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To the International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS),
Royal Statistical Society (RSS),
American Statistical Association (ASA),
Société Française de Statistique (SFdS) and
International Association for Research in Income and Wealth (IARIW)

Dear presidents Pullinger (IAOS), Ashby (RSS), Martinez (ASA), Marin (SFdS) and Reinsdorf (IARIW),

Your societies and associations have made public statements in support of Andreas Georgiou, former president of El.Stat Statistics Greece.

I have looked at the case and arrived at the conclusion that Georgiou was guilty as charged for the violation of duty, as was indeed confirmed by the Greek Supreme Court in 2018. It appears that Andreas Georgiou, Hallgrimur Snorrason (representative of Eurostat at El.Stat in 2010) and Walter Radermacher (Eurostat 2008-2016) have provided you with false testimonies about the Greek law of March 9 2010 that created El.Stat and the European Code of Practice of 2005 that was in force in 2010. They knew about the true legal situation and in fact worked to make changes in both the law (December 2010) and the Code (2011).

The documentation is in my new book “Forum Theory & A National Assembly of Science and Learning“. My discussion of the actual figures in national accounting of Greece 2009 is on pages 200-206, and there seem to have been made some arbitrary choices that are not fully clear to me. My discussion identifies many more points where important information is lacking. Overall, I advise that there will be a thorough investigation. I hope that you will indeed apply due diligence.

I already informed ISI and FENStatS via this letter, now online in slightly edited form to make it quotable for others. I regard the now online letter to ISI and FENStatS as an integral part of my letter to you now. I have the same requests for you as stated in that letter. Please inform your membership but please refer to my book instead of trying to rephrase the points in your own words because points might get lost in translation again. This letter to you is online now too.

Reading parts of my book, Richard Gill, emeritus professor in mathematical statistics in Leiden, and former chair of VVSOR (a founding member of FENStatS), informed me that he has revised his view, from an earlier signing of support to a (now disputed) statement by ISI. Klaus Kastner, retired banker who blogs on Greece, also has revised part of his view.

My disclaimer: I would like to see a thorough investigation in Dutch economics.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Cool / Thomas Colignatus
Econometrician (Groningen 1982) and teacher of mathematics (Leiden 2008)
Scheveningen, Holland
http://thomascool.eu/
http://econpapers.repec.org/RAS/pco170.htm
https://zenodo.org/communities/re-engineering-math-ed

PS. At IARIW, Peter van de Ven (formerly CBS now OECD) was IARIW president in 2010-2012, when the issue of El.Stat case arose. Van de Ven proposed to IARIW in 2016 to support Georgiou, apparently with deficient study of the underlying events. At CBS in 2009, Van de Ven removed the Tinbergen & Hueting figure of environmentally Sustainable National Income (eSNI) from the Dutch monitor on sustainability, using fallacies, see THAENAES Chapter 25 p289. I copy to Van de Ven at OECD and Kees Zeelenberg at CBS who is involved in IAOS – OECD.

To the President of [the International Statistical Institute (ISI)] and the secretary general of [the Federation of European National Statistical Societies (FENStatS)]

Dear professor Bailer (ISI) and dr Silva (FENStatS),

There is this new (open access) book by me:

Forum Theory & A National Assembly of Science and Learning

The idea is that scientists and scholars create an assembly of their own, to improve the quality and impact of science and learning. The book discusses various problems. Some main problems are about national accounting and official statistics. There is the Tinbergen & Hueting approach on environmentally Sustainable National Income (eSNI). There is the El.Stat / Georgiou case.

The book webpage is [here].

The PDF of the book is open access [here].

A short text (discussing 2 of 7 storylines) is [here (pdf)].

Though the Tinbergen & Hueting case is much more important, it so happens that ISI and 80 former chief statisticians around [IAOS and FENStatS] put out statements of support for Georgiou, and it may be that you are alerted on this problem in more accessible manner just now.

