The WEA Online Conferences, designed by Edward Fullbrook and Grazia Ietto-Gillies, makes full use of the digital technologies in the pursuit of the commitments included in the World Economics Association Manifesto: plurality, reality and relevance, diversity, openness and ethical conduct.

The current WEA Conference Economic Philosophy: Complexities in Economics, is being led by Prof. John B. Davis and Prof. Wade Hands. There is considerable interest in recent economics in the idea of complexity. However, there are also many different ideas about what complexity involves, making the subject of complexity itself a complex matter!

Thus the plural form – complexities in economics – is purposefully chosen in order to accommodate the following issues in this inaugural conference on Economic Philosophy:

  • the diversity of accounts and conceptions of complexity itself
  • how the nature and content of economics is complex
  • the complex history of economics
  • different approaches to introducing complexity into economics
  • the complex relation between the sociology of economics and its content
  • the complexity of economic philosophy as an interdisciplinary subject
  • the complex interplay between normative and descriptive pluralism

The WEA Online Conferences seek to also engage readers and commentators all around the world considering: (a) the variety of theoretical perspectives; (b) the range of human activities and issues which fall within the broad domain of economics; and (c) the study of the world’s diverse economies; (d) the increasing relevance of .the adoption and use of online discussion forums.

Students, academics and professionals who are interested in Economics & Philosophy can read the Key-note papers of Peter Söderbaum and Robert Delorme in addition to other interesting contributions organized in the following Conference Sessions:

  1. Contributions from the History of Economics
  2. Complexity and Agency
  3. Changing Economics
  4. Methodological Dimension

To see how the Discussion Forum works, click here

The Discussion Forum closes on November 30thDuring this time, we cordially invite you to visit the conference’s website, where you can read and download the conference papers, leave comments, and engage in discussion.

Please first Register to this OPEN ACCESS Conference in order to get your e-certificate!

We are looking forward to receiving your comments.

 

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The economist John R. Commons is considered one of the founding fathers of institutional economics. He played a leading role in the developing of the labor economics field by establishing some core principles in his book Institutional Economics: Its Place in Political Economy (1934). Besides, as Kenneth Boulding (1957) stated, Commons’ ideas as a social reformer were very influential in shaping the New Deal and the American labor legislation and social security toward a welfare state.

It is worth noting that some generations of institutionalists in labor economics can be identified since then (Champlin and Knoedler, 2004). After the first generation of Commons and the Wisconsin School, the second generation emerged in the 1950s and included those economists, such as John Dunlop and Neil Chamberlain, who rejected standard economic textbooks and emphasized the role of institutional rules in structuring labor markets and industrial relations. Afterwards, the third generation focused on structural unemployment (e.g., Charles Killignsworth), segmented labor markets (e.g., Michael Piore). This generation also included post-Keynesian economists, such as Eillen Appelbaum.  From 1980 to the present, the fourth generation has been broadened in order to include contiguous fields and new methods of research. Institutionalism has been broadened further to include the new perspective of Ronald Coase and Oliver Williamson that has informed research and model building based on the concept of transaction cost.

Despite de differences between generations, which are the elements that explain the institutionalist labor approach?

  • The economic needs are culturally and historically situated.
  • The rules of economic behavior do not derived from universal laws of nature by are culturally, legally and socially situated.
  • Markets, as legal and cultural arrangements, are characterized by conflict, power relations and inequality.
  • Governments are considered major players within the markets.

Indeed, the theoretical construct in labor economics of an institutional nature considers that:

  1. The microeconomic neoclassical model of demand and supply is misleading as an explanatory device for the study of employment, wages and labor outcomes.
  2. The labor market is not self-equilibrating.
  3. Involuntary employment, interindustry and interfirm wage differentials, besides racial and gender patterns of employment are relevant features of the labor markets in the real-world.
  4. The behavioral models of human agent should consider imperfect competition, theories of market organization and structure, legal rules and social norms.
  5. The study of the labor markets should privilege both realism in economics and a multidisciplinary, social science foundation.
  6. The commitment on a normative level to welfare criteria should include ethical goals.

