Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Random Tidbits From The Boston 2015 ASSA Meetings

Yes, random tidbits not following any pattern from the recently completed ASSA meetings in Boston.

In commenting on a paper about endogenous preferences and identities in a session on "balance," George Akerlof had a slide that had only two words on it, "Getting dressed."  This is how people choose identities when they get dressed each morning, "all of us," George said.

Richard Thaler spent nearly 15 minutes introducing Raj Chetty to give the Ely lecture.  Really.  The place was overflowing, leading guards to keeping people out.  It was on a behavioral economics view of public policy, behavioral econ being very hot at this conference.

Annie Cot put into its place as overblown an argument made by several speakers on the history of behavioral economics that its origins were all about controlling people due to attitudes of B.F. Skinner.  After all, behavioral psychology is not the same thing as behavioral economics.

In a session on secular stagnation, Robert Hall said that people in the US have dropped out of the labor force due to food stamps, so obviously cutting them could end secular stagnation, while Larry Summers implicitly criticized Janet Yellen, noting that when the next recession comes within the next three years, if the Fed has not raised interest rates sufficiently, it will not be able to lower them to stimulate demand and thus avoid, you know, secular stagnation.  Gosh, what a mistake we made not making him Fed Chair...

In his AEA presidential lecture, William Nordhaus drew widespread laughter when he noted as a "minor detail" that his proposal for a "climate club" that would consist of a group of nations agreeing to a global climate agreement who would place import tariffs on goods from non-club member nations would violate the existing World Trade Organization treaty.

Daniel Berkowitz pointing out that when Putin ended allowing oblasts to elect their governors in favor of him appointing them in Russia, he cited Ukraine as his model for doing this, which already had that system.

Joe Stiglitz talking about "pseudo wealth," which the classical economists from Adam Smith to Karl Marx called "fictitious capital," a term I much prefer, frankly.

Learning from former AEA Secretary-Treasurer, John Siegfried, that New Orleans is no longer in the rotation for ASSA meetings due to bowl games conflicting, that New York is no longer in it due to being too expensive, and that Washington is not because it does not have enough hotels in a single cluster to accommodate the larger meetings, although it is building some and might yet get back in.

Hearing that while death rates in cities in industrializing Britain rose with pollution levels during industrialization, they are not doing so now in Chinese cities.

Having someone at the ACES reception introduce me to someone else as being a "co-founder" of the organization when I have never even been a member (although my wife, Marina, is), and it was founded decades before I ever had anything to do with it.  Talk about feeling like a dinosaur.

Hearing a member of the audience telling Richard Wagner and Frederic Jennings in an AFEE session how pleased she was that their presentations were "shockingly normative."

I did not see the anti-conventional economics demonstraters, but I did see a poster they stuck on a wall.

Oh, and having dinner with fellow Econospeaker, Peter Dorman, who laughed heartily about people suggesting that the US could imitate the system that Germany has for limiting job losses during recessions.

Barkley Rosser

Update (more just a btw),

On Stiglitz, of course his theory of pseudo wealth (bubbles and derivatives markets, etc.) provides a foundation for increased macro instability, aggregate fluctuations, as did fictitiious capital in both Smith and Marx (less fully worked out in Smith, but more so in John Stuart Mill).  I guess this is why Joe has been dinged for the SEC.... :-(.


Peter Dorman said...

Oooh. That sounds like inappropriate laughter on my part. I don't mean to put people down who are looking for ways to reduce unemployment. The problem with importing Kurzarbeit, however, is that, while the German govt provides a subsidy for continued short time employment during a downturn, the firms pick up much of the tab themselves. They do this because the workers are highly trained, and because the firms' competitive strategy hinges on the skills and commitment of its labor force. Imagining that any but a handful of employers in the US would take this same approach may be what got me chuckling.

Peter said...

I get your point about a favored solution of Dean Baker's, but you never know, you have to push!

People would have laughed at the notion of electing a black president not long ago.

People would have laughed at health care reform passing and red states raising their minimum wages. And pot and gay marriage legalization.

"To the surprise of many, voters in four red states — Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota and Arkansas — supported referendums in November to raise their state minimum wage. And not just by a little. Controlling for the cost of living, they will have wage floors that are higher than those of many blue states. Once Obamacare is factored in, voters in these states ironically benefit from a somewhat strengthened social safety net, even though it is one that their elected politicians mainly oppose and that is heavily subsidized by blue state tax dollars."

Still America often disappoint on economics and it just gets worse and worse. said...


I guess in your second comment you are still focusing on the matter of whether or not the US could adopt something like a kurtzarbeit system of sharing job loss with some government support. I guess I should note that when we discussed this at that nice Brazilian restaurant in Cambridge, what followed your laughter in terms of discussion was how weak the labor movement is in the US and what in important role the strong labor movement in Germany plays in all this, particularly in terms of the entrenched Mittbestimmung system that has labor reps on corporate governing boards. You noted accurately, I fear, that this reflects a much deeper historical tradition in Germany dating back to the guild system. With the current state of unions in the US not only weak but apparently weakening with fresh attacks on unions politically by now ascendant Republicans in most of the nation locally (and in Congress), looking towards establishing a system that depends strongly on strong labor uniions looks pretty far off.

I would like to see something like this, and maybe it can be done in some places, even with GOP support, without unions. I guess we can advocate it and see. But, it was you who initially laughed at the idea that this was doable in any serious way in the US.