7 January 2016
3 June 2014
3 June 2014
For a half dozen or so years from about 1996 onwards, I taught graduate engineers a course on microeconomic theory as part of an MBA syllabus. The level would have been that of Varian’s undergraduate text as well as, where possible, Henderson & Quandt’s intermediate text (Postscript: and, I now recall, a little of Arrow & Hahn Chapter 2 if there was time). It was quite successful as most students were very serious and had a more than adequate mathematical background.
Exchange, utility analysis and theory of demand
Rational decisions as constrained optimization
Theory of the firm, technology, profit-maximization, cost-minimization, cost curves
Market equilibrium under competitive conditions
Pricing under Monopoly, Oligopoly
Theory of games
Asset markets : arbitrage and present value
Decision-making under uncertainty
Mean-variance analysis : equilibrium in a market for risky assets
“Summits” of global political leaders require competent “sherpas” to do the preparations. From what I gather about the London “G-20 summit” this has not happened adequately enough, so I expect only a lot of waffle to emerge. (If they suddenly start talking about Global Warming or AIDS in Africa or whatever, we will know the actual talks have failed badly.)
Reforming the IMF? Hmmm, let’s see, what happened to all that talk four years ago about reforming the Big Daddy of them all, the UN? Oh yes, I forget, India is now a permanent veto-wielding Security Council Member, NOT!
It has been said that academic syllabus reform at a university is like ‘”moving a graveyard”. Reforming the world monetary system and its major institutions would be like moving thousands of graveyards. And there is no one with the brains of a White or a Keynes to help things along. But we should not be surprised if there were pronouncements of this or that high-powered commission of pompous worthies who will make recommendations for reform some time in the future. In general, little more than waffle will emerge now — I cannot even see the UK Government following informal British advice to stand down from its founding role at the IMF.
There is no clear path to solving the great (alleged) economic and financial crisis because no one wants to admit its roots were the overvaluation (over decades) of American real-estate, and hence American assets in general.
India’s PM shall be seen at least up and about after several months out of action, indeed he will be up and about for the first time in months doing what he (like India’s nomenclatura in general) likes doing best, which is to travel outside India.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
The wonders of the Internet continue to surprise (and yes Virginia, there was a world before SMS and before the Internet too). In early January, in context of India’s Satyam fraud (of a size of perhaps 1 or perhaps 2 billion dollars), I referred here to what seemed to me the likelihood of Satyam becoming a zombie company and I said “we in India have many such zombies walking around in the organised business sector”. I drew attention to Andrew Beattie’s astute definition of zombies and other such ghoulish phenomena in the financial world, and also referred to John Stepek’s excellent if brief November 2008 analysis “How zombie companies suck the life from an economy”. Today I find Ms Arianna Huffington has made reference to Mr Martin Wolf’s reference a couple of days ago to zombie companies and to his statement that President Obama needs to “Admit reality, restructure banks and, above all, slay zombie institutions at once.” Ms Huffington has agreed, though of course all this slaying may be easier said than done. (It is better that zombies not be created in the first place.)
Mr Wolf has pointedly asked a question that many around the world may have half-thought about but not articulated: “Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed?” It would be a grave and appalling state of affairs if it has, within less than a month of entering office. I am grateful to find in Ms Huffington’s article a reference to an October 2008 Wall Stret Journal interview of Dr Anna Jacobson Schwartz, perhaps the most respected voice in monetary economics today. There have been numerous people claiming to have predicted America’s financial crisis but none may have as much credibility as Dr Schwartz. Six years ago, in a National Bureau of Economic Research study dated November 2002, “Asset Price Inflation and Monetary Policy”,Working Paper 9321 she had said with utmost clarity: “It is crucial that central banks and regulatory authorities be aware of effects of asset price inflation on the stability of the financial system. Lending activity based on asset collateral during the boom is hazardous to the health of lenders when the boom collapses. One way that authorities can curb the distortion of lenders’ portfolios during asset price booms is to have in place capital requirements that increase with the growth of credit extensions collateralized by assets whose prices have escalated. If financial institutions avoid this pitfall, their soundness will not be impaired when assets backing loans fall in value. Rather than trying to gauge the effects of asset prices on core inflation, central banks may be better advised to be alert to the weakening of financial balance sheets in the aftermath of a fall in value of asset collateral backing loans….”
Most poignantly too, Dr Schwartz was present when Ben Bernanke said in a 2002 speech honouring the late Milton Friedman “I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.” Dr Schwartz told the Wall Street Journal ‘”This was [his] claim to be worthy of running the Fed”. “He was ‘familiar with history. He knew what had been done.’ But perhaps this is actually Mr. Bernanke’s biggest problem. Today’s crisis isn’t a replay of the problem in the 1930s, but our central bankers have responded by using the tools they should have used then. They are fighting the last war. The result, she argues, has been failure. ‘I don’t see that they’ve achieved what they should have been trying to achieve. So my verdict on this present Fed leadership is that they have not really done their job.'”
President Obama’s economists need to urgently consult Anna J Schwartz.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
Postscript: My own brief views on the subject are at “October 1929? Not!” dated September 18 2008, and “America’s divided economists” dated October 26 2008. The latter article suggested that playing the demographic card and inducing a wave of immigration into the United States may be the surest way to move the housing demand-curve firmly upwards.