37 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment

keynes3But these more recent writers like their predecessors were still dealing with a system in which the amount of the factors employed was given and the other relevant facts were known more or less for certain. This does not mean that they were dealing with a system in which change was ruled out, or even one in which the disappointment of expectation was ruled out. But at any given time facts and expectations were assumed to be given in a definite and calculable form; and risks, of which, tho admitted, not much notice was taken, were supposed to be capable of an exact actuarial computation. The calculus of probability, tho mention of it was kept in the background, was supposed to be capable of reducing uncertainty to the same calculable status as that of certainty itself …

Thus the fact that our knowledge of the future is fluctuating, vague and uncertain, renders Wealth a peculiarly unsuitable subject for the methods of the classical economic theory.

John Maynard Keynes

And this emphasis on the importance of uncertainty is not even mentioned in ‘IS-LM Keynesianism’ …

Behavioural economics and complexity economics

17 Aug, 2021 at 22:29 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment

James Galbraith: what Europe needs is solidarity, not austerity | etuiWhat is to take the place of neoclassical economics and its neoliberal policy offshoot? There is no shortage of candidates, grouped under the broad banner of economic heterodoxy. Some of these successor doctrines – behavioral economics and complexity economics are examples of note – take the neoclassical orthodoxies as a point of departure. They therefore continue to define themselves in relation to those orthodoxies. Others avoided the gravitational pull altogether – or, as in the exceptional case of Keynes, made a “long struggle to escape”. The behaviorists depart from neoclassicism by giving up strict assumptions of rational and maximizing behavior. Complexity theorists explore the dynamics of interacting agents and recursive functions. Both achieve a measure of academic reputability by remaining in close dialog with the orthodox mainstream. Neither pays more than a glancing tribute to earlier generations or other canons of economic thought. The model is that of neoclassical offshoots – New Institutionalism, New Classical Economics, New Keynesianism – that make a vampire practice of colonizing older words and draining them of their previous meaning. The dilemma of these offshoots lies in having accepted the false premise of the orthodoxy to which it proposes to serve as the alternative. The conceit is of a dispassionate search for timeless truth, once again pursued by “relaxing restrictive assumptions” in the interest of “greater realism”. Thus, for example, in complexity theories agents follow simple rules and end up generating intricate and unpredictable patterns, nonlinear recursive functions give the same result, the variance of returns turns out to be non-normal, and so forth. But once the starting point is taken to be the neoclassical competitive general equilibrium model, these exercises are largely drained of insight and relevance. The behaviorists can tell us that real people do not appear to fit well into the portrait of autonomous, selfish, commodity-obsessed pleasure-seekers that is “economic man”. The complexity theorists can tell us, as Arthur (2021) does, is that a system constructed from confections of interacting agents may be unstable. These things, even the dimmest observer of real-existing capitalism already knew.

James Galbraith / RWER

Although discounting empirical evidence cannot be the right way to solve economic issues, there are still, in my opinion, a couple of weighty reasons why we — just as Galbraith — perhaps shouldn’t be too excited about the so-called ’empirical’ or ‘behavioural’ revolution in economics.

behBehavioural experiments and laboratory research face the same basic problem as theoretical models — they are built on often rather artificial conditions and have difficulties with the ‘trade-off’ between internal and external validity. The more artificial conditions, the more internal validity, but also less external validity. The more we rig experiments to avoid the ‘confounding factors’, the less the conditions are reminiscent of the real ‘target system.’ The nodal issue is how economists using different isolation strategies in different ‘nomological machines’ attempt to learn about causal relationships. One may have justified doubts on the generalizability of this research strategy since the probability is high that causal mechanisms are different in different contexts and that lack of homogeneity and invariance doesn’t give us warranted export licenses to the ‘real’ societies or economies.

If we see experiments or laboratory research as theory tests or models that ultimately aspire to say something about the real ‘target system,’ then the problem of external validity is central (and was for a long time also a key reason why behavioural economists had trouble getting their research results published).

