This continues from former weblog text.

In the past, Dutch society had the pillars, or segregation – though not in the extreme form of Apartheid – notably between Protestants and Catholics, but also for the socialist labour movement. People could live in their own community without the need to deal with other concepts or to develop a personal sense of tolerance and open-mindedness. Only the leaders of the pillars had to bargain with one-another, and this could be restricted to more practical issues.This pillarisation started to break down in the 1960s and 1970s with the increased welfare and freedom and the advent of television and “globalisation”. Yet, there are still relevant structures, e.g. in political party memberships and newsmedia subscriptions and such.

“In their search for the conditions of stable and democratic political rule most of these political scientists came to believe that political fragmentation of a society poses enormous obstacles to the realization of stability and democracy. In their view the cleavages or fragmentation, created by differing social, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups, had somehow to be overcome before there could be any prospect of a stable, democratic regime. About fifteen years ago this dominant belief among political scientists was challenged by the young Dutch Arend Lijphart. In 1968 he published his The Politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in The Netherlands. Both within the country and elsewhere (thanks to the English edition) the work was highly acclaimed. Its success was due, in large part, to his description of Dutch politics as a paradoxical case of strong social segmentation or pillarization which was also marked by stability and democracy. That is, contrary to expectations, Holland is both stable and democratic despite its extensive social cleavages.” (M. van Schendelen around 1985).

While the pillars have mainly disappeared, Dutch culture hasn’t developed yet the personal sense of tolerance and open-mindedness that is required for this new situation. Dutch people are no orphans without self-confidence, but the metaphor might be helpful. If I am correct, in the USA, there is now strong antagonism between strands of Democrats and (Tea Party) Republicans, but there is also an underlying idea of mutual respect, and the attitude that opponents have the right to speak their minds, which also involves the obligation to listen to them. Perhaps this is the pioneering spirit that relies on individual strength. Though, in Hollywood comedies, it are the eternal misunderstandings that cause most laughs. Whatever that be, my suggestion is that in Holland, discussions break down far too soon. One is treated at best with a smile but no longer listened to, with the hint that you should go and look for your own pillar to talk to.

Thus, Dutch people might seem open minded but actually there is fundamentalism, fueled by uncertainty and the need to cling on to something.

A course “Economics from a pluralistic perspective” (newspeak)

The example in this weblog entry concerns what professors Irene van Staveren and Rob van Tulder call “pluralism“. This appears to be Orwellian newspeak for something that excludes key information that proper pluralism would include. It is “Free of charge to follow the course, € 50 to get a certificate”, though apparently you still must register with Coursera.

“Wondering why economists have not predicted serious financial crises? Shocked by economic assumptions of human behavior as self-centered and focusing only on what can be measured? Asking yourself if there are no sensible economic alternatives to free markets? Then you are at the right place to learn economics! Economic pluralism means that a plurality of theoretical and methodological viewpoints is regarded as valuable in itself and is simply the best way in which economics can make progress in understanding the world. This MOOC will illustrate economic pluralism not only in substance but also in form.” (EUR website)

This case concerns science and education, and involves Van Staveren’s and Van Tulder’s suppression of scientific ideas that they apparently don’t want to hear and don’t want to tell their students about. A scientist might specialise, and no longer be able to see beyond the blinders of this specialisation. In that case the scientist is no different than any other lay person, except for a general training in methodology and integrity of science. In this case, we are dealing with pluralism and generalisation, which are the opposite of specialisation. Hence the omission of key information is a much more serious issue.

My analysis in 1990 was that the Trias Politica fails, and that democracy requires an Economic Supreme Court. The economic crisis 2007+ confirms this analysis. Now, fellow economists may have other analyses, but it would be unscientific not to mention my analysis. Certainly when you target for pluralism, then also the proper analysis better be mentioned.

The former weblog entry already mentioned some important elements. We continue with the list.

Sustainable Finance Lab

Irene van Staveren is member of the so-called “Sustainable Finance Lab” (SFL) at Utrecht University. There is no good reason to combine finance and sustainability, but it might be good marketing for some bankers, and fashionable for the news media and students looking for something to study. Former RABO banker Herman Wijffels can call himself a professor now, and redirect criticism on his former banking activities to his new image on sustainability. In Dutch there is this 2013 warning by me.

I alerted Van Staveren about the malconduct by Klaas van Egmond at SFL. Van Egmond is an engineer in food technology, who has insufficient background in economics, but who doesn’t care about this, since engineers know better. He switched to the issue of the environment, and became head of the Dutch research institute on the environment. There he maltreated Roefie Hueting’s analysis on environmental sustainability. With the 2007+ economic crisis, he presented Dutch parliament with a model exercise that flies in the face of economics. These two issues are discussed here. Van Staveren didn’t respond to my criticism though she could at least have asked her SFL partners to reply to the criticism.

Holland also has environmental researchers like Rob van Dorland who do serious work on the environment. I am afraid that they get so-called “information” about economics from confused Klaas van Egmond. When I alerted Van Dorland about this issue, he rejected my warning as “spam”. Well, this is curious. The email exchange is here. This was part of the exchange above, that Van Staveren neglects to look into. It would have been better when she had corrected Van Egmond and informed Van Dorland that my information and warning had been correct.

At SFL there is also Dirk Bezemer, who disinforms the world about economists who warned about the 2007+ crisis.

At SFL there is also Mark Sanders, who advises the scientific department of the political party D66. I have asked Sanders to look in the D66 claims on improved democracy with district voting, referenda, and direct elections of prime minister and mayors. He refused to do so, and didn’t transfer my request to other people at that D66 department so that my new analysis would be looked into. Dutch readers can look here. A recent discussion on voting theory on this weblog is here.

Poor families paying for environmental costs

With global warming and deteriorating environment, the costs of the environment rise, and thus also costs for families, either directly or via taxes. For some persons this might be an argument not to include environmental costs into prices, since it would increase poverty.

“In the near future, an average three-person household will spend about €90 a month for electricity. That’s about twice as much as in 2000.
Two-thirds of the price increase is due to new government fees, surcharges and taxes. But despite those price hikes, government pensions and social welfare payments have not been adjusted. As a result, every new fee becomes a threat to low-income consumers.” (Der Spiegel 2013)

“Americans can’t afford higher electricity prices.” (Forbes 2013)

However, this situation is not fundamentally different from the past, when families already faced the question of survival and subsistence. Let me thus refer to my analysis on unemployment and poverty in DRGTPE. A short text is “Don’t tax sweat“. Dutch readers might look at this.

However, for some students of environmental economics this still might seem to be a new issue. I don’t know whether this is the case with Van Staveren and Van Tulder. They neglect to respond, and thus I really don’t know. Given that they neglect me, I presume that they also neglect my work, so that they might have above confusion.

Unemployment and poverty in general

In 1996 Ruigrok & Van Tulder “The logic of international restructuring” presented the important insight that globalisation actually was regionalisation. Fears about global competition were exaggerated. For Dutch readers: see this. This analysis fitted an earlier study by Andre Middelhoek at CPB in an evaluation of the Treaty of Rome, that there was mainly intra-industry specialisation.

In 1998 I gave Van Tulder a copy of the Dutch book “Werkloosheid en armoede, de oplossing die werkt (W&A) (pdf online). Van Tulder would look into it and get back to me. He hasn’t.

Date: Wed, 15 Apr 1998
To: Thomas Cool
From: Rob_van_Tulder
Subject: Re: Boekje over werkloosheid en armoede, i.v.m. uw analyse;  reactie?

Geachte mijnheer Cool,
ik heb uw boekje in goede orde ontvangen. Ik heb het slechts kunnen
doorbladeren. Momenteel is me weinig tijd gegeven voor enig substantieel
leeswerk. Dat zal in de komende weken z’n beslag kunnen nemen. Ik zal dan
graag contact met u nemen.
met vriendelijke groeten,
rob van tulder

Google Translate:

I have received your book in good order. I’ve been able to browse only. At present, I have little time for any substantial reading. That will be possible in the next few weeks. I will be happy to contact you.

Now I see that Van Tulder made a 2008 study about poverty for UNRISD, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. There is no reference to this book or my work.

“This paper addresses the way in which the largest firms in the world are coping with their involvement in the issue of poverty at home and abroad. It will be analysed in particular whether different ‘varieties of capitalism’ (VOC) or ‘business systems’ (Cf. e.g. Whitley, 1999; Jackson and Deeg, 2008) and different industries lead to different approaches towards poverty. The paper focuses on the one hundred largest firms in the world – as measured by 2006 turnover (see Annex). The sample contains sufficient representative firms from five industries and three different varieties of capitalism, to facilitate international comparison: (1) Anglo-Saxon (containing in particular US firms), (2) Continental European (in particular French and German firms) and (3) East Asian (in particular Chinese and Japanese firms). This paper is largely descriptive. It aims at identifying and documenting various strategies that can be and are employed by corporations to reduce poverty, it tries to come to a first assessment on the profoundness of these strategies, while also considering which variety of capitalism (and business leadership) seems to develop the most pro-active strategies towards poverty reduction.” (Van Tulder 2008, UNRISD)

The study targets businesses, but a key point for such a study would be:

  • Business leaders should plea with the government for a general policy to alleviate poverty, since it is the government that can resolve main issues, including the prisoners’ dilemma for the individual companies.
  • Resolution of poverty in OECD countries would be an important step, since it would set an example for countries with less democracy and resources.

Indeed Van Tulder in his chapter 2 presents a more general discussion how businesses are getting involved in the poverty issue, and W&A fits in this general framework, but isn’t referred to.

Why oh why did Van Tulder not get back to me about this book that I gave him ? It might be that he simply forgot ?

Wage moderation policy

Van Tulder (2000) (in Dutch) p178 & 180 refers to the Dutch wage moderation policy, but without the criticism given by Kleinknecht, see this earlier weblog entry.

The policy of wage moderation is also discussed in W&A as a key angle to understand unemployment and poverty in Holland and the OECD. See DRGTPE on exposed and sheltered sectors of the economy.

Reading DRGTPE

In 2010, I alerted Van Staveren about DRGTPE and the Dutch booklet DOK for a general public. Van Staveren indicated that she would look at it, so I sent her the relevant links. I haven’t received a reaction since. A 2014 discussion about the failure of the Trias Politica and need for Economic Supreme Courts is here.

From: “Staveren, I. van (Irene)”
To: ‘Thomas Cool / Thomas Colignatus’
Date: Tue, 16 Feb 2010
Subject: RE: Mijn analyse over werkloosheid en armoede

Geachte Thomas Cool,

Hartelijk dank voor uw mailtje en interesse in mijn werk. Als u me (een link naar) uw werk over de Trias Politica en uitbreiding met een Economische Hof zou willen toesturen, zal ik dat met belangstelling lezen.

Ik neem aan dat u bekend bent met mijn boek waarin ik betoog dat er drie economische waardendomeinen zijn en dat een economie pas goed functioneert als die drie (vrijheid/ruil; rechtvaardigheid/herverdeling; zorgzaamheid/de gift) in evenwicht zijn? (Voor de zekerheid: Irene van Staveren, The Values of Economics – an Aristotelian Perspective. Routledge, 2001.)

