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Cowen: "If I believed in Austrian Business Cycle Theory"

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C Posted: Mon, Apr 4 2011 8:15 PM

Have you guys ever seen this from Tyler Cowen from 2005?

Tyler Cowen:

 

1. I would think that Asian central banks, by buying U.S. dollars, have been driving a massive distortion of real exchange and interest rates.

2. I would think that the U.S. economy is overinvested in non-export durables, most of all residential housing.

3. I would think that we have piled on far too much debt, in both the private and public sectors.

4. I would think these trends cannot possibly continue.  Asian central banks may come to their senses.  Furthermore the U.S. would be like an addict who needs an ever-increasing dose of the monetary fix.  This, of course, would eventually prove impossible.

5. I would think that the U.S. economy is due for a dollar plunge, and a massive sectoral shift toward exports.  Furthermore I would think it will not handle such an unexpected shock very well.

6. I would buy puts on T-Bond futures and become rich.

7. I would think that Hayek’s Monetary Nationalism and International Stability, now priced at $70 a copy, is the secret tract for our times.

Of course that is not me.  But at least someone appears to believe in Austrian business cycle theory.  By the way, here is one summary of the theory, although I do not agree with the characterization in all respects.

He looks like an ass now for writing that.

  At least he wasn't a Keynesian!

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cporter replied on Mon, Apr 4 2011 8:26 PM

That is fantastic.

Does anyone have a good source for further information on #1 and the action of Asian central banks mentionedin #4?

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That is just awesome.  I had missed it, but of course Bob Murphy is all over that...

 

I have already blogged about the weird weird psychological event in which Tyler Cowen used Austrian business cycle theory to accidentally predict the financial crisis way back in 2005.

In August 2008, when his colleague Bryan Caplan was congratulating central bankers for their expert guidance of the world economy (can’t find the link, let me know if you guys can find it), Tyler wrote this in the NYT:

Behind every financial crisis there is usually a crisis in the real economy, based in some underlying structural deficiency. Even if the financial crisis is bottoming out, sooner or later the real crisis must be faced.

The fundamental problem in the American economy is that, for years, people treated rising asset prices as a substitute for personal savings….

The third problem is that lower consumer spending will require the American economy to make some shifts. That may mean fewer Starbucks and fewer new homes but more tractor production for export to foreign markets. In the long run, shifting some consumption to investment is probably beneficial to the economy; in the short run it means job losses and costly readjustments.

As Mike Myers said in a Wayne’s World movie looking at his contract, “Yes, yes, I like what you’ve done here.”

OK so Tyler explicitly used ABCT to predict the financial crisis, then as it was intensifying he was ahead of the curve by using passages that pre-emptively plagiarized Murphy columns on what was needed for recovery, and now he (and a co-author) write this (HT2 David R. Henderson):

The story runs as follows. Before the financial crash, there were lots of not-so-useful workers holding not-so-useful jobs. Employers didn’t so much bother to figure out who they were. Demand was high and revenue was booming, so rooting out the less productive workers would have involved a lot of time and trouble — plus it would have involved some morale costs with the more productive workers, who don’t like being measured and spied on. So firms simply let the problem lie.

Then came the 2008 recession, and it was no longer possible to keep so many people on payroll. A lot of businesses were then forced to face the music: Bosses had to make tough calls about who could be let go and who was worth saving….

So how should we interpret the recent trickle of good news? Well, one positive note is that less-productive, laid-off workers are undertaking the needed adjustments. For instance, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, nearly 70 percent of unemployed workers have already made dramatic changes in their career or job-field choice, or are considering doing so. There also have been migrations out of expensive urban areas and into smaller and less expensive ones, such as Austin, Salt Lake City, and northern Virginia, with relatively high-performing industries and more fluid labor markets.

In other words, the U.S. economy is going through some major structural shifts.

So workers were doing stuff doing the boom period for which they were overpaid and actually wasn’t productive, and now they have to be reallocated to different sectors where they will be making less. I think you guys are familiar with this story, since it’s what I’ve been saying for three years.

The only main difference I can see between Tyler’s explanation and mine, is that I see interest rates serve a very important coordinating function in a market economy, and that if the Fed massively distorts them, we shouldn’t be surprised at massive real distortions in the capital and labor markets.

Tyler rejects this theory, saying businessmen are too smart to be fooled by 1% (under Greenspan) fed funds rates. In contrast, Tyler thinks these smart businessmen don’t mind having zero-marginal product workers on their payroll when they are making a ton of money.

Search your feelings, Tyler. You are descended from the Austrian School. Mises is your father. Bernanke knows you have the power to destroy him. Join me, and together we will rule the blogosphere!

 

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That is possibly the funniest thing in the history of economics.

