Stringham appointed as the Davis Professor for Economic Organizations and Innovation at Trinity College

May 20, 2015

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by Edward Stringham

I have enjoyed working with excellent colleagues and Ph.D. students at Texas Tech University, but I am thrilled to be hired as an endowed chair at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Undergraduate students interested in private enterprise, drop everything you are doing and enroll now! Parents of toddlers destined for success, create a fifteen year plan for your kids to send them our way. The first Episcopal college in New England, Wall Street pipeline Trinity has the fourth highest percentage of alumni millionaires. Actually, the atmosphere on its collegiate gothic campus is ideal in so many ways.

The Davis Endowment was made possible by legendary Wall Streeter and Forbes 400 member, Shelby Cullom Davis. The endowment sponsors classes, lectures, research on private enterprise, and reaches hundreds of students and thousands in the public. With more than $16 million, the Davis Endowment is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Since its founding nearly 35 years ago, the Davis Endowment has been directed by Gerald Gunderson, longtime editor of the Journal of Private Enterprise, and author of A New Economic History of America and The Wealth Creators: An Entrepreneurial History of America, among others. Armen Alchian stated that Gunderson’s work, “stands head and shoulders above anything else in explaining our history and especially how the capitalist system operated and still operates when allowed.” Along with Gerald Gunderson, I will be working with John Alcorn, Bill Butos, and other great professors.

I am particularly grateful for Gerald Gunderson, Shelby Cullom Davis, and Shelby’s daughter, Diana Davis Spencer, for helping ensure that this endowment is where it is today. Gerald spent many years watching over the endowment and Diana Spencer was influential in speaking out in article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal when an ex-administrator was attempting to divert most of the funds out it. Diana Spencer worked with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Philanthropy Roundtable in the fight to have her father’s donor intent honored. She stated “If colleges like Trinity undermine donors’ confidence that they will respect their wishes, they place at risk the generous support they receive from our foundation and so many others—and the benefits that inure to millions of students from this largesse.” (The ex-administrator who was attempting to divert the funds resigned shortly after coming up with another controversial idea , and more recently the Commonwealth of Virginia names him in a lawsuit for misuse of funds and violation of donor intent for his announced closure of Sweet Briar College.) A Pope Center report “An unusual victory for donor intent at Trinity College” documents some of the details of this multi-year battle and win. Gunderson wins first prize for the most persistent endowment director of all time.

I thank the search committee at Trinity, my professors (especially Peter Boettke), colleagues (especially Benjamin Powell), and countless others for helping me get here. I am looking forward to returning to my Yankee roots and working to build the premier liberal arts center for the study of private enterprise.


Why students interested in free markets should get their Ph.D. at Texas Tech University

May 11, 2015

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by Ed Stringham

If you are interested in earning a Ph.D., or if you know someone who is, I strongly recommend studying at Texas Tech University where I have had the pleasure to teach this past year. At the center of the action is my good friend, Benjamin Powell, who directs the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University. I always found Powell impressive, but over the past couple years he has shown great program building and leadership skills to launch the Free Market Institute programs. Last year they hired me and the most excellent Adam Martin, bringing the number of George Mason University Ph.D.s on campus to four. This month they hired Alexander Salter who earned his Ph.D. from George Mason University in 2014, and they may also be hiring an economist with a long affiliation with PERC and another scholar who is well known in Austrian economic circles. Stay tuned.

Here are some reasons why students interested in free markets should look into studying at Texas Tech. The university is large and growing with more than 35,000 students and a $1 billion endowment. Walk around campus and observe the architecture to the flowers as small indications of how well the university is run.

The administration is actually full of supportive people with can do attitudes that are uncommon on most campuses, and the university plans to continue to move up in the rankings. (Speaking of rankings, as a New Englander, I like how Wes Welker and Danny Amendola played football at Texas Tech, but alas the university’s football ranking was not as good this year as in other years.) The campus is also nicely situated next to a bunch of good housing, restaurants, and bars giving it a close to ideal college town feel with most of what one needs in walking distance. The people in Lubbock are also very nice and the university lacks unkempt hippies found elsewhere.