A standard procedure in behavioural economics — think of e.g. dictator or ultimatum games — is to set up a situation where one induce people to act according to the standard microeconomic — homo oeconomicus — benchmark model. In most cases, the results show that people do not behave as one would have predicted from the benchmark model, in spite of the setup almost invariably being ‘loaded’ for that purpose. [And in those cases where the result is consistent with the benchmark model, one, of course, have to remember that this in no way proves the benchmark model to be right or ‘true,’ since there, as a rule, may be many outcomes that are consistent with that model.]

For most heterodox economists this is just one more reason for giving up on the standard model. But not so for mainstreamers and many behaviouralists. To them, the empirical results are not reasons for giving up on their preferred hardcore axioms. So they set out to ‘save’ or ‘repair’ their model and try to ‘integrate’ the empirical results into mainstream economics. Instead of accepting that the homo oeconomicus model has zero explanatory real-world value, one puts lipstick on the pig and hope to go on with business as usual. Why we should keep on using that model as a benchmark when everyone knows it is false is something we are never told. Instead of using behavioural economics and its results as building blocks for a progressive alternative research program, the ‘save and repair’ strategy immunizes a hopelessly false and irrelevant model.

By this, I do not mean to say that empirical methods per se are so problematic that they can never be used. On the contrary, I am basically — though not without reservations — in favour of the increased use of behavioural experiments and laboratory research within economics. Not least as an alternative to completely barren ‘bridge-less’ axiomatic-deductive theory models. My criticism is more about aspiration levels and what we believe that we can achieve with our mediational epistemological tools and methods in the social sciences.

The increasing use of natural and quasi-natural experiments in economics during the last couple of decades has led several prominent economists to triumphantly declare it as a major step on a recent path toward empirics, where instead of being a deductive philosophy, economics is now increasingly becoming an inductive science.

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.

‘Ideally controlled experiments’ tell us with certainty what causes what effects — but only given the right ‘closures.’ Making appropriate extrapolations from (ideal, accidental, natural or quasi) experiments to different settings, populations or target systems, is not easy. ‘It works there’ is no evidence for ‘it will work here.’ Causes deduced in an experimental setting still have to show that they come with an export-warrant to the target system. The causal background assumptions made have to be justified, and without licenses to export, the value of ‘rigorous’ and ‘precise’ methods is despairingly small.

Taking assumptions like utility maximization or market equilibrium as a matter of course leads to the ‘standing presumption in economics that, if an empirical statement is deduced from standard assumptions then that statement is ‘reliable’ …

maxresdefaultThe ongoing importance of these assumptions is especially evident in those areas of economic research, where empirical results are challenging standard views on economic behaviour like experimental economics or behavioural finance … From the perspective of Model-Platonism, these research-areas are still framed by the ‘superior insights’ associated with early 20th century concepts, essentially because almost all of their results are framed in terms of rational individuals, who engage in optimizing behaviour and, thereby, attain equilibrium …

While the mere emergence of research areas like experimental economics is sometimes deemed a clear sign for the advent of a new era … a closer look at these fields allows us to illustrate the enduring relevance of the Model-Platonism-topos and, thereby, shows the pervasion of these fields with a traditional neoclassical style of thought.

Jakob Kapeller

So — although it is good that behavioural economists are rewarded ‘Nobel prizes’ and that much of their research has vastly undermined the lure of axiomatic-deductive mainstream economics, there is still a long way to go before economics has become a truly empirical science. The great challenge for future economics is not to develop methodologies and theories for well-controlled laboratories, but to develop relevant methodologies and theories for the messy world in which we happen to live.

An economic theory that does not go beyond proving theorems and conditional ‘if-then’ statements — and do not make assertions and put forward hypotheses about real-world individuals and institutions — is of little consequence for anyone wanting to use theories to better understand, explain or predict real-world phenomena.