Intertemporal Discoordination Theory

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I don't know why anyone cares what Tyler Cowen says.

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One veteran blogger, whom I won't mention, while not particularly fond of libertarians in general, said that Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, and Justin Raimondo at least stick to their guns (even though he didn't like them much either), while Tyler Cowen and Pete Boettke were, as he saw them, "kepts" of rich donors. He even added that a more appropriate term for the latter two was "one from prison terminology".

This is just one example.

Disregarding the rather snarky style in which the above mentioned posted, I realize that even anti-libertarians include many with a bit more grudging acceptance for those closer to Auburn than for those with Washington and mainstream inclined tendencies.

Another social democratic blogger regularly cites Rothbard and other Mises Institute members for their criticisms of supply-siders, monetarists, and other supposed free marketers, along with Raimondo's criticisms of Objectivists.

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I have wondered why, since Austrians usually correctly predict financial crises, why they aren't all rich because they made the right bets.

"They all look upon progressing material improvement as upon a self-acting process." - Ludwig von Mises
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Student replied on Wed, Apr 6 2011 10:10 AM

Everyone seems to be missing the point of what Cowen was saying. It wasn't to make ABCT sound silly, it was to suggest that Krugman/Delong/and others were actually making very Austrian arguments without realising it. 

I would say it also looks like everyone is totally missing the mark by thinking Tyler's summary comes anywhere close to predicting the subsequent recession. Here Cowen is essentially predicting a balance of payments crisis (set off by asian central banks). And that is simply NOT what happened

It is also really not what most of you think happened either. Unless I missed a post where someone didn't put the blame squarely on the good ol' US Fed.

Were there any Asutrians at all agree with Paul Krugman and Brad Delong in 2005????

Anyways, I would say someone looks like an ass here, but it isn't Cowen.

PS* This also exactly why you should be skeptical about Krugman et al's claims to having predicted the 2008 financial crisis. In reality, events unfolded very diffrently than the way they thought they would. The only thing they truly got right was there would be a recession (which not remarkable since Krugman was vocally worried about a comming recession since 2003, he was bound to get it right eventually).

PPS* I remember this post when it first came out. It was right around the time I was getting interested in Austrian econ and inspired me to buy Hayek's Monetary Nationalism. I was able to find it for like $10 on Half.com. Over all, I thought the book was underwhelming. But it did teach me that I actually find international monetary policy discussions incredibly boring (up to that point I was incredibly interested in international econ, but this was where my interest started to fad).  

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Very good point, Student.

Note that the only reason it didn't happen as he laid it out is because the Chinese and Japanese were stupider than anyone imagined possible. [See #4 in his article].

Also note that they have wised up. They no longer think the Good Lord put them on this Earth to pile up paper dollar bills. Which means that his article is more relevant than ever.

I missed where he mentioned or linked to Krugman.

P.S. Does Hayek kill your interest on every subject, or was it a one shot thing?

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Student replied on Wed, Apr 6 2011 11:10 AM

^ So you think the Asian banks have "finally wised up", but we have still not plunged into a currency crisis as Tyler's hypothetical Austrian would predict? Are you saying that is a good thing or are you implying that the next crash is "just around the corner" again?

As far as Krugman goes, both he and Delong were making the same arguments at the time so I feel fine grouping them together. If you are less comfortable with that, pretend I just said "Delong". 

Did *any* Austrians vocally agree with Delong on these points in 2005? Out of the thousands of Austrians in the world someone must have, it would just be interesting to see who.

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Thank you for clarifying, Student.

Um, okay, I have to take a step back and reread that thing.

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Everyone seems to be missing the point of what Cowen was saying. It wasn't to make ABCT sound silly, it was to suggest that Krugman/Delong/and others were actually making very Austrian arguments without realising it.

Are you sure you are not confusing Austrian arguments with Austrian conclusions?

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Dear Student,

Answers to qs:

1. Yes. 

2. Just around the corner. Thing is, I make no claim to how far away just around the corner is. In the Good Lord's eyes, one thousand years is but a mere day. In the economic universe, causes may take time to yield their effects.

One of us will have a good laugh at the other in a few years.

3. Peter Schiff wrote a book about it in 2006. His wall street unspun radio shows from 2004, which can still be found online with a bit of digging, also say it over and over. Now I know there are those here who don't consider him an Austrian, but Walter Block does.

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If everyday you spout on about the coming collapse you do one of two things:

Assure that, at some point, you will be right.  Collapse is a natural part of the system (not even the ABCT can stop recession.  Overproduction is natural to capitalism.).

2. Create a possible self-fulfilling prophecy.

I dont have to wait for the future to have a good laugh at your expense.... Im doing it right now cheeky

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EDIT: Spoke too soon. See next post.

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Laotzu, on further reflection, I am wasting a valuable learning experience.

