Thursday, August 30, 2012

Economists for Romney (by Francesc Trillas)

I believe it is healthy that economists express their political preferences (but someone much much more prestigious thinks that economists should be much much more careful). That said, I was (just slightly) surprised to see that some usual members of my reference lists are in the manifesto of economists endorsing the Republican candidate. Besides that, no big surprises I guess. But as a friend of mine just told me in an e-mail, I'm glad that you, dear occasional reader, are not in this list.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The evolution of progressive neoclassical economists (by Pedja dell'Arno)

Paul Krugman wrote an interesting post for his blog yesterday. As can be seen from the suggested blogs section of "Real Progress", this blog is an admirer of Krugman, and I do not share the usual criticisms of Krugman that one so frequently hears about him in some economics departments (that he is too partisan, that he should not waste time writing columns and blogs, etc.). However, I think that one weakness of Krugman has been his reluctance to participate in the debate on how to improve the scientific standards (and not only the relevance) of economics research. Yesterday's post is mainly against Austrian economists and their rejection of mathematical modelling in economics. But as a secondary message, it defends an open interpretation of mainstream neoclassical economics, and at the same time it accepts the usefulness of other approaches such as agent based computational modelling (or "complexity economics"). It is interesting because apparently the relationship of Krugman with "complexity" economics has been far from smooth.
This relationship is mentioned in the book by Beinhocker "The Origin of Wealth" (footnote 27 in chapter 1 and footnote 30 in Chapter 3). It seems that although Krugman in the mid 1990s expressed some sympathy for drawing ideas from evolutionary biology for economics, he rejected both the obsession with using metaphors from biology, and he also rejected the direct use of evolutionary theory for economics. 
"The Economist" had a review of Beinhocker's book in 2006 were it mentions the tense relationship between Krugman and the evolutionists.
Krugman had a bitter controversy with Brian Arthur  that triggered a final intervention by Arrow defending Arthur (also defended by Beinhocker in his book) which can also be interpreted as part of the crusade of the Krugman of those times to keep the gates of mainstream economics relatively closed. See also "An increasing returns Chronology" by Krugman in in the section on economic theory.
Beinhocker also mentions the intervention of current leaders of progressive economics coming from the neoclassical side (such as Stiglitz -see footnote 11 on chapter 14- who attacked one of the prophets of an economics that draws from modern physics and biology, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen) who some time ago were reluctant to accept the criticism that economics was in contradiction with the laws of physics, in particular the second law of thermodynamics.
Things have changed, and today it seems that at least Paul Krugman has a much more open minded attitude towards these useful approaches. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Egalitarian economists (by Francesc Trillas)

Here is this nice video featuring egalitarian economists and other scholars giving support to the Occupy Movement. When I say egalitarian economists I mean economists who put equality (of opportunity, rights, capabilities) at the forefront of their values. Most of them do it without compromising their scientific standards. Quite the opposite, they are among the best social scientists in the world. There are many other egalitarian economists not in the video, and not all of them may have the same ideas on everything, but they are a good guide for any young economist trying to combine good values and good ideas.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gordon Brown and Scottish independence (by Pedja dell'Arno)

Two days ago the former Brittish Prime Minister, the Scottish Gordon Brown, was shown in BBC programme Newsnight presenting his arguments against Scottish independence. He said that the idea of independence undermined the necessity for pooling and sharing resources implicit in the Union, and that the objective of better government and more fiscal responsibility could be achieved with more and better devolution. Whatever the specifics of the arguments, the intervention of Brown in this debate highlights the importance for center-left politicians of engaging in debates on sovereignty in communities where the weight of this kind of debates tends to reinforce the power of conservative movements. Bavaria, Israel, Ireland, Quebec, are examples where the left has a hard time in making their arguments heard. The left has to participate in these debates, which are debates about power and rights, and therefore are social debates. And it has to participate with its own values and using its own concepts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The value of good leadership (by Francesc Trillas)

Roughly since Rajoy is Spain’s prime minister and Monti is Italy’s prime minister, the risk premium of Spain’s debt has been higher than Italy’s. Before that, Italy’s had been above Spain’s for a while. That can be counted as the value of good leadership as opposed to bad leadership. However, the conclusion should not be that we should rush to find a good technocrat for Spain, but perhaps that we should rush to find a good politician for Italy. For Italy is a democracy after all, and at latest in 2013 the Italians will have to go to the polls and elect a new Parliament. Good technocrats are hard to find (the Greek one lasted a few months), and once found provide a brief breathing space. But at some point people vote for political parties, and the one that has a majority provides the prime minister. They better find a good one.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Olympic Games: peace and nationalism? (by Pedja dell'Arno)

I find a bit contradictory that the Olypimpic Games bring a message of peace (that's the origin of the games) and that they are played keeping the nation states as the basic units. After some authority giving the medals, the national anthems are sung and the national flags are raised. Each country's media follows obsessively the performance of national players, forgetting about world records or the performance of big non-national athletes. Some olympic games have been the stage for national protests or conflicts along national lines. Crowds paint their faces with the colours of national flags. Is all this pedagogical for our children? Why don't we progress towards games played on an individual or club basis? Well, it's true that club competition can become also very nationalistic, fanatic and violent... I don't have the solution, but all these thoughts support the idea that the Olympic Games do not deserve all the public money support that they get, unless of course you think that nationalism is good. I don't.