12 drummers drumming

A few days ago I discussed a long article on blogging in The Economist.  It turns out that the same edition also has a shorter piece (I presume it’s one of the short lead articles, which they often develop further in the middle of the magazine.)

Here’s an excerpt:

Previous publishing revolutions, such as the advent of printing, prompted similar concerns about trivialisation and extremism. But whatever you think about the impact of blogging on political, scientific or religious debate, it is hard to argue that the internet has cheapened the global conversation about economics. On the contrary, it has improved it.

Research (by two blogging economists at the World Bank) suggests that academic papers cited by bloggers are far more likely to be downloaded. Blogging economists are regarded more highly than non-bloggers with the same publishing record. Blogs have given ideas that failed to prosper in the academic marketplace, such as the “Austrian” theory of the business cycle, another airing (see article). They have also given voice to once-obscure scholars advancing bold solutions to America’s economic funk and Europe’s self-inflicted crisis.

A good example is Scott Sumner of Bentley University, who believes that America’s Federal Reserve should promise to restore “nominal” GDP (as opposed to “real” GDP, which takes account of inflation) to its pre-crisis path.

.   .   .

The back-and-forth between bloggers resembles the informal chats, in university hallways and coffee rooms, that have always stimulated economic research, argues Paul Krugman, a Nobel-prizewinning economist who blogs at the New York Times. But moving the conversation online means that far more people can take part. Admittedly, for every lost prophet there is a crank who is simply lost. Yet despite the low barriers to entry, blogs do impose some intellectual standards. Errors of fact or logic are spotted, ridiculed and corrected. Areas of disagreement are highlighted and sometimes even narrowed. Some of the best contributors do not even have blogs of their own, serving instead as referees, leaving thoughtful comments on other people’s sites and often criss-crossing party lines.

At the top of the on-line article is this close-up of the bigger illustration provided in the longer article.

Because I’m so vain my family was curious, I asked the artist if I was supposed to be the drummer.  Yep, it’s me.  Bob Murphy and Warren Mosler are also so honored. I never expected my picture to appear twice in my favorite magazine; and in caricature no less.

It makes me feel guilty to be singled out, so here are 12 other drummers that might have been included:

David Beckworth, Niklas Blanchard, Lars Christensen, David Eagle, David Glasner, Josh Hendrickson, Robert Hetzel, Doug Irwin, Kantoos, Marcus Nunes, Nick Rowe, Bill Woolsey.  I consider Hetzel to be the most distinguished market monetarist, although because he’s at the Fed he might not be comfortable with that label.

I’m being sent so much interesting stuff that it’s hard to keep up.  I hope to do posts soon on David Eagle and William Barnett, who have sent me material that relates to market monetarism.

PS.  The artist didn’t say which drummer; I’m hoping it’s not the one on the left.

PPS.  I apologize to any market monetarists if I left your name off the list; I wanted to stay at 12 for obvious reasons.

Update: My wife says the caricature looks much better than me.

Strange bedfellows

The Economist has an excellent new article on heterodox economics in the blogosphere.  Lars Christensen should be proud; he created the name “market monetarist” just a few months ago, and now it has the official imprimatur of The Economist.

The article discusses three heterodox schools; neochartalism (MMT), market monetarism and Austrianism.  The Economist is careful avoid any suggestion that the three are comparable in all respects:

These three schools of macroeconomic thought differ in their pedigree, in their beliefs, in their persuasiveness and in their prospects.

Market monetarism has recently been the most successful in garnering high level endorsements.  The Austrian school has probably gained the greatest number of adherents (think about the Ron Paul phenomenon.)  As for neo-chartalism, I always thought of them as being a bit wacky, and thus was surprised that Warren Mosler was cited more than any other individual, indeed 4 times as often as the Austrian representative (Lawrence White.)  I might have reversed that ratio had I written the article.  In any case, I see this article as a big win for both MMT and market monetarism, as Austrianism was already pretty well-established.

I don’t have any significant issues with the article, but will provide a slightly different take on a couple issues.  Most of the market monetarism discussion focused on NGDP targeting, which of course is only one aspect of our model.  But I think that was a wise move by The Economist, as you can’t possible explain all the theoretical nuances in a magazine article.  And NGDP is where the attention is focused right now.  Here’s their comment on the political feasibility of NGDP targeting:

The market monetarists argue that fiscal stimulus should be redundant, because a central bank can always revive spending””if it sets its mind to it. If the Fed’s efforts have disappointed, it is not because market monetarism is wrong, but because the Fed is not sufficiently committed to the cause.

This is probably true. But it makes it hard for the market monetarists to clinch their case. Until a central bank truly commits to their policy, they cannot prove their point. But until they prove their case, central banks will be reluctant to commit to their policy

As with almost all discussion of monetary policy these days, this mixes the issue of feasibility and desirability in a rather ambiguous fashion.  NGDP targeting is actually not all that different from the Taylor Rule, or some other version of the Fed’s dual mandate.  And Bernanke continually insists that the Fed doesn’t have to worry about running out of ammunition.  So they can certainly boost NGDP if they want to. The question is; do they want to?  Or perhaps I should say; is their desire to do so strong enough to overcome the perceived risks?