Please explain to me why Capitalism is doomed to overproduction.

Also, please explain to me why other possible sytems, say Socialism, avoid the problem.

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Laotzu del Zinn:
Assure that, at some point, you will be right.  Collapse is a natural part of the system (not even the ABCT can stop recession.  Overproduction is natural to capitalism.).

Overproduction and liquidation are natural to capitalism.  It is a system of profit AND loss.

Your statement about the ABCT makes no sense  whatsoever.  Maybe stick to topics you do understand.

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Maybe stick to topics you do understand.

Who can hold himself to such an impossibly high standard?

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Your statement about the ABCT makes no sense  whatsoever.  Maybe stick to topics you do understand. 

I know it makes no sense, that's why I said it.  Some people think we would stop recessions if we all were followers of the ABCT.  That's simply not true.

@ Dave

If you don't understand how overproduction is natural to capitalism, you don't understand capitalism.

As far as how socialism would eliminate the problem... non sequiter.  I never said it would, nor would it have anything to do with what I said in the first place.

 

In States a fresh law is looked upon as a remedy for evil. Instead of themselves altering what is bad, people begin by demanding a law to alter it. ... In short, a law everywhere and for everything!

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Quite possibly I dont understand Capitalism. Could you explain just that one detail please? How overproduction is natural to capoitalism?

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LS agrees with me.  Perhaps he can explain it to you.  Even when I'm right nobody here seems to understand me.

EDIT: a good place to start is Rothbard's book on recession of (somewhere around) 1814.  Overproduction and the failing of business is natural to the system.  The only argument to be made is whether or not the government prolongs recessions.... I really didn't think there was even an argument about this.

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vaduka replied on Wed, Apr 6 2011 5:54 PM

Laotzu del Zinn:

LS agrees with me.  Perhaps he can explain it to you.  Even when I'm right nobody here seems to understand me.

EDIT: a good place to start is Rothbard's book on recession of (somewhere around) 1814.  Overproduction and the failing of business is natural to the system.  The only argument to be made is whether or not the government prolongs recessions.... I really didn't think there was even an argument about this.

 

 

Would you please explain to me what could besides a government intervention promote a systematic misallocation, such that develops into a recession?

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Banks wanting to make a profit?  Systemic recession is natural to the system.  The only argument one can make is that the government prolongs it, or makes it easier to happen with fiat currency.

In States a fresh law is looked upon as a remedy for evil. Instead of themselves altering what is bad, people begin by demanding a law to alter it. ... In short, a law everywhere and for everything!

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>> Systemic recession is natural to the system

I'm confused, which economist (if any) are you channelling?

Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid

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Do you mean Rothbard's Panic of 1819? That's a 300 page book. Could you tell me where in the book he writes what you say? Or quote a little?

 

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I don't know why anyone cares what Tyler Cowen says.

I'd guess that it's because he's a smart guy who writes in a readable, provoking and non confrontational way on a variety of subjects that interest a great deal of people. Of course, that's kinda besides the point, people do care what Tyler Cowen says as is manifest in the large number of hits MR gets, and most of them don't go there for Tabarrok. 

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As fate would have it, I found a little footnote in todays read of Human Action, page 203:

 Neglect of the problems of indirect exchange was certainly influenced by
political prepossessions.
People did not want to give up the thesis according to
which economic depressions are an evil inherent in the capitalist mode of
production
and are in no way caused by attempts to lower the rate of interest by
credit expansion. Fashionable teachers of economics deemed it “unscientific”
to explain depressions as a phenomenon originating “only” out of events in the
sphere of money and credit. There were even surveys of the history of business
cycle theory which omitted any discussion of the monetary thesis. Cf., e.g.,
Eugen von Bergmann, Geschichte der nationalokonomischen Krisentheorien
(Stuttgart, 1895).

Speaking to us from the very grave, Mises tells us ole Laotsu has got it all wrong.

Now Lao, you may diagree, but express not surprise that yours is not the unanimous opinion here.

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There are different degrees of overproduction.

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And oddly enough, this recession is mainly accompanied by underproduction. As seen on TV, nothing in a typical house in the US is made here except for the house itself.

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EconomistInTraining:
Of course, that's kinda besides the point, people do care what Tyler Cowen says as is manifest in the large number of hits MR gets, and most of them don't go there for Tabarrok.

People also burned [sic] witches, stoned adulterers and performed female circumcision.  It's not a good idea to use your fellow primates as proof of anything.  For every "hit" his blog gets, Perez Hilton gets more.

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I'm confused, which economist (if any) are you channelling? 

Every post capitalist economist ever.

Speaking to us from the very grave, Mises tells us ole Laotsu has got it all wrong. 

