Category Archives: The dismal science

Adair Turner: The Consequences of Money-Manager Capitalism

Yves here. This is a terrific interview with Lord Adair Turner, former head of the FSA. Most of it focuses on the things missed in contemporary economics, particularly macroeconomics, and how some disciplinary “back to the future” would be desirable. A major topic of discussion is how wealth is becoming as concentrated as it was in the 18th century, and the driver then and now was the disproportionately large role real estate has come to play. Then, it was income-producing agricultural land. Now it is urban property, bid up by domestic and international elites who want to live in particularly prized cities. Turner points out the irony that access to cheap finance for housing, meant to help middle and lower income buyers, has instead contributed to rising wealth inequality. He also describes how the ability of banks and financial markets to supply virtually unlimited amounts of credit, against a limited stock of particularly sought-after locations, has the potential to create tulip-mania type results.

Perhaps due to time constraints, Turner didn’t venture into the views of classical economists, that profiting from land, which they derided as rentier capitalism, was economically unproductive. As Michael Hudson has stressed, they urged heavy taxation of land as the remedy.

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Uber Economics: There is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

Yves here. This post on Uber raises a sobering point about activism and human cognition. How do you opposed a cause you regard as dubious without unwittingly legitimating it? For instance, remember when one of the many justifications offered for the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden? Even though that idea was patently false, efforts to debunk it actually reinforced the connection between Hussein and Bin Laden simply by featuring their names in close proximity.

If readers, particularly activists, have ideas for how to steer clear of effectively promoting ideas and causes you are challenging, please let us know in comments.

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Bill Black: EU Austerity Witch Doctors Attack Each Other

As things go from bad to worse in the eurozone the putative adults have begun to fight openly in front of the kids.  The putative adults, of course, have refused to act like adults for six years and instead have lived in a fantasy world in which austerity – bleeding the patient – is the optimal response to a recession.  As many of us have been warning for six years, this is a great way to create gratuitous recessions and even the Great Depression levels of unemployment in three nations of the periphery with 100 million citizens.

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Michael Hudson: Piketty vs. the Classical Economic Reformers

Yves here. This post by Michael Hudson is one entry from an issue of a journal critiquing Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Hudson argues that even though Piketty’s findings about wealth accumulation over the centuries are useful, he nevertheless has done a great disservice by treating “wealth” as an undifferentiated lump. By contrast, classical economists differential between rentier behavior (such earning income from economically unproductive activities such as land ownership), financialization, and leveraged speculation on asset prices. Hudson argues that Piketty’s failure to probe the types of wealth and the impact of income-generation strategies for various types of wealth, as well as his failure to incorporate legal and political arrangements means his book tacitly supports the status quo. Inequality for him is a state of nature, not a function of how our economy is organized.

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Michael Perelman: Globalization, “Free Trade,” and Food as a Strategic Weapon

Yves here. Michael Perelman gave a wide-ranging talk in Ankara called the Anarchy of Globalization which focused on the local impact of globalization. The presentation was wideranging and included a discussion of the evolution of usage and theoretical concerns.

We’ve extracted a section below, on the role of “free trade” agreements and one of their not-widely-recognized side effects, that of weakening food security. The case study is Mexico.

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Masaccio: The Shaky Foundation of Neoliberal Economics – Life-Cycle Savings

ves here. Readers may know that we regularly savage neoliberal economics, which we often refer to as “mainstream economics.” For instance, that’s why we so often take aim at Paul Krugman, who despite his leftist inclinations, never takes them very far because he is intellectually hostage to a flawed, destructive orthodoxy.

Here masaccio makes a point that the many enthusiastic reviewers of Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century have skipped over, namely, that his book indicts orthodox approaches and conclusions. Masaccio then focuses on a glaring example of where neoliberal economic theory does not match up with real-world behavior, in its life cycle savings theory.

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Mark Ames: Why Finance is Too Important to Leave to Larry Summers

Welcome to the world of running a small website. The estimable Mark Ames, who is as much a litterateur as journalist, promised, promised, promised us a fundraising post, but told us he just can’t deliver the piece. I know Mark didn’t do this casually; he was a publisher himself, at The eXile in Russia and then with its US incarnation, The eXiled.

But Mark did give us a hard-to-beat post three years ago, and it deserves being reprised. So enjoy!

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How Much Has the IMF Changed in Response to the Global Crisis?

Yves here. For US readers, the posture of the IMF may not seem like a terribly important topic. But most countries in the world face decent prospects of being subject at some point to its tender ministrations. And even those that would seem to be exempt, like Germany, nevertheless also are subject to its impact through how IMF programs affect its export markets and Eurozone arrangements.

The IMF’s policies received a great deal of attention last year as its chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, effectively admitted that austerity did not work. The formulation was that in most cases, fiscal multipliers are greater than one. That means that cutting government deficits, in an effort to lower government debt, is ultimately counterproductive because the economy shrinks even more than the reduction in spending. The result is that the debt to GDP ratio actually gets worse. This outcome is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, since the neoliberal experiment has produced the same bad results when administered in Greece, Latvia, Ireland, and Portugal, to name a few.

But what did this rare bout of empiricism mean for the IMF? This post gives that question a hard look.

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Exclusive: How Private Debt Strangles Growth, Stokes Financial Crises, and Increases Inequality

Yves here. Richard Vague has been kind enough to allow us to feature an extract from his recent book, The Next Economic Disaster: Why It’s Coming and How to Avoid It. I first met Richard several years ago at the Atlantic Economy Summit. If my memory serves me correctly, he was then taken with the conventional view that debt was a dampener to growth…meaning government debt. The issue of what caused our economic malaise and what to do about it troubled him enough to lead him to make his own study, and he has come to reject the neoliberal view that government debt is problem and must therefore be contained.

This view implies, as many readers have pointed out, that the great lost opportunity of the crisis was restructuring mortgage debt. That would also have allowed housing prices to reset to levels in line with consumer incomes. Vague also mentions a less-widely-commeneted on debt explosion prior to the crisis, that of business debt. One big contributor was an explosion in takeover debt for private equity transactions. Indeed, a lot of experts were concerned about a blowup due to the difficulty of refinancing these deals in the 2012-2014 time horizon. But ZIRP and QE produced enormous hunger among investors for any type of asset with non-trivial yield, so the Fed enabled the deal barons to refinance on the cheap.

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The New Normal of Monetary Policy

Yves here. This post describes the “new normal” of the role bank reserves play in hitting short-term policy rate targets in the US. The author ends on a cheery note about how the abnormal-looking situation we have, in particular super-low interest rates, could persist for a very long time. The author contends that the way one reacts to these new procedures and their results will reflect your monetary aesthetics, as in your beliefs about the way central bank balance sheets and reserves should look. However, given the way that negative short-term real interest rates are stoking financial speculation at the expense of real economy investment (a trend that was already well underway even before the crisis containment program turbo-charged it), one can hardly see a continuation of the new normal of low growth and redistribution to top earners as a positive development.

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