O’Driscoll on Inflation

October 30, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

ThinkMarkets blogger, Cato Senior Scholar, and former VP of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr., speaks on the Fox Business channel about the problems of deliberate inflation as a policy to reduce unemployment and spur growth. See the video here:

Gerald O’Driscoll on Inflation

The Return of Inflationism?

October 29, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

The Fed has become desperate, not because the American economy is currently falling apart, but because the economy has stubbornly failed to respond well to the policies of the “best and the brightest.” And now, as if to welcome the impending chairmanship of Janet Yellen, stories are surfacing in various places about the growing consensus inside and outside of the Fed for inflation. There is not enough inflation to stimulate adequate economic growth. Just a little more, or maybe even a lot more (perhaps as high as 6 percent) is needed as Ken Rogoff of Harvard is suggesting.

The arguments being used today are not exactly the same as those of the 1970s, yet I have the feeling that I have been here before.  It is important to distinguish theory from what policy economics is about. Policy economics often comes down to rather simple ideas. The real world has a way of making a mockery of today’s sophisticated macroeconomic theory. For one thing, policy has to be relatively simple if it is to be transparent. Read the rest of this entry »

Military Service and the New Paternalism

October 27, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

In the last few years there has been a small expansion in the number of universities that are reinstating ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) after the cancellation of such programs due to protests against the war in Vietnam. I express no opinion here about whether universities should have ROTC programs. My points here have equal applicability to military recruiting of all kinds.

My concern here is a relatively wonkish one. Why have not the new paternalists (those who base their paternalistic policies on the findings of behavioral economics) sought to apply their ideas to young college students signing up for ROTC? Or to other young people going to their neighborhood military recruitment center.

Consider that these potential recruits seem to meet all of the behavioral red flags. First, they are young with little experience of the world and so their decision is would be one in which their data base is deficient. They would seem to be similar to first-time home buyers who are alleged to be easily subject to fraud and manipulation. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawrence Klein: Keynesian Economist Who Wanted to Sidestep the Constitution

October 24, 2013

By Richard M. Ebeling

Nobel Prizing-winning Keynesian economist, Lawrence Klein died on October 20, 2013, at the age of 93. A long-time professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1980 for his development of econometric (or statistical) models of the United States “macro” economy for purposes of prediction and “activist” government policy making.


He also was a senior economic advisor to Jimmy Carter during his successful run for the presidency in 1976, but Klein declined a position in the Carter Administration for fear of the negative publicity from his membership in the American Communist Party in the 1930s. 


What is less well known today is that immediately after World War II he was one of the great popularizers of the “new economics” of John Maynard Keynes, especially in his widely read book, The Keynesian Revolution, published in 1947.


Keynes’ Conception of Government as Savior

In The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936) Keynes had argued that the market economy was inherently unstable and susceptible to wide and unpredictable swings in output, employment, and prices. Worse yet, he asserted, the market could get stuck in a prolonged period of high unemployment and idle resources. Only judicious government monetary and fiscal policy could assure a return to sustainable full employment. Read the rest of this entry »

Questions for Free Market Moralists? Some Answers

October 22, 2013

By Mario Rizzo

A philosopher, Amia Srinivasan, fellow in philosophy at All Souls College, University of Oxford, writing in the New York Times Opinionator (online commentary) says that in order to be a consistent defender of Robert Nozick, the free market and classical liberalism, one must answer “yes” to all four questions below. And she believes that such consistent yes answers are not plausible. She is wrong that we are required to answer yes to all four and she is wrong that yes answers on any are implausible. She also misconceives the task of liberalism as a political philosophy.

Let us start with the last point. As Ludwig von Mises constantly reminded us, liberalism is not a philosophy of life. It does not deal with the ultimate questions of man’s place in the universe and the full range of choices human beings must make both in dealing with others and in guiding one’s own life. It is a philosophy about the role of the state in a world in which people differ in their life-philosophies or in the concrete application of a philosophy to different circumstances of time and place.

With this in mind we can briefly answer her questions: Read the rest of this entry »

The Government Shutdown and the Debt Default Issue: The Dreadful Lesson

October 18, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

I grant that the government “shutdown” and the perceived threat of default on the debt was a public relations disaster for the Republican Party. I think that the shutdown problems, like those of the Sequester, were grossly exaggerated by the traditional media and as well as by various left-wing hysterics. Neither of these spending or service adjustments affected the overwhelming majority of our (excessive) government spending.

