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What Does It Mean to Have Predicted an Economic Event?

What Does It Mean to Have Predicted an Economic Event?

Consider the never-ending argument about whether certain economists did or did not predict the financial crisis in 2007-8. It raises all kinds of methodological questions in economics reaching back much further than Milton Friedman’s famous 1966 paper conceiving of economics as a predictive science.  

Here’s the fundamental conundrum: what does it mean to have predicted something in economics?

Intuitively, it ought to be something like: if you claim something about the future state of the world and that empirically turns out to be correct, you predicted it. 

There are a myriad of problems here:

  • If I rolled a six a moment before the power went out, did my die predict the power outage?
  • If I rolled a six two years before the power went out, did my die predict the power outage?
  • If I rolled a six and the power somewhere, at some time, went out, did my die predict that power outage?
  • If the power went out repeatedly the last few nights and I guessed it would go out that night again while rolling a six, did I predict that night’s power outage?

It is easy enough to spot many errors in these scenarios: there is no plausible relation between power outages and rolling of dice; including any outcome anywhere in my silly prediction is not evidence of success; making a correct extrapolation of the recent past and tying it to rolling a six does not vindicate the power of my rolling arm.

There are a number of criteria a successful prediction must meet:

  • It must be precise, not general. Predicting rain in London or earthquakes in California in general (or over some lengthy time period) is useless. By historical averages and common sense, we are fairly confident they will happen again.

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

The Pseudo-Psychology Behind Monetary Policy

The Pseudo-Psychology Behind Monetary Policy

In his various writings, the champion of the monetarist school, Milton Friedman, argued that there is a variable time lag between changes in money supply and its effect on real output and prices. Friedman holds that in the short run changes in money supply will be followed by changes in real output.

However, in the long-run changes in money will only have an effect on prices. All this means that changes in money with respect to real economic activity tend to be neutral in the long-run and non-neutral in the short-run. Thus according to Friedman,

In the short-run, which may be as much as five or ten years, monetary changes affect primarily output. Over decades, on the other hand, the rate of monetary growth affects primarily prices.1

According to Friedman because of the difference in the time lag, the effect of the change in money supply shows up first in output and hardly at all in prices. It is only after a longer time lag that changes in money start to have an effect on prices. This is the reason according to Friedman why in the short-run money can grow the economy, while in the long run it has no effect on the real output.

According to Friedman, the main reason for the non-neutrality of money in the short-run is the variability in the time lag between money and the economy.

Consequently, he believes that if the central bank were to follow a constant money growth rate rule this would eliminate fluctuations caused by variable changes in the money supply growth rate. The constant money growth rate rule could also make money neutral in the short-run and the only effect that money would have is on general prices in the long run.

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

Is an Increase in Demand Key for Economic Growth?

Whenever the so-called economy shows signs of weakness most experts are of the view that what is required to prevent the economy sliding into recession is to boost the overall demand for goods and services.

If the private sector fails to increase its demand then it is the role of the government to fill this void.

Following the ideas of Keynes and Friedman, most experts associate economic growth with increases in the demand for goods and services.

Both Keynes and Friedman felt that the great depression of the 1930’s was due to an insufficiency in aggregate demand and thus the way to fix the problem was to boost aggregate demand.

For Keynes, this could be achieved by having the federal government borrow more money and spend it when the private sector would not. Friedman on the other hand advocated that the Federal Reserve pump more money to revive demand.

There is however never such a thing as insufficient demand as such. We suggest that an individual’s demand is constrained by their ability to produce goods. The more goods that an individual can produce the more goods he can demand i.e. acquire.

Note that the production of one individual enables him to pay for the production of another individual. (The more goods an individual produces the more of other goods he can secure for himself. An individual’s demand therefore is constrained by his production of goods).

Observe that demand cannot stand by itself and be independent – it is limited by production. Hence, what drives the economy is not demand as such but the production of goods and services.

In this sense, producers and not consumers are the engine of economic growth. Obviously, if he wants to succeed then a producer must produce goods and services in line with what other producers require ie. consume.

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

What is the Relation Between Supply and Demand for Money?

For most economists there is the need to keep the so-called economy along the path of a stable economic growth and a stable price inflation. One of the reasons for the possible deviation of the economy from the stable growth path is a change in the demand for money. If the authorities failing to make sure that an increase in the demand for money is accommodated by the corresponding increase in the supply of money this could result in the economy deviating from the path of stable economic growth and stable inflation. Hence, it is imperative for the central bank to make sure that the growth in the supply of money is in tandem with the growth rate of the demand for money in order to maintain economic stability.

