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Four Basic Truths of Macroeconomics (bloomberg.com)
129 points by ksec 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 266 comments





"I also think measures of price inflation are almost useless over the long run, because a person today consumes a very different bundle of goods than one in, say, 1950." I agree with this wholeheartedly. How do we put a value on the fact that, for the cost of no more than a day's labor, most in the US can have a handheld device with access to nearly the sum total of the world's knowledge and entertainment? No one, at any cost, could've had such a thing even 30 years ago.

Sure you can have the entire worlds information and entertainment at your fingertips with a $50 smartphone, but if you can't afford to have a roof over your head I'd argue the smartphone is irrelevant.

I don't think we should be including basic necessities alongside improvements in entertainment in the same statistic, because it will just hide problems.


I think the problem is that housing is exclusionary and people want to live in some locations rather than others. Typical housing doesn't scale well. This creates an effect where people are effectively bidding each other up on the price of housing, because the winner gets to live in that location and everyone else doesn't. This means that the cost of housing scales with how wealthy the people who want to live in that area are.

A 2000 sqft house in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming might cost $200k. In SF you'll get far less for the same money. People want to be in SF, because there's more to do, but also because the better paying jobs are there. This uplifts the entire area, but also makes things like housing more expensive.

In a lot of ways I think the cost of housing is dependent on the housing density vs job density of the area. If job density is much higher than the housing density, then the price of housing goes up by a lot.

I think a similar idea can be used to explain the high costs of higher education. Every university has a limited number of spots, so people are willing to pay more and more to get a spot. Loans mean that everyone's capable of paying the money to the university, regardless what they charge.


There is an exclusionary side to housing. But there's also a stock component to it. If I can buy the same iPhone as you it's because Apple is willing to build more iPhones to follow demand. Cities don't seem to follow housing demand (for a reason or another) hence the shortage and the high prices.

> A 2000 sqft house in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming might cost $200k. In SF you'll get far less for the same money. People want to be in SF, because there's more to do, but also because the better paying jobs are there. This uplifts the entire area, but also makes things like housing more expensive.

Of course people follow the jobs and other things coming from there being many people around. Hence why the house in the middle of nowhere is cheap, no one wants to live there. It's a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

But would less people want to live in SF if somehow tomorrow there would be X% more housing units available on the market such that the price would be drastically lower? Of course, there being more housing would have to have other consequences which could (and probably would) effect the desirability of the city. I'm not familiar with SF, but for example in Paris that would probably mean replacing older buildings with newer, taller ones.

That would of course change many things, the first of which is its "visual character". Which would make it look more like say NY (because of the tall buildings) than it currently does. People would try to prevent that (if for no other reason than because people are sometimes against change) but, in the aggregate, would that bring less people here? I doubt it.

However, that would probably create more jobs in the city, which would bring in even more people, and so on. After all, today's big cities all started with a bunch of shacks, right?

My hope, as has been discussed in other threads, is that with remote work gaining traction, at least some people will leave the cities. I know many people who would like that because they don't particularly enjoy city life. This would allow, of course, some other people to come in who couldn't afford it but wanted it, but maybe, in aggregate, city population would be lower. I, for example, would gladly go live further out in the suburbs if I only had to come in the office once in a while (say no more than once, maybe twice a week).


This is one of the reasons companies should be forced to decentralize (as it was the case in Spain, though it was not forced).

I am glad to see that some companies moved south of Paris (Thalès, Bouygues, Dassault Systèmes,...) and people working there and living around our in Versailles can bike to the office.

If we managed to spread companies in the country, we would have less concentration of elitarism and pepole would live a more quiet life.


>In a lot of ways I think the cost of housing is dependent on the housing density vs job density of the area. If job density is much higher than the housing density, then the price of housing goes up by a lot.

The cost of housing is dependent on job density * quality only to the point what people are able to pay, and then rest is what they are willing to pay. A lot of people buy/rent slightly above their means if they are willing to pay it. Housing price is like an auction house so willing to pay is a bigger factor than able to.

Artificially reducing number of available houses comes in a lot of reasons/pretense but in the end its just a result of people seeing/forced to see their house as an asset; You acquired your house at price X at auction. A local urban developer want to build 100 more units close to you, from prediction of demand and would be profitable at price X (or even <X), so you passively/actively work against that proposal, tell the developer that he can build up to 90 more units, so price of your estate increase X+N. Now the next 90 buyers that bought the house have a reason to keep the price of estate above X+N, tell the developer that he can only make 80 units. Rinse and repeat.


I spent nearly 6 years homeless. I earned money online to help keep myself fed, among other things.

A cheap phone is vastly cheaper than rent. It's tiresome to see people online act like "If only you would not extravagantly piss away $7/month on a phone, you would be back in housing!!!"

Internet access and a phone number are essential for job hunting and an earned income is a common means to get off the street. You can also do online banking and other essential things much easier than dealing with going in person on foot to the bank and so forth.


Nobody's saying that you shouldn't spend money on a phone and save it for housing. Rather the opposite. People are saying that literally everything except housing (and healthcare) is so cheap compared to housing (and healthcare) that inflation measures (which typically exclude housing and healthcare) are pretty much useless.

This is the line I was responding to:

but if you can't afford to have a roof over your head I'd argue the smartphone is irrelevant.

A phone and tablet and internet access were essential to my ability to cope and eventually get back into housing. They aren't irrelevant.

If you want to argue we need to do a much better job of making housing something people can afford, I totally agree. If you want to argue that homeless people just are supposed to entirely cease to exist and not care about anything people in homes care about or something....no. That absolutely doesn't work as an argument.

The internet is a really massively helpful thing for people who are homeless.


Seems to me like we are secretly all in agreement but people are misinterpreting p1necone. Whatever.

I think what they mean is that if you can't afford shelter, it's little comfort to be able to afford a phone. Yes, the phone may be a tool that can help you find shelter, and it may help with coping with your situation and finding other opportunities, but in the end you're still trying to get shelter. If you could afford a home initially, you wouldn't need the phone to help you get one.

So no one here is arguing that homeless people shouldn't have phones or internet or anything like that, rather they're arguing that we'd have better housing opportunities if shelter was what had become so cheap, rather than phones. So measuring inflation based on the prices of non-critical goods is fine if you already own a house, but it fails to reflect reality for people who are struggling to make rent.


Housing is more expensive in part because it's much more spacious than it used to be. We've torn down a million SROs (single room occupancy units).

When I say that, inevitably someone argues against it and tells me it's slum housing. So we have a world in which the folks with money and the folks who have the power to create housing only want to approve upper class housing and then act like homeless people are just lazy and not trying hard enough or something.

Before life got in the way I wanted to be an urban planner. I've had pertinent college classes and managed to find a hundred year old SRO and that's how I got off the street.

Would I like something better? Sure I would. But I don't have the money and this beats the hell out of being homeless.

I've talked about this stuff for years. I mostly get flak.

What makes this really bad is there are a lot more households with fewer than four people than there were when we invented the suburbs. But suburban single family detached housing designed for a family of 4.5 people is our default mental model for "proper housing" and now it's that on steroids and let's not let reality get in the way of our development of this kind of completely inappropriate housing that doesn't even fit the needs of our current demographics.

Yes, I'm cranky. I lived this crap. I've studied it. I get nothing but blown off, usually by people who know way less than me about these issues.


Why is your post being down voted?

I think your post makes sense.

Land is valuable and to maximise returns, building these SROs wouldn’t make sense in our profit uber alles system.

SROs don’t have too look like concrete blocks from ex communist systems.

This is what design thinking can achieve... just one example https://nestron.house/

It seems there is no money in helping the homeless or people with low income. I guess short term thinking doesn’t consider the cost of a gradually fracturing system, it doesn’t recognise the value of a cohesive society.

It’d be amazing if there was an incentive to build a million tiny houses.


> but if you can't afford to have a roof over your head I'd argue the smartphone is irrelevant.

I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of homeless people would disagree vehemently.

Not only does smartphone make it much easier to find a job and get back to the point where you can afford a roof over your head, it allows you to stay in touch with people you care about, people who may help you out now and then. And it gives you access to lots of useful information that can improve your life, like sources of free food.


Can homeless people afford data plans?

Luckily I haven't been homeless yet, but there were times when I was too poor to have enough phone credit for internet or even regular calls. Granted, there are places that offer free wifi but only with an order if you are a paying customer, which I think most homeless people aren't.


The availability of cheap data plans and free Wifi varies radically between different places.

And most homeless people absolutely can afford to be a paying customer somewhere - a low-cost gym membership for access to showers is fairly common.

A homeless person is just someone who can't afford a home. They're not all your stereotypical pan-handling drug addict in torn, dirty clothes.


A data plan's a heck of a lot cheaper than rent.

I dont know what homeless people you do know (I guess the number is zero) but here on planet earth 99.99% of poor/homeless people would prefer a roof over their heads than a smart-phone. Well, everybody with a working brain would choose the house.

I don't know what gave you the silly idea that I was saying people would prefert a smartphone over a permanent home. That is not the choice people have to make. A smartphone does not cost hundreds of dollars per month. And I'm pretty sure that you don't know any homeless people either if you think they'd give up their phone for a few nights of shelter (which is what it might realistically buy).

I was disagreeing with the statement "if you can't afford to have a roof over your head I'd argue the smartphone is irrelevant".

Contrary to that, if you do not have a home, a smartphone is extremely useful and valuable. In the hypothetical sitation that you find yourself homeless with nothing except clothes and $100, a cheap smartphone is absolutely the best possible use of that money.


I think there's maybe a bit too much vested in the term "irrelevant" and the context around this. I suspect the OP meant the conditional to read something like: IF shelter is unaffordable THEN smartphones being cheap is irrelevant ASSUMING opportunities from the smartphone don't make housing affordable. Like if someone says if you're starving, being a millionaire is irrelevant - the assumption would be that that money cannot be used to buy food.

Of course I 100% agree that a phone can be used to improve your situation, and I'm sure the OP agrees as well. But a phone isn't enough to be able to go find housing for most people. While it can help you find cheaper shelter, or maybe over time allow you to learn skills that lead to better paying job opportunities that allow you to afford housing, you wouldn't need any of that if housing was simply affordable in the first place.

Ultimately OP isn't saying phones suck and homeless people should sell their phones for a couple nights in a shelter. What they're saying is that phones being cheap does not make up for housing being expensive - no matter how useful the phone is, ultimately the end goal is to have shelter, and if you can't afford shelter then it doesn't matter how cheap anything else is.


> What they're saying is that phones being cheap does not make up for housing being expensive - no matter how useful the phone is, ultimately the end goal is to have shelter, and if you can't afford shelter then it doesn't matter how cheap anything else is.

I can't agree with that either. Housing is not everything. Even if you are homeless with no prospects of getting out of that situation, it still matters a lot how cheap many other things (food, clothes, access to showers, communication with friends and family, even entertainment) are. A phone with internet access is not just important as a tool to get out of homelessness, it also represents a significant improvement in your quality of life.

Admittedly, this may look somewhat different in climates where a lack of shelter can be fatal.


Have you been homeless? I have been. Having a place to warmly and safely spend the night is 10000 better than any piece of phone technology and the fact you cannot understand that simple proposition is a show of either shocking callousness or incurable stupidity.

I've seen homeless people with a smartphone, and the phone seems pretty relevant to them

> I'd argue the smartphone is irrelevant.

Access to information helps you obtain and maintain a roof over your head.

> I don't think we should be including basic necessities alongside improvements in entertainment in the same statistic, because it will just hide problems.

Agreed.


Yes and no.. The smartphone is extremely relevant because access to the internet is essential for modern life. So much necessary activity takes place online, from banking to accessing public services. That needs to be factored in, perhaps not as the cost of a smartphone, but rather the cost of a laptop plus internet.

And yet, it doesn't matter if you have a smartphone and internet access if there are no jobs, or if those jobs don't pay sufficiently.


To add to that internet connected device is required, but latest iPhone that costs 15x as much is not really materially more important than a $50 one for looking at job ads/emailing potential landlords.

Likewise, a flagship phone 5 years ago might be technically less advanced than a flagship phone today, but that doesn't mean todays flagship phone is any better at looking at job ads today than the other one was 5 years ago either.

This idea that we should weight technical improvements like this when judging how the economy is performing just seems like a (maybe unintentional) attempt to paint a rosier picture than actual reality to me.


Except that the sites expand to fit the devices in use by those that make them, unless someone goes to deliberate and extensive efforts to prevent it.

>but if you can't afford to have a roof over your head I'd argue the smartphone is irrelevant.

The problem is that hosing (specifically land) is fundamentally a scarce resource, and since the 50s competition has only gotten higher (total population going up, people becoming more concentrated into cities). It's not that shelter has gotten more expensive, it's shelter in desirable places have gotten more expensive.


That’s very much a failure of society, making it a perfectly relevant thing to compare about different time periods.

The housing crunch in hot markets is really just a zoning issue. For example a federal mandate that new housing must be zoned into the area when adding new office space, retail, or residential space would largely solve the issue.


> I don't think we should be including basic necessities alongside improvements in entertainment in the same statistic, because it will just hide problems.

Exactly. But you can buy a 50" TV today for less than the price of a car! That hardly matters to anyone struggling to pay rent and the supermarket bill.


True, but a smartphone has become a component of participation in society. No one buys landline telephones anymore, but they were a part of a typical family budget in the 50s.

Yes, but you can easily buy a smartphone for <$50. It might be crap by today standards, but it will still be better than any smartphone was in 2010.

I thought so too and then bought a cheap motorla android phone (it was more than $50, i think more like $100+) and it was absolutely much worse than a 2010-vintage iphone 4 (or the highest end android you could get in 2010).

The CPU is faster and it has more RAM but somehow the user experience is absolutely atrocious - it was not even fast enough to be able to reliably answer calls (the UI was stuttery and it took multiple seconds to unlock the screen, which by then the call went to voicemail).

It would constantly fail to do every days tasks (apps would freeze and crash, including the built-in apps) and would slow down randomly making it barely usable.


postmarketOS might be useful for you or anyone in a similar situation.

It is tricky, but they try to apply what are called "hedonic adjustments." [1] If a new iPhone comes out that is way better than last year's iPhone, but it is the same price, then that's deflation! You got more stuff for the same price. Or even if your new plasma TV is more expensive than the old CRT, how do you compare them to decide whether the price level has increased or decreased while attempting to hold "quality" constant? They walk through an example like this on the webpage.

Of course it is very difficult to compare for entirely new product categories, though the good news is that brand new products likely are not a large portion of the consumption basket at the time they are introduced. So it shouldn't make that much of a difference. Otherwise, you are comparing each year to the next in a sort of "family resemblances" kind of way - maybe you can't directly compare a smartphone to something in the 1950s, but you can do incremental comparisons along the way.

[1] https://www.bls.gov/cpi/quality-adjustment/questions-and-ans...


Progress is different from deflation. Hedonic adjustments is a trick to steal the benefits of progress from workers.

> Hedonic adjustments is a trick to steal the benefits of progress from workers.

This claim is crazy. Sorry. No one in the BLS or BEA is trying to “steal benefits”. They are trying to understand the very hard problem of valuing consumer goods for which prices are generally falling and quality is generally increasing.


> Hedonic adjustments is a trick to steal the benefits of progress from workers.

How so?


If the workers own the progress should we also blame them for deforestation and pollution?

The important things people must buy are exactly the same in 1950 and indeed for millenia before. Food, water, shelter, clothing.

Luxuries change century to century and within decades but those hardly matter for inflation since those are by definition not necessities.


If you’re trying to measure inflation of necessities, then non-necessities should be excluded. If you’re trying to measure aggregate, broad-based inflation, you need to consider aggregate, broad-based baskets of goods/services.

Even with the necessity bucket, things change century to century which I think should not be considered luxury. Electric utility service and internet access I do not consider luxuries, but they were obviously not available in 1850 and 1950, respectively.


In fact, you can always decrease necessities by a little... Humans do not live out of necessity but out of convenience.

> How do we put a value on the fact that, for the cost of no more than a day's labor, most in the US can have a handheld device with access to nearly the sum total of the world's knowledge and entertainment?

I know that this is a tangent to your point and I'm not trying to be pedantic, but it always crosses my mind when people mention "access to all the knowledge and entertainment" — how much that would actually cost someone, even with the internet?

