Posts tagged with: Economic theories

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, May 20, 2015

economicman (1)“As a social psychologist, I have long been amused by economists and their curiously delusional notion of the ‘rational man.’” writes Carol Tavris. “Rational? Where do these folks live?”

In a review of behavioral economist Richard Thaler’s new book, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, Tavris notes how economists are slowly beginning to see — or, one could argue, finally returning to the notion — that the discipline ought treat man as more than a mere robot or calculator.

“Researchers in this field are making up for lost time,” Tavris continues, “or perhaps realizing that they are social psychologists after all.”

As human beings who arrogantly and often wrongly consider ourselves “sapiens,” we simply don’t match the model of human behavior favored by economists, one that “replaces homo sapiens” (whom Mr. Thaler calls Humans) with “a fictional creature called homo economicus” (whom he calls Econ). “Econs do not have passions; they are cold-blooded optimizers,” he says. “Compared to this fictional world of Econs, Humans do a lot of misbehaving”—thus the book’s title.

The problem, Mr. Thaler argues, is that although economists “hold a virtual monopoly” on giving policy advice, the very premises on which that advice rests are deeply flawed. That is why “economic models make a lot of bad predictions”: some small and trivial, some monumental and devastating. “It is time to stop making excuses,” he admonishes his colleagues. Mr. Thaler calls for an “enriched approach to doing economic research, one that acknowledges the existence and relevance of Humans.” By injecting economics with “good psychology and other social sciences” and by including real people in economic theory, economists will improve predictions of human behavior, make better financial and marketing decisions, and create a field that is “more interesting and more fun than regular economics.” In that way, Mr. Thaler believes, economists will finally produce an “un-dismal science.”


comparativeadvantageNote: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

The Term: Comparative advantage

What it Means: The ability of an individual or group of individual (e.g., a business firm) to produce goods or services at a lower opportunity cost than other individuals or groups.

Why it Matters: There is a story of the distinguished British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, who found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, Haldane is said to have answered, “An inordinate fondness for beetles.”

When we examine creation to uncover what it reveals about the character of God, one of the things we discover time and time again is the Creator’s fondness for diversity. Like Haldane, we can see this by looking at biology (e.g., there are more species of beetle than birds or mammals combined). But we can also find it when we turn to economics.

A primary example of God’s enthusiasm for diversity is the concept of comparative advantage. While the definition of the them makes it sounds dull and wonky, comparative advantage is a beautiful, theologically profound norm of creation.

Fully appreciating the nuances of the ideas requires timely reflection. But understanding it can be achieved when a few minutes. In this brief video, economist Donald J. Boudreaux does a masterful job of explaining how, when combined with trade, comparative advantage improves human communities.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, January 23, 2014

economistsIs the teaching of basic microeconomics — opportunity cost, supply and demand curves, incentives, etc. — a form of conservative propaganda?

Most people, including almost all economists whether liberal or conservatives, would obviously say “no.” Yet many educators, as well as the general public, believe it’s true.

In 1994, the Federal Goals 2000 Act expanded the national standards movement to include the teaching of economics in K-12 education. This led to the creation in 1997 of the Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics (VNCSE), which were organized around the core principles of the discipline. While there has been almost no controversy within the discipline over the VNCSE, notes Robert M. Costrell, the objections have come almost entirely from those outside the discipline. Costrell adds that, “There are many who believe that mainstream economics provides an unwarranted defense of free markets, or at least gives short shrift to the case for government intervention.”

Joy Pullmann provides some examples of criticism from non-economists that Costrell chronicles:

icon_22372Over at NRO, Thomas Sowell takes on what he calls the “lie” of “trickle-down economics.” Thus, writes Sowell, “the ‘trickle-down’ lie is 100 percent lie.” Sowell cites Bill de Blasio and Barack Obama as figures perpetuating the “lie,” along with writers in “the New York Times, in the Washington Post, and by professors at prestigious American universities — and even as far away as India.”

But we should also note that “trickle-down theories” get a mention in Evangelii Gaudium, too: “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”

In the midst of his discussion, Sowell asks the following penetrating questions:

Why would anyone advocate that we “give” something to A in hopes that it would trickle down to B? Why in the world would any sane person not give it to B and cut out the middleman?

