Friday, November 26, 2021

On Garegnani's contributions to economics

My initial comments at the seminar on the legacy of Pierangelo Garegnani's contributions to economics organized by the Italian Post Keynesian Network. The full seminar here.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Part Two of the interview at Radio UNAL

More on the same issues, with a discussion of Piero Sraffa and the surplus approach (this week there will be an event on the legacy of Pierangelo Garegnani). In Spanish again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

On the Worldly Philosophy at Radio UNAL

Interview in Spanish to Radio UNAL with Óscar Morillo. We discuss the the origins of political economy and their importance and the continuous relevance for the understanding of modern capitalism. Link here.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Garegnani: Ten Years After

This event organized by the Italian Post Keynesian Network. I wrote about Garegnani's contributions when he passed away here in the blog. We will discuss some of the issues he raised, but also the new directions of Sraffian economics.


Review of Keynesian Economics issue on Financialization

Volume 9, Issue 4 of the Review of Keynesian Economics is now available. The issue is devoted to the twin topics of “financialization” and the “macroeconomics of international finance”. The first paper by Michael Hudson analyzes the impact on distributional outcomes of adding capital gains to and subtracting rent seeking activity from GDP. The second paper examines financialization’s rolling sector dynamics whereby it loads the economy with debt. The third paper by Esteban Pérez Caldentey and Matias Vernengo explores how financialization has fostered premature deindustrialization in Latin America. The fourth paper by Biagio Bossone looks at the implications of the actions of international portfolio actors for policy sovereignty. The fifth paper empirically examines the effectiveness of controls on international financial capital flows. The last paper explores whether recent developments regarding China’s currency reflect capital flight or internationalization of the renminbi.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Financialization revisited: the economics and political economy of the vampire squid economy

New paper by Thomas Palley. From the abstract:

This paper explores the economics and political economy of financialization using Matt Taibbi’s vampire squid metaphor to characterize it. The paper makes five innovations. First, it focuses on the mechanics of the “vampire squid” process whereby financialization rotates through the economy loading sector balance sheets with debt. Second, it identifies the critical role of government budget deficits for the financialization process. Third, it identifies the critical role of central banks, which are the lynchpin of the system and now serve as de facto guarantors of the value and liquidity of private sector liabilities. Fourth, the paper argues financialization imposes a form of policy lock-in. Fifth, it argues financialization transforms popular attitudes and understandings, thereby generating political support despite poor economic outcomes. In effect, there is a politics of financialization that goes hand-in-hand with the economics. The paper concludes with some observations on why mainstream macroeconomics has no equivalent construct to financialization and discusses the disquieting unexplored terrain that the economy is now in. 

Read rest here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Biden administration should ignore the debt ceiling

The administration run excessive budget deficits, and accumulated too much debt in the face of successive economic crises. As a result, it was forced to compromise politically in order to avoid a catastrophic default, and the subsequent political crisis brought about chaos, and the collapse of the established institutions. Of course, this is not a cautionary tale about the United States. It is a description of the economic crisis that led to the French Revolution.

But in spite of the apocalyptical rhetoric in Washington nothing like this is even faintly possible in the case of the United States. Public debt in the US is in domestic currency, the safest financial asset, and not owed to foreign bankers or in foreign currency, which is not controlled by the administration. It is also not debt in an asset the administration does not control like gold, as it was the case in Ancien Régime France, or the US itself before the end of Bretton Woods. More importantly, political representation, and democratic control over the public purse provided the conditions to sustain expanding budgets and public debt in the American case. The debt reflects, for good or for bad, the democratic decisions of the people. The only reason public debt has become an issue is the existence, for arcane political reasons, of a debt ceiling.

Even though there is a debate about whether the economy needs an additional fiscal boost or not, nobody thinks seriously that the disruption caused by a default and interruption of government functions, with a shutdown, would be a good idea, particularly not during a pandemic. The economy is certainly not a full employment, and about five million workers that had jobs before the pandemic are unemployed. Inflation, although a concern, does not result from an economy close to full employment, but from the disruptions associated with the supply chain during the pandemic. Interest rates on public debt remain low, and there is no reason for austerity measures in the midst of a still uncertain recovery. In fact, most economists, and a good part of the public opinion, think that the visible decline in American economy results from lack of investment, not just on basic infrastructure, but also on the wellbeing of population. 

If there is a perception of a national crisis, it is not about a fiscal one, but one about declining hegemonic power, and about the rise of China (with the Sinophobic undertones noted by Tom Palley). The solution requires investment in the future, in the kinds of things that are both popular and part of the broader Biden agenda, boosting the safety net programs, and investing in green technologies, promoting cleaner economic growth. That these investments are necessary is not particularly controversial, given the size of the social crisis at home, and the global environmental crisis, let alone in the context of a pandemic crisis that seems will become endemic.*

The debt ceiling debate is purely a political instrument used by Republicans to preclude Democrats from implementing their budgetary priorities. This is not an economic crisis, it is a political crisis and requires a political solution. The most cited solution for the current crisis would be to mint a one trillion-dollar platinum coin, that would allow the Treasury to continue spending (e.g. Paul Krugman here). As Zachary Carter said in the Washington Post, only an absurd solution could save the US from an absurd problem. However, trust in the existent political institutions might be the best solution for the impasse. The Biden administration should simply declare that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional, move forward, and continue to make payments even if the debt ceiling is breached. Congress cannot enforce the debt ceiling, and the Treasury can continue to pay until the courts decide on the merits of the case. The issue should be decided by the courts.

