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How mainstream economics has led to clueless governments

It’s time to consider a better economic plan (Image edited by Dan Jensen)

Governments of all stripes base their policies on mainstream economics. Powerful challenges to the mainstream, especially from ecological economics and modern monetary theory, explain why we are in a hole and can’t seem to get out.

If this article is largely correct, we can conclude that the economics profession is a major cause – directly or indirectly – of most modern evils.

In saying that, I draw heavily on the work of Australian academic economists Professor Robert Costanza, Associate Professor Philip Lawn, Professor Bill Mitchell and Dr Steven Hail.

Taken together, their work – in conjunction with colleagues overseas – claims that mainstream economics is fundamentally wrong left, right and centre — although I don’t mean to imply that these four scholars agree on every point.

Mitchell – a co-originator of modern monetary theory (MMT) – shows that we could have full employment quickly with a job guarantee, that federal budget deficits are normal and desirable, that the federal government never needs to borrow money, and that federal taxes do not fund anything.

The Federal Government should focus on non-inflationary full employment and not budget outcomes, because we can run deficits forever without borrowing.

In short, the Federal Government does not have the budget constraints of a household, business, or state government, because it can create unlimited money — but should spend prudently to avoid inflation and ecological overshoot.

For ecological economists like Lawn, increasing the size of high-GDP economies is now producing uneconomic growth rather than economic growth, because these economies are past their optimum size, as measured by a marginal cost-benefit analysis.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Does it Matter Whether Assumptions in Economics are Arbitrary?

Various assumptions employed by mainstream economists appear to be of an arbitrary nature. The assumptions seem to be detached from the real world.

For example, in order to explain the economic crisis in Japan, the famous mainstream economist Paul Krugman employed a model that assumes that people are identical and live forever and that output is given. Whilst admitting that these assumptions are not realistic, Krugman nonetheless argued that somehow his model can be useful in offering solutions to the economic crisis in Japan.[1]

The employment of assumptions that are detached from the facts of reality originates from the writings of Milton Friedman. According to Friedman, since it is not possible to establish “how things really work,” then it does not really matter what the underlying assumptions of a model are. In fact anything goes, as long as the model can yield good predictions. According to Friedman,

The ultimate goal of a positive science is the development of a theory or hypothesis that yields valid and meaningful (i.e., not truistic) predictions about phenomena not yet observed…. The relevant question to ask about the assumptions of a theory is not whether they are descriptively realistic, for they never are, but whether they are sufficiently good approximation for the purpose in hand. And this question can be answered only by seeing whether the theory works, which means whether it yields sufficiently accurate predictions.[2]

Observe that on this way of thinking, the formation of the view regarding the real world is arbitrary – in fact, anything goes as long as the model could generate accurate forecasts.

In his Philosophical Origins of Austrian Economics (Mises Institute Daily Articles June 17 2006), David Gordon wrote that Bohm Bawerk maintained that concepts employed in economics must originate from the facts of reality – they need to be traced to their ultimate source. If one cannot trace it the concept should be rejected as meaningless.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Mainstream Economics Consistently Fails to Explain the Occurrence of Recessions?

In his article released on March 21 2018 – Economics failed us before the global crisis – Martin Wolf the economics editor of The Financial Times expressed some misgivings about macroeconomics.

Economics is, like medicine (and unlike, say, cosmology), a practical discipline. Its goal is to make the world a better place. This is particularly true of macroeconomics, which was invented by John Maynard Keynes in response to the Great Depression. The tests of this discipline are whether its adepts understand what might go wrong in the economy and how to put it right. When the financial crisis that hit in 2007 caught the profession almost completely unawares, it failed the first of these tests. It did better on the second. Nevertheless, it needs rebuilding.

Martin Wolf argues that a situation could emerge when the economy might end up in self-reinforcing bad states. In this possibility, it is vital to respond to crises forcefully.

It seems that regardless of our understanding of the key causes behind the crises authorities should always administer strong fiscal and monetary policies holds Martin Wolf.  On this way of thinking, strong fiscal and monetary policies somehow will fix things.

A big question is not only whether we know how to respond to a crisis, but whether we did so. In his contribution, the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman argues, to my mind persuasively, that the basic Keynesian remedies — a strong fiscal and monetary response — remain right.

