Austerity, or not austerity

Den senaste veckan har erbjudit en fontän av gapflabb, fingervaggande och illa dold schadenfreude. Det är förstås allvarligt när professorer grundar sina slutsatser på felaktiga Excel-kalkyler, ännu allvarligare när de av oklar anledning undantar vissa data som, om de vore inkluderade, helt skulle kullkasta den slutsats de kom fram till. Men kanske allvarligast är när de försöker ärerädda sina högst dubiösa resultat då det personliga omdömet står på spel. Och helt plötslig är det inte lika lätt att fnissa längre. Det är faktiskt allvar.

Philip Stevens i FT sätter fingret på det jag anser vara det grundläggande misstaget som hela tiden görs: allt för många av de ekonomiska sambanden som så tvärsäkert påstås gälla, är inget annat än politiska åsikter skrudade i vetenskaplig retorik. Ekonomi är för viktigt för att lämnas åt ekonomer. Han avslutar sin text sålunda:

”What circumstance now demands of politicians is the confidence to break free of the defunct, and debunked, economic theorising. Economists are not always wrong; nor does the real problem lie with dodgy data. The mistake comes when policy makers invest the findings of a faith-based discipline with the certainties of science. They would do better to rely on common sense and observed behaviour. By underscoring this fairly simple lesson, the War of the Spreadsheet Coding Error may yet do Europe a huge service.”

 

Rational Man: D’oh!

Homer-Brain-X-Ray-the-simpsons-smallMänniskans vilja och förmåga att lura sig själv är en aldrig sinande källa av kreativiteten. Vi kan aldrig veta vad vi inte vet men vi tror alltid att vad vi vet är tillräckligt för att veta. För dig och mig är det komiska anekdoter men för samhället kan det få enorma konsekvenser. Shamanerna inom den ekonomiska vetenskapen grundar nämligen sina teorier på att vi vet, att vi är rationella, egoistiska och nyttomaximerande när vi fattar beslut. I en artikel i The Atlantic diskuteras en forskningsrapport av Daniel McFadden hur löjeväckande sådana påståenden är: The Irrational Consumer: Why Economics Is Dead Wrong About How We Make Choices

”Daniel McFadden is an economist. But his new paper, ”The New Science of Pleasure,” shows the many ways economics fails to explain how we make decisions — and what it can learn from psychology, anthropology, biology, and neurology.

The old economic theory of consumers says that ”people should relish choice.” And we do. Shopping can be fun, democracy is better than its alternatives, and a diverse and fully stocked grocery store ice cream freezer is quite nearly the closest thing to heaven on earth. But other fields of science tell a more complicated story. First, making a choice is physically exhausting, literally, so that somebody forced to make a number of decisions in a row is likely to get lazy and dumb. (That’s one reason why stores place candy near the check-out aisle: They suspect your brain is too zonked to resist.) Second, having too many choices can make us less likely to come to a conclusion. In a famous study of the so-called ”paradox of choice”, psychologists Mark Lepper and Sheena Iyengar found that customers presented with six jam varieties were more likely to buy one than customers offered a choice of 24.”

Dan Ariely och Nina Mazar listar på samma tema sex sätt vår hjärna lurar oss att fatta suboptimala, (läs skitdåliga) finansiella beslut: Six ways our brains make bad financial decisions

”We all do it: hold on to a stock when every indicator screams sell, or spend our entire bonus on a new car instead of paying off debt. A whole new area of science called behavioural economics, or BE – a blend of psychology, economics, finance and sociology – has sprung up to explain why. According to BE pioneer and Duke University professor Dan Ariely (author of the bestseller Predictably Irrational) and Rotman School of Management researcher Nina Mazar, our brains are hard-wired to choose short-term payoff over long-term gain. Here are six common mistakes investors make – and how to avoid them.”

 brain-big

The Unseemly Sight of Banksters Hairy Butt

bankster-emperorAnat Admati och Martin Hellwig har ett läsvärt utdrag ur deras nya bok på Bloomberg om hur banker behandlas på samma sätt som kejsaren i H.C. Andersens saga: okritiskt och underdånigt.

”Banks have a similar mystique. There is a pervasive myth that banks are different — special, somehow — from all other companies and industries in the economy. Anyone who questions this is at risk of being declared incompetent.