Hartelijke groeten, Irene van Staveren.

Google Translate:

Thank you for your email and interest in my work. If you would like to send me a link to your work on the Trias Politica and expansion with an Economic Court, I will read that with interest.

I assume you are familiar with my book that I argue that there are three economic value domains, and that an economy only works well if those three (freedom / exchange, justice / redistribution, care / gift) are balanced? (For sure: Irene van Staveren, The Values ​​of Economics – An Aristotelian Perspective. Routledge, 2001.)

PM. I am aware of the work by Arjo Klamer and Deirdre McCloskey on (virtue) ethics. Van Staveren wrote her thesis with Klamer and McCloskey was in the thesis commission. It had been my intention to look at Van Staveren’s thesis, but this hasn’t been urgent for me to do so yet.

Closing off

This discussion already takes two weblog entries. Let me close this off now, with a salute to George Orwell, apparently born in the same year as Jan Tinbergen (1903-1994).

Eric Blair / George Orwell (1903-1950)

Five years ago I discussed the “Dutch Taliban“. I can now include Dutch “pluralist economics” to this narrative.

There is this particular course “Economics from a pluralist perspective” in English though created by two Dutch professors Irene van Staveren (ISS) and Rob van Tulder (RSM) and a PhD student. I have no access to this course so I cannot check whether they refer to my analysis in DRGTPE and CSBH or not. I presume that I would have been informed if they had. The following is conditional on the probable assumption of neglect.

I will refer to some books that I haven’t read, and explain why I will not read them. One book by Van Staveren that I haven’t read deals with economists who aren’t read. I understand that she doesn’t include me as an economist who isn’t read.

I already wrote about “Economics as a zoo” in 2005, and pointed to the terms of orthodoxy and heterodoxy as inadequate. Much is plain old history of economic thought. Apparently the new term is “pluralism”. Also, I was one of the economists who warned before the 2007+ crisis, yet Dutch economists neglect my work and neglect my protest against censorship, and apparently I am in some other dimension than their “pluralism”.

I regard myself as a neoclassical economist, in the term as coined by Paul Samuelson. I am eclectic and open to ideas but for practical work there must be a model, using theory and tested by statistics. My work is not mainstream yet because my work has been hit by censorship. My work rejects neoliberal economics (Robert Lucas), but anyone can check that neoliberal economics is emperically untenable. Readers should not confuse neoclassical economics with neoliberal economics.

My impression is that “pluralist” economists might so much fear mainstream economics and also so much desire to be accepted, that they opt for versions of “pluralism” that are not really dangerous to mainstream economics. Which means that their “pluralism” is useless. But they can applaud each other greatly in their mutual admiration bubble.

Pluralist economics, before or after the crisis ?

The two professors cause the tantalising question whether pluralism starts before or after the 2007+ crisis.

The online course refers to Irene van Staveren’s matricola textbook Economics After the Crisis. An Introduction to Economics from a Pluralist and Global Perspective.  ($61.53) (Dutch: Managementboek).

The online course manual states clearly that this textbook is not necessary for the course itself. This is fine, since the book is rather expensive, and one would wish for open access books nowadays. (See here for a cheap solution for open access publishing.) They state that the book will be helpful if you want to read from paper. The professors apparently thus think that the economic crisis hasn’t been a natural experiment that explains which approach was empirically most relevant, but only provides a case for more pluralism, perhaps to allow for more natural experiments by economists who don’t know what to think because they have so many theories to choose from.

Pluralism as Orwellian newspeak

Dutch pluralist economics is Orwellian newspeak for anything fashionable, as long as it neglects the censorship of science since 1990 by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB). Dutch pluralist economics has these fundamental tenets:

  • Economics is an empirical science, and the censorship at CPB doesn’t exist so it cannot be observed. Any fact on this can be neglected. (If I worked there and there aren’t CPB publications to my name, then this must have another explanation than censorship.)
  • Scientists will protest against censorship, and since scientists don’t protest then apparently there is no censorship. Hail to free society and the wisdom of Dutch government and Dutch economists. Except criticism for pluralism, of course.
  • Errors by the directorate of the CPB might be made, but not on censorship and dismissals with untruths. If the Dutch legal system allows such censorship and untruths because judges assume that the Dutch government wouldn’t do such things, then this only proves that there is no censorship.
  • The censorship has no consequences for policy making either, since something that doesn’t exist clearly can have no consequences.
  • It is only possible to know what the censorship is about once it has been lifted, but since it doesn’t exist it must be about nothing.
  • The economic crisis of 2007+ confirms my analysis of 1990, yet for Dutch economists there is the special task to completely neglect his work and his protest against censorship, since Thomas and his work do not exist, as proven in the above.
  • Well, Thomas might exist as a lunatic, see his protest against this censorship by the directorate of CPB. Completely irresponsible about such a respected institute (even though the directorate goofed on the crisis and its treatment and the policy of wage moderation).

What might seem tolerant or pluralist appears to be another form of fundamentalism. Professors Irene van Staveren (ISS) and Rob van Tulder (RSM) show engaging smiles that however hide mental niqabs or beards. (There is no need to overdo the metaphor with Photoshop.)

Van Staveren is anabaptist and her answer to neighbourly love is that she selects which neighbour to love. Van Tulder has a book for students about the essential skills for studying. Indeed, in our knowledge society, studying is actually a job too, and I am in favour of a student wage. Van Tulder’s book has the advice: “Dare to build upon research from others” – and apparently he has found other others than me who he really dares to build upon for his version of pluralism.

 

Smiles that hide fundamentalism. (Source: RSM and wikimedia)

Amartya Sen, voting theory and the Brexit referendum question

Irene van Staveren states that she derives much inspiration from the work of Amartya Sen. Sen however is a very mainstream economist and is seriously misguided on some key issues, so that one wonders what Van Staveren finds so inspiring. Sen is famous and fashionable, true, but fame and fashion are not scientific criteria.

  • One of my papers that got hit by the censorship deconstructs Kenneth Arrow’s impossibility theorem. (CPB internal memo 90-III-37, but better start now with my book Voting Theory for Democracy (VTFD).) Sen in his Collective Choice and Social Welfare gives a useful standard presentation of Arrow’s theorem. One can check that Sen doesn’t understand it. (Dutch readers can look here.) With Arrow, Sen actually helps to destroy democracy.
  • One can check that Sen’s own theorem on the supposed impossibility of a Paretian liberal is misguided as well, see VTFD.
  • Sen’s book Development as freedom is a collection of platitudes and open doors, comparable to “don’t give money but a fishing rod”.
  • Sen contributed to the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report, but this neglects the work by Tinbergen and Hueting on the economics of ecological survival (see my draft book).
  • Sen’s argument that democracies have less famines than non-democracies is questionable, see India itself. It is a better argument that the Trias Politica model of democracy fails, also in the case of hunger, whence each democracy requires an Economic Supreme Court.

While Sen has a training as an economist and mathematician, all this suggests that he is more inclided to abstract thought as a mathematician and less as an empiricist. It is not clear to me what Van Staveren’s background w.r.t. mathematics is.

It are such uncritical professors like Irene van Staveren who cause that Sen has gotten such authority in some circles. This is not without consequences. Sen’s misconception on voting theory shows also in his article with Eric Maskin in the NY Review of Books on electoral reform in the USA. The key advice that voting theorists can give to democracies is to switch to proportional representation (PR) in the House of Commons of parliament, and the selection of the executive power (ministers including PM) by such a PR House of Commons. Instead, Maskin and Sen stick to direct election of the US President, which however is subject to many voting paradoxes as has been illuminated by Arrow’s theorem. They adopt the best way to destroy democracy, namely by using methods that are unconvincing for the general population. There are various techniques of voting, but these better be used by parliament itself, once parliament has been chosen by PR. (Compare Holland with the UK.) Thus, Maskin and Sen, in their lack of understanding of voting theory, keep the US caught in suboptimality and cynicism. If there are no good alternatives, then Trump perhaps really was the democratically best choice. Similarly for the UK and India indeed. And Van Staveren cheers on, finding inspiration in Sen, and neglecting the censorship of science by the directorate of the CPB w.r.t. my work that contains the scientifically correct analysis.

Another example is Brexit. Undoubtedly many UK policy advisors have been trained either directly or via their teachers on Sen’s Collective Choice and Social Welfare as well. See my article in the RES Newsletter, April 2017, and reproduced on the LSE Brexit blog.

Environmental sustainability

A bit more can be said about sustainability, apart from Sen. Rob van Tulder has a major teaching engagement on management of sustainability in businesses. If prices aren’t right, then companies might make amends themselves. It seems that he neglects Tinbergen and Hueting’s on environmental sustainability. It would be much more effective to argue that environmental costs are included in the prices, since companies should not do what only the government can do properly.

“Professor van Tulder is co-founder of RSM’s Department of Business-Society Management, a world-leading department on the issues surrounding sustainability. The department offers a highly successful master’s specialising in sustainability.”

Also, Irene van Staveren and Jan Peil have edited this Handbook of Economics and Ethics. (2009), £168.30 in a period where open access already was a known concept.

  • Hans Opschoor there explains the topic of sustainability. I don’t have the text and would be interested to see what he states about Hueting’s work, since there are remarkable confusions about it. Opschoor coined the term “milieugebruiksruimte” (environmental carrying capacity) in 1989, but this is only an application of Hueting’s notion of environmental functions of 1974, after which Opschoor got citations that should have gone to Hueting. In this short text of 2016 Opschoor only refers to Hueting”s 1974 thesis but not to his later notion of environmentally sustainable national income (eSNI).
  • My own analysis on Arrow’s impossibility theorem might be included too, since Arrow claims moral desirability for the demolition of democracy, while I use deontic logic to show that this is unwarranted, see VTFD chapter 9.2 on page 239. (And perhaps read “Deontology” by Mark D. White.)  Yet, why would my analysis be included in this book behind a paywall, as VTFD is already online ? Hopefully some of the authors refer properly.
  • There is a chapter on Sen by Sabina Alkire, and hopefully she was aware of the above.
  • There is a chapter on poverty by Andy Sumner and on minimum wages by Ellen Mutari, and I can only hope that they have been aware of the following below.

Unemployment and poverty

In 1998 I gave Van Tulder a copy of this Dutch book on unemployment and poverty. He would read it and get back to me. This didn’t happen. Perhaps Van Tulder did not like the book ? We can only guess. This is a nice review in Dutch at DISK (lay people) and this is a misguided and misleading review by a Dutch economist, Joan Muysken, which case I already discussed on CofFEE or latte. If Van Tulder had misgivings in 1998 he could have discussed those with me. My impression is that Van Staveren can be annoyed towards Van Tulder that his silence on this may have caused her the lost years of 1998-2017 of looking for a good analysis, and the rest of the world the actual crisis of 2007+.

The book is a text for the general public, and fellow economists can find the same analysis in DRGTPE. However, journalists Hans Hulst and Auke Hulst report also on some events w.r.t. CPB which isn’t in DRGTPE.

