Thursday, 22 June 2017

Review of Murphy's 'The Genesis of Macroeconomics'

Today I’m going to cheat slightly: I’m reviewing a book that I haven’t yet finished – an otherwise fairly strict rule for my book reviews. However, thanks to Antoin Murphy’s great outline and the four chapters I have read (introduction, conclusion and the chapters on Henry Thornton and Adam Smith), I feel confident and impatient enough to discuss its content. Moreover, I have it on authority of Dr. David Colander and his review that Murphy’s creation is both “interesting and important”; I trust his judgment and my own intuition in professing that Murphy's book is right down my alley. The full title, The Genesis of Macroeconomics: New Ideas From Sir William Petty to Henry Thornton is enough for me to put down whatever I'm doing and start reading.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

A New Economists' Creed

Paul Krugman, my favorite economically illiterate economist, has this infamous tale of an Economists' Creed from back in the days when he wasn't a junky-for-Hillary and a sell-out. It's about free trade  and its actually not a bad starting point:
If there were an Economist's Creed, it would surely contain the affirmations "I understand the Principle of Comparative Advantage" and "I advocate Free Trade."
In light of his own retraction from free trade positions, I feel like we should expand this creed somewhat, include in it what else it takes to be an economist, what crucial knowledge and fundamental understanding it takes. Here's my attempt to formulate a criterion, a New Economists' Creed:

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Fallacy of Spare Capacity

One of the reasons for my interest in various competing strands of economic thought is the rich supply of fallacies they provide. Some stuff, like the idea of spare capacity, heavily emphasised by post-war Keynesians or by more modern Post-Keynesians, is completely NUTS. But, by phrasing their exposition in certain ways and using particular not-so-obscure assumptions, their approach seem fairly coherent and convincing  one of the reasons that so many economists and non-economists pick it up, and among the reasons the public believes so many mistaken things about economics (The below refutation is not to say that there is no value of Post-Keynesian Economics  PKE  in general, an approach that has many virtues; the idea of pricing and spare capacity just isn't one of them).

Monday, 12 June 2017

How University Signalling Value Is Falling

My darling University of Glasgow just released the final grades for many of its last-year students, and consequently my Facebook feed is filled with status updates reporting (read: bragging) over various First Class classifications  the highest kind of degrees awarded for undergraduate studies in Britain. Congratz to all of them, and I'm sure you worked very hard for it. However, as I mindlessly scrolled through the feed, the number of such status posts seemed to go wild: do I really have so many clever friends? Or is there something else going on? Obviously, I decided to have a closer look. 

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Sassy Mises

Obviously Ludwig von Mises was the greatest economist of the 20th century  and, unfortunately, among the least influential when it comes to shaping the future of the the economics profession. Good thing that's about to change. After all, we have the Mises Weekend podcast, we have the Mises Reader (both in limited and unabridged versions) and the The Quotable Mises. The set is now even closer to completion: I present to you, The Sassy Mises  the unofficial yet totally comprehensive collection of the best and most arrogant quotes and insults by Mises. In the highly unlikely event that some quote worthy of this list has been left out, you as a reader are obliged to provide me with it. Enjoy!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Challenge Accepted: How to Read 6500 Pages in a Summer

Off-handedly I started writing down the books and articles I wanted to read over the summer. The ones I still haven't finished, of course (Mokyr, McCloskey, Dekker, Eichengreen), some interesting reading for a couple of the side-projects I'm doing this summer (Vienna, de Soto on 1844 and Goodspeed), as well as the rest of my Adore List. After a few days, this pretty list of mine grew rather large, and I wondered if I even could finish it. A few minutes before lunch, I started counting the total number of pages to find out if the target was even remotely feasible.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Why Climate Change Matters

If we have to list my generation's biggest delusions and misunderstandings, the obsession with Climate Change would definitely rank up there, probably together with incessant emphasis of (phoney) "inequality" or beliefs that the "poor are getting poorer". So let's discuss why and how Climate Change actually matters. No, we're not all gonna die. And no, runaway climate change is not a disaster for humanity or the end of the world. Can we please just move beyond such empty hysterical demagoguery for a change?

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Austrians and Econometrics

A common objection to the Austrian approach of economics is that it's tautological, full of arm-chair philosophising and anti-empirical. No smoke without fire, there's some merit to these critiques, but they mostly stem from a faulty understanding of what Austrian Economics mean. As for the last charge of being anti-empirical, few challenges produce as avid within-group clashes between various Austrians. A fan of both emprics in general, and econometrics in particular, I must reconcile those points with the many objections against using math and statistics for doing economics and economic history found in Mises, Rothbard or occasionally Hayek, as well as more modern Austrians such as Salerno.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

History of Technological Anxiety

One of the yet-unfinished books on my bedside table (well now, in my office) is Joel Mokyr’s A Culture of Growth that I have mentioned before. Life, dissertations, exam prep and other Uni work has forced me to put his authoritative and admirable prose aside for now. As a neat guilt-driven compromise, I recently read his 2015 article co-authored with Chris Vickers and Nicolas Ziebarth, with perhaps the greatest title I have seen in a long time: “The History of Technological Anxiety”.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