There are two possible objections to this strategy. The first one is that an impasse may imply that the US would be technically in default, and that chaos would ensue. However, if the Treasury continues to pay, the worst consequences could be averted. As noted, everybody knows this is a political problem and there is no real question that the US cannot pay. The other concern is that the Supreme Court could presumably determine that the debt ceiling is constitutional after all. That is, to be clear, a possibility. However, it should also be clear that the Roberts court is strongly probusiness and that financial and corporate interests in general are against a default that would hurt the economy. But in the case the court decides to commit economic suicide for no good technical reason, this might still be the right move. Perhaps then there would be enough support to eliminate the debt ceiling through the legislative process, eliminating the filibuster.

* There is, of course, some debate within the Democratic Party, with Senators Manchin and Sinema probably precluding a larger fiscal package.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

On the irrelevance of inflation expectations: the return of the working class

There are many myths about the Phillips Curve and the so-called Monetarist Counter-Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Forder's book is a good read on some of these issues. Jeremy Rudd's recent paper is also a must read, and has now been accepted for publication in the Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE).

It debunks the myth about the importance of inflationary expectations for explaining the Great Inflation of the 1970s, and casts doubts about the Monetarist Counter Revolution, the Rational Expectations one, and that would include the more recent New Keynesian developments that include a lot from both. Rudd's paper suggests that there is a simpler explanation for the acceleration of inflation back then, and the Great Moderation since the 1990s. In his words:

"Another way of stating this point is that an important feature of inflation dynamics after the mid- 1990s appears to be the lack of a strong wage–price spiral (or of any significant year-to-year feedback between wage growth and inflation)... An observation about the actual nature of the 'wage bargaining process' is helpful at this point."

Old Keynesian stories about cost-push versus demand-pull inflation come back to mind. He suggests essentially that worker's wage bargaining power has been weakened, and that reflects in less impact of labor costs on actual inflation. Again, in his words:

"We can make a reasonable case that reactions of labor costs to actual inflation were an important feature of the inflation process in the 1970s. In particular, without this channel’s being present, it is nearly impossible to explain why movements in food prices left a durable imprint on core inflation—unlike energy, which can plausibly be viewed as a broader input to industry, changes in agricultural prices shouldn’t act like a cost shock to firms outside the food sector."

This suggests a preoccupation of the profession with more concrete, objective causes of inflation dynamics, and that bargaining power of the labor class matters. Martin Sandbu has suggested a few months ago in his Financial Times column that:

"To be precise, we may be witnessing the manifestation of two outmoded ideas: that the relative power of economic classes alters macroeconomic outcomes; and that macroeconomic policy tilts that relative power."

Sandbu also noted that in this recession it is Michal Kalecki, not Keynes, the old and forgotten master that we should bring back from the dead. While I do think that Kalecki should always be remembered and was and continues to be relevant, it is less clear that the wage bargaining position of the working class will recover anytime soon. Sure, if Dems manage to pass the more robust social spending bill, with the extra US$ 3.5 trillion, things would look a bite better. Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Merkel, Scholz, the German Social Democrats and the Meaning of the Left

Angela Merkel is stepping down, and as often happens in these circumstances (or when someone of historical importance passes; see here for my review of Thatcher and Volcker obits) there is a flood of analysis of their contributions. Merkel is no exception, and most 'serious' outlets have suggested that she was a great stateswoman, and that she managed to save the euro (an honor she often shares with Mario Draghi), the European Union and provided leadership in the midst of the vacuum caused by Donald Trump (see here, or here, for example). The newspaper of record, linked there, says that: "Chancellor Angela Merkel steered Europe through crises, and Germany has boomed during her tenure." I kid you not! Yes, boomed. The actual real GDP growth was about 1.1 percent on average during her tenure (as per graph; data from the Conference Board).

Note that there is no acceleration of growth, that has remained low since reunification with Helmut Kohl, and with the brief interregnum of Gerhard Schröder, the center-left (more on that below) leader of the social democrats in the early 2000s. The New York Times suggests, not incorrectly (at least on this) that she leaves many economic problems behind, but argue that those stem from lack of investment in education (the 'human capital' mantra) and on high-tech technologies. Note that investment often follows growth, and that has been anemic in Germany, and productivity follows growth, including in the high tech industries. It is demand driven. Merkel did not create the neoliberal model, but she certainly followed it.