Van Staveren’s co-editor Jan Peil, from above book on economics and ethics, also collaborated on a Dutch book on poverty and social exclusion. Translation: “Almost a million people in Holland have to deal with poverty.” This is a review at DISK in Dutch of 2007. DISK has been abolished now. Above book W&A had been reviewed also by DISK, but the review might no longer be at their site. My impression is that various channels of information have not been used.

Economists who (almost) aren’t read anymore

Van Staveren also wrote a book (EUR 22.50) for the general public, in Dutch, about economists “who (almost) aren’t read anymore”. (The brackets are logically strange.) There exists already a Dutch translation of Heilbroner’s masterpiece, but Van Staveren wants to link up to the 2007+ crisis.

The book’s cover has a problematic claim. Let me use Google Translate for the fun of it, and it actually does a remarkable good job. The first sentence is that neoclassical economics seemed to be the only relevant theory.

“After the Cold War, the only relevant theory seemed to understand the economy and influence the neoclassical. Economists who thought otherwise were dismissed as naive, or worse, as stupid. The financial crisis has painfully shown that this limited look is unjustified and can even cause a lot of damage. Irene van Staveren therefore advocates a pluralistic approach to the economy.” (Google Translate of: “Na de Koude Oorlog leek de enige relevante theorie om de economie te begrijpen en te beïnvloeden de neoklassieke. Economen die anders dachten, werden afgedaan als naïef, of nog erger, als dom. De financiële crisis heeft op pijnlijke wijze laten zien dat deze beperkte blik onterecht is en zelfs veel schade kan toebrengen. Irene van Staveren pleit daarom voor een pluralistische benadering van de economie”)

It is incorrect to say that other thoughts were generally dismissed. Perhaps there were instances, but not over the board. Good economists have kept an interest in the history of economic theory. But not everything can be used at the relevant job at hand. When there has been bad policy, a main factor has been the failure of the Trias Politica model of democracy, with too much room for politicians to manipulate information. See my advice for an Economic Supreme Court.

The unread ones are supposedly: Karl Marx, Hyman Minsky, Keynes, Frank Knight, Barbara Bergmann, Thorstein Veblen, Amartya Sen, Gunnar Myrdal, Adam Smith and Joan Robinson.

Why doesn’t Van Staveren mention my work as largely unread ? For an answer, she only allows the categories that I would be naive or stupid. This doesn’t strike me as logically and empirically sound. Her book must be the product of a severely deluded bubble.

I wonder whether I should show Van Tulder’s “Dare to build upon research from others” to give some indications about these authors. I can spend only a line on each, and this might strike the reader as dismissive and disrepectful, while the fellow economist might have worked hard most of his or her life to contribute to economic science. I wouldn’t want that my own work would be dismissed disrespectfully either. Yet, Van Staveren’s selection strikes me as rather curious:

  • Of these fellow economists, I had never heard of Barbara Bergmann before. Apparently she looked at gender in economics, and this hasn’t been my topic of interest. I suppose however that she is well read by economists who deem gender an important aspect. (E.g. on risk taking.)
  • Karl Marx is only interesting for history, in the same way as one would read Julius Caesar.
  • Perhaps Gunnar Myrdal isn’t much read nowadays, but that requires a longer explanation, including the lifting of the censorship at CPB.
  • Hyman Minsky of course is the celebrated case, but the description about his lack of influence is more complicated than mere dismissal. He really was a professor of economics, and I am not. I wonder whether there weren’t more standard neoclassical authors who said much of the same, so that Minsky’s main advantage is that he now is the best known “neglected” one. The main point is not neglect, but the failure of the Trias Politica model of democracy.
  • Keynes would not be read ? Well, one might say that many neoliberals didn’t read much of Keynes before 2007, but Ben Bernanke was chairman of the US Fed in 2006-2014, and we can be assured that Bernanke read Keynes, and that he responded admirably to the crisis, for otherwise the world had imploded. Let me also mention the biography by Skidelsky, that generated a renewed interest in Keynes, starting in 1983.
  • Frank Knight gave wrong definitions of uncertainty and risk, see DRGTPE. What was relevant however got reworked by Keynes. The 2007+ crisis caused a renewed interest in the Chicago Plan, indeed. See the comment on Minsky.
  • Thorstein Veblen wasn’t read ? I cannot believe this.
  • Amartya Sen has been amply read, see above discussion. Van Staveren wants to portray him as unread only to promote her bubble.
  • Adam Smith unread ? I cannot believe this. Contrary to Marx, he is still quite relevant, see Heilbroner.
  • Joan Robinson ? Apparently her contribution on “imperfect competition” has been included in neoclassical economics. In heterodoxy, her writings have some popularity, but it is not clear to me why she should be read more widely. Her work never seemed to matter for my own work and I haven’t really read her. Perhaps she is relevant for other fields of economics, but I would not know.

Above indication isn’t intended to mark these authors in a particular manner. The only intention is to argue that Van Staveren’s selection is rather curious. Most likely the title of her book is plain wrong. The present title might be much of a marketing ploy. A neutral title might have been: Views from the history of economics on the economic crisis.

It matters a great deal how the issue is presented (framed):

  • My analysis is that economics already contained ample information, so that the crisis has been caused by failure of the Trias Politica by abuse by policy makers. For example, policy makers could and can cherry pick an economist to defend a particular policy. My advice is an Economic Supreme Court, so that such cherry picking is no longer possible, for the ESC will weigh arguments on content.
  • Irene van Staveren puts the blame of the crisis on the economics profession itself, also at the academia, instead of the policy makers. She wants the whole of the economics profession to function as an Economic Supreme Court. This is a category mistake, since the academia do not have the task to support policy making but to generate new insights and criticism.

Misleading the public

In her bubble, Van Staveren neglects my work, doesn’t mind about the censorship, and misleads the public.

A lay person’s review shows that Van Staveren partly did a good job in reaching out to the public.

“A few jumping points from the book: Not only did many scientists see the 2007 financial crisis, the same people predict that the weather will go wrong. According to them, nothing has changed, such as the strict separation of savings banks and business banks and insurance. Taxpayers have to pay billions to save banks that were too big to fail, the banks are still too big to fail and still sell incomprehensible and uncontrollable products, so soon we have to dock again. If we all agree to vote On politicians who send themselves through the bank lobby because we just do not understand well, we have to pay for our intellectual laziness.” (Google translate from: “Een paar springende punten uit het boek: niet alleen zagen veel wetenschappers de financiële crisis van 2007 aankomen, dezelfde mensen voorspellen dat het weer mis zal gaan. Er is volgens hen niks wezenlijks veranderd, zoals het strikt scheiden van spaarbanken en zakenbanken en verzekeringen. Belastingbetalers hebben miljarden moeten betalen om banken die too big to fail waren te redden, de banken zijn nog steeds too big to fail en verkopen nog steeds onbegrijpelijke en oncontroleerbare producten, dus binnenkort moeten we weer dokken. Als we met z’n allen blijven stemmen op politici die zich door de bankenlobby laten sturen, omdat we het gewoon niet goed begrijpen, zullen we dus voor onze intellectuele luiheid moeten boeten.”)

However, this message could also have been given without this particular book.

This lay person shows a confusion between neoclassical economics and neoliberal economics. Perhaps Van Staveren has this too ? Also, this lay reviewer states to have gotten an interest in Amartya Sen because of Van Staveren’s praise. Ouch.

More points tomorrow

There are some more points, see the next blog entry.

This discussion continues with the exchange of Flassbeck & Lapavitsas versus Storm.

My own position is as follows. Holland creates its own unemployment since 1970 by a wrong policy on taxes and premiums. Holland has the entrenched government policy of “solving” this by wage moderation and exporting its own unemployment to other nations. I present my alternative analysis since 1990. Economists at TU Delft have been arguing against this policy of wage moderation for decades too. They overlook the cause in taxes and premiums, and focus on technology. Schumpeterian innovation requires higher wages to get rid of obsolete technology. Now that Germany has had wage moderation too (because of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Mark = Mark policy) the discussion on wage moderation moves to center stage for the survival of the Euro. Servaas Storm at TU Delft enters the European discussion again with arguments about technology, and again neglecting taxes and premiums, and neglecting the censorship of science by the Dutch government (what this weblog is about). Storm has an innovation in his analysis by including banking, and how international credits drive international trade, yet, he seems to neglect the phenomenon that trade surpluses generate funds that look for opportunities, often by providing credits that generate more surpluses. Thus Dutch and German wage moderation would be causally more important than bank credits.

PM. See also former IMF director Johannes Witteveen’s lecture on the Dutch export surplus and a need for an investment policy. There is also my discussion in 2009 with a chart of the Dutch export surplus in 1971-2010 (forecast). This is already 8 years ago.

Let me restate some basic economics for some readers who lack this.

Basic macro-economics

  • Let real national output (GDP) be y and the price level be p.
  • Let labour input be x and the wage be w.
  • Then labour productivity is λ = y / x and the Labour Income Quote is LIQ = w x / (p y).
  • Let there be a Cobb-Douglas production function: y = β x^α, with β containing capital and technology.
  • When producers maximize their profits π = p y w x subject to labour input x, then we can derive:
  • The first order condition: dπ / dx = 0 gives p β α x^(α – 1) – w = 0.
  • Or the wage can be set at w = p β α x^(α – 1) = p α y / x = p α λ, since the national labour supply is given as x.
  • This w = p α λ is the rule mentioned by Flassbeck & Lapavitsas: let wages grow with labour productivity and the agreed target of inflation of 2%.
  • From w = p α λ we can derive α = w x / (p y) or α = LIQ.
  • Unit labour costs are ULC = w x / y = w / λ = p LIQ. Thus alternatively w = p LIQ λ or w = ULC λ.

The assumption of the Cobb-Douglas function seems somewhat specific, but given the relatively small changes that we are considering the approximation is often so good that we almost seem to have a definition. The LIQ has the character of a structural parameter α, at least for annual changes.

If prices p and wages w and labour input x remain the same from one year to the other, and productivity rises by rate g, so that  =  (1 + g) y[-1], then α = LIQ = w x / (p y) = w x / (p (1 + g) y[-1]) = LIQ[-1] / (1 + g) = α[-1] / (1 + g). For example, if α[-1] = 80% and g = 2% then α ≈ 78%. In this case α would be stable if wages would rise by 2% too.

The w = p α λ condition is not in the EMU rules. The Eurozone countries apparently are less aware of the notion of “national bargaining” (as in the Dutch Polder model) and have been hesitant to include national wage agreements in the EMU and Stability & Growth Pact (SGP) and its updates. (Check for the word “wage” on this wiki page.)

Another possible rule might be a tax of 5% on the three year cumulative trade surplus (which may be seen as 15% for a single year), to be invested in productive capacity in the deficit countries via national investment banks. Such a tax would not be on export items (like a tariff) but levied on the Eurozone member governments of surplus countries. (At this applet, set the color bar to a score of 0, and slide over the years.)