In fact, many claims made by leading bankers and banking experts, including academics, have as much substance as the emperor’s new clothes. But most people don’t challenge these claims, even as the claims affect policy. The specialists’ confidence is too intimidating. Even people who know better fail to speak up. The public is taken in.”

Vilket får mig att tänka på den globala elitens årliga firmafest i Davos som nyligen avslutades. Här är en beskrivning av tillställningen som jag tänkte länka till men sedan glömde bort. The Unbearable Vanity of Davos

”Davos, in short, is magnificently seductive, a monument to man’s need for self-actualization. (And it is mostly men—women only make up 17% of the elite participants at Davos, though they are 60% of WEF staff.) But does it improve the state of the world? Hardly. When you consider the lifestyle of those taking part, starting with the private jets, it is really quite an achievement for them to keep their cognitive dissonance in check for the better part of a week.

Perhaps the license to pretend is part of the modern-day Davos therapy. ”Schwab discovered along the way that saving the world is really quite hard work,” one longtime conference-goer said to me last year. ”Vanity is much easier to sell.”

Rädda den ekonomiska vetenskapen från ekonomerna

Ronald Coase skriver om ekonomiskråets esoteriska och abstrakta reduktionism i Harvard Business Review.

”This separation of economics from the working economy has severely damaged both the business community and the academic discipline. Since economics offers little in the way of practical insight, managers and entrepreneurs depend on their own business acumen, personal judgment, and rules of thumb in making decisions. In times of crisis, when business leaders lose their self-confidence, they often look to political power to fill the void. Government is increasingly seen as the ultimate solution to tough economic problems, from innovation to employment.

Economics thus becomes a convenient instrument the state uses to manage the economy, rather than a tool the public turns to for enlightenment about how the economy operates. But because it is no longer firmly grounded in systematic empirical investigation of the working of the economy, it is hardly up to the task.”

Election reflection

The election is finally over and we can all get back to our lives. For me, as an outsider looking in, the most egregious and precarious part of the show was, and is, the fatal divergence between what is and what a large part of the electorate claims to be. You can of course argue that the party of reality denialists lost and all is well, but what does it say about the state of the Union?

It’s a natural part of negotiations, of politics and all human interactions to disagree. But to challenge the most common understandings, the most basic facts of the world around us and to assign whatever meaning you like to the words you use, is a irrevocable breach of trust and respect between human beings, and in my opinion, a symptom of something far worse. This decline of striving for honesty and refusal to accept broadly agreed, well truths, reeks of desperation. And that is never a good thing, in fact, it’s dangerous. This descent did not happen overnight. Profound changes like this never do. They creep up on you, slowly and incrementally. One small utterance at a time. And remember, all to many of these are carefully premeditated and made by choice.

When The Onion first published this brilliant piece of satire, I laughed harder and harder for every paragraph I read. When reading it now, after all is done but perhaps not said, somehow what I earlier thought hilariously funny, now feels ominous. The reason is simple. The very thing that’s being so expertly lampooned, suddenly looks to close to very thing it’s making fun of, to be funny.

”CHARLOTTE, NC—With the savage roar of the heathen Democratic horde rising all around him, President Barack Obama delivered an incendiary speech to close his party’s national convention Thursday night, commanding the ultraprogressive minions in attendance to help him “destroy Jesus and usher in a new age of liberal darkness that shall reign o’er the earth for a thousand years.”

The thunderous 45-minute address—during which the president argued for a second term so that he could “finally kill Jesus once and for all, as well as all those who worship him”—was well received by the frenzied, wild-eyed audience, whose piercing chants of “Four more years!” and “Slaughter the believers!” echoed throughout the Time Warner Cable Arena.”

Admit economic ignorance

Att erkänna att man inte vet är svårt, nästan lika svårt som att erkänna att man haft fel. Ingenstans är detta så flagrant som inom nationalekonomin. Trots det fortsätter företrädare inom skrået, likväl som politiker, att le krampaktigt inför kamerorna och tillsammans låtsas att ingen kan se kejsarens håriga arsle.

Edward Hadas diskuterar insiktsfullt vad vi kan veta och inte veta och varför det är gott omdöme att skilja dem åt.