Building theories and models on patently ridiculous assumptions we know people never conform to, does not deliver real science. Real and reasonable people have no reason to believe in ‘as-if’ models of ‘rational’ robot-imitations acting and deciding in a Walt Disney-world characterised by ‘common knowledge,’ ‘full information,’ ‘rational expectations,’ zero transaction costs, given stochastic probability distributions, risk-reduced genuine uncertainty, and other laughable nonsense assumptions of the same ilk. Science fiction is not science.

For decades now, economics students have been complaining about the way economics is taught. Their complaints are justified. Force-feeding young and open-minded people with unverified and useless autistic mainstream theories and models cannot be the right way to develop a relevant and realist economic science.

Much work done in mainstream theoretical economics is devoid of any explanatory interest. And not only that. Seen from a strictly scientific point of view, it has no value at all. It is a waste of time. And as so many have been experiencing in modern times of austerity policies and market fundamentalism — a very harmful waste of time.

An alternative to mainstream orthodoxy that has been discussed much lately is so the called complexity economics and its agent-based modelling.

Agent-based models are formal models usually constructed using mathematical programming and performing simulations and ‘artificial experiments’ with the intention of being able to (more explicitly than in conventional mainstream game theory) describe aggregate effects and dynamics of interacting individuals and socio-economic structures without standardly having to assume equilibria, non-emergence, Walrasian auctioneers, representative agents, rational expectations, etc., etc..

Agent-based models come in different degrees of realism and are usually conceptualised as different kinds of self-organising complex systems. But one thing they all have in common is reliance on mathematical formalism. In essence the agent-based modelling endeavour in macroeconomics is an attempt at providing new alternative mathematical models where many of the bizarre and ridiculous known-to-be ‘unrealistic’ assumptions in standard DSGE models are replaced with other less ‘unrealistic’ assumptions. But the idea that mathematical modelling as such is always appropriate to apply is never seriously questioned. And that’s where I find it hard to follow. One set of mathematical tractability assumptions are substituted for another. But what if the mathematical modelling in itself is the problem? What if the use of mathematical-formalistic modelling in itself biases your research efforts in specific directions? If it is the mathematical-formalistic approach in itself that is the problem, we only end up with different models based on the same unquestioned mathematical modelling strategy. From my own critical realist perspective I can’t see that mathematical modelling is the self-evidently appropriate way to perform analyses of societies and economies. The kind of ‘closures’ demanded of the target systems for warranting the analyses, I would argue, simply often aren’t there.

As a critique of mainstream economics, yours truly fully appreciates the work done by the ‘complexity’ economists. But although their alternative agent-based models in many ways are superior to the more traditional mainstream ‘Walt Disney’ kind of models, I am not convinced that their unquestioned attachment to mathematical-formalist modelling is the right way to move forward in making economics a more realist and relevant science.

Keynes’s Copernican revolution in economics

16 Aug, 2021 at 12:06 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Keynes’s Copernican revolution in economics


A small ray of hope

16 Aug, 2021 at 11:46 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment


I overheard a conversation between two high school students this morning.

The first person was asking about which classes the second was going to take next. One of those mentioned was microeconomics.

“Oh, that’s easy” said the first, “You just have to remember that it’s all rubbish — they want you to believe that people are rational, and that there’s all this perfection in the world.”

“Really?” responded the second, “That’s really dumb. I wonder why they do that?”

“It doesn’t matter, it’s economics”

“Well maybe I’ll take history instead, at least I might learn something useful.”

Peter Radford

Robert Lucas and his Keynesian credentials

7 Aug, 2021 at 08:38 | Posted in Economics | 8 Comments

In his Keynote Address to the 2003 History of Political Economy Conference, Robert Lucas said:

Well, I’m not here to tell people in this group about the history of
monetary thought. I guess I’m here as a kind of witness from a vanished
culture, the heyday of Keynesian economics. It’s like historians rushing
to interview the last former slaves before they died, or the last of the
people who remembered growing up in a Polish shtetl. I am going to tell
you what it was like growing up in a day when Keynesian economics
was taught as a solid basis on which macroeconomics could proceed.

keynesdanceMy credentials? Was I a Keynesian myself? Absolutely. And does my
Chicago training disqualify me for that? No, not at all. David Laidler
[who was present at the conference] will agree with me on this, and I will
explain in some detail when I talk about my education. Our Keynesian
credentials, if we wanted to claim them, were as good as could be obtained
in any graduate school in the country in 1963.