It is unavoidable to think about such rules. Holland has been moderating its wages long before Germany did. The policy put pressure on the exchange rate of the guilder, but this was resolved by joining the Euro. Holland still is a small country and the impact wasn’t much felt. Now, Europe must explain to Germany that a raise of German wages is required, whatever they fear about inflation. It should help Germany to grow aware that my analysis (see DRGTPE) allows full employment at stable prices, not only by exports but also by stimulating the domestic market.

Shifting the blame

Both North and South Europe deviated from w = p α λ. Some Northerners blame the South, and some accept some blame themselves.

  • Sinn and Schäuble argue that Southern Europe should moderate their wages like Germany.
  • Bofinger and Flassbeck & Lapavitsas argue that Germany (and Holland) should raise their wages.

As Storm states:

“Their main point is that there would not have been large unsustainable current account imbalances within the Eurozone, and consequently no sovereign debt crisis in the deficit countries, if all member states had kept their nominal wage growth equal to labor productivity growth plus 2% (the inflation target). Professor Wren-Lewis (2016) has been making the same point. In this account, this delicate equilibrium has been deliberately upset by nominal wage moderation in mercantilist Germany, with a growing German trade surplus just being the flipside of the growing trade deficit in Southern Europe. It is rather ironic, in my opinion, that a similar logic is used by mainstream observers such as Sinn (2014) or even Mr. Schäuble himself, with this difference: Sinn and Schäuble argue that the current account imbalances were caused by a failure of the crisis countries to follow Germany’s successful example in cutting down their unit labor costs.”

Towards a collapse of the Euro

Sinn and Schäuble want to control inflation and they lack instruments to make sure that Southern Europe adheres to the EMU rules. Thus Sinn and Schäuble take the hard line that it is up to Southern Europe to choose themselves:

  • either unemployment because of high wages
  • or internal devaluation, and subsequent unemployment because of deficient internal demand.

Hence we can understand Flassbeck & Lapavitsas:

“Germans ought to know better than all others about the difficulties caused by wage divergences in a currency union. The deviation of East German wages as measured in international currency, following the German Monetary Union of 1990, destroyed East German industry and forced a transfer union. Unfortunately, for the EU and the EMU the option of a transfer union is simply not available. As long as Germany persists with its policy of wage moderation, the only future for the EMU is collapse.”

Check how I criticised Angela Merkel for her deceit at the German elections in 2013. Given German policies on wage moderation, standard economic theory allows her the choice between a transfer union or a breakup, but she kept silent about this. Of course there is my amendment to the theory of the optimal currency area, see MPRA or RWER, but as long as German policy makers do not indicate that they understand his amendment, we must conclude that they disinform their electorate.

How does Storm handle this ?

How does Storm handle this reference to basic economics ? He misstates the argument, and then rejects it.

“(…) that Eurozone imbalances were driven by (exogenous) losses or gains in unit labor cost competitiveness (…) is a myth (…)”

Storm’s problem is on causality: “what drives what”. Yet this is not quite what this discussion is about. What Storm calls a myth are basically accounting rules.

  • Use GDP = Y = p y = C + I + G + X – M, with consumption C, investments I, government G, exports X and imports M.
  • The current account CA = X – M is also the increase in foreign assets FA = X – M (NY FED).
  • National income, employment and wage translate into LIQ and λ. This is mere accounting.
  • Compare two situations for the same country with only a difference in M. In the first situation there is Y1 with a surplus on the current account, or M < X. In the second situation there is Y2 with a deficit or M > X. Thus Y1 > Y2. Assume the same output price p and working force x so that y1 / x > y2 / x, or λ1 > λ2. The productivity with a surplus is higher than with a deficit. For example, in the second case the country worked as hard as usual, but also imported a car by borrowing from abroad. Mere accounting causes that observed productivity drops. Similarly we have w x / y1 < w x / y2 or ULC1 < ULC2, or that the deficit situation has higher unit labour costs.

Economics is about causality and not about accounting, but it is important to be aware of accounting effects. Regressions with statistical data that contain these accounting effects must be judged carefully.

In above example of importing a car, causality seems to run from first importing to secondly a statistical observation on productivity. This is Storm’s view. But this is not the only causal possibility. Sinn and Schäuble might argue that higher productivity might have been feasible if the car hadn’t been imported but e.g. produced in the country itself with a creditor in the country itself. Thus there seems to be more complexity than Storm allows for (though he already makes a complex case). And Sinn and Schäuble might state more clearly that they also plea for the demise of the German car industry.

Storm’s five arguments

Storm has five arguments that we may indicate shortly. Apparently he repeats himself at points, but this is okay since we look at the arguments and not their number.

  1. Banks in Northern Europe lent to customers in Southern Europe, assuming that loans in Euro were safe anywhere. (Comment: True. However, if there hadn’t been surpluses on the Northern current accounts, then these banks would have had less funds. We are not speaking about a single year, but a prolonged period of surplus funds looking for “investment” opportunities.)
  2. German firms, producing high-tech, high value-added, high-priced and mostly very complex manufacturing goods, do not directly compete with Spanish, Portuguese, Greek or even most Italian firms, which are specializing in lower-tech, lower value-added, low-price and less complex goods (Simonazzi et al. 2013).” (Comment: This is not relevant, since differences in quality are corrected by differences in wages, whence we compare w1 / λ1 and w2 / λ2.)
  3. Four empirical “facts”. (a) Elasticities. (b) In Spain imports grew while exports were unaffected. (c) World income explains exports, and national income explains imports. (Costs might have a one-time effect but then are stable.) (d) There were first the imbalances and only later the worse ULCs. (Comment: Basically agreed on (a)-(c). However, this (d) is the same as (1). We are not speaking about a single year, but about a prolonged period of imbalance and funds looking for profit.)
  4. A more theoretical discussion of (3c), with the example of (2). “These asymmetric growth patterns are the direct consequence of structural differences in productive specialization (Simonazzi et al. 2013).” (However, see (2). Obviously, the EMU doesn’t have an exchange rate regime to correct sustained imbalances. Apparently governments must impose what otherwise would have been done by exchange rate markets.)
  5. “Higher Wages and Higher Inflation in Germany Will Not Help.”

Storm on point 5:

“German exports and imports, as I argued above, are not very sensitive to changes in relative unit labor costs, however, and hence there will be only a limited amount of expenditure switching (away from German products and toward foreign goods), as has also been convincingly shown by Schröder (2015). Let me repeat for clarity’s sake that I am strongly in favor of higher nominal wage growth (in excess of labor productivity growth plus 2%) in Germany. It will definitely help Germany. But it will not help the crisis-countries of the Eurozone.”

“The assumption is that German GDP increases by € 100 billion (which means German GDP is growing at 3.7%). Through global production chains, [my emphasis] German growth creates € 29.5 billion of income in the rest of the world and about € 7 billion in the selected European countries listed in Table 1.”

This looks at production chains (Germany, USA, Korea) ! This may well be. But higher German wages would also mean higher German imports for consumption.

Storm’s view on the real issues (again)

Storm repeats what he regards as the real issues:

“(…) the common currency and monetary unification have led to a centrifugal process of structural divergence in terms of structures of production, employment and trade (as explained in my earlier notes).”

“German wage moderation mattered a lot, not through its supposed impact on cost competitiveness, but via its negative impacts on (wage-led) German growth and inflation, which in turn prompted the ECB to lower the interest rate in the first place.” (Comment: This “negative impact” is TU Delft slang for the idea that low wages reduce the need for Schumpeterian innovation.)

“The consequent crisis of the Eurozone is a deep crisis of inadequate aggregate demand in the short run and unmanageable structural divergence between major member states in the long run.”

I wonder. If Germany provided the European industrial zone and Southern Europe provided the European vineyards, olive trees and universities, then this might still work and everyone might be happy, provided that the prices of cars, wine, olive oil and Ph. D. doctorates would be right. Wage levels in Southern Europe might still be lower, but with a purchasing power parity (PPP) living standards might still be quite comparable. Sinn and Schäuble might like an argument that EU support for investments in Southern Europe should not be competitive to the German car industry (see here on the restauration of the Colosseum).

But this is not the full story. The Po valley has fine cars and machinery too. Italy itself has a North-South problem. Spain has the difference between Catalunya and Andalusia. And Germany has Laender who don’t do as well as Bayern.

Closing this review

This exchange started with Bofinger’s argument that German wages should be raised. This argument is fine. It will stimulate Germany’s domestic economy and imports. The obvious ceiling is provided by risks of unemployment and inflation, but the rule of a wage rise with productivity and the target of 2% inflation is fine too. Germany also has some catching up to do.

It is correct that German exports might not be much affected, and thus neither employment in the exporting sector, because the productivity growth in the exporting sector likely is larger than this growth in the domestic sector. But the rise of imports would still help in reducing the surplus on the external account.

Storm’s arguments on competitiveness & wage moderation are a different subject. This is basically the subject of investments and regional development, and the role of banking. Germany is advised to focus on domestic investments.

Economic analysis would be served by having another indicator alongside GDP, namely a correction of GDP for borrowed funds. The X – M correction works fine for foreign assets, but a correction for domestic borrowing would be helpful too. If one buys a domestic car with credit, then this domestic car really has been produced, but it would be indicative to know whether 10% or 25% of GDP would be from credit.

Overall I can repeat that my analysis of 1990 is still very relevant for understanding and solving the Great Stagflation since 1970. There are DRGTPE dating before the 2007+ crisis and CSBH after it. DRGTPE already has a chapter on the distinction between the exposed and sheltered sectors, and CSBH has a refinement of that argumentation.

It is unfortunate that our fellow economists at TU Delft have been neglecting that analysis since 1990, whence they still lack the full picture. But every day starts with a new sunrise.

This is a remarkable exchange of articles:

Storm’s criticism shows some kind of trauma at TU Delft. Like Germany has the trauma of hyperinflation, TU Delft has the trauma of wage moderation. The Dutch government has an entrenched policy of wage moderation, and the research group at Delft TU has been arguing against this for so long, that when they hear the term “wage moderation” then they automatically argue against this. The research group and everyone else better be warned that this hangup better be resolved. Economists in the world are being disinformed.

Readers would be advised to first read the two articles by Bofinger (VoxEU and “Friendly Fire”), then below discussion, and then Storm’s articles to verify that there must be something like this trauma at TU Delft indeed.

Supportive material would be Storm on how Brexit challenges economic thinking, 2016-06-26. Storm indicates that he still is looking for the proper analysis, so that we can infer that his position on wage moderation forms only part of a puzzle.

“We desperately need a new paradigm to reform the system and make it work for the majority (…) Unless there is serious new economic thinking beyond austerity, deregulated finance, and a corporate dominated politics and state, social and political tensions will continue to build up within the E.U.”

Bofinger’s “Friendly fire” response contains a graph that shows the close connection of German productivity per person and per hour. Presuming that this also holds for other countries then this distinction need not confuse the argument.

Storm’s earlier key statement

In July 2015, Storm & Naastepad of TU Delft already presented this key statement:

“Myths, Mix-ups and Mishandlings: What Caused the Eurozone Crisis?

The Eurozone crisis has been wrongly interpreted as either a crisis of fiscal profligacy or of deteriorating unit-labour cost competitiveness (caused by rigid labour markets), or a combination of both.
 