For knowledge — You have access to Wikipedia and it's a great resource for what it is, and more and more, universities are making some of their material available for free. But there's still an awful lot of academic knowledge that's locked up in research journal subscriptions and a huge amount of knowledge & expertise in e.g. industry text books from publishers like O'Reilly.

For entertainment, leaving aside piracy (as otherwise a discussion on costs seems odd), how much would it cost you to be able to access all TV, films, music, books? You'd probably need recurring subscriptions to multiple platforms to even cover main-stream (Prime, AppleTV, Disney+ etc.) Then there's titles that aren't on any subscription service, etc.

I wonder how many days labour it would cost to actually get access to all of these?


Or how much time it would take to find them under the barrage of adds and non-relevant links.

Or how much of the world's knowledge is actually relevant to what you want to access at a given moment.


No one, at any cost, could've had such a thing even 30 years ago.

30 years ago was 1991. That was one year before the IBM Simon was announced - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartphone#Forerunner People definitely imagined smartphones back then. When it went on sale a couple of years later it cost a little over $1000, or less with a cellular phone contract.

You couldn't get the internet on it though. Web access on mobile devices didn't arrive until about 1999 with things like iMode.


Agree as well.

We're seeing a lot of coming-to-terms with both the positive and negative fallout from this access.

Hopefully soon we might be able to start deriving a utility function based on what people are using the devices for, and then assigning positive and negative utility accordingly, with externalities factored in.

Then we could make an attempt at assigning dollar values, and begin to figure out what that means in an economic sense.


Are you familiar with the term Hyper-normalisation?

Just compare food, shelter and education, not luxury goods.

This is a good example of how so much economics is meant to distract you from what’s important. Cowen is framing economics to exclude things like unemployment, the process by which investment, savings, and income are determined, and the distribution of income. If you get people into the weeds about sticky prices and whatnot, it’s like putting blinders on a horse.

> This is a good example of how so much economics is meant to distract you from what’s important.

I think your assumption of malice is unfounded. A likely benign explanation is that Cowen focused on areas there economists are in broad agreement without intent to mislead.


Economists are in broad agreement because they're paid to be. This is well-documented historically.

The Mont Pelerin Society was specifically founded to promote a certain view of economics, and the Chicago School was supported financially by some very rich sponsors who wanted a a pet academic alternative to progressive slant of Keynesianism.

The "consensus" in neoliberal economics and its core ideas - including "rationality" and "efficiency" - is a wholly manufactured political project, not an organic open-minded attempt to find credible scientific foundations.


> Economists are in broad agreement because they're paid to be. This is well-documented historically.

This is *complete* nonsense. No one pays me to think or say anything. No one pays anyone in my department anything to take a particular position.

For a simple example of what nonsense your claim is: the economist’s definition of rationality is that preferences are (1.) complete and (2.) transitive. That’s it. (See any microeconomics textbook for proof. Sometimes (3.) reflexivity is included, sometimes smaller sets of axioms which imply the others are used instead.)

How “political” is that definition?? Did someone rich guy pay Paul Samuelson or Gerard Debreu or Kenneth Arrow to use that definition 80 years ago? Obviously not - moreover Arrow and Samuelson at least were on the political left! (And I simply don’t know Debreu’s politics. He could have been on the left too.)

Your comment is *entirely uninformed* and *totally unfair* to an entire profession.


It's not that simplistic, it's not a conspiracy it's a self-selecting self-replicating system.

How do economics professors get hired? By impressing other economics professors. And by having the power to win funding for the department. Who are the people that tend to fit those criteria? Mostly, those who already agree with the existing establishment, and those who already have views amenable to the well-resourced bodies that distribute funding.


> How do economics professors get hired? By impressing other economics professors.

This claim is true.

> Who are the people that tend to fit those criteria? Mostly, those who already agree with the existing establishment

This claim is false. If you can empirically support a result which shows that something most other economists believe is likely false and can do so convincingly, you can write your ticket to any department in the country. Some of the most successful graduate students every year do things like this (not all, because it's very hard to do). But the profession is 100% open to this kind of work.

> And by having the power to win funding for the department.

This demonstrates a misunderstanding of how economics departments are funded. Grant funding is a very small part of the departmental budget everywhere. We are not (to take an example where department funding does depend on grants) health policy departments.


> This claim is false. If you can empirically support a result which shows that something most other economists believe is likely false and can do so convincingly

It's almost impossible to do that though isn't it? Economics isn't a hard science, it's not like you can run RCTs or experiments. And all actually-existing economic systems are situated within an actually-existing political, social and historical context, meaning we only ever observe a tiny fraction of the possible universe of economic systems. There is no possibility to explore counterfactuals.

> This demonstrates a misunderstanding of how economics departments are funded. Grant funding is a very small part of the departmental budget everywhere

I never mentioned grants, departments still have to be funded somehow, whatever that process is, it will introduce selection biases.


> It's almost impossible to do that though isn't it?

Not at all. It IS hard, but that's because research is hard. If it were possible to easily show widely-held beliefs to be wrong, someone would have done it already. (No different from any other scientific field!) But it does happen.

>Economics isn't a hard science, it's not like you can run RCTs or experiments.

Also wrong. You can in many areas. Indeed, there is a gigantic literature on field experiments, and the whole field of development economics runs on RCTs. In macro it is difficult, because no one is going to give you a whole economy to play with, but lab experiments in macro exist. Most empirical work in macro is not based on experiments.

But that does not make it impossible to learn anything, it just makes it hard. Indeed, that is why we have spent years developing methods to solve this problem, then more years criticizing and refining our own methods. That process will never end.

> And all actually-existing economic systems are situated within an actually-existing political, social and historical context, meaning we only ever observe a tiny fraction of the possible universe of economic systems. There is no possibility to explore counterfactuals.

Again, this is what makes it hard. It is not impossible. To answer certain questions for certain models may be impossible b/c there is no way to identify the parameters in question empirically.

You make these claims like it makes our whole enterprise worthless or impossible. We have taken it as a challenge to attempt to develop interesting methods to answer hard questions.

Exploring unseen counterfactuals on the basis of parameters estimated from models given existing data is literally my bread and butter EVERY day (I am not a macroeconomist, but I am an economist). And it is the bread and butter of many of us.

Give us some credit, an overwhelming majority of us are not conservative ideologues. And if you really want to know how it works, HOW we learn things from data (in macro and elsewhere) I can provide references.


Samuelson literally self-censored his textbook in the wake of the Mccarthyite campaign against Lorie Tarshis. A similar campaigned blocked Galbraith from chairing the department at the University of Illinois. One thing Cowen has in common with Hayek and Mises is his university salary is supplied by the inherited wealth of conservative activists.

You may believe what you do sincerely but if you believed otherwise then someone else would have had your job.

Paul Krugman, I believe, talked about the risk of being blacklisted if one attacks the US monetary system and central bank. I expect there is some truth to his observations about pissing off the money printers.

The existence of human irrationality is not unknown to economists.

Behavioral economics, which concerns itself with the effects of this phenomenon on economic decision-making, is one of the major branches of the subject studied today.


Yet it still gets grouped in as "heterodox."

No. Behavioral economics is absolutely not considered heterodox. Mainstream departments (Chicago, mit) all have behavioral people.

They don’t have heterodox people (eg marxists, Austrians, or MMT). Nor should they. CS departments won’t hire people who (for example) believe computers work via magic. Dollars and tenure lines are scarce and can’t be wasted on BS. There is a lot more diversity of thought in economics departments than commenters here know, but there are limits, as there are in every field.


my main problem with economics is it makes a philosophical error in that it assumes people and economic agents are inert objects to be studied as you would chemicals or atoms, without the capacity to react and respond to economic "laws" thereby changing them. Reflexivity is a thing.

> it makes a philosophical error in that it assumes people and economic agents are inert objects to be studied as you would chemicals or atoms, without the capacity to react and respond to economic "laws" thereby changing them.

This is literally the foundation of macroeconomics AFTER Keynes. This is (one of several) reasons why Keynesianism was rejected.

Every single macroeconomist in every mainstream department in the country (and everyone in a central bank anywhere) would agree with exactly what you said AND say that it is precisely that fact which makes macroeconomics really hard.

This is why, for example, even the bare-bones simplest macroeconomic model you learn in your first year graduate macro class must include some notion of the agents' expectations.

It would be an error if we didn't do that. But fortunately, it's been at least 50 years since we started thinking about exactly that problem.


Oh, come now - comparing Marxists to people who "believe computers work via magic" is a little harsh.

Econ departments don't have Marxists for the same reason philosophy departments don't have Buddhist scholars: it's just not where they belong. The Buddhists belong in religious studies, and the Marxists belong in the political science department.


What are the best counterarguments for the "four basic truths" he claims are broadly accepted?

Taking the first claim as an example (decline in demand leads to unemployment and recession, because sticky wages etc.), I suppose one could argue that just because we've seen this happen before doesn't mean it's an inevitability of human nature. I can imagine a society with a higher level of cooperation and shared responsibility, where everyone _does_ agree to take a small reduction in pay so that others can stay employed and the overall economy suffers less.

If you agree with that argument, my best response to it is that these macroeconomic "theorems" are supposed to be phenomenological rather than prescriptive. They have predictive power in the present economic system but are not necessarily useful in a society radically different from ours.

I agree that it would be an error to treat these emergent properties as some sort of inevitable laws of nature, which is a tendency that I've seen in debates.


> Mont Pelerin Society

Last week, I thought divining an Erdős Number for economics would be amusing.

My casual effort hasn't identified a sole patient zero, prime mover, economic Eve (or Adam). The MPS roster has multiple candidates.

Any suggestions?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erdős_number https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Pelerin_Society


The grandparent is not attributing malice to the author, but to the way the framework of economics is built. Cowen probably believe that what is saying is true and can't see different anymore.

I’ve been reading Cowen for nearly twenty years. He plays dumb when he gets caught out (“I’m not really a macroeconomist,” “I’m not really familiar with Keynes,” etc). Think of him as a lawyer representing his client. He’s not going to introduce evidence that hurts his case.

His paycheck literally comes from the Koch brothers. Nobody is required to be naive about this.

Nah, in this case the accusation is warranted, Cowen has always been an unconditional cheerleader for unconstrained capitalism,the status-quo and the dubious predictive and normative power of mainstream macro.

It appears to me that Cowen has set out (his own right-wing understanding of) assumptions underlying macroeconomics, in line with the editorial position of Bloomberg.

The assumptions are set in stone before you can begin to do macroeconomics, given to you when you take Macro 101, to lay the foundation of your future work, rather than examined and challenged.

I don't think this is exactly malicious, but it bothers me that the field largely operates on, and draws research conclusions from, unchallenged assumptions.


> don't think this is exactly malicious, but it bothers me that the field largely operates on unchallenged assumptions

What do you know about the research done by contemporary macroeconomists? Anything? Do you know how it is taught in graduate programs?

If you did, you would know that all macroeconomists have opinions about where their assumptions (basic and otherwise) limit their models and spend their careers trying to extend them and make them more realistic and take them to the data.

I am not a macroeconomist but I will defend how my colleagues approach the subject. You don’t know how difficult it is until you’ve tried to formulate a model that you can actually solve and made an attempt to take it to the data.

The field absolutely does not operate on “unchallenged assumptions.”


> Do you know how it is taught in graduate programs?

If a professor presents these assumptions as "truths" (as they have done, quite literally, via this article), graduate students are strongly disincentivized from thinking about challenging or contradicting them - if they want to pass their course, if they ever might want to get a job in that department, etc.


We can have an argument about the nature of scientific truth, but I think that's a big topic.

What contemporary graduate macro everywhere teaches you is a set of tools. You then have to ask and answer your own questions. There isn't any "indoctrination" as you seem to be imagining. It's not different at all from doing a math PhD and taking a first-year analysis sequence, or a CS PhD and taking an algorithms class. It is exactly the same.

If you can take these tools and show that any of the truths presented in this article are false and can do it in a convincing way, then (as I have said elsewhere in this thread) you are going to be able to get a great job in whatever department you want.

Understand something about the incentives in science - surprising and counterintuitive results, convincingly demonstrated, can have enormous payoffs.

The way you seem to be imagining things work in economics departments and graduate programs bears little relationship to the way things actually are.


Hidden in all that math and technique are some very strong ideological assumptions. That poor people are lazy, that wages equal the marginal product of labour, that there’s an efficiency/equality tradeoff. Even just the common assumption that markets clear or that Pareto optimality has any kind of ethical basis are hugely ideological.

> If you can take these tools and show that any of the truths presented in this article are false

This is not the opposite of taking those as axiomatic truths.

You're also calling them truths and saying it's on me (as a novice) to show them false? This only proves my point that they are not properly examined.

Like I said, it bothers me.


Cowen and Tabarrok have an entire section on Unemployment and Labour Force Participation in their online Principles of Macroeconomics course if you’d like to learn more.

https://mru.org/principles-economics-macroeconomics-0#

> The Economics of Choosing the Right Career Defining the Unemployment Rate Is Unemployment Undercounted? Frictional Unemployment Structural Unemployment Cyclical Unemployment Labor Force Participation Taxing Work Women Working: What’s the Pill Got to Do With It?


"It is easier to macrobullsht than microbullsht," Nassim Taleb

The first "truth" he mentions is literally about wages and unemployment.

But he does it in a very specific framework that is never challenged. That's the trick and what, I think, the grandparent is referring to.

> in a very specific framework that is never challenged.

I'm not trying to be glib here, but that seems to fit with the intent and title of the piece, does it not?


Yes, but that's my point too. The framework is never challenged.

He says "The first and most important thing [..] is that a strong negative shock to demand [..] leads to a loss of output and employment"

Fair enough. Not even a comment of what causes the demand shock, but it's OK.

And then he jumps to:

" Nominal wages are sticky, for a complex mix of sociological reasons, and so employers do not always respond to lower demand with lower wages for workers. Instead they lay some people off, and that can lead to a recession."

The are a lot of assumptions there than are not for discussion, are just part of the framework.

He says: "The third thing to know is that if central banks go crazy increasing the money supply, the result will be high price inflation."

This is just not true, the central bank can increase the money supply all that they want, if the money is not spend in the economy there is not going to be inflation. This has been tested empirically by Japan in the last decades and the Fed and ECB more recently, but it seems that the theory is not going to change, not matter what the reality says.

The fourth truth is truth, I think :-)


It's hardly surprising that a short news piece summarising the conclusions of an entire field of study does not engage itself with challenging the frameworks used.

Nominal wage stickiness, recessions etc has been the subject of an enormous amount of study (and wage stickiness is sufficient, but not actually necessary to cause recessions). And the exception to the rule that increasing the money supply is dealt with by the very next sentence from the one you've singled out as a gotcha. Liquidity traps were already baked into the theory.

Imagine if somebody dismissed the field of computer science as a distraction from database problems based on a blogger listing CAP theorem as one of its essential conclusions


What you says is true. It's a little unfair to criticize his description of economics for what he says in a short article, but I'm not criticizing so much what he says here but his point that there are four essential truths of Macro that justify the current framework.

>"And the exception to the rule that increasing the money supply is dealt with by the very next sentence from the one you've singled out as a gotcha."

I disagree with that. There is evidence that the mainstream view is wrong on this, but it's never recognized, not even discussed because it's one of the "truths of macroeconomics" (and because the rest of the building would start to wobble if recognized).

There is a good way to see it. If you know the mainstream model of macroeconomics, you can make predictions, are the predictions about the last decades right or wrong? What the model (the framework that the author is defending) says about what would happen with big increases of bank reserves in the system?

Because the predictions were wrong, instead of changing the theory, they speculate that the world has change while they were not looking. It seems to me that would not be allowed in other sciences.


> There is evidence that the mainstream view is wrong on this, but it's never recognized, not even discussed because it's one of the "truths of macroeconomics" (and because the rest of the building would start to wobble if recognized).

Repeating a falsehood does not make it any less false. QE policy was designed by mainstream economists who did not want to see massive inflation, and as they predicted they did not see massive inflation, for reasons [partly] explained in the second sentence on that topic you have for some reason overlooked. The concept that the relationship between money supply and inflation was contingent on another variable called "monetary velocity" dates back to 1911 and the extent to which monetary stimulus produce growth rather than inflation in recession is the fundamental debate of macroeconomics. QE and Zero Lower Bound debates were not new in 2008 either.