Her legacy should be tied to the euro, and to Greece (I wrote quite a bit on Greece over the years; see here, and in the other blog here starting even earlier in 2010), and there her legacy of austerity, fiscal adjustment, which allowed Germany to maintain fiscal and current account surpluses (the measure of her success, I would guess), is an undeniable disaster. Greece GDP never recovered (see figure below; same source).

In other words, nobody should think that these is something to be emulated. The reason right-wing, photo fascist parties, like some of the craziest stuff that one can see in the United States are possible in Europe is because of the policies that she adopted. Of course, as I noted these policies precede her, and Kohl, the German version of Reagan and Thatcher deserves a lot of the credit, both as instrumental on the unification, which still has important implications for the levels of employment in the ex-Eastern Germany, and the policies that led to the euro. Of course, it took a social democrat, Schröder, to promote the labor market reforms (essentially, more flexible markets, making it easier to fire workers, and providing lower benefits for the unemployed) and a policy of wage compression.

And that brings us to Olaf Scholz, Merkel's finance minister, and the leader of the social democrats (which were in many ways a reference for the left globally at some point in the very distant past), which are uniformly described as center-left (NYTimes here). I will not spend too much time discussing that, but I would note that a left of center government must have policies to promote the wellbeing of the working class, including higher wages and something that resembles full employment. The German Social Democrats are not that. And if Mr. Scholz manages to form a coalition government, it will be with the Greens, which will push for degrowth (on that see this old post), and perhaps with the neoliberal Free Democratic Party, mostly people that have not seen a fiscal adjustment plan they did not like. So Merkel's legacy lives on.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Debt in foreign currency or Too Much Government Intervention?

Interview with an Argentinean radio (yes, in Spanish) on the Evergrande collapse and its possible consequences. It is clear to me that the dangers come more from having debt in foreign currency than the typical critique about crony capitalism, and the lack of credibility that The Economist, for example, has put forward. In The Economist view:
Evergrande shows the importance of deeper financial reforms. But what might they look like? Liberal reformers have longed for a clean-up of bad debts, a loosening of controls over prices (including the exchange rate), transparency and independent courts that can enforce property rights. Such a system would allocate capital better and be less prey to moral hazard.

Seriously. For those that think that the craze about financial liberalization was over with the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Tom Palley on Anti-China Fever in the US

Short post by Tom on the Sinophobia that has become more common in the US with the rise of the trade wars and the pandemic. He says: "Much of the United States (especially Washington, DC) is in the grip of a contagious lethal anti-China fever which is spreading fast. Even people I usually admire and respect have become infected. Reason and facts have lost all capacity to inoculate."

Read rest here.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The End of Bretton Woods


End of Bretton Woods with Barry Eichengreen, myself and Lilia Costabile, organized by L-P. Rochon and the Review of Political Economy.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Nixon ends dollar convertibility

50 years ago this Sunday. A debate with Barry Eichengreen on that today at 1pm NY time, and you can register here.

My paper can be read here.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Financialization, Deindustrialization, and Instability in Latin America

New working paper at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). From the abstract:
The paper analyzes the relation between premature deindustrialization in Latin America with what is termed premature financialization. Premature financialization is defined as a turn to finance, organized as an industrial concern, which is a vehicle for accumulation before the process of industrialization has reached maturity. This contrasts with developed countries where financialization occurs after an advanced stage of economic and social development is reached, and where the growth of the financial sector, beyond a certain threshold, can be detrimental to economic activity. The paper examines the consequences of premature financialization for investment, growth, and financial stability.
Read full paper here.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Consolidation of Dollar Hegemony after the Collapse of Bretton Woods: Bringing power back in

Collapse, ma non troppo!

New IDEAS Working Paper on the alternative views of the collapse of Bretton Woods. From the abstract:

Contrary to conventional views which suggest that the collapse of Bretton Woods represented the beginning of the end of the global hegemonic position of the dollar, the collapse of the system liberated American policy from convertibility to gold, and imposed a global fiat system still dominated by the floating dollar. The end of Bretton Woods and the set of regulations that imposed capital controls were part of the agenda of many powerful groups within the US, and led to the creation of a more dollarized world. The challenge to the dollar might arise, eventually, from the decline in the United States’power to determine the pricing of key commodities in global markets; but it is premature to think about the demise of the dollar. The limitations of the dominant views about Bretton Woods are ultimately tied to mainstream economics.
Read it here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The economics of New Developmentalism

New versus Classical Developmentalism

New paper by Tom Palley, titled “The Economics of New Developmentalism: A Critical Assessment” which has been published in Investigacion Economica. Palley argues that "the issues raised will be a key element in the 2022 Brazilian presidential election that will likely pit Ciro Gomes versus Lula in the first round. Gomes aligns with New Developmentalism. Lula inclines to Classical Developmentalism. Of course, economic analysis is just part of the development problematic. It must be reconciled and integrated with the political reality of Latin America’s unethical economic elite, its corrupted political class, and the omnipresent threat of US intervention against change that challenges the economic status quo."