Based on these diagnoses, crisis-countries have been treated with the bitter medicines of fiscal austerity, drastic wage reductions, and far-reaching labour market deregulation—all in the expectation that these would restore cost competitiveness and revive growth (through exports), while at the same time allowing for fiscal consolidation and private-sector debt deleveraging. The medicines did not work and almost killed the patients. The problem lies with the diagnoses: the real cause of the Eurozone crisis resides in unsustainable private sector debt leverage, which was aided and abetted by the liberalization of (integrating) European financial markets and a “global banking glut”.”

Thus, curiously, the TU Delft researchers of productivity repeat the finding by our colleagues who look for restructuring debt and financial markets. In itself I support the diagnosis that 1981-2007 are Keynesian years. I also support notions of restructuring of money and finance, see my paper Money as gold versus money as water. Yet,my point for this current weblog entry is that the TU Delft has a hangup on wage moderation, and that this causes disinformation and needless discussion, in a similar fashion as the German hangup on hyperinflation. Economic advisors might be in need of psychiatrists who help them deal with their anxieties.

Supplementary

Supplementary, there is my own text on the myth on German wage bargaining.

German readers might benefit from this text by Kleinknecht & Kleinknecht (2015) (in German), “The Erosion of “Made in Germany”: What Germans Should (Not) Learn From the Dutch“,  ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft.

Dutch readers would look at this 1996 discussion of mine on the three approaches: CPB, me, and Kleinknecht. Useful is also Bomhoff, NRC 1994-10-24.

Alfred Kleinknecht and his focus on wage moderation

The TU Delft research group had been started by Alfred Kleinknecht (1951), now emeritus.

Kleinknecht had started originally at VU Amsterdam. His institute got financial support from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. The Ministry was clearly interested in economic analysis of technological development.

At that time, Dutch economic analysis was dominated by the VINTAF model at the Central Planning Bureau (CPB). This combined a “keynesian” demand side with a capital vintage supply function. There was no direct substitution between capital and labour, but a Leontief technology per vintage that increased the vintage effect. A high wage would cause the elimination of older technologies, and a subsequent reduction of the wage would not be able to restore what had been eliminated.

Kleinknecht has been arguing much of the same during his career: Higher wages will increase productivity, partly by eliminating older techniques and partly by spurring innovation. Kleinknecht’s argument is not always based upon the assumption of vintages, and rather upon Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” and more often upon empirical research that is neutral on assumptions on particular technologies. His recent estimate on 19 OECD countries for 1960-2004 is that 1% wage increase might cause 0.4% increase in productivity (“Erosion”, p 409), for me with some doubt of the causal order. It would be important that other researchers replicate that finding.

One might assume that the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs would embrace Kleinknecht. The opposite happened. They withdrew all subsidies, and Kleinknecht had to look for another place to work.

  • From the VINTAF discussion, Dutch policy makers including the labour unions concluded to a policy of wage moderation. Maintaining employment was more important than increase in productivity.
  • Kleinknecht published articles that criticised this policy of wage moderation, for causing lower welfare in the long run. Apparently, the Ministry did not enjoy this criticism.

Eventually, Kleinknecht was able to restart at TU Delft to proceed with his analysis. He also kept singing the same song, and was often ridiculed by other economists for not supporting the conventional wisdom of wage moderation. Yet his work was published in major journals, and we can observe that he has a major track record.

There are people who are critical about the EU austerity after the 2007+ financial and euro crises. Such arguments are often less developed with vague references to say Keynes and demand management. The criticism by Kleinknecht et al. is much more specific, with also strong arguments. For example, the EU encourages labour market flexibility and the abolition of various arrangements, but Kleinknecht points to the importance of stability on the labour market. Companies must make risky investments in new technology, and they require workers who commit themselves. Bomhoff, referred above, argues that new companies entering the market should be able to pay lower wages, but this is an argument rather on wage structure and not on flexibility.

PM. Another positive point about Kleinknecht is that he warned in 2007 about the risk of an “earthquake on financial markets” (see here). There is Dutch Dirk Bezemer (also at INET) who wrote about such warnings by economists, but Bezemer doesn’t mention Kleinknecht, just like Bezemer doesn’t mention my work.

How a focus causes a blind spot

As I already explained in 1996 (Dutch article) Kleinknecht wasn’t aware back then of my alternative analysis and criticism of the policy of wage moderation. Given my analysis, Kleinknecht’s analysis on technology is supportive but not crucial.

Apparently, Kleinknecht has never wanted to study my analysis. Part of his reluctance can be understood, since my analysis has also been hit by censorship so that there are key parts that are not available yet. Part may be that Kleinknecht didn’t want to have another clash with the establishment. He already had his own struggle and didn’t need another one for someone else. Yet the censorship by the directorate of CPB exists since 1990 and Kleinknecht had his inaugural lecture at VU only in 1994.

I can only speculate what his motivation might be, since he hasn’t been willing to discuss this with me, and there is no need for speculation. It suffices to observe, and check above ZBW 2015:

  • Kleinknecht has his focus on technology and wage moderation
  • he doesn’t refer to my work on the Great Stagflation in the OECD, including the Dutch policy of wage moderation
  • and he doesn’t inform other scientists about the censorship of science since 1990 by the directorate of the Dutch CPB.

The TU Delft research group

In the past I sent an occasional update email to Kleinknecht, since he was the director of the TU Delft research group. I did not communicate with his co-authors. It is unclear to me to what extent Kleinknecht has communicated to others about my work. Thus, now that he has retired, and when I see that Servaas Storm repeats some of the arguments, I wonder whether this might mean that there is scope for a fresh restart, or that the hangup on wage moderation has become part of the TU Delft paradigm.

A note on VINTAF

For the record: The VINTAF model died a soft death at CPB and was replaced by models without vintages. The major industrial effect in the Dutch economy was the demise of the industry of clothing and textiles. Once this had happened, there wasn’t cause to presume a major vintage effect. In my own analysis, the demise of the clothing and textile industry can also be explained by a wrong management of the wage structure. My criticism on VINTAF is also my criticism on Kleinknecht et al. They neglect the impact of taxation and social premiums on the wage structure. Low tax exemption causes high minimum wages, while this industry might have adapted better with lower wage costs and thus high tax exemption. Holland would be served by differential management of wages and taxes. The domestic market requires lower taxes and thus lower wage costs (for barbers and gardeners) and the export market can allow for higher taxes and higher wages (for high tech industry and agriculture). This can be regulated by high exemption for taxes and premiums, and a VAT at 1%. This alternative analysis started at CPB itself by Marein van Schaaijk and Anton Bakhoven. I supplemented this with the analysis of the tax void, dynamic marginal tax rate, shift of the Phillipscurve, and the need for an Economic Supreme Court, see DRGTPE.

Return to the beginning

The reader may now return to the beginning of this weblog entry. One may check what the exchange is all about.

My take on this

Let me also give you my take on this. In my perception, Storm is fighting Kleinknecht’s Dutch ghosts from the past.

Storm 2016-01-08 states:

“The sad truth, however, is that Bofinger and Wren-Lewis are right for the wrong reason—hence their interventions are less than helpful, because rather than knocking out the remaining errors in the “consensus diagnosis”, they help perpetuate a mistaken doctrine: that relative unit-labor-costs matter [?] are the prime determinant of a country’s international competitiveness, current account balance, and foreign indebtedness. “

This confuses description and cause. Statistics show such differences. If Southern Europe doesn’t invest in technology as Germany does, then we can observe such relative unit labour costs (ULC). The cause would be investments.

“Rising relative unit labor costs supposedly killed Southern Europe’s export growth, raised current account deficits, created unsustainable external debts and reduced fiscal policy space, and hence, when the crisis broke, these countries lacked the resilience to absorb the shock. It follows in this story that the only escape from recession is for the Southern European countries rebuild their cost competitiveness—cutting wage costs (because Eurozone members cannot devalue their currency) by as much as 30% (as proposed by Sinn 2014), which requires in turn that their labor markets be thoroughly deregulated.”

This looks like a chicken-egg problem. Who would invest in Southern Europe if wage costs are so high ? If there is wage restraint, then investments would not be so large to generate sufficiently low unit labour costs.

“Secondly, of course it is true that Germany and German wage moderation bear part of the responsibility for bringing about the Eurozone crisis. Bofinger and Wren-Lewis have the best intentions while making this point (alas, the road to hell is paved with good intentions ….), but their single-minded emphasis on the importance of relative unit labor cost competitiveness is misguided for at least the following three reasons.”

When Bofinger and Wren-Lewis point to a particular factor, one cannot call this “single-mindedness”. The model is obviously larger than a single variable. First Storm grants part of their argument and then denies all of it.

(1) “Unit labor costs make up less than 25% of the gross output price, while a second reason is that firms in general do not pass on all (but mostly only half of) unit labor cost increases onto market prices.  (…) Germany excels in non-price (technology-based) competitiveness and does not engage (much) in price competition.” It may be doubted that Germany could simply raise the prices of its quality export products without a dent in their exports. Thus the prices and labour costs matter. 

(2) “It was German engineering ingenuity, not nominal wage restraint or the Hartz “reforms”, which reduced its unit labor costs. Any talk of Germany deliberately undercutting its Eurozone neighbors is therefore beside the point. ” The point was that wage moderation had an important contribution, and this is not negated by pointing to something else.

(3) “The only rational explanation for the observed time-sequence is that Southern Europe first experienced a debt-led growth boom, which then led to higher imports and higher capital inflows leading only after a lag of many quarters to lower unemployment and higher wage growth in excess of labor productivity growth (see Storm and Naastepad 2015c).” He might have mentioned that low domestic demand in Germany also reduced the scope for exports by Southern Europe to Germany (like holidays). The German balance of payment surplus had to be invested abroad, simply because of accounting rules. Thus if Germany had targeted for a external balance, Southern Europe would have faced a different situation.

According to Storm German wage moderation would be a factor but not the key one:

“In a nutshell, since the mid-1990s, Germany has become stronger and more productive in high-value-added, higher-tech manufacturing (in conjunction with outsourcing to Eastern European countries), while Southern European countries became more strongly locked into lower-tech, lower value-added and, often, non-tradable activities (Storm and Naastepad 2015c).”

“Cheap credit in the South created unsustainable asset bubbles and facilitated untenable debt accumulation which fed into higher growth, lower unemployment and higher wages—but all concentrated in the non-dynamic and often non-tradable sectors of their economies.”

This repeats point (3) above, and is the common critique about irresponsible banks, who did not take proper account of the creditworthiness of their customers (or the system of central banks, that did not take account of these systemic effects).

