Archive for October, 2008

Mises Quote of the Day

| Peter Klein |

Here is Mises on entrepreneurial “understanding,” a concept distinct from quantitative prediction according to a known model. You could even call it judgment. It’s particularly germane to current economic conditions and the phalanx of economic forecasters attempting to predict how the economy will do in the coming months and years. The source is a 1956 essay, “The Plight of Business Forecasting,” reprinted in Economic Freedom and Interventionism:

Economics can only tell us that a boom engendered by credit expansion will not last. It cannot tell us after what amount of credit expansion the slump will start or when this event will occur. All that economists and other people say about these quantitative and calendar problems partakes of neither economics nor any other science. What they say in the attempt to anticipate future events makes use of specific “understanding,” the same method which is practiced by everybody in all dealings with his fellow man. Specific “understanding” has the same logical character as that which characterizes all anticipations of future events in human affairs — anticipations concerning the course of Russia’s foreign policy, religious and racial conditions in India or Algeria, ladies’ fashions in 1960, the political divisions in the U.S. Senate in 1970; and even such anticipations as the future marital relations between Mr. X and his wife, or the success in life of a boy who has just celebrated his tenth birthday. There are people who assert that psychology may provide some help in such prognostications. However that may be, it is not our task to examine this problem. We have merely to establish the fact that forecasts about the course of economic affairs cannot be considered scientific.

31 October 2008 at 9:57 am 2 comments

Controynms Redux

| Peter Klein |

Last year’s post on contronymns — words that are their own antonyms — was one of our most popular. Anu Garg of ran a contronymns series this week, featuring cleave, continuance, aspersecopemate, and quiddity.

The series intro contained a few more:

When you sanction a project, do you approve of it or disapprove? Should one be commended for oversight (watchful care) or reprimanded for oversight (error or omission)? When you resign from a job, do you leave it or re-join (re-sign) it?

When a proposal gets tabled, is it being brought forward for discussion or being laid aside? Depends on which side of the pond you’re at. If the former, you’re in the UK; if the latter, you’re in the US.

I call them fence-sitters. They sit on fences, ready to say one thing or its opposite depending on which side they appear at. I’m not talking about politicians. These are words, known by many names: autoantonym, contranym, self-antonym, enantiodromic, amphibolous, janus word, and so on.

Sometimes it’s a result of two distinct words evolving into the same form (cleave from Old English cleofian and cleofan) but often a single word develops a split personality and takes on two contradictory senses. All of us have a bit of yin and yang and these words are no exception. The context usually provides a clue to help us understand the right sense in a given place.

31 October 2008 at 7:47 am Leave a comment

Always Two, There Are: A Master, and an Apprentice

| Peter Klein |

Here are the proceedings of a conference on apprenticeship, the much-maligned, but frequently valuable, practice of learning a trade through experience, rather than formal classroom education. 

Paul Ryan notes in his EH.Net review:

Its publication responds to the extensive contemporary interest in apprenticeship — among historians, as part of discussions of the role of guilds, proto-industrialization and social change; and among policy analysts, reflecting the benefits of apprenticeship for school-to-work transitions, notably in Germany. . . .

Most contributors subscribe to a revisionist historical view of apprenticeship, as less monolithic, standardized and guild-regulated, and more determined by economic factors, than in traditional interpretations, notably the ganze Haus perspective of the German historical school. Both individually and collectively, the papers document the heterogeneity of apprenticeship. Thus contract durations and completion rates are shown to have varied considerably, even within particular occupations in particular towns in particular periods, despite clear guild prescriptions. 

30 October 2008 at 9:09 am Leave a comment

Today’s Episode of “The Onion or Reality?”

| Peter Klein |

White House to banks: Start lending now
By Jennifer Loven, AP White House Correspondent

White House tells banks getting federal aid to quit hoarding money and start lending it

[ . . . ]

“What we’re trying to do is get banks to do what they are supposed to do, which is support the system that we have in America. And banks exist to lend money,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Those silly banks; first they made too many loans, causing the subprime crisis, now they’re making too few! (Via Manuel Lora.)

Let’s review: Some banks made bad loans, and some banks bought securities tied to these loans. When the bad loans went sour, some banks failed. Instead of letting those banks fail, freeing up scarce resources to flow to other banks and financial institutions, the government tried to prop up the entire banking system. Now, when the propped-up banks decide to hoard their taxpayer-provided cash, the government wants to make them lend — to whom, it doesn’t matter. Just lend, baby, lend! A loan, you see, is just like any other loan. All investments are the same. All banks are the same. No need to separate the good ones from the bad ones. We Are the World!