Whilst agreeing with Krugman, Martin Wolf holds the view that, we remain ignorant to how economy works. Having expressed this, curiously Martin Wolf still holds the view that Keynesian policies could help during an economic crisis.

For Martin Wolf as for most mainstream economists the Keynesian remedy is always viewed with positive benefits- if in doubt just push more money and boost government spending to resolve any possible economic crisis. It did not occur to our writer that without understanding the causes of a crisis, administering Keynesian remedies could make things much worse.

The proponents for strong government outlays and easy money policy when the economy falls into a crisis hold that stronger outlays by the government coupled with increases in money supply will strengthen monetary flow and this in turn will strengthen the economy. What is the reason behind this way of thinking?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 3

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 3

“During the 1980s and 1990s, most industrial-country central banks were able to cage, if not entirely tame, the inflation dragon.”
—Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke began his oft-cited “helicopter speech” in 2002 with a few kind words about his peers, including the excerpt above. Speaking for central bankers, he took a large share of the credit for the low inflation of the 1980s and 1990s. Central bankers had gained a “heightened understanding” of inflation, he said, and he expected the future to bring even more inflation-taming success.

Of course, Bernanke’s cohorts took a few knocks in the boom–bust cycle that followed his speech, but their reputations as masters of inflation (and deflation) only grew. Today, the picture he painted seems even more firmly planted in the public mind than it was in 2002, notwithstanding recent data showing inflation creeping higher.

Public perceptions aren’t always accurate, though, and public figures aren’t the most reliable arbiters of credit and blame. In this 3-part article, I’m proposing a theory that challenges Bernanke’s narrative, and I’ll back the theory with data in Part 3. I’ll show that it leads to an inflation indicator with an excellent historical record.

But first, let’s recap a few points I’ve already discussed.

The Endless Tug-of-War

In Part 2, I said inflation depends on a tug-of-war between purchasing power (on the demand side) and capacity (on the supply side), and the war takes place within the circular flow, in which spending flows into income and income flows back to spending. Two circular-flow patterns and their causes demand particular attention:

  1. When banks inject money into the circular flow in the process of making loans, they can boost spending above the prior period’s income, thereby fattening the flow (or the opposite in the case of a deleveraging).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The world in 2018 – Part Three

The world in 2018 – Part Three

Mainstream economics seems to have learned little and changed nothing in the last decade, despite the fact that the financial crisis and its aftermath laid bare a number of important issues with its theories and models. Failure to address these issues is making the economics discipline increasingly incapable of informing us about the trajectory and situation of our world.

After a long period of relentless rise, global financial markets seem to have suddenly entered volatile territory. A brutal selloff in global stocks started in early February, which erased all of the prior gains of 2018 and wiped out trillions of dollars of ‘value’ in a matter of days. The selloff was most spectacular in the U.S., with Wall Street experiencing one of its worst weekly tumbles since the 2008 financial crisis – quickly followed, however, by a sharp rebound. Financial pundits the world over are now busy discussing whether this new episode of market volatility is already over or is likely to last, and if it might be announcing a ‘correction’ (a drop of 10% or more from a peak in market indexes), a ‘bear market’ (a drop of 20% or more), or even a full-blown crash. The truth is that no one knows for sure at this stage, and any prediction of how the next few weeks and months are going to play out in global financial markets can only be guesswork at best.

What is more interesting is to observe how quick economists and policy makers around the world have been to serve yet another round of what has become their standard discourse whenever financial markets get suddenly restless: no worries, folks, ‘the fundamentals of the economy are strong’…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 1

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 1

“Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”
—Milton Friedman

Have you ever questioned Milton Friedman’s famous claim about inflation?

Ever heard anyone else question it?

Unless you read obscure stuff written for the academic community, you’re probably not used to Friedman’s quote being challenged. And that’s despite a lousy forecasting record by economists who bought into his Monetarist methods.