Storm is a student of the economics of technology, but arrives at issues of finance:

“What is the appropriate interest rate for the structurally divergent “core” and “periphery” in a one-size-fits-all monetary union? And how can banks, the financial sector and capital flows be made to contribute to a process of convergence (rather than divergence)”

“(…) ditch the dangerous myth that unit labor cost competitiveness is the prime problem”

In reply:

  • Nobody put the notion of “primacy” on the table. The model has more variables. Storm seems to fear such primacy because of the TU Delft research group hangup on wage moderation.
  • He overlooks the observation by Keynes, and repeated by Bofinger, that surplus countries have a responsibility too. Bofinger explicitly argues for a rise of wages in Germany while those in Southern Europe are restrained. Bofinger’s analysis is targeted at explaining that German wages should rise, and the argument is sound.
  • Does Storm really imagine a banking system that facilitates investments in Southern Europe even when unit labour costs guarantee a capital loss ? (Though levels are important rather than changes. E.g. compare hourly wage costs in Germany about 34 and Spain about 22 EUR per hour, which then must be met with productivity.)

Political fall-out

Dutch Wikipedia reports that Kleinknecht in 2007-2008 was member of a committee that advised the GreenLeft political party about its programme principles. Potentially one might understand Kleinknecht’s hesitance as a scientist to study my analysis and join the protest against the censorship of science since 1990 by the directorate of the CPB, yet such hesitation also affects such advise in such political environments. The first is worse, since the second is politics only, and the GreenLeft might be deluded anyway, yet it overall makes one wary about the anatomy of Holland and the spillover effects on Europe and the world.

On Flassbeck and Lapavitsas later on.

Given Kenneth Arrow’s impossibility theorem, it is a fair question to ask what voting system he himself would advise. There is a 2012 interview with him, with a phone recording and transcript, by Aaron Hamlin of the Center for Election Science. Arrow’s advice is:

  • Not plurality and no US Electoral College, with its winner-take-all selection of the US President
  • Not approval voting, since this uses too little information
  • A system that uses more information:

“Dr. Arrow: Well, I’m a little inclined to think that score systems [range voting] where you categorize in maybe three or four classes probably (in spite of what I said about manipulation) is probably the best. (…) In France, [Michel] Balinski has done some studies of this kind which seem to give some support to these scoring methods.”

His statement about strategic voting – or manipulation:

“Dr. Arrow: There’s only one problem that bothers me about that. And that’s something my theorem really doesn’t cover. In my theorem I was assuming people vote sincerely. The trouble with methods where you have three or four classes, I think if people vote sincerely they may well be very satisfactory. The problem is the incentive to misrepresent your vote may be high. In other words, a classic view is that there’s a candidate I really like, but I know is hopeless. I may put him down at the bottom and vote for the next candidate simply because I feel there’s a chance. Now, if you have a very large electorate you might say no individual has much of an incentive to misrepresent. But I’m not sure. You probably need experience rather than theory.”

Observe that Arrow cautiously states “a little inclined to think (…) probably the best”. His advice to have more empirical research can be supported. The interview touches on some points that call for a closer discussion, also in the light of this earlier weblog text.

Definitions

In plurality, voters only can vote for their best candidate. In a district, often the one with the highest score wins, which is the “first past the post” (FPTP) system. If there are only two candidates, then the winner will also have more than 50%. If there are more candidates, the winner may have less than 50%. There may be ways to assure that a final vote only concerns two candidates. A Putin hack that eliminates a particular candidate will not quickly be accepted, yet, voting theorists still wonder what method would be reasonable. A current example is that Donald Trump got elected with 46% of the popular vote, while Hillary Clinton got 48%. With a turnout of 60% Trump has only 28% support in the electorate, while the House of Congress depends upon district results too. A prime minister who is elected by a coalition in a parliament that has proportional representation (PR) generally has more than 50% support in parliament, and by representation also in the electorate.

In approval voting, voters mention which candidates they approve. The candidate with the highest total approvement is selected.

  • In economics this links up with satisficing (Herbert Simon).
  • Strategic voters will tend not to approve of candidates that might harm their best candidate (even the second best), so that this system devolves into plurality. Steven Brams claims that such fears are overrated but are they ? Brams declines to look into non-satisficing alternatives like the Borda Fixed Point method.

In Borda ranking, each voter puts the candidates in order of preference, and assigns rank numbers.

  • In economics this reflects the notion of ordinal utility.
  • Strategic voters will give a low score to candidates that harm their best candidate (even the second best), which means that “dark horses” (of mediocre approval) might win. See the discussion below.

In range voting, the voters grade the candidates like on a report card, and the candidate with the highest grade point average (GPA) wins. There is the tantalizing but empirically perhaps small complexity of the distinction between a 0 grade (included in the GPA) and a blank vote (not included in the GPA).

  • In economics this reflects the notion of cardinal utility (with voters restricted to the same range).
  • Strategic voters will give a low score to candidates that harm their best candidate (even the second best), which means that the system devolves into plurality. (The use of ordinal preferences and Borda explicitly intends to resolve this again.)

(See also the distinction in levels of measurement.)

Beware of the distinction between cardinal and ordinal preferences

Arrow’s impossibility theorem is about aggregating individual rank orders into a collective rank order. The theorem uses rank orders, or ordinal preferences. Arrow does more than only use rankings. He also defends the “axiom of pairwise decision making” (APDM) a.k.a. the “axiom of independence of irrelevant alternatives” (AIIA) as reasonable and morally desirable (Palgrave Dictionary of Economics).

Range voting allows more information than just ordinal preferences, and it is similar to cardinal preferences (but limiting people to the same range). Cardinal preferences imply ordinal preferences. Yet rank voting doesn’t satisfy the requirements of Arrow’s impossibility theorem, for cardinality violates APDM or AIIA.

One might say that Arrow’s theorem is not about voting systems in general, since it only looks at ordinal and not at cardinal preferences. Instead, Arrow’s position is that he looks at voting theory in general and only proposes axioms that are “reasonable” and “morally desirable”  When cardinality and range voting are excluded from his axioms, then it is because they would be unreasonable or morally undesirable.

These distinctions are discussed – and Arrow’s notions are debunked – in my “Voting theory for democracy” (VTFD). (See especially chapter 9.2 on page 239.)

Arrow’s theorem is only about those voting systems that satisfy his axioms. Since his axioms cause an inconsistency, there is actually no system that matches his conditions. Something that doesn’t exist cannot be reasonable and morally desirable. Arrow’s theorem confuses voting results with decisions, see this earlier weblog discussion.

However, there still remains an issue for voting theory. Range voting allows more scope for strategic voting or manipulation. The reason to restrict votes to rank orders is to reduce the scope for strategic voting.

Gerry Mackie’s “Democracy Defended

A reader alerted me to Gerry Mackie’s thesis with Jon Elster, now commercially available as “Democracy Defended“. I haven’t read this but the blurb seems to confirm what I have been arguing since 1990 on Arrow (but not on Riker).

“Is there a public good? A prevalent view in political science is that democracy is unavoidably chaotic, arbitrary, meaningless, and impossible. Such scepticism began with Condorcet in the eighteenth century, and continued most notably with Arrow and Riker in the twentieth century. In this powerful book, Gerry Mackie confronts and subdues these long-standing doubts about democratic governance. Problems of cycling, agenda control, strategic voting, and dimensional manipulation are not sufficiently harmful, frequent, or irremediable, he argues, to be of normative concern. Mackie also examines every serious empirical illustration of cycling and instability, including Riker’s famous argument that the US Civil War was due to arbitrary dimensional manipulation. Almost every empirical claim is erroneous, and none is normatively troubling, Mackie says. This spirited defence of democratic institutions should prove both provocative and influential.” (Cover text of “Democracy Defended“)

My point however would be that issues of cycling are of concern, like we see with the Brexit referendum question. The concern causes support for representative democracy with proportional representation, rather than populism with referenda.

The key context is switching to parliaments with PR

Discussions about voting theory best be seen in the context of the switch towards parliaments that are elected with PR and that select the prime minister. The president may have a cerimonial role and be elected by parliament too (like in Germany).

It is most democratic when there is proportional representation (PR) of the electorate in the elected body. The more complex voting methods can then be used by the professionals in the elected body itself only. A prime minister is best elected by a parliament with PR, instead of a president by direct elections.

The interview with Arrow contains a criticism on plurality and FPTP compared to PR.

“Dr. Arrow: Yes. I think definitely. I think there’s no question about that. The Plurality system chokes off free entry. In other words, in the economic world we’re accustomed to the virtues of free entry. We don’t want a small number of corporations to be dominate. We favor the idea of new firms entering in order to compete to bring in new ideas, to bring in new products. Well, the same way in the political field. We should be encouraging free entry, I think, in order to have new political ideas come in. And they may flourish. They may fade. That’s what you want, them to be available. So I’m inclined that the Plurality system will choke off by encouraging, the two-party system will choke off new entry. So I’m really inclined to feel that we don’t want Plurality as a voting system. It’s likely to be very stifling.”

“(…) proportional representation [PR] plays very little role in The United States, but they do play a role in a number of countries. And the question of whether single-member districts are appropriate or not. The Germans, for example, have some kind of compromise between single-member and broader districts. (…)”

See my comparison between the Dutch PR and the UK district system.

Proposals that assume that the voters themselves would use the complexer voting systems – perhaps an enlightened form of populism – are complicating election reform, because these methods put too high demands upon the voters and the electoral process.

In the interview, Arrow referred to the proportional systems, but still expressed the idea that voters themselves would use the three or four categories. In this manner Arrow contributed to this confusion on context.

“CES: If you could, just sort of dictatorially, change something about the way that we do voting in the US, something that would make the biggest impact in your mind, what do you think you would do?

Dr. Arrow: The first thing that I’d certainly do is go to a system where people ranked all the candidates, or as many as they wish, and not just two. And that these data are used in some form or another to choose the candidate, say by eliminating the lowest, or some method of that kind. I’d be interested in experimenting with the idea of categorization and creating interpersonal comparisons by that. And those are the things that I would argue for, and certainly the abolition of the Electoral College. It goes without saying.”

In my experience Arrow is often more confused than one would expect. (1) His original theorem confused voting outcomes and decisions. (2) If he really assumed that people would vote sincerely, then he might as well have assumed cardinality, but he didn’t, for then he wouldn’t have had a theorem. (3) He made a theorem on ordinal preferences but now is inclined to cardinality, even though he defends his theorem that cardinality would be unreasonable and morally undesirable since it doesn’t satisfy APDM a.k.a. AIIA. (4) He now mentions PR but doesn’t draw the conclusion of the selection of the prime minister by parliament, and apparently still thinks in terms of a direct election of the president.

Arrow’s contributions to economics derive from the application of mathematics to economics in the 1950s, and not because he was exceptionally smart in economics itself. Paul Samuelson expressed this idea about himself once too, as a physicist entering into economics. If Arrow had been real smart then he also would have had the common sense to see that his theorem confuses voting results and decisions, and that it amounts to intellectual fraud to pretend that it is more than that.

A major issue is that abstract thinking mathematicians can get lost about reality. In VTFD I show that Amartya Sen is confused about his theorem about a Paretian liberal. Sen’s article with Eric Maskin in the NY Book Review about electoral reform also neglects the switch to a parliamentarian system with PR. A major problem in society is that many intellectuals have insufficient background in mathematics and follow such lost mathematicians without sufficient criticism, even when common sense would warn them.