Considering the relevance of this topic in economics education, students should be aware of the differences bweteeen institutionalist and neoclassical economists. Neoclassical and institutional economics are not just labels, but represent different ways of conceptualizing economics and shaping economic policies.  

 

References

Champlin, D.P. and Knoedler, J. T. (2004) The institutionalist Tradition in Labor Economis. New York and London: M.E. Sharpe.

Boulding, K. (1957).  A look at Institutionalism. American Economic Review. 47:1-12.

 

In the book Denationalisation of Money- the Argument Refined (1976), Hayek proposed the abolition of the government’s monopoly over the issue of fiat money in order to prevent price instability. In fact, his defense of a complete privatization of money supply stemmed from his disappointment with central banks’ management, which, in his opinion, had been highly influenced by politics. Thus, the ultimate objective of the denationalisation of money advocated by Hayek was related to avoid political interference on monetary policy.

Therefore, the denationalisation of money would be achieved by the complete abolition of the government monopoly over the issue of fiat money.  In the framework of a free market monetary regime, only those currencies that have a stable purchasing power would survive.  The basic idea is that the possibility of banks issuing different currencies would open the way to market competition. Banks could issue non-interest bearing certificates and deposit accounts on the basis of their own distinct registered trade mark and the currencies of different banks would be traded at variable exchange rates. This proposal would leave the way open for a comprehensive privatisation of the supply of money.

Hayek underlined that the main advantage of the free market competitive order is that prices will convey to the acting individuals the relevant information to make decisions to adjust their activities in face of the competition of currencies. He highlighted  the uses of money that would chiefly affect the choice among available kinds of currencies: i)  as ash purchases of commodities and services, ii)  as reserves for future needs; iii) as deferred payments, and iv) as unit of account.   In his opinion, these uses are consequences of the basic function of money as a medium of exchange and  the stability of the value of a currency as unit of account is the most desirable of all uses (Hayek, 1976: 67).

Competition and profit maximisation would lead to market equilibrium where only those banks that pay a competitive return on liabilities to their clients could survive. Since currency corresponds to non-interest-bearing certificates, the crucial requirement is the maintenance of the value of the currency.  Under Hayek’s theoretical framework, the market forces would determine the relative values of the different competing currencies. In other words, the exchange rates between the competing currencies would float freely. So, in equilibrium, only currencies guaranteeing a stable purchasing power would exist. People would not want to hold on to the currency of an issuer that was expected to depreciate relative to one that was expected to hold its value in terms of purchasing power over goods and services. The marginal costs of producing and issuing a currency (notes and coin) are rather low (close to zero) and the nominal rate of interest would be driven (close) to zero. Banks that failed to build up stability for the value of their currencies would lose customers and be driven out of financial business.

After reading this proposal, the question that arises is: are current digital currencies bringing to reality Hayek’s ideas?

In the last ten years, mainly aftyer the 2008 global crisis, the increasing digitalization of financial transactions is also related to changes in the banks’ competitive environment, where the intense growth of the startups called fintechs, especially since 2010, has revealed a new articulation between finance and technology. As a result of the advance of  new non-bank competitors (fintechs), big banks have begun to establish collaborative partnerships with selected fintechs in order to produce new technological solutions in the areas of payment systems, insurance, financial consultancy and management, besides digital currencies.

In this digital environment, new technologies – such as advanced analytics, blockchains and big data, in addition to the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, besides new forms of encryption and biometrics – have been enabling changes in the provision of financial products and services that could challenge current central banks’ patterns of policy and regulation.

 

References

HAYEK, F. A. von (1990 [1976]) Denationalisation of Money: The Argument Refined, 3rd. edition, London: Institute of Economic Affairs.

