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Brad’s Draft Lecture

Robert Waldmann

Brad DeLong just posted a very interesting Draft Henry George lecture. It contains ideas which I haven’t found written down before by Brad or by Krugman. I strongly recommend reading it (for one thing I don’t know how to cut and paste from it). People who have read the draft lecture are invited to read my thoughts after the jump (I can’t keep people who haven’t read it out, but comments which reveal ignorance of the lecture will be mocked ruthlessly).

update: I hereby ruthlessly mock myself for failing to provide the link.
What an idiot. That’s the problem with blogger.com it enables people incapable of handling html to post on the web.

So that was a nice lecture wasn’t it ? Much of it was new to me.

1) Brad confesses the reason for his lapsed Greenspanism.

I hadn’t seen the explanation that he opposed tight regulation of finance, because he thought the purpose of structured finance was to trick people into bearing more risk that they want to bear and that this is a good thing, since people are irrationally unwilling to bear risk.

Oh my not just Greenspanian but a Straussian believer in noble welfare enhancing lies. I might have found the argument convincing in 2006, so I’m glad I didn’t read it.

2) Brad claims that fresh water economists have traction, are getting attention etc. I didn’t know that. I’d guess a lot of it is due to Paul Krugman who is arguing with them in public. Also, I mean, Nobel memorial laureates tend to get all the attention they want. However, Brad has an interesting theory. Republicans in power listen to economists who don’t sound crazy to them (and all non economists). Republicans in opposition use any rhetorical weapon to hand so any criticism of Obama however crazy it sounds to non economists is amplified by the vast right wing conspiracy. An interesting idea. Are fresh water economists really getting a hearing from non economists ? That’s a scary thought.

3) Brad notes the similarities between Herbert Hoover, Alan Greenspan and Job. Hoover and Greenspan have been very loyal to the pro market ideology. yet when trouble comes, people who should be their friends accuse them of being pinkos.
Now that is an excellent rhetorical weapon to hand.

Brad’s been writing about how Prescott has decided that the Great Depression was caused by the anti market policies of Herbert Hoover. He notes that for Prescott’s latest theory to make sense, one would have to argue that Hoover was more anti market than Roosevelt, Truman or Johnson (or any post WWII European socialist ever in power). Now to me, this is no more absurd than the average assertion by Prescott. But it seems to me much more striking to non economists. Usually Prescott uses mathematical terminology and so most people either have no clue as to what he is saying or assume that the clue they have must be misleading, because he couldn’t be claiming that (as he is). I’d say some documentation that Hoover was not a pinko is in order.

The similar claim that fresh water economists are saying that Greenspan over regulated is also interesting. I think documentation of that claim is in order. Then I’d go to Greenspan’s personal history as a disciple of Ayn Rand. I just found out that he was not just a fan from a distance but part of her tiny group. Rand was a very extreme ideologue and a very unpleasant person. Many on the right will not accept criticism of her. In a no holds barred rhetorical struggle, writing about Rand and Greenspan is likely to be an effective strategy.

Of course, I am not interested in rhetoric and think we should all seek the truth together assuming that all are sincere and well meaning, so I will have nothing to do with that. But someone less high minded and scrupulous than I would talk about Ayn Rand’s sex life as often as possible.

update: I am not suggesting that Brad is interested in using any rhetorical arm at hand. I’m sure he argues in good faith and presumes that others do as well until they prove otherwise.

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When in Crisis, Insult Sociologists?

Via Brad DeLong, Eric Falkenstein praises Macroeconomics with faint damns:

Macroeconomics is the triumph of hope over experience, and has been no more successful than sociology.

Insulting our betters will not put economists in good stead. As Paul Krugman frequently notes, “Economics is…not quite as hard as sociology.”*

But Falkenstein makes up for this lapse, perhaps, with his conclusion:

Macroeconomists are demonstrably not helpful to those institutions that could use economic expertise. Macroeconomists know a lot of stuff, just not anything useful.

I’ll still maintain, and am pleased to see John Quiggin appearing to concur, that The Problem with Macro is believing that it must be a subset of Micro in general and “rational expectations” in particular, leaving the question of what exactly Macro contributes as an exercise. So I’m less ready to make that declaration that Dr. Falkenstein is. But my previous following-the-Devil-in-the-desert comment (see the Update here) seems more and more the correct description of modern macro.

At least when physics looks for GUTs, they know when they haven’t found one.

*It is left as an exercise to the reader whether the elided part of that quotation is true, a comparison of apples and oranges, or misses that physics includes people and matter.

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The Measured Version of My Screaming

John Quiggin finally makes explicit What Everyone Knows: that the clusterfuck that has been made of Macroeconomics is due largely to an attempt to leverage (insufficiently robust) Microeconomic Theory:

the search for a macroeconomic theory founded on (roughly) neoclassical micro, which has been the main direction of macro research for 40 years or so, was a wrong turning, forcing us to retrace our steps and look for another route.

Think Lucas and Prescott as Mirror-Moses, leading gullible Macroites further and further from the Promised Land, themselves evermore unable to ask for directions.* Couldn’t have said it better, or with so few expletives, myself. But then, that’s why he has a book contract.

Read the Whole Thing.

UPDATE:*Or, probably more accurately, think the years Christ spends between “I have thirst” and realizing that his long, happy peaceful life was The Last Temptation, as per the movie and novel of that name.

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The Problem with Macro is Micro

John Quiggin makes the broad case (link fixed).

If you are then stuck with trying to present a Grand Unified Field Theory, you will inevitably lose (or, at best, reduce) the importance of all the agglomerations that follow from the presumption that the Rational Actor is the mean performer—ignoring that no one, including the economists themselves, believes that to be true in their own lives, let alone the lives of others.

Micromotives and Macro Behavior indeed. But no molecular biologist (or even biologists) would try to build on the Phlogiston Theory.

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Simple Answers to Simple Questions, CRA edition

Dear Barry:

The need for posts such as this one recurs because the large majority of economists are idiots. (Multiple exceptions noted—but not enough to change the truth of the initial statement.)

As the regulatory reform report notes (quoted by PK at the last link above):

In fact, enforcement of CRA was weakened during the boom and the worst abuses were made by firms not covered by CRA.

But the truth should never be allowed to get in the way of Economic Theory.

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A Short Note on Optimality

Via Eszter, there is one thing that is very clear from this graphic (duplicated below because I can’t figure out how to embed it):

There is an excess of home-based internet capacity in the United States, for which people are definitionally paying too much.

The question is whether this is a problem. If you argue it is not—that the excess spending gets reinvested and used to develop new products and services that, on balance, benefit the economy—then please explain this in the context of any contemporary economic model.

Discuss in comments.

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It Looks Like a Great House. Why Does the Basement Always Flood?

Come on, guys, somebody take it to the Next Step.

Matt Y comes closer than anyone else to getting to the truth of the problem with Macroeconomics. Following Justin FoxSteven Levitt’s summary, Matt asks the next question:

So why should it be that “in the current regime, if [macro models] are not meticulously constructed from ‘micro foundations,’ they aren’t allowed to be considered”?

There’s a hint in the title of this post.

Edited to fix attribution.

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