The default problem could have been much worse. It would have presented the following options: Delay payments to bond holders, axe discretionary spending, and/or cut entitlement spending. Another possibility would have been to continue borrowing anyway, perhaps provoking a Constitutional problem. I believe that had this continued for only a few days not much would have happened that would not have been quickly undone afterwards. However, none of this activity would have served the interests of reducing the size and scope of government.

So what is the “dreadful lesson”? It is this. We do not know how to reduce the size of our Leviathan state. Tea Party critics are correct, for example, that the longer ObamaCare stays unaltered or unrepealed the harder it will be to get rid of it. This is not because it will suddenly turn out to be good but because, as with so many other laws, special interests will benefit and will not easily yield.  How well have the efforts to find alternatives to Social Security and Medicare gone?

Provoking crises will not work. The current Republican Party does not seem competent enough to devise clever political methods to accomplish the goal of smaller government, even if it were truly willing to do so. (And that is debatable.)

So we are left, politically speaking, with nothing. How dreadful.

Herbert Davenport: The Economics of Enterprise

October 16, 2013

Economics of EnterpriseHerbert davenport

by Richard M. Ebeling*

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Herbert J. Davenport’s (1861-1931), The Economics of Enterprise, which appeared in the early months of 1913.

Both mainstream economists as well as many “Austrians” seem to have long since forgotten Herbert Davenport. But during his time he was recognized as one of the early formulators of a subjectivist conception of opportunity cost, a harsh critic of Alfred Marshall’s attempt to partly preserve the “real cost” doctrine of the Classical Economists, and a lucid expositor of the central role of the entrepreneur in a dynamic vision of the market process.

His earlier article, “Proposed Modifications in Austrian Theory and Terminology” (Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 1902), and his book, Value and Distribution (1908) were “friendly criticisms” meant to clarify inconsistencies or ambiguities in the “Austrian” approach with which he was, in general, highly sympathetic.

Born in Vermont, he earned a PhD in economics under J. Laurence Laughlin (a strong defender of laissez-faire economics) at the University of Chicago, but was also influenced by (though critical of) Thorsten Veblen. For many years he served as the Dean and Department Chair of the College of Business at the University of Missouri. He later served as a professor of economics at Cornell University.

According to Paul Homan, he was a captivating classroom professor: “One remembers him most vividly and typically leaning back in his chair, his penetrating eyes touched with the shadow of a smile, as of triumph, while he deployed his arguments, humorously but with devastating order and precision, usually at the expense of someone, preferably Marshall, whom other people took seriously and whom he regarded as hopelessly muddle-headed.”

The Economics of Enterprise presents his full analysis of the market order in terms of subjectivism, causality, and entrepreneurial competitiveness. Read the rest of this entry »


October 15, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

There have been no posts in a long time. Apologies to our readers.

I have been working on my book with Glen Whitman on new paternalism, behavioral economics and rationality. I have also been hard at work establishing the Classical Liberal Institute at the NYU Law School. I am excited about both projects. Nevertheless, posts will begin to appear again on ThinkMarkets. Please spread the word.

Tomorrow there will be the first new post of our second wind.

Stay tuned.









A New Journal from The Ronald Coase Institute

July 24, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

Readers of this blog may be interested in learning that the awaited-and-hoped-for new journal is actually coming soon. It is a welcome change from the usual in economics today. I hope that Austrians might consider submitting articles of high quality. The following is taken from the website of the Ronald Coase Institute.

A New Journal Coming Soon
Man and the Economy: A Journal of the Coase Society
Editors: Ronald Coase & Ning Wang
Publisher: De Gruyter    Inaugural Issue: April 2014

From the editors:

We are pleased to announce that Man and the Economy will soon be launched. As revealed by its title, Man and the Economy commits to a particular viewpoint of economics: a study of man as he is and a study of the economy as actually exists. This is in sharp contrast to the prevailing view where the economic actor is treated as an atomized utility maximizer and the economy as an artifact of mechanical design, which misrepresents the character of man and the nature of the economy. Man and the Economy restores the economy as an open and evolving social organism of cooperation and competition.

