The visible hand in economics

Archive for the ‘Economic History’ Category

Over at, Chris Trotter states (ht Rates Blog):

Keynesian economics was never more than the rational response of decent and compassionate men to the human cost of economic management when reposed in the hands of the avaricious and the uncaring

This is an incredible mis-representation of “Keynesian economics” – however, it is also an incredibly common mis-representation.

Among many on the left and right of the political spectrum there is a belief that Keynesianism is left-wing macro-economics and modern economics (which people attribute to Friedman – even though in general terms his ideas only apply to monetary policy, not the whole shabang). However, as CPW once said to me, the correct comparison is not one of political ideology, but one of science – Keynes was like Newton, while Lucas/Friedman/the crew are like Einstein.

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Hi all, For some reason I can’t post anything particularly long at the moment – as the site doesn’t like me.

As a result, none of the ideas I have for posts can be satisfactorily placed on the site. I can still comment though – its just taking a while.

If you want you can comment on this in the comments section of the post (ht Marginal Revolution, Econlog). I will try to get some posts up tonight.

If you want to know, have a look at this post. It is completely non-technical, and explains the way macro-economists look at things pretty danged well! (ht Marginal Revolution).

Fundamentally, this view of the business cycle is highly focused on methodological individualism – the business cycle occurs in the context of individuals maximising their happiness given constraints.

Before this strain of thought came out, business cycle theory was a surprising holistic section of economics – something that did not match with the individualistic nature of microeconomics (see Schumpeter). Furthermore, business cycle theory, long-term growth theory, and near term macroeconomics (effectively old school Keynesianism) were relatively incompatible.

Following the collapse of the “consensus” in macroeconomics during the oil crisis the one ray of hope was that we macroeconomics could be recreated in a way that is consistent with microeconomics. According to Kids prefer cheese this research area is still active – which is exactly what we want to hear.

Update: Paul Walker discusses the same article.

The Standard was at Joe Stiglitz’ talk in Wellington last week and was particularly interested an audience member’s question about growth. The question is whether economists focus too much on growth, to the detriment of human happiness. It’s an interesting and worthy question, but not one that hasn’t been considered by economists. There are two important issues around GDP: first, whether it’s a good measure of growth and, secondly, whether growth is particularly important. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading the titles of the last two posts (the birth rate vs the growth rate and growth forecasts and government) I realised that neither rauparaha or myself defined what ‘growth’ we were talking about. Like all economists, we took ‘Growth’ to be synonymous with growth in gross domestic product.

Could this possibly imply that economists such as rauparaha and myself have an inherent bias when discussing normative statements about welfare that points us towards pro economic growth policies – even when there is a hefty trade off in other social values. Do economists focus too strongly on technical and allocative efficiency without taking social efficiency and equity into account?
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Perhaps it is apropos to start the new year’s blogging with a look back at history. A working paper reported at Vox examines Stalin’s gulags from an economic, rather than political, viewpoint. In Western capitalist economies it is the threat of losing one’s job that motivates effort in employment. If you shirk and are caught then you get fired. However, in a centrally planned economy there is no possibility of getting fired: everyone has a role to play and nobody is left out. How then is a dictator who’s done the hard yards planning out the lives of an entire country for five years to motivate his workforce? Miller and Smith suggest that Stalin used the gulags as a device to enforce discipline among workers. Read the rest of this entry »

According to a number of religious people, there is a Jesus economics. Now I don’t agree with their idea of the sort of economics Jesus presented at all, that may be because I’m not a religious academic, or it could be that these people just didn’t understand what economics actually is (for example they complain that we study scarcity, when Jesus economics is about abundance. That is silly, economics is the study of scarcity. Just because its Jesus economics doesn’t mean it can break literal definitions.)

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Many writers have noted that colonisation contribute to the sad state of many African economies today. Now Nathan Nunn claims that the slave trade may also have had a long-term impact on economies. The author

…find[s] a robust negative relationship between the number of slaves exported from a country and current economic performance. To better understand if the relationship is causal, I examine the historical evidence on selection into the slave trades, and use instrumental variables.

This analysis indicates that “…it was actually the most developed areas of Africa that tended to select into the slave trades”, which points to a causal relationship running from slavery to poor economiic performance. The author suggests that the reason might be that “…procurement of slaves through internal warfare, raiding, and kidnapping resulted in subsequent state collapse and ethnic fractionalization.”

Yet another reason why the West is morally required to help African nations out of their current strife?

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