On economic amnesia

Economists, one might assume, have something useful to say about the current problems afflicting the world economy. Yet, since the crash of 2008 there has been a considerable amount of reflection in parts of the discipline about its failure to anticipate the crash and its failure to offer effective prescriptions for getting the economy out of the hole it’s in. Of course, elsewhere in the discipline it is business as usual – with a range of prescriptions for privatisation and deregulation at the microlevel and fiscal restraint at the macrolevel.

This week’s Nobel announcements are salutary in that respect. Olaf Storbeck described them as a prize for the Ancien Régime. He was criticised for doing so, but his intervention might be better seen as simply the most recent in a chorus of disapproval directed at an approach to macroeconomics that came to dominate the field. Thomas Sargent, who shared this year’s prize, did as much as anyone to propel rational expectations and new classical macroeconomic models to the forefront of the field, and his macroeconometric work has been hugely influential. That is why he was awarded the Nobel prize. But that can be separated from the question of whether, looked at from a broader perspective, such models actually shed much light on the way the economy operates.

Some see the solution to the problems afflicting macroeconomics as the need to search for new ideas. Paul Krugman has recently argued, on the contrary, that the problem is that the discipline has amnesia. Read more of this post

Osbornomics – the path to enlightenment

Is a major change in policy thinking imminent? Will Hutton’s piece in Sunday’s Observer focused on the question of quite what the Labour party stands for. It is relatively clear what it is against, but its positive project is rather less obvious. And it needs such a project if it is going to counteract Conservative economic strategy. In the course of his discussion, Hutton argues that we can expect a change in the Coalition’s approach to deficit reduction some time soon and the recent less than congratulatory OECD report on UK policy is evidence in support of the case: Read more of this post

Economists, implicated

John Maynard Keynes famously wrote that “[i]f economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people on a level with dentists, that would be splendid”. Many economists, somewhat uncharacteristically, might well be craving that type of anonymity at the moment. Because they’ve been getting a hard time of it. And the discipline may be about to get even less popular.

The arrival of the film Inside Job is likely to fuel the public’s anger at bankers for causing the financial crisis. And not only causing the financial crisis, but subsequently carrying on with business pretty much as usual, while the fallout of the crash is felt in public spending cuts, unemployment and welfare benefit reductions.

But the film does more than that. It broadens the scope of criticism to implicate a range of other professionals. It wasn’t just the corporate bankers: lawyers, central bankers, accountancy firms, lobbyists and government officials were also complicit in pushing a deregulatory agenda. Their actions magnified systemic risk and increased the instability of the financial system in ways that theory said shouldn’t happen. The real world clearly hadn’t read the script.

In amongst the culprits identified are academic economists. Read more of this post

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