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Price of Peace by Zachary D. Carter

Each era gets its own version of Keynes. The post-war era got the sanitized biography by his disciple and friend Roy Harrod. It emphasized the somewhat late Victorian values of what he called the presuppositions of Harvey Road, Keynes’ birth place at Cambridge, representing the ethical principles that he received from his parents. Not only it avoided any discussion of Keynes' sexuality, that was verboten at that time, and not just because Keynes’ mother was still alive, but also it was well suited to the moderate Neoclassical Synthesis version of Keynesianism that came dominate American academia and the profession with its emphasis on wage rigidities and imperfections. Lord Robert Skidelsky famously argued that Harrod’s biography was “an exercise in covering up and planting false trails” (Skidelsky, 1983: xxv).

 Skidelsky had the advantage of time, and his biography – the three volumes that came out after the publication of Keynes’ Collected Writings, one might add – was more direct and truthful about his subject. Yet, the biography was published between the 1980s and the early 2000s, the period in which the crisis of Keynesian economics was complete, and his ideas forgotten, or worse, as famously noted by Robert Lucas Jr., simply ridiculed. In many ways, Skidelsky’s biography, which broke new ground on the personal life of Keynes, was defensive and did not challenge the notion that his theory relied on imperfections.

 Zachary D. Carter’s book is not quite a biography in the same way that the two cited above, or the one by Donald Moggridge, one of the co-editors of Keynes’ Collected Writings. There is little need for another detailed speculative analysis of the lesser known aspects of Keynes’ life and how these affected his economic views. Carter does something better. He provides a lively discussion of the rise and fall of Keynesian ideas, beginning with how Keynes’ developed his analytical framework, from his theoretical struggles of the 1920s, with some retrospective analysis of his previous life and work, to his premature death in 1946. He also discusses the apogee and the fall of Keynesian economics after Keynes’ death, and the rise to dominance of neoliberal ideas, at least until the last crisis. In that respect, the book has two parts. The first twelve chapters that discuss Keynes’ life and the intricate dance between economic policy debates and rapidly changing economic ideas that eventually propelled the Keynesian Revolution, and a second part from chapter thirteen to seventeen, where John Kenneth Galbraith and Joan Robinson pick up Keynes’ mantle as the proselytizers of the true Keynesian gospel. They battled not only with avowed neoliberals and anti-Keynesians like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, but also against the brand of Keynesianism that came to dominate academia, and the “greatest prophet of this ‘New Economics,’ as it would come to be known in the John F. Kennedy years, … Paul Samuelson” (p. 399).

 Read rest here.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Laissez-faire policies, self-adjusting market system, and neoliberalism

Classical political economics was in part a discourse for the rising bourgeoisie, and as such most of its members – that accepted some version of the labor theory of value and that distribution was conflictive – were for laissez-faire policies. That was certainly the case of the Physiocrats, and of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the two most accomplished of the British political economists.

However, the classical analytical scheme did not assume full employment of labor or that the economic system was self-adjusted. Competition meant that market prices fluctuated around the natural prices, but those did not imply efficient allocation of resources. The notion that markets are self-adjusting with a tendency to full employment was a development of the last quarter of the nineteenth-century, and part of the so-called Marginalist Revolution. Marginalism also implied that each factor of production, capital and labor, received a share of income in accordance with the services rendered in production. Distribution was harmonious and not conflictive.[i] However, that did not imply that marginalist authors were all for laissez-faire.

It is clear that laissez-faire policies – leaving markets to its own devices without government intervention – could theoretically lead to efficient outcomes in the new theoretical scheme. But many marginalists authors believed that imperfections were relatively common in the real world and that under these circumstances some degree of government intervention was required. Market imperfections were a central reason for government intervention, before the Keynesian Revolution. In addition, most marginalists believed that economics was a science, technical in nature and not an art that required understanding of political factors, like class interests, wage bargaining, the power of capitalists, etc. These were imperfections, and they required government intervention. That was certainly the dominant view within marginalism associated with Cambridge University in England, and with its main academic figure Alfred Marshall.[ii]

Marginalists were part of a late nineteenth-century trend that believed in the power of experts, technocrats, in a period in which economics was becoming professionalized, and independent of the moral sciences. They were policy advisors. Simplifying considerably, one may say that classical authors were for laissez-faire, but not for the self-adjusting nature of capitalism, while marginalists were for the notion that markets are self-regulated, but less keen on hands-off governments. The conjunction of the two, the notion that laissez-faire capitalism is self-adjusting, was a distinctive feature of some of the marginalist authors, in particular the ones associated with the Austrian school, with Ludwig von Mises and his disciple Friedrich Hayek. That is, it is only with the rise of neoliberalism that laissez-faire and the self-adjusting nature of capitalism become associated.[iii]

[i] The notion that distribution is harmonious and not conflictive as assumed by classical authors precedes marginalism or neoclassical economics, and was fundamentally developed in the period after the abandonment of Ricardian economics by pamphleteers and political economists that were afraid of the social implications of the work by David Ricardo, and the development of Socialist theories. Nassau Senior is probably the key author, and Frédéric Bastiat and Harriet Martineau the popularizers of the new dogma. Karl Marx referred to these post-classical authors as vulgar economists, and the term seems fitting.

