Hayek’s Work Helps Explain the Link between Ultra-loose Monetary Policy and Political Instability

by Gunther Schnabl

The European Central Bank will increase the overall volume of its bond purchase program to 2,550,000,000,000 euros by September 2018. The main refinancing rate will remain at zero. Mario Draghi has stressed that this policy shall continue until inflation picks up sustainably (which is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future). The works of Friedrich August von Hayek (1931, 1944, 1976) help to explain why the tremendous monetary expansion is increasingly causing growing economic and political instability in Europe.

Continue reading

Should Central Banks Lean Against the Wind?

by Andreas Hoffmann

The pre-crisis Jackson Hole Consensus view on how to take asset market developments into account in monetary policy can be summarized as follows: Because it is hard to spot bubbles in asset markets with certainty ex-ante, central bankers should not lean against the wind when there seems to be a boom in financial markets (as long as the inflation rate does not pick up). However, as a rapid fall in asset prices can pull the real economy into the maelstrom of crisis, monetary policy should react decisively when a bubble bursts and “clean up the mess” to  prevent spillovers to the real economy.

Because there is empirical evidence that countries with greater credit and asset market booms in the 2000s experienced more severe financial crises in 2007-9, the pre-crisis consensus view has lost popularity. Policymakers and academics have started to think of ways to curb financial booms and lower the probability of crisis using macroprudential regulation or leaning-against-the-wind monetary policy. Continue reading

Clarifications of the Austro-Wicksellian Business Cycle Theory

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:   Continue reading

A “Kleinian” Version of Austrian Business Cycle Theory

by Gene Callahan

The next phase in my (now our, as I’ve taken on a colleague) project of thinking through Dan Klein’s Knowledge and Coordination is to see how his ideas might be used to help describe business cycle theories and demonstrate commonalities they share. Note: the point of the present exercise is simply to try to describe an existing business cycle theory in Kleinian terms, not to improve upon it or argue for its accuracy.

We will begin with the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle: Continue reading

Fads as Social Cycles

We don’t follow fashion
That would be a joke
You know we’re going to set them set them
So everyone can take note take note — Adam Ant and Marco Pirroni

by Gene Callahan*

In his book Knowledge and Coordination, Daniel Klein distinguishes between mutual coordination and concatenate coordination. Mutual coordination is coordination which people intend: you and I plan to meet for lunch, or several con artists devise a scheme to defraud an elderly widow of her fortune. Concatenate coordination is coordination that is pleasing to an impartial observer: one of Klein’s examples is a room designed with a harmonious combination of colors, shapes, and so on.

It is important to note that successful mutual coordination does not imply concatenate coordination. If the con artists pull off their scheme to defraud the widow, they will have achieved mutual coordinaiton that is not concatenate coordination. (I really cannot do this schema full justice here; I am just introducing it to make sense of the rest of this post, and you really must read the book to fully grasp it.)

Let us analyze fads using Klein’s terms. Continue reading

Notes on a General Theory of the Social Cycle

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. Continue reading

O’Driscoll and Rizzo Got There First

by Gene Callahan

I had believed that Tony Carilli and Greg Dempster (“Expectations in Austrian Business Cycle Theory: An Application of the Prisoner’s Dilemma,” The Review of Austrian Economics, 2001) made a major advance in Austrian Business Cycle Theory by hitting upon the correct solution to the challenge presented by, for instance, Gordon Tullock, who once wrote:

“The second nit has to do with Rothbard’s apparent belief that business people never learn. One would think that business people might be misled in the first couple of runs of the [Austrian] cycle and not anticipate that the low interest rate will later be raised. That they would continue unable to figure this out, however, seems unlikely.” (“Why the Austrians Are Wrong about Depressions”)

By posing the situation as a prisoner’s dilemma, where businessmen are rational to exploit the short-term profit opportunities offered by the boom phase (since if they don’t their competitors will) Carilli and Dempster adequately answered Tullock’s complaint. (I especially liked their solution because I independently had hit upon the same idea, which I was working out while writing my book, Economics for Real People. Well, I wasn’t the first to print, but at least I was the first to reference their paper!)

But yesterday, while editing someone else’s work, I discovered that Gerald O’Driscoll and Mario beat us to the basic insight by several decades, although they did not give it a game-theoretical formulation:

“[T]here are profits to be made from exploiting temporary situations. . . . Though entrepreneurs understand [the macro-aspects of a cycle] they cannot predict the exact features of the next cyclical expansion and contraction. . . . They lack the ability to make micro-predictions, even though they can predict the general sequence of events that will occur. These entrepreneurs have no reason to foreswear the temporary profits to be garnered in an inflationary episode. . . . From an individual perspective, then, an entrepreneur fully informed of the Austrian theory of economic cycles will face essentially the same uncertain world he always faced. Not theoretical or abstract knowledge, but knowledge of the circumstances of time and place is the source of profits.” O’Driscoll and Rizzo, The Economics of Time and Ignorance

Note: I still think what Carilli and Dempster did, in giving this a game-theoretic formulation, is great work. I just see it is not quite as original as I had thought.

