Monday, December 29, 2014

On "Privatized Keynesianism"

I have been reading Colin Crouch's The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism1. A major theme is that an ideological divide between more reliance on markets and on government misses issues raised by the existence of large - including multinational - corporations. The neoliberal assault on government has been increasing the strength of corporations, not competitive markets. Furthermore, corporations have been taking on the role of government. Crouch mentions, for example, the "seconding" of corporate executives to various ministries; the likelihood that internal policies of a Multi-National Corporation on, say, child labor may be more restrictive than laws in many third world countries; and the role of corporations in setting international standards, where organizations with nation-states may be weak.

But my point in this post is to note Crouch's introduction(?) of a new technical term, Privatized Keynesianism. A contrast between the post-World War II golden age and the later neoliberal era2 is needed to make sense of this term. After the war, in the United States - and, I gather, in other advanced industrial capitalist economies - wages rose with average productivity. Furthermore, governments, under a somewhat Keynesian ideology, saw it as their responsibility to maintain aggregate demand. These conventions came undone in the 1970s. Productivity increased (at a slower pace), but wages failed to keep up, and governments came to emphasize fighting inflation, not unemployment.

Increased inequality, however, did not eliminate the need to manage aggregate demand. Neither consumer spending from wages nor an abdication from fiscal polity by government could fill this lacuna. This period saw the increased availability of debt, the creation of secondary markets for the trading of bets on bets on bundles of debts (derivatives), and the capture of credit rating agencies by sellers of debts. This institutional structure led to the collective, but private, macroeconomic regulation of aggregate demand3. This institutional structure is what Crouch calls privatized Keynesianism4. The irresponsibility of banks, in some sense, produced a (temporary, unsustainable) positive externality.

  1. I might as well note two mistakes I found irritating. Somewhere in one of the early chapters, Crouch, who I gather is British, refers to Eugene McCarthy when he means Joe McCarthy. I also thought that Crouch's account of the role of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac in subprime mortages reflected too much credence for right-wing liars.
  2. I date the start of the neoliberal era with Nixon ending the fixed exchange rate between the United States dollar and gold, a major element of the Bretton Woods system.
  3. Is this a non-microfounded, functionalist account?
  4. From this perspective, the accumulation of private debt was a symptom, not the ultimate cause of the recent Global Financial Crisis, a cause that has yet to be addressed. These ideas seem to me to be close to Thomas Palley's Structural Keynesianism. Has anybody read James K. Galbraith's The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Slaves Identifying With Their Masters

Marx's attempt to describe how capitalism creates objective illusions, so to speak, is one aspect of Capital that I like. In this comment on a long-ago Crooked Timber post, "Ted" draws an analogy to J. S. Mill's Subjection of Women, which I have never read. Apparently, Mill explains how women can come to identify with their oppressors.

I happen to currently be reading the autobiography of local Rochester hero, Frederick Douglass. This passage identifies a curious phenomenon:

"Moreover, slaves are like other people, and imbibe prejudices quite common to others. They think their own better than that of others. Many, under the influence of this prejudice, think their own masters are better than the masters of other slaves; and this, too, in some cases, when the very reverse is true. Indeed, it is not uncommon for slaves even to fall out and quarrel among themselves about the relative goodness of their masters, each contending for the superior goodness of his own over that of the others. At the very same time, they mutually execrate their masters when viewed separately. It was so on our plantation. When Colonel Lloyd's slaves met the slaves of Jacob Jepson, they seldom parted without a quarrel about their masters; Colonel Lloyd's slaves contending that he was the richest, and Mr. Jepson's slaves that he was the smartest, and most of a man. Colonel Lloyd's slaves would boast his ability to buy and sell Jacob Jepson. Mr. Jepson's slaves would boast his ability to whip Colonel Lloyd. These quarrels would almost always end in a fight between the parties, and those that whipped were supposed to have gained the point at issue. They seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves. It was considered as being bad enough to be a slave; but to be a poor man's slave was deemed a disgrace indeed." -- Frederick Douglas, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas

Maybe some day I'll read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit - it is on my shelf - to learn some ideas about the master-slave dialetic. Mayhaps the above is analogous to the opinions of many wage-slaves. There seem to be many ways to be unfree, and many ways to deny this.

