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Sunday, October 18, 2015

'Everything You Need to Know about Laissez-Faire Economics'

A few excerpts from a much longer interview of Alan Kirman (it was in yesterday's links)

Everything You Need to Know about Laissez-Faire Economics: ... DSW: I’m so happy to talk with you about the concept of laissez faire, all the way back to its origin, which as I understand it is during the Enlightenment. ...
AK: I think the basic story that really interests us is that with the Enlightenment and with people like Adam Smith and David Hume, people had this idea that somehow intrinsically people should be left to their own devices and this would lead society to a state that was satisfactory in some sense for everybody, with some limits of course–law and order and so on. That’s the idea that is underlying our whole social and philosophical position ever since. ... I think what happened was on the one hand people became obsessed with proving there was some sort of socially satisfactory situation that corresponded to markets in equilibrium, and on the other hand, there was a lot of effort made, right up to the 1950’s, to try to show that a market or an economy would converge on that. But we gave up on that in the 70’s when there were results that showed that essentially we couldn’t prove it. So the theoreticians gave up but the underlying economic content and all of the ideology behind it has just kept going. We are in a strange situation where on the one hand we say we should leave markets to themselves because if they operate correctly and we get to an equilibrium this will be a socially satisfactory state. On the other hand, since we can’t show that it gets there, we talk about economies that are in equilibrium but that’s a contradiction because the invisible hand suggests that there is a mechanism that gets us there. And that’s what we’re lacking–a mechanism.  ...
DSW: ...This has been a wonderful conversation, by the way. Nowadays, you hear all the time about how neoliberal ideology and thought is invading European countries and is undoing forms of governance that are actually working quite well. I work a lot in Norway and Scandinavia and there you hear all the time that Nordic model works and at the same time it is being corrupted by the neoliberal ideology, which is being spread in some sort of cancerous fashion. Please comment on that—Current neoliberalism. What justifies it? Is it spreading? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Anything you would like to say on that topic.
AK: I think that one obsession that economists have is with efficiency. We’re always, always, worrying about efficiency. People like to say that this is efficient or not efficient. The argument is, we know that if you free up markets you get a more efficient allocation of resources. That obsession with efficiency has led us to say that we must remove some of these restraints and restrictions and this sort of social aid that is built into the Scandinavian model. I think that’s without thinking carefully about the consequences. ...
I think what has happened is, because of this mythology about totally free markets being efficient, we push for that all the time and in so doing, we started to do things like—for example, we hear all the time that we have to reform labor markets in Europe. Why do we want to reform them? Because then they’ll be more competitive. You can reduce unit labor costs, which usually means reducing wages. But that has all sorts of consequences, which are not perceived. In model that is more complex, that sort of arrangement wouldn’t necessarily be one that in your terms would be selected for. When you do that, you make many people temporary workers. You have complete ease in hiring and firing so that people are shifting jobs all the time. When they do that, we know that employers then invest nothing in their human capital. ... We’re reducing the overall human capital in society by having an arrangement like that. ... Again, the idea that people who are out of work have chosen to be out of work and by giving them a social cushion you induce them to be out of work—that simply doesn’t fit with the facts. I think that all the ramification of these measures—the side effects and external effects—all of that gets left out and we have this very simple framework that says “to be competitive, you just have to free everything up.” That’s what undermining the European system. European and Scandinavian systems work pretty well. ... The last remark I would make is that to say “you’ve got to get rid of all those rules and regulations you have”—in general, those rules and regulations are there for a reason. Again, to use an evolutionary argument, they didn’t just appear, they got selected for. We put them in place because there was some problem, so just to remove them without thinking about why they are there doesn’t make a lot of sense. ...
DSW: There’s no invisible hand to save the day.
AK: (laughs). Joe Stiglitz used to say that we also need a visible hand. The visible hand is sometimes pretty useful. For example in the financial sector I think you really need a visible hand and not an invisible hand. ...

    Posted by on Sunday, October 18, 2015 at 10:03 AM in Economics, History of Thought | Permalink  Comments (17)


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