@INET-BW: Who’s the iNETiest of them all?

There are a lot of universities represented here, but who are the most likely candidates for participation and who might one expect INET to be interested in? I don’t have anything to do with INET monetas, but know that so far they have partnered with the LSE in London and Oxford University and I presume they are looking for other friends and partners in crime. Using the participant list and some nimble excel sheets, it turns out that the American North East is well represented (to be expected), and there are definetly a top ten (well, nine) coming out for new thinking:

  TOTAL Student Attendee Grantee inet board
Harvard 7 2 5 0 0
Boston 6 2 3 1 0
Columbia 6 1 3 2 0
New School 5 1 2 1 1
Balsilie int’l affairs 5 4 1 0 0
Berkeley 4 1 2 0 1
U. Mass (Amherst) 4 1 2 1 0
Central European U. 3 0 3 0 0
McGill 3 2 1 0 0

 

So it’s the local schools first, with Harvard and Boston topping, but Columbia, New School and Balsilie have a very strong presence here, with students and faculty showing up. So perhaps some potential partners are to be found in this list, it seems full of good candidates both for new economic thinking and new ideas. As for INET’s current partners, they find themselves in the ‘also rans’ with 2 representatives each. Although, you can’t say they aren’t in good company: Bard, Cambridge, Carleton, Duke, Freie (Berlin), LSE, MIT, New South Wales (Sydney), NYU, Oxford, Roosevelt, Santa Fe Inst, Stanford, UCL & UCLA.

@INET-BW: Interview with Barry Eichengreen, any requests?

We have been talking and video interviewing people at the conference, and we’ve narrowed down a small list of questions which we try to build on and have so far talked to Kenneth Rogoff, Brad DeLong, Ha-Joon Chang, Stephen Ziliak, Philippe Aghion, Jean-Paul Fitoussi, Barry Eichengreen and tomorrow we start with James Galbraith. Barry was really good about giving us 10 minutes after four solid hours of interviews, so we skipped the camera and did it old school while stretching our legs in direction of the drinks reception. In that spirit I thought I would share the team questions and an initial draft (hey, it’s late) of Barry’s answers. Any suggestions for whom we need to grab tomorrow or Monday?

How has your teaching changed following the 2008 crisis – have you used history more?
“I don’t so much teach history, as I do history. History has a certain utility for economists and as such it is a long existing discipline! But I teach it differently to undergraduates and postgraduates. For the former I try to give an integrated picture of the ‘world economy in the 20th century’ (which is also the title of the course). For the graduate students it is more methodology and exposing them to empirical controversies.

Which work in economics the most impressed you?”
“I would have to be less sleep deprived than I am to fully answer that question [he came in from the west coast 24 hours ago –Ben], but as I can see O’Rourke there, I would point to his book with Findlay,  Power and Plenty as a fine piece of work. Its overview and synthesis is real progress in Economic History.

How do you define progress in Economics?
“There is no single answer to this, but I worry that while we have been good at exporting our models to other social sciences, we have not been very successful on the imports front. So I think inter-disciplinarity is a key, which is why I have taken a masters degree in History and acquired a Political Science appointment.

How do you change economics?
The key is in training the next generation. There has been a disappointment I think due to the lack of radicalism after what happened in 2008, but I am not that surprised because for these things to change you need a generational change. While institutions and history may be of interest to students, senior staff members are unlikely to change what they have been doing for a very long time. But you need to train people, encourage top departments to take them and then they will be this new generation.

@INET-BW: Revolutionaries at INET, well sort of…

 

Typical anti-capitalist liberals... What do you mean you're Tea-Partyer's?!?

Security is tight here, I mean passport checks in the bus coming in, a K-9 unit, police presence, big private security guys with ear-buds and lapels roaming the corridors, and big signs on everyone’s chest to show that they belong. And for the first time in my life I’ve been picketed. Well, ten guys with placards, but when I went to take a picture and talk to them, they hadn’t yet showed up today. Disappointing as it was already 11am – and we were on-site at 7.15.  So who are these people. Rumours suggest that they are not your usual anti-capitalists (despite their lone sign that was left behind), but they are tea-partyers.

I will try and run out during lunch (it’s a bit of a walk from here to the entrance) and see if I can’t catch them for a chat about their wants and needs. Hey, we are supposed to be rowing bloggers and this is too good to miss. Also, I am a bit baffled about this.

In the meantime, Tiago and Floris interviewed Akerlof (v. cool I am told), Richard Koo (Nomura Research Institute) just gave a talk about what we can learn from Japan. Yes learn from Japan. His slides are really worth looking at as they tell a story of how government can step in, and how money supply changes can occur without affecting the underlying economy. Duncan Foley (paper) preceded him to point out that if you net out the sectors where the national accounts impute Value Added, then the picture of the 2000 and 2008 recessions look a lot worse (and similar) than we may have thought. Oh, and on Q4 2010 figures, the US is looking very double dippish…

@INET-BW: Name Dropping and communists before INET starts

The INET conference is not intimidating at all. It’s 8.20am, the conference has not started, we are getting on a bus to Bretton Woods from Boston, and next to me are Ha-Joon Chang and Robert Skidelsky discussing structural deficits, while Fitoussi is in front of me after we finished a quick chat about welfare measurement. Bad morning to miss coffee. Two and a half hour later we’ve not only reached Bretton Woods but I’ve reached some new ideas and debates.