Note that on this way of thinking, a growing economy requires a growing money stock, because economic growth gives rise to a greater demand for money. Failing to accommodate a strengthening in the demand for money could lead to a decline in the prices of goods and services, which in turn will destabilize the economy and lead to an economic recession.

Since growth in money supply is of such importance, it is not surprising that economists are continuously searching for the right, or the optimum, growth rate of the money supply.

Some economists who are the followers of Milton Friedman – also known as monetarists – want the central bank to target the money supply growth rate to a fixed percentage. They hold that if this percentage maintained over a prolonged period it will usher in an era of economic stability.

The idea that money must grow in order to sustain economic growth gives the impression that money somehow sustains economic activity.

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

The Fed’s Mandate To Pick Your Pocket – The Real Price Of Inflation

The Fed’s Mandate To Pick Your Pocket – The Real Price Of Inflation

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

This oft-cited quote from the renowned American economist Milton Friedman suggests something important about inflation. What he implies is that inflation is a function of money, but what exactly does that mean?

To better appreciate this thought, let’s use a simple example of three people stranded on a deserted island. One person has two bottles of water, and she is willing to sell one of the bottles to the highest bidder. Of the two desperate bidders, one finds a lonely one-dollar bill in his pocket and is the highest bidder. But just before the transaction is completed, the other person finds a twenty-dollar bill buried in his backpack. Suddenly, the bottle of water that was about to sell for one-dollar now sells for twenty dollars. Nothing about the bottle of water changed. What changed was the money available among the people on the island.

As we discussed in What Turkey Can Teach Us About Gold, most people think inflation is caused by rising prices, but rising prices are only a symptom of inflation. As the deserted island example illustrates, inflation is caused by too much money sloshing around the economy in relation to goods and services. What we experience is goods and services going up in price, but inflation is actually the value of our money going down.

Historical Price Levels

The chart below is a graph of price levels in the United States since 1774. In anticipation of a reader questioning the comparison of the prices and types of goods and services available in 1774 with 2018, the data behind this chart compares the basics of life. People ate food, needed housing, and required transportation in 1774 just as they do today. While not perfect, this chart offers a reasonable comparison of the relative cost of living from one period to the next.

…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…

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…

The Deep State: Use an Existing Crisis, or Create One

The Deep State: Use an Existing Crisis, or Create One

deepstate

Rahm Emmanuel was/is (in)famous for his alleged attribution of the quote “Never allow a good crisis to go to waste.” Nevertheless, in the manner that Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” is an “English echo” of “The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio, the quote assigned to Emmanuel is a paraphrase of words emitted by the equally-nefarious Milton Friedman:

“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.” – Capitalism and Freedom,” by Milton Friedman, Preface, Univ. Chicago Press, 1982.

Although he was an Economist (so-called), Friedman’s Marxist economic endeavors (germinated by the Frankfurt School of Economics “alumni”) were cracked akin to a whip throughout the world and used by the U.S. to further imperialism and fostered dependence by third-world nations. Such “dependence,” it must be added, took the form of loans through the IMF and World Bank…backed by military force. The “dependence” is almost that of the Helsinki Syndrome, in which the kidnapped captive becomes psychologically dependent upon the captor…but the captivity remains. Protection and extortion in the same vein.

These same “entangling alliances” were warned about for the fledgling United States by the Founding Fathers. Such forced alliances are easily seen for what they are: the creation of vassal states through force projection and intimidation. Even when we’re not directly involved, we “underwrite” the actions. The latest (and largest) prime example was the ousting of Ukraine’s president, Yanukovych, in 2014 and the attempt to force Ukraine to become a part of NATO, as well as another IMF-vassal in the NATO-Euro-hegemony.

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

Can We Ascertain the Facts of Reality in Economics by Means of Mathematics?

It is generally held that by means of statistical and mathematical methods one can organize historical data into a useful body of information, which in turn can serve as the basis for the assessments of the state of the economy. It is also held that the knowledge secured from the assessment of the data is likely to be of a tentative nature since it is not possible to know the true nature of the facts of reality.

Some thinkers such as Milton Friedman held that since it is not possible to establish “how things really work,” then it does not really matter what the underlying assumptions of a theory are. On this way of thinking, what matters is that the theory 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.[1]

For instance, an economist forms a view that consumer outlays on goods and services are determined by disposable income. Based on this view he forms a model, which is then validated by means of statistical methods. The model is then employed in the assessments of the future direction of consumer spending.

If the model fails to produce accurate forecasts, it is either replaced, or modified by adding some other explanatory variables.

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

What Should Be the Correct Money Supply Growth Rate?

Most economists believe that a growing economy requires a growing money stock, on grounds that growth gives rise to a greater demand for money, which must be accommodated.