Consider the following:

  • When Friedman’s strict Monetarism fizzled in the 1980s, it was doomed partly by his own forecasts. Instead of the disinflation the decade delivered, he expected inflation to reach 1970s levels, publicizingthat prediction in 1983 and then again in 1984, 1985 and 1986. Of course, years earlier he foresaw the 1970s jump in inflation, but the errant forecasts that came later left him wide open to a “clock twice a day” dismissal.
  • Monetarists suffered an even harsher blow in 2012, when the Conference Board finally threw in the towel on Friedman’s favorite indicator, removing M2 from its Leading Economic Index (LEI). Generally speaking, forecasters who put M2 in their models are like bachelors who put “live with mom” in their dating profiles—they haven’t been successful.
  • The many economists who expected quantitative easing (QE) to wreak havoc on inflation are, of course, on the defensive. Nine years after QE began, core inflation remains below the Fed’s 2% target, defying their Monetarist beliefs.

When it comes to explaining inflation, Monetarism hasn’t exactly nailed it. Then again, neither has Keynesianism, whose Phillips Curve confounds those who rely on it. You can toss inflation onto the bonfire of major events that mainstream theories fail to explain.

But I’ll argue there might be a better way.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Steve Keen: “Why Did It Take So Long For This Crash To Happen?”

As originally written at RT, outspoken Aussie economist Steve Keen points out that everyone who’s asking “why did the stock market crash Monday?” is asking the wrong question; the real question, Keen exclaims, is “why did it take so long for this crash to happen?

The crash itself was significant – Donald Trump’s favorite index, the Dow Jones Industrial (DJIA) fell 4.6 percent in one day. This is about four times the standard range of the index – and so according to conventional economics, it should almost never happen.

Of course, mainstream economists are wildly wrong about this, as they have been about almost everything else for some time now. In fact, a four percent fall in the market is unusual, but far from rare: there are well over 100 days in the last century that the Dow Jones tumbled by this much.

Crashes this big tend to happen when the market is massively overvalued, and on that front this crash is no different.

It’s like a long-overdue earthquake. Though everyone from Donald Trump down (or should that be “up”?) had regarded Monday’s level and the previous day’s tranquillity as normal, these were in fact the truly unprecedented events. In particular, the ratio of stock prices to corporate earnings is almost higher than it has ever been.

More To Come?

There is only one time that it’s been higher: during the DotCom Bubble, when Robert Shiller’s “cyclically adjusted price to earnings” ratio hit the all-time record of 44 to one. That means that the average price of a share on the S&P500 was 44 times the average earnings per share over the previous 10 years (Shiller uses this long time-lag to minimize the effect of Ponzi Scheme firms like Enron).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

GDP Is Bogus: Here’s Why

GDP Is Bogus: Here’s Why

Here’s a chart of our fabulous always-higher GDP, adjusted for another bogus metric, official inflation.
The theme this week is The Rot Within.

The rot eating away at our society and economy is typically papered over with bogus statistics that “prove” everything’s getting better every day in every way. The prime “proof” of rising prosperity is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which never fails to loft higher, with the rare excepts being Spots of Bother (recessions) that never last more than a quarter or two.

Longtime correspondent Dave P. of Market Daily Briefing recently summarized the key flaw in GDP: GDP doesn’t reflect changes in the balance sheet, i.e. debt.

So if we borrow money to pay people to dig holes and then fill them with the excavated dirt, GDP rises to general applause. The debt we took on to fund the make-work isn’t accounted for at all.

Here’s Dave’s explanation:

Once I learned about accounting, I figured out why the GDP metric wasn’t sufficient. What is missing?

The balance sheet.

Hurricanes are a direct hit to your nation’s balance sheet. The national income statement goes up because of increased spending to replace lost assets, but the “equity” part of the national balance sheet ends up taking a hit in direct proportion to the damage that occurred. Even if you rebuild everything just the way it was, your assets remain the same, while your liabilities have increased.

We know this because we use the balance sheet equation: equity = assets – liabilities. Equity is another word for wealth.

Before hurricane:

wealth = (house + car) – (home debt + car debt)

After hurricane, you rebuild your house, and buy a new car, using borrowed money:

wealth = (house + car) – (2 x home debt + 2 x car debt)

Wealth (equity) has declined by the sum (home debt + car debt)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Climate Crisis as seen by the economics mainstream

The Climate Crisis as seen by the economics mainstream

Mainstream economics frames the climate crisis in a particular way but this approach is not at all helpful. There have been a variety of controversies which show clearly how economists think – like the “price of a life” controversy. The findings of the Stern Review were widely quoted but how were they calculated? Much of the controversy about the Stern Review among economists was about the discount rate to be applied to future projections. These issues are explained.

