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The Sad State of the Economics Profession

Опубликовано в Articles in English апреля 22 2014

Frank Hollenbeck
April 17, 2014

It is not an exaggeration to say the current reputation of economists is probably just below that of a used car salesman. The recent failures of economic policies to boost growth or employment have tarnished this image even more. This, however, is in sharp contrast to the past when economists were seen as the intellectual roadblock to popular misconceptions, bad ideas, or more importantly, government policies sold to the public on false assumptions. Popular slogans such as "protecting American jobs" play on nationalism, but in reality only serve special interests. The economist of the past would never have hesitated to highlight the fallacies in such reasoning.

Most economists today, however, have sold themselves to the enemy. They work for government agencies such as the IMF, OECD, World Bank, central banks, or academic institutions where their research is heavily subsidized by government agencies. To succeed they have to "toe the line." You don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Today, these economists and bought-and-paid-for journalists inform us of the dangers of deflation and the risks of " low-flation," and how the printing press will protect us from this catastrophe. Yet there is no theoretical or empirical justification for this fear. On the contrary, a stable money supply would allow prices to better serve the critical function of allocating resources to where they are most needed. The growth resulting from stable money would normally be associated with rapidly falling prices as was the case during most of the nineteenth century.

When President Obama first talked about raising the minimum wage, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate in economics, quickly published an article supporting such an increase. Yet, even a first-year student in economics knows price controls distort the resource allocation function of prices, thus benefiting one group or special interests at the expense of the rest of society. Although some will receive a higher minimum wage, many others will simply be thrown under the bus. A political pundit should not be masquerading as an economist.

Economists also have "physics envy" and are enamored with empiricism and mathematical models. To work in a central bank you have to be familiar with, if not a quasi-expert on, DSGE models. The problem with these models, or any economic model, is that the parameters are not constant, most of the variables are interrelated with constantly changing interrelationships and omitted variables, like expectations, some of which being immeasurable, are conveniently assumed away as unimportant. That is like taking a road map of shipping lanes and omitting the islands.
Economics is a social science and techniques borrowed from the physical sciences are simply inappropriate. Since we do not have a laboratory to conduct economic experiments, it is difficult to distinguish between association and causation or correctly determining the direction of causation. Economic activity is based on human actions, with very little empirical regularity. It may be a sunny day, and you have skied for three days. This does not mean you will go skiing on the fourth day. Your actions simply cannot be modeled like the reactions of lab rats in a biology experiment. Unlike the reaction to noise from the zombies in the walking dead, humans do not react necessarily to the same events in the same way. Economists at the Fed must be scratching their heads as to why businesses did not react to lower interest rates as it did after the dot-com bubble. It's the old adage of "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

When one attains a Ph.D. in physics or medicine, he does not spend time understanding theories from 200 years ago. The profession is always moving forward, right? In economics, we wrongly take the same attitude. Macroeconomics as a profession has not advanced but has regressed. We had a better understanding of macroeconomics 80 years ago. Politicians put Keynes on a pedestal because he gave them the theoretical foundation to justify policies that had been justifiably ridiculed in the past by the classical economists.

These economists such as Smith, Say, Ricardo, and Mill fought hard to dispel the popular misconception that the problem was overproduction and a lack of money. Today, the leading economists are telling us everything will be fine if we can boost demand (hence, too much production) or have more money through quantitative easing. These are the same popular misconceptions promulgated by mercantilists 250 years ago. The difference, today, is that economists are the mercantilists's ally instead of their enemies.

The role of the economist should be to explain not only the direct effects, but also the indirect effects of economic policies. The economists should not only tell us what is seen, but what is not seen, and more importantly what should be foreseen. Economists in unison should have informed the public that the massive government spending after the crash of 2008 would have created more growth and employment if the money had been left in private hands. To fund "cash for clunkers," the government borrowed money that would normally have been used to build plants and equipment or capital goods, the real source of growth in an economy. As Murray Rothbard eloquently said, this is a transfer of "resources from the productive [private sector] to the parasitic, counterproductive public sector."

We live on a planet with a constraint called gravity. We can adapt to the law of gravity by creating innovations such as airplanes, but we cannot defy the law of gravity by jumping off a building without a parachute. The same is true in economics and of the law of scarcity. We falsely believe that somehow if government legally counterfeits intrinsically worthless paper or spends someone else's money we will be able to upend the law of scarcity.

J.B. Say once said that economists should be "passive spectators" who do not give advice. He could have added, "and do not sleep with the enemy."

http://mises.org/daily/6726/The-Sad-State-of-the-Economics-Profession


Entrepreneurship: The Driving Force of the Economy

Опубликовано в Articles in English апреля 14 2014

Peter G. Klein
April 08, 2014

Author of The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur, Peter Klein has published numerous books and articles on entrepreneurship from an Austrian perspective. Dr. Klein, who is executive director and Carl Menger Research fellow at the Mises Institute, was interviewed in late 2013 by eTalk's Niaz Uddin on the topic of entrepreneurship:


For More Jobs and Stability, Set the Economy Free

Опубликовано в Articles in English апреля 14 2014

John P. Cochran

April 10, 2014

The headline in the print edition of the Denver Post of an associated press story on the nomination of Janet Yellen highlights a quote from President Obama, "She understands the human cost when people can't find a job." This statement about then-new Fed Chair Yellen, which emphasizes Yellen's Keynesian-based commitment to the unemployment prong of the Fed's dual mandate, underlies why some economists feared that no matter how bad policy might have been during Bernanke's tenure, policy is likely to get worse rather than get better from a sound money perspective during a Yellen reign. Her empathy for the unemployed was clearly present in her remarks following her first official policy meeting which as reported by the Wall Street Journal "were a notable affirmation of her commitment to low rates until the economy is much stronger." She emphasized, "The recovery still feels like a recession to many Americans, and it also looks that way in some economic statistics." She then chose to support her remarks not with usual econ jargon and statistics, but "Ms. Yellen instead exhibited a personal touch ... by coloring her comments with experiences of three people who had struggled to gain full-time work."