Failing to do so, it is maintained, will lead to a decline in the prices of goods and services, which in turn will destabilize the economy and lead to an economic recession or, even worse, depression.

Since growth in money supply is of such importance, it is not surprising that economists are continuously searching for the right, or the optimum, growth rate of the money supply.

Some economists who are the followers of Milton Friedman – also known as monetarists – want the central bank to target the money supply growth rate to a fixed percentage. They hold that if this percentage is maintained over a prolonged period of time it will usher in an era of economic stability.

The idea that money must grow in order to sustain economic growth gives the impression that money somehow sustains economic activity.

According to Rothbard,

Money, per se, cannot be consumed and cannot be used directly as a producers’ good in the productive process. Money per se is therefore unproductive; it is dead stock and produces nothing[1].

Money’s main job is simply to fulfill the role of the medium of exchange. Money doesn’t sustain or fund real economic activity. The means of sustenance, or funding, is provided by saved real goods and services. By fulfilling its role as a medium of exchange, money just facilitates the flow of goods and services between producers and consumers.

Historically, many different goods have been used as the medium of exchange. On this, Mises observed that, over time,

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

Opinion Infected by Bias

Opinion Infected by BiasBIAS

QUESTION: Marty; Why do you say your opinion is not worth much? You have been around for some time and you are the only analyst to have been behind the curtain. If anyone’s opinion carries any weight, it has to be yours.

RJ

Friedman-sand

Spock

ANSWER:Yes. Experience is everything. You cannot forecast something you have never seen, but opinion is fallible because we are all infected with that human trait of being fallible. I have learned so much from the computer. This is the importance of real cognitive adaptive computer systems. They have no emotion or bias so they are objective. In a way, they are like the character Spock from “Star Trek.” If someone believes that paper money is the great evil, then they will be blind to all other influence and look no further. Concluding that the evil is paper money, means they consider nothing else when in fact it is the fiscal mismanagement of the monetary system irrespective of what society uses for money. This is why a gold standard would not work and has failed historically every time just like Bretton Woods. It has nothing to do with the medium of exchange. It is always about those in charge. Milton Friedman said if you put the government in charge of the Sahara Desert, there would be a shortage of sand in no time. Investigating the truth requires abandoning all bias.

1992PRES

The computer has never been wrong because it sees trends without interjecting some theory or bias which infects all opinion. The only times the computer has been wrong seems directly linked to serious manipulation. It projected the Al Gore would win by a tiny, narrow margin. The Supreme Court gave it to Bush and would not allow a recount. When the recount was completed, it proved that the computer was correct after all. But that is reality.

1992PRES

The computer has never been wrong because it sees trends without interjecting some theory or bias which infects all opinion. The only times the computer has been wrong seems directly linked to serious manipulation. It projected the Al Gore would win by a tiny, narrow margin. The Supreme Court gave it to Bush and would not allow a recount. When the recount was completed, it proved that the computer was correct after all. But that is reality.

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

The Keynesian House Of Denial

The Keynesian House Of Denial

We use the term “Keynesian” loosely to stand for economic interventionists of all schools. The followers of JM Keynes and Milton Friedman alike fit that category. So do some of the more rabid supply siders who claim the power to stimulate ultra-high economic growth with the tools of tax policy alone.

The common denominator is economic statism. That is, the assumption that the state, including its central banking branch, is indispensable to economic progress and prosperity.

As the various denominations of the Keynesian economic church have it, capitalism is always veering toward the ditch of under-performance and recession when left to its own devices and natural tendencies; and, if neglected by the wise policy-makers of the central state too long, it lapses toward outright depression and collapse.

Our purpose here is not to correct the particular philosophical and analytic errors associated with each of these Keynesian or statist variants. On any given day we make it pretty clear the central banking based mutation of modern Keynesianism is predicated on two cardinal errors. Namely, the myth of demand deficiency and the false presumption that central bank pegging of interest rates, yield curves and other financial prices will enhance macro-economic performance while not harming the efficiency, stability and efficacy of money and capital markets.

That’s completely wrong. The very worst thing the state can do is meddle with and falsify financial market prices. Sooner or later cheap debt, repressed volatility, stock market “puts” and artificially inflated asset prices drain the genius of markets out of capitalism. What remains in the financial system is raw speculation for the purpose of rent gathering and leverage for the purpose of supercharged gambling.

On the other hand, what gets lost is true capital formation, honest price discovery and allocative efficiency. These are the building blocks of true macroeconomic expansion and rising wealth.

