Cochrane on Krugman

11 November 2009 at 10:31 am 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

John Cochrane tackles Paul Krugman’s infamous essay (via Casey Mulligan). My own view of the crisis (and of macroeconomics) is different from Cochrane’s, but his skewering of Krugman is delightful, and there are many nuggets of wisdom. A few snippets:

Crying “bubble” is empty unless you have an operational procedure for identifying bubbles, distinguishing them from rationally low risk premiums, and not crying wolf too many years in a row. . . . This difficulty is no surprise. It’s the central prediction of free-market economics, as crystallized by Hayek, that no academic, bureaucrat or regulator will ever be able to fully explain market price movements. Nobody knows what “fundamental” value is. If anyone could tell what the price of tomatoes should be, let alone the price of Microsoft stock, communism and central planning would have worked. . . .

[T]he economist’s job is not to “explain” market fluctuations after the fact, to give a pleasant story on the evening news about why markets went up or down. Markets up? “A wave of positive sentiment.” Markets went down? “Irrational pessimism.” ( “The risk premium must have increased” is just as empty.) Our ancestors could do that. Really, is that an improvement on “Zeus had a fight with Apollo?” . . .

Krugman at bottom is arguing that the government should massively intervene in financial markets, and take charge of the allocation of capital. He can’t quite come out and say this, but he does say “Keynes considered it a very bad idea to let such markets . . . dictate important business decisions,” and “finance economists believed that we should put the capital development of the nation in the hands of what Keynes had called a ‘casino.'” Well, if markets can’t be trusted to allocate capital, we don’t have to connect too many dots to imagine who Paul has in mind.

To reach this conclusion, you need evidence, experience, or any realistic hope that the alternative will be better. Remember, the SEC couldn’t even find Bernie Madoff when he was handed to them on a silver platter. Think of the great job Fannie, Freddie, and Congress did in the mortgage market. Is this system going to regulate Citigroup, guide financial markets to the right price, replace the stock market, and tell our society which new products are worth investment? . . .

If you believe the Keynesian argument for stimulus, you should think Bernie Madoff is a hero. He took money from people who were saving it, and gave it to people who most assuredly were going to spend it. Each dollar so transferred, in Krugman’s world, generates an additional dollar and a half of national income. The analogy is even closer. Madoff didn’t just take money from his savers, he essentially borrowed it from them, giving them phony accounts with promises of great profits to come. This looks a lot like government debt.  . . .

Krugman is trying to say that a cabal of obvious crackpots bedazzled all of macroeconomics with the beauty of their mathematics, to the point of inducing policy paralysis. Alas, that won’t stick. The sad fact is that few in Washington pay the slightest attention to modern macroeconomic research, in particular anything with a serious intertemporal dimension. Paul’s simple Keynesianism has dominated policy analysis for decades and continues to do so. From the CEA to the Fed to the OMB and CBO, everyone just adds up consumer, investment and government “demand” to forecast output and uses simple Phillips curves to think about inflation. If a failure of ideas caused bad policy, it’s a simpleminded Keynesianism that failed.

And, perhaps my favorite part, Cochrane makes the point I made in an earlier post about the continuing attraction of Keynes. Specifically, I think Krugman knows much of what he says is nonsense, but it’s useful nonsense, providing intellectual cover and ex post rationalization for policies he favors anyway, for personal political and aesthetic reasons. Cochrane agrees:

I propose that Krugman himself doesn’t really believe the Keynesian logic for that stimulus. I doubt he would follow that logic to its inevitable conclusions. Stimulus must have some other attraction to him.

And later:

Alas, to Krugman, as to far too many ex-economists in partisan debates, economics is not a quest for understanding. It is a set of debating points to argue for policies that one has adopted for partisan political purposes. “Stimulus” is just marketing to sell Congressmen and voters on a package of government spending priorities that you want for political reasons. It’s not a proposition to be explained, understood, taken seriously to its logical limits, or reflective of market failures that should be addressed directly.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Bailout / Financial Crisis, Financial Markets, People, Public Policy / Political Economy.

The MSM Rediscovers the Classics On the Border*

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. simone  |  11 November 2009 at 8:44 pm

    I think its time for Krugman and his ilk to speak for themesleves and quit telling us what Keynes would say or think. I honesly do not care what Keynes would say on the economy given his understanding ofthe word several decades ago.

    I agree with Cochrane that Krugman is playing an intellectually dishonest game by looking in the rear view mirrow and talking about bubbles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Authors

Nicolai J. Foss | home | posts
Peter G. Klein | home | posts
Richard Langlois | home | posts
Lasse B. Lien | home | posts

Guests

Former Guests | posts

Networking

Recent Posts

Categories

Feeds

Our Recent Books

Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).