Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Who Has Lost Their Marbles? US Fed Tells Public To Ignore Bloggers Without Econ PHD!

On the Uk Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard lashes out against Kartik Athreya who had condemned economic bloggers as chronically stupid and a threat to public order!

Time to shut down the US Federal Reserve?

  • Like a mad aunt, the Fed is slowly losing its marbles.

    Kartik Athreya, senior economist for the Richmond Fed, has written a paper condemning economic bloggers as chronically stupid and a threat to public order.

    Matters of economic policy should be reserved to a priesthood with the correct post-doctoral credentials, which would of course have excluded David Hume, Adam Smith, and arguably John Maynard Keynes (a mathematics graduate, with a tripos foray in moral sciences).

    Adam Smith didn't have an economics PhD

    “Writers who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying exams), cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy.”

    Don’t you just love that throw-away line “decent”? Dr Athreya hails from the University of Iowa.

    “The response of the untrained to the crisis has been startling. The real issue is that there is an extremely low likelihood that the speculations of the untrained, on a topic almost pathologically riddled by dynamic considerations and feedback effects, will offer anything new. Moreover, there is a substantial likelihood that it will instead offer something incoherent or misleading.”

    You couldn’t make it up, could you?

    “Economics is hard. Really hard. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-boggingly hard it is. I mean you may think doing the Sunday Times crossword is difficult, but that’s just peanuts to economics. And because it is so hard, people shouldn’t blithely go shooting their mouths off about it, and pretending like it’s so easy. In fact, we would all be better off if we just ignored these clowns.”

    I hold my hand up Dr Athreya and plead guilty. I am grateful to Bruce Krasting’s blog for bringing this stinging rebuke to my attention.

    However, Dr Athreya’s assertions cannot be allowed to pass. The current generation of economists have led the world into a catastrophic cul de sac. And if they think we are safely on the road to recovery, they still fail to understand what they did.

    Central banks were the ultimate authors of the credit crisis since it is they who set the price of credit too low, throwing the whole incentive structure of the capitalist system out of kilter, and more or less forcing banks to chase yield and engage in destructive behaviour.

    They ran ever-lower real interests with each cycle, allowed asset bubbles to run unchecked (Ben Bernanke was the cheerleader of that particular folly), blamed Anglo-Saxon over-consumption on excess Asian savings (half true, but still the silliest cop-out of all time), and believed in the neanderthal doctrine of “inflation targeting”. Have they all forgotten Keynes’s cautionary words on the “tyranny of the general price level” in the early 1930s? Yes they have.

    They allowed the M3 money supply to surge at double-digit rates (16pc in the US and 11pc in euroland), and are now allowing it to collapse (minus 5.5pc in the US over the last year). Have they all forgotten the Friedman-Schwartz lessons on the quantity theory of money? Yes, they have. Have they forgotten Irving Fisher’s “Debt Deflation causes of Great Depressions”? Yes, most of them have. And of course, they completely failed to see the 2007-2009 crisis coming, or to respond to it fast enough when it occurred.

    The Fed has since made a hash of quantitative easing, largely due to Bernanke’s ideological infatuation with “creditism”. QE has been large enough to horrify everybody (especially the Chinese) by its sheer size – lifting the balance sheet to $2.4 trillion – but it has been carried out in such a way that it does not gain full traction. This is the worst of both worlds. So much geo-political capital wasted to such modest and distorting effect.

    The error was for the Fed to buy the bonds from the banking system (and we all hate the banks, don’t we) rather than going straight to the non-bank private sector. How about purchasing a herd of Texas Longhorn cattle? That would do it. The inevitable result of this is a collapse of money velocity as banks allow their useless reserves to swell.

    And now the Fed tells us all to shut up. Fie to you sir.

    The 20th Century was a horrible litany of absurd experiments and atrocities committed by intellectuals, or by elite groupings that claimed a higher knowledge. Simple folk usually have enough common sense to avoid the worst errors. Sometimes they need to take very stern action to stop intellectuals leading us to ruin.

    The root error of the modern academy is to pretend (and perhaps believe, which is even less forgiveable), that economics is a science and answers to Newtonian laws.

    In any case, Newton was wrong. He neglected the fourth dimension of time, as Einstein called it, and that is exactly what the new classical school of economics has done by failing to take into account the intertemporal effects of debt – now 360pc of GDP across the OECD bloc, if properly counted.

    There has been a cosy self-delusion that rising debt is largely benign because it is merely money that society owes to itself. This is a bad error of judgement, one that the intuitive man in the street can see through immediately.

    Debt draws forward prosperity, which leads to powerful overhang effects that are not properly incorporated into Fed models. That is the key reason why Ben Bernanke’s Fed was caught flat-footed when the crisis hit, and kept misjudging it until the events started to spin out of control.

    Economics should never be treated as a science. Its claims are not falsifiable, which is why economists can disagree so violently among themselves: a rarer spectacle in science, where disputes are usually resolved one way or another by hard data.

    It is a branch of anthropology and psychology, a moral discipline if you like. Anybody who loses sight of this is a public nuisance, starting with Dr Athreya.

    As for the Fed, I venture to say that a common jury of 12 American men and women placed on the Federal Open Market Committee would have done a better job of setting monetary policy over the last 20 years than Doctors Bernanke and Greenspan.