Although the effects of climate change seem to be near to apocalyptic over the long term, over the
short term taking signficant action to cut emissions also appears to be a tremendous challenge. The magnitude of this challenge is indicated by a statement in the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change: “Experience suggests that it is difficult to secure emission cuts faster than 1% per year except in instances of recession…” (Stern, 2006, p. 231)

When the Soviet Union was wound up the Russian economy collapsed. Between 1989 and 1998, fuel related emissions fell in that country by 5.2% per annum because economic activity halved. However, this was no model to copy. It was a period of deep crisis. The death rate, particularly among young Russian men, soared. (Stern, 2006, p. 232)

This brings us to the climate policy response so far, or the lack of it, and how mainstream economists frame the climate debate.

• Any policies have to be consistent with growth
• Optimal policies are supposed to be based on cost benefit calculations in which gains and losses
for different people through time are held to be commensurable in money terms
• An appropriate discount rate must be charged when making policy calculations
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Age of Finance Capital—and the Irrelevance of Mainstream Economics

The Age of Finance Capital—and the Irrelevance of Mainstream Economics

Despite the fact that the manufacturers of ideas have elevated economics to the (contradictory) levels of both a science and a religion, a market theodicy, mainstream economics does not explain much when it comes to an understanding of real world developments. Indeed, as a neatly stylized discipline, economics has evolved into a corrupt, obfuscating and useless—nay, harmful—field of study. Harmful, because instead of explaining and clarifying it tends to mystify and justify.

One of the many flaws of the discipline is its static or ahistorical character, that is, a grave absence of a historical perspective. Despite significant changes over time in the market structure, the discipline continues to cling to the abstract, idealized model of competitive industrial capitalism of times long past.

Not surprisingly, much of the current economic literature and most economic “experts” still try to explain the recent cycles of financial bubbles and bursts by the outdated traditional theories of economic/business cycles. Accordingly, policy makers at the head of central banks and treasury departments continue to issue monetary prescriptions that, instead of mitigating the frequency and severity of the cycles, tend to make them even more frequent and more gyrating.

This crucially important void of a dynamic, long-term or historic perspective explains why, for example, most mainstream economists fail to see that the financial meltdown of 2008 in the United States, its spread to many other countries around the world, and the consequent global economic stagnation represent more than just another recessionary cycle. More importantly, they represent a structural change, a new phase in the development of capitalism, the age of finance capital.

A number of salient features distinguish the age of finance capital from earlier stages of capitalism, that is, stages when finance capital grew and/or circulated in tandem with industrial capital.


…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Economics Matters

Why Economics Matters

This article is a selection from a June 19 presentation at a lunchtime meeting of the Grassroot Institute in Honolulu at the Pacific Club. The talk was part of the Mises Institute’s Private Seminar series for lay audiences. To schedule your own Private Seminar with a Mises Institute speaker, please contact Kristy Holmes at the Mises Institute.

First let me say that what we today call “Austrian economics” flows from the great legacy of classical economics, with the very important modification economists now call the “marginal revolution.” Austrian economics is also a term that describes a healthy and vibrant (though often oppositional) modern school of economic thought. It originated with intellectual giants like Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises, names I’m sure many of you are familiar with. These economists were from Austria, hence the term.

There was a landmark conference at South Royalton, Vermont in 1974, attended by the likes of Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman, that revitalized the Austrian movement and helped it regain prominence in the latter part of the twentieth century. Milton Friedman was in attendance, and that’s when he famously remarked that “There is only good economics and bad economics.”

And of course that’s true. Schools of thought should not be rigid, or dogmatic, or too narrowly defined. But classifying various economists and theories into groups or family trees does indeed help us make sense of economics. It helps us understand how we arrived at a time and place where Ben Bernanke, Paul Krugman, Thomas Piketty, and Christine Lagarde are viewed as modern mainstream thinkers rather than the radicals they are when compared to the whole history of the field.


Image courtesy of Peter Cresswell.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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