"You keep saying that.  But I don't think that word means what you think it means."  Mises is saying recession arises out of money and credit, not the capitalist mode of production, per se.  What he is not saying, which you want it to imply, is that only government can fudge up the monetary system.

And oddly enough, this recession is mainly accompanied by underproduction. As seen on TV, nothing in a typical house in the US is made here except for the house itself. 

That's still overproduction.  Too much, or more specifcally, the wrong things, were/was produced for the consumer base to buy.

Do you mean Rothbard's Panic of 1819? That's a 300 page book. Could you tell me where in the book he writes what you say? Or quote a little? 

The whole book is about how the banks themselves expanded the money supply beyond its' reasonable capacity.

http://mises.org/Community/forums/p/7263/119163.aspx#119163 

This was one of my first posts.  It's not the one I'm looking for, which is my actual first thread I created.  But it alludes to my point, and has just the quote you're looking for.  I will try to find my first thread, perhaps a mod can provide a link if possible.  But if not, read the book.

 EDIT: actually this is hte post I was looking for.  But the first one is still soemwhat relevant.

http://mises.org/Community/forums/p/7182/113876.aspx#113876 

 

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'bad ones' would have sufficed.

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Neodoxy replied on Wed, Apr 6 2011 8:31 PM

So, Liberty Student, do you agree with Lao's statement that

"Overproduction is natural to capitalism"

As he claimed you did and if so what is your reasoning behind this?

"Were there any Asutrians at all agree with Paul Krugman and Brad Delong in 2005????"

About the existence of a housing bubble and and oncoming recession our about the Asian banking situation?
""
 

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Overproduction is not necessarily inherent to capitalism (private property).  Overproduction is due to error.  Error is inherent to uncertainty.  Uncertainty is inherent to humanity.  Since we are talking only of humans living within a capitalistic system, then overproduction is inherent to capitalism, i.e. as it exists in the real, human world.  But then it is inherent to any human system.  The question is - which system results in the least overproduction?  Please consult Say's law.

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I think Epicurus/Lao cites Rothbard extremely out of context.  Rothbard would never claim that the "capitalist system" (whatever that may be) is "prone to overproduction".  In fact, that's a very ambiguous statement.  Rothbard would, however, say that business failure is a natural part of an economy, and I think that most economists would agree.  However, saying that business failure is natural to an economy is completely different from saying that mass bussiness failure is inherent in capitalism — Rothbard makes this clear distinction in America's Great Depression.  Intertemporal discoordination theory (Austrian business cycle theory; I've just started calling it the former) doesn't purport to explain business failure, rather it explains why a cluster of businesses failed at around the same time (or why there are industrial fluctuations).

Regarding overproduction, which I referred to at first but never made my point, Rothbard never would have endorsed the notion that general overproduction is possible.  This is why Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Rothbard went to such ends to distinguish between the concept of "overproduction" and malinvestment.  Overproduction in one good is only possible at the expense of the production of another good.  In this sense, of course relative overproduction is always present in a market, because we know the market is never at equilibrium and we know that market dynamics are always changing, and so production is never "optimal".

I have never read Rothbard's book on the crisis of 1819 (Panic of 1819), so maybe a quote would help put things into context.  I don't have time to scour the book myself right now, but I searched for the word "overproduction" and there's only one find.  It's actually an opposing argument, which Rothbard critisizes (that of an agricultural overproduction).

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Neodoxy replied on Wed, Apr 6 2011 8:45 PM

 " What he is not saying, which you want it to imply, is that only government can fudge up the monetary system."

Mises made it exceedingly clear in the section on indirect exchange that a free market banking system (especially sections 12 and 17 as I skim through) would have automatic restraints against credit expansion

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"Intertemporal discoordination theory"

Good one.  This should draw the more 'scientific' economists.

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What I got from your posts is that

1. Everyone wants cheap credit and thus the govt [which is but the distilled will of the people, according to Mises] is only giving people what they want. If there was no govt, said everyone would find another way to make cheap credit exist, using the banks in 1819.

2. The only possible defense against our problems, in theory, is relying on the good will of businesmen, whose sole interest is to please everyone. Although that is what we think, it is, sadly, a broken reed.

3. Since cheap credit is not the right thing in all situations, but will always rear its ugly head  because of the will of the people, and since cheap credit causes recessions [ABCT], therefor it is inherent not just in Capitalism, but a result of human nature itself, that there will always be recessions.

Have I summarized you accurately, Lao?

Note to Jonathan: Why make up clumsy new names for things?

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It is not logically necessary that only government can cause the credit expansion leading to a boom and bust.  In the real world, however, this is likely the case.

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I don't have time to scour the book myself right now, but I searched for the word "overproduction" and there's only one find.

I wouldn't sweat too much over Lao's notion... wink

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