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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review July 6, 2009 / 14 Tamuz 5769

Economists out to lunch

By Robert J. Samuelson




http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Niall Ferguson is one of those rare characters: a respected scholar who's also a successful popularizer. Ferguson, a Brit, has taught at Oxford and New York University and is now at Harvard. He has written about World War I, the British Empire and the Rothschilds (Europe's most powerful banking family). He has turned four of his projects into TV documentaries, the latest of which — "The Ascent of Money," also a book — begins airing on PBS on Wednesday. It is a program that could be usefully viewed by most of America's roughly 13,000 economists.


One intriguing subplot of the economic crisis is the failure of most economists to predict it. Here we have the most spectacular economic and financial crisis in decades — possibly since the Great Depression — and the one group that spends most of its waking hours analyzing the economy basically missed it. Oh, a few economists can legitimately claim some foresight. But they are a handful. Most were as surprised as the rest of us.


Why? This is a compelling question without, as yet, a compelling answer. Indeed, so far as I can tell, economists have not engaged in rigorous self-criticism to explain their lapse. We've had some casual theories and some partisan recriminations: "Free-market ideology" is a standard scapegoat on the assumption that most economists are "free-market ideologues." But that's not true. In any case, the crisis surprised liberal and conservative economists, Republicans and Democrats alike.


This brings us back to Ferguson. The creation of money was a seminal historic event; so was the subsequent invention of finance — the saving and investing of money. Without them, we could never have moved beyond barter to a modern economy based on specialization and building for the future. But these advances came interwoven with bubbles, crashes, swindles and hyperinflations. Finance has been a wellspring of both progress and instability.


Ferguson is an able guide. He relates the creation of the bond market by Italian city-states in the 14th century as a way to finance their wars against each other; he explains the South Sea and Mississippi "bubbles" in England and France around 1720 — stock market manipulations based on fantasized riches in the New World; and, finally, he visits the recent housing bubble.


Ferguson's breezy tour suggests two reasons the present crisis embarrassed most economists. The first involves finance itself. The crisis originated in financial markets (the markets for stocks, bonds and many complex securities), and yet finance occupies a peripheral position in mainstream economics. It's studied by a subset of economists, and financial markets — their ups, downs and side effects — are not considered big sources of economic expansions and slumps. Economists tend to focus directly on the spending of consumers, businesses and government. It was also widely assumed that deposit insurance and the existence of the Federal Reserve would prevent financial panics.


Well, if you de-emphasize financial markets and financial markets are decisive, you're out to lunch. Financial markets pumped up the real estate bubble; greater housing and stock market wealth inspired a consumer spending boom; losses on "subprime" mortgage securities triggered a collapse of confidence. Some economists have grudgingly, if obscurely, conceded error. A study by the International Monetary Fund called "Initial Lessons of the Crisis" admits: There "was an under-appreciation of systemic risks coming from … financial sector feedbacks onto the real economy." That's an understatement.


Overshadowing the misunderstanding of finance is a larger mistake: ignoring history. By and large, most economists don't care much about history. Introductory college textbooks spend little, if any, time exploring business cycles of the 19th century. The emphasis is on "principles of economics" (the title of many basic texts), as if most endure forever. Economists focused on constructing elegant, mathematical models. "For years theorists held the intellectual high ground," writes economic historian Barry Eichengreen of the University of California at Berkeley. They were "the high-prestige members of the profession."


History is messy and constantly changing, as Ferguson reminds. It depends on institutions, technologies, laws, cultural and religious values, governments, popular beliefs and much more.


Model-building and theorizing can sometimes simplify the real world in ways that provide insights.


But often, the models' assumptions depart so radically from reality that the conclusions become useless.


Someone who studies history becomes humble in the face of the ceaseless changes and capricious mixing of motives.


Economists thought they had solved the problem of economic stability. Their tools sufficed to prevent widespread economic collapse, even if they couldn't control every twist in the business cycle.


This conceit may have once been true.


No more. Markets became more complex; more money crossed national borders; people became complacent.


History moved on, but economists didn't.

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06/29/09: Panics ‘R’ Us!
06/08/09: Flirting with deflation or inflation? Now the economy might be at risk of both
05/25/09: A ‘crisis’ America needs
05/18/09: Will somebody finally say that Obama is irresponsibly mortgaging our future?
05/04/09: The Bias Against Oil And Gas
04/27/09: Environmentalists maximize the dangers of global warming while pretending we can conquer it at virtually no cost
04/20/09: Our Depression Obsession
03/23/09: Geithner treads a line between financial paralysis and populist resentment
03/23/09: American Capitalism Besieged
01/06/09: The limits of pump priming
12/29/08: Humbled By Our Ignorance
07/31/08: The homeownership obsession
07/24/08: A Depression? Hardly
07/17/08: Why isn't globalization making the interconnected world more stable?



© 2009, WPWG

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