I thought when I was trying to prepare some notes for this talk
that people attending the conference might be arguing about Axel
Leijonhufvud’s thesis that IS-LM was a distortion of Keynes, but I didn’t
really hear any of this in the discussions this afternoon. So I’m going to
think about IS-LM and Keynesian economics as being synonyms. I remember
when Leijonhufvud’s book2 came out and I asked my colleague
Gary Becker if he thought Hicks had got the General Theory right with
his IS-LM diagram. Gary said, “Well, I don’t know, but I hope he did,
because if it wasn’t for Hicks I never would have made any sense out of
that damn book.” That’s kind of the way I feel, too, so I’m hoping Hicks
got it right.

Mirabile dictu! I’m a Keynesian — although I haven’t understood anything of what Keynes wrote, but I’ve read anoher guy who said he had read his book, so I hope for the best and assume he got it right (which Hicks actually didn’t, and was intellectually honest to admit in at least three scientific publications published about twenty years before Lucas statement). In truth a very scientific attitude. No wonder the guy after having deluded himself into believing (?) being a Keynesian — although actually only elaborating upon a model developed and then disowned by John Hicks — got the “Nobel prize” in economics …

Japan’s economic woes

5 Aug, 2021 at 11:50 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment


Top 20 heterodox economics books

4 Aug, 2021 at 15:49 | Posted in Economics | 4 Comments


  • Karl Marx, Das Kapital (1867)
  • Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)
  • Joseph Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development (1911)
  • Nikolai Kondratiev, The Major Economic Cycles (1925)
  • Gunnar Myrdal, The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory (1930)
  • John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory (1936)
  • Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (1944)
  • Paul Sweezy, Theory of Capitalist Development (1956)
  • Joan Robinson, Accumulation of Capital (1956)
  • John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (1958)
  • Piero Sraffa, Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (1960)
  • Johan Åkerman, Theory of Industrialism (1961)
  • Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (1971)
  • Michal Kalecki, Selected Essays on the Dynamics of the Capitalist Economy (1971)
  • Paul Davidson, Money and the Real World (1972)
  • Hyman Minsky, John Maynard Keynes (1975)
  • Philip Mirowski, More Heat than Light (1989)
  • Tony Lawson, Economics and Reality (1997)
  • Steve Keen, Debunking Economics (2001)
  • Anwar Shaikh, Capitalism: competition, conflict, crises (2016)

Why MMT rejects the loanable funds theory

29 Jul, 2021 at 11:00 | Posted in Economics | 11 Comments

The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's  Economy - Stephanie Kelton - Häftad (9781541736191) | BokusGovernment deficits always lead to a dollar-for-dollar increase in the supply of net financial assets held in the nongovernment bucket. That’s not a theory. That’s not an opinion. It’s just the cold hard reality of stock-flow consistent accounting. So fiscal deficits — even with government borrowing — can’t leave behind a smaller supply of dollar savings. And if that can’t happen, then a shrinking pool of dollar savings can’t be responsible for driving borrowing costs higher. Clearly, this presents a problem for the conventional crowding-out theory, which claims that government spending and private investment compete for a finite pool of savings.

The loanable funds theory is in many regards nothing but an approach where the ruling rate of interest in society is — pure and simple — conceived as nothing else than the price of loans or credit, determined by supply and demand — as Bertil Ohlin put it — “in the same way as the price of eggs and strawberries on a village market.”