Allow me to invite you to look at my deconstruction of “Greek statistics” in Part 6, starting p153.

My diagnosis is that the statistical associations, including you, have been misinformed by Walter Radermacher (Eurostat and current president of FENStatS), Hallgrimur Snorrason (representative of Eurostat and associated with ISI) and Andreas Georgiou (El.Stat). They knew in 2010 that the Greek law was that Georgiou had to seek approval by his board. He is guilty as charged for the conviction of violation of duty. I copy to them but do not have the email address of Georgiou.

One might regard this as an old case, but Eurostat also arranged that the National Statistical Offices of the EU are now under a single head, while CBS Statistics Netherlands since 1892 was under supervision by a multiperson board. This change in governance has risks for the future. My book indicates that CBS likely did not protest strongly enough because the Dutch government managed to appoint a leadership that had no background in official statistics itself.

Since the Part on “Greek statistics” is lengthy, let me also point to p200-206 for some formulas en tables on the calculation of the 2009 debt and deficit.

[…] Richard Gill, former chair of [VVSOR] (a founding association of FENStatS), already informed me that he revised his opinion now (from signing an earlier ISI statement), see below under (1). (PM. I copy to Fred van Eeuwijk, current [chair] of [VVSOR].) Klaus Kastner, a retired banker who blogs on Greece, also has revised part of his view, see under (2). They may not have digested my book fully since it is just in print.

I already informed Walter Radermacher about my finding, since his background is in environmental statistics, and around 1990 he had friendly contacts with Roefie Hueting. Unfortunately, Radermacher did not comprehend the Tinbergen & Hueting approach, and has misrepresented it too. My criticism on the work by Radermacher is restricted to these two issues that I have looked at. I [expect him] to correct when errors are clarified to him. While I informed Radermacher earlier this week, he indicated that he had no time for this, and this is a complication.

Another complication is that Radermacher currently is the President of FENStatS. The Vice-President of FENStats is professor Maurizio Vichi, who also happens to be the thesis supervisor for the Radermacher thesis of 2019. I checked the thesis on the two issues of eSNI and the Georgiou affair. In my judgement, the thesis is biased and misrepresenting on these two issues. It should be retracted. Radermacher knew in 2010 that Georgiou was in violation of the Greek law, and as director of Eurostat assisted him in breaking the law of an EU Member State. He should have insisted that Georgiou would come clean with his board instead of helping him to bypass them. Subsequently, see my discussion of the actual debt and deficit calculations.

Thus, my request to Radermacher and Vichi and FENStatS is that Radermacher and Vichi step down from their positions at FENStatS, to that there is no conflict of interests between FENStatS and their positions on the thesis and Radermacher’s position in this case ueberhaupt. Hopefully Radermacher might reorganise his priorities and consider the criticism in my book.

After sending this email to you, I will relay it to some journalists, so please do not be surprised if they would contact you and know about this email. It also seems best that I include this email on my website, and check there for the upcoming link.

Earlier, see under (3), I already informed the DG CBS dr. Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi about my book, and the finding that the erroneous ISI declaration had also been signed by some CBS researchers who had failed to check upon the Greek law, European Code of Practice 2005 [in force in 2010], and the particular data, and the false testimonies by Georgiou, Snorrason and Radermacher. I have been supplying the DG CBS with drafts of my book in the last month[s], and I offered CBS a final week to consider the argument, and provide for a more structured approach in informing the world of statistics about my book and finding. Alas, CBS did not indicate to me that they would take this opportunity. Thus, I am left with no other option than inform the world of statistics myself. The most efficient way to do so, at least for me, likely is to inform the media, though generally the media can be quite chaotic overall.

Let me also express that I am very annoyed concerning ISI. In 2012 I wrote to ISI with a request of an investigation, in which there was also attention for the views of the (other) board members. Instead, ISI apparently listened only to Snorrason at ISI. It strikes me as very unprofessional to allow someone to be judge in his or her own case. In BCC I will copy to some former El.Stat board members. My 2012 letter to ISI is [here].