Although the university is large, Ph.D. students associated with the Free Market Institute have a strong sense of community and can get a lot of face time with professors and visiting scholars. I enjoyed teaching economics of entrepreneurship and the economics of regulation to some great Ph.D. students over the past year. Peter Boettke was the Ludwig von Mises Visiting Scholar with a couple two week visits and Joshua Hall was a Big Twelve Visiting Fellow as well. In the past year and a half we had Walter Williams and Andrew Napolitano help fill 800 person auditoriums and top scholars including Vernon Smith, Israel Kirzner and Robert Higgs present on campus. The Friday research workshop and other seminars also had many interesting speakers including Scott Beaulier, Bryan Caplan, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Matt Kibbe, Peter Klein, Robert Lawson, Peter Lewin, Edward Lopez, Bryan McCannon, Phillip Magness, Daniel Sutter, and Richard Wager. We also cohosted conferences with the Institute for Humane Studies and the Free Market Roadshow with speakers including Steve Bradley, Enrico Colombatto, John Charalambakis, and Barbara Kolm.

Powell even has a television show where he discusses the research of many of the scholars who visit campus. Of course the best episodes featured me! Drop everything you are doing and check it out.

Expect great things at Texas Tech University in the future. Congrats to Powell and others who are making all of this possible. If you are a student, find out more about the programs and fellowships here.


Organizing sessions for the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics

April 21, 2015

By Ed Stringham

I am pleased to have been selected as the next President of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics. Many economists including Karen Vaughn, Mario Rizzo, Peter Lewin, Steve Horwitz, and Peter Boettke, have done great work and help make the society far bigger than I would have predicted.

Sessions over the years have included some great and lively debates between Walter Block and Gordon Tullock. Chris Coyne gave an excellent presidential talk last year on problems with the theory of public goods. I had the good fortune to win two Paper of the Year awards from the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics (read the articles now here and here!), so thanks to everyone who made this latest honor possible.

One of my duties is organizing the sessions at the Southern Economic Association meetings and this year’s paper submissions are due this week. Submit your paper proposal to me today! Details are here.

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The Blanchard Danger

September 1, 2014

by Roger Koppl

Oliver Blanchard tells us “Where Danger Lurks”  in the macro-finance world.

The big theme is nonlinearity, which is a profoundly conservative move: DSGE modeling is just fine and we don’t need to rethink it at all. We just need to add in some nonlinearities. Blanchard does not tell how to calibrate a model with extreme sensitivity to initial conditions. But if the system is chaotic, it is also unpredictable, so how can you pretend to merely add nonlinearities to DSGE models?  It seems like a pretty direct contradiction to me. I mean, you can have the model in a trivial sense, of course. But calibration is an empty exercise that will not let you look around corners.

Blanchard’s second main message is alarming: We do need theoretical innovation, however, in measuring systemic risk. In the modern network literature on financial markets and cascades, one key point is risk externality. My portfolio choice makes your portfolio riskier. We need two things to fix this market failure. First, we need Pigou taxes, which cannot be calculated unless everyone tells the regulator his portfolio so that it can measure systemic risk and calculate a separate Pigou tax for each financial institution. Second, we need to reduce systemic risk. (“[S]teps must be taken to reduce risk and increase distance” from the “dark corners” of the macro-finance system.) In the network literature I suspect Blanchard is alluding to, this is to be done (at least in some of the articles) by having the regulator directly control the portfolios of financial institutions. (Names include: Acharya 2009; Beale et al. 2011; Caccioli et al. 2011; Gai, Haldane,and Kapadia 2011; Haldane and May 2011; and Yellen 2009, 2011)

I take a rather different view of both economic theory and the crisis in my recent IEA Hobart paper From Crisis to Confidence: Macroeconomics after the Crash.

Overall, Blanchard’s message is meant to be reassuring: We the smart macro-finance experts have now got the message on nonlinearities. So no further need to worry, we’ve got the situation in hand. To keep the system out of the “dark corners,” however, we will need more discretionary authority. You don’t mind trading off a bit of financial freedom for greater financial safety do you?