Reproduced from:

Zaman, Asad: Book Review of Friedrich A. Von Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Journal of Islamic Business and Management, vol 3, no 1, 2013. road2serfodom

The Road to Serfdom is the book written by the famous economist F. A. Hayek (1899-1992), the recipient of the US President’s Medal of Freedom in 1991 and co-winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1974. Originally published in 1944, the book is among the most influential and popular expositions of market economy, selling over two million copies, and remaining a best-seller. F. A. Hayek warned of the danger of tyranny that may result from government control of economic decision making through central planning. He argued that the abandonment of individualism and classical liberalism inevitably leads to a loss of freedom, the creation of an oppressive society, the tyranny of a dictator and the serfdom of the individual.  A classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics, The Road to Serfdom has inspired and infuriated politicians, scholars, and general readers for over six decades.

However, The Road to Serfdom has been criticised as well on the ground that unfettered markets have undermined the social order and that economic breakdown had paved the way for the emergence of dictatorship. The present review is also a critique on the book taking evidence from the history that the facilitator’s role of the State requires the rulers / regulators to take remedial measures for the promotion of social interest, if individual interest is in conflict with it.  The classical individualism and liberalism promote selfishness that must be distinguished from the value based ‘self interest’ which requires that one should be conscious of the interest of others and should avoid hurting them. The State is required to adopt a policy mix of market based competitive system along with the core value of justice and fair play.

Historical Background

Western social science is intimately tuned to Western history. The emergence of Social Science in the West was coincident with the loss of faith in the West, referred to as “Death of God” by Nietzsche. Loss of Divine Guidance forced fresh thinking about human nature. Hobbes thought that the natural state of humans was a “war of all against all”; the state or government was necessary to intermediate this conflict and bring about a peaceful outcome. In contrast Locke granted rights to men and thereby limited the rights and powers of the government. These early philosophers became the precursors of substantially different views on the crucial of issue of the appropriate balance between the powers of the government and individual liberty.

The Liberal Tradition: Hayek is squarely within the liberal tradition, a particular kind of social and political philosophy espoused by British and Continental thinkers such as John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, David Hume, and Adam Smith, and American thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  In essence, these classical liberal thinkers were committed to three types of freedom: economic freedom, political freedom, and freedom of speech and religion.  For classical liberalism, freedom meant severely limiting the power and scope of invasive government, thus increasing the scope for individual and private action.
 “Unintended Consequences” of Socialist Policy: Hayek presents a sophisticated and subtle defence of liberalism, but could not escape the influence of the horrifying World War II which he lived through in formulating his philosophies. One the main themes of the RtS is the “the law of unintended consequences”. Hayek contends that well-intentioned German socialists created government controls to help the poor and bring about desirable social reforms. However these government policies, like Frankenstein’s monster, went out of control and led to the emergence of Nazi-ism. He foresees the same process occurring in Britain, and warns that similarly well-intentioned efforts to help the poor would lead to powerful governments and Serfdom in Britain. Part of his prophecies came true in that the Labor Party did come to power in Britain and did pursue and implement many socialist policies including nationalization of industries and socialized medicine. However, there was no apparent resultant loss of individual liberty in UK that Hayek thought would inevitably result[2]. Subsequently, the Thatcher government reversed most of the nationalizations but left the socialized medicine system intact.

