Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Krugman Confused On Trade, Capital Theory

Over on EconSpeak, Bruce Wilder provides some comments on a post. He notes that economists wanting to criticize glib free-market ideology in the public discourse often seem unwilling to discard neoclassical economic theory.

Paul Krugman illustrates how theoretically conservative and neoclassical a liberal economist can be. (I use "liberal" in the sense of contemporary politics in the USA.) I refer to Krugman's post from earlier this week, in which he adapts an analysis from the theory of international trade to consider technological innovation (e.g., robots). Krugman presents a diagram, in which endowments of capital and labor are measured along the two axes. Krugman does not seem to be aware that one cannot, in general, coherently talk about a quantity of capital, prior to and independently of prices. He goes on to talk about "capital-intensive" and "labor-intensive" techniques of production.

I point to my draft paper, "On the loss from trade", to illustrate my point that one cannot meaningfully talk about the endowment of capital.

(I did submit this paper to a journal. A reviewer said it was not original enough. I emphasized that I was illustrating my points in a flow-input, point output model, with a one-way flow from factors of production to consumption goods, not a model of production of commodities by means of commodities. Steedman & Metcalfe (1979) also has a one-way model, albeit with a point-input, point-output model. So the reviewer's comments were fair. Embarrassingly, I cite other papers from that book. Apparently, I had forgotten that paper, if I ever read it. I suppose that, given the chance, I could have distinguished some of my points from those made in Steedman & Metcalfe (1979). Also, I close my model with utility-maximization; if I recall correctly, Steedman leaves such an exercise to the reader in papers in that book.)

  • Ian Steedman and J. S. Metcalfe (1979). 'On foreign trade'. In Fundamental Issues in Trade Theory (ed. by Ian Steedman).

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