[ii] Arthur Cecil Pigou, Marshall's main disciple, and John Maynard Keynes' teacher, was concerned exactly with the imperfections caused by externalities that required some sort of government intervention. These would be taxes or subsidies, depending on the nature of the externalities.

[iii] Later, in the 1940s after encountering insurmountable problems with his theory of cycles and the notion of capital, when he distanced himself from economics, Hayek exposed a different argument in favor of laissez-faire policies based on complexity and unintended consequences of government intervention. In this case, the argument was that government failures were worse than market failures or imperfections.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Demise of Bretton Woods

ROPE will be hosting a special Zoom Webinar, hosted by Lilia Costabile. The webinar is on August 13, 2021, at 1 pm, NY time (Bretton Wood collapsed on August 15, 1971) . To register, please use the following link.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Impact factor

The Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE) Clarivate impact factor has gone up again. The five year one is a bit higher at 1.397. For a critical discussion of the role of impact factors and journal rankings see this old post from when ROKE was just 3 years old and was ranked for the first time. Next year it will be the 10th anniversary of the journal.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Bitcoins and El Salvador

I haven't written about bitcoin in a long while, in part because it is somewhat irrelevant, like all notions of a future dominance of private currencies (another of Hayek's incredible blunders; more problems with Hayek here and here). Note that nation states are fine and well, and not going anywhere, and hence national currencies will remain dominant. Only a weak state without its own currency (El Salvador is dollarized; on that see here and here) would make bitcoins legal tender. But more on that later.

Even though it's discussed in my old post, let me first explain why bitcoin makes little sense as a currency. The first thing to note about bitcoiners is that they think that the state management of the currency is prone to abuse, and that the value of money, and, hence the price level (or its change, i.e. inflation) suffers as a result. The slow and persistent mining of bitcoins, in this view, is what leads to a stable price level. The value of money depends on its scarcity, according to some version of the Quantity Theory of Money (or if they were more sophisticated some notion of a natural rate, and that would work at full employment). Of course, that notion breaks down pretty fast, since inflation is seldom related to excess printing of money by the central bank.

Note that the value of bitcoins has recently collapsed from about 60,000 to around 33,000. It's closer to 34,000 or so now. At any rate, to make things simpler, and rounding things up, the price has been halved, in dollars. In other words, if you bought with one bitcoin something that costed US$60,000 now you need approximately 2 bitcoins rather than one to buy the same thing. Prices doubled in bitcoins in just a few days. That's a doubling of the price level, an increase of 100%, or very high inflation in bitcoins. So inflation in bitcoins (and in any currency really) has little relation with the amount of money. Exchange rate depreciation is crucial, as well as other costs (on alternative theories of inflation see here).

In other words, bitcoin is simply an asset, as gold since it was demonetized almost 50 years ago by Nixon, with the closing of the gold window (or 1968, if you take the link to Fed notes). It is something that is purely relevant for speculation, contrary to some other financial assets that might be relevant for other uses, even industrial uses like gold. Don't get me wrong, block chain technology and digital currencies might become relevant, but that would be once national governments and central banks, which are moving slowly in that direction, decide to adopt them.

I haven't read much on Bukele's decision to make bitcoin legal tender. But the notion that this would be good for the population is crazy. Notice that if you send one bitcoin, and the value collapses before its collected and changed back to dollars, in a period in which the price is reduced by half, then the person receives half the amount of dollars. The fluctuations of asset prices could be wild, and the losses staggering. And El Salvador depends heavily on remittances from the US; something around 20 percent of GDP. The only possible relevant use for bitcoins is for illegal transactions, other than speculation in which someone can win huge amounts, while many lose their pants. Other than that, this is a decision that compounds other terrible decisions taken by previous administrations, like dollarization and entering the free trade agreement with the US.

Monday, June 28, 2021

From developmental to failed state

The talk I gave for Rethinking Economics Peru (in Spanish). Go check their website and materials here or if you don't speak Spanish there's a lot of interesting material in the general (in many languages) Rethinking Economics here. An older post, in English, that discusses essentially the same thing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The end of Friedmanomics?

Friedman's advisees

Zachary Carter, of Price of Peace fame (a good book that I recommend, btw), wrote an interesting piece on Milton Friedman's legacy, which I think is, as Hyman Minsky said of Joan Robinson's work, wrong in incisive ways. But even before we get to his main point, that the era of Friedmanomics is gone, it is worth thinking a bit about the way he approaches the history of ideas. This is clearly a moral tale for Carter, with good guys and bad guys. Gunfight at high noon. It is more about vision than analysis, in the terminology of Schumpeter.