Intended Consequences of Socialist Policy: While the “unintended consequences” Hayek warned about did not emerge, the intended consequences were very prominent. The lot of the sick in UK, Europe and Canada, with socialized medicine, is substantially better than that of the USA, where private medicine leaves a large proportion of the poor population uncovered in medical emergencies. Studies have shown that large proportions of people who fall into poverty do so as a result of medical problems. There is substantial evidence showing that quality of life of the poor is much worse, and their percentage much greater in the USA than in European countries which have adopted many socialist type policies for the benefit of the poor. Taken in the context of post World War II policy making, which is the narrow context for Hayek’s RtS, it seems clear that Hayek was dangerously wrong. Had Hayek’s warnings been heeded, the lives of vast numbers of the poor in Europe would have been miserable, and human suffering would have increased. European countries did implement socialist policies and provide substantially more support to the poor than USA, but none of them slipped into Nazi-ism or the Serfdom that Hayek thought would result. A glaring counterexample to Hayek is provided by the Scandinavian countries, and most prominently Sweden, who have most aggressively pursued socialist policies of the kind held to be dangerous and damaging both to long run economic performance and to individual freedom by Hayek. As a group, these economies have done better in terms of growth, unemployment and inflation, and also have had higher rankings in terms of various measures of political and individual freedom, than other European economies with less socialist policies [see Rosser (2004)].
The Larger Debate: Free Markets. We next consider the broader context for RtS, namely the debate about whether markets should be regulated by the state, or whether they should be allowed to operate freely as the liberals advocate. There is overwhelming empirical evidence on all aspects of this debate. It is clear that markets do well at some thing. In terms of creation of wealth, and efficient fulfilment of demands and desires of the rich and powerful, markets work very well. However, markets fail at providing equitable income distributions or adequate support to the poor. As the remarkable studies by Amartya Sen have shown, a fully functioning free market and adequate food supplies are perfectly compatible with famines which lead to death by hunger of large masses of people. The emergence of Keynesian doctrines in the 1930s was due to the Great Depression which showed again very forcefully to a very large number of people that market outcomes cannot be trusted to deliver the goods, i.e. economic welfare. This clear and overwhelming evidence was so strong that Hayek and all liberal thinkers were eclipsed until horrors of the depression had faded from memories. Only in the late 70’s, some 40 years after the Great Depression was there a revival of fortunes of liberal thought. It appears strange that these neoclassical liberals have learnt nothing from experience. They insist that markets equilibrate very fast, and that unemployment will be quickly eliminated by free market mechanisms. Even ignoring the Great Depression, the experience of Chile under the Chicago Boys, where unemployment remained at around 20% during fourteen years of ultra liberal policies is enough to show that this is not true (see Rayack (1984)). Similarly, liberals are still developing theories to account for the failure of Russia to respond quickly to free market mechanisms, and the subsequent economic disaster leading to massive poverty, heavy unemployment and a fall in productive output of more than 60%. The liberals make much of the argument that central planning requires information typically unavailable and hence leads to inefficiencies. However, they have never considered or calculated the time taken and the cost of reaching the efficient market equilibrium, which is borne by the poor and unemployed in the form of hunger, suffering and misery.

Power/Knowledge: Given overwhelming empirical evidence that unregulated markets often deliver disastrous outcomes, leading to misery, hunger, death and exploitation for masses of people, what accounts for repeated insistence of liberal theorists that “markets work”? Surely this message, frequently made with emphasis in nearly all standard economic textbooks, deserves some qualifications and refinements, together with some explanation of contrary empirical evidence. However, typical texts sweep all contrary evidence under the rug, rather than treat it with intellectual honesty. This leads one to reluctantly consider Foucault and his explanation of the link between (actually the identity of) Knowledge and Power. The naïve view is that Knowledge consists of understanding phenomena, and validity or truth of the knowledge depends on how accurately it describes the reality. Many case studies done by Foucault and his followers show that Knowledge consists of rules of manipulating reality to achieve desirable results (Power). When considered in the context, the repeated re-emergence of liberal thought, despite repeated and massive failures on the empirical front, makes perfect sense. In all ages, social requirement of justice, equity, compassion for the poor and other social norms (including environmental issues) place powerful restrictions on the scope of actions available to the rich and powerful. Liberal thought, and the message that Laissez Faire leads to optimal social outcomes, is a strategic tool which is helpful in removing these restraints. The rich and powerful have access to media, can fund colleges and think-tanks etc. and therefore produce “knowledge” that will enhance the power of this group.

An Ironic Twist: Recent post 9/11 US experience provides an ironic twist on the central message of Hayek’s RtS. Nearly all of the signposts on the Road to Serfdom identified by Hayek can be found in some form or the other in the curtailment of personal freedoms in the USA, supposedly as a defence against terror. People have been arrested and imprisoned for talking against US policies. The radical curtailment of individual freedom in the “Patriot Act” is a source of concern to many liberal thinkers. The irony is that the apparent cause of this path to Serfdom in the USA is not socialist policy but the pro-free market and laissez faire policies pursued to the extremes in the USA. Relentless pursuit of profits by US and multinational firms, unrestrained by any considerations of equity and fairness, has created tremendous amounts of social injustice, poverty, exploitation, etc.  The attempts to squelch popular protest against such market-friendly policies has led to police-state like policies in the USA bearing a striking resemblance to those described by Hayek as being signposts on the road to Serfdom. It has also been suggested that the market itself enslaves vast numbers of humans, reducing their lives to endless drudgery in the name of greater profits and production. It would appear that there is more than one road to Serfdom, and one of the roads is extreme laissez faire advocated by Hayek and his followers.