Your assertion that economists' reaction was to "speculate that the world has change while they were not looking" no discussion is a confession of your own ignorance of contemporary macro, nothing more. (There's nothing wrong with being ignorant of contemporary macro - more exciting hobbies than reading macro papers exist - but plenty wrong with dismissing an entire field of study by reading and understanding only the first sentence of a summary paragraph)

I go back to my CAP theorem example. It would be possible to conclude from a one-line summary of CAP theorem that computer scientists cling to theory as an excuse for not working on better sharding technologies or anticipating the possibility of building databases at social media scale. But it would also be laughably wrong.


Ok, it seems you know what you are talking about. Maybe you can help me with some doubts:

-Japan have been monetizing the debt for decades, what is the consequences predicted by the textbook mainstream for inflation and interest rates? And what mainstream think are the consequences of its high public debt?

-In 2011-2012 there was a crisis of sovereign debt for some countries of the Euro-area. The reason was that "the markets" perceived the debt of those countries as too risky, so, they demanded a high return. How was, by textbook macroeconomics, the crisis solved? Currently, those countries have bigger public debt that then, and, a very big (Covid) crisis in their hands. How mainstream economics explain that the returns demanded by the market are so low now compared to then?

-When was the last time that a country payed its public debt and what would happen if they do (by textbook macro)?

-What is the mechanism that produce inflation when you increasing reserves (monetary policy) instead of spending in the economy (fiscal policy) and why has not worked (except for the stock market)?

-What are the measures that Cowen is talking about when he says: "[..] central banks simultaneously act to decrease the velocity of money — that is, if they take measures to reduce borrowing and lending [..]"


Jeez that's five essay length questions...

1) Japan's public sector debt has risen over time, but is not unusually high by global standards. Mainstream macro suggested that Japan would struggle to stimulate further growth once its interest rates hit zero (structural reasons why Japan's economy slowed down is a book length topic) which is of course what happened to Japan before the rest of the world. QE was a slightly unconventional way of achieving the textbook macroeconomic goal of injecting more money into the economy when it slows down.

2) The European Central Bank announced emergency measures to ensure all governments affected by COVID have access to reserves of Euros. In 2011-2012 it didn't, taking the view that countries with massive deficits should resolve their problems by cutting spending. Bond buyers didn't trust that they would, which made national debt servicing even more expensive, though these countries would have had problems even without that.

3) I'm not aware of any country repaying all its public debts or any textbook macro suggestion that this would be a remotely sensible goal for them to aim for. Textbooks would imply that continuing to aim for the necessary fiscal surpluses during an economic slowdown would result in massive recessions long before the debt got near zero.

4) Monetary policy produces inflation from credit becoming cheaper resulting in more money being available to spend on goods and services (and less reluctance to lend or spend based on concerns about the cost of debt service). The responsiveness to monetary policy is reduced when people still don't want to borrow more and central banks can't make it any cheaper to borrow money than it already is. More unconventional interventions like buying stocks obviously directly and immediately increase stock prices, but the average stock holder is less likely to go out and buy more goods, services or staff with their returns than the average borrower, so doesn't necessarily boost the economy/inflation as much as injecting money to reduce interest rates.

5) Cowen's phrasing is, admittedly, vague and crap here. Much of the velocity of money decrease has already happened because people are not spending or investing or borrowing as much in the middle of an economic crisis. On top of that, you've got much of the additional spending being ring fenced or restricted to those not spending.


That's a long and good answer. Thanks for taking the time.

This is an interesting discussion but I don't want to extend it ad infinitum. A parting thought:

Your answer about ECB tell me that you agree that central banks can control bond yields. So, I have to ask myself who is the "mainstream economics" that we are discusing about. Maybe we are thinking of different people.

Was not Martin Feldstein? (1) is not Paul Krugman? (2)

(1) - http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=33094 (2) - http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=13970


Feldman quite clearly states that Japan moving from deflation to inflation would be the trigger that caused a central bank to increase interest rates (orthodox policy response to inflation) which would increase public debt service costs. So there's no contradiction between central banks affecting bond yields and the effect of the central bank increasing the cost of borrowing being bad for the budget of the Japanese government issuing those bonds.

You'll forgive me for not bothering to defend the half dozen articles Mitchell takes exception to in the second post (though I will say Krugman is given to glib generalisation when writing for mainstream audiences. A quality shared with pretty much every MMT blog going...)


Free market types love the sticky wages idea because it blames workers for their own unemployment (which is really caused by inequality, incomplete contracts, the unstable dynamics of investment, etc). The irrelevance of sticky wages was sorted out over eighty years ago but people like Cowen pretend otherwise because they need to. And as an empirical matter, wages really aren't even that sticky anyway.

https://archive.vn/Vu6Cw to get around the paywall

I get a "please subscribe" pop-up and can't get rid of it without fiddling with the CSS editor. Anyhow...

Summary of Truisms:

1) During recessions, employers tend to lay off rather than reduce wages

2) Central bank stimulus helps recessions

3) Too much stimulus causes run-away inflation

4) Non-monetary problems like oil shocks and pandemics can cause recessions

5) Increasing population helps economies. ("Hump to de-slump?" Or immigration?)

Summary of areas of disagreement and mysteries:

1) Acceptable level of debt

2) Acceptable level of inflation

3) Effectiveness of public sector versus private sector stimulus. (The left emphasizes first, the right second.)

4) Measuring the true value of intellectual property


> During recessions, employers tend to lay off rather than reduce wages

There's a good reason for that. I've seen both done. An across-the-board wage reduction means your most productive leave. A layoff is getting rid of the least productive.


I believe Germany has done the opposite. Unions have agreed to pay cuts so they wouldn't be let go. Part of the reason may be that wage levels are reasonably flat compared with the US, so the upside in switching jobs for a better paying one at a competitor is limited versus the hassle of doing so. In any case, it's an interesting alternative model which ensures stability for employees and employers alike.

Regarding point 5: increasing population via reproduction adds workers in 16-18 years. Immigration adds workers immediately.

Additionally, immigration increases both labor supply (obviously) but also labor demand (more consumption, because immigrants buy stuff and services just like anyone else) and as a result wages are flat even when a lot of immigrants join the economy in a short amount of time.

"This has been tested under conditions such as the Mariel Boat Lift, where a large number of Cuban immigrants all joined the Miami labor market in a short period of time, increasing labor supply by 7% very quickly. Research found that there was practically no impact on wages and employment for locals."

https://www.reddit.com/r/Economics/wiki/faq_immigration

https://www.jstor.org/stable/2523702?seq=1


> "This has been tested under conditions such as the Mariel Boat Lift, where a large number of Cuban immigrants all joined the Miami labor market in a short period of time, increasing labor supply by 7% very quickly. Research found that there was practically no impact on wages and employment for locals."

The problem with all of these studies is that they only apply to the specific circumstances of the study which will probably never happen again anywhere.

What happens if the immigrants send more of the money they make back to their home countries? What happens if the minimum wage is lower, or the immigrants have a higher skill level, so that the potential downside for wages is larger? What if the unemployment rate or labor demand is different, affecting the number of new workers that displace existing workers? What happens if immigrants' wages are taxed at a higher rate and the money goes to cronies and corporate welfare instead of being recirculated in the economy?

Measuring what happened at a different time in a different place doesn't really tell you much.


Also, what would happen if the Miami economy hadn't had been experiencing a boom in cocaine industry during the same time period?

Increasing a the population is great way to "hide debt". If the size of the economy grows, then the existing debt is smaller in comparison. It may not be that population itself is helping the economy, but rather burying debt is helping. However, arguably it's cheating.

But the viewpoint is one of a country.

What it misses, obviously, is the negative impact on where they have come from.

One areas net immigration is another area's brain drain - hence why you have concentrations in cities and poor rural areas.


> Non-monetary problems like oil shocks and pandemics can cause recessions

It wasn't the oil shock of the 70's that caused recession. It was our response to it - Nixon's oil and gas price & allocation controls. We came out of that when Reagan repealed it.

Our current recession is not caused by the pandemic, but the lockdown response to it.


"Our current recession is not caused by the pandemic, but the lockdown response to it."

I was initially going to post this to refute freddie_mercury, but when I looked at the data it's more suggestive that he's right, and the recession actually is caused by the pandemic.

We can examine this by looking at countries that had no lockdowns and seeing how they did relative to countries that did.

Taiwan had no lockdown, instead relying on incredibly strict quarantine procedures, robust contact-tracing, and being an island. South Korea also had no lockdown, but managed a few surges through very thorough test, trace, & isolate procedures. Those two countries had the smallest economic declines, with Taiwan barely registering a recession at -0.6% and South Korea at -3%:

https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4008495

New Zealand had a very strict lockdown in March and April, a steep recession (-17%), but then eradicated COVID and ended the lockdown. They had a sharp V-shaped recovery (+14%) in Q4:

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/nz-economy-bounces-out-o...

But there's a potential conflating effect: the countries without lockdowns usually lacked them because they didn't have many cases. To remove the conflating effect, we can look at Sweden, which had no lockdown but lots of COVID cases (and more deaths than its neighbors). Sweden had a -8.3% fall in its Q2 GDP. By comparison, Norway (strict lockdown, few cases) had -5.3%, Denmark (strict lockdown, fair number of cases) had -8.5%, and the UK (initially no lockdown but reversed course when they had lots of cases) had -21.7%.

This would seem to indicate that it's the pandemic itself (and resulting societal fear) rather than the lockdown that caused the GDP fall.


This is obviously false and all you have to do is acknowledge there are other countries in the world besides the US.

Every country in the world was subjected to oil shocks. Not every country had price controls. Every country experienced a recession.

Likewise, every country experienced the pandemic. Not every country had lockdowns. Every country experienced recessions.

Posts that had simple explanations for complex phenomena are almost always wrong, especially when they fail to account for the evidence of other countries.


I remember the day before Reagan signed the Executive Order to repeal all of Nixon's oil&gas allocation&price controls. Gas lines. The day after. No gas lines. All the gas you wanted. At last, I could pull right up to the pump and get gas. And the gas lines never returned in the next 40 years, despite many oil shocks (like Gulf War 1 and Gulf War 2).

The evidence is very strong that Nixon's actions caused the gas lines in the US.


I can think of another example where the government controls the price and distribution. The results are long lines, shortages, political elite jumping lines, mass confusion, etc.

> Every country in the world was subjected to oil shocks. Not every country had price controls. Every country experienced a recession.

> Likewise, every country experienced the pandemic. Not every country had lockdowns. Every country experienced recessions.

I can't speak to #1, but #2 is not a strong argument. Lockdowns covered enough of the world that you would expect to see a recession, on those grounds alone, in every country with any exposure to international trade.


Lockdowns had very little effect. People arguing they were responsible for doing anything of significant consequence are arguing based on group affiliation and have not updated their beliefs in light of the actual, empirical evidence.

"This paper examines the drivers of the collapse using cellular phone records data on customer visits to more than 2.25 million individual businesses across 110 different industries.

...

While overall consumer traffic fell by 60 percentage points, legal restrictions explain only 7 of that. Individual choices were far more important and seem tied to fears of infection. Traffic started dropping before the legal orders were in place; was highly tied to the number of COVID deaths in the county; and showed a clear shift by consumers away from larger/busier stores toward smaller/less busy ones in the same industry. States repealing their shutdown orders saw identically modest recoveries--symmetric going down and coming back."


Mmmm, the idea that the rapid and sudden collapse of the hospital system in major city centres would have led to no other economic consequences is certainly a take.

From my readings of history, the death rate from Covid is not enough to cause an economic collapse, even if everyone contracted it.

The hospitalization rate and resulting panic could do it, though. Hospitalizations were about 20% of cases; worse, the rate dropped off less for young people than the death rate did, so while your chance of dying from COVID as a 30-40 year old was only about 1 in 2000, your chance of being hospitalized was about 1 in 30. Having 1 out every 30 people in the labor force hospitalized will shut down a lot of workplaces, particularly if their coworkers want to avoid the inconvenience (and $100K+ hospital bill).

I have an acquaintance that runs a box factory. Their COVID outbreak resulted in only one death, but it knocked one whole building out for about 2-3 weeks. Reportedly their competitors each had 3-4 such outbreaks.


I read it a few times to realize you aren't being political (I hope). I know nothing about the oil shock, and I know the lockdowns were somewhat needed at the time.

You can google the Arab oil embargo. Most of what you'll read is garbage, but it should give an overview.

That seems like a silly splitting of hairs.

Why stop there? By that logic the recession is not caused by the lockdown but by less businesses being open and reduced consumer spending.


Let's say Bob insults me and I punch him in the nose. Did Bob cause me to punch him in the nose? Of course not. Just like the Terminator, I scrolled through a list of options, and selected "punch him in the nose". I could have selected "your mother is a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries." I could have selected "do nothing".

What's your definition of cause here? Human agency? In that case, people could have decided to donate part of their salaries to businesses they previously frequented,or other rediculous "choices" that humans would never do.

I don't think there is a coherent notion of cause and effect where both covid does not cause the recession and the lockdown does. I can see very restricted notions of cause and effect where neither "cause" it, and more normak notions where both cause it, but not one where one causes but not the other.

And that's ignoring the absolutely rediculous premise that the covid death toll and long term disability toll has no effect on the economic downturn and it was purely caused by the lockdown. There are reasonable arguments that lockdown has been a net positive for the economy in the long run (even more so for non-usa countries that did it competently)


> has no effect on the economic downturn

I didn't write it had no effect. I wrote it wouldn't have caused a recession.

> purely caused

I didn't say "purely", either.


Regarding 3; are there examples of stimulus causing run-away inflation? Or has it usually been a political event, a complete loss of trust in the system?

True, but false ;)

Thanks for the summary. There doesn't seem to be any way of getting around the Bloomberg paywall, outline.com doesn't work either.

I get the full text after disabling JavaScript (Firefox).

View source, then copy & paste the relevant bits into an .html file.

Reader view on iOS worked for me.

>>"The third thing to know is that if central banks go crazy increasing the money supply, the result will be high price inflation. There is one exception to this, which was evident in 2008 and 2009 [..]"

Japan has been doing that for decades now, and none of the mainstream macroeconomics prediction came true.

>>"If central banks simultaneously act to decrease the velocity of money — that is, if they take measures to reduce borrowing and lending — then price inflation will be limited accordingly."

What are those measures he is talking about?


That’s because we measure inflation stupidly, IMO. If there would otherwise be, say 6% price decrease, but central bankers inflate the supply of money to 1% price increase, then they say we had 1% inflation when in reality there was 7% inflation.

What are the best introductory books to get more grounded in economics


I have a textbook by Mankiw (one of the other comments here also recommends him) and it seems pretty good. I particularly like how it points out in which areas there is consensus or disagreement between professional economists and the various sides of the debate. It's expensive new but if you hunt around you can get used editions fairly reasonably.

I'd be aware that there are certain heterodox schools of economic thought that are much more popular among non-economists than economists, so it's probably worth trying to find something that presents opposing arguments and isn't too biased.

Also, I don't know about his other stuff but Ray Dalio has some great material if you want a very quick, high level introduction to some macroeconomic concepts that doesn't have much jargon. In particular I remember the introductory video at:

https://economicprinciples.org/

being pretty good. I also liked his free book on debt crises since it breaks down the macroeconomic situation in various country/time periods (inflation, government/private debt, etc) which I thought was more interesting than reading about some of those things in abstract (I also don't remember it being very jargon-heavy).



If you want actual Macroeconomics rather than the myths from this article try

https://www.amazon.com/Macroeconomics-William-Mitchell/dp/11...


This is not a good recommendation. Wray and the MMT school have a bizarre set of views which are wildly outside the mainstream of macroeconomic thinking.

Moreover, when serious macroeconomists have tried to engage with MMT on its own terms (which they do!) the MMT people always get evasive and vague in response to the very simple question: “why didn’t your monetary ideas work for Venezuela/Zimbabwe/Weimar Germany?”

There are much better textbooks available. Wolfers/Stephenson is a recent one I’ve thought about using in class.


"“why didn’t your monetary ideas work for Venezuela/Zimbabwe/Weimar Germany?”"

What a bizarre response. They weren't even attempted there as the literature shows.

https://gimms.org.uk/2020/11/14/weimar-republic-hyperinflati...

Presumably you also believe heavier than air flight is theoretically impossible because bad pilots crash planes.


The MMT claim, as far as any normal economist understands it, is that the government can print money indefinitely to pay for whatever it wants, because of a somewhat counterintuitive claim about the government being able to insist that people pay taxes in the currency it designates.