Let me also express my [appreciation] to CBS for inviting Hueting and De Boer in 2019 to present their new book on national accounting and eSNI, which lecture was attended by some sixty statisticians at CBS. CBS also made a video (in Dutch) available, and since De Boer was late I myself had to step in for a moment. We must clearly distinguish the open and unencumbered discussion of issues on content at the “statistics work floor” and the issues of governance and management which gain more attention in my book. The link to the Hueting & De Boer lecture in 2019 is [here].

If you were to write on this, then my advice to you is to inform me with a draft text, to allow me to comment on possible errors. Please revise your (online) texts that contain erroneous statements, by heading them with clearly visible “Retracted, see link…” while keeping the remainder “as is” so that others can check the history of your errors. Please send your apologies to the Greek government, with copies to the press, for trying to infringe upon the separation of powers. Please inform your membership about this email and my book. Please do not try to restate my book in your own words, thereby taking attention away from my book, but simply correct and refer to the book for the details. Please respect my analysis that the Greek case is only an example, while the real issue is the creation of said assemblies, that also are intended for a better anchor for future governance of official statistics.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Cool / Thomas Colignatus
Econometrician (Groningen 1982) and teacher of mathematics (Leiden 2008)
Scheveningen, Holland
http://thomascool.eu/
http://econpapers.repec.org/RAS/pco170.htm
https://zenodo.org/communities/re-engineering-math-ed

(1) ================================

From: Richard Gill
To: Thomas Cool / Thomas Colignatus
Cc: […]
Subject: Re: N.a.v. uw ondertekening van de ISI verklaring uit 2013 over Andreas Georgiou
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020

Ik wil best zeggen dat mijn mening veranderd is. Ik heb het gezegd. Je mag me citeren.

(2) ================================

https://klauskastner.blogspot.com/2020/02/andreas-georgiou-was-it-breach-of-trust.html

(3) ================================

Date: Sun, 09 Feb 2020
To: DG CBS dr. T. Tjin-A-Tsoi, Kees Zeelenberg, […]
From: Thomas Cool / Thomas Colignatus
Subject: Published “Forum Theory & A National Assembly of Science and Learning”

Dear dr Tjin-A-Tsoi and dr. Zeelenberg and […],

My book is now online for all:

Forum Theory & A National Assembly of Science and Learning

[pdf relocated]

The printshop will take some more days.

You might enjoy the national accounting on page 200-206. I just included this this weekend, while finishing the book, and it appears that finishing touches can be quite important.

If you would have comments, feel welcome to send them. I can include additions and corrections in a file with “Reading Notes”, and eventually there might be a 2nd edition.

Let me call your attention to some CBS employees mentioned on p292 who did not properly check the Georgiou case and who signed the erroneous ISI declaration. Allow me to request the DG to forward this email to them. […] is an appreciated contact of mine from the student days in Groningen, and I send him my regards.

I also wonder whether you would have some advice as to how to approach the world of official statistics on this book and its findings. It is easy for me to dispatch some emails to some of the associations and persons involved. It might be less effective and needlessly chaotic. If there would be scope that the CBS would take a week to digest the book and formulate a statement, and be willing to discuss the draft of the statemnet with me (with me only giving advice), then this would seem to be advisable. Please let me know in the coming days whether you would be willing to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Cool / Thomas Colignatus
Econometrician (Groningen 1982) and teacher of mathematics (Leiden 2008)
Scheveningen, Holland
http://thomascool.eu/
http://econpapers.repec.org/RAS/pco170.htm
https://zenodo.org/communities/re-engineering-math-ed

Science and scholarship are much appreciated in our societies when we consider the lavish funding by tax payers and private donors. In contrast there is also a structurally weak position in the very functioning of our democracy. Our best research minds are allowed to discover the wonders at the frontier of knowledge but their findings might not be actually used. In examples like climate change, overpopulation, miseducation, inequality, political science of electoral systems, and the revolutions in computing, biology and medicine, and so on, and even in the issue of Greek statistics of the national debt and deficit of Greece around 2009, we see that science and learning are hardly listened to, and that policy makers and opinion leaders follow their own illusions, leading the world towards foreseeable disasters. Humanity as a whole acts mindless, drunk or crazy.