In the traditional loanable funds theory — as presented in mainstream macroeconomics textbooks — the amount of loans and credit available for financing investment is constrained by how much saving is available. Saving is the supply of loanable funds, investment is the demand for loanable funds and assumed to be negatively related to the interest rate.

As argued by Kelton, there are many problems with the standard presentation and formalization of the loanable funds theory. And more can be added to the list:

1 As already noticed by James Meade decades ago, the causal story told to explicate the accounting identities used gives the picture of “a dog called saving wagged its tail labelled investment.” In Keynes’s view — and later over and over again confirmed by empirical research — it’s not so much the interest rate at which firms can borrow that causally determines the amount of investment undertaken, but rather their internal funds, profit expectations and capacity utilization.

2 As is typical of most mainstream macroeconomic formalizations and models, there is pretty little mention of real-world​ phenomena, like e. g. real money, credit rationing and the existence of multiple interest rates, in the loanable funds theory. Loanable funds theory essentially reduces modern monetary economies to something akin to barter systems — something they definitely are not. As emphasized especially by Minsky, to understand and explain how much investment/loaning/crediting is going on in an economy, it’s much more important to focus on the working of financial markets than staring at accounting identities like S = Y – C – G. The problems we meet on modern markets today have more to do with inadequate financial institutions than with the size of loanable-funds-savings.

3 The loanable funds theory in the “New Keynesian” approach means that the interest rate is endogenized by assuming that Central Banks can (try to) adjust it in response to an eventual output gap. This, of course, is essentially nothing but an assumption of Walras’ law being valid and applicable, and that a fortiori the attainment of equilibrium is secured by the Central Banks’ interest rate adjustments. From a realist Keynes-Minsky point of view, this can’t be considered anything else than a belief resting on nothing but sheer hope. [Not to mention that more and more Central Banks actually choose not to follow Taylor-like policy rules.] The age-old belief that Central Banks control the money supply has more and more come to be questioned and replaced by an “endogenous” money view, and I think the same will happen to the view that Central Banks determine “the” rate of interest.

4 A further problem in the traditional loanable funds theory is that it assumes that saving and investment can be treated as independent entities. To Keynes this was seriously wrong:

gtThe classical theory of the rate of interest [the loanable funds theory] seems to suppose that, if the demand curve for capital shifts or if the curve relating the rate of interest to the amounts saved out of a given income shifts or if both these curves shift, the new rate of interest will be given by the point of intersection of the new positions of the two curves. But this is a nonsense theory. For the assumption that income is constant is inconsistent with the assumption that these two curves can shift independently of one another. If either of them shifts​, then, in general, income will change; with the result that the whole schematism based on the assumption of a given income breaks down … In truth, the classical theory has not been alive to the relevance of changes in the level of income or to the possibility of the level of income being actually a function of the rate of the investment.

There are always (at least) two parts in an economic transaction. Savers and investors have different liquidity preferences and face different choices — and their interactions usually only take place intermediated by financial institutions. This, importantly, also means that there is no “direct and immediate” automatic interest mechanism at work in modern monetary economies. What this ultimately boils done to is — iter — that what happens at the microeconomic level — both in and out of equilibrium —  is not always compatible with the macroeconomic outcome. The fallacy of composition (the “atomistic fallacy” of Keynes) has many faces — loanable funds is one of them.

5 Contrary to the loanable funds theory, finance in the world of Keynes and Minsky precedes investment and saving. Highlighting the loanable funds fallacy, Keynes wrote in “The Process of Capital Formation” (1939):

Increased investment will always be accompanied by increased saving, but it can never be preceded by it. Dishoarding and credit expansion provides not an alternative to increased saving, but a necessary preparation for it. It is the parent, not the twin, of increased saving.

What is “forgotten” in the loanable funds theory, is the insight that finance — in all its different shapes — has its own dimension, and if taken seriously, its effect on an analysis must modify the whole theoretical system and not just be added as an unsystematic appendage. Finance is fundamental to our understanding of modern economies and acting like the baker’s apprentice who, having forgotten to add yeast to the dough, throws it into the oven afterwards, simply isn’t enough.