As I said, it's really hard to get MMT people to sit down and describe exactly what they are claiming, b/c they have to face up to these counterexamples. Like: "why couldn't Venezuela print money indefinitely to pay for what it wants?"

To which the MMT response is some version of: "Well, I didn't mean that!"

Well ok - WHAT did you mean? They are always slippery and evasive (at best) about what they do mean. They do not engage with conventional macroeconomists for the most part. And that's not because conventional macroeconomists don't try to engage with them! If it were possible to do what they propose, that would be amazing! You would have wide agreement on that within the profession.

I share many of their political goals - I'm on the left too. But I don't see how it is remotely possible to achieve the goals they propose in the manner they suggest.


>"The MMT claim, as far as any normal economist understands it, is that the government can print money indefinitely to pay for whatever it wants, because of a somewhat counterintuitive claim about the government being able to insist that people pay taxes in the currency it designates."

MMT doesn't claim anything like that. MMT says that a government that have its own floating currency its not financially constrained (the key word here is financially). They also claim that the size of the public debt (but not the deficit!) of such a government it's irrelevant.

Governments (that spend its own floating currency) can't spend indefinitely in a period of time because they are constrained by the real capacity of economy of the country. If they spend beyond that capacity inflation happens. This is cannon in MMT, it's not a complicated idea, it's even in the most superficial introduction to MMT and it's beyond me why somebody, acting in good faith, would keep changing, what the MMT economists are saying.

Your hyperinflation comments have been answered elsewhere in this thread.


tbf MMT does have an explanation for Venezuela, Zimbabwe and the Weimar Republic (supply constraints). This isn't by itself implausible, but their overall inflation model is very handwavy. I can buy "job guarantee could act as an endogenous stabiliser if the proportion funded by new currency issue is calibrated correctly" but not "the existence of a buffer stock of labour compensated by a JG means that we don't need to consider printing less or making credit more expensive as if prices rise firms could always hire from this pool" which seems to be the preferred version

But yes, they seem to be preferring to talk past rather than engage with mainstream macroeconomists. The sheer rhetorical effort they devote to convincing their readers the money multiplier is the wrong foundation that underpins all modern macro and not a simple pedagogic device for explaining how leverage works and why deposit insurance became a thing....


The money multiplier model brings to mind a comment, in a Terry Pratchett book, where one of the characters says something like "everybody knows what the wind is, the wind is what happens when the trees move their branches".

If you have a model that have the components right but the causality going in total opposite direction, I think is kind of fair to criticize its pedagogic value.


But all it does is say "this is how a banking system can create n dollars from x dollars". It's also historically correct: banks created leverage from a fixed currency supply exactly as described before the endogenous money era, and the whole reason endogenous money exists is because the government decided that facilitating this money creation with their own was better than bank runs and wildly fluctuating lending rates.

The week after, students learn about money markets, credit and money demand as liquidity preference.

And MMTers aren't saying "the second week of undergrad teaching could be improved by refining this model", they're saying "mainstream economics is built on this foundation that only we are clever enough to know isn't true".

Props for the Pratchett quote though. Sounds like something Detritus would have said. :)


The reason MMTers (and I'm not a religious man, but I suppose that, in a way I have been converted) have to fight the Money Multiplier thing is because of this conversation:

MMTer: Public debt can be monetized, inflation is created by spending (public or otherwise) not by more reserves, central banks can control the interest rate independently of the quantity of reserves in the system.

Anti-MMTer: Wait, if you add reserves to the system, banks can lend more! That's inflationary!

MMTer: Banks can lend always anyway if makes business sense. Their only limit is the capital requirements of every particular bank. If lending makes business sense, banks can find the legally required reserves, they are not constrained by reserves.

Anti-MMTer: But the Money Multiplier!

MMTer: Facepalm

I wish I could remember in what book was the Terry Pratchett quote. It's a great quote.


I can't think of a single macroeconomist that would say "but the money multiplier" though. This is a straw man invented by MMTers to avoid debate.

Literally every single central bank's policies are designed and implemented by mainstream macroeconomists, as were the capital requirements. "Banks can lend always anyway if it makes business sense" is the system mainstream macro built. Of course, mainstream economists also consider the "if it makes business sense" bit (and to a degree the "capital requirements" bit) matters, and have models observing that the flow of money actually injected into the economy at a given interest rate being finite and relatively predictable, and they can make it go up or down in different circumstances by changing that interest rate. They also (since the 80s, at least) have a sophisticated enough grasp of inflation to figure that how the dollars are injected into the economy matters rather a lot.


I think this dismissal is unfair.

As someone who is the furthest from being an economist...

The conceptual difference between Keynesian and MMT comes down to:

- How much relative emphasis is placed on federal deficits vs interest rates wrt inflation. Keynesians don't decouple deficits and interest rates.

- Emphasis on monetarian vs fiscal management. MMTs focus on fiscal. Keynesians straddle the two. (Chicago/Austrian schoolers focus on monetarian.)

Said another way, the MMTs are simply pointing out that with 2008 and the aftermath, Keynesian models and predictions were not correct wrt to QE and inflation, and so are floating alternative theories, primarily explicitly adding interest rates to the models.


You can watch online course videos created by the article author: https://mru.org/

They're very high quality


“The Worldly Philosohers” is very good. Economics is full of controversies and contested ideas so it’s best to take them head on rather than pretending it’s physics.

If you’re looking for a textbook, this is the best (it’s also free):

https://www.core-econ.org/the-economy/book/text/0-3-contents...


Somehow I can never take somebody seriously who says "this is the best". How can you know it is the best book? Have you literally read all of them and can thus compare them? If not, how can you be sure? Is there even such a thing as a best book? Different people have different backgrounds, learn in different ways, like different things. Why would there not be multiple "best" books?

Reminds me of a guy I once met, who told me that "this is the best bakery in the city" (>1.5e6 inhabitants). Interestingly, the city's best bakery was just around the corner of his appartment. Once he moved to a different appartment in 10min walking distance, he never went back to the best bakery. He found out that the bakeries closer to his new appartment were at least equally good...


There aren’t that many econ textbooks. The others are all trying to do the same thing, stuck in the past in different ways.

I personally think a lot of established macroeconomics is bullshit. There's just no mechanism to verify many of the hypotheses, and practitioners rarely suffer from the kind of personal survival pressure that otherwise tends to filter out for people who are right.

Not to mention that the entire economy is such a complex system, and my experience with complex systems is that we can't predict them, we like to come up with causal explanations for observed events, and we're almost always wrong on closer scrutiny.

With all that in mind, I have started my economics journey not on the macro picture, but on the details. Book recommendations include:

- The Kelly capital investment criterion: a collection of historic peer-reviewed papers about what it says on the tin: how to allocate resources to risky ventures (read: how to size bets.)

- Red-Blooded Risk: a wandering tale about quantitative risk management and how it entered the world of finance in the seventies--eighties. As always with Aaron Brown, it contains lots of information on economic matters that aren't directly related to the main subject.

- The Economic Function of Futures Markets: a correct, for once, exposition on how futures markets are not about locking in prices (any regular contract can do that) or hedging (the people who supposedly would hedge don't) but about creating an implicit loan market for commodities, among other things.

- The Poker Face of Wall Street: a wandering tale on the similarities between betting, speculation in financial instruments, and insurance, among other things.

- The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets: Benoit Mandelbrot summarises some of his research into modeling markets with multifractal geometric ideas.

- Fortune's Formula: a more pop-sci friendly version of the Kelly criterion paper collection.

- Regression Modeling with Financial and Actuarial Applications: basic techniques used everywhere for statistical modeling of things.

- Moneyball: finding not the best, but the most undervalued through quantitative reasoning.

- Inadequate Equilibria: a framework for thinking about when economic incentives align with a desired outcome and when they don't.

I have also started a fairly advanced prediction market at work to get a better sense for how such things work, and I'm the guy who you either love or hate playing Risk and Monopoly with, because I invent derivative money and all sorts of exotic contracts as an aid to diplomacy.

But then again, I generally build knowledge by generalizing from specific concrete experiences. Maybe that bottom-up approach works badly for some people.

Edit: I should say that these are some of the books I have read and can personally vouch for. There are several more like them in my stack of books to read. I can list some of those that I think are more promising, but I can't personally vouch for them yet.

Second edit: oh, I almost forgot some of the most important parts. I don't have a specific reference, but double-entry accounting and financial reports are things that will teach you a lot of the basic terminology about assets, liabilities, equity, credit and so on.

I suggest maintaining your personal (or your family's) books with double-entry. A great pplace to start is Plain Text Accounting.


> I personally think a lot of established macroeconomics is bullshit. There's just no mechanism to verify many of the hypotheses

Modern academic (and central bank) macroeconomics is literally all about taking macroeconomic models to data. Period. Attend any macro seminar in the field at any university and that’s what you’ll see. In particular: it is directly about “verifying the mechanisms.”

Your complaint is perhaps somewhat ignorant of the way macroeconomics is actually practiced.

Source: an academic economist.


I'm influenced by reports like these[1], but maybe I've been biased in my reading selection.

I also want to be clear about what I'm saying:

- I'm not saying macroeconomists don't have a hard job. Specifically due to the slow feedback and complex systems, it must be one of the hardest jobs in the world. It's like you set a dial on a big black box and suddenly, but years later, a bunch of people get sick. You'll never know whether it was that dial setting that did it. Or whether it was one of your other 35 dial settings. Actually, you'll likely never even know it happened.

- I'm not saying macroeconomists are worse at this than any others. There are many highly theoretical fields with low level of concrete feedback where this is a problem.

- I'm not saying macroeconomists aren't trying. It's just a fundamentally insanely intractable problem, so I'm still looking for evidence that they aren't failing.

- I'm also not saying macroeconomists are doing it out of ignorance or spite. The few I've spoken to have all been pretty honest about flying blind.

[1]: https://archive.is/S3UpC


Most economic models are very nice in the steady state. If you get any sort of irrational actor or unaccounted variable in the model the model usually goes weird. The whole thing is at least s 20 dimensional graph just for the data. Never mind the hundreds of other things that feed it each of those systems some of which are impossible to model. It is a challenging problem but not really 'dialed in' and able to make decent predictions more than a few moments out. It is usually very good on explaining what happened but usually very ham fisted on predictions. Every once and awhile someone's model will 'get it right' at that point they go on book tours and predict the next disaster which may or may not happen. (source: degree in econ)

> Most economic models are very nice in the steady state. If you get any sort of irrational actor or unaccounted variable in the model the model usually goes weird. The whole thing is at least s 20 dimensional graph just for the data.

If you're saying "it's hard," then I agree. And every academic macroeconomist would say the same thing.

> Never mind the hundreds of other things that feed it each of those systems some of which are impossible to model.

This also sounds like "it's hard," OR "you can't model everything." You can then say "and so I give up." Macroeconomists do not and for good reason: policymakers are going to use some kind of model to predict the impact of policies, or to select which policies to implement. We can either do our best to try to inform them on the basis of data, or we can throw up our hands, in which case they might well make worse choices.

> Every once and awhile someone's model will 'get it right' at that point they go on book tours and predict the next disaster which may or may not happen.

I do not see this happening personally. Nor do I think a lot of academic economists are in the business of going on book tours making confident predictions.


The rub with >policymakers are going to use some kind of model to predict the impact of policies, or to select which policies to implement

It is the policy makers are not aware of the 3rd or even 2nd level effects on those decisions. The models do not show it to them because many cant, or they do not want to see it. There are also enough different theories that they can pick whatever sounds nice and fits what they want to say and then can lean back and say 'see the model said'. My point is they are not going to follow the 'science' they are going to have smorgasbord of whatever pet theory they want to promote. Then back the 'science' into it.

>This also sounds like "it's hard," OR "you can't model everything." You can then say "and so I give up."

What I am saying is the models are borderline not working. They 'sorta' work right up until you get an irrational actor (see recent stonks issue as an interesting case study). People are irrational but rational in a different dimension. But we have no real good way to model that. It is why almost all of these theories 'work' until you get something irrational that the model does not account for.

I am also not saying 'give up'. I am saying you need a lot more dimensions in your calculus. I am also saying many of those dimensions you will have a very hard time measuring. That is due to other external dimensions affecting those hyper dimensional curves, and even the model bending back on itself affecting things. It will also not be something you can keep in your head. Also at this point you will have to explain it in a way people can understand (any way else is the way of kafka). There are many years of theories that sound nice but do not work.

>I do not see this happening personally. Because in the majority of the cases it does not happen. Because the models usually get it wrong. But every once and awhile someone hits the lottery and leans into it. Usually around market crashes.


The undercover economist - Tim Hartford

The accidental theorist - Paul Krugman

Or if you want a textbook, Mankiw is pretty good.


For a solid intro to economics, I found a real gem of a suggestion by an econ professor at UC Berkeley [1], so I'll share with you. His advice is to start from the father of economics himself, Adam Smith. Then follow that up with Das Kapital (which I know is an unpopular stance here on HN) and some Keynes (who is credited with coming up with the economic theory that helped bring the UK and US out of the Great Depression). Here's a snippet of Prof. DeLong's advice:

> We have our recommended ten-stage process for reading such big books:

1. Figure out beforehand what the author is trying to accomplish in the book.

2. Orient yourself by becoming the kind of reader the book is directed at—the kind of person with whom the arguments would resonate.

3. Read through the book actively, taking notes.

4. “Steelman” the argument, reworking it so that you find it as convincing and clear as you can possibly make it.

5. Find someone else—usually a roommate—and bore them to death by making them listen to you set out your “steelmanned” version of the argument.

6. Go back over the book again, giving it a sympathetic but not credulous reading.

7. Then you will be in a good position to figure out what the weak points of this strongest-possible argument version might be.

8. Test the major assertions and interpretations against reality: do they actually make sense of and in the context of the world as it truly is?

9. Decide what you think of the whole.

10. Then comes the task of cementing your interpretation, your reading, into your mind so that it becomes part of your intellectual panoply for the future.

> Follow this process, and your reading becomes active. Then you have the greatest possible chance of learning the books—of thereafter being able to summon up sub-Turing instantiations of the thinkers Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes and then running them on your wetware. If you can do that, you can be closer to being as smart as they were. And at the same time you will be aware enough of their weak points and blindnesses that you can be wiser than they were.

[1] https://www.bradford-delong.com/2019/12/a-note-on-reading-bi...


I recently started in the book “The value of everything” , and it’s the first book to give me a solid understanding from the early theories and it’s working its way to today. Especially the decomposition of where the theories differ is enlightening. I just arrived at marginal utility theory. It explains it far better than all the classes I had in economics.

I'd suggest Adam Smith and Marx were terrible starting points tbh, since both were writing long before anything resembling the theories and methods of modern economics - or actual modern economies - actually existed and the one thing they had in common (a labour theory of value, though Marx's is more sophisticated and fundamental to his theories) is something essentially no modern economist believes. Not that they're not interesting reads and influential on what came after, but it's like trying to get a grounding in computer science from reading Ada Lovelace.

Arguably even the bad theories are better understood in the context of modern economics (Marx's "Iron Law of Wages" which proposes that wages inevitably fall to subsistence levels makes much more sense as a special case of there being more supply than demand for that type of labour; one prevalent in the middle of an Industrial Revolution which made many craftsmen obsolete but less evidently a universal truth after a century of most people in the West earning well above the minimum necessary to keep them alive)_



I am well underway in the book “The value of everything” , it’s thorough but accessible and starts from the beginning and shows how theories evolved.

Buy a cheap, used macro/micro book (Krugman or similar)

Buy and read,23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang. All his books are recommended for a reasonable criticism of mainstream economics.


Tangentially related but I'll take this opportunity to ask. One thing I have never understood is the idea that a weak currency is good for exports, because it makes goods cheaper (more competitive) for the foreign buyer. It seems like it would be very simple for exporting companies to adjust their prices instantly to counteract any weakening of the currency. If not, they are essentially lowering their prices. Alternatively, why can't exporters just lower their prices without weakening the entire currency?

I think a first-order explanation (that probably breaks down quickly) is that often many fixed costs are paid in the local currency, such as salaries and rent. To be profitable (in the local currency that they care about) they need to take a certain price, otherwise they're operating at a loss. Currency fluctuations affect all these factors equally so that in the end your product is cheaper for the importer. The salaries and other costs are of course lower as well when the local currency is exchanged to whatever currency the trade is taking place in.