Trias Politica versus Tessares Politica

There is a system to the madness. Our democracy has the Trias Politica separation of powers between de Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches of government. What is lacking is the Epistemic branch. This means that the Trias Politica model allows too much room for manipulation of information. The alternative is a High Definition Democracy that has this Epistemic branch to protect information. This would give a Tessares Politica – from the ancient Greek “foursome”.

Epistemic branch

The Epistemic branch has two elements.

  • The first aspect concerns economic planning and the management of the State. The national budget is crucial for policy making. The Legislative branch or Parliament votes on the national budget to authorise the Executive to tax and spend funds. The economic planning agency resides currently under the Executive. However, planning is systematically abused. We better create an Economic Supreme Court at the same constitutional level, with the task to control the quality of information, and the power to veto the budget if it contains misleading information according to the court. This leaves all freedom for politicians to determine policy but they will lose the room they have now for manipulating information.
  • The second aspect concerns all fields of research. Parliament currently has the Senate and the House of Commons. In the French Revolution of 1789 the Chamber of the Clergy was abolished. In an alternative path of history, the clergy could have developed into scientists and scholars, and the revolution avoided, and then nowadays we would have a Chamber for Science and Learning.

If we want to improve the world and democracy then these are the two structural positions to consider.

Forum Theory

Forum theory is the approach by the Dutch cognitive psychologist, student-achievement tester, methodologist and philosopher of science Adriaan de Groot (1914-2006), also famous for his study of chess grandmasters. Forum theory provides us with the diagnosis that science and learning operate as a forum, i.e. a market subject to particular conditions. The approach investigates processes that enhance quality of science and learning, and formulates ways to protect and encourage those. Forum theory suggests that science and learning will be improved by a National Assembly. This contrasts with the current dominance by the National Academies of Science and Scholarship.

Such Academies tend to consists of mainly elderly researchers who have made their mark years ago and who are selected by co-optation. This leaves the mass of researchers out of the picture, currently at the front of research and making their mark. The common researchers on the work floor, e.g. in the laboratory or at the computer terminal, are locked up between a stone wall and a firy pit, and tend to be quite frustrated that the existing knowledge is neglected or misrepresented by politics, while the elevated colleagues at the Academy tend to focus on their next conference. Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) in his Gulliver’s Travels already made fun of the Royal Society.

This situation can be changed by the creation of a National Assembly of Science and Learning, with a Floor for the mass of researchers, while the National Academy forms the Senate of the Assembly. The Assembly improves governance of the forum, the forum itself, and research integrity. Researchers in science and learning can create their National Assembly actually quite simply. They can set up a foundation, give rules of operation, recruit members, organise elections and have a constitutional meeting. With sufficiently large membership the operating costs can be covered. The next step is to show results.

The difference between the current Academy and the sketched Assembly is that the latter has the full weight of the collected research body in a country, with the legitimacy of having been elected by them. The Assembly can do investigations and support conclusions, and speak for science and learning with an authority that now is lacking for the Academy. Over time Parliament could accept the National Assembly of Science and Learning as its third chamber, e.g. called The Study.

Greek national accounting and statistics in 2010

My book with above analysis and proposal also looks at the example of 2010, when Statistics Greece (El.Stat) director Andreas Georgiou sent figures on the 2009 Greek national debt and budget deficit to Eurostat without first seeking approval by his board. The Greek court system judged that he was in violation of duty, irrevocably by the Greek Supreme Court in 2018. Today there is an international uproar in national accounting and statistics that Georgiou’s conviction is a miscarriage of justice and an attack on the independence of Official Statistics.