Professor Ronald Coase was editor of the Journal of Law and Economics(JLE) for 18 years. During his editorship, LJE not only became a distinct journal, but also helped to create a new field of study, law and economics. Man and the Economy aims to do to economics what JLE has done to law and economics. Professor Coase serves as founding editor of the new journal. Dr. Ning Wang, who has been working with Professor Coase since 1998, will serve as managing co-editor. They are joined by two associate editors, Sam Peltzman of the University of Chicago and Guang-zhen Sun of the University of Macau, along with a distinguished editorial board made up of economists, anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, and legal scholars from all over the world.

Man and the Economy starts in 2014 and publishes two issues a year in the first three years. It welcomes empirical (historical, qualitative, statistical, experimental) investigations and theoretical explorations that shed light on how the economy works and how it changes over time. We are committed to making Man and the Economy international and interdisciplinary.

We are keen to publish articles that examine how the emerging market economy works and evolves in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe as well as contributions by non-economists that focus on the working of the economy. Man and the Economy acceptsOriginal Articles (regular research papers), Research Notes (interesting ideas and findings not fully developed), Voices from the Field(contributions from practitioners in the business and policy community that are of interest to students of the economy), Marketplace for Ideas (interviews with leading scholars and other game-changers in the field), Wisdom of the Past (insights on man and the economy that have been largely forgotten), and Letters from Readers.

We aim to makeMan and the Economy the equivalent of Nature or Science in social sciences, read by and with contribution from the concerned public, policy-makers, business and legal professionals, as well as academics who look up to economics as a study of man as he is and of the economy as it actually exists in the real world.

The System of Liberty

July 18, 2013

by Jerry O’Driscoll

I have just completed George Smith’s The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism. I recommend it highly to all. It is a tour de force, and an essential read for all those interested in classical liberal ideas. Many of the debates today on the political right have their origin in the debates over classical liberalism.

The book is co-published by the Cato Institute and Cambridge University Press. This is the second book this year jointly published by Cato and Cambridge, and is a coup for Cato. The other one is Richard Timberlake’s Constitutional Money: A Review of the Supreme Court’s Monetary Decisions.

Smith tells us that “’classical liberalism’ refers to a political philosophy in which liberty plays the central role.” A great deal is packed into that definition, and much of the book is devoted to developing and explicating all the issues. These include, among other issues, concepts such as order, justice, rights and freedom. It includes such monumental controversies, some still with us, as natural rights versus utilitarianism.

Quoting Lord Acton in the Introduction, Smith observes that “the true liberal views liberty as an end, not merely as a means; it is a value that is not “exchangeable for any amount, however large of national greatness and glory, of prosperity and wealth, of enlightenment or morality.’” Historically, liberalism developed around concrete issues. “Liberty of conscience” was one such, and was bound up in the struggle for religious freedom. That struggle was played out in Britain, but influenced events in the United States.

Smith takes up many issues or themes, beginning with “Liberalism, Old and New.” What Smith terms the “Lockean paradigm” of natural rights, social contract, consent, property, and the rights of resistance and revolution dominated old liberalism. Even when criticized, the paradigm established the terms of the debate.

I will highlight two chapters. “The Radical Edge of Liberalism” is quite important. In it, he examines the key language of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration articulates the rights of resistance and revolution embodied in the Lockean paradigm. Smith asks of that paradigm: “Who has the right to judge when revolution is justified?” Locke answered: “’ The People shall be Judge.’”

It is no wonder that liberalism engendered conflicts, even within the tradition. Natural rights were seen as too radical by some, like Jeremy Bentham, and utilitarianism was the outcome. In “Conflicts in Classical Liberalism,” Smith notes that, prior to Bentham, traditional thinking saw no conflict between utility and natural rights. “Thus if social utility is the general goal of legislation, natural rights are the standard, or rule, which must be followed if this goal is to be achieved.” As noted by Smith, “Bentham broke with this venerable tradition.” He made “social utility serve as both the goal and standard of political activity.”
Smith is scrupulously fair to all thinkers, including critics of classical liberalism.

In Bentham’s case, however, he reveals Bentham to be a confused thinker who ultimately failed to make sense of his hedonic calculus. As Bentham came to admit, it was impossible to add up happiness across individuals. That is not to say that utilitarianism as developed by other thinkers was subject to criticisms leveled against the Benthamite calculus. But the problem is that utilitarianism, by undermining natural rights, undermined classical liberalism.

There is a great deal more to this book, and I hope many will read it. Smith is an exceptionally good writer. But the ideas he examines are deep, and the book is not an easy read. Smith does not skip lightly over topics. I have a few quibbles with some of what he writes, but very few. Decide for yourself.


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