The flip side is of course when you rely on imports to produce your exports (natural resources for example)


Yes, exporters can choose to raise their prices in the local currency. However, this comes with some administrative overhead and is visible to the buyer, hence prices tend to be sticky. Alternatively, they can price in dollars in which case they take on currency risk in the other direction but get the full benefit of a fall in their local currency.

> Alternatively, why can't exporters just lower their prices without weakening the entire currency?

Because then they wouldn't be able to make a profit after paying their local employees and suppliers.


The third great truth in this list is "an increase in the money supply leads to inflation, except when it doesn't" which is hard to argue with. Clearly a field where Nobel prizes should be awarded.

The third great truth is the only reason the editor published the article. The theme of the past few weeks from conservative finance outlets has been that Biden's $1,400 payment and $15/hr federal minimum wage hike are going to destroy the economy through inflation.

The fourth great truth barely counts as a statement, really. You can't make the first great truth that demand drops cause economic shocks through layoffs, argue that's not obvious, then make the fourth great truth that things other than demand drops can cause economic shocks.


To be fair it's not a real Nobel prize. It's paid for by a bank and it was first issued in 1968. One of Nobel's descendants is on record speculating that Nobel would never have agreed to the award. It's very much about public relations for the field of economics. The field's effect on the world has been to undermine democratic governments through the establishment of treaties that people never voted for and organizations comprised of people who were never elected. Governments merely act as middle managers to the "market" and their role is to keep their people within the constraints of these supposed universal truths. The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics Science is a way for the field to convey prestige, expertise, and authority.

My personal take is that the field is stuck in an existential local minima and are self-conscious about it: similar to how astronomy was stuck on the model of concentric spheres. I think everybody who practices the field is unconsciously aware of it too which is why they lean on hand-waving charts and opaque math that anybody in a harder science would instinctively call bullshit on. How psychology got to be the poster boy for the replication crisis in the social sciences and not economics is baffling given the scope and depth of influence the field has had on the world.

But don't take my word for it... https://academic.oup.com/ej/article-abstract/127/605/F236/50...

  We investigate two critical dimensions of the credibility of empirical economics research: statistical power and bias. We survey 159 empirical economics literatures that draw upon 64,076 estimates of economic parameters reported in more than 6,700 empirical studies. Half of the research areas have nearly 90% of their results under‐powered. The median statistical power is 18%, or less. A simple weighted average of those reported results that are adequately powered (power ≥ 80%) reveals that nearly 80% of the reported effects in these empirical economics literatures are exaggerated; typically, by a factor of two and with one‐third inflated by a factor of four or more.

> I think everybody who practices the field is unconsciously aware of it too which is why they lean on hand-waving charts and opaque math that anybody in a harder science would instinctively call bullshit on.

Hand-waving charts are how the subject is taught to indifferent undergraduates. And the charts aren’t hand waving, though they may seem like it when the undergraduates don’t understand. (Source: “hand-waving” chart using economics professor, though I do my best to help them understand.)

Research as practiced in university departments does not rely on “hand waving charts.” You’ve probably never been to a research seminar in economics. It is all about how parameters in a model are identified.

Whether “the math is opaque” I cannot say. Is it more opaque than computer science? Or math in math departments?

If you can find a simple, not opaque way to do the same, the world’s macroeconomists will beat a path to your door to learn from you. They’ll even nominate you for their fake Nobel. You can refuse it if your conscience (or the sprit of Alfred Nobel!) demands it, but like all Nobel prizes it comes with a cash reward.

Also... no one in the field cares that it’s the “bank of Sweden memorial prize in honor of Alfred Nobel”. Make it just the “bank of Sweden economics prize” and we’ll still be excited about it. We could care less that it has Nobel’s name on it.

The paper you cite is published in... an economics journal! And it is not the only one on the topic. We are aware that the standards for empirical work may need to be higher. Indeed, this is the second time in thirty years we have come to that conclusion. This problem is not unique to economics.


Unrelated, but I’m curious why people say “could care less” - don’t you mean “couldn’t”?

Fair point.

Maybe I shouldn't speak for all of us: probably some actually could care less than they do, while maybe others couldn't care less.

I am in the "couldn't care less" camp. Call the prize whatever you want.


it was a joke...

I was piling on but could have done a better job with the opening statement to articulate this, yes. I’ll take every opportunity to point out the Nobel prize issue because I think it has created real harm. The equity of the real Nobel prizes is being exploited to gloss over alarming gaps in the field. These gaps have led to real harm and yet they’re jokingly dismissed.

Some of the smartest people in the field are actively trying to obscure its limitations. The author of this article is more modest but even still it’s a PR rebuttal and a bullshit fear tactic: a “You know what? Things are really bad but what would be worse is if you didn’t listen to us”.


To paraphrase a hedge fund manager speaking on a panel I was watching a while back "The Nobel Prize in Economics has done more damage to the world than the atomic bomb"

Almost like there's a moving target ;)

The math says that inflation has destroyed what was rightfully a much stronger currency because of the work that went into it.

There is no shadowy cabal of elites, it's a blatant effort of independently greedy overprivileged beneficiaries who are in position to thrive better the more that the general financial malaise of working people becomes overwhelming. Lots of the wealthiest have never built their original family fortunes any other way.

There's not supposed to be a need for a consumer economy.

Remember how it was, over the last 50 years of macroeconomics? There are equations for this.

Every single recession was never going to end until consumption picked up.

Too bad consumers are just about tapped out, so naturally it's going to be worse than ever.

That's no conspiracy, that's just what the math said.

What if we would have had a producer economy instead, or even just a more reasonable balance?

How do you like it when your equations show what you thought was a negative was reversed back into positive territory like the 21st century has never seen?

Remember in expensive places like San Francisco or New York City, the small single-family homes which are out of reach for all but the most fortunate today, were the exact same homes that were well within reach for a wage earning factory worker, the kind who eventually retired without significant raises over their career while producing products which required no price increases since there was no serious inflation. Their passbook savings accounts provided a secure retirement after their home was paid for, and property tax at the time was still insignificant compared to today. Only a single income was necessary for that kind of security.

If you had a better-than-average job, like being an engineer or something, and had the disposable income for more meaningful investments than mere passbook savings, your single-income family would not have needed to settle for the smaller homes and you would have been able to retire someplace like Florida or Hawaii for instance in perhaps more deluxe accomodations than you had during your working years.

The old folks' UBI of Social Security came along just for those who missed the boat altogether. Wasn't really needed until after the Fed had settled in a while.

Remember, there's not supposed to be a widespread need to raise your socioeconomic stature unless something is wrong to begin with.

It's just nice having that opportunity if you would like to take it, and productive capitalism can be one of the efficient options but there are others which are even quicker, with many of the quickest not actually productive in the _macro_ sense.

As we have seen.

The math says that inflation has devastated the US dollar and the vast majority of American workers with it, because that's the only dollar they were working for.

People are so desperate some of them would probably rather work for some imaginary coin now in way that would never have been considerable when silver dollars still had their intended $1 face value.

Hindsight's 20/20, if your equations do not yield the actual outcome you may just need to brush up on your business math.

All kinds of math could be more accurately done, right now we've got 45 comments remaining but it says 139 at the top of the page.

Apparently over half the comments at the time have now been retracted, maybe it was bad math on all sides?


[flagged]


Please don't post any more shallow flamewar comments to Hacker News. You set off a massive one with this. Not cool, and not what this site is for.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Yeah, it doesn't, though.

Inflation only matters from the time you receive your paycheck to the time you invest it in productive assets or buy the necessities of life. After that it sets the benchmark rate of return for your investments.

If your salary fails to track inflation that's between you and your boss who's giving you a pay cut year over year, or between you and congress if you're under the minimum wage umbrella.

Currency only has value while its changing hands and inflation is an incentive to change hands. If you'd invested in anything at all 100 years ago you'd have just as much value as you did back then - at an absolute minimum. If you insisted on sticking a square peg in a round hole and hid your cash in your mattress the whole time, inflation did its job and took that value from you.

> This is the reason the founding fathers fought to keep central banking out of the US.

Well, they also fought for slavery, they weren't perfect people. Better to stick to arguments on their merits instead of appeal to 300+ year old authority.


> Inflation only matters from the time you receive your paycheck to the time you invest it in productive assets or buy the necessities of life.

It means the people who save by depositing cash in the bank lose value over time, causing them to purchase investments out of necessity (rather than purchasing them because they believe its a good investment). This bids up the price of investments relative to their return, which effectively reduces returns to a level commensurate with the artificially low interest rates.

It also negatively impacts anyone who is long cash for any reason (perhaps their business requires them to retain a certain amount) and anyone who relies on fixed payments denominated in dollars (retirees, pensioners, disabled persons, those on public assistance, etc.).

> After that it sets the benchmark rate of return for your investments.

Those are nominal returns, not real returns. Inflation generates no real returns.

> If your salary fails to track inflation that's between you and your boss who's giving you a pay cut year over year

Nice rhetorical judo, to frame the central bank’s actions as normal and the lack of an increase as a decrease.

> or between you and congress if you're under the minimum wage umbrella.

Alas, if congress could lower the minimum wage without political fallout, economists might suggest they do that instead of inflating the money supply.

> Currency only has value while its changing hands and inflation is an incentive to change hands. If you'd invested in anything at all 100 years ago you'd have just as much value as you do today. If you insisted in sticking a square peg in a round hole and hid your cash in your mattress the whole time, inflation did its job and took that value from you.

This is why time preference should be taught in school.


> It means the people who save by depositing cash in the bank lose value over time, causing them to purchase investments out of necessity.

Ah you get it. That's the idea. Buy gold if you want, buy real estate, buy annuities, buy fixed incomes, I don't care, but money is an intermediary - not a long-term store of value. If you treat it as one you'll have a bad time. Just like if you treated your car as a boat. It'll work for a bit, then it'll sink. Because it's the wrong tool for the job.

> Those are nominal returns, not real returns. Inflation generates no real returns.

Did I say inflation generated returns? No, I said it sets the benchmark rate of return for your investments. If your investments fail to exceed inflation they're not the right choice. That's your duty in a capitalist society - to pick winners by investment.

> Nice rhetorical judo, to frame the central bank’s actions as normal and the lack of an increase as a decrease.

They're paying you less value so it's a decrease. You're tripping yourself up focusing on units instead of what they represent. After all, inflation has many positives, too.

> Alas, if congress could lower the minimum wage without political fallout, economists might suggest they do that instead of inflating the money supply.

That's between you and congress, not between you and Janet Yellen.

> This is why time preference should be taught in school.

I'd argue this conversation is why ECON 101 should be mandatory, so folks have the tools they need to thrive in modern society instead of, well, tilting at windmills.


> That's your duty in a capitalist society - to pick winners by investment.

See, that, and well as your first point, are where the other person's philosophy and yours collide.

I daresay his point is that "It should not be my defacto requirement in society to buy stonks in order to not lose the wages I have duly earned".

You are saying "your obligation in society is to take the wages you earn and keep your money moving, rather than keeping it safely".


So buy gold. The point is that an inflationary fiat currency offers maximum flexibility by not forcing anyone into treating it as more than a medium of exchange. The OP is demanding the creation of a new class of thing, which is designed to preserve wealth, with no risk. Ok, pitch that. But there's many reasons why that isn't a good thing. Inability to react to shocks such as a global pandemic, generational wealth consolidation and so on are all reasons its a bad idea.

Many things people hate on such as wild value swings and boom/bust cycles were much worse on the gold standard. However, in a world where wages keep pace with inflation (they do) you can recreate the gold standard yourself by firing up Robinhood and buying GLD.

By pegging the currency to an arbitrary asset class you're forcing me to use your asset class. By leaving it un-backed, you're free to back your personal economy with whatever asset you like.

More freedom.


If the central bank implemented inflation targeting by simply handing out cash to everyone, I'd probably shrug. But the current system is a moral abomination and I won't be surprised when it collapses in another decade or two. Looking forward to seeing your comments on future HN economics posts as that process plays out.

"Moral abomination"? The fed controls interest rates. Lower interest rates are handed out to everyone. Credit card holders. Mortgage refinance. HELOC. Just who do you think is disproportionately benefitting in a way that's causing you to throw up the moral white flag? With sources please.

> The point is that an inflationary fiat currency offers maximum flexibility by not forcing anyone into treating it as more than a medium of exchange. The OP is demanding the creation of a new class of thing, which is designed to preserve wealth, with no risk.

Thank you for the complement but I didn't invent banking.


Seemingly misunderstood it though. It was never a risk-free return. Nobody that offers you 12% APY is offering you a risk-free return :) that's a good rule to live by.

I don't think it's just a matter of philosophy - I think a major problem is that modern macroeconomics has a number of counter-intuitive properties that do make sense, but only after studying it for a while and doing thought experiments. But because the system is complex and often counter-intuitive, people often over-estimate their ability to reason it out from first principles (especially common on HN, which is full of smart people but without any particular economic focus).

To give some examples of how it can be counter-intuitive (I'm not an expert, so hopefully this is all correct):

Unlike a household, if you look at the economy in total everyone can't save up money at the same time (unless more money is printed). Most of what people think of as money (checking accounts etc) is bank credit that was created by people taking out loans. In fact, savings and debt are basically two sides of the same coin - savings are forgoing current consumption for the future, and debt is a promise to forgo future consumption.

People can try to all save money (by reducing spending) at the same time, but since everyone saving at once isn't possible what actually happens is that reduced spending causes incomes to drop, and people have no more savings and less income.

It's easy to say things like it should be easy to save, inflation should be zero, interest rates should be high, etc. But there are certain mathematical limitations to what can happen. If most people have high savings (promises for future consumption), that's basically the other side of a debt (promises to forgo future consumption). Who should hold that debt? Should the government run a big deficit? There are similar issues with inflation / interest rates etc.

Unfortunately the discussion in some of the other comments here has gotten a bit heated. I'm sympathetic to how frustrating it must be to people with more formal economics training than me though - it seems like every economic discussion immediately devolves into to people (with supreme confidence) arguing against economics 101.


> Ah you get it. That's the idea. Buy gold if you want, I don't care, but money is an intermediary, not a long-term store of value.

Only because the wealthy benefit from depreciating currency. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it is this way because of policy that is designed to benefit the ultra-wealthy.

> They're paying you less value so it's a decrease. You're tripping yourself up focusing on units.

They’re paying the same, but the units depreciated because the oligarchs want workers’ wages to go down.

> If you treat it as one you'll have a bad time. Just like if you treated your horse as a boat.

Or treat a savings account as a savings account.


> Only because the wealthy benefit from depreciating currency.

Net debtors benefit from a depreciating currency, in first order effects. Beyond first order effects, a currency with gradual depreciation but low volatility benefits everyone. As everyone includes the rich, it is true that they benefit, but not especially true.

> the units depreciated because the oligarchs want workers’ wages to go down.

The alternative is not “employment at the same wages” when demand drops, it's “production cuts and unemployment, resulting in larger second order demand drop, resulting in more production cuts and unemployment, etc.” That this is generally worse for everyone including the working class, both as a whole and even many of the workers in the sector seeing the initial demand drop should be pretty easy to see.


> As everyone includes the rich, it is true that they benefit, but not especially true.

Asst holders benefit disproportionately, as do debtors. The people who benefit most have both assets and debt. These are wealthy people.

> The alternative is not “employment at the same wages” when demand drops, it's “production cuts and unemployment, resulting in larger second order demand drop, resulting in more production cuts and unemployment, etc.”

So by tricking people into taking less compensation for the same amount of work, we benefit how? If demand decreases then production should decrease, because less production is indicated.

> That this is generally worse for everyone including the working class, both as a whole and even many of the workers in the sector seeing the initial demand drop should be pretty easy to see.

No, I’m seeing the opposite. When the automobile replaced the horse-and-buggy, demand for buggy whips decreased as it should have. printing money so that the buggy whip makers didn’t notice that there was less demand for their product would have been a disservice


> people who benefit most have both assets and debt. These are wealthy people

Generally you have to have more assets than debt to be considered "wealthy." This is why the word "net" is important in the parent comment. And you are completely ignoring the second-order effects, which is that an economy with low, stable inflation is good for everyone. And if you are going to quibble "why is low, stable inflation good for everyone," then look at the deflationary spirals of the great depression (or any pre-1900 crash) and any hyperinflationary economy of your choosing.

