Glasner: “Hayek, Hicks, Radner and Three Equilibrium Concepts”

by Andreas Hoffmann

David Glasner has posted his paper on “Hayek and equilibrium concepts” on SSRN. An earlier version of this fascinating paper was presented at the History of Economics Society in Toronto in 2017 and the NYU Colloquium.

A teaser (taken from the abstract):

The now dominant Lucas rational-expectations approach misconceives intertemporal equilibrium and ignores the fundamental Hayekian insights about the meaning of intertemporal equilibrium.

 

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

Zimbabwean Currencies: Condoms, Sweets and Paper Money

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. Continue reading

Let Wedding Cake Bakers Discriminate in Peace

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. Continue reading

F.A. Hayek: His 114th Birthday

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. 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

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

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. Continue reading

Euro Crisis from Long Perspective

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. Continue reading

Bank Hedges and Social Justice

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. Continue reading

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PROFESSOR HAYEK

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

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

Supply and Demand in Music

by Edward Peter Stringham*

Many economists are criticized for being unable to communicate their ideas in am intelligible and non-boring way. How many people, for example, jump to listen about a debate about the Austrian theory of the business cycle? It turns out quite a lot. John Papola and Russ Roberts demonstrated to the world that lots people will actually listen to an economics discussion if presented in an interesting way.  Their videos recently surpassed 4.5. million views. They did an amazing job especially with their good casting decisions for the reporter at the end of the second video.

This year I decided to run a video contest for students to create music videos that help illustrate the laws of supply and demand. Continue reading

Hayek on the Large Corporation (aka “Breaking up Big Banks?”)

by Mario Rizzo

For those who enjoy trying to figure out what important thinkers might have thought about specific issues they never faced (and I am one of them!), the following letter I discovered will prove interesting and perhaps disconcerting to some.

Below is a brief excerpt from a letter that F.A. Hayek wrote to the journalist and political theorist Walter Lippmann in 1937.* The subject was the large modern corporation which Lippmann thought was prone to developing various degrees of monopoly power. This was a view shared by Frank H. Knight at this time, and Hayek may have agreed, at least to some extent.

The issues were: (1) Why was this the case?  and (2) Was it consistent with (classical) liberalism for the government to do something about it? Continue reading

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

Chicago and Vienna

by Jerry O’Driscoll

In the last two days, two prominent economists have asked me essentially the same question: what is the difference between Chicago and Austrian economics? It is interesting that both asked, particularly since one has a Ph.D from Chicago.

The second economist asked me specifically if Armen Alchian wasn’t really an Austrian. I’ll respond as I did to him. I learned most of my Austrian economics in the UCLA graduate economics program. (At that time, UCLA was known as Chicago West.) I was never an Alchian student, but one read lots of Alchian anyway. And his influence pervaded the department. It was obvious to me that Mises had influenced Alchian. Also Hayek, as is made clear in a video of Alchian interviewing Hayek.

Hayek’s classic essays on prices and information were on various reading lists at UCLA. Continue reading

The Rule of Discretion versus the Rule of Law: Soros Gets Nailed

by Mario Rizzo

In a previous post I reported a Cato Institute panel discussion of Friedrich Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty (as reissued in a new edition by The University of Chicago Press). This discussion was among Bruce Caldwell (Duke University), Ronald Hamowy (Cato and the University of Alberta), Richard Epstein (New York University), and George Soros, the mega-financier.

In this discussion, ostensibly about the rule of law, Soros said that the complexities of the financial sector require a new class of regulations that may not be simple, predictable and transparent. They may require considerable discretion on the part of regulators. This is because financial markets are the locus of radical uncertainty. It is thus impossible to predict beforehand the kinds of financial-instrument developments that will occur and, especially, the consequences these will have. Thus the financial regulations must be able to be creative in dealing with such developments. This apparently means the rule of law in its traditional sense will have to be bent or compromised. Continue reading

Another step down the road to serfdom

by Roger Koppl

Peter Orszag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, has written an article for The New Republic entitled “Too Much of a Good Thing: Why we need less democracy.”  “To solve the serious problems facing our country,” he says, “we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.” Continue reading

Monetary Nationalism

by Jerry O’Driscoll

I recently read Money, Markets and Sovereignty by Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds. I highly recommend it. The jacket blurb accurately summarizes the book’s importance: “Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds offer the most powerful defense of economic liberalism since F. A. Hayek published The Road to Serfdom more than sixty years ago.”