However, these protesting statistical societies and associations have failed to check the Greek law of March 2010 that created El.Stat, and they also refer to the European Statistics Code of Practice of 2011 or 2017 while the code in force in 2010 was from 2005. Georgiou is guilty as charged.

By all looks of it, he also – advised by Eurostat – added the Simitis swaps of 2001 to the deficits, thus increasing the deficit of 2009 by about 2% points, instead of using the proper stock-flow adjustment. The deficit figure has the purpose to show the operating difference between income and expenditure, and is not the place to record hidden debts that fall from the closet. It is remarkable that these sobering points have not been recognised in all comments and protests. Also the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal supported Georgiou while overlooking these facts.

People can bet their reputation on false information though. Georgiou and the leadership of Eurostat knew about the Greek law of March 2010 and the Code of Practice of 2005, because it was their job to know this at the time. In 2010 they even undertook a change of those very regulations. They however did not say so to the courts and their international colleagues.

Instead, board member and professor of econometrics Zoe Georganta, while lacking full information because of Georgiou’s obstruction, still pointed to crucial questions on content, and those were considered by the Greek courts but inadequately treated by those protesting statisticians and media.

Impact on the EU statistical system

Cause for worry is that the European Union has now restructured its statistical system so that each national statistical office has a single head with full authority, while we know that a single person is much more sensitive to political or commercial pressure or own illusions than a multiperson board.

Warranting the quality of scientific and learned information

This is one of more information scandals that my book deconstructs. The Greek case is peanuts compared to the discussion about climate change. Overall, the world is served not only by a better position of science and learning in our system of democracy, but also by a better internal functioning of the forum of science and learning itself. There is a clear need for a National Assembly of Science and Learning that can investigate such issues without interference by political interests and mistaken hierarchies that exist now.

Thomas Colignatus is the scientific name of Thomas Cool (1954), econometrician (Groningen 1982) and teacher of mathematics (Leiden 2008). See the book “Forum Theory & A National Assembly of Science and Learning” (2020) at https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/98568 and on his website http://thomascool.eu

In May I joined NKWP, the Dutch Poltiical Science Association. I informed the board that “political science on electoral systems” is a pseudo-science, comparable to astrology, alchemy or homeopathy. The board informed me yesterday that they will do nothing on this. Thus I better put a stop to my membership. I should be no part of an association that claims to be for science but that doesn’t react to information about pseudo-science under their wings.

This is my farewell letter to the board of NKWP.

For our understanding of history we like to distinguish between structural developments and contingencies.

Examples of structure would be the rise of the world population and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. Obviously, various authors have various suggestions for what they consider to be structure, but the lack of consensus generally doesn’t matter as long as the discussion continues, and as long as people are aware that there are different points of view. It is rather tricky to identify structure for the here and now because it might require the perspective of some centuries to arrive at proper evaluation.

There are also major contingent events that shaped developments. The collapse of civilisation in 1177 BC would be a perfect storm. Caesar might not have crossed the Rubicon. His Alea iacta indicates that he took a calculated risk and the outcome might have been different. If the weather had been better then perhaps the Armada had conquered England and saved the world for Catholicism.

Thus we distinguish structure and relevant and irrelevant contingency.

Brexit came with such surprise that we are still discussing how it could have happened. It very much looks like a perfect storm. The 2016 referendum result has many curious aspects. The referendum question itself doesn’t fit the requirements of a scientifically warranted statistical questionnaire – and the British Electoral Commission doesn’t mind. Even in 2017 17% of UK voters put Remain between different options for Leave, and those of them who voted Leave in 2016 might not have voted so if their preferred option might not materialise (see here). Hannes Grassegger & Mikael Krogerus point to media manipulation. Referenda are instruments of populism, and the better model of democracy is representative democracy. Chris Patten rightly remarks that the UK House of Commons had more options than Theresa May suggests:

“The Brexit referendum last June was itself a disaster. A parliamentary democracy should never turn to such populist devices. Even so, May could have reacted to the 52 per cent vote to quit Europe by saying that she would hand the negotiations to a group of ministers who believed in this outcome and then put the result of the talks in due course to parliament and the people. Instead, she turned the whole of her government into a Brexit machine, even though she had always wished to remain in the EU. Her government’s motto is now “Brexit or bust.” Sadly, we will probably get both.”