> If demand decreases then production should decrease

Okay Chairman, have it your way. COVID hits, demand plummets, we do nothing to try to keep people in jobs or keep the financial system from collapsing. Less production is indicated!

> buggy whips

This is a total red herring and you know it. No one is talking about counter-cyclical monetary policy and implying it is being used to keep anachronistic firms in business.


> Generally you have to have more assets than debt to be considered "wealthy." This is why the word "net" is important in the parent comment.

I think you’re missing the point.

> you are completely ignoring the second-order effects

I’m sure I referred to them repeatedly.

> an economy with low, stable inflation is good for everyone

This is argument by assertion, which I have already responded above by explaining, in detail, how this is not the case.

> look at the deflationary spirals of the great depression (or any pre-1900 crash) and any hyperinflationary economy of your choosing.

You’ve helped me to show why an unstable currency is bad. You haven’t supported your assertion of why a depreciating currency is good for everyone.

> COVID hits, demand plummets, we do nothing to try to keep people in jobs or keep the financial system from collapsing. Less production is indicated!

Sounds good. Those pesky billionaires are going to be upset that we don’t continue to pump up their asset prices but whatever.

> No one is talking about counter-cyclical monetary policy and implying it is being used to keep anachronistic firms in business.

Why not? Why is it good to print money so unproductive workers don’t get laid off, but its bad to print money to keep unproductive firms from disappearing?


> Sounds good.

Aight chief I'm out. Glad we have agreed that 25% unemployment is a good thing. You sure are concerned about those working class people trying to feed their families! I am in awe of your superior economic knowledge and humanitarian instincts. It is unfortunate that the people running the central banks are such rascals, rigging the economy for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy, when you could be doing their job instead.


> printing money so that the buggy whip makers didn’t notice that there was less demand for their product would have been a disservice

lol, printing money wouldn't have changed anything there. If they made a -5% real return with no printing, and there's a 2% inflation rate, they'd have made a -3% notional return, or, and I believe this is true, a -5% real return. Unless it was handed directly to them, in which case we call this a subsidy not inflation.

You keep conflating units with what they represent. It might make your headache dissipate if you think of dollars as "vintage" year in which they were issued. A 2020 dollar is not the same as 2021 dollar, even though they're convertible 1:1.

Just as a 2006 vintage Krug isn't the same as a 2010 vintage Krug, a 2006 vintage dollar isn't the same as a 2010 vintage dollar.


> lol, printing money wouldn't have changed anything there. If they made a -5% real return with no printing, and there's a 2% inflation rate, they'd have made a -3% notional return, or, and I believe this is true, a -5% real return.

This makes no sense. You print money and spend it on buggy whips, they continue to make a positive return. Because you printed money and took up the slack demand.

> Just as a 2006 vintage Krug isn't the same as a 2010 vintage Krug, a 2006 vintage dollar isn't the same as a 2010 vintage dollar.

This doesn’t make sense either, in 2010 the 2006 dollar is worth the same as the 2010 dollar.


> You print money and spend it on buggy whips, they continue to make a positive return

Sure, but no one is talking about combining general monetary expansion with targeted fiscal stimulus on the industries experiencing a drop in market demand.

(There might be good reason to do that to avoid capacity loss if you had a good reason to believe that it was a transitory loss in an industry where even with the buffering provided by inflation, production cuts would, absent fiscal intervention, be so severe as to result in abandonment/neglect/destruction of capital goods that would adversely effect an expected recovery, but that’s a far different issue than monetary inflation alone.)


> This doesn’t make sense either, in 2010 the 2006 dollar is worth the same as the 2010 dollar.

No, it isn't. A 2006 dollar is worth ((1 + 0.02)^15) = $1.34 in 2021 dollars. A 2010 dollar is worth ((1 + 0.02)^11) = $1.24. Each reflects a slice of the GDP in the year of issue and if you'd exchanged it for assets in the year of issue like you were supposed to you'd have preserved that value. You chose to bring it forward into 2021 without investing it like you were supposed to. You willingly took the haircut. That's the only way they're worth the same - your forfeiture of time value.


You misunderstood my comment.

> if you'd exchanged it for assets in the year of issue like you were supposed to

like you were supposed to This is exactly how the central bank policy is set up for the wealthy.

> You willingly took the haircut.

Alas, most Americans (and all the poor ones) do not have the same access to investment opportunities as myself.


> like you were supposed to This is exactly how the central bank policy is set up for the wealthy.

The poor have no assets to invest.

> Alas, most Americans (and all the poor ones) do not have the same access to investment opportunities as myself.

Yes they do. If they have money, they have Robinhood. If they don't have money, inflation doesn't matter.


> The poor have no assets to invest.

They (or their households) have an income, which is paid in units that are constantly depreciating while the investments are increasing in nominal terms. Of course they have no assets, because central bank policies have priced all of the assets out of their reach.

> Yes they do. If they have money, they have Robinhood. If they don't have money, inflation doesn't matter.

They don’t have enough time after working and chores to investigate which assets to purchase on the stock market, which is why banks existed before the central bank destroyed the savings market.


> They don’t have enough time after working and chores to investigate which assets to purchase on the stock market, which is why banks existed before the central bank destroyed the savings market.

There's plenty of roboadvisors with no minimums like Betterment or Wealthfront. There's Acorns. There's all sorts of technology to solve this problem. Heck how much time does it take to hit "buy" on SPY in RH once a quarter? I'm pretty busy but somehow I find the time to day-trade /NQ futures.

What do you mean "destroyed the savings market" -- remember when interest rates were 12% poor people couldn't really afford much house. How much good is a savings account when you can't afford anything? I suspect they'd be more than willing to trade a 2% mortgage interest rate for having to download a second app on their phone.


> Asst holders benefit disproportionately

No, they don't. Clearly dollar-denominated asset holders lose by first order effects, though they might see reduced risk as second+-order effects. Non-dollar-denominated asset holders see no real gains as first-order effects, they only see them indirectly from the absence of production cuts and demand throughout the economy, but those are much smaller proportional benefits than the people who would be unemployed by those cuts face.

> So by tricking people into taking less compensation for the same amount of work, we benefit how?

We benefit because otherwise those jobs would be lost entirely, along with the associated production which is worse in first order terms, but because it both reduces output and contracts demand, has second-order effects that would result in more job losses and production cuts. If the workers individually prefer not to be employed than to be employed at reduced real wages, they of course can voluntarily choose not to work (which by contracting supply will drive up wages for the remaining workers.)

> If demand decreases then production should decrease, because less production is indicated.

Yes, naturally if demand decreases both market-clearing price and market-clearing quantity should decrease. Wage stickiness pushes that all into quantity and not price cuts, which is more disruptive than smaller quantity cuts with some price cuts (both for the produced goods and the labor to produce them.)

> When the automobile replaced the horse-and-buggy, demand for buggy whips decreased as it should have. printing money so that the buggy whip makers didn’t notice that there was less demand for their product would have been a disservice.

Inflation doesn't prevent manufacturers from noticing demand cuts, it just makes it more possible for them to cut prices as well as quantity in response to demand fluctuations, which—especially with transitory fluctuations, though this is true more generally, outside of a catastrophic drop to zero demand, where it has no effect either way—has less adverse knock-on effects.


> Clearly dollar-denominated asset holders lose by first order effects

I don’t think you understand how this works. There are more dollars chasing the same number of assets, the asset holders are standing still while the dollar holders are falling behind.

> We benefit because otherwise those jobs would be lost entirely

If those jobs are lost due to decreased demand, the null hypothesis is that they should be lost, because they are no longer required. Its fine for you to feel otherwise but that’s why you would argue in favor of your alternate hypothesis where, despite the decrease in demand, we somehow know better than all those consumers, and decide that keeping a few apparently useless jobs around is more important than all those workers having stable incomes.

> along with the associated production which is worse in first order terms, but because it both reduces output and contracts demand, has second-order effects that would result in more job losses and production cuts.

If people aren’t purchasing those goods and services its entirely possible that we don’t need them to continue to be produced and propping them up with inflation is a bad idea.

> If the workers individually prefer not to be employed than to be employed at reduced real wages, they of course can voluntarily choose not to work (which by contracting supply will drive up wages for the remaining workers.)

This would be a good argument for asking them to take a pay cut. Inflation is a bad answer to this because it doesn’t result in a predictable or easily measureable decrease in wages. Btw this also has implications for the decision to use such a coarse-grained means to affect the economy.

> Yes, naturally if demand decreases both market-clearing price and market-clearing quantity should decrease. Wage stickiness pushes that all into quantity and not price cuts, which is more disruptive than smaller quantity cuts with some price cuts (both for the produced goods and the labor to produce them.)

If wage stickiness is a bad thing, then perhaps a cultural change towards accepting some variability in wages due to market conditions is indicated. However, its not clear that wage stickiness is even a bad thing, and its not clear that the guys who manipulate policy in order to deceive workers about the real value of their wages are doing it for the workers’ own good.

> Inflation doesn't prevent manufacturers from noticing demand cuts,

It absolutely can, what do you think this whole discussion is about? If they didn’t inflate the money supply then businesses would notice decreased demand and fire some workers, thats what you said.

> it just makes it more possible for them to cut prices as well as quantity in response to demand fluctuations

Not necessarily, in fact by increasing the nominal price of inputs it can make it more difficult for businesses to even survive.


> It absolutely can

No, it can't.

> If they didn’t inflate the money supply then businesses would notice decreased demand and fire some workers, thats what you said.

No, it's not. They notice whether they are cutting real wages or cutting jobs (and the increase in general prices, which affects all inputs which the industry shares with industries not facing demand drops—including those segments of labor with mobility—assures that they notice even if the inflation means nominal market clearing price remains the same.) What inflation does is increase the range of alternatives they have to deal with the demand decline to include addressing some of it decreasing real wages in some areas, particularly jobs with low mobility, reducing the degree to which it is addressed by production cuts which cut jobs in the industry, cut orders to suppliers and force second-order and beyond job cuts, etc.

> in fact by increasing the nominal price of inputs it can make it more difficult for businesses to even survive.

It only has that effect if businesses have long-term fixed nominal price commitments made in ignorance of inflation, which is why central bank policies tend to focus on avoiding significant volatility as well as maintaining moderate positive inflation.


Thanks, I am glad someone else actually has the energy to explain this.

> Only because the wealthy benefit from depreciating currency

Source this claim. Everyone benefits from a depreciating currency because inflation provides a buffer against deflationary spirals that lead to large recessions and job losses for people of all classes. Tell me exactly how inflation benefits only the ultra-wealthy and not anyone else.

> because the oligarchs want workers’ wages to go down.

I would suggest that you clarify this claim so it does not sound so much like a conspiracy theory.


> Source this claim.

Asset price inflation vs depreciation of debt in real terms. Wealthy people hold assets that are valued in currency. Depreciating currency causes those assets to go up in nominal terms, and additionally depreciating currency causes a flight to assets. Wealthy people (by definition) have more assets than non-wealthy people, hence this flight from currency to assets bids up the prices of assets.

> Everyone benefits from a depreciating currency, because inflation provides a buffer against deflationary spirals that lead to large recessions.

Thats a theory-laden and motivated explanation. Surely you can do better than just argument by assertion?

> Tell me exactly how inflation benefits only the ultra-wealthy and not anyone else.

Thats not my claim.

> I would suggest that you clarify this claim so it does not sound so much like a conspiracy theory.

I suggest you do your own research and discover that the central bank is very much fact and not at all theory.


> Depreciating currency causes those assets to go up in nominal terms

That does not increase the real value of those assets, and it does not have any distributional consequences.

> Thats a theory-laden and motivated explanation

You could go read like, any of the vast literature on the great depression, the things that caused it and the things that made it worse. But you'd rather expose your ignorance on the Internet for us to see.

> discover that the central bank is very much fact and not at all theory.

I happen to know a lot about central banking, actually. You might be pulling a Dunning-Kruger on this one.


> That does not increase the real value of those assets,

Exactly correct. It decreases the value of the money use to pay for them, resulting in a higher nominal price and fewer people in society who are able to afford them, resulting in less access to capital for the majority of society.

> and it does not have any distributional consequences.

False. When assets go up relative to currency, fewer buyers can compete for those assets, leading to the wealthy owning more and the poor getting poorer.

> But you'd rather expose your ignorance on the Internet for us to see.

I’m quite sure I’ve acquitted myself satisfactorily in this discussion, if you feel the same about yourself, perhaps you’re the one who needs to peruse the literature.

> I happen to know a lot about central banking, actually. You might be pulling a Dunning-Kruger on this one.

Then how could you have been ignorant of Krugman’s statements to the effect that inflation was necessary because workers’ make too much money? Did you know he had said that? If so, why ask me for a source? If not, how much do you really know about central banks? Especially if you think that the words of several economists are evidence of some conspiracy?


"Low, stable inflation increases inequality" is not a statement that you could find much agreement on from economists.

Also, Krugman is just a pop-econ writer at this point. He is not a big deal in the economics profession. Yes, I am sure he understands how inflation and sticky wages interact. I am not so convinced that you understand it. Just going to repost my other comment for you to puzzle over:

"You are purposefully ignoring the normal explanation, which is this: because wages are sticky, firms that need to cut costs in a recession are more likely to lay off people than they are to give pay cuts. Inflation helps to weaken that rigidity so that job losses are not as large. Maybe you know that.

You claim that central banks depreciate the currency because they "think wages among the working class are too high." But rhetorically, you are doing more than just referring to the explanation I gave above. You are implying that central banks "think" working class wages are too high, and want to lower them to hurt working class people.

Which is the opposite of the standard explanation - the purpose of inflation in that instance is to implicitly reduce the downward rigidity of wages so that employment does not contract as much in a downturn.

Presumably you, champion of the working class, would rather more people be unemployed?"


> You claim that central banks depreciate the currency because they "think wages among the working class are too high." But rhetorically, you are doing more than just referring to the explanation I gave above. You are implying that central banks "think" working class wages are too high, and want to lower them to hurt working class people.

Oh I know it does seem like the banks “want to hurt working class people” when you look at what they are doing and why. But thats an unnecessary hypothesis. They don’t need to care about working class people at all, just the financial interests of the oligarchs.

> Which is the opposite of the standard explanation - the purpose of inflation in that instance is to implicitly reduce the downward rigidity of wages so that employment does not contract as much in a downturn.

In other words, trick the workers into taking a pay cut, because they make too much money. “For their own good” and how convenient that it happens to pump up the assets that the wealthy own.

> Presumably you, champion of the working class, would rather more people be unemployed?

I want them to be unemployed the same way you want them to make less money in real terms.


> It decreases the value of the money use to pay for them

That is meaningless, though. Imagine last year you bought some asset, that someone else did not, and it appreciated 2% with the price level. You are not any better off. I see you are implying that the other person "couldn't afford" to invest and kept their money in cash instead, to argue that the other person is worse off. That is also wrong - the issue here is holding cash, not the wealth disparity. Don't hold cash if you are worried about inflation. Mutual funds have low minimums, and you can buy fractional ETF shares at this point. You have no argument here.


> Imagine last year you bought some asset, that someone else did not, and it appreciated 2% with the price level. You are not any better off.

I am better off if the nominal value of that asset matters, which it does if I want to sell it or leverage it. And anyone on a dollar denominated income is worse off.

> I see you are implying that the other person "couldn't afford" to invest and kept their money in cash instead, to argue that the other person is worse off.

You misunderstand, they don’t need to “keep their money in cash”. The asset price increased. Thats all. They are paid less in real terms, by design, therefore the asset costs more to them, because of inflation.

> the issue here is holding cash, not the wealth disparity.

This applies to people who are paid in dollars, it does not require them to hold them.

> Don't hold cash if you are worried about inflation.

Obviously the wealthy are in much better position to take this advice than the middle class, the working class, and the poor. Therefore inflation benefits the wealthy disproportionately.


> Their wages don't keep pace with the inflation of assets, so they are continually unable to save or invest their way out of poverty.

They're poor, they don't have cash. Their assets have their own ROI separate from the benchmark rate.

> for the umpteenth time, they are paid in depreciating units while the real value of assets appreciates in nominal units; creating a problem where in order to save they must invest, and they continually have less real income to invest, because the paychecks are getting smaller (in real terms) and the assets are getting pricier (in nominal terms).

