Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rosser's Closet Sandwichman

Over at Mark Thoma's place the real Barkley Rosser channels the late Sandwichman:
"Ah, so much for the aggregate Cobb-Douglas production function! And we were all getting so used to applying it to everything in sight."

17 comments:

Max Sawicky said...

Play nice, boyz.

Walker said...

Nice? I'm downright ecstatic that Barkley is now on record as confirming a key piece of my argument as presented on pages 204-208 of "The 'lump-of-labor' case against work-sharing". Namely, that the standard assumptions underlying the production function are unrealistic. As long as a stable empirical relationship seems to hold over time it's probably safe to say that the standard assumptions -- although they may not be absolutely true -- are "close enough for horseshoes." They're a convenient rule of thumb that lets us get on with the heavy lifting of building our models. But when the rule of thumb starts looks like a foot in the mouth it's time to question those standard assumptions.

I agree with Barkley 100%!

Anonymous said...

What is the output of call center phone operator? A mortgage orginator? A real estate agent?

If you send real manufacturing to China and replace those workers with the above, how is this not the result?

Walker said...

Let me clarify that my argument has always primarily been a critique of the "case against". If the case against consists of the claim, "it has been shown that x = y" and if I demonstrate conclusively that the supposed "proof" was no more than a tautological deduction from the premise that x = y. (if x = y, then x = y), it isn't incumbent on me to prove logically that x doesn't equal y. I can remain agnostic on the latter point. Furthermore, I can reasonably say that it is "likely" that x doesn't equal y or it is "unlikely" that x = y based on circumstantial evidence that wouldn't otherwise be admissible in a strictly logical argument.

The objection I anticipate to the foregoing is that an advocate for a particular policy must meet the "burden of proof". To which I can only reply that NO adopted policy argument has EVER met that burden of proof. In short, the burden of proof objection is a "literacy test" barrier used selectively to exclude policy options that challenge the white supremacy of the plantation owners, their heirs and successors.

Martin Langeland said...

Shorter Walker/SM?
'The aim of science is not to answer questions. It is to question answers.'



Even if he's only a pale and seasonal clone, I'm delighted that Sandwich Man endures. Happy Samhain, all.
--ml

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

I have never been a fan of neoclassical aggregate production functions such as the Cobb-Douglas. It was an artificial setup to generate an observation of constant factor income shares if one assumed the entire economy were a single optimizing firm. While I do not completely dismiss the nature of technology as having some impact on wage-profit-rent distributions (the implication of this approach), it is a relatively minor factor, although economists generally do not like to discuss then political and social factors that are very important.

My very first publication was a Comment in Economic Inquiry in 1978 in which I found a technical error in a prize-winning paper from 1976 in the journal by Leland Yeager, which attempted to dismiss the Cambridge Capital Theory critique on a variation of an Austrian argument (that interest is the price of time, no matter what). He made the claim that smooth substitutability between factors in a production function rules out capital theoretic paradoxes, which I showed via a counterexample to be false. Burmeister and Yeager wrote a rejoinder, which then editor Robert Clower told me put me in my place, but they in fact had to accept that my critique was at least technically correct. This presaged my later and long fascination with discontinuities and catastrophe theory and such stuff.

Walker said...

It seems to me that when you are 'technically right' on a technical issue then you are right, period.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

S-man,

Can't resist the snarky remark, eh? Well, just as long as you do not start up again with all that nonsense about how tenured professors have no right to talk about unemployment, we'll still play nicey-nice.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

S-man,

Sorry, wrong comment. Not reading right. This was a reply to your comment on firing tenured profs.

On this one, my remark is that the broader issue became "so what does the technical error imply?" with Clower, Burmeister, and Yeager all essentially lining up to say "pay no attention to those noisy people coming out of (or speaking for) Cambridge University in UK!" All their paradoxes are of no importance!

Walker said...

"Clower, Burmeister, and Yeager all essentially lining up"

Which is to say you were substantively correct but not ideologically correct.

Robert Vienneau said...

Based on this, I wonder if whether a catastrophe is associated with a normal or perverse switch depends on details of the model unassociated with choice of techniques. I agree that the Cambridge Capital Controversy points towards complex dynamics. But in saying that now, I'm only agreeing with Barkley's original research.

Shag from Brookline said...

Gee, I was just looking for prices on "Johnny Walker" Red Label and Black Label and seem to have walked into an economists AA meeting at a bar. Maybe we can get full employment for economists by limiting their productive (and unproductive) hours. Perhaps a "Happy Hour"? As Max says, "Play nice."

Walker said...

Excellent suggestion, Shag. "Economists work less, so that all may work." But let me substantiate that with some empirical research. Fellow I met at a conference a few years ago, Bruce Philp, presented a paper on how managers are more wedded to a long hours culture because their roles align their attitudes with those by the organization. In turn, managers often have the final say on other people's work time options, which is to say "you should be like me." Philp and his associates conducted attitude surveys with managers and other employees to test this hypothesis.

Although not identical by any means, academic economists' roles are more similar to managers' than they would be to, say, assembly line workers or cashiers. So their personal attitudes toward long hours culture could well affect how they view the broader efficacy of work time reduction. I have heard the lament from academics that they wished they could spend more time at work rather than less. Rarely from cashiers. In fact, never.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Robert V.,
Thanks, man, and cool.

Jack said...

Sandwichman,
Have you checked a course listings bulletin at any American university lately? If tenured faculty have their work loads reduced from what seems to be their current schedules, they'll likely not recall where their places of work are. Seems like six to nine hours per week is at the top of the scale. That's not even enough time to maintain reasonable skill in most vocations.
Do we count the time that's spent cogitating over off the cuff theories as work time? Given the current state of the results of that cogitation, is my degree in Exp Psych sufficient for a position as a full prof in Economics? I too can wing it.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Jack,
Such a revelation. Of course, faculty are only working when they are actually standing in front of a classroom. Otherwise, they are just sitting at home and twiddling their thumbs while watching TV, if even anything that socially productive. You are the man.

Jack said...

Now Barkley, let's not get snide. I did allow for the possibility that work time might include time to sit and contemplate one's navel and possibly devize an interesting and possibly useful theory. Keep in mind that we out here and looking in are watching while the professors argue amongst themselves about the validity of one idea or another. Additional argumentation is often being provided regarding the inadequacy of the research data, or lack there of, that might support such cogitative exercise. So all in all it would appear that much of the time outside of the classroom,
(or is it an amphitheater these days?) is less than fully productive.