Structural cause of Brexit

My take of the structural cause of Brexit is clarified by the following table. We distinguish Euro and Non-Euro countries versus the political structures of district representation (DR) and equal or proportional representation (EPR).

District representation (DR) Equal or proportional representation (EPR)
Euro France Holland (natural quota)
Germany (threshold 5%)
Non-Euro UK (Brexit) Sweden (threshold 4%)
Norway (non-EU, threshold 4%)

Update 2018-02-27: On the distinction between DR and EPR, there are: (1) this short overview of elementary statistics with an application to votes and seats, (2) a deconstruction of the disarray in the “political science on electoral systems” (1W1V), and (3) details on the suggestion for an inequality or disproportionality measure (SDID).

In the special Brexit edition of BJPIR, Helen Thompson discusses inevitability and contingency, and concludes that the position of the UK as a non-Euro country in a predominantly Eurozone EU became politically untenable.

  • For the voters in the UK, migration was a major issue. The world financial crisis of 2007+ and the contractionary policies of the Eurozone turned the UK into a “job provider of last resort”.
  • For the political elite, the spectre of the Euro doomed large. Given the theory of the optimal currency area, the Eurozone must further integrate or break up. The UK didn’t want to join the Euro and thus found itself at the fringe of the EU, in an increasing number of issues. With the increasing loss of power and influence on developments, more and more politicians saw less and less reason to participate.

Thompson regards the economic angle as a sufficient structural cause. My take is that it is only necessary, and that another necessary element is the form of parliamentarian representation. In my recent paper One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France, with the focus on this parlementarian dimension, I forward the diagnosis that the UK political system is the main cause. Brexit is not the proof of a successful UK political system but proof of its failure.

  • The UK has district representation (DR). UKIP got 12.5% of the votes but only 1 seat in a house of 650 seats. David Cameron saw that crucial seats of his Conservatives were being challenged by UKIP. Such a threat may be amplified under DR. This explains Cameron’s political ploy to call a referendum.
  • If the UK had had equal or proportional representation (EPR), the UKIP protest vote could have been contained, and the UK would have had more scope to follow the example of Sweden (rather than Norway). Obviously, the elephant in the room of the optimal currency area for the Euro would not be resolved by this, but there would have been more time to find solutions. For example, the UK would have had a stronger position to criticise the wage moderation policies in Germany and Holland.
The structural cause of disinformation about representation

The 2007+ financial crisis highlighted irresponsible herd behaviour in economic science. Brexit highlights irresponsible herd behaviour in political science. Said paper One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France (1W1V) shows that political science on electoral systems (on that topic specifically) is still pre-science, comparable to homeopathy, astrology and alchemy. Thus the UK finds itself in the dismal spot of being disinformed about democracy for decades.

The paper runs through the nooks and crannies of confusion and bias. At various points I was surprised by the subtleties of the particular madness. The paper is rather long but this has a clear explanation. When an argument has 100 aspects, and people understand 99% correctly and 1% wrongly, but everyone another 1%, in continuous fashion, then you really want the full picture if you want that all understand it.

But let me alert you to some points.

(1) The paper focuses on Carey & Hix (2011) on an “electoral sweet spot” of 3-8 seats per district. Particular to C&H is that they confuse “most frequent of good” with “the best“. The district magnitude of 3-8 seats appears most frequent in cases that satisfy their criteria for being good, and they turn this into the best. Since such DR would be best, say goodbye to EPR. But it is a confusion.

