Pointless Econ Debates

A big point of contentions seems to be whether or not the 2008 slump was a ‘financial-induced recession’, because as Reinhart and Rogoff say these have slower-than-average recoveries, this benchmark then makes the current recovery look better; in contrast, compared to the average recession the recent recovery looks worse.

My old mentor Hyman Minsky argued that most recessions are financially induced, from excessive leverage, creating a panic as investors stop rolling over debt and cash flow long-since became negative. The Ponzi borrower borrows based on the belief that the appreciation of the value of the asset will be sufficient to refinance the debt but could not make sufficient payments on interest or principal with the cash flow from investments; only the appreciating asset value can keep the Ponzi borrower afloat. This applies perfectly to many zero-down home buyers circa 2005-7.

Reading Minsky you’ll see he applied this mechanism to most recessions (eg, not 1945), and so there’s at least one expert–of good faith, not ignorant–who disagrees with Reinhart and Rogoff. Anyway, John Taylor classifies 1882, 1893, 1907, 1913, 1929, 1973, 1981 and 1990 as ‘financially induced.’ Krugman says 73 and 81 were not ‘financially induced’ because they were orchestrated to combat inflation, a novel addition to the classification. Then they get into where to start the recovery, and how far out to go. When the debate gets into such semantics, it becomes pointless.

Krugman laments that ‘politicization is hurting economics’, though he is economist number 1 for having prestige and throwing around ad hominem like liar and consistently assuming that those he disagrees with cannot possibly be intelligent and honest. DeLong’s posting are even better for over-the-top ad hominem, but he’s in such a strange echo chamber he doesn’t realize he’s disqualified himself from so many positions he covets because even his team understands that rank partisanship becomes a liability at some point (no more Assistant Deputy Secretary positions, but rather, senior adviser posts for groups like the Rent is Too Damn High Party).

You just have to stop and remember: on any big debate, to think that one side is only motivated by ignorance or deceit doesn’t understand the debate. Sure, some, even many, on any side of a big debate are ignorant are tendentious, but as with benchmarking this past recession, reasonable people can quibble with vague categorical definitions.

I enjoy reading the daily venom from Krugman and DeLong because they are proud to be angry as if their righteous indignation makes them more compelling, unaware that losing one’s temper is a good signal you’ve lost the debate.

About Eric Falkenstein 136 Articles

Eric Falkenstein is an economist who specializes in quantitative issues in finance: risk management, long/short equity investing, default modeling, etc.

Eric received his Ph.D. in Economics from Northwestern University , 1994 and his B.A. in Economics from Washington University in St. Louis, 1987

He is the author of the 2009 book Finding Alpha.

Visit: Eric Falkenstein's Website

1 Comment on Pointless Econ Debates

  1. So you don’t think ’81 was different type of recession than ’08? In 1981 the Federal Reserves decided to put the country into a recession, as a method of achieving the end result of improved economy.

    Who was putting the country in recession in ’08 for the betterment of the country’s economy. Please let me know.

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