Warren Smith’s parable of the bees

Warren Smith suggests that bees also use range voting to select the next location for their hive. My problem is that bees aren’t known for strategic voting. My VTFD already suggested – as Jan Tinbergen – that aggregation of cardinal utility would be best indeed. Thus I don’t feel the need to check how bees are doing it.

The problem in voting theory is that humans can vote strategically, also guarded by secrecy in the ballot box. Potentially this strategic vote might be less of a problem when votes for the prime minister in parliament are made public, so that people can wonder why a party has a particular vote. But transparency of the vote might not be the key issue.

Smith on Bayesian regret

Smith has a notion of Bayesian regret, as a more objective criterion to judge voting systems. I am amazed by the existence of such a notion for social optimality and haven’t looked into this yet.

Smith is too enthousiastic about Arrow’s support

Smith interpretes Arrow’s “a little inclined to think” as an endorsement for range voting.  Smith provides full quotes properly – and I must thank him for directing me to this interview with Arrow. But I would advise Smith to be more critical. Arrow mainly indicates an inclination, he is also confused and doesn’t repeal his interpretation of his theorem. Also Smith is advised to grow aware and alert readers of his website that the real improvement in democracy lies not in range voting but in a switch to a prime minister selected by a PR parliament. It is another issue how voting mechanisms operate in other situations, like the Eurovision Song Contest.

Smith’s discussion of the dark horse and the war of the clones

To reduce the options for strategic voting, the voters can be restricted to the use of rankings, and then we get systems like Borda, Condorcet, or my suggestion of the Borda Fixed Point method (BordaFP). The latter wasn’t designed to be a compromise between Borda and Condorcet but still can be seen as one. For example, in the 2010 general elections in the UK, with David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, it appears that Clegg would be a Borda Choice, but Cameron would still be the BordaFP choice because he would beat Clegg in a pairwise contest.

The reader would enjoy Smith’s discussion of the dark horse and the war of the clones, in his criticism of the Borda method. There is no need for me to repeat his short statement, and I simply refer to here. While you are reading, there is also a picture of Frisian horse Fokke of 2013, and we continue the discussion below it. This discussion is not in VTFD since I mainly pointed to strategic voting but didn’t develop the argument, and thus I thank Smith for his succinct criticism.

 

Frisian Fokke 2013

War of the clones

This assumes the Borda system. Smith (point 8) compares the election between Mush (51%) and Bore (49%) with the election between Mush and some clones Bore1, Bore2, Bore3 (leaving unclear who the real Bore is). Supposedly it is publically known that Mush selects Bore1 in second place, so that the Bores can collect all their votes on Bore1 too. Now Mush loses. This criticism is accurate.  With Condorcet’s rule, Mush would beat all Bores, but the idea of Borda is to mitigate Condorcet. With enough Bores, the BordFP method is not immune to this either.

In above key context, the method would not be applied by the whole electorate but only by parliament. The number of parties would be limited, and each party would only mention one candidate. In the current Dutch parliament there are 13 parties, see Bloomberg with a graphical display of the political spectrum and my analysis on an application of BordaFP. Here the problem doesn’t really arise.

In general people might feel that parties and their candidates differ. If not, then this would require attention. For applications of Borda or BordaFP to smaller committees, it would be sensible to be aware of this. Committees might devise rules about when candidates are too much alike, bunch their votes as if they were one (and rerank), and only call for a decision vote between the clones when they would actually be chosen.

The dark horse

Smith (point 2) considers candidates A, B, C and various nonentities. Kenneth Arrow used the more polite term “irrelevant alternatives”. Let me settle for Dark Horse D. Let me also distinguish truthful voting and strategic voting. In a truthful vote there is no difference between the true preference and the ranking submitted to the ballot box. In a strategic vote there is the strategy provided by the truth and the tactic vote submitted to the box. (Potentially one might design a voting system in which a voter submits those two rank orders simultaneously, but then we must relabel between truth and those two submissions.)

A member of parliament (MP) faces a dilemma. If the MP prefers A > B > C > D then giving the ranks 4, 3, 2, 1 will give 3 points to B, which might cause that B is chosen instead of A. This MP has the incentive to shift points to the Dark Horse, as in 4, 1, 2, 3, hoping that nobody else will vote for this dark horse anyway. If all MPs think in this manner, then the Dark Horse will be elected with an impressive score.

Smith provides an anecdote how such an event happened in the selection of a job application, where there was disagreement about an excellent macro-economist and an excellent micro-economist, whereupon a mediocre candidate got the job.

This is the prisoners’ dilemma. (1) If everyone votes truthfully then they all benefit from the true selection. (2) If everyone votes strategically then they all suffer the worst outcome. (3) Each has an incentive to deflect from the true vote.

The BordaFP method is sturdier than Borda but is not immune to this situation.

A prime answer to Smith is that in parliament the rankings for the selection of the prime minister might be public, so that voters and the press can question party tactics. A party that gives so much points to a Dark Horse might be criticised for not appreciating a better candidate.

Looking for balance

For now, I find Smith’s discussion a bit unbalanced. He emphasizes the disadvantages of Borda, but these have the answers above, for the proper context, while the disadvantages of range voting don’t get as much attention. Range voting stimulates the strategy of giving zero points to alternative candidates, whence it reduces to plurality with all its drawbacks. A candidate with 51% of the vote in plurality might not be better, since more extremist, than a candidate with a higher Borda score who is more moderate. The main point remains that the key issue is that countries with district voting like the USA, UK and France better switch to PR.

By way of conclusion

It remains true that Borda has the risk of a Dark Horse, and that the search for better algorithms is open. How can we elicit information from voters about their true preferences ? In the ballot box we might numb their brains so that they vote like bees (perhaps also with the dance) ?

An idea that I already mentioned at another place: MPs might submit two inputs, one with the strategy (supposed to be true) and one with the intended tactic. (One would design a test whether these better be rankings or ranges.) The intermediate result would be based upon the tactics. A random selection of the true preferences then is used to revise the tactics to improve the results for those MPs who have the luck to be selected. This prospect encourages MPs to be truthful about the strategy.

Another possibility for such double submissions: One might first determine the outcome according to the submitted strategies (supposedly true) and then use a random selection to use the allowed tactics, and only uses these if they indeed cause an improvement in the eyes of the MP. This sanctions a moderate degree of unavoidable strategic voting, but reduces the chaos when all do it without information about others.

Such calculations are simple for a partial outcome for a single MP. The problem lies in the aggregation of all MPs. Perhaps money helps in solving this too. Voters in the electorate aren’t allowed to sell their vote directly, with the obvious horror stories, also involving the distribution of income. But in parliament there is coalition bargaining which involves money, i.e. budget allocations. Potentially this helps in designing better algorithms. Perhaps the Bayesian Regret comes into play here, but I haven’t checked this. In Holland there is professor Frans Stokman who studies coalition bargaining with his “Decide” model.

Thus the search for better voting schemes hasn’t ended. Yet the main step for the USA, UK and France would be to accept the choice of a prime minister by parliament selected by PR.

My earlier weblog text on Brexit and voting theory was republished by the Royal Economic Society (RES) Newsletter. One reason for the editor to take the piece (and give it a fine edit) was that Kenneth Arrow (1921-2017) has recently passed away, and that the piece highlights Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem in its relevance for the Brexit referendum question. The April Newsletter also contains an obituary of Arrow by Larry Summers, originally published in the Wall St. Journal.

It feels rather awkward to refer to an obituary, yet, as these events happen to coincide, it might serve a purpose.

Summers of course mentions Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem too. His statement indicates that he apparently doesn’t understand it. It might be that Summers does understand it actually, and that only his statement for the obituary was less thoughtful. For now, let us take the quote at face value.

“Drawing upon mathematical logic, it shows that there is no possible voting scheme that can consistently and sensibly reflect the preferences of a set of individuals with diverse views. Any scheme that could ever be invented will be at risk of perverse outcomes, where, for example, the choice between options A and B is affected by the presence or absence of option C; or where a vote switch by one person toward option A makes it less likely to prevail. Mathematical and abstruse it was. But it also explained why committees have so much trouble coming to consistent conclusions and why, with an increasingly polarized electorate, democracy can become increasingly dysfunctional.”

It is false that voting schemes (i.e. decision mechanisms) cannot consistently and sensibly reflect the preferences of a set of individuals with diverse views. It is only true when you confuse voting outcomes and decisions on those outcomes.

To understand the situation, let us take a closer look.

The distinction between voting and deciding

(This section has been adapted a bit from this paper, p3.)

Consider three chess players A, B and C. They are pairwise confronted in a tournament with the result A > B > C > A, meaning that A beats B, B beats C and C beats A. These results happen to be intransitive. The objective of the tournament may only have been to allow the players to play against each other. There need not be a notion to find the “best overall player”.

Even if the result had been A > B > C and also A > C so that the outcome happens to be transitive, then it need not be an issue that A would be the “best overall player”. The fact that A beats the two others need not be associated with a notion that this would be “best”. The question does not have to arise simply because it is not considered to be a relevant question, neither to the players nor the organisers of the tournament. (Indeed, A would be the best under the Condorcet rule but not necessarily under a Borda rule.)

In voting we start out with a similar situation like with chess. The voting scores are like the game scores. If A gets more votes than B then this doesn’t necessarily mean much for the relation to C or the overall situation.

This situation will be called a “voting field”.

There can be a drastic change in objectives. Namely, if the tournament wants to identify an “overall winner”. Then this becomes the issue of “direct single seat elections” (to distinguish the situation from the election of for example a multiple seat parliament or the indirect selection of the prime minister via such a parliament).

The notion of an overall winner amounts to using a “social decision function” (SDF). The SDF selects the winner from a list of candidates. It is the definition of the SDF that it does so.

For decisions we require transitivity. Above voting field doesn’t have to be transitive but for decisions we require this. The SDF always implies a ranking. For example, if A = SDF[A, B, C] then the second might be B = SDF[B, C] and then the third would be C. The ranking arises by stepwise dropping the best of the remainder. The ranking means a transitive order of the candidates.

Hence, we distinguish between the voting field and deciding. In everyday parlance we tend to associate voting with deciding. Voting thus tends to mean: using both a voting field and a decision. Hence there is a distinction. Sometimes “voting” can be used in the sense of a “voting field” where the “field” is dropped. “Voting” thus is a somewhat ambiguous term, with some ambiguity about what it is ambiguous about. If one keeps track of the context the meaning however will be clear.

Kenneth Arrow’s confusion

Kenneth Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem comes about by confusing voting fields and deciding.

When we have an intransitive voting result A > B > C > A, then Arrow requires this intransivity to be transitive, because he wants to see a decision. He however assumes something that is inconsistent, whence the impossibility.

Larry Summers isn’t aware that Arrow had this confusion, and copies it.

See my note in the RES Newsletter to see what this confusion means for the Brexit referendum.

The metaphor of a gavel

In some meetings, it is the convention that the chairman bangs the gravel when a decision is made. For example, in a pairwise vote between A and B, A gets more votes but there is no bang of the gavel since it is not a decision but only a mere count. Similarly for the pairwise vote between B and C, when B gets more votes. Similarly for the pairwise vote between C and A, when C gets more votes. Then it is observed that the voting field has A > B > C > A. Now the chairman can decide that the cycle indicates a deadlock, and then bangs the gavel for the decision that there is deadlock. The subsequent step is to search for the rule book and select a tie-breaking rule.