(2) They use fuzzy words like vote and election. But the words mean different things in DR or EPR. In DR votes are obliterated that EPR translates into seats. Using the same words for different systems, C&H suggest treatment on a par while there are strict logical differences. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights only fits with EPR. Science would use strict distinctions, like “vote in DR” and “vote in EPR”. Political science is still too close to colloquial language, and thus prone to confusion. Obviously I agree that it is difficult to define democracy, and that there are various systems, each with a historical explanation. But science requires clear terms. (See this Varieties of Democracy project, and check that they still have to do a lot too.)

(3) There is a statistical relationship between a measure of disproportionality (EGID) and a measure of the concentrated number of parties (CNP). C&H interprete the first as “interest-representation” and the latter as “accountability”. An interpretation is something else than a model. Using the statistical regularity, they claim to have found a trade-off relation between interest-representation and accountability. Instead, the scientific approach would be to try explain the statistical regularity for what it is. The suggested interpretation is shaky at best. One cannot use a statistical regularity as an argument on content and political principle (like One woman, one vote).

(4) They present a mantra, and repeat it, that there would be a trade-off between interest-representation and accountability. The best point [confusion] would be achieved at a district magnitude of 3-8 seats per district. However, they do not present a proper model and measure for accountability. My paper presents such a model, and shows that the mantra is false. Not DR but EPR is most accountable. EPR is obviously most interest-representative, so that there is no trade-off. Thus the C&H paper fails in the scientific method of modeling and measuring. It only has the method of repeating tradition and a mantra, with some magic of using interpretations. (Section 3.6 of 1W1V should start opening eyes of political scientists on electoral systems.)

(5) The C&H paper is the top of a line of research in “political science on electoral systems”. This paper fails and thus the whole line fails. Section 4.5 of 1W1V shows confusion and bias in general in political science on electoral systems, and the C&H paper is no exception to this.

The cure of Brexit

The cure of Brexit might well be that it just happens, and that we must learn to live with it. The EU lives with Norway while NATO has its Arctic training there.

Seen from the angle of the cause via the political structure, it may also be suggested that both France and the UK switch from DR to EPR, and that the newly elected UK House of Commons re-evaluates Brexit or Bregret. This switch may well cause the break-up of the parties of the Conservatives and Labour into Remain or Leave parties, but such would be the consequence of democracy and thus be fine by itself. We would no longer have Theresa May who was for Remain leading the Leavers and Jeremy Corbyn who was for Leave leading the Remainers. (For an indication, see here.) The other EU member states tend to stick to the Brexit deadline of March 29 2019, but when they observe the cause for Brexit and a new objective in the UK to deal with this (fateful) cause by switching to EPR, then this deadline might be shifted to allow the UK to make up its mind in a proper way.

Obviously, a UK switch to EPR is advisable in its own right, see said paper. It would also allow the new UK House of Commons to still adopt Brexit. The advantage of such an approach and decision would be that it would have the democratic legitimacy that is lacking now.

The relevant contingency of the Sovereignty Bill

Thompson’s article surprised me by her discussion of the 2010 UK Sovereignty Bill (that calls itself an Act). She calls it a “referendum lock”, and indeed it is. The Bill / Act states:

“2 Treaties. No Minister of the Crown shall sign, ratify or implement any treaty or law, whether by virtue of the prerogative powers of the Crown or under any statutory authority, which — (a) is inconsistent with this Act; or (b) increases the functions of the European Union affecting the United Kingdom without requiring it to be approved in a referendum of the electorate in the United Kingdom.”

The approach is comparable to the one in Ireland, in which EU treaties are subject to referenda too. In Holland, only changes in the constitution are subject to new elections and affirmation by the newly elected parliament, while treaties are exempt from this – and this is how the EU constitution of 2005 got rejected in a referendum but the Lisbon treaty got accepted in Dutch parliament. Currently a state commission is investigating the Dutch parliamentary system.