Yes, Paul: It is Hayek versus Keynes

by Mario Rizzo

Although by the standards of contemporary economics, I am a historian of economic thought, I am not a historian of economic thought, properly considered. Thus my major interest in F.A. Hayek’s business cycle theory is not from the point of view of a historian. My interest is only incidentally in how Hayek’s contributions were perceived in the 1930s and 1940s, especially in light of John Maynard Keynes’s Treatise on Money and General Theory.

I am interested in Hayek’s business cycle theory because I believe it has much to teach us today – both in the style of reasoning it embodies and for its substantive points. Of course this is not to say that Hayek’s approach cannot be improved upon and revised in light of more recent theoretical and empirical developments.

But now comes Paul Krugman with his sometimes-echo Brad Delong (or is it vice versa?). Krugman thinks that Hayek was not an important “macro” economist; certainly not the rival or alternative to Keynes, either in the 1930s or today.  Continue reading

Thomas Mayer: “I am an Austrian in Economics”

by Andreas Hoffmann

In today’s publication Thomas Mayer writes that he is “an Austrian in economics.” Mayer is the chief economist of Deutsche Bank Group and head of Deutsche Bank Research. Mayer argues that Austrian theory fits recent events well.  He suggests that

“Failure of the liquidationists to overcome the Great Depression of the early 1930s prepared the ground for an era of interventionist economic policies. Modern macroeconomics and finance nourished the belief that we can successfully plan for the future. But the present crisis teaches us that we live in a world of Knightian uncertainty, where the ―unknown unknowns dominate and our plans for the future are regularly thwarted by unforeseen and unforeseeable events. Continue reading

Resource Allocation Distortions in the Great Recession: Empirical Evidence

by Mario Rizzo

The recent annual report of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has focused attention on the sectoral imbalances in the previous boom that resulted in the Great Recession. This is a refreshing change from the excessively aggregative analyses of the Keynesian-stimulus crowd.   Continue reading

We Told You So

by Mario Rizzo  

In recent months – or has it been years? – Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong have been saying, in effect, “We told you so – the stimulus was not enough. Look at the sluggish economy and high unemployment rate.”

They are arguing that the problem with the fiscal stimulus is that it was not enough. The idea was right but the quantity was wrong.

Let it pass that at ThinkMarkets it was predicted that this is what the stimulus advocates would say in the event that the economy did not improve as much as they wanted.   

The basic problem with the quantitative claim is that it skirts some real problems in the analysis.

  1. What was supposed to happen when the lines of spending actualized by the stimulus were exhausted?
  2. How was the stimulus supposed to jump start private spending? Even the advocates of fiscal stimulus were not saying that the government stimulus had to be permanent . Continue reading

The Role of the Perverse Elasticity of Credit Money

by Andreas Hoffmann

I want to bring a recent comment by Sornette and von der Backe to the attention of the reader (in Nature 471, p. 166, May 2011). Sornette and von der Backe remind us to pay more attention to disequilibria caused by the fractional reserve banking system to explain the emergence of crises. They particularly recommend a reconsideration of the Austrian School of Economics to derive short-term policy solutions. “We should relearn and expand some of the old economic wisdom about the specific role of banks.Continue reading

Hayekian Credit Booms

by Andreas Hoffmann

Currently there is an interesting discussion in the blogosphere on how it is possible that in Hayek’s Prices and Production framework consumption and investment can increase at the same time.

In my opinion they cannot, or only very slightly, but this is not a problem! Continue reading

Keynes Versus Hayek: An Empirical Matter

by Gene Callahan

Imagine that you saunter to the faculty cafeteria one day and sit down at a table already occupied by two theoretical physicists. You discover them deep in a debate. One says he has developed the wind-driven theory of leaf fall that portrays the path of a leaf, once it has left its parent tree, to be determined almost entirely by the wind. The other fellow has a gravity-driven model of leaf fall, which has it that it is gravity controlling the show. You are somewhat amazed by the fierceness of their debate, and by the fact that they just keep going on at the level of theory. Finally, exasperated, you ask, “Has it ever occurred to either of you that you are both right? Continue reading

Heterogeneous Labor

by Jerry O’Driscoll  

In the September 4th issue of the Wall Street Journal, Jon Hilsenrath chronicles the debate over the reasons for persistently high unemployment.  What is being described is the problem of heterogeneous labor.

Labor, like capital goods, is specialized and specific to certain occupations. When those occupations disappear in recession, the next best alternative immediately available locally may pay considerably lower wages. Workers may “know” they have better alternatives, but their knowledge capital has also depreciated with the crisis and downturn. They must search for employment opportunities. Continue reading

Tyler Cowen’s “Risk and Business Cycles”

by Mario Rizzo

I am happy to report that Tyler Cowen’s book, Risk and Business Cycles: New and Old Austrian Perspectives  is now available, as of July 15th, in a reasonably-priced paperback edition from Routledge. (I am sure that Amazon will be making it available soon.)