He starts, like Nancy MacLean in her Democracy in Chains -- I discussed only tangentially
the issue here -- with Brown v. Board of Education, and Friedman's, rather than Buchanan's, insidious behavior favoring policies that allowed the persistence of segregation. He tells us that: "it is hard to believe Friedman was merely naïve and not breathtakingly cynical about these political judgments, particularly given the extreme rhetoric he used to attack anti-discrimination efforts." Yet, as he continues he seems to change his mind and argue that: "yet he appears to have genuinely believed what he said about markets eliminating racism." So it seems he was naïve after all, according to Carter.

Of course, to determine whether Friedman was cynical or naïve is a thankless task and somewhat besides the point. Friedman was analytically wrong. There is a reason Schumpeter's monumental book is A History of Economic Analysis, and not of economic ideology. And Carter argument is built on moral, ideological grounds. Friedman is the bad guy. He tells us that: "[t]he chief political disputes of the 1950s and 1960s, as today, really were about moral values, not technical predictions." Don't get me wrong, vision matters, and it's hard to disentangle from analysis, but it is clear that Friedman's views differed analytically from the ones discussed by the Keynesian disciples at Cambridge (less so in the case of some of the Neoclassical Synthesis Keynesians that came to accept Friedman's notion of a natural rate of unemployment by the late 1960s). But it is hard to say that Friedman was for segregation, when he explicitly says he was against, and Carter himself thinks that he might have been sincere about that. Other than finding archival material that shows that Friedman knew better we are left with conjecture and guess work.

The key analytical differences between Friedman and the more heterodox Keynesians I alluded above, were not so much in his classic book on monetary history with Anna Schwartz, cited by Carter, but in his AEA presidential address from 1968. The return of the natural rate was the foundation that allowed, once the political circumstances were ripe for the demise of the Golden Age, for the return of marginalist analysis. In a sense, the notion of a natural rate of unemployment went full circle and added to the Neoclassical Synthesis notion that Keynes was fundamentally about wage rigidities or other imperfections. Note that this happened after the capital debates, when the logical foundations of the neoclassical theory was in shambles. In favor of Friedman, I might add, he did write the analytical model down in the debate with his critics, in contrast with Hayek, that after abandoning economics in the 1940s dedicated himself to ideological discussions without any analysis. Vision without analysis as my good friend Fabio Freitas poignantly says.

Carter is on firmer ground when he argues that Friedman was not a classical liberal, and had little in common with Adam Smith, although Friedman himself might have thought so; understanding of history of ideas is sadly vey uncommon among economists. Carter tells us that: "Friedman preferred to be identified as either a 'neoliberal' or a 'classical liberal,' invoking the prestige of the great eighteenth- and nineteenth-century economists—while conveniently gliding past their often profound differences with his political project. (John Stuart Mill, for instance, identified as a 'socialist,' while Adam Smith supported a variety of incursions against laissez-faire in the name of the public interest)." The differences with Smith were not fundamentally political though, but analytical (Stuart Mill is a more complicated transition author). Markets did not produce efficient allocation of resources or full employment of labor for Smith, as in the Marshallian world of Friedman and the Chicago School.

At any rate, the notion that Friedmanomics (or Neoliberalism for that matter; on that here) is dead is at best an exaggeration. In part, the misdiagnosis results from Carter's view according to which: "Friedman’s major theoretical contribution to economics—the belief that prices rose or fell depending on the money supply— simply fell apart during the crash of 2008." That's definitely not the main lesson from Friedmanomics. The quantity theory was never particularly dominant. It was a return to the simple notions of marginalism, of the theory of value, that suggests that supply and demand produce optimal outcomes, that lead to full employment, and that can fix all sort of social maladies (including racism, as Carter notes correctly) that was central to Friedmanomics, and neoliberalism.

In other words, his main legacy was the idea that the market society is a panacea. That free markets are prerequisite for a democratic society (Hayek was more forceful in that argument, without even trying to provide the analytical foundations). Something used cynically to favor the interests of a narrow group by the politicians Friedman advised (the three on top, for example). And while it is true that the last financial crisis (the 2008 one) has led to a reassessment of the role of government, and more so with the pandemic, as I discussed here, the notion that Friedmanomics is gone is wishful thinking.

Even though the profession has abandoned Friedman's Marshallian version of marginalism, his notion that markets do produce optimal outcomes has received no serious challenge within academia, and, in policy circles, interventions follow a pragmatic notion that market imperfections are worse than government imperfections. But that could change rapidly, like Larry Summers support for expansionary fiscal policies. Friedmanomics will certainly make a come back.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Was Keynes a Liberal or a Socialist?