    Actually, Greenspan never got a Phd. His honourary doctorate was awarded later for political reasons. (He had been a Nixon speech-writer). But never mind.

Now who is this Kartik Athreya?

Well Tyler has featured an article on him and Kartik's article in full can be read in his article, The Fed Has Lost It; Publishes Essay Bashing Bloggers, Tells General Public To Broadly Ignore Those Without An Econ PhD

  • Some Fed economist (with a hard-earned Ph.D mind you) named Kartik Athreya (who lasted at Citigroup as an associate Vice President for a whopping 7 months before getting sacked in 1998 only to find solace for his expiring unemployment benefits in the public sector) has written the most idiotic "research" piece to come out of the Federal Reserve since 1913, and the Fed has written a lot of idiotic research since then - after all you don't destroy 98% of the dollar's purchasing power in 97 years with non-idiotic research. But this just takes the cake. In "Economics is Hard. Don’t Let Bloggers Tell You Otherwise" Kartik says: "I argue that neither non-economist bloggers, nor economists who portray economics —especially macroeconomic policy— as a simple enterprise with clear conclusions, are likely to contribute any insight to discussion of economics and, as a result, should be ignored by an open-minded lay public." Alas, all Kartik achieves is to convince the general public that feeding Fed "economists" alcohol after midnight and letting them directly upload their resultant gibberish to the Fed's broad RSS feed the second they think they have a coherent thought , is generally a disastrous idea. In his piece, which has no other intention than to discredit and outright malign bloggers such as Matt Yglesias, John Stossel, Robert Samuelson, and Robert Reich, Athreya says: "In what follows I will argue that it is exceedingly unlikely that these authors have anything interesting to say about economic policy. This sounds mean-spirited, but it’s not meant to be, and I’ll explain why." Instead in what follows, the Fed presents 4 pages of thoughts so meandering, that the author's blood alcohol level must have certainly been well above the legal norm for the duration of the writing of this ad hominem pamphlet.

  • Before I continue, here’s who I am: The relevant fact is that I work as a rank-and-file PhD economist operating within a central banking system. I have contributed no earth-shaking ideas to Economics and work fundamentally as a worker bee chipping away with known tools at portions of larger problems.
  • Why should anyone accept uncritically that Economics, or any field of human endeavor, for that matter, should be easy either to process or contribute to? To some extent, people don’t. Would anyone tolerate the equivalent level of public discussion on cancer research? Most of us readily accept the proposition that Oncology requires training, and rarely give time over to non-medical-professionals’ musings. Do we expect advances in cell-biology to be immediately accessible to anyone with even a college degree? Science journalists routinely cite specific studies that have appeared in specific journals. They generally do not engage in passing their own untrained speculations off as insights. But economic blogging and much journalism largely does not operate this way. Naifs write books, and sell many of them too. People as varied as Matt Ridley and William Greider make book-length statements about economics. I’ve never done that, and this is my job. This is, to say the very least, bizarre.
  • So far, I’ve claimed something a bit obnoxious-sounding: that writers who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying exams), cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy.
    You might say, “you’re telling us to leave everything to the experts, so why should I believe you are adequately policed?” This is a fair question, but as someone who has worked for a decade to publish in leading academic journals (with some, but hardly overwhelming, success), I now have the referee reports to prove that I live in a world where people are not falling over themselves to believe my assertions. The reports are often scathing, but usually very insightful, and have over the years pointed out all manner of incoherence in my work. The leading journals have rejection rates in the neighborhood of 80%, and I’ve had my share of them.
  • How can this be changed? A precondition for the market delivering this is a recognition by the general public that they are simply being had by the bulk of the economic blogging crowd. I hope to have alerted you to the giant disconnect that exists between the nuanced discussion that occurs between research economists and the noise (some of it from economists!) that one sees in the web or the op-ed pages of even the very best newspapers of the US. As a result, my hope is that the broader public will ask for a slightly higher bar when it comes to economics, rather than self-selecting into blogs that merely confirm half-baked views that might have been acquired from elsewhere.

And this punchline:

  • For my part, seventeen years after my first PhD coursework, I still feel ill at ease with my grasp of many issues, and I am fairly confident that this is not just a question of limited intellect.


Yeah babe. I wonder who has their marbles!

Oh... here is the link to Kartik's paper: Economics is Hard


Gamelion said...

This kind of economist will always
be dreaming in the shangri-la land
& wont face the possibility or reality of the real world of economic hardship and depression.
Thinking that all economic problems
can be solve using their mumbo jumbo very difficult to understand economic theories & expect the layman to be ignorant or won't ask those stupid question such as "do printing more money can
keep the economy prosper forever & ever &......" Oh boy they really
study to much to be make into a
P(ermanent).H(ead).D(amage) guinea pig candidate for further studies
by the behaviourist & psychiatric

Moolah said...

LOL! I am glad you enjoyed reading how silly them comments were.

Moolah said...

ps: Does it need a phd to know that too much debt will destroy an economy?

Moolah said...

Did the Fed Economist Slam Bloggers for the Same Reason that Fundamentalist Priests Slammed the Printing Press?