The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
By Mark Thoma
The opinions expressed are his own.
Roger Martin is unhappy with the state of economics. One charge is that:
[an economist] predicts a future that is based on the past. And when it is anything but, he returns to the same tools to do it again, believing that in doing so he is being meritoriously scientific. ... Extrapolating the future to be a straight-line projection of the past is neither accurate, nor is it helpful in creating better understanding and newer ideas.
As I will discuss further below, I agree that macroeconomists need to fix their models. But I don't think that predicting the future based upon "a straight-line projection of the past" is the problem. Let me explain why, first in a relatively narrow sense, and then more broadly.
This year's Nobel prize award to Thomas Sargent and the previous award to Robert Lucas were partly in recognition of their development of the tools and techniques that economists need to go beyond simply trying to extrapolate the future from the past, a procedure that can lead forecasters astray.
Come back Mr Fukuyama, all is forgiven.
In his 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man", American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that all states were moving inexorably towards liberal democracy. His thesis that democracy is the pinnacle of political evolution has since been challenged by the violent eruption of radical Islam as well as the economic success of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia.
Now a study by Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital into the link between economic wealth and democracy seems to back Fukuyama.
Walking past Apple's sleek shop along London's Regent Street on Sunday, my wife asked me what I wanted for Father's Day.
"An iPad?" I ventured, half-jokingly.
"Are you sure you want one? Don't you care how they're made?" came her disapproving reply.
Some eye-catching numbers from Standard Bank out today on the influence of BRICs countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- on Africa.
First off, the bank says the global recession and its recovery have been nourishing these so-called South-South ties. But it is all now ready to take off. The bank estimates:
The latest International Monetary Fund meeting ended with emerging market powers getting a pledge from the organisation for stronger and "more even-handed" scrutiny of what is going on in large advanced economies.
As Reuters correspondents Lesley Wroughton and Emily Kaiser report here, the decision is a response to long-running frustrations among emerging economies, which reckon the Fund has not been tough enough on its biggest shareholders, led by the United States.
And the Nobel laureate for economics in 2010 is?
Thomson Reuters expert David Pendlebury might have an idea. At least one of the picks from his annual predictions of winners (economics, chemisty, and so on) has won a Nobel prize over the years. Here is his short-list for economics this year.
* Alberto Alesina of Harvard University in Massachusetts for research on the relationship between politics and macroeconomics, especially politico-economic cycles.
This week’s rehashing of European banking concerns – related variously to the Basel III impact on German banks, the ongoing morass re Anglo Irish Bank or any other scare story you want to exhume -- provided the latest excuse for a global markets wobble as September kicked off. Yet, with some justified head-scratching over what really was new to the world this week as opposed to last week, price moves showed little conviction. Most losses were quickly recouped and decibel level of the commentariat, still frantically competing to warn you of the next disaster, toned down.
The world’s major sovereigns and banks have big financial problems, no doubt, and Europe more than its fair share. The rescues of the Spring did not provide a silver bullet and genuine repair will likely take a painfully-long time. But we’ve also had a lot of time to adequately discount these risks and the marketplace at large is already positioned extremely cautiously. That's why the idea of sudden, blind panic on these long-running sagas seems just a little OTT – especially against a relatively stable, if bruised, economic backdrop. The bigger issue many investors are grappling with is the growing difficulty in making money in a hyper-cautious, low-growth environment. Ask Stanley Druckenmiller. If he threw in the towel because money-making conditions are just lousy, then you can be sure others see the same. Anecdotally at least, pressurised hedge funds – who faced rising redemptions through the summer – are ultra-cautious about open positions and seem quick to cut and run on even the slightest gain, long or short. (A bit like continually shouting 'bank!' on reaching £100 pounds on The Weakest Link!) Big institutional funds, meantime, are sufficiently uncertain about the market and economic direction that many are already keen to lock down for the remainder of the year and are hugging benchmarks to preserve whatever capital they have without resorting to zero-yielding cash or barely-more-attractive TBonds. U.S. midterms in November only add the caution. In short, it will take a pretty major positive or negative surprise to truly set these markets alight and there is every chance we won’t get a decisive one for some time. We already have historically high vol and caution – but relative steady, unspectacular conditions for all that. The smart money may simply be tempted to buy or sell any hysterical extremes. Is may even be possible that some are tempted to foster a long-absent patience gene?
Mike Dicks, chief economist and blogger at Barclays Wealth, has identified what he sees as the three biggest problems facing the global economy, and conveniently found that they are linked with three separate regions.
First, there is the risk that U.S., t consumers won't increase spending. Dicks notes that the increase in U.S. consumption has been "extremely moderate" and far less than after previous recessions. His firm has lowered is U.S. GDP forecast for 2011 to 2.7 percent from a bit over 3 percent.
from Global Investing:
Bank of America-Merrill Lynch's monthly poll of around 200 fund managers had a few nuggets in the June version, aside from the usual mood-taking.
Gold is too expensive. A net 27 percent of respondent thought it overvalued, up from 13 percent in May. Then again, the respondents to this poll have reckoned gold is too pricey since September 2009.
The reality of 'political economy' is something that irritates many economists -- the "purists", if you like. The political element is impossible to model; it often flies in the face of textbook economics; and democratic decision-making and backroom horse trading can be notoriously difficult to predict and painfully slow. And political economy is all pervasive in 2010 -- Barack Obama's proposals to rein in the banks is rooted in public outrage; reading China's monetary and currency policies is like Kremlinology; capital curbs being introduced in Brazil and elsewhere aim to prevent market overshoot; and British budgetary policies are becoming the political football ahead of this spring's UK election. The list is long, the outcomes uncertain, the market risk high.
But nowhere is this more apparent than in well-worn arguments over the validity and future of Europe's single currency -- the new milennium's posterchild for political economy.