A shorter version at the ISET conference of my Will Lyons Lecture at Franklin & Marshall. And yes, I think Harrod and Skidelsky were right (not Crotty and O'Donnell). He was definitely an Asquith Liberal.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Prebisch After ECLAC and UNCTAD

My talk at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia last Friday, in Spanish of course. Part of the argument is that Prebisch, contrary to what is often assumed, moved from an argument that emphasized the role of the external constraint in leading to underdevelopment during his United Nations years, to one that put the emphasis on the patterns of domestic consumption, and its negative impact on the surplus, following the literature on stagnation, in his last book on peripheral capitalism. I suggest that the change is problematic.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Gatekeepers and herd behavior: On Tooze and the radicalization of Krugman

"But that one is holding the poop!"

Adam Tooze, the author of the monumental Crashed (who was, incidentally,  student of Wynne Godley, one of my mentors), wrote a piece for the London Review of Books that has received a lot of praise. While it reviews Paul Krugman's latest book, it provides an overview of the radicalization of New Keynesians, or at least some, that dominate both in academia, and in the corridors or power. The gatekeepers of knowledge and academic  and intellectual influence, with a close connection to power, so to speak. He tells us at the outset that Krugman, the economist that was a bulwark of free trade, even when the theories for which he received his Sveriges Riksbank Prize (aka the Nobel) suggested that some degree of intervention might be good, and that remained even after the 2008 crisis a defender of the conventional macroeconomic model, not only has moved to the left, but also that "in Joe Biden’s Washington, Krugmanism rules."

This is, however, a misinterpretation of the current situation. Tooze suggests that Krugman is one of the "high-powered centrists inching their way towards seemingly obvious political conclusions." The group includes "three centrists – Biden, Janet Yellen and Jerome Powell [that are] undertaking an experiment in economic policy of historic proportions." And he, also, argues that: "what sets Krugman apart within this cohort is the way he has, since the 1990s, stopped being a gatekeeper of the status quo and instead become its critic. In this respect his closest analogue is Joseph Stiglitz, also once of MIT, a member of the Clinton administration and chief economist to the World Bank. Both men have indisputable standing as members of the elite club of New Keynesians."

I see Krugman as being closer to what Colander, Holt and Rosser referred to as the cutting edge of the profession. The role of cutting edge of the profession, in my reply to them (see the paper in Fred Lee and Marc Lavoie's book here), is to make more reasonable policy propositions, while maintaining the notion that markets do produce efficient outcomes, in spite of the unsurmountable logical problems brought by the capital debates, and that led to the rise of vulgar economics. Krugman in that sense is the epitome of the cutting edge. Of course, in order to make reasonable points he would discard many of his own ideas. But he is no critic of the mainstream. The problem with Tooze's argument lies in there. Krugmanism cannot rule, if he basically had to discard his ideas in order to remain relevant. And relevant here simply means that he can be seen to be on the right side of history, more skeptical of free markets, free trade, and willing to accept significant expansion of deficits and debt.

The ideas that won the day and rule in Biden's America are heterodox ideas, that in fact, until very recently Krugman dismissed as not serious. The possibility of continuous expansion of the welfare state, and the expansion of fiscal deficits and debt were anathema to him. Not only he was against expansionary fiscal policy, but even 'Medicare for All,' the signature proposal of Senator Bernie Sanders, something that is common in all advanced economies, was dismissed as a political nonstarter. And certainly that idea, which is not that radical, has remained in the background, and is unlikely to be pushed by the 'radicalized' Biden administration. Perhaps even Krugman still thinks is far too lefty to be acceptable in the United States.

Biden might be the president, and he has a lot of power about what elements of the agenda to push, and he has certainly moved to the left. No doubt about that. Not surprisingly Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein, economists with heterodox and labor connections, are defending the fiscal expansion from the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), while Larry Summers, the quintessential insider of the Clinton and Obama administrations, is criticizing from outside. But the Democratic Party has moved to the left, and the politicians have followed. It is the party of Bernie and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). And the establishment knows they need to move if they want to remain relevant, and have a fighting chance in 2024, since the working class is radicalized, and many will abandon the party if Biden does not deliver.

They are like the French politician that, seeing the masses pass in protest, tells his friends in the café he must leave and follow them, since he is their leader. This is, it goes without saying, more like herd behavior, than leadership. Krugman is, in that sense, the leader of an intellectual sea change about views on the role of the state in the economy.

Tooze may think that these arguments are just the diatribes of those in the left that are angry,* infuriated he argues, with the slow pace of change in the center. The issue is that, even though Krugman is following the herd, he certainly is a central gatekeeper in the economics profession. A profession that has been attacked for good reasons, for its excessive influence in policy, and the recurrent blunders of its luminaries.