Economics of the Undead: Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science

July 11, 2014

by Glen Whitman

Last year in this space, I posted the Call for Abstracts for a forthcoming book called Economics of the Undead. That project is now coming to fruition! The book will officially be published tomorrow; here’s the Amazon page, and here’s the Barnes & Noble page. (The Kindle version should also become available tomorrow.) If the brilliant title and fetching cover haven’t already convinced you to buy the book, then you should visit the official website, which includes the table of contents, chapter excerpts, a course guide, and even a blog.

I know that some economists, including some who might frequent this page, have a problem with the term “dismal science.” For that reason, I thought I should post the following passage from the book’s introduction:

But before you start sampling, let’s return for a moment to the subtitle of this book: “Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science.” In a book about the undead, we couldn’t resist the temptation to use the economics discipline’s most famous nickname. But while many people know economics as the dismal science, few know the true origin of that phrase. It came from Thomas Carlyle, another Scottish philosopher. And Carlyle was not denigrating economists for their (quite real) tendency to emphasize the limits of our resources and the barriers to remaking society as a fanciful utopia. No, Carlyle was criticizing economists for supporting the abolition of slavery! He was incensed by the optimism of economists like John Stuart Mill, who believed that people of African origin—like people of all races—were capable of governing themselves.

We tell this story because we think you’ll find, possibly to your surprise, that this book presents one of the more optimistic perspectives you’ll find on the undead threat. From Darwyyn Deyo and David T. Mitchell’s argument that we should trade with vampires instead of staking them; to Kyle Bishop, David Tufte, and Mary Jo Tufte’s suggestion that innovative humans might ultimately achieve victory over the zombie threat; to Brian Hollar’s discussion of how humans will seek prosperity even after a zombie apocalypse, a broad theme emerges: that humans—and maybe our recently dead brethren as well—have a vast capacity to cope with adversity and somehow make the world a better place.

(There’s also a citation to Levy and Peart in there, which I have omitted from this post.)


Economics Music Video Contest: Markets Promote Peace

June 30, 2014

by Edward Stringham

As a professor, I am a  fan of rigorous economic research, but I am also a fan of helping students learn about how important economics is in an engaging way. John Papola did an excellent job with the Keynes Versus Hayek music videos (especially the second one with yours truly), and over the past couple years I have had students make economics music videos. Think it is impossible to have music videos about Supply and Demand or Economic Value is Subjective? Think again! The results of the 2012 Supply and Demand Music Video Contest and the 2013 Economic Value is Subjective Video Contest have  been fantastic and have had more than 100,000 views on Youtube. See the winning entries below.

I am pleased to announce the 2014 Economics Music Video Contest on Markets Promote Peace. Winners get $2,500 and their professor gets $500. According to the great 19th century liberal, Richard Coben, markets help change a relationship between strangers from one of indifference, or even contempt, to one of mutual benefit. People who may not have cared about each other, now see the other party as an ally. Militarism, on the other hand, causes conflict. To Cobden an important, more humane, and more effective substitute for militarism in the international realm is the expansion of markets.

Continue reading about the contest here: http://hackleychair.wordpress.com/2-economics-music-video-contest/

Winners of  the 2013 Value is Subjective Music Video Contest

 

Winners of the 2012 Supply and Demand Music Video Contest

 


Gary Stanley Becker (1930-2014): Through My Austrian Window

May 5, 2014

by Mario Rizzo

It is tempting to over-romanticize a person when he or she is gone. I will strive to be balanced in keeping with how I feel and think about Gary Becker.

I am saddened by his recent death (May 3rd). I have known him since at least 1974 – some forty years. He was not on my dissertation committee but he took a strong interest in and liking to my dissertation on the effect of crime on property values. I audited his version of the first-year sequence in price theory at the University of Chicago. It was, in my view, the best of the three versions I was exposed to. He was a little scary insofar as he lectured and then suddenly would call on a student with a question. Since I was an auditor only, my name did not appear on the class list so I escaped the surprise questioning.