All real economic activities nowadays depend on a functioning financial machinery. But institutional arrangements, states of confidence, fundamental uncertainties, asymmetric expectations, the banking system, financial intermediation, loan granting processes, default risks, liquidity constraints, aggregate debt, cash flow fluctuations, etc., etc. — things that play decisive roles in channelling​ money/savings/credit — are more or less left in the dark in modern formalizations of the loanable funds theory.

kaleckiIt should be emphasized that the equality between savings and investment … will be valid under all circumstances. In particular, it will be independent of the level of the rate of interest which was customarily considered in economic theory to be the factor equilibrating the demand for and supply of new capital. In the present conception investment, once carried out, automatically provides the savings necessary to finance it. Indeed, in our simplified model, profits in a given period are the direct outcome of capitalists’ consumption and investment in that period. If investment increases by a certain amount, savings out of profits are pro tanto higher …

One important consequence of the above is that the rate of interest cannot be determined by the demand for and supply of new capital because investment ‘finances itself.’

Microfoundational incoherence

28 Jul, 2021 at 15:53 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Microfoundational incoherence

ba7658c533d4de20cf77161b8910d903cab9cbe6_mDefenders of microfoundations and its rational expectations equipped representative agent’s intertemporal optimization often argue as if sticking with simple representative agent macroeconomic models doesn’t impart a bias to the analysis. Yours truly unequivocally rejects that unsubstantiated view, and has given the reasons why here.

These defenders often also maintain that there are no methodologically coherent alternatives to microfoundations modeling. That allegation is of course difficult to evaluate, substantially hinging on how coherence is defined. But one thing I do know, is that the kind of microfoundationalist macroeconomics that New Classical economists and ‘New Keynesian’ economists are pursuing, are not methodologically coherent according to the standard coherence definition (see e. g. here). And that ought to be rather embarrassing for those ilks of macroeconomists to whom axiomatics and deductivity is the hallmark of science tout court.

The fact that Lucas introduced rational expectations as a consistency axiom is not really an argument to why we should accept it as an acceptable assumption in a theory or model purporting to explain real macroeconomic processes (see e. g. here). And although virtually any macroeconomic empirical claim is contestable, so is any claim in micro (see e. g. here).

Cherry-picking economic models

26 Jul, 2021 at 10:49 | Posted in Economics | 8 Comments

cartoon-hand-picking-cherry-24380737How would you react if a renowned physicist, say, ​Richard Feynman, was telling you that sometimes force is proportional to acceleration and at other times it is proportional to acceleration squared?

I guess you would be unimpressed. But actually, what most mainstream economists do amounts to the same strange thing when it comes to theory development and model modification.

In Dani Rodrik’s Economics Rules — just to take one illustrative example — the proliferation of economic models during the last twenty-thirty years is presented as a sign of great diversity and abundance of new ideas:

Rather than a single, specific model, economics encompasses a collection of models … Economics is in fact, a collection of diverse models …The possibilities of social life are too diverse to be squeezed into unique frameworks. But each economic model is like a partial map that illuminates a fragment of the terrain …

Different contexts … require different models … The correct answer to almost any question in economics is: It depends. Different models, each equally respectable, provide different answers.

In mainstream economic theory,​ preferences are standardly expressed in the form of a utility function. But although the expected utility theory has been known for a long time to be both theoretically and descriptively inadequate, mainstream economists all over the world gladly continue to use it, as though its deficiencies were unknown or unheard of.

What most mainstream economists try to do in face of the obvious theoretical and behavioural inadequacies of the expected utility theory, is to marginally mend it. But that cannot be the right attitude when facing scientific anomalies. When models are plainly wrong, you’d better replace them! Instead of mending the broken pieces it would be much better to concentrate on developing descriptively accurate models of choice under uncertainty.