Krugman still argues in terms of the conventional model, that he defends, as having done a good job explaining the 2008 crisis. People like Wynne Godley, that truly foresaw the 2008 crisis, often only received the acknowledgement ex-post, sometimes too late, after passing away.** Krugman dismisses heterodox economists as not serious. A type of red-baiting of heterodox economists with significant impact on the ability of the profession to change. He also validates some of worst within the mainstream and is willing to play by their harsh rules.+ This is, of course, because the prestigious teaching positions he held, and still holds, the 'Nobel', that was created to give respectability to certain ideas, the weekly column in the NYTimes are all powerful platforms. The danger in this, in accepting Krugman's narrative that he has been right all along, is to convince ourselves that the profession has indeed changed. Now the dangers of neoliberalism and their main defenders, mainstream economists, are gone. The profession is rehabilitated. But the retreat of neoliberalism is only temporary. Krugman and other gatekeepers will change their tune when the current Keynesian moment passes. If the Bidenomics experiment ends up being of historic proportions, and I do hope it does, although that is still too soon to tell, it will not be a victory of Krugmanism. It will be a victory in spite of it.

* I am not as angry as Paul Romer, though.
** On Krugman critique of Godley's 'hydraulic' model, and my response go here.
+ He famously said: "By the early 1980s it was already common knowledge among people I hung out with that the only way to get non-crazy macroeconomics published was to wrap sensible assumptions about output and employment in something else, something that involved rational expectations and intertemporal stuff and made the paper respectable. And yes, that was conscious knowledge, which shaped the kinds of papers we wrote." [Italics added] See the quote and a discussion of the role of another gatekeeper in France that also won a 'Nobel' here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Life among the Econ: fifty years on

By Thomas Palley (Guest blogger)

Almost fifty years ago, the Swedish econographer Axel Leijonhufvud (1973) wrote a seminal study on the Econ tribe titled “Life among the Econ”. This study revisits the Econ and reports on their current state. Life has gotten more complicated since those bygone days. The cult of math modl-ing has spread far and wide, so that even lay Econs practice it. Fifty years ago the Econ used to say “Modl-ing is everything”. Now they say “Modl-ing is the only thing”. The math priesthood has been joined by a priesthood of economagicians. The fundamental social divide between Micro and Macro sub-tribes persists, but it has been diluted by a new doctrine of micro foundations. The Econ remain a fractious and argumentative tribe.

Read paper here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

PKES webinars: Post-Keynesian economics and developing countries

22 Apr 2021 None –27 May 2021 None

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and the COVID pandemic that erupted in 2020 have reinforced criticisms of the main, orthodox current economic theory. At the same time, they highlighted the need for and importance of alternative approaches such as Post-Keynesian Economics (PKE). The Post-Keynesian Economics Society (PKES) is an initiative that fosters research and dissemination within the framework of PKE. Furthermore, PKES is committed to working towards a strengthening and an internationalization of heterodox economics networks. The shift to online events due to the covid crisis provides an occasion for such international collaborations. We have worked with the Italian PK network and want to convene a series of webinars with Argentinean PK scholars, which we hope will lead to the launching of the Argentinean Post-Keynesian Association (APKA).

APKA’s objective is to develop a network between economists and other scholars with similar interests, perspectives and approaches, in order to support and disseminate research linked to PKE. We recognize the diverse heterodox traditions of Argentine and more broadly Latin American schools of economic thought with strong links with PKE. Therefore, the APKA extends the invitation to scholars of other traditions such as Structuralism, evolutionism, classical-Sraffianism, institutionalism, regulation theory, feminist economics and ecological economics.

This spring we are organising a series of webinars that explore that the dynamics of developing countries and what PKE can contribute to that. We will analyse financial dynamics, productive structures and the relation between Latin American structuralists and PKE. Each webinar will have two speakers, one based in Argentina and one based in Europe.

Thursday 22/4, 12 noon Argentina = 4pm UK

Financial dynamics in developing countries

Chair: Engelbert Stockhammer (King's College London, UK)

Pablo Bortz (UNSAM, Argentina): "Global financial flows in Kaleckian models of growth and distribution"

Annina Kaltenbrunner (Leeds, UK): "International financial subordination: a critical research agenda"

Joining link

Thursday 6/5, 1pm Argentina = 5pm UK

PKE, productive structure and economic development

Chair: Pablo Bortz (UNSAM, Argentina)

Martín Abeles (UNSAM, Argentina): TBC

Sara Stevano (SOAS University of London, UK): TBC

Joining link

Thursday 27/5, 1pm Argentina = 5pm UK

PKE and other heterodox traditions in Latin America

Chair: Florencia Medici (National University of Moreno, Argentina)

Danielle Guizzo (University of Bristol, UK): TBC

Matías Vernengo (Argentina): "María da Conceição Tavares and Heterodox Economics"

Joining link
Organising committee

Pablo Bortz, Florencia Medici, Engelbert Stockhammer

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Friday, March 12, 2021

Beyond Neoliberalism in Chile: Lazzara and Pérez Caldentey

Video of the lecture by Michael Lazzara and Esteban Pérez Caldentey, part of the seminar on Memories of Neoliberalism at Bucknell University.

On Garegnani's contributions to economics

My initial comments at the seminar on the legacy of Pierangelo Garegnani's contributions to economics organized by the Italian Post Keyn...