The depreciation only matters from the time they receive their paycheck to the time they invest in productive assets or pay for necessities. Only for the time they're holding literal dollars. If it takes a full year they retain a full 98% of the value. It doesn't matter. You are wrong.

Their paychecks are not getting smaller because wages have kept pace with inflation. [1]

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us...


> Obviously the wealthy are in much better position to take this advice than the middle class, the working class, and the poor. Therefore inflation benefits the wealthy disproportionately.

If the poor don't have cash, and their wages keep pace with inflation (they do) then how are they harmed by inflation?


> If the poor don't have cash, and their wages keep pace with inflation

Their wages don't keep pace with the inflation of assets, so they are continually unable to save or invest their way out of poverty.

> (they do)

Consumer goods and assets don't appreciate at the same rate.

> then how are they harmed by inflation?

for the umpteenth time, they are paid in depreciating units while the real value of assets appreciates in nominal units; creating a problem where in order to save they must invest, and they continually have less real income to invest, because the paychecks are getting smaller (in real terms) and the assets are getting pricier (in nominal terms).


> Their wages don't keep pace with the inflation of assets, so they are continually unable to save or invest their way out of poverty.

Yes they do. [1] Inflation of assets is ROI because its measured in terms of increased welfare relative to CPI. If CPI doesn't go up that's ROI. If CPI goes up its inflation. It doesn't matter when they enter an asset class, what matters is what happens after they enter an asset class.

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us...


> When assets go up relative to currency, fewer buyers can compete for those assets, leading to the wealthy owning more and the poor getting poorer.

Boy are you going to freak out when you learn about stock splits and fractional share investing.


> Owning cash isn’t the same as owning a business and almost everyone understands that. I’m not sure if you’re really this clueless or you’re trying to gaslight me, either way you’re wrong.

So sell 1% of your holdings, now you have cash, same as if you'd been issued a 1% dividend. Either you have 100 shares worth 99% as much, or you have 99 shares each worth 100%. Same thing. The difference is whether the cash remains in the coffers of the company or not. And that only matters depending on what the company plans to do with the cash.

> So if they are less valuable then you understand that some investors would prefer them less, and this is not the same as only caring about total returns?

They're less valuable because they offer less flexibility in terms of recognition date. If I made $100K in a year, I'd be very inclined to sell some shares and recognize capital gains. Much more so than if I'd made $1M. Because I'd get to keep more of them. Flexibility is worth money, but of course, more or less depending on the financial situation of the person you're talking to.

> So you do understand that they are different, and investors care about more than total return?

What on earth are you talking about. There's 1 pot of money, and the government treats the distribution methods differently. It's still a total return from the perspective of the company and the investor.

When you evaluate an investment you should take into account your tax situation. If this is in an IRA, then there's no distinction between a 1% dividend and selling 1% of your holdings. None. Same if you happened to live in Belgium. However for the purposes of this conversation the tax authority is an unrelated third party, whose created a system to incentivize a certain type of behavior.

> Inflation creates a margin rate of profit that must be met or a business loses money.

Yes, a benchmark rate as I've said about 5 times now. It's useful because it establishes the minimum total return a company must have before its worth investing in. If interest rates a 0% the company doesn't have to be too successful. If it's 12% they better know what they're doing.

Look here's the thing. Someone who tells you they want a dividend instead of a stock appreciating has no idea what they're talking about. It's the same thing. The difference is a dividend is predictable... sort of (see last year)... and taxed different. Nobody is going to turn down a 10% total return in exchange for a 2% dividend. Nobody.


> Boy are you going to freak out when you learn about stock splits and fractional share investing.

You really must be confused if you think thats a rebuttal.


> You only want your investments to increase in price if you intend to sell or collateralize them. As investments proper, you want to earn dividends.

uh... no my dude. Whether a company buys back the shares, or issues a cash dividend, warrants, or someone else is willing to pay you more for the same shares, you've obtained what's called a "total return."

What any investor is looking for is a total return, and it doesn't matter in what form. Inflation only sets the benchmark rate for total return.

When a company issues a dividend its stock price drops by the decrease in net asset value of the company once the dividend is issued. It's actually a no-op to issue a dividend from a total return perspective. Whether the money comes from a different shareholder as a result of disposition, from the company as the result of a buyback, or as a dividend, is utterly irrelevant.

The difference between an unrealized gain and a dividend is the difference between a "realized" and a "mark-to-market" gain. They have different profiles, and different benefits. For instance, a mark-to-market gain can be rolled forward into different tax years where as a realized gain must be attributed to the current tax year.

Please, for the love of stocks, take an ECON class. I'm not a complementary tutor, and you're so far off the reservation it's hard to even know how to reign you in.


> uh... no my dude. Whether a company buys back the shares, or issues a cash dividend, warrants, or someone else is willing to pay you more for the same shares, you've obtained what's called a "total return."

You seem to be unaware that different investors have different investment goals.

> What any investor is looking for is a total return, and it doesn't matter in what form.

Yeah, no. Some investors want dividends, some want gains, some are more concerned with security of principle, some optimize for total return. This is taught in finance 101.

> Inflation only sets the benchmark rate for total return.

Inflation creates a margin rate of profit that must be met or a business loses money.

> When a company issues a dividend its stock price drops by the decrease in net asset value of the company once the dividend is issued.

It depends. Sometimes the price goes up because they have shown that they are in a position for the owners to take profit. Sometimes it goes down because shareholders want to reinvest their capital elsewhere and its timely to do this immediately after dividend receipt (because you’re not waiting for the next dividend).

> The difference between an unrealized gain and a dividend is the difference between a "realized" and a "mark-to-market" gain. They have different profiles, and different benefits. For instance, a mark-to-market gain can be rolled forward into different tax years where as a realized gain must be attributed to the current tax year.

I’m glad you understand this. Now based on this, can you see why some investors would prefer dividends and some would prefer capital gains?

> Please, for the love of stocks, take an ECON class. I'm not a complementary tutor, and you're so far off the reservation it's hard to even know how to reign you in.

Really now, this is rich. If you think my perspective is that outlandish then you truly have not studied this to any great extent.


> Really now, this is rich. If you think my perspective is that outlandish then you truly have not studied this to any great extent.

You may have a bunch of other acolytes but that doesn't make you right.


Absolute value of assets doesn't matter. What matters is future appreciation potential of those assets. That's my point. You can infinitely subdivide them and see the same appreciation potential recognized over a greater number of units.

Yes people who got in before you may have done better than you. They may not have. But the absolute price isn't relevant since owning AAPL shares isn't a necessity for life. On the other hand the absolute affordability of elements of the CPI basket does matter, which is why the CPI basket includes actual apples and not AAPL shares.

Remember when you invest in something what you want is for it to become less affordable. That decrease in affordability is called an "ROI" or return on investment.


> Absolute value of assets doesn't matter. What matters is future appreciation potential of those assets. That's my point.

Someones ability to buy in to those assets is relevant for their ability to realize that appreciation.

> You can infinitely subdivide them and see the same appreciation potential recognized over a greater number of units.

So? The units here don’t matter. The fact that the central bank policy resulted in real wage decrease and nominal asset price increase means that central bank policy benefitted the asset seller at the expense of the asset buyer. Playing fast and loose with units doesn’t change this.

> Remember when you invest in something what you want is for it to become less affordable. That decrease in affordability is called an "ROI" or return on investment.

This is a revealing statement and is actually good example of how central bank policy has distorted even the way people think about assets. You only want your investments to increase in price if you intend to sell or collateralize them. As investments proper, you want to earn dividends. But inflation has driven the prices of assets far out of proportion to their returns, so now people think of r.o.i. as something that happens when you sell.


> Someones ability to buy in to those assets is relevant for their ability to realize that appreciation.

With fractional shares all that matters is how much cash they bring to the table now how many individual units of stock they can purchase and that cash can then track the return of the underlying equity.


> You seem to be unaware that different investors have different investment goals.

No, investors only have one goal: total returns. Anything else makes no sense. After all a stock that issues a $5 dividend and goes down $10 ain't worth investing in, is it?

> Yeah, no. Some investors want dividends, some want gains, some are more concerned with security of principle, some optimize for total return. This is taught in finance 101.

All are gains. At the end the day there's one bucket of money. you're saying it matters how you apportion it, and I'm telling you it does not.

If you hold 100 shares and a company that doesn't issue a dividend, but went up 1%, you can sell 1 share to obtain a 1% dividend. Or you can wait for them to issue a 1% divided and be left with 99% the value. It's a no-op. Same thing. You've failed at basic math here. There's one bucket of money. Dividends don't appear out of thin air.

> It depends. Sometimes the price goes up because they have shown that they are in a position for the owners to take profit. Sometimes it goes down because shareholders want to reinvest their capital elsewhere and its timely to do this immediately after dividend receipt (because you’re not waiting for the next dividend).

No. You are strictly wrong. When a dividend is issued the stock goes down by that amount. [1]

  After a stock goes ex-dividend, the share price typically drops by the amount of the dividend paid to reflect the fact that new shareholders are not entitled to that payment.
> I’m glad you understand this. Now based on this, can you see why some investors would prefer dividends and some would prefer capital gains?

Yes, but you have it wrong. Dividends are less valuable because they offer no flexibility in recognition date. Either way they are both treated as capital gains. In fact, I believe, correct me if I'm wrong, dividends are treated as ordinary income. On the other hand if you sell something you've held for 1 year in lieu you'll get long-term capital gains treatment.

> Really now, this is rich. If you think my perspective is that outlandish then you truly have not studied this to any great extent.

I'm an investor. I suggest you revisit ECON-101.

[1] https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/091015/how-d....


> No, investors only have one goal: total returns.

You’re misinformed. There are 3 considerations: dividend yield, capital gain, and security of principle.

> Both are gains. If you hold 100 shares and a company doesn't issue a dividend you can sell 1 share to obtain a 1% dividend. Or you can wait for them to issue a 1% divided and be left with 99% the value. It's a no-op. Same thing. You've failed at basic math here.

Owning cash isn’t the same as owning a business and almost everyone understands that. I’m not sure if you’re really this clueless or you’re trying to gaslight me, either way you’re wrong.

> No. You are strictly wrong. When a dividend is issued the stock goes down by that amount. [1]

> After a stock goes ex-dividend, the share price typically drops by the amount of the dividend paid to reflect the fact that new shareholders are not entitled to that payment.

> strictly

> typically

You don’t seem to understand the subject based on this exchange. Do you realize that’s not a rebuttal to what I said?

> No dividends are less valuable because they offer no flexibility in recognition date.

So if they are less valuable then you understand that some investors would prefer them less, and this is not the same as only caring about total returns?

> In fact, I believe, correct me if I'm wrong, dividends are treated as ordinary income. On the other hand if you sell something you've held for 1 year in lieu you'll get long-term capital gains treatment.

So you do understand that they are different, and investors care about more than total return?


> Only because the wealthy benefit from depreciating currency. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it is this way because of policy that is designed to benefit the ultra-wealthy.

Do they? Generally inflation benefits debtors and not lenders, because debts are denominated in dollars in the year of issue, and repaid in future dollars, which are worth 2% less per year. Overwhelmingly poor and middle class folks are debtors (think mortgages). Mortgages have become more and more affordable each year. This means folks can afford more and more house for the same money, after all the bulk of the payment of a 30 year fixed is interest for the first 10+ years.

And sure enough, new homes are twice as large as they used to be.

> They’re paying the same, but the units depreciated because the oligarchs want workers’ wages to go down.

Yeah but at the end of that day that's irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what those units represent. If I gave you 5 today and 3 tomorrow does that mean anything? Or course not. 5 what and 3 what? That's what we're talking about

> Or treat a savings account as a savings account.

Totally, they offset about half of inflation because they collateralize loans. With interest rates this low, loan collateralization isn't a big value driver, so it doesn't pay much.

It's your responsibility in a capitalist society to allocate capital most productively and so if this particular allocation isn't the most productive, your job is to go find a different allocation, or to pay the inflation premium. Nobody's ever been entitled to a risk-free return in a savings account.

Money isn't a long-term store of value, it never was, and if you insist on jamming it into a round hole, you've failed to understand one of the most basic premises of modern society.


> Money isn't a long-term store of value, it never was

Yes, we all get your point: currency is not intended as a literal store of value. I think this is where the real misunderstanding lies. The good arguments against currency debasement are not about money's ability to "store value" but rather its ability to transmit information about value across time and space. These are arguably the same thing, but the more descriptive phrase makes it clear that the problem is not specifically that the unit of value corresponding to the currency "shrinks" over time, but that the processes used nowadays by monetary authorities to manage currencies severely distort the signals carried in that currency unit in ways that lead to economic waste and increasing inequality.


... severely distort the signals carried in that currency unit in ways that lead to economic waste and increasing inequality.

It just doesn't. Wealth and income inequality is a real problem but a social policy problem, not a monetary policy problem. Talk to Congress.


> Do they? Generally inflation benefits debtors and not lenders, because debts are denominated in dollars in the year of issue, and repaid in future dollars, which are worth 2% less per year.

Yes, exactly. This allows wealthy people to borrow money and pay it back with less value.

> Overwhelmingly poor and middle class folks are debtors (think mortgages).

Poor people often don’t have access to these extremely low interest rates because of structural inequalities and credit requirements (and exceptions tend to leave them worse off as well, see the subprime fiasco). Meanwhile the cheap credit bids up the prices of those assets, benefitting the people who have them (wealthy) as opposed to the people buying them (upwardly mobile or aspirational).

> Mortgages have become more and more affordable each year. This means folks can afford more and more house for the same money, after all the bulk of the payment of a 30 year fixed is interest for the first 10+ years.

Not in aggregate, because the cost of a house increases as people bid for houses with the cheap credit.

> Yeah but at the end of that day that's irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what those units represent. If I gave you 5 today and 3 tomorrow does that mean anything? Or course not. 5 what and 3 what? That's what we're talking about

Right, and at the end of the day those units represent less value because of the actions of the central bank. Furthermore those actions were intended to have that exact effect. So how are you claiming that business owners are supposed to work in opposition to central bank policy? Clearly if the central bank wants wages to decrease in real terms, and business owners increase them nominally to make them neutral in real terms, this frustrates central bank policy and they will logically just print more money.

> It's your responsibility in a capitalist society to allocate capital most productively and so if this particular allocation isn't the most productive, your job is to go find it.

The problem is the distorting effect of low interest rates means that what is productive in terms of nominal r.o.i. is not what is productive in real terms, but the market distortions are so pervasive and persistent that people have to chase the nominal returns. This is incredibly destructive to value, society, and community.


You've stated a bunch of stuff as fact without sources.

> Yes, exactly. This allows wealthy people to borrow money and pay it back with less value.

It lets everyone do so, and as a fraction of net worth, the poor are way disproportionately exposed, and hence benefit. A billionaire with $1B in net worth isn't leveraged to 10B in real estate. Someone worth $10K may easily have $100K in mortgage debt, however.

Why do you say people who have both debt and assets benefit more than those who have just debts? They strictly dont because those assets have to outperform inflation. Debts do not.

> Poor people often don’t have access to these extremely low interest rates because of structural inequalities and credit requirements (and exceptions tend to leave them worse off as well, see the subprime fiasco). Meanwhile the cheap credit bids up the prices of those assets, benefitting the people who have them (wealthy) as opposed to the people buying them (upwardly mobile or aspirational).

That's irrelevant - that is to say, a separate problem - because inflation affects everyone regardless of interest rate equally. Interest rates are set based on likelihood of default.

> Not in aggregate, because the cost of a house increases as people bid for houses with the cheap credit.

Yes, in aggregate, no the cost of houses hasn't increased on an inflation adjusted dollars per square foot basis since the 1970s [1]. Where it has increased on a unit basis it's due to zoning regulation and not inflation.

> Right, and at the end of the day those units represent less value because of the actions of the central bank. Furthermore those actions were intended to have that exact effect. So how are you claiming that business owners are supposed to work in opposition to central bank policy? Clearly if the central bank wants wages to decrease in real terms, and business owners increase them nominally to make them neutral in real terms, this frustrates central bank policy and they will logically just print more money.

No, this is a fundamental misunderstanding. All businesses see their expenses and revenues rise with inflation. If they choose not to adjust their salaries commensurately, they've made a conscious decision to reduce pay a fraction of income.

> The problem is the distorting effect of low interest rates means that what is productive in terms of nominal r.o.i. is not what is productive in real terms, but the market distortions are so pervasive and persistent that people have to chase the nominal returns. This is incredibly destructive to value, society, and community.