Friday, December 12, 2014

First Formulation of Folk Theorem and Indeterminacy in Game Theory

Initial and Chaotic Learning in Rock-Paper-Scissors

Consider a game, as games are defined in game theory. And consider some strategy for some player in some game. The folk theorem states, roughly, that any strategy can be justified as a solution for a game by considering an infinitely repeated game. (An amusing corollary might be stated as saying that competition is the same as monopoly, if you do the math right.) The following seems to me to state the folk theorem (abstracting from the distinction between Nash equilibria and Von Neumann and Morgenstern's solution concept):

"21.2.3. If our theory were applied as a statistical analysis of a long series of plays of the same game - and not as the analysis of one isolated play - an alternative interpretation would suggest itself. We should then view agreements and all forms of cooperation as establishing themselves by repetition in such a long series of plays.

It would not be impossible to derive a mechanism of enforcement from the player's desire to maintain his record and to be able to rely on the on the record of his partner. However, we prefer to view our theory as applying to an individual play. But these considerations, nevertheless, possess a certain signiificance in a virtual sense. The situation is similar to the one we encountered in the analysis of the (mixed) strategies of a zero-sum two-person game. The reader should apply the discussions of 17.3 mutatis mutandis to the present situation." -- John Von Neumann and Oscar Morgenstern (1953) p. 254.

I have heard it claimed that economic theory has developed such that any moderately informed graduate student can now provide you with a model that yields any conclusion that you like. The folk theorem, as I understand it, is not even the most threatening finding for the ability of game theory to yield determinate conclusions.

Consider an iterated game before an equilibrium, under some definition or another, has been achieved. The players are trying to learn each others' strategies. Even a simple game, such as Rock-Scissors-Paper, can yield chaotic dynamics (Sato, Akiyama, and Farmer 2002; Galla and Farmer 2013). An equilibrium might never be established, for it is worthwhile for some players to deliberately choose "irrational" moves so as to ensure that other players do not achieve equilibrium, instead of a result that benefits the supposedly irrational player (Foster and Young 2012). (I hope I found this reference from reading Yanis Varoufakis, who, in one paper in one of his books, makes this point with the centipede game.) Apparently, this irrationality does not disappear by moving towards a more meta-theoretic level. And one player, who understands the evolutionary behavior of the other player in a Prisoner's Dilemma, can manipulate the other player to result in a asymmetric result - that is, a case where the non-evolutionary player extorts the player following a mindless evolutionary strategy (Press and Dyson 2012, Stewart and Plotkin 2012).


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Noah Smith Befuddling Bloomberg Readers

1.0 Introduction

Noah Smith seems to be trying to become a professional columnist and blogger, however his day job works out. I do not know if the same opportunity still exists, as it apparently did when, for example, Duncan Black, Kevin Drum, Ezra Klein, Josh Marshall, Heather Parton, and Matthew Yglesias were starting out. I do not want to spend much time taking down Smith, but I wish so many of his columns did not provide anecdotal evidence that the job of mainstream economists is to sow confusion into the public sphere. Maybe I should try to resolve not to read him.

2.0 Confusion on Marginal Productivity

Consider this Bloomberg column, "You want a bigger paycheck? Convince me." Smith's column contains the, I guess, still obligatory confused red-baiting:

"No economic model says that people get paid based on average productivity. If they did, there would be no income left over for capital -- no profits, rents or interest. We’d be living in a sort of a Marxist world, where labor is the only thing with any value." -- Noah Smith

I do not see what that comment has to do with Marxism. (Consider the Critique of the Gotha Program.) Anyways, this comment immediately follows Smith's graphical and empirical demonstration that real wages rose with increases in productivity in the United States during the post war golden age. Was the United States in the 1950s and 1960s a "sort of Marxist" society? Certainly economic models of growth and distribution exist for thinking about the relationship between wages and average productivity in the golden age, and the breakdown of this relationship in the subsequent neoliberal era.

Smith apparently thinks that the theory of marginal productivity is a theory of the distribution of income. He is, of course, quite mistaken. Even worse, Smith goes on to use the discredited Solovian growth model, with an aggregate Cobb-Douglas production function, to explain how economists supposedly explain (changes in) the shares of "capital" and labor in national income.

Is it progress that Smith does not bring up skills-biased technical change, a nonsensical theory often used to propagandize for increased inequality in the distribution of wages? Maybe not, for Smith's purpose seems to be to propagandize for increased inequality in the functional income distribution between "capital" and wages. And so he brings up an equally nonsensical theory about the "rise of robots".

3.0 Inadequate Understanding on Women in Economics

Even when I don't necessarily disagree with Smith, I often find his columns insufficiently informed. Here he writes about career prospects in economics for women. I thank Smith for bringing this paper by Ceci, Ginther, Kahn, and Williams to my attention. But it takes Claudia Sahm, in a response to this column, to bring up the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP). And, as far as I am aware, nobody previously commenting on Smith has mentioned the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) and their journal, Feminist Economics. If you want to argue that homo economicus is gendered, I suggest browsing back issues of that journal.