29 October 2008 at 1:56 pm 1 comment

A Billion Here, A Trillion There

| Peter Klein |

How expensive is the bailout? Where will the money come from?

Consider the numbers: $29 billion for the Bear Stearns mess; $700 billion to buy spoiled assets; $200 billion to buy stock in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; an $85 billion loan to AIG insurance; another $37.8 billion for AIG; and $250 billion for bank stocks. Hundreds of billions in guarantees to back up money market funds and to guarantee bank deposits. And who knows what expenses are still to come. . . .

How will the U.S. pay for it all? Answer: by borrowing — raising worries about how the country’s ballooning annual budget deficits and aggregating debt will affect the economy and financial markets. Some guidelines, such as interest rates and the ratio of debt and deficits to gross domestic product, suggest the new debt will be digested easily. But some experts think those guidelines are misleading, warning that obligations are piling up like tinder on a forest floor.

“This kind of accounting that the government does — if they did it in the private sector they would go to jail,” says Kent Smetters, a professor of insurance and risk management at Wharton.

From Knowldge@Wharton, which reminds us that there’s plenty more to come — a probable bailout of Chrysler and G.M., for instance. And who knows what else. Of course, the US government now has a $10.5 trillion national debt. “To economists, the most frightening fact is that the enormous cost of today’s financial rescues is just a drop in the bucket.”

29 October 2008 at 1:55 pm 3 comments

Nair, Trendowski, and Judge on Penrose

| Peter Klein |

The October 2008 AMR features an essay by Anil Nair, Joseph Trendowski, and William Judge on Edith Penrose’s seminal Theory of the Growth of the Firm (1959), written in the form of a book review. The essay is gated, but you can get a flavor from the conclusion:

Many economists call the unexplained variance in a regression equation the “Penrose effect.” According to Barney, it was left to strategy scholars to propose that the Penrose effect comprises the intangible resources and capabilities that are the source of sustained competitive advantage, and while these phenomena may be difficult to measure directly, the implications of these phenomena for firms’ operations and performance could be tested. After reviewing the passionate and prolific research that has attributed its intellectual roots to Penrose’s book, it is clear to us that her work was successful in rallying scholars who sought an alternative to the standard structure-conduct-performance model within strategy. However, scholars should be careful that Penrose’s theory (and the book) does not become a Rorschach blot on which they impose their own biases.

Here is a paper that links Penrose to Austrian concepts of subjectivism and capital heterogeneity. Penrose was of course a student of Fritz Machlup, himself a student of Mises. Apparently at one point the book was to be a joint project with Machlup; in Murray Rothbard’s papers is a memo Rothbard wrote for the Volker Fund evaluating a 1953 grant proposal by Machlup and Penrose for a “Growth of the Firm” project. (Rothbard’s assessment was unfavorable; he was, however, a fan of Penrose’s earlier paper on “Biological Analogies in the Theory of the Firm,” which he cites favorably in “The Mantle of Science.”)

28 October 2008 at 11:51 pm Leave a comment

Tooth-Fairy Economics

| Peter Klein |

Art Laffer offers this succinct summary of Bernankeconomics:

No one likes to see people lose their homes when housing prices fall and they can’t afford to pay their mortgages; nor does any one of us enjoy watching banks go belly-up for making subprime loans without enough equity. But the taxpayers had nothing to do with either side of the mortgage transaction. If the house’s value had appreciated, believe you me the overleveraged homeowner and the overly aggressive bank would never have shared their gain with taxpayers. Housing price declines and their consequences are signals to the market to stop building so many houses, pure and simple.

But here’s the rub. Now enter the government and the prospects of a kinder and gentler economy. To alleviate the obvious hardships to both homeowners and banks, the government commits to buy mortgages and inject capital into banks, which on the face of it seems like a very nice thing to do. But unfortunately in this world there is no tooth fairy. And the government doesn’t create anything; it just redistributes. Whenever the government bails someone out of trouble, they always put someone into trouble, plus of course a toll for the troll. Every $100 billion in bailout requires at least $130 billion in taxes, where the $30 billion extra is the cost of getting government involved.

If you don’t believe me, just watch how Congress and Barney Frank run the banks. If you thought they did a bad job running the post office, Amtrak, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the military, just wait till you see what they’ll do with Wall Street.

28 October 2008 at 2:22 pm 2 comments

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