Clearing my tabs for 2012
During 2011 I have probably spent about four days waiting for my browser to respond, due to the number of tabs I habitually keep open. Between the four computers I use, I probably have 200 blog posts in tabs waiting for me to comment. Here are a few of them (in no particular order), so my Chrome may enjoy a faster 2012.
Of course, the time I've spent writing this article far outweighs any browser speedup I am likely to earn over the next twelve months - especially taking into account the forty further tabs I will undoubtedly open over the next week. But I hope you've found the links useful in helping waste some of your own valuable time.
- A note from Paul Krugman on what makes economics economics. Not a rhetorical discipline but one based on mathematical models. (However, see also Deirdre McCloskey's Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics, which puts forth a persuasive case that it is both. Also, I believe that rhetoric, culture and all forms of speech will one day themselves be modelled within economics - a tantalising prospect).
- Talking of persuasion, here is Steve Randy Waldman on market monetarism, and whether we can fix recessions by simply persuading people to change their economic expectations, or whether there are real constraints that can't be solved just by monetary easing. I could plausibly have picked any article on his interfluidity blog as article of the year (if I were doing an article of the year), but this quote alone shows more insight than most entire blogs: "Central banks may significantly shape patterns of consumption and investment by choosing to whom they are willing to lend and on what terms. They may pick winners and losers, not for a brief
Paul VolckerChuck Norris moment but for the indefinite future."
- A good overview of Daniel Kahneman's life and work, including the origins of behavioural economics and how Kahneman and Tversky's work has influenced other fields.
- The limits of the scientific method in economics (see also part two): an article whose conclusions I don't agree with, but which asks the right question: can economics model (and predict) the behaviour of people whose behaviour is itself influenced by economics? In answer, Roger Martin claims that we can't use deduction or induction to predict the future, only to model the past; to look forward we must use "abduction", or "invent a new hypothesis". This seems a very nihilistic, not to mention impractical, view. He too calls on rhetoric and postmodernism, but unlike McCloskey, who analyses what those things actually consist of, Martin simply attempts to use them as a get-out clause from the anti-scientific logic of his argument.
- Mark Thoma's more economics-friendly response to the above. His response to Martin's question, pointing out how the field of rational expectations was invented to answer it, and defending economists' work in coming up with new models as the old ones are proved wrong, is much more to my liking.
- An article from the Economist's Blighty blog about behavioural economics - or, more precisely, behavioural social policy and behavioural politics. Despite co-opting Nassim Nicholas Taleb as a behavioural economist - believe me, we don't want him - this piece has some good insights into psychology and why so-called "irrationality" (let's call it "fast heuristics" instead, shall we?) isn't always a bad thing.
- Also from Mark Thoma, a quote from Keynes to the effect that society can only build railways and other bits of infrastructure when it participates in a shared illusion that enables it to invest, not consume, the fruits of its wealth.
- Why values, as well as resources and incentives, are important in economics. As usual, a thoughtful essay by Tyler Cowen, one of the most open-minded writers on the right. I hasten to add that this degree of open-mindedness is also rather hard to find on the left.
- Some excerpts and a review in the New York Review of Books by John Lanchester of Michael Lewis's Boomerang, including possibly the quote of the year: "you have a dog, and I have a cat. We agree that each is worth a billion dollars. You sell me the dog for a billion, and I sell you the cat for a billion. Now we are no longer pet owners but Icelandic banks, with a billion dollars in new assets". I haven't yet read the book itself, but I'm interested in its attempts to explain economic differences - and similarities - by reference to local culture. As Lanchester says, "The collective momentum of a culture is, for more or less everybody more or less all of the time, overwhelming. This is especially true for anything to do with economics". He draws a broadly downbeat conclusion, but I believe the real need - and opportunity - is to analyse what culture is and how it affects economic behaviour - at which point we might be able to figure out what to do about it.
- See if you can boil this FT article about crowds, behavioural economics and neuroscience into nine insightful, factual sentences while ignoring the rest of the silly oversimplifications.