4 Years as an UoG Student

Trying to summarise four of the most formative years of one's life in a brief blog post must be some form of hubris. What follows is precisely that: a present-biased backward look at what has been four remarkable years of mine. My time as a University of Glasgow student has been incredible, challenging, fantastic and every feeling in-between  a story of permanent scars and lifelong memories.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Humility and Pretty Awful University Courses

Exam periods make people grumpy. I'm no exception. The motivation to study, learn, write, work-out  all the things that brought me on to this path in the first place  or basically anything but mindlessly snoozing, is completely gone. Soul-wreckingly awful things, exams. Whereas writing essays and researching amazing topics is pretty much pure bliss, at least in comparison. And I'm gonna take out this anger on the unsuspecting and probably innocent lecturers of this semester's courses. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

In Defense of White Men

My constant source of entertainment these days, EverydayFeminism.com (re-)published this incredible article a while back about how friendly males can contribute to The Cause. In the midst of their normal and exhaustingly repetitive content, ('toxic masculinity', accusations of 'misogyny', calls for 'intersectionality' and so on  you know the story), I found a pretty interesting challenge I thought to briefly take on.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Austerity Again

As I pointed out a few months ago while ranting over "Austerity" in Britain, people driving the Austerity Thesis ("The Austerity Crowd", as I like to call them) is largely immune to facts. That there's a narrative about spending cuts is enough for them to cry 'Wolf' (or well, 'Austerity') and consign the Conservative Government to the dustbin of poor-hating evil politicians together with everyone else who ever opposed the brilliance of the enlightened left.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Promoting the Wealth of Nations before Adam Smith

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an economics students at the University of Glasgow at some point has to discuss and research Adam Smith. Preparing for this weekend at the Austrian Economics Meeting in Europe (AEME) in Krakow, Poland, I did precisely that. The result of this little project is available as an essay here (‘Promoting the Wealth of Nations Before Adam Smith’). The work was not as comprehensive as I would have liked, but then again the literature on Adam Smith is a black hole, an endeavour which I had neither time nor motivation to pursue.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Assar Lindbeck On How To Be An Economist

Continuing my tradition of reviewing books years after everyone else, I recently picked up Assar Lindbeck's biography of his life as an economist, Ekonomi Är Att Välja (Eng: "Economics is about choosing"). Lindbeck, who turned 87 a few months back, is one of Sweden's most prolific and well-known economists (even my dad, who's only vaguely heard of Keynes and may have been somewhat familiar with Piketty or Krugman from some of my rants, instantly recognised Lindbeck's name and photo on the front cover: "I know this guy. Economist, pretty famous!"). He's been involved in almost much every major event in modern Swedish economic history, frequently features in major newspapers and TV debates. For over 60 years he has, both in public and in academic outlets, argued for a reform and repeal of rent control. Safe to say, this is one great economist I wanted to know more about.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Are Conservative Politicians Prettier?

In my job-hunting for the Swedish Research Institute of Industrial Economics (abbreviated IFN in Swedish), I stumbled across what seems like a legit article that made me laugh as much as Nicolson's The Romantic Economist or Messerli's infamous correlation between Nobel Prizes and chocolate consumption. I mean, the kind of research that comes out of IFN in the first place is jaw-dropping, ranging from the Swedish equivalent of Thomas Piketty  Daniel Waldenström  to one of my favourite Swedish economists Andreas Bergh (check out his Sweden and the Revival of the Capitalist Welfare State for a great and balanced view on the Swedish welfare state). And now there's another triumph to add to IFN's list: 'The Right Look: Conservative Politicians Look Better and Voters Reward It', recently published in Journal of Public Economics in February this year, by Niclas Berggren, Henrik Jordahl and Panu Poutvaara.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

I Love Tax Season!

Econ lends itself very naturally to personal finance. People with above-average economic literacy and some insight into the world of finance tend to take better care of their own personal finances. Or so I claim with absolutely no empirical data to support it. However, according to Charlie Söderberg  the famous Swedish personal finance-guy whose lecture I attended last summer  people spend more time brushing their teeth than pondering their financial decisions, let alone system-wide things like economics or taxation. Tax season is, consequently, most people's nightmare, whereas I kinda love it. This year I decided to report my result, which gives me a good entry to discuss some pros and cons with the Swedish system of taxation.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Caldwell on Economics and Hayek

Bruce Caldwell is a well-known historian of economics, professor of Economics as Duke University, but perhaps most associated with running the Centre for the History of Political Economy at Duke. Since 2003 he has been the editor of the collected works of FA Hayek and safe to say, he is the go-to-guy for knowledge about Hayek, his life and his ideas. A few weeks back, while attending events in Prague I had the great pleasure of meeting him, chatting a bit (read: fangirling) and take a few compulsory photos. He gave us a heads-up about his own major biography of Hayek coming out soon enough, which I am very much looking forward to.

