Archive for the 'Hayek' Category

Zimbabwean Currencies: Condoms, Sweets and Paper Money

February 21, 2014

by Alexander Czombera*

If there is one single law in economics then it is that markets tend to equilibrium. Or, to align this with Grove’s law  (“Technology will always win. You can delay technology by legal interference, but technology will flow around legal barriers”), the free market will find its ways, whether in white, grey or black market. Despite of initially strong resistance of the Zimbabwean government it was market forces and not political consent that abolished central banking and legal tender laws in the South African country. Paper money of its original currency was replaced with notes from other countries, the shortage of coins was addressed by “efficient rounding”, condoms and sweets.

While inflation was mostly in double digits ever since its independence in 1980 it began to climb when the government faced high deficits and deep recessions in the early 2000s. In late 2008 it eventually reached a peak of  8.97 x 10 (to the 22nd power) percent. Prices doubled almost every day.

Because of the limited supply of foreign currencies and fixed exchange rates some people used this time to exploit arbitrage opportunities. The term burning money was coined when well-connected people in Harare exchanged their Zimbabwe Dollars into the limited supply of South African Rand at the fixed exchange rate and sold the Rand in the parallel market at a fair price.

The continuing devaluation of its own currency moved Zimbabwean citizens into other currencies, most notably Rand, Pula, US Dollar, Euro and Pound. In spite of legal tender laws these currencies became established in the regions which traded frequently with the countries issuing these currencies or having previously adopted them. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Wedding Cake Bakers Discriminate in Peace

December 8, 2013

By Mario Rizzo

“A Colorado judge says a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony must serve gay couples despite his religious beliefs, a ruling that a civil rights group hailed as a victory for gay rights.” Fox News 12/06/2013

Friedrich Hayek argues in his famous essay “Why I am Not a Conservative” that conservatives and socialists alike have no principled way of dealing with people whose moral views differ from theirs. Neither of them has absorbed the true lessons of toleration. Socialists (and I would add “progressives”) argue, in effect, for the imposition of their specific collective hierarchy of values including ideas about the allocation and distribution of resources in society. Conservatives often want to impose a hierarchy  of social values including restrictions on pornography, teaching of traditional values in the public schools (“creationism”), restrictions on entry into consensual social relations (“marriage is exclusively for one man and one woman”) and so forth.

The classical liberal insistence on a society that makes maximal room for a pluralism of values starts with the insight that markets permit individuals to make decisions according to their own hierarchies of values. Markets do not insist that we all share the same goals about the use of resources. And yet, subject to a few basic general rules, we can have coordination (not homogenization) of values through the price system. You can work , for example, for Amazon to help pay for your child’s clothing while the manager in your Amazon division is saving for a flat screen TV; the executive working for Amazon may be working for a vacation while the senior-citizen stockholder of Amazon is using the appreciation of stock-value to pay for copays on his medicine. And then there are all of the different goals of those working or investing in firms that deal with Amazon. And so forth as we spread our sights through the whole complex system of market interactions. Read the rest of this entry »

F.A. Hayek: His 114th Birthday

May 8, 2013

by Mario RizzoHayek as Street Art

Today is Hayek’s birthday. Much has been and will continue to written about him. When I look around at much of what passes for economics today, especially in the prestige circles, I cringe.  But reading his work always comforts me that something better is possible. And, in fact, there are many economists all over the world who take their inspiration from Hayek and his work. This is their day too!

Hayek, of course, was more than economist. He also had profound things to say about the mind, the rule of law, and ethics. Recently, I saw a stark example of the difference in ethical thinking between Hayek and more conventional moralists. This was in the case of the tragic fire in a Bangladeshi factory making clothes for western companies. The new Pope Francis condemned it as an example of corporations only caring about their bottom-line.

Now there are legitimate issues, from the point of view of the individuals working in this and other such factories. Can they rely on the attestations of a certain degree of safety in their working environment? Before people can voluntary assume the risks associated with certain kinds of work they must have at least a pretty good idea of what those risks are.