This is not an orthodox Austrian approach. In fact, Cowen criticizes that version. However, the “new Austrian” inspired version he presents seems especially relevant in view of the widespread, but not uiversal, agreement that the pre-recession period of very low interest rates contributed to the search for yield and greater risk taking. As the title indicates, Cowen’s theory emphasizes the importance of low interest rates on risk-taking.

This book appears in the Routledge series, “The Foundations of the Market Economy” edited by Larry White and me. Tyler’s book is well worth reading as are many books in this series (now approaching thirty books).

Now you can afford to buy it.

Understanding Efficient Markets

By Chidem Kurdas

Headline topics like derivatives are part of the larger issue of how markets function.  About this big question there’s been profound confusion in the past two years.  Peter Boettke’s article in the Winter 2010 issue of the Independent Review clarifies the muddle.

A particular mathematical interpretation of what an efficient market is has hogged the limelight.  Continue reading

Bleg: What are the Predictions of Austrian Cycle Theory?

by Mario Rizzo

If you were going to try to adduce evidence with regard to the Mises-Hayek-Garrison “Austrian Business Cycle Theory” what would you expect to see in the expansion, upper turning point and perhaps in the recession itself? Specifically, what would you expect to see in this most recent episode, the so-called Great Recession?

Unfortunately, it would not be helpful to refer to empirical phenomena about which no data is collected. This is a problem with most attempts to measure the elongation of the production structure, for example.  But be creative. George Stigler used to say that it is no excuse to say, “The data doesn’t exist.” There may be indirect ways to measure.

Any ideas?

Hayek after 35 Years

by Jerry O’Driscoll  

Today I reread F. A. Hayek’s Nobel Lecture, “The Pretence of Knowledge.”  Hayek was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in 1974 and delivered his lecture on December 11, 1974. I was amazed at how modern it was, and appropriate once again for the times.  

The 1970s were terrible times: stop-go demand management policies had produced stagflation that would continue for the rest of the decade.  Hayek said that “we have indeed at the moment little cause for pride: as a profession we have made a mess of things.” He charged that the mess had been produced by policies the majority of economists “recommended and even urged governments to pursue.”   Continue reading

Austro-Wicksellian Theory of the Business Cycle: An Informed View

by Mario Rizzo

There has been recent discussion in the blogosphere of the so-called Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT). (We must not forget to give the Swedish economist Knut Wicksell credit as well.) Some of it is interesting (mostly because of the comments) but much of it is ill-informed since the bloggers don’t like to read scholarly Austrian work. For a good blog post with references to what others have been saying, see Pete Boettke’s discussion at Coordination Problem.

The first thing to keep in mind is that while this theory embodies “Austrian” characteristics it is not an official Austrian theory. Continue reading

Bleeding the Economy

by Roger Koppl

At the Cobden Centre‘s website (and here), Steve Baker discusses recent Fed signals in the context of Big Players theory.  The more active the Fed (or other central bank), the greater the fraction of entrepreneurial attention devoted to Fed watching rather than productive activity.  As Baker says, “traders must pay attention to the Big Player and not the fundamentals.” Continue reading

Falling Wage Rates

by Jerry O’Driscoll  

In today’s Wall Street Journal, there is an article titled “Returning Workers Face Steep Pay Cuts.”  The article cites research by Kenneth Couch of the University of Connecticut that returning workers are taking on average a 40% pay cut from their old jobs.  This is first and foremost a personal tragedy for those affected.  The question we must ask as economists is why?   Continue reading

Mises Featured in the Journal

by Jerry O’Driscoll  

In today’s Wall Street Journal, hedge-fund founder Mark Spitznagel celebrates Ludwig von Mises as “The Man Who Predicted the Depression.”  Spitznagel opens by observing that “Ludwig von Mises was snubbed by economists world-wide as he warned of a credit crisis in the 1920s.  We ignore the great Austrian at our peril today.”  

Spitznagel deals with The Theory of Money and Credit and does a good job presenting its principal arguments.  What I found most interesting, however, is the author’s argument that the book is a warning today.  Continue reading

Understanding The “Sectoral Problem” In Business Cycles: A Note

by Mario Rizzo  

There has been some important discussion emanating from Paul Krugman’s unoriginal question implicitly about the Austrian Business Cycle Theory (as well as other sectoral theories of employment shifts both during and outside of business cycles). (See Econbrowser, Marginal Revolution, Econlog, Angry Bear, for examples.)   

His question, as Tyler Cowen states it: “…[W]hy, say, a housing boom – which requires shifting resources into housing – doesn’t produce the same kind of unemployment as a housing bust that shifts resources out of housing.”  Continue reading

The Great Moderation In Macroeconomics

by Mario Rizzo  

I have now read both Paul Krugman’s New York Times essay on the state of macroeconomics and John Cochrane’s reply. They are each, in very different ways, quite disappointing. The level of argument is poor, the prejudices are simplistic, and the tones are annoying.   Continue reading