Why Keynesian Economists Don’t Understand Inflation

Опубликовано в Articles in English апреля 07 2014

Frank Hollenbeck
April 7, 2014

The "monetary cranks" and "ignorant zealots" of old are back preaching salvation if only we had more inflation.[1] Keneth Roggoff and Fed President Charles Evans did not mince words, while others have been more circumspect. Christine Lagarde warns us of the "ogre of deflation" and the "risks" of low inflation, while others have been urging easier monetary policy to reduce the value of the yen or the euro. Of course, it's much easier to let this inflation tiger out of its cage than to get it back in. We have ample evidence that once inflation picks up, it's extremely difficult to control. Inflation in the US was 1 percent in 1915, almost 8 percent in 1916, and over 17 percent in 1917. It was about 2 percent in 1945 and jumped to over 14 percent by 1947. During the 1970s, inflation was mild in 1972, and climbed to 11 percent by 1974 and stayed at very high rates until Volker raised interest rates to 19 percent to tame the beast.


Per Bylund

April 3, 2014

A recently published article at The Week, titled "How can we unleash positive animal spirits into the economy? Change the narrative," provides a clear example of what's wrong with the perception of economics and why modern economic approaches, possibly aiming to amend the shortcomings "identified" by this perception, is at a loss of explaining anything important.


Libertarian Holism

Опубликовано в Articles in English марта 31 2014

Max Borders

March 26, 2014

My position is not incompatible with urging that we try to extend our sense of "we" to people whom we have previously thought of as "they."
—Richard Rorty on solidarity

One day, my son Sid and I were looking at the various rocks in his collection. He was about six at the time. I used to get frustrated at that bucket of rocks. He'd put any old rock in there and find a new one practically every day. The collection got heavy.
"We have rocks coming out of our ears," I said. So I asked him about his collection, pointing out certain rocks to see why he liked them. Each time he would find some little detail—a color, or glint.


Why the Nostalgia for an Old Communist Economy?

Опубликовано в Articles in English марта 24 2014

Predrag Rajsic

March 21, 2014

There seems to be a resurgence of nostalgia for the "good old days" among the citizens of countries that were once known under the common name of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This article is dedicated to all of us former Yugoslavs, especially those who think that the Yugoslav economy during Tito's rule was built on a stable foundation. If we look at and analyze economic indicators, we have to admit that the idea of the robustness of the Yugoslav economy was an illusion and that the "well-being" that many former Yugoslavs are recalling with nostalgia was borrowed at the expense of future generations. These generations are now paying the bill for the collapse of the unsustainable economic system of socialist Yugoslavia, along with paying the bill for the destructive wars of the 1990s, and the interventionist economic policies of former Yugoslavia's successor states.


Ben Bernanke Gets His Reward

Опубликовано в Articles in English марта 24 2014

Christopher Westley

March 24, 2014

"Bernanke Enjoys the 'Fruits of the Free Market,'" or so we're told in a Reuters headline from March 4 about the former Fed chairman's 40-minute speech in Abu Dhabi for which he received, ahem, $250,000. In the Reuters author's defense, he was only quoting a DC lobbyist who was defending the amount, and added, Bernanke "will personally experience supply and demand."


Fiat Money and Business Cycles in Emerging Markets

Опубликовано в Articles in English марта 18 2014

Roger McKinney
March 14, 2014

After the stock market collapse of 2008 and a decline of 3.4 percent for U.S. GDP in 2009, investors rushed to stash funds in emerging markets (EM) where economies were growing at a 3.1 percent annual rate. But the US stock market fell in January of this year largely due to financial trouble in emerging markets. The economies of EM nations, such as, Brazil, Russia, India, Turkey, Thailand, and China, have deteriorated in part because of the withdrawal of US dollar investments from them. Here is a chart from the Institute for International Finance (IIF)[1] showing the capital flows to EM nations:


How Inflation Destroys the Wealth of Nations

Опубликовано в Articles in English марта 10 2014

Joseph T. Salerno
March 05, 2014

[Editor's Note: This article is adapted from Joseph Salerno's foreword to the new third edition of Brendan Brown's book Euro Crash: How Asset Price Inflation Destroys the Wealth of Nations.]

Brendan Brown is a rara avis — a practicing financial economist and shrewd observer of financial markets, players, and policies, whose prolific writings are informed by profound theoretical insight. Dr. Brown writes in plain English yet can also turn a phrase with the best. "Monetary terror" vividly and succinctly characterizes the policy of the Fed and the ECB (European Central Bank) to deliberately create inflationary expectations in markets for goods and services as a cure for economic contraction; the "virus attack" of asset price inflation well describes the unforeseeable suddenness, timing, and point of origin of asset price increases caused by central bank manipulation of long-term interest rates and the unpredictable and erratic path the inflation takes through the various asset markets both domestically and abroad.


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