Monday, 3 April 2017

What Commodity Would You Pick In a Doomsday Scenario?

I'm fairly sure that most of my late-night discussions with my flatmate are superior to most university classes (perhaps we should invite people along and start charging for the privilege?). About a week ago, we celebrated several good news with a 3-hour discussion beginning somewhere around governments' ability to ensure stable CPI-inflation, ending in the emergence of one-cell organisms, with many fascinating arguments in between. The most exciting of which is this one: if faced with some doomsday scenario (breakdown of civilisation, Day After Tomorrow or I Am Legend style), what commodity would you want to hold?

My intuitive response is gold; after all, throughout human civilisation precious metals have quite often ended up being currency (even though salt and hides and grains and weapons have occassionaly held the status of money), and so sitting on a pile of currency in a doomsday scenario would be insanely useful (even though the capital loss from holding it would be quite large). Máté's intuitive response: seeds or furnaces. Let me walk you through the various cases and then tell you why my choice is better than Máté's (note that the example we discussed goes much beyond the standard "hedge against equity market declines" most gold-bugs advance as rationales for holding gold)

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Can Moral Psychology Explain Our Political Convictions?

In these times of hostile political discussions, with the rise of far-right movements on one side of the spectra and increasingly intolerant privilege-obsessed SJW on another, bridging ideological gaps between groups has become incredibly important: Trump and Brexit shocked more than one poll, pundit or political group, and not for lack of trying to get different messages across, but for lack of receiving them. In the field of politics and philosophy (and, of course, economics) I sometimes rant about those who believe different things from me: ignoring, overlooking, strawmanning, insulting, patronising  which perhaps contributes to the problem. During my most happy moments, this is all done with a friendly smile on my face; when I'm upset or particularly annoyed about something, I wish to go much further in my attacks. Let me spend the next few paragraphs on the content of a book that so radically changed my perception and understanding of moral opinions themselves, answering the basic question of why "it's so hard for us to get along" (p. xviii).

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Ha Joon Chang: Clueless and Important

One of the projects I had imagined for this year was titled "23 ways Ha Joon Chang is wrong about Capitalism". Monday's talk at Edinburgh University greatly reminded me of the reasons behind this project: Ha Joon Chang has gained rockstar status among many of my heterodox friends by making incoherent and unsubstantiated arguments that suit their political convictions, with nothing more than mistaken cherry-picked data behind them. In Monday's talk he spoke for almost two hours, making some very strange arguments leading up to how production needs to be at the center of developmental economics. Let me discuss some of the most eye-wateringly silly stuff.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Dear Taxi Driver Who Hates Uber

This letter is intended to a particular upset bald Glaswegian in his 50s, but applies equally well to most taxi drivers I have had the great misfortune to meet:

I am writing to you regarding the trip I took Sunday night, which I only took because Uber was price surging 1.6x and I was feeling cheap. I had forgotten that when deciding to save some money and go with the regular, non-price surging taxis such as yourself, I also seriously trade down in quality.

Friday, 24 March 2017

In Defense of the Great Disruption

One of the most important talks at LibertyCon17 was given by the Swedish entrepreneur Henrik Jönsson, with the great title 'Everything you know is Dead or Dying: How to thrive after the E-pocalypse'. The topic is one that has been challenging economically illiterate people's beliefs since time immemorial and we've been pretty good at giving them various names: luddites, protectionists, conservatives, neophobes. It has to do with the most fundamental economic mechanism, call it development, dynamics or perhaps the name Schumpeter once coined: Creative Destruction. And knowledge of history and economics is key to understand why this development is beneficial.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Enemies of Liberty: The Authoritarian Right and The Intolerant Left

My reflections of academic conferences continue; Glasgow Economic Forum last weekend, followed by Lithuanian Free Market Institute's second Colloquium on Scarcity (where I learned an important lesson for behavioural economics), and the heighpoint of the this weekend: European Students for Liberty's LibertyCon2017. The great sessions included beer as a metaphor for economic life, Wolf von Laer's very inspiration rants, Enrique Fonseca's enthusiastic tips on communication, as well as great writing tips from Bill Wirtz. The main attractions of the conference (Jeffrey Tucker, Bruce Caldwell and Tom Palmer) were even better still!

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Blind Spots of Behavioural Economics and Paternalism

The hectic Life of an Econ Student continues; last weekend saw the incredibly successful Glasgow Economic Forum, followed by a rushed econometrics assignment and an intership proposal deadline on Monday. A few days of catch-up, before I was off to the massive SFL LibertyCon 2017 in Prague preceeded by the Lithuanian Free Market Institute's Colloquium on Scarcity, Morality and Public Policy. My first time to the reknowned Cevro Institute and an entire day of conversations and debates with brilliant minds. Here's the most mindblowing revelation one of the sessions (on Entitlement) gave rise to: Behavioural Economics has some serious blind spots.