Expected utility theory is seriously flawed since it does not take into consideration the basic fact that people’s choices are influenced by changes in their wealth. Where standard microeconomic theory assumes that preferences are stable over time, behavioural economists have forcefully again and again shown that preferences are not fixed, but vary with different reference points. How can a theory that doesn’t allow for people having different reference points from which they consider their options have a (typically unquestioned) axiomatic status within economic theory?

Much of what experimental and behavioural economics come up with, is really bad news for mainstream economic theory. It unequivocally shows that expected utility theory is nothing but transmogrifying truth.

But mainstream economists do not see this​ since they have the weird idea that economics is nothing but a smorgasbord of ‘thought experimental’ models. For every purpose you may have, there is always an appropriate model to pick.

ChameleonBut, really, there have​ to be some limits to the flexibility of a theory!

If you freely can substitute any part of the core and auxiliary sets of assumptions and still consider that you deal with the same theory, well, then it’s not a theory, but a chameleon.

The big problem with the mainstream cherry-picking view of models is of course that the theories and models presented get totally immunized against all critique.  A sure way to get rid of all kinds of ‘anomalies,’ yes, but at a far too high price. So people do not behave optimizing? No problem, we have models that assume satisficing! So people do not maximize expected utility? No problem, we have models that assume … etc., etc …

A theory that accommodates for any observed phenomena whatsoever by creating a new special model for the occasion, and a fortiori having no chance of being tested severely and found wanting, is of little real value.

It’s not the debt we need to fix, stupid! It’s our thinking.

23 Jul, 2021 at 15:22 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment

The ad nauseam repeated claim that our public debt is excessive and that we have to balance the public budget is nothing but absolute nonsense. The harder politicians — usually on the advice of mainstream establishment economists — try to achieve balanced budgets for the public sector, the less likely they are to succeed in their endeavour.darling-let-s-get-deeply-into-debt And the more the citizens have to pay for the concomitant austerity policies these wrong-headed politicians and economists recommend as ‘the sole solution.’

Public debt is normally nothing to fear, especially if it is financed within the country itself (but even foreign loans can be beneficent for the economy if invested in the right way). Some members of society hold bonds and earn interest on them, while others pay taxes that ultimately pay the interest on the debt. The debt is not a net burden for society as a whole since the debt ‘cancels’ itself out between the two groups. If the state issues bonds at a low-interest rate, unemployment can be reduced without necessarily resulting in strong inflationary pressure. And the inter-generational burden is also not a real burden since — if used in a suitable way — the debt, through its effects on investments and employment, actually makes future generations net winners. There can, of course, be unwanted negative distributional side effects for the future generation, but that is mostly a minor problem since when our children and grandchildren ‘repay’ the public debt these payments will be made to our children and grandchildren.

To both Keynes and Lerner — as to today’s MMTers — it was evident that the state has the ability to promote full employment and a stable price level — and that it should use its powers to do so. If that means that it has to take on debt and underbalance its budget — so let it be! Public debt is neither good nor bad. It is a means to achieve two over-arching macroeconomic goals — full employment and price stability. What is sacred is not to have a balanced budget or running down public debt per se, regardless of the effects on the macroeconomic goals. If ‘sound finance,’ austerity and balanced budgets means increased unemployment and destabilizing prices, they have to be abandoned.

wvickreyWe are not going to get out of the economic doldrums as long as we continue to be obsessed with the unreasoned ideological goal of reducing the so-called deficit. The ‘deficit’ is not an economic sin but an economic necessity …

We have the resources in terms of idle manpower and idle plants to do so much, while the preachers of austerity, most of whom are in little danger of themselves suffering any serious consequences, keep telling us to tighten our belts and refrain from using the resources that lay idle all around us.

Alexander Hamilton once wrote “A national debt, if it be not excessive, would be for us a national treasure.” William Jennings Bryan used to declaim, “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Today’s cross is not made of gold, but is concocted of a web of obfuscatory financial rectitude from which human values have been expunged.

William Vickrey

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