When I point this out to other economists they are inclined to smile politely, and say;  “Well of course Bernanke would say that, imagine the market panic if he said they were out of ammunition.”

I point out that Bernanke held these views as an academic, when he had no reason to lie.  Some argue that he changed his views after joining the Fed, for some mysterious unspecified reason.  So although he’s always said the Fed never runs out of ammo, and he used to really believe it, now he’s lying.  I have a two word response.  Occam’s Razor.

Here The Economist exaggerates the amount of “activism” in market monetarism:

The market monetarists do not fret about the side effects of the activism they seek, which can misdirect capital, inflate bubbles and seduce people into over-borrowing.

I think they are confusing “activism” with “different policy.”  We want the Fed to adopt a different policy, but the NGDP targeting regime would certainly be less “activist” than current policy, even if it didn’t involve the futures targeting regime that Woolsey and I have advocated.  The current dual mandate/dual target approach allows for all sorts of activism.  NGDP targeting has a single target, and would result in far less activism, and almost certainly far less of the bubble phenomena that are associated with dramatic changes in NGDP growth rates.

Tyler Cowen had this to say about the article:

I know that Scott would insist he is not heterodox macro at all, but I can report I found it striking to be cited in this article as a more or less establishment source, rather than heterodox myself.  In both cases the journalist is probably correct.

Because Tyler anticipated me making a mistake before I actually made it, I must of course try to frustrate his expectations.  Here’s the reply I left in his comment section:

I was an orthodox economist in 2007, completely heterodox by early 2009, and am now becoming slightly more orthodox. Interestingly, my views haven’t changed at all during that 4 year span.

Seriously, Tyler has been the biggest factor in the success of my blog.  I’m constantly getting invitations, and then am told that Tyler Cowen recommended they contact me.  Next to Tyler, Ryan Avent has probably been the most helpful.  Note that Ryan works for The Economist (although he’s probably not the author of this particular article) and also note the title of the article: “Marginal Revolutionaries.”

Update:  Here’s Arnold Kling:

Krugman’s liquidity trap analysis is a blogosphere phenomenon; in the professional journals, it has little credence. One can make a good case that Scott Sumner, portrayed as heterodox in the article, is more mainstream than Krugman.

So Tyler, Arnold, and I offer 3 different perspectives, all of which are valid.  There is no “fact of the matter.”  (Just as there is no fact of the matter as to whether China is larger than the US, or whether the Ryan plan would abolish Medicare.)  In response to a comment below, I replied:

I suspect there is no “orthodox” view of monetary economics, as many economists lack coherent views. The same economist might believe in liquidity traps, or not, depending on how the question is worded.

PS.  Any thoughts on the artwork?  At first I thought that was Bob Murphy chasing Krugman.  But Bob’s not mentioned, and in any case he’s much more handsome than the cartoon character.  I’m also not quite sure what to make of the Goya etching reference, which I believe is entitled something like “The sleep of reason produces nightmares.”

Update:  Oh dear, I didn’t realize what I was getting into when I agreed to debate Bob Murphy.

PPS.  Because of the holidays I won’t be able to catch up on comments for a few more days.

PPPS. I did see the story about the two Fed appointees, but have no comment because the press told us nothing about the only thing that matters—their views on monetary policy.  A sad comment on our press, unless they don’t have any monetary policy views.  In which case a sad comment on our political system.

We’re all Austrians now . . . make that Keynesians.

I plan to discuss a very impressive (unpublished) paper from 1991 written by Ronald W. Batchelder and David Glasner.  Then I hope to use this paper as a springboard to re-think the evolution of 20th century macro.  With apologies to Mr. Batchelder, I will refer to “David’s ideas” for simplicity.  (I know David, and he provides some excellent comments to this blog.)  David and I also share similar views on monetary policy, and in many cases he published his views first.  Unfortunately, the paper I refer to is not available on the internet.

The paper focuses on the views of Ralph Hawtrey and Gustav Cassel, two unjustly neglected interwar economists.  Both economists favored an international gold standard, but both were also concerned that the post-WWI system was potentially unstable.  During WWI many countries sold off their gold stocks to help pay for the war.  This big drop in the demand for gold caused the value of gold to plummet, which meant that the price level more than doubled.  Some of that was reversed in the 1920-21 deflation, but Cassel and Hawtrey feared that as countries rebuilt their gold stocks the price level might fall, causing higher unemployment.  They favored policies that would economize on the use of gold, such as replacing gold coins with gold-backed paper money.  Another idea was to supplement gold reserves with some sort of international accepted currency, such as the dollar and/or the pound.  And some of these reforms were implemented.

At first it looked like their fears were overblown.  Throughout most of the 1920s, prices in terms of gold were fairly stable.  After 1929, however, their worst fears came to pass.  Both central bank and private hoarding of gold caused severe deflation throughout most of the world, leading to mass unemployment.  So why didn’t they get credit for their predictions?  Why aren’t they famous today?  It turns out that the answer is surprisingly complicated, and tells us a lot about how macroeconomics evolves over time.
Den ganzen Beitrag lesen…