And yet there is a more fundamental issue.  Workplace safety is a matter of degrees. It is a working condition that is part of the cost of labor. There is an inevitable tradeoff between wages and level of employment, on the one hand, and workplace safety on the other hand. In rich countries workers can afford to sacrifice something for greater workplace safety. This is all part of increasing wealth.

Now major corporations are re-thinking their use of factory labor in Bangladesh.  They don’t want the images of large numbers of dead ruining their reputations. Ostensibly, they will argue that since they cannot trust Bangladeshi authorities to keep the factories safe they will not deal with them. Voila, the moral stance. Read the rest of this entry »

Clarifications of the Austro-Wicksellian Business Cycle Theory

December 31, 2012

by Mario Rizzo

There has been a lively debate on forecasts of high inflation made by those worried about the Fed’s recent policy of quantitative easing. For details I refer the reader to Daniel Kuehn’s excellent blog. The question to which I address myself is solely “What do these predictions have to do with core Austrian Business Cycle Theory?” This is my answer.

We must start with a few general points. First, I am talking about the Austro-Wicksellian business cycle theory as developed by Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and as synthesized by Roger Garrison in his book Time and Money. I cannot take responsibility for versions constructed by others.  It is not that I think the others are necessarily wrong (and I mean no disrespect to them), but I do not know with sufficient precision what all these others are saying in the name of “Austrian theory.”

Secondly, the Austro-Wicksellian theory begins with either an endogenous increase in credit through the banking system or with an “exogenous” increase initiated by a central bank. In the latter case, however, the theory itself has little to say about the extent to which increases in base money will manifest themselves in increases in bank credit to producers.  (This may not be much of an issue during a boom but may be an issue during a recession or in a recovery.)

Third, the theory is fundamentally one about the “upper turning point” in the cycle – it is a theory about why a credit-induced boom must come to an end. It is not a theory, for better or worse, about the “secondary” factors that develop consequent on the break-up of the boom. These include possible recessionary-problems relating to bank runs (there is an Austrian inspired banking literature, but that is not the cycle theory) or what exactly will get investment expectations to turn around.  As to deflation, Lawrence White has argued that the logic of the theory requires the avoidance of deflation in accordance with Hayek’s very early recommendation to keep M V from falling.  (Hayek departed from this in the Depression, and later admitted he was incorrect to do so.)

Now to more specific points:   Read the rest of this entry »

Spontaneous or Planned: A Sharp Dichotomy, or a Gradient?

July 18, 2012

by Gene Callahan

I am writing a solicited comment for Dan Klein’s new book, Knowledge and Coordination: A Liberal Interpretation, for the journal Studies in Emergent Order. This is an especially interesting task for me, as Klein’s topic is obviously vital to my preliminary work on social cycles. And Dan is always an intelligent and engaging writer, so this should be a fun project. I find it helpful, in the interest of getting a paper done, to blog my thoughts as I go along, so here we go:

The first thing of importance I have noted is Klein, at least in the opening chapter, seems to posit a sharp dichotomy between spontaneous orders and planned orders. He uses the example of roller skaters in a rink: either they are each skating purely as they wish, or their movements are entirely planned by a “wise” planner. (This may well be modified by Klein later, but even if so, I have seen others treat this topic as if this was a simple dichotomy, so my remarks are, I think, worth making anyway.)

But real social orders are rarely (ever?) of either extreme. The extremes are ideal types, and real orders more or less instantiate the types. Read the rest of this entry »

Hayek Lecture by Taylor

June 4, 2012

John Taylor received the Manhattan Institute’s 2012 Hayek prize for his book, First Principles: Five Keys to Restoring America’s Prosperity In the lecture he gave for the occasion, Professor Taylor argued for rules-based policies—-that would be a real reform. The video of the lecture is on the Manhattan Institute site.   It was also published in the WSJ

Euro Crisis from Long Perspective

May 31, 2012

by Chidem Kurdas

The European crisis, in progress for years and still showing no sign of resolution, is largely the result of elite hubris. To create the euro and ram it down the throats of populations that, left to their druthers, would have stayed with their old currencies—this was a massive, top-down social engineering project. Read the rest of this entry »

Bank Hedges and Social Justice

May 21, 2012

by  Chidem Kurdas

To hedge or not to hedge? That’s the question for many an endeavor. Farmers hedge by selling their harvest ahead of time. Building managers hedge by locking in a price for heating oil or natural gas—last year many got it wrong, blindsided by the decline in the price of gas. Most hedges we don’t hear much about.