Lessons from European History: One important reason for considering the context for Hayek and its critique is to show that it is deeply grounded in European historical experience. It has been a European conceit that their experience is somehow universal, and hence lessons from it applicable to all societies. One of these lessons is that the liberal tradition, with maximum individual freedom, is the ideal state which all societies will ultimately achieve. Indeed, the collapse of Russia led to the (premature) celebration of “The End of History” by Fukuyama – history is about to achieve its goal of leading all societies to conform to the ideal European culture with maximum individual freedom for all.  [ see link for: Conclusions & References ]

For more material on the urgent need to develop an alternative to Eurocentric Social Science, which completely ignores humanity, morality and spirituality, leading to devastation of communities and environment, see: An Islamic Approach to Humanities. (also available from Academia)

 

 

huntergatherer

As a preliminary demonstration, and an explanation of the “Three Methodologies“, we assess how they work in primitive hunter-gatherer societies.

A hunter-gatherer is a human living in a society in which most or all food is obtained by foraging (collecting wild plants and pursuing wild animals), in contrast to agricultural societies, which rely mainly on domesticated species.

There are many characteristics of such societies forced by the material conditions of production. Since existing food supplies in any one location are soon exhausted, such societies are generally nomadic. Here are some philosophies, and political and social structures that would naturally arise in hunter-gatherer nomadic societies.

Philosophy: Since human beings are directly dependent on the environment, the idea of “Mother Earth” and a close relationship with nature can be expected to develop. This stands in contrast with urban lifestyles which are remote from nature; it is this detachment from nature which has permitted the widespread environmental destruction which is currently taking place.

Politics: Typical Hunter-Gatherer societies are egalitarian. This is because everyone derives a living directly from nature, and is mobile. If one subgroup is oppressed, they can simply leave, so there is not much room for powerful groups to exercise large amounts of power and control over other groups. Furthermore, in subsistence economies, one cannot afford slaves because there is generally not enough surplus food to feed them. So economic conditions favor egalitarian political structures; nonetheless, human ingenuity can sometimes overcome such obstacles.

Property: Since property of nomads is confined to what they can carry with them, it is necessarily limited. Illustrative of hunter-gatherer attitudes towards property is the Cherokee Constitution of 1839, which states: “The lands of the Cherokee Nation shall remain common property”.

We now consider insights yielded into the study of such societies by the three methodologies discussed in the previous post

Read More

This is a summary of the introduction/motivation part of Lecture 15 on Advanced Microeconomics II, delivered at PIDE in Spring Semester 2017.  The lecture is about 19th Century European History, and how it is deeply entangled with Modern Economic Theory. We cannot understand one without the other.

19th Century European Economic Ideas In Historical Context.

“… the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong …” Ecclesiastes 9:11

In the late 19th century, a battle of methodologies (“Methodenstreit”) took place, which shaped the future of economics. The German Historical School lost out to the newly emergent, quantitative, mathematical and scientific approach. This led to a re-conceptualization of economics as a science similar to physics, which studies the economic laws of motion of societies. For a detailed account of this battle, and its effects, see “How Economics Forgot History,” by Geoffrey Hodgson.

1. Contemporary Methodology:[humans are predictable robots] The idea that economic theory is a science like physics has extremely unpleasant and counterintuitive consequences. We look for universal laws of economics, which apply equally well to Pakistan, France, Brazil, Russia and Nigeria. Furthermore, they apply equally well in the seventeenth, nineteenth, and twenty-first century. The trade theory of economists must apply equally to trade between Ghana and England, India and Pakistan, and the Huron and Iroquois tribes. Since the ability of human beings to shape their destiny in accordance with visions cannot be fit into a scientific framework, human behavior is reduced to that of a robotic pleasure machine, which follows precise mathematical laws.

