By Tom Palley, A key element of Trump’s political success has been his masquerade of being pro-worker, which includes posturing as anti-globalization. However, his true economic interest is the exact opposite. That creates conflict between Trump’s political and economic interests. Understanding the calculus of that conflict is critical for understanding and predicting Trump’s economic policy, […]
More below from Michael Hudson‘s J is for Junk Economics, the major part of which is a dictionary of ideas from economics, political economy and beyond which aims to be ‘a guide to reality in an age of deception’. Hudson draws on an eclectic mix of sources to argue his case; among them, the classical political economy of Smith and Ricardo, the institutionalism of Veblen, post-Keynesianism and the little-known American School of Political Economy. He remains an independent, iconoclastic and provocative thinker and his work deserves a wide audience. Continue reading
As a followup to yesterday’s book review, a very brief video featuring Steve Keen who gives a nice summary of the economic problem of excessive growth in private debt.
Professor Steve Keen is an economist working in the post-Keynesian tradition at Kingston University here in the UK. He is well-known as a critic of mainstream economics (see his excellent and wide-ranging book Debunking Economics) and its failure to predict or satisfactorily explain the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) and recession, which he did some years before it occurred. His latest book is Can we avoid another financial crisis?, a 130-page polemic aimed at the intelligent layman.
Keen’s central thesis is that mainstream economics failed because it ignores the role of private debt creation by the financial system, known in the jargon as ‘endogenous money’. This grew unsustainably in many countries in the decades prior to the crisis and drove a boom in the real economy and, even moreso, in asset prices (stock markets and housing). Credit expansion in economies such as the US and UK started growing consistently more rapidly than GDP in the 1980s, following the deregulation of the financial sector. Although it was subject to cycles, the trend in private debt as a share of GDP was upward. When its growth slowed or even went into reverse, the result was a severe recession and the aftermath is still with us both economically and politically. Continue reading
A critique of Ricardo’s theory of international trade from the Developing Economics blog
On Saturday, April 19th 1817, David Ricardo published The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, where he laid out the idea of comparative advantage, which since has become the foundation of neoclassical, ‘mainstream’ international trade theory. 200 years – and lots of theoretical and empirical criticism later – it’s appropriate to ask, how is this still a thing?
This week we saw lots of praise of Ricardo, by the likes of The Economist, CNN, Forbes and Vox. Mainstream economists today tend to see the rejection of free trade implicit in Trump and Brexit as populist nonsense by people who don’t understand the complicated theory of comparative advantage (“Ricardo’s Difficult Idea”, as Paul Krugman once called it in his explanation of why non-economists seem to not understand comparative advantage). However, there are fundamental problems with the assumptions embedded in Ricardo’s theory and there’s little…
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An interesting recent paper here from the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College on the prospects for the US economy in the coming years. The authors use their model, which was developed with the late post-Keynesian economist Wynne Godley (one of the few to have predicted the Great Recession), to take stock of the current situation and to discuss alternative future scenarios.
Nikiforos and Zezza argue that the US economy has performed relatively poorly since the Great Recession, and growth outcomes continue to disappoint. Although headline unemployment is relatively low, there remains substantial labour underutilization in the form of ‘marginally attached workers’ and involuntary part-time workers, which when added to the headline rate is known as the U6 measure. The latter is nearly double the headline rate, and helps to explain the continued weakness in wage growth.
The US economy faces three headwinds which continue to constrain growth: income inequality, fiscal conservatism, and the weak performance of net exports (exports minus imports). Continue reading
William Lazonick, professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell, explains how rationalization, marketization, and globalization characterize the U.S. economy during the past 50 years, and how the behavior of companies and fate of American workers have changed during this process.
I am often critical of neoclassical economics on this blog, but I don’t think I have ever offered a definition of it. This school of thought and its modern developments dominate the mainstream, so here are some typically iconoclastic thoughts from Professor Michael Hudson, an economist whose work is very much in the non-mainstream or heterodox tradition. The extract is taken from his new book J is for Junk Economics – A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (2017):
“Neoclassical Economics: A term coined by Thorstein Veblen for the conservative reaction in the last quarter of the 19th century opposing the socialist tendencies toward which the classical economics was leading. The main aims of this post-classical economics were to strip away the characterization of ground rent and other economic rent as unearned income, and to ward off any analysis showing how governments played a productive role as investors in public infrastructure, money creators or regulators. And by taking the existing institutional and property environment for granted, the marginalist approach avoided discussion of the structural reforms needed to cope with economic polarization, the economy-wide expansion of debt, and the finance, insurance and real estate sector mode of rent-seeking and “virtual wealth”. So a more apt term would have been post-classical economics, because it rejected the political dimension of political economy.”
A bleak picture painted of the UK economy by the latest piece from the Socialist Economic Bulletin:
According to Tom O’Leary the underlying aim of austerity has been to restore business profits, by putting downward pressure on wages, and reducing taxes on business and the rich. But while wages have stagnated, profits have not recovered significantly. As profits lead investment, growth in the latter has been weak, and the basis for an improved growth performance and living standards has so far failed to materialize.
Those on the right would respond to this by engaging in deregulation and further austerity, which might include reducing workers’ rights and environmental protections, and deepening cuts in public spending and taxes. Such policies would be short-sighted and damaging. Those on the left would favour a large increase in public investment in order to ‘crowd in’ private investment. This could be far more beneficial, as growth in public investment has been weak for years, while the burden of regulation remains relatively low internationally. But at the moment the UK has an unassailable right wing government too distracted by Brexit to engage in such a progressive agenda. Continue reading
“Equality of opportunity is the starting point for a fair society. But it’s not enough. Of course, individuals should be rewarded for better performance, but the question is whether they are actually competing under the same conditions as their competitors. If a child does not perform well in school because he is hungry and cannot concentrate in class, it cannot be said that the child does not do well because he is inherently less capable. Fair competition can be achieved only when the child is given enough food – at home through family income support and at school through a free school meals programme. Unless there is some equality of outcome (ie., the incomes of all the parents are above a certain minimum threshold, allowing their children not to go hungry), equal opportunities (ie., free schooling) are not truly meaningful.
…We cannot, and should not, explain someone’s performance only by the environment in which he has grown up. Individuals do have responsibilities for what they have made out of their lives.
However, while correct, this argument is only part of the story. Individuals are not born into a vacuum. The socio-economic environment they operate in put serious restrictions on what they can do. Or even on what they want to do. Your environment can make you give up certain things even without trying. For example, many academically talented British working-class children do not even try to go to universities because universities are ‘not for them’. This attitude is slowly changing, but I still remember seeing a BBC documentary in the late 1980s in which an old miner and his wife were criticizing one of their sons, who had gone to a university and become a teacher, as a ‘class traitor’.
While it is silly to blame everything on the socio-economic environment, it is equally unacceptable to believe that people can achieve anything if they only ‘believe in themselves’ and try hard enough, as Hollywood movies love to tell you. Equality of opportunity is meaningless for those who do not have the capabilities to take advantage of it.”
Ha-Joon Chang (2010), 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, p.210-211, 217.