My American years Part One 1980-90: battles for academic integrity & freedom

On the Blacksburg campus February 1982, my second year in America.

I had come to Blacksburg in August 1980 thanks to a letter Professor Frank Hahn had written on my behalf to Professor James M Buchanan in January 1980.

I was in an “All But Dissertation” stage at Cambridge when I got to Blacksburg; I completed the thesis while teaching in Blacksburg, sent it from there in September 1981, and went back to Cambridge for the viva voce examination in January 1982.

Professor Buchanan and his colleagues were welcoming and I came to learn much from them about the realities of public finance and democratic politics, which I very soon applied to my work on India.

Jim Buchanan had a reputation for running very tough conferences of scholars. He invited me to one such in the Spring of 1981. We were made to work very hard indeed. One of the books prescribed is still with me, In Search of a Monetary Constitution, ed. Leland Yeager, Harvard 1962, and something I still recommend to anyone wishing to understand the classical liberal position on monetary policy. The week-long 1981 conference had one rest-day; it was spent in part at an excellent theatre in a small rural town outside Blacksburg. This photo is of Jim Buchanan on the left and Gordon Tullock on the right; in between them is Ken Minogue of the London School of Economics — who, as it happened, had been Tutor for Admissions when I became a freshman there seven years earlier.

(I must have learnt something from Jim Buchanan about running conferences because nine years later in May-June 1989 at the University of Hawaii, I made the participants of the India-perestroika and Pakistan-perestroika conferences work very hard too.)

My first rooms in America in 1980 were in the attic of 703 Gracelyn Court, where I paid $160 or $170 per month to my marvellous landlady Betty Tillman. There were many family occasions I enjoyed with her family downstairs, and her cakes, bakes and puddings all remain with me today.

A borrowed electric typewriter may be seen in the photo: the age of the personal computer was still a few years away. The Department had a stand-alone “AB-Dic” word-processor which we considered a marvel of technology; the Internet did not exist but there was some kind of Intranet between geeks in computer science and engineering departments at different universities.

It was at Gracelyn Court that this letter reached me addressed by FA Hayek himself.

Professor Buchanan had moved to Blacksburg from Charlottesville some years earlier with the Centre for Study of Public Choice that he had founded. The Centre came to be housed at the President’s House of Virginia Tech (presumably the University President himself had another residence).

I was initially a Visiting Research Associate at the Centre and at the same time a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Economics Department. I was very kindly given a magnificent office at the Centre, on the upper floor, perhaps the one on the upper right hand side in the picture. It was undoubtedly the finest room I have ever had as an office. I may have had it for a whole year, either 1980-81 or 1981-82. When Professor Buchanan and the Centre left for George Mason University in 1983, the mansion returned to being the University President’s House and my old office presumably became a fine bedroom again.

I spent the summer of 1983 at a long libertarian conference in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area in California. This is a photo from a barbecue during the conference with Professor Jean Baechler from France on the left; Leonard Liggio, who (along with Walter Grinder) had organised the conference, is at the right.

The first draft of the book that became Philosophy of Economics was written (in long hand) during that summer of 1983 in Palo Alto/Menlo Park. The initial title was “Principia Economica”, and the initial contracted publisher, the University of Chicago Press, had that title on the contract.

My principal supporter at the University of Chicago was that great American Theodore W. Schultz, then aged 81,

to whom the Press had initially sent the manuscript for review and who had recommended its prompt publication. Professor Schultz later told me to my face better what my book was about than I had realised myself, namely, it was about economics as knowledge, the epistemology of economics.

My parents came from India to visit me in California, and here we are at Yosemite.

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Also to visit were Mr and Mrs Willis C Armstrong, our family friends who had known me from infancy. This is a photo of Bill and my mother on the left, and Louise and myself on the right, taken perhaps by my father. In the third week of January 1991, during the first Gulf War, Bill and I (acting on behalf of Rajiv Gandhi) came to form an extremely tenuous bridge between the US Administration and Saddam Hussain for about 24 hours, in an attempt to get a withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait without further loss of life. In December 1991 I gave the widow of Rajiv Gandhi a small tape containing my long-distance phone conversations from America with Rajiv during that episode.