Whether or not there is such a thing as “trickle-down economics” in the discussions about the market economy, isn’t there something akin to what Sowell asks about at play in usual redistributive welfare programs? Don’t we “give” something to governmental bureaucracies and agencies in the hopes that they will in turn redistribute it (hopefully in more than a trickle) to the poor?

And as for the “trickle” part of trickle-down welfare economics, Juan de Mariana long ago observed that “money, transferred through many ministers, is like a liquid. It always leaves a residue in the containers.” So why not give directly to the poor and cut out the middleman, as Sowell wonders?

That’s precisely the discussion that’s been going on over at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, among other places, about direct cash transfers to the poor instead of bureaucratic welfare programs. Head on over to the BHL blog to check it out.

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, March 22, 2013

Tyler Cowen has an interesting column in last Sunday’s New York Times, arguing that despite run-of-the-mill objections to “cold” and “heartless” economic analysis, economics is, as a science, “egalitarian at its core”:

Economic analysis is itself value-free, but in practice it encourages a cosmopolitan interest in natural equality. Many economic models, of course, assume that all individuals are motivated by rational self-interest or some variant thereof; even the so-called behavioral theories tweak only the fringes of a basically common, rational understanding of people. The crucial implication is this: If you treat all individuals as fundamentally the same in your theoretical constructs, it would be odd to insist that the law should suddenly start treating them differently.

James Poulos offers an healthy response, reminding us that “no matter how solid the economic foundation for moral egalitarianism, there’s a thing or two of great moral significance that’s missing.”

Indeed, in attempting to avoid the cliché of cold-heartedness, Cowen risks perpetuating a different one: that economists ignore the mystery and spiritual significance of humanity and human behavior. The instilling of egalitarian sensibilities when it comes to seeing people as people is one thing, but part of this reorientation needs to include a recognition of the features that make each us different. Leveling things is helpful when the earth is rocky, but the bigger problem for the modern economist seems to be his propensity to create craters in the pretty green grass. (more…)

Is spartan austerity driving us over the fiscal cliff?

The latest step in the budget dance between House Republicans and the White House has to do with where tax increases (or revenue increases in general, depending on what is called what) fit with a deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” As Napp Nazworth reports, President Obama has apparently delivered an ultimatum: “there would be no agreement to avert the ‘fiscal cliff’ unless tax rates are increased on those making more than $250,000 per year.”

On one level it seems reasonable to talk about addressing a deficit from both directions: cutting spending and raising revenue. But as Ray Nothstine put it so well earlier this week, without some structural (and cultural) changes to the way Congress works, it would be insane to think that giving politicians more money is going to change how they spend it. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Historically “politicians spend the money as fast as it comes in – and a little bit more.” Without some kind of balanced budget agreement, something with real teeth, why should we think things will be any different this time around? (I’ve talked about a more promising “both/and” budget solution before.) As Ray and I have concluded elsewhere, “In the case of the federal spending, the government has proved to be untrustworthy with very much. It’s time to see if the politicians in Washington can learn to be trustworthy with less.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tyler Cowen fielded an interesting topic on his blog last week, focusing on economists who are (or were) clergy.

There’s an interesting list, including notables like the Salamancans, Paul Heyne, and Heinrich Pesch. I didn’t realize that Kirzner is a rabbi. Malthus is named first, but as the initial comment on Cowen’s post notes, anytime you mention Malthus you should mention Anders Chydenius in the following breath.

How about Edmund Opitz of the Foundation for Economic Education, or even Rodger Charles, S.J., or James Schall? It depends largely on how narrowly you define being an “economist,” of course, as the inclusion of the Salamancan theologians indicates. Being a moral theologian who focuses on ethics and economics might not be enough to qualify. Does being a political philosopher/political economist count? But certainly A. M. C. Waterman should be noted.

And of course it also depends on how narrowly you define “clergy.” As Asher Meir notes in the post, how about non-ordained academic theologians, or economists with theological training (or theologians with economic training)? Then the list would start to get very long, indeed.

Any other names come to mind?