[citation needed]

[1] https://fee.org/articles/new-homes-today-have-twice-the-squa...


> It lets everyone do so

Citation for your claim that everyone has access to cheap credit. Are you aware of payday loans? [0]

> and as a fraction of net worth, the poor are way disproportionately exposed, and hence benefit.

Citation needed for your claim that the poor can access these low interest rates.

> A billionaire with $1B in net worth isn't leveraged to 10B in real estate.

Citation needed. Why do you think a person with $11B in assets wouldn’t borrow $10B?

> Someone worth $10K may easily have $100K in mortgage debt, however.

Citation needed. Do you mean someone worth $110k has a $100k mortgage? Or do you mean someone worth -$90k has $10k in assets and liabilities totalling $100k?

> Why do you say people who have both debt and assets benefit more than those who have just debts?

Because inflation causes assets to appreciate in nominal terms (assuming constant real value) and debt to depreciate in real terms.

> They strictly dont because those assets have to outperform inflation. Debts do not.

I’m not sure what you mean by “outperform inflation”

> That's irrelevant - that is to say, a separate problem

It means your theory about poor people benefitting from low interest rates is not true.

> because inflation affects everyone regardless of interest rate equally.

Citation needed.

> Interest rates are set based on likelihood of default.

You know this and yet you continue to assert that poor people benefit as much or more than the wealthy? I guess you think a person with a minimum wage job and no assets is just as likely to default as a billionaire?

> Yes, in aggregate, no the cost of houses hasn't increased on an inflation adjusted dollars per square foot basis since the 1970s

Right, when you adjust for the inflation, it hasn’t increased at all. Which is basically the point. The prices go up because of inflation, people who hold assets sell them for more money, people who earn paychecks get the same amount of dollars but can buy less for it, etc. None of this is controversial except when saying it around the proles who might take offense at the efforts of oligarchs to eat the bottoms out of their paychecks and savings.

> No, this is a fundamental misunderstanding. All businesses see their expenses and revenues rise with inflation.

But not at the same time or at the same rate. After all, if all prices relected inflation at the same time, there would be no point.

> If they choose not to adjust their salaries commensurately, they've made a conscious decision to reduce pay a fraction of income.

No, the bankers are the ones who made the conscious decision. Good rhetorical judo tho.

> [citation needed]

> You've stated a bunch of stuff as fact without sources.

Some of it is basically common knowledge, like poor people not having the collaterall, credit history, or social value required to access the same loans as billionaires. Some of it just seems like fundamental misunderstanding on your part, like your belief that all prices inflate at the same rate.

[0] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/16/map-shows-typical-payday-loa...


Oh my where to even begin.

> Citation for your claim that everyone has access to cheap credit. Are you aware of payday loans?

I have at no point stated that. What I said is that inflation affects all debts equally.

Interest rate on loans is defined on "cost plus" basis, where "cost" is the treasury interest rate, and the "plus" is based on your default risk. However, the "cost" is the same for everyone no matter what.

Inflation isn't even the "cost" term. Inflation reduces the value of the principal of every loan the same amount regardless of who took it out or at what interest rate. The principal. Not the interest.

That knocks out your first 5 or 6 points.

> Do you mean someone worth $110k has a $100k mortgage? Or do you mean someone worth -$90k has $10k in assets and liabilities totalling $100k?

You can get a mortgage with as little as 3% down payment, so yes, I am referring to someone who has a $100K mortgage debt, a $100K house an $10K in other, misc assets like savings or investments. This person is leveraged 10X. I don't know for a fact billionaires don't leverage themselves 10X but I can't fathom why they would unless they're on r/WallStreetBets.

> No, the bankers are the ones who made the conscious decision. Good rhetorical judo tho.

Ok so a business sees their revenues go up 2%, and their costs go up 2%, and during annual comp review they say... "let's set the increase in salaries at 0% even though we know inflation is 2%" -- the bankers did that? Were they on the conference call? That's a lot of calls to schedule!

> Some of it is basically common knowledge, like poor people not having the collaterall, credit history, or social value required to access the same loans as billionaires. Some of it just seems like fundamental misunderstanding on your part, like your belief that all prices inflate at the same rate.

You introduced all of these things, not me, and you did so based on a misunderstanding of my point.

C'mon Quixote, put down the lance.


> I have at no point stated that. What I said is that inflation affects all debts equally.

So you do, at least, understand that a person with more debt benefits more than a person with less debt?

> Interest rate on loans is defined on "cost plus" basis, where "cost" is the treasury interest rate, and the "plus" is based on your default risk. However, the "cost" is the same for everyone no matter what.

So you are aware that poor people generally pay a premium for loans, based on their risk of default? And you see how that impacts their access to credit? And how this leads to wealthy people benefitting more?

> You can get a mortgage with as little as 3% down payment, so yes, I am referring to someone who has a $100K mortgage debt, a $100K house an $10K in other, misc assets like savings or investments.

That is the kind of person who may benefit from inflation, depending on their investment choices.


> When the principal decreases by 2% per annum and the rich person pays 2% interest and the poor person pays %600 percent, the rich person gets free credit while the poor person pays ~600% per annum. Surely you can see that this is worse for the poor person, even before factoring in that the rich person gets capital gains from asset inflation while the poor person gets real decrease in wages.

Inflation is a small part of the interest rate calculation. Even if inflation were 0% a rich person would pay 0% and a poor person 598%. You've achieved nothing.

> Surely you can see that this is worse for the poor person, even before factoring in that the rich person gets capital gains from asset inflation while the poor person gets real decrease in wages.

Wages have kept pace with inflation, and capital gains tax is a social/fiscal policy matter for Congress, not for Janet Yellen. Try again.


> So you do, at least, understand that a person with more debt benefits more than a person with less debt?

I believe I explicitly stated it benefits debtors over creditors. Poor folks are leveraged substantially more than rich folks, hence the disproportionate benefit.

Without inflation they'd be assessed the same interest rates, with the same risk premiums, but would not benefit from inflation so this is strictly worse, is it not?

> So you are aware that poor people generally pay a premium for loans, based on their risk of default? And you see how that impacts their access to credit? And how this leads to wealthy people benefitting more?

That has nothing to do with inflation which impacts the principal of issued loans.


> Poor folks are leveraged substantially more than rich folks, hence the disproportionate benefit.

This is false, rich folks have far more debt than poor people, not to mention access to lower prices for loans.

> Without inflation they'd be assessed the same interest rates, with the same risk premiums, but would not benefit from inflation so this is strictly worse, is it not?

You’re right that the rich, who hold vastly greater amounts of debt, would not benefit from the central bank depreciating their liabilities.

> That has nothing to do with inflation which impacts the principal of issued loans.

When the principal decreases by 2% per annum and the rich person pays 2% interest and the poor person oays %600 percent, the rich person gets free credit while the poor person pays ~600% per annum. Surely you can see that this is worse for the poor person, even before factoring in that the rich person gets capital gains from asset inflation while the poor person gets real decrease in wages.


> This is false, rich folks have far more debt than poor people ...

On a percentage basis?

[citation needed]


"anyone who relies on fixed payments denominated in dollars (retirees, pensioners, disabled persons, those on public assistance, etc.).

All those people are, or should be, index-linked. But they are a convenient human shield for the real culprits.

The people who actually rely on fixed incomes are those holding the debt assets that rot by inflation - ie bankers and rich people.

Inflation helps debt payers by transfers from debt holders. However it is the latter that have the political power.

Nobody else is affected by inflation. They are affected by the systemic lack of jobs induced by a central bank system that is overly tight to avoid inflation that never happens.


Sadly it isn't really worth arguing econ on HN. This place is full of cranks when it comes to that, unfortunately. Maybe better if we all just stick to programming.

It's amazing how otherwise brilliant folks get caught up in this anarchocapitalist conspiracy theory mumbo jumbo.

There's a few bits of plumbing in this world you'd do best to familiarize yourself with so you can raise your socioeconomic stature with maximum efficiency, economics is one of them. I only tilt at them because I hope that they'll benefit from an understanding of how these things work in reality.


It is strange, but I think it makes sense culturally. HN grew out of that particular libertarian, anti-establishment "hacker" subculture, where it is very common to believe that the government and etc. is out to screw you. Rather than like, the government is also made up of people, the same kind of smart, educated people that might otherwise have worked at your startup, and the reason most of them chose to go into government is because they think that problems like macroeconomics and public finance and etc. are interesting.

But no, us tech dweebs are the righteous little guys fighting back against the rigged system, man!


Very true. I also wonder if it has to do with folks in high school and college just not having money, so why bother paying attention to ECON material? It's all abstract.

It's like the Futurama joke from Future Stock:

  “Oh my god! I’m a millionaire! Suddenly, I have an opinion on the capital gains tax!”

That’s the stupidest theory I’ve heard this week. This is a forum hosted by a startup accelator where programmers and founders (as well as other professionals) gather. It’s not exactly a hippie resort.

Libertarians are also the most ideologically pro-capitalist people that one is likely to meet.


> That’s the stupidest theory I’ve heard this week. This is a forum hosted by a startup accelator where programmers and founders (as well as other professionals) gather. It’s not exactly a hippie resort.

True, though I suspect that happened after they left high school.

> Libertarians are also the most ideologically pro-capitalist people that one is likely to meet.

A study shows a quarter of libertarians don't know what libertarianism is heh. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism_in_the_United_S...


> Inflation only matters from the time you receive your paycheck to the time you invest it in productive assets or buy the necessities of life.

This statement just reeks of entitlement and elitism. This is not how most americans live their lives. Stock ownership is highly correlated with income and education. Inflation is a regressive tax on the financially illiterate.


No, it's not.

Inflation doesn't affect those who don't have money because they don't have money. Wages have kept pace with inflation, housing on a dollars per square foot basis, on average across the US has kept pace with inflation since the 1970s. In places where it's more expensive, it's a function of zoning rules.

Stock ownership is correlated with wealth and wealth inequality is a real problem. So is income inequality. They both have nothing to do with inflation. You take that up with Congress not with Janet Yellen.

Poor people are poor because they don't have money, not because their non-existent savings are being inflated away, and not because their flat-after-inflation payroll has been chipped away at. They were born into a monopoly board with hotels on every square, because of the roughly 0% estate tax.


Anyone with a mortgage is actively benefiting from inflation.

> Well, they also fought for slavery, they weren't perfect people.

They did not, under any reasonable interpretation of US history, “fight for slavery”.


Well they sure didn't fight against it. We the people didn't exactly include "we the black people" or "we the womenfolk." Slaveholders outnumbers non-slaveholders 2:1 and men outnumbered women 1:0. [1] Some of the founding fathers were slaveholders and pro-slavery. Not all. My point remains that they were fallible humans, and it's really strange to hear folks appeal to these proto-deities 300 years later on matters of modern economics.

Nobody in England asks "What would William Pitt the Elder do?" [2] - I'm not sure, but I suspect it wouldn't be compatible with modern life.

[1] https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Founding-Fathers-and-Sl...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Pitt,_1st_Earl_of_Chat...


> Well they sure didn't fight against it

It was fairly well documented that the Founding Fathers were pretty much all opposed to slavery, but saw it as a huge political shit sandwich that would jeopardize Federalization. The United States is one of the only unions on the planet in which every single member state (without exception) voluntarily ratified and agreed to join. Had the Founding Fathers pushed for abolition, the South would never have joined the Union, and slavery may not have been abolished in the 1860s.

> Slaveholders outnumbers non-slaveholders 2:1 and men outnumbered women 1:0.

Yes, because the population of the South outnumbered that of the North. This is why the Founding Fathers installed various checks and balances to ensure that a pro-slavery political majority doesn’t outnumber the pro-abolition minority at the Federal level. The Three-Fifths Compromise was put in place to dilute the South’s influence in the Federal government; whereas the Southern slave states wanted to count slaves for apportionment despite slaves obviously being unable to vote. In fact, it was essentially an incentive to abolish slavery, since the way that it was worded, it only applied to “non-free Persons”; if the South wanted more power over the Federal legislature, all they had to do was abolish slavery. The Senate, as an institution, was put in place as a check on the more populous South, which advocated for a unicameral legislature apportioned strictly by population (the Virginia Plan).

Finally, a really good way to understand how the Founders felt about slavery is to look at how those that literally advocated for starting a new nation based fundamentally on the institution of slavery (the Confederates) felt about the Founding Fathers. The Cornerstone Speech was an address given by the Vice President of the CSA just before the Civil War began, and includes commentary around how they felt about the “old Constitution” and its framers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornerstone_Speech#Cornerstone

The relevant bit:

“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution, African slavery as it exists amongst us – the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.””

So the idea that the Founders “fought for slavery” or in any way were responsible for its existence is just ahistorical revisionism, up there with Confederates arguing that the Civil War was about “states rights” and not about “slavery”.

> My point remains that they were fallible humans, and it's really strange to hear folks appeal to these proto-deities 300 years later on matters of modern economics.

> Nobody in England asks "What would William Pitt the Elder do?" [2] - I'm not sure, but I suspect it wouldn't be compatible with modern life.

At the time the US Constitution was written, the concept of a creedal nation obtaining its legitimacy from a governing document, in it providing checks & balances to limit the power of government, along with a bill of rights that guarantee broad protection of rights pertaining to speech, bearing arms, impartial trial, privacy (searches and seizures) — was truly unique to the US. That it is now commonplace in the West is a testament to one of America's many lasting contributions to the world. The Founding Fathers set that trend, and that’s why we talk about their philosophies; the very concept of a liberal republic under the rule of law flows from the principles and ideals that they documented. All of those ideas are agnostic to sex or race; their articulated arguments in favor of individual liberty and the freedom of speech (for example) don't lose any merit when you make them in the context of men, women, Black people, or brown people. The Founding Fathers of the US also essentially wrote the equivalent of an entire RFC alongside the actual document — the Federalist Papers — which were a profound exposition on political science and philosophy. This was a historical aberration, and you can’t say any of this about William Pitt the Elder.

Also, for the sake of argument, even if one were to accept that the Founders “fought for slavery” (they absolutely did not, but let’s just say), bringing that up in a conversation about monetary policy doesn’t make any sense. It’s like disregarding any argument about racial justice made by Martin Luther King Jr because he allegedly abused women (https://theconversation.com/im-an-mlk-scholar-and-ill-never-...).


Back with your "money under the mattress" red herring as usual, I see. This is not about inflation, it's about monetary debasement. Completely different concepts.

Explain to me how inflation affects people who don't have money, while their wages keep pace with inflation.

You say this like they're two different things. Debasement is the mechanism by which inflation is achieved. They're the same thing for all intents and purposes and italicizing one won't change that.


If I give you a fresh $100 bill and you put it in a drawer (ie save it), how does that affect inflation?

What mainstream economics can't handle is financial saving. Quite literally it is abstracted away from their models, yet it exists in the real world.

And that's why they keep getting things wrong. It's the savings, stupid.


> What mainstream economics can't handle is financial saving. Quite literally it is abstracted away from their models, yet it exists in the real world.

An extremely bizarre claim. Literally the first macroeconomic models you learn in grad school have savings. This is always an option to consumers so it’s always going to be in the model.

Moreover, actual macro models (even extremely simple ones) will permit you to save in cash or in some financial instrument (eg bonds).

Your claim is not well informed.


"Literally the first macroeconomic models you learn in grad school have savings. "

Go look it up in MankiW. You'll find those aren't financial savings.

Money plays no part in RBC models. It's a one-to-one match with stuff.


The models we teach to undergrads in macro principles are simpler than the models economics professors use in their research or that central banks use to make policy.

Mankiw does not have a graduate textbook so I'm not sure where you want me to look it up. The math textbooks used in middle school don't cover calculus. Same thing w/ the economics textbooks: undergrad textbooks cover simplified versions of problems.

If you want to see money in a macro model in the RBC tradition, see Thomas Sargent and Lars Ljungvist's "Recursive Macroeconomic Theory" (the standard graduate textbook everywhere) Part IV. For asset pricing, see the same book in Chapters 13 and 14. IF you want to see savings, you can start much earlier in the book, probably around chapter 8 or 9.

For another example of money in an RBC model, see the very-well titled "ABC's of RBC's" by McCandless, Section 2.

I am not sure where you get your confidence that this very basic feature of actual economies is ignored in economic modeling? It is misplaced.


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