Until last week, the most infamous hedge was the set of complex trades put on by Goldman Sachs as protection against losses in mortgage securities in the property bust. Financially this worked and Goldman Sachs escaped the 2008 crisis relatively unscathed. Thereupon it became an object of loathing and mockery in the media, inspiring calls for higher taxes and greater regulation.

Now we have the failed trades with resultant loss of $2-$3 billion at JP Morgan Chase. This also inspired calls for greater regulation, in particular of bank trading, which appears to be offensive whether it makes money or loses money. Read the rest of this entry »


May 8, 2012

by Mario Rizzo

I could not let May 8th pass without writing something about F.A. Hayek, or rather my appreciation of Hayek. I have not been blogging recently because I have been working very hard researching and, at last, writing my book, with Glen Whitman, on behavioral economics and the new paternalism (no real title yet).

In terms of my own thought, Hayek has been the most influential economist I have have ever encountered. I met him several times — going back to 1968 or thereabouts — but I never really knew him. He seemed difficult to get to know and even to talk to, though he was generally kind and open after he won the Nobel prize. (Before that I found him very distant and not much interested in us young’ins.)

Hayek helped me appreciate Ludwig von Mises who was rarely convincing to me.  While Mises made many a grand assertion Hayek provided careful and subtle arguments. The often arrived at the same place but I found (find) Hayek more persuasive. I also preferred his softer style.

I think the most important insight of Hayek was to understand that knowledge in any large society is decentralized. The most important function of social institutions is to mobilize this knowledge in such a way that it can been used by individuals in making their decisions. Thus: the impossibility of rational calculation under socialism (a conclusion Mises came to in a somewhat different way), the importance of the rule of law, the importance of cultural-social rules, and so forth. Compare that with, in my view, the misguided trivality of Paul Samuelson’s behaviorist theory of revealed preference or Richard Kahn’s mechanical multiplier or Maynard Keynes’s contributions to economic policy guided by his elite hand. I could go on.

In just about every class I teach I tell students about the meaning and the significance of Hayek’s idea of the decentralization of knowledge in society. This idea alone has the power to change minds dramatically. One student told me it changed her life. I do not care if students remember the Weak or Strong Axiom of Revealed Preference or the necessary conditions for perfect competition if they remember Hayek’s “The Use of Knowlege in Society.”

Notes on a General Theory of the Social Cycle

March 21, 2012

by Gene Callahan

Monday past at our colloquium Andreas Hoffman presented a fascinating paper attempting to depict Austrian Business Cycle Theory as a special case of a more general business cycle theory based upon Hayek’s later work on spontaneous orders. Hoffman’s general idea (I won’t do it justice in this brief summary, so please have a look at the paper) is that business cycles occur when a “displacement” creates a situation in which people are uncertain how to make “adjustments” to move back closer to equilibrium. The period during which people are groping about for what to do creates the slump, and the upturn comes, of course, once they have gotten the hang of the new situation.

A lively discussion followed, during which Israel Kirzner, Mario Rizzo, and others pressured Hoffman on just what he meant by an “adjustment,” a “displacement,” and why these things would create a cycle, rather than merely ongoing “churning,” to use Kirzner’s word. (He also mentioned Lachmann’s notion of the “kaleidic society” in this context.)

Riding home on the subway afterwards, what struck me was that we lacked a general framework of accepted definitions for talking about things like adjustments, displacements, and social cycles. (I will justify the use of “social” later.) As soon as I noticed this, the following thoughts entered my mind, essentially all at once. Some of them were drawn directly from the discussion. And they are all very preliminary: but that is one thing that blogs are for, is it not? In any case, feedback on these presently sketchy ideas is welcomed. Read the rest of this entry »


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