Lunch got even better, at the table with Skidelsky, Christian Wigstrom (on the INET curriculum board), Richard Brock, John Kay and Duncan Foley… And the name dropping has become silly by the time we’d made it to dinner. Haven’t made an ass of myself, which is always nice. At this point the conference is yet to start. From that I have a host of things, but for now, the best quote of the day about the 1944 US Treasury chief negotiator at Bretton Woods in 1944: “This is an overstatement, but, Harry Dexter White was a communist.”  –Larry Summers, 8 April 2011. That followed a very warm recollection of Mr. White by the IMF Historian… Lovely

Inspiration from the past

Wandering the streets of New York I found myself at a street-side book vendor, and in picking up the Letters of the Younger Pliny I found a wonderful sentiment in the introductory quotation:

Familiar letters written by eye-witnesses, and that, without design, disclose circumstances that let us more intimately into important events, are genuine history; and as far as they go, more satisfactory than formal premeditated narratives.
-Horace Walpole to Sir John Fenn on 29 June 1784

I add to that, two definitions  from Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary (1906), which constitute my second purchase of the day:

History, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

Historian, n. A broad-gauge gossip.

Are there ‘Grand Challenges’ in history (of economics)

big questions in history
Do we have any?

The great and good of economics have responded to an NSF call for ‘grand challenges‘ in economic research over the coming 20 years, and I can’t help wondering if the history of economics has any?  No out-and-out historian appears to have replied, and none of the other authors seem to include historical topics. So are there no grand challenges in history?

Off the cuff I can’t think of a BIG question which lies unanswered, and I wonder what everyone here thinks? My immediate response would be that historians of economics should engage in a project to gather and make publicly available historical data – as recorded in past records, not translated into 21st century definitions – so that better empirical work can be done on the past. I guess a second point is a fuller exploration of the recent crisis and comparisons with past crises, although I am not sure how far such an endeavor could go. If one had to respond to the NSF call – in retrospect – what do you think the grand challenges would be?

For inspiration about the scope, In the NSF response Esther Duflo outlines a research agenda for all of development economics, Dale Jorgenson talks of reforming the national accounts, Nordhaus discusses global public goods and Rogoff talks of three challenges to Macro… So it’s BIG thoughts as we enter the new year – do we historians (of economics) still think those?

[Clement makes a set of suggestions below, and I have tweaked this posts to put it on top. Hope that is ok]

Crisis as History: Reinhart & Rogoff vs. Galbraith & Mackay

Exciting results; but not reading

My bedside table is a victim of the debt crisis – how else can I explain it being overburdened by Reinhart & Rogoff’s This time is different (2010), Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929 (1954) and Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions (1841) ? Reinhart & Rogoff”s book nearly topped the Amazon best-seller list (only beaten by Stieg Larsson), but will it become a classic like Galbraith or Mackay? I don’t think so, even though Reinhart & Rogoff make an incredible important historical argument about national debt crisis, and crises more generally. It turns out that crises happen often – every country it seems has had one or more in recent times – they play out in various ways and there is a lot of novel data and research in the book (!) to prove it. But it’s a pain to read…

I don’t understand why it is so difficult to make an argument simply and clearly. The writing – or possibly the editing – is just poor. Never mind that they make a lot of technical points first, that’s fine; it’s the general structure of the writing which is frustrating. Whenever an argument begins to be developed (and you have to get to chapter 4 before arguments appear) they interrupt the story with two-page text-boxes, unrelated tables or other random elements. All of them valuable in their own right, but none of them in an order that makes much sense. Consider the opening of chapter five on page 68:

We open our tour of the panorama of financial crisis by discussing sovereign default on external debt… (Some background on the historical emergence of sovereign debt markets is provided in box 5.1). Figure 5.1 plots the percentage of all independent countries… [and between 1820-1840s] nearly half the countries in the world were in default (including all

That’s where the page ends… ! The next two and half pages are one long text box, and thereafter the sentence “(including all…” is completed. By the next page we get to see figure 5.1 (promised at the start), but they throw in figure 5.2 for good measure, not that it’s clear what it means yet (Reinhart & Rogoff, 2010: 68-72).

A classic; and great read

It’s annoying. And particularly so, as Reinhart & Rogoff has such an important point to make, with such interesting data. Apparently it took 10 years to write this book. I wish they’d spent some more time editing. There is a reason why Galbraith’s and Mackay’s work not only became standard references in the literature (as Reinhart & Rogoff’s will), but also became classics (which Reinhart & Rogoff’s won’t). The classics are well researched and well written. At times wonderfully so; as with Galbraith’s commentary on how banks are shy to advertise their very efficient operations which actually facilitate speculators liquidity positions and led to instability:

Banks supply funds to brokers, brokers to customers and the collateral [which customers use to leverage stock transactions] goes back to the banks… Wall Street, in these matters, is like a lovely and accomplished woman who must wear black cotton stockings, heavy woollen underwear, and parade her knowledge as a cook because, unhappily, her supreme accomplishment is as a harlot. (1954 [2009: 47-8])

Reinhart & Rogoff has much to contribute with their book. A good read is tragically not one of them, and that may stop its transition from good research into great piece of work. What a shame.