Steil and Hinds focus on the institutional underpinnings of liberalism: the rule of law, globalization (free trade and free movement of capital) and commodity money. Their arguments on all points are powerful. Their argument on money runs against the grain of modern monetary theory. They rely heavily on history to buttress their arguments.

Reading the book motivated me to reread Hayek’s Monetary Nationalism and International Stability, upon which a good part of their monetary analysis is based. Though written in 1937, the book makes a powerful argument against the international monetary arrangements of the last 40 years: the 182 national fiat currencies.

Hayek argues the benefits of national fiat currency are largely illusory, and fiat money introduces problems unknown under the gold standard. For instance, Hayek, and Steil and Hinds explain why short-run capital flows can be destabilizing in a fiat money system, while they are stabilizing in a commodity standard. The two works follow the Misesian strategy of criticizing policies (or institutions) by demonstrating that they produce results different from or even the opposite of those intended by their advocates.

This year’s Cato monetary conference (November 16, 2011) will focus on monetary reform. Instead of a keynote address by a senior Fed official (a hallmark of past conferences), the opening address will be by Ron Paul. Panel I will be “Rethinking the Global Fiat Money System.” Chaired by Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal, the panel will consist of Benn Steil, George Melloan and myself.

The Führer Principle – Light

by Mario Rizzo

David Gergen has written a piece decrying the lack of leadership on the debt-deficit “crisis” and calling for a new Churchill. David Gergen, who saw no problem working for both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, now teaches at the JFK School of Government at Harvard. He has a claim to being a member of the political establishment if anyone has.

This call is not confined to Gergen, however. It appears as a widely agreed-upon diagnosis in the news media, whether old or new. It is the conventional wisdom of the day.

Yet it is dangerously superficial. It completely misdiagnoses the problem before us. Continue reading

Moral Trial and Error

by Mario Rizzo

The recent discussion-thread at the blog Coordination Problem regarding a Hayekian case for same-sex marriage got me thinking more generally about moral evolution.

In a market there is a process of trial and error. New products or methods of production come into existence. Some fail; others succeed. Some speculators make successful predictions of the future course of prices; others make mistakes. In general, the filter for these decisions is the profit and loss mechanism.

F.A. Hayek famously argued that the evolution of institutions, including moral and legal rules, follows a similar course, that is, trial and error. And yet the analogy with market processes is far from perfect. How do we view the trial and error process of moral rules? What is the filtering mechanism?

Right off, let me say that I do not have definite answers to these questions. I simply have some relevant thoughts. Continue reading

David Hume and Friedrich Hayek: Classical Liberal Giants

by Mario Rizzo

I have just discovered the wonderful coincidence that May 7th is David Hume’s birthday and May 8th, as I have known, is Friedrich Hayek’s birthday. It is Hume’s 300th birthday – how amazing that he is still so relevant in a myriad of ways. It is Hayek’s 112th birthday.

As most of our readers will know, Hayek thought that David Hume’s political philosophy was one of the most important intellectual developments in the classical liberal heritage. David Hume was also a source of inspiration for the work of James Buchanan and his schools of public choice economics and constitutional political economy. Continue reading

The Wal-mart Solution

by Jerry O’Driscoll

Who should provide disaster relief? Who does provide disaster relief? In the Weekend Wall Street Journal, David Beito of the University of Alabama provides the answer for the victims of the devastating tornado in Tuscaloosa: it’s Wal-mart, churches, students, private individuals and, critically, talk radio.

The four Tuscaloosa Clear Channel stations organized a wholly voluntary relief effort. Beito recounts how, instead of taking Spring break, “students in the Greek system at the University of Alabama and historically black Stillman College stayed to cook more 7,000 meals per day.” The radio stations take calls from individuals in need and broadcast what is needed, by whom and where. Sometimes within minutes volunteer assistance arrives. Continue reading

George Soros, F.A. Hayek, and The Constitution of Liberty

by Mario Rizzo

I think George Soros is a good man. To me he seems like a person who wants to make the world a better place. He, like Keynes, is against comprehensive economic planning (ambiguities about “planning” noted) but thinks that financial markets are inherently unstable and thus must be regulated by a nimble or flexible regulator.

I was at a forum last Thursday at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC in which Ronald Hamowy, Bruce Caldwell, Richard Epstein, and George Soros ostensibly discussed F.A. Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty (the new, definitive edition). This post is not meant as a report of the event. I am not a reporter. However, I want to focus on a number of points that Soros made about Hayek’s views. I hope this will clarify some sources of misunderstanding about Hayek that may be quite common in some quarters. Continue reading