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

Why All Central Planning Is Doomed to Fail

[ed. note: this article was originally published on March 5 2013 – Bill Bonner was on his way to his ranch in Argentina, so here is a classic from the archives] 

We’re still thinking about how so many smart people came to believe things that aren’t true. Krugman, Stiglitz, Friedman, Summers, Bernanke, Yellen – all seem to have a simpleton’s view of how the world works.

SimpletonsA bunch of famous people with a simpleton view of how the world works…who not only seriously think the economy can and should be “planned”, but arrogantly believe they are the ones who should do it. It’s a bit like the crazy guy who doesn’t know he’s crazy.

They believe they can manipulate the future and make it better. Not just for themselves… but also for everyone else. Where did such a silly idea come from?

After the Renaissance, Aristotelian logic came to dominate Western thought. It was essentially a forerunner of positivism – which is supposedly based on objective conditions and scientific reasoning.

“Give me the facts,” says the positivist, confidently.

“Let me apply my rational brain to them. I will come up with a solution!”

Beyond the Herald’s Cry

This is fine, if you are building the Eiffel Tower or organizing the next church supper. But positivism falls apart when it is applied to schemes that go beyond the reach of the “herald’s cry.”

That’s what Aristotle said: Only a small community would work. Because only in a small community would all the people share more or less the same information and interests.

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

Ben Bernanke: “Helicopter Money May Be The Best Available Alternative”

Ben Bernanke: “Helicopter Money May Be The Best Available Alternatives

Now that the prospect of helicopter money by the ECB has so infuriated Germany, the ECB had to reach out to Schauble to “mollify” the Germans who are dreading the second coming of monetary paradrops in one century, it was only a matter of time before Citadel’s most prominent employer opined. In a blog post earlier today, Brookings’ blogger and the central banker who together with Alan Greenspan has been most responsible for the world’s unprecedented debt pile and sad economic state, Ben Bernanke, took the podium to share his views on “helicopter money” head on.

In “What tools does the Fed have left? Part 3: Helicopter money” the former Fed head who first infamously hinted at helicopter money in his November 2002 speech “Deflation: Making Sure “It” Doesn’t Happen Here” when he quoted Milton Friedman, once again started off with a Friedman quote:

“Let us suppose now that one day a helicopter flies over this community and drops an additional $1,000 in bills from the sky, which is, of course, hastily collected by members of the community. Let us suppose further that everyone is convinced that this is a unique event which will never be repeated.” (Milton Friedman, “The Optimum Quantity of Money,” 1969)

He then pulls a quote from his own book “The Courage to Act”

The deflation speech saddled me with the nickname ‘Helicopter Ben.’ In a discussion of hypothetical possibilities for combating deflation I mentioned an extreme tactic—a broad-based tax cut combined with money creation by the central bank to finance the cut. Milton Friedman had dubbed the approach a ‘helicopter drop’ of money. Dave Skidmore, the media relations officer…had advised me to delete the helicopter-drop metaphor…

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

Japan Goes Full Krugman: Plans Un-Depositable, Non-Cash “Gift-Certificate” Money Drop To Young People

Japan Goes Full Krugman: Plans Un-Depositable, Non-Cash “Gift-Certificate” Money Drop To Young People

The Swiss, the Finns, and the Ontarians may get their ‘Universal Basic Income’ but the Japanese are about to turn the Spinal Tap amplifier of extreme monetary experimentation to 11. Sankei reports, with no sourcing, that the Japanese government plans to unleash “vouchers” or “gift certificates” to low-income young people to stimulate the “conspicuous decline” in consumption among young people. The handouts may not be deposited, thus combining helicopter money (inflationary) and fully electronic currency (implicit capital controls and tracking of spending).

Since Ben Bernanke reminded the world of the existence of government printing-presses, echoed Milton Friedman’s “helicopter drop” solution to fighting deflation, and decried Japan for not being as insane as it could be… it has only been a matter of time before some global central bank decided that the dropping of cash onto the populace was the key to economic recovery. Having blown their wad on QQE (and been left with a quintuple-dip recession) and unleashed NIRP, it appears Japan has reached that limit.

As Bloomberg reports,

The Japanese government plans to include gift certificates for low-income young people in its fiscal 2016 supplementary budget, Sankei reports, without saying who provided the information.

Recipients would be able to use them for daily necessities.

The government sees gift certificates as more effective in stimulating consumption than cash handouts, which may be deposited.

As Sankei reports (via Google Translate),

The government 23 days, as the centerpiece of the 2016 fiscal year supplementary budget to organize because of the economic stimulus, cemented the policy to include the low-income measures for young people. To examine the distribution of vouchers to be devoted to the purchase of such daily necessities.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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