He loved economics and loved to apply it to a wide range of problems. He was no enemy of mathematical economics but thought that theory should be as simple as possible and developed with applications in mind. He was a true follower of Alfred Marshall on this: theory as the engine for the discovery of concrete truth. He was also no “positivist” in methodology. (Some people are quite careless about how they use that term.) He did not think that every statement in economic theory has to be falsifiable or testable. In response to what I believe to be the methodological disaster of behavioral economics, he argued that rationality per se is never testable. What is testable is the complex of assumptions and basic structure of a theory when it is applied to concrete problems. (I add, for those schooled in the philosophy of science, that he invoked the “Duhem-Quine Thesis.” )

He accepted Lionel Robbins’s view that economics is a science of choice generally, and not only a science of market exchange (what used to be called catallactics). In accepting that view he accepted the same perspective on this matter as Ludwig von Mises and the British economist Philip Wicksteed – from both of whom Robbins derived his own view. So there is immediately an undeniable Austrian connection.

Within the past couple of years or so, I wrote to Gary about how I thought his view on “irrational” preferences was similar to those of Philip Wicksteed who, in 1910, argued that irrationalities and inconsistencies of preference tend to be eliminated under the pressure of costs, when in fact those preferences detract from the agent’s attainment of his own goals. He agreed with me, with – in typically Beckerian fashion – the proviso that Wicksteed didn’t have adequate empirical evidence, but Becker did in some of his papers. Okay.

Some Austrians may think that Becker was an enemy of Austrian economics because in 1962 he and Israel Kirzner had a debate in the pages of the Journal of Political Economy. In the fullness of time, I believe that neither of them had a clear view of their own developing perspective in 1962. Nevertheless, Kirzner was emphasizing that some assumption about rationality (later “alertness”) was necessary if a market is to move from disequilibrium to equilibrium. Becker was arguing that you don’t need a rationality assumption to get a negatively sloped demand curve – scarcity is enough. Becker, I believe, was getting at a point later made by Vernon Smith that “rational” behavior can be provoked or engendered by the (institutional) constraints of the system under study. The interesting question is when is alertness the key and when are institutional constraints the key. What is the relative role of each?

I think to a certain extent contemporary economics has moved beyond (but probably not nearly enough) the equilibrium versus process divide. Most good theories borrow from each paradigm. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue that Becker’s relatively equilibrium-oriented approach has not provided useful insights about the real world.

Gary Becker will be missed not only for the breadth and depth of his ideas, but also because of his kindness and generosity to others.

Ave atque vale.


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 »


Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism: Is There a Difference?

February 5, 2014

by Mario Rizzo

I consider myself both a libertarian and a classical liberal. I have been teaching a seminar in classical liberalism at the NYU Law School for six semesters. I am always asked about the difference.  My answer is basically this. Classical liberalism is the philosophy of political liberty from the perspective of a vast history of thought. Libertarianism is the philosophy of liberty from the perspective of its modern revival from the late sixties-early seventies on.

The philosophy of liberty has always admitted of gradations or degrees. Consider that in the nineteenth century there were such thinkers as Lysander Spooner, Auberon Herbert, and Benjamin Tucker. These thinkers are sometimes called “individualist anarchists.” Clearly, they espouse a political philosophy that would anathema to most who call themselves “classical liberals.” Yet they do begin from many of the same premises as mainline liberals. They disagree with those who advocated a limited state insofar as they believed that a completely voluntary order based on private property was possible and morally desirable. They elevated the individual to the primary place in their analysis just like the rest of the classical liberal tradition. Read the rest of this entry »


Interview with Gerald O’Driscoll

December 27, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

I am happy to post a very interesting interview with my long-time friend and Cato senior fellow, Jerry O’Driscoll. As readers of ThinkMarkets know, Jerry frequently contributes to this blog. This is from the Lara-Murphy Report. The entire report can be accessed immediately below. The interview with O’Driscoll begins at page 24.

LMR Interview with Odriscoll

O'Driscoll Interview

O’Driscoll Interview

First Page of Interview

First Page of Interview


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