2. Marxist Methodology:[social and political structures are determined by economic structures] A key element of Marxist methodology is that economic relations of production are fundamental. These determine the political and social superstructures. Marxist methodology is far richer than current methodology, which removes history, and human beings, from economics. Nonetheless, Marxist methodology gives primacy to materialistic conditions of productions, and considers society and politics as important secondary consequences.

3. (Polanyi’s Methodology):[material circumstance shape human societies, but also human vision and ideas shape material circumstances] Whereas conventional methodology restricts attention to the material circumstance, and Marx considers material circumstances as primary, Polanyi uses a bi-directional causality. Human ideas and visions can shape history, and conversely, the economic relation of production shape human ideas and visions. For more discussion of the radical implications of this entanglement of ideas and materials, see my earlier post on “Meta-Theory and Pluralism in Polanyi’s Methodology“.

These are three distinctly different methodological principles.  In the rest of this lecture, we will look at nineteenth century European history through these three different colored glasses and see how they help us understand the economic, social and political changes which occurred during this period. Our goal will be to establish that “entanglement” occurs – that human ideas are both shaped by, and shape, history. In particular, economic theories are used by humans to understand historical experience, and also to guide social responses to this experience, and attempt to mold history in favorable directions. An extremely important consequence of this entanglements is that economic theories cannot be understood when detached from the historical context in which they were born. As Polanyi explains clearly, modern economic theories were produced in nineteenth century England, and to understand these theories, it is necessary to understand European history of that era.

Before proceeding to the complexities of European history, we will do a dry-run of the conceptual framework we are using within the simpler context of hunter-gatherer as well as feudal societies.

Bank transactions by internet and mobile banking have sharply increased since the 2008 global financial crisis. In this digital environment, new technologies – such as advanced analytics and big data, in addition to the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, besides new forms of encryption and biometrics – have been enabling changes in the provision of financial products and services. The current wave of financial innovations is being increasingly oriented to more friendly digital channels through apps in the context of mobile banking strategies that privilege the development of open bank softwares and the interaction with social media.

Indeed, the increasing digitalization of financial transactions is also related to changes in the banks’ competitive environment, where the intense growth of the startups called fintechs, especially since 2010, has revealed a new articulation between finance and technology. Such fintechs are companies organized as digital platforms with business models focused on costumer relationship in the areas of payment systems, insurance, financial consultancy and management, besides virtual coins. The advantages of their business models are low operating expenses, greater operational agility and the ability to generate data for the design of customized financial products and services. As a result of the advance of these new non-bank competitors, big banks have begun to establish collaborative partnerships with selected fintechs in order to produce new technological solutions and to promote the development of a culture of technological entrepreneurship among bank workers.

Taking into account the global changes in the provision of financial products and services, Central Banks have closely followed the recent expansion of fintechs. Indeed, the transformations provoked by these startups in the financial markets have raised a relevant discussion about the impacts of recent technological innovations on the financial regulation agenda- mainly focused on the Basel Accords. The intense advance of fintechs is settling new questions for regulators: How to deal with loan activities that are being performed by means of electronic platforms? How to regulate the fintechs’ activities of consultancy and financial management that are characterized by the collection, treatment and custody of information from users? Which is the scope of the Central Bank and of other financial regulators when considering the surveillance over the fintechs? Moreover, there are legal concerns related to information security practices, legal validity of electronic documents, digital signatures and data storage in the cloud.

As a result of the new competitive digitalized and deregulated environment, the current wave of technological innovations will decisively affect the future of bank workers. Currently, one of the main cost-reducing bank strategies is centered on administrative expenses mainly labour costs that remain tightly controlled by banks in order to improve operational efficiency. In this scenario, technological strategies aimed to increase profitability will foster further organizational innovations and changes in labor relations. Thus, the future impacts on jobs in the financial sector will deepen the power of financial holdings, that is to say, of centralized blocks of financial capital that base their global expansion on the digitalization of products, services and delivey channels .