”It is time for economists to admit that they are stumped. Four years after being blindsided by Lehman Brothers’ collapse, the profession is still stumbling in the dark. Policymakers and pundits still make confident pronouncements, but the conclusions are radically different. The expert disagreements give away the truth: ignorance reigns.”

Reaganomics Finally Trickles Down To Area Man

America’s Finest News Source rapporterar att hästskitsteoremet nu äntligen är empiriskt belagt. Booyah!

”Twenty-six years after Ronald Reagan first set his controversial fiscal policies into motion, the deceased president’s massive tax cuts for the ultrarich at last trickled all the way down to deliver their bounty, in the form of a $10 bonus, to Hazelwood, MO car-wash attendant Frank Kellener.”

Dead Theories Society

Det är snart december och Nobeltider här i Stockholm. Limousiner i skytteltrafik mellan Grand Hotell, Konserthuset och Stadshuset. Blåljus och trafikköer i en mörk och regnig stad. Då kan det vara på sin plats att återigen nämna att det inte finns något Nobelpris i ekonomi. Yasha Levin har en lika brutal som gedigen genomgång av Sveriges Riksbanks pris i ekonomisk vetenskap till Alfred Nobels minne på The eXiled.

”Sweden’s Central Bank quietly snuck it in with all the other Nobel Prizes to give retrograde free-market economics credibility and the appearance of scientific rigor. One of the Federal Reserve banks explained it succinctly, “Few realize, especially outside of economists, that the prize in economics is not an “official” Nobel. . . . The award for economics came almost 70 years later—bootstrapped to the Nobel in 1968 as a bit of a marketing ploy to celebrate the Bank of Sweden’s 300th anniversary.” Yes, you read that right: “a marketing ploy.”

Here’s a Nobel family member describing it: “The Economics Prize has nestled itself in and is awarded as if it were a Nobel Prize. But it’s a PR coup by economists to improve their reputation,” Nobel’s great great nephew Peter Nobel told AFP in 2005, adding that “It’s most often awarded to stock market speculators. . . .  There is nothing to indicate that [Alfred Nobel] would have wanted such a prize.”

Assar Lindbeck pekas ut som en av bovarna i dramat. Hans mantra de senaste decennierna har ju varit strukturreformer. Det är en pålitlig eufemism när man av någon anledning inte vill använda de bakomliggande, mer explicita, orden avreglering, privatisering och sänkta skatter.

”To ensure the prize would be awarded to the right economists, the bank managed to install a rightwing Swedish economist named Assar Lindbeck, who had ties to University of Chicago, to oversee the awards committee and keep him there for more than three decades. (Lindbeck’s famous free-market oneliner is:  “In many cases, rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city — except for bombing.”)”

Så här skriver Levin om Hayek:

”At the time of the prizes, neoclassical economics were not fully accepted by the media and political establishment. But the Nobel Prize changed all that.

What started as a project to help the Bank of Sweden achieve political independence, ended up boosting the credibility of the most regressive strains of free-market economics, and paving the way for widespread acceptance of libertarian ideology.

Take Hayek: Before he was won the award, it looked like Hayek was washed up. His prospect of ever being a mainstream economist was essentially over. He was considered a quack and fraud by contemporary economists, he had spent the 50s and 60s in academic obscurity, preaching the gospel of free-markets and economic darwinism while on the payroll of ultra-rightwing American billionaires. Hayek had powerful backers, but was stuck way out on the fringes of reactionary-right subculture.

But that all changed as soon as he won the prize in 1974. All of a sudden his ideas were being talked about. Hayek was a celebrity. He appeared as a star guest on NBC’s Meet the Press, newspapers across the country printed his photographs and treated his economic mumblings about the need to have high unemployment as if they were divine revelations. His Road to Serfdom hit the best-seller list. Margret Thatcher started waving around his books in public, saying “this is what we believe.” He was back on top like never before, and it was all because of the fake Nobel Prize created by Sweden’s Central Bank.”

Även om han lägger fram en ståndpunkt jag sympatiserar med tycker jag  kanske att han är lite orättvis. För ordningens skull kunde han väl åtminstone nämna George Akerlof, Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Paul Krugman och Daniel Kahneman. De kan knappast anklagas för medlemskap i Dead Theories Society. Men varför förstöra en bra historia?