Court gavel (By Jonathunder – Own work, GFDL, wikimedia commons)

The crucial role of rules

The crucial question is how one handles deadlocks (indifferences). Theorists of axiomatics for example don’t like randomisation. Imagine Euclid with an axiom on something that is a point or line at random. Yet, to resolve voting deadlocks, people might flip a coin. Would you call it “inconsistent” when a coin shows different outcomes Head or Tail ?

It is also true that a vote switch by one person towards option A might make it less likely to prevail (in the collective outcome). It all depends upon your axioms.

A supposed axiom that isn’t an axiom

Arrow posed some axioms that caused an inconsistency. Thus these axioms cannot be simultaneously true for description of real world events. Democracy is something that we want to work for the real world. Thus democracy must eliminate at least one of Arrow’s axioms. If something is to be dropped, then one should not call it an axiom. The key axiom to drop is the one on pairwise decision making (a.k.a. independence of irrelevant alternatives). One can have pairwise voting results, but these need to be integrated to arrive at a decision. For a pairwise vote it is incorrect to say that a third option would be irrelevant, for it can be quite relevant for the final decision. Option A might get more votes than option B, but when we include option C, then there might be a cycle, A > B > C > A, which amounts to a deadlock or indifference in terms of decision making. In that case the focus shifts to the mechanisms to resolve deadlocks.

Summers on dysfunctional democracy

If democracy is getting dysfunctional, then this is e.g. because of district voting instead of proportional representation (see this paper), and the use of referenda with misleading questions (and the educational system, and the media, and so on).

Dale Jorgenson, once president of the AEA, once referred to Arrow’s theorem as if it implied the need for a dictatorship. This causes me to wonder whether misunderstandings about the theorem would support autocratic thoughts. Larry Summers had an exchange with Elizabeth Warren on the positions of insiders and outsiders. From her autobiography:

“[Summers] teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders. I had been warned.”

A situation in which insiders don’t listen to outsiders, and don’t criticise each other, reminds of an oligarchy and not an open society and democracy. Perhaps Summers only describes it factually but he also seems to support it. Perhaps his misunderstanding of Arrow’s theorem had misguided him into thinking that he was only taking the scientific point of view, that democracy was dysfunctional by definition to start with.

The latter is pure speculation. If Summers still thinks in terms of insiders and outsiders we might never discover the truth on this.

Arrow, Summers, Warren (Wikipedia Commons, Stanford News Service)

 

The Theresa May government has adopted Brexit as its policy aim and has received support from the Commons. Yet, economic theory assumes rational agents, and even governments might be open for rational reconsideration, even at the last moment.

Scientifically unwarranted referendum question

Based upon voting theory, the Brexit referendum question can be rejected as scientifically unwarranted. My suggestion is that the UK government annuls the outcome based upon this insight from science, and upon this insight alone. Let me invite (economic) scientists to study the argument and voting theory itself, so that the scientific community can confirm this analysis. This study best be done all over Europe, so that also the EU Commission might adopt it. Britons might be wary when their government or the EU Commission would listen to science, but then they might check the finding themselves too. A major worry is why the UK procedures didn’t produce a sound referendum choice in the first place.

Renwick et al. (2016) in an opinion in The Telegraph June 14 protested:

“A referendum result is democratically legitimate only if voters can make an informed decision. Yet the level of misinformation in the current campaign is so great that democratic legitimacy is called into question.”

Curiously, however, their letter doesn’t make the point that the referendum neglects voting theory, since the very question itself is misleading w.r.t. the complexity of the issue under decision. Quite unsettling is the Grassegger & Krogerus (2017) report about voter manipulation by Big Data, originally on Brexit and later for the election of Donald Trump. But the key point here concerns the referendum question itself.

The problem with the question

The question assumes a binary choice – Remain or Leave the EU – while voting theory warns that allowing only two options can be a misleading representation. When the true situation is more complex, then it may be political manipulation to reduce this to a binary one. As a result of the present process, we actually don’t know how people would have voted when they had been offered the true options.

Compare the question:

“Do you still beat your mother ?”

When you are allowed only a Yes or No answer, then you are blocked from answering:

“I will not answer that question because if I say No then it suggests that I agree that I have beaten her in the past.”

In the case of Brexit, the hidden complexity concerned:

  • Leave as EFTA or WTO ?
  • Leave, while the UK remains intact or while it splits up ?
  • Remain, in what manner ?

Voting theory generally suggests that representative democracy – Parliament – is better than relying on referenda, since the representatives can bargain about the complex choices involved.

Deadlocks can lurk in hiding

When there are only two options then everyone knows about the possibility of a stalemate. This means a collective indifference. There are various ways to break the deadlock: voting again, the chairperson decides, flip a coin, using the alphabet, and so on. There is a crucial distinction between voting (vote results) and deciding. When there are three options or more there can be a deadlock as well. It is lesser known that there can also be cycles. It is even lesser known that such cycles actually are a disguised form of a deadlock.

Take for example three candidates A, B and C and a particular distribution of preferences. When the vote is between A and B then A wins. We denote this as A > B. When the vote is between B and C then B wins, or B > C. When the vote is between C and A then C wins or C > A. Collectively A > B > C > A. Collectively, there is indifference. It is a key notion in voting theory that there can be distributions of preferences, such that a collective binary choice seems to result into a clear decision, while in reality there is a deadlock in hiding.

Kenneth Arrow (1921-2017) who passed away on February 21 used these cycles to create his 1951 “impossibility theorem”. Indeed, if you interprete a cycle as a decision then this causes an inconsistency or an “impossibility” w.r.t. the required transitivity of a (collective) preference ordering. However, reality is consistent and people do really make choices collectively, and thus the proper interpretation is an “indifference” or deadlock. It was and is a major confusion in voting theory that Arrow’s mathematics are correct but that his own verbal interpretation was incorrect, see my VTFD Ch. 9.2.

Representative government is better than referenda

Obviously a deadlock must be broken. Again, it may be manipulation to reduce the choice from three options A, B and C to only two. Who selects those two might take the pair that fits his or her interests. A selection in rounds like in France is no solution. There are ample horror scenarios when bad election designs cause minority winners. Decisions are made preferably via discussion in Parliament. Parliamentarian choice of the Prime Minister is better than direct election like for the US President.

Voting theory is not well understood in general. The UK referendum in 2011 on Proportional Representation (PR) presented a design that was far too complex. Best is that Parliament is chosen in proportional manner as in Holland, rather than in districts as in the UK or the USA. It suffices when people can vote for the party of their choice (with the national threshold of a seat), and that the professionals in Parliament use the more complexer voting mechanisms (like bargaining or the Borda Fixed Point method). It is also crucial to be aware that the Trias Politica model for democracy fails and that more checks and balances are required, notably with an Economic Supreme Court.

The UK Electoral Commission goofed too

The UK Electoral Commission might be abstractly aware of this issue in voting theory, but they didn’t protest, and they only checked that the Brexit referendum question could be “understood”. The latter is an ambiguous notion. People might “understand” quite a lot but they might not truly understand the hidden complexity and the pitfalls of voting theory. Even Nobel Prize winner Kenneth Arrow gave a problematic interpretation of his theorem.The Electoral Commission is to be praised for the effort to remove bias, where the chosen words “Remain” and “Leave” are neutral, and where both statements were included and not only one. (Some people don’t want to say No. Some don’t want to say Yes.) Still, the Commission gives an interpretation of the “intelligibility” of the question that doesn’t square with voting theory and that doesn’t protect the electorate from a voting disaster.

A test on this issue is asking yourself: Given the referendum outcome, do you really think that the UK population is clear in its position, whatever the issues of how to Leave or risk of a UK breakup ? If you have doubts on the latter, then you agree that something is amiss. The outcome of the referendum really doesn’t give me a clue as to what UK voters really want. Scotland wants to remain in the EU and then break up ? This is okay for the others who want to Leave ? (And how ?) The issue can be seen as a statistical enquiry into what views people have, and the referendum question is biased and cannot be used for sound statistics.

In an email to me 2016-07-11:

“The Electoral Commission’s role is to evaluate the intelligibility of referendum questions in line with the intent of Parliament; it is not to re-evaluate the premise of the question. Other than that, I don’t believe there is anything I can usefully add to our previously published statements on this matter.”

Apparently the Commission knows the “intent of Parliament”, while Parliament itself might not do so. Is the Commission only a facilitator of deception, and they don’t have the mission to put voters first ? At best the Commission holds that Whitehall and Parliament fully understood voting theory therefor deliberatedly presented the UK population with a biased choice, so that voters would be seduced to neglect complexities of how to Leave or the risks of a UK breakup. Obviously the assumption that Whitehall and Parliament fully grasp voting theory is dubious. The better response by the Commission would have been to explain the pitfalls of voting theory and the misleading character of the referendum question, rather than facilitate the voting disaster.

Any recognition that something is (very) wrong here, should also imply the annulment of the Brexit referendum outcome. Subsequently, to protect voters from such manipulation by Whitehall, one may think of a law that gives the Commission the right to veto a biased Yes / No selection, which veto might be overruled by a 2/3 majority in Parliament. Best is not to have referenda at all, unless you are really sure that a coin can only fall either way, and not land on its side.

Addendum March 31

  • The UK might repeal the letter on article 50 – see this BBC reality check. Thus science might have this time window to clarify to the general public how the referendum question doesn’t comply with voting theory.
  • The recent general elections in Holland provide another nice example for the importance of voting theory and for the meaning of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, see here.
Literature

BBC (2017), “Article 50: May signs letter that will trigger Brexit“, March 29

Carrell, S. (2017), “Scottish parliament votes for second independence referendum“, The Guardian, March 28

Colignatus (2001, 2004, 2011, 2014), “Voting theory for democracy” (VTFD), pdf online, https://zenodo.org/record/291985

Colignatus (2010, “Single vote multiple seats elections. Didactics of district versus proportional representation, using the examples of the United Kingdom and The Netherlands”, May 19 2010, MPRA 22782, http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/22782

Colignatus (2011a), “The referendum on PR“, Mathematics Teaching 222, January 5 2011, also on my website

Colignatus (2011b), “Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem and the distinction between Voting and Deciding”, https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/34919

Colignatus (2014), “An Economic Supreme Court”, RES Newsletter issue no. 167, October 2014, pp.20-21, http://www.res.org.uk/view/art7Oct14Features.html

Colignatus (2016), “Brexit: advice for young UK (age < 50 years), and scientific outrage for neglect of voting theory“, weblog text June 29

Colignatus (2017), “The performance of four possible rules for selecting the Prime Minister after the Dutch Parliamentary elections of March 2017″, March 17, MPRA 77616

Grassegger, H. and M. Krogerus (2017), “The Data That Turned the World Upside Down”, https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win

Renwick, A. e.a. (2016), “Letters: Both Remain and Leave are propagating falsehoods at public expense“, The Telegraph, Opinion, June 14

From the BBC website