Friday, 26 January 2018

This Time Is Different - But Only When I Want It To Be

"This time is different" is an infamous saying at the top of a bull market, where whatever is currently hot and exciting is believed to be completely different from what went before it: old-school valuations no longer apply, old-school metrics are the wrong standard to compare against etc. These kinds of beliefs can be found in most (financial) manias throughout history. Let me now draw a connection to an often unrelated topic, Fear of Automation to illustrate the madness most people seem absorbed by. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Whenever People Say 'Unsustainable'

There are many words in the field of economics, economic history and their associated political/philosophical discourse that make my "rant-alarm" go off. And by rant-alarm, I mean the irresistable urge to argue, to expose this person's mistaken thinking and/or ridicule his/her insane ideas (which, by the way, almost always happen to end with "and the state should tax/regulate/ban/invade...") Some prime example here are climate change, rationality, resources, 'neoclassical' economics (or neoliberal anything, my God!) investment – and more recently housing bubbles and bitcoin.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Innovation, Intangibles and a Farewell to Nostalgia

Yesterday I attended the Adam Smith Institute Forum 2017 in London, a welcome burst of exciting energy and interesting ideas. A few hundred enthusiastic young souls, curious about the ASI, progress and of course the speakers themselves, gathered for an intense 8 hours of lectures, debates, panels and discussions. What makes the ASI Forum distinct is how it intentionally tries to keep speeches short (Ted-Talk style 10-15 minutes) and then lumps often-quite different speakers together for a panel section, where questions came from the lively twitter-feed (#ASIForum, and we managed to trend in London for a while). Here's a brief summary of three speakers and the fruitful discussions they provoked (of course, there were tons more, leaving my brain somewhat exhausted and overwhelmed).

Monday, 4 December 2017

Some Doubts on the Bitcoin Mania

Summary of article 2017-12-02 (Swedish summary available here). Apologies for talking about what everyone else is talking about these days  including random students, grandma and taxi-drivers (always a sure-fire indicator)

Part of my charm is my skeptical-10th-man-negative-nellie attitude. I enjoy telling people they are wrong; what the substantive dispute is matters less. In terms of the Bitcoin hype (revolution, rally, mania, bubble, whatever your term of preference is...) that means remaining skeptical and critical. Having a background in the field of economics that seriously concern itself (read: obsessed) about money, monetary thinking and the meaning of transactions makes it easier both to embrance and to reject Bitcoin; it allows you to see its potential and its beauty, and it makes it utterly clear what its current failures are.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Myth of the 'Social'

I have a fair number of (left-wing) friends who like to point out the "inherent" or "hidden" value judgments of most mainstream economics. Of course, believing they're advancing some fairly original or recent revelation they smugly retreat, confident in their intellectual (read: moralsuperiority. Let me return the favour.

Monday, 23 October 2017

On Speculation

One of the most overused words with awful connotations is the notion of Speculation. It produces images of reckless bankers ruining the livelihoods of common people, sending economies into deep recessions while satisfying nothing but the evil speculator's greed and occasionally enhances their wealth. Add some random slur about how George Soros broke the Bank of England and something about hedge funds, and the stereotype is complete: speculation is evil and should be banished. 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Shit Historians Say

One of the things I hate about many historians is their insane tendency to simply say things. That is, with no evidence at all and no attempt at convincing me of their position, they simply assert things. Sometimes it’s entire arguments, but more commonly it happens when they’re trying to evaluate or derive causal relationships. Let me give three examples I came across recently  – and if I looked around I’m sure I could find enough material for literal bookshelves on the topic.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Bubble Territory and Stockholm Property Markets

Housing prices are one of these never-ending topics of our generations: everyone is aware of them, everyone is exposed to them, everyone worries about them. Of course, when a ton of people with very little economic understand try to analyse and understand certain economic phenomena, they are bound to make serious errors. So yet again I decided to have a quick look at the fundamental driver of Stockholm housing prices, and why the hysteria surrounding this (and many other current topics, see Austerity or Inequality) is much overrated. This, as much of my writing, came out of frustration with Chicken Little-style doomsday predictions – this time from the otherwise quite brilliant ZeroHedge

Friday, 29 September 2017

On the Nature of Wealth

In my mailbox the other day there was a flyer from Save the Children, a charity whose work for all I know is admirable and successful in improving the lives of poor families in the world's most destitute areas. The flyer discussed a certain failed sub-Saharan country in the following way, economic illiteracy on par with Oxfam:
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the world's richest countries, but with one of the poorest populations.
I bursted out laughing and then spent the rest of that evening finding some interesting numbers (BBC has reported similar things in the past). Credible statistics for countries such as DRC is an issue all in its own, but I'm gonna use what I found at the World Bank anyway to illustrate a conceptual point about the nature of wealth.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Some Summer Readings

This intense summer with readings, Deflation-research and Mises Institute fellowship took a turn for slow-motion after both roadtrips/travels and family time. That didn't stop Life of an Econ Student from going forward with what really matters: reading, and reading broad and wide and way beyond the limits of familiar territory. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:
He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Sassy Mises, vol. 2

It's time for a repeat of our favourite pastime: exploring the amazing world of our dear friend Ludwig von Mises and his snappy, sassy comments about his academic life  particularly his intellectual opponents. I remain dedicated to compiling some of the best examples of absolutely stunning and entertaining Mises quotes; this hillarious exercise in Misesian delight may very well be my proudest achievement. But less me, and more Mises  please!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Why We Read Dead Economists

One of many accusations of the economics discipline is that it spends too much time on the ideas of rich white men, long since buried. In our world ruled by moral and intellectual relativism and group identities, such an accusation is serious indeed. We can ridicule such positions all we want, and Mises does an excellent job of it in chapter 3 of Human Action, but there may be still some merit to the accusation. Beyond relativism, how serious is the charge: are we reading too many dead economists?

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Are Swedish Tuitions Fees Actually Higher Than in England or Australia?

University fees and the UK Labour Party's bold attempt to scrap them was a popular talking point during the UK's recent election. In general, the argument for entirely government-funded universities is popular, both among university students and constituents at large, in the UK as well as Australia and U.S. Many people who learn of my Swedish origin seem well-informed about Sweden's generous support for students and for not charging tuition fees even for top-universities. They're seldom as well informed about what it actually means  or that costs of attending university is probably lower in both England and Australia. Let me show you how.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Trade Deficits and The Worst Magazine in the World

The British magazine The Economist has reached a new low. Founded as an explicitly free-trade magazine by the Scot James Wilson in 1843, organised against the protectionist Corn Laws, it has come a long way from advocating truly free trade – or any sensible economics for that matter. This week’s edition features Germany, and what its editors label “The German Problem: Why Germany’s Current-Account Surplus Is Bad For The World

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Keeping Up With The Miseses, Rothbards, Schumpeters and McCloskeys

Two days ago I graduated from the beautiful University of Glasgow with a degree to my name and tons of knowledge in my head. Many years ago, a very different, dedicated and self-proscribed politically-aware youngster set out to understand what people were talking about in financial magazines  what this thing called 'The Economy' was  and he decided to push through struggling instances of a nonsensical economics classes for the reward of a piece of paper with the 9 letters E-C-O-N-O-M-I-C-S written on it. Now that I've got that, almost spot-on my 26th birthday, I realized that some comparisons are in order. There are certain academic giants on upon whose shoulders I one day would be honoured to stand. Then: how am I currently measuring up against them?

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.