Thompson explains that the UK referendum lock had the perverse effect that EU leaders started to avoid the instrument of a treaty and started to use other ways to enact policies. For EU-minded Ireland, the instrument of a referendum was acceptable but for EU-skeptic UK the instrument was a poison pill. Why put much effort in negotiating a treaty if it could be rejected by the UK circus (partly created by its system of DR) ?

Thompson explains that while the referendum lock had been intended to enhance the UK position as a non-euro country w.r.t. eurozone UK, in effect it weakened Cameron’s position. The world noticed this and this weak position was fuel for the Brexiteers.

The relevant contingency of Thatcher’s policies

Brexit is mostly caused in the UK itself. Thompson doesn’t call attention to these relevant contingencies:

  • Margaret Thatcher started as pro-EU and even partook in the abolition of unanimity and the switch to qualified majority rule. My view is that it would have been wiser to stick to unanimity and be smarter in handling different speeds.
  • Secondly, Thatcher supported the neoliberal approach in economics that contributed to austerity and the deterioration of British industry that British voters blame the EU for. There was an obvious need for redress of earlier vulgar-Keynesian errors but there is no need to overdo it. My advice to the UK is to adopt EPR and see what can be learned from Holland and Sweden.
  • Thompson refers to her own 1996 book on the UK and ERM but doesn’t mention Bernard Connolly, his text The rotten heart of Europe and his dismissal from the EU Commission in 1995. At that time John Major had become prime minister and he did not defend Connolly’s position at the EU Commission. A country that is so easy on civil rights and free speech deserves the state that the UK is in. Surely the EU courts allowed the dismissal but this only means that one should look for better employment safeguards for critical views. Who wants to combine independent scientific advice and policy making, arrives at the notion of an  Economic Supreme Court, see below.
The relevant contingency of migration

I am reminded of the year 1988 at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB) when we looked at the Cecchini report. One criticism was that the report was too optimistic about productivity growth and less realistic on the costs of displaced workers. An observation by myself, though not further developed, was that, with more job mobility, people might prefer a single language barrier to a double one. People from the UK might move easier to Northern European countries that speak English well. People from the rest of Europe who have learned some English might prefer to go to the UK, to avoid having to deal with two other languages. I don’t know much about migration and I haven’t checked whether the UK has a higher share of it or not, and whether this language effect really matters. Given the role in the discussion it obviously would be a relevant contingency. Perhaps the UK and Ireland might claim a special position because of the language effect, and this might encourage other countries to switch to English too. But I haven’t looked into this.

The other elephant in the room

The other elephant in the room is my own analysis in political economy. It provides an amendment to Thompson’s analysis.

  • DRGTPE provides for a resolution of the Great Stagflation that we are in.
  • CSBH provides a supplement for the 2007+ crisis situation.
  • The paper Money as gold versus money as water (MGMW) provides an amendment to the theory of the optimal currency area: when each nation has its own Economic Supreme Court then countries might achieve the kind of co-ordination that is required. This is still a hypothesis but the EU has the option of integration, break up, or try such rational hypotheses. (The Van Rompuy roadmap might speed up integration too much with risk of a break-up.)

The main idea in DRGTPE was available in 1990 with the collection of background papers in 1992 (published by Guido den Broeder of Magnana Mu). Thus the EU might have had a different approach to EMU. The later edition of DRGTPE contains a warning about financial risk that materialised in 2007+. CSBH and MGMW provide a solution approach for the current problems.

If the EU would adopt such policies then there would be much less migration, since people would tend to prefer to remain at home (which is why I regard migration as a secondary issue and less in need for studying).

If the EU and UK would adopt such policies then there might still be Brexit or Bregret. Thus UK politicians might still prefer what they are now trying to find out what they prefer.

Conclusion

My impression is that the above gives a clear structural explanation for the UK decision for Brexit and an indication what contingent events were relevant. Knowing what caused helps to identify a cure. It is remarkable how large the role of denial in all of this is. Perhaps this story about the polar bear provides a way to deal with this huge denial (as polar elephants a.k.a. mammoths are already extinct).

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.