I had driven with my sheltie puppy from Blacksburg to Palo Alto  — through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona; my parents and I now drove with him back to Blacksburg from California, through Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia.  It may be a necessary though not sufficient condition to drive across America (or any other country) in order to understand it.

After a few days, we drove to New York via Pennsylvania where I became Visiting Assistant Professor in the Cornell Economics Department (on leave from being Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech). The few months at Cornell were noteworthy for the many long sessions I spent with Max Black. I shall add more about that here in due course. My parents returned to India (via Greece where my sister was) in the Autumn of 1983.

In May 1984, Indira Gandhi ruled in Delhi, and the ghost of Brezhnev was still fresh in Moscow. The era of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in America was at its height. Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India emerging from my doctoral thesis though written in Blacksburg and Ithaca in 1982-1983, came to be published by London’s Institute of Economic Affairs on May 29 as Occasional Paper No. 69, ISBN: 0-255 36169-6; its text is reproduced elsewhere here.

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It was the first critique after BR Shenoy of India’s Sovietesque economics since Jawaharlal Nehru’s time. The Times, London’s most eminent paper at the time, wrote its lead editorial comment about it on the day it was published, May 29 1984.

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It used to take several days for the library at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to receive its copy of The Times of London and other British newspapers. I had not been told of the date of publication and did not know of what had happened in London on May 29 until perhaps June 2 — when a friend, Vasant Dave of a children’s charity, who was on campus, phoned me and congratulated me for being featured in The Times which he had just read in the University Library. “You mean they’ve reviewed it?” I asked him, “No, it’s the lead editorial.” “What?” I exclaimed. There was worse. Vasant was very soft-spoken and said “Yes, it’s titled ‘India’s Bad Example’” — which I misheard on the phone as “India’s Mad Example” 😀 Drat! I thought (or words to that effect), they must have lambasted me, as I rushed down to the Library to take a look.

The Times had said

“When Mr. Dennis Healey in the Commons recently stated that Hongkong, with one per cent of the population of India has twice India’s trade, he was making an important point about Hongkong but an equally important point about India. If Hongkong with one per cent of its population and less than 0.03 per cert of India’s land area (without even water as a natural resource) can so outpace India, there must be something terribly wrong with the way Indian governments have managed their affairs, and there is. A paper by an Indian economist published today (Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India by Subroto Roy, IEA £1.80) shows how Asia’s largest democracy is gradually being stifled by the imposition of economic policies whose woeful effect and rhetorical unreality find their echo all over the Third World. As with many of Britain’s former imperial possessions, the rot set in long before independence. But as with most of the other former dependencies, the instrument of economic regulation and bureaucratic control set up by the British has been used decisively and expansively to consolidate a statist regime which inhibits free enterprise, minimizes economic success and consolidates the power of government in all spheres of the economy. We hear little of this side of things when India rattles the borrowing bowl or denigrates her creditors for want of further munificence. How could Indian officials explain their poor performance relative to Hongkong? Dr Roy has the answers for them. He lists the causes as a large and heavily subsidized public sector, labyrinthine control over private enterprise, forcibly depressed agricultural prices, massive import substitution, government monopoly of foreign exchange transactions, artificially overvalued currency and the extensive politicization of the labour market, not to mention the corruption which is an inevitable side effect of an economy which depends on the arbitrament of bureaucrats. The first Indian government under Nehru took its cue from Nehru’s admiration of the Soviet economy, which led him to believe that the only policy for India was socialism in which there would be “no private property except in a restricted sense and the replacement of the private profit system by a higher ideal of cooperative service.” Consequently, the Indian government has now either a full monopoly or is one of a few oligipolists in banking, insurance, railways, airlines, cement, steel, chemicals, fertilizers, ship-building, breweries, telephones and wrist-watches. No businessman can expand his operation while there is any surplus capacity anywhere in that sector. He needs government approval to modernize, alter his price-structure, or change his labour shift. It is not surprising that a recent study of those developing countries which account for most manufactured exports from the Third World shows that India’s share fell from 65 percent in 1953 to 10 per cent in 1973; nor, with the numerous restrictions on inter-state movement of grains, that India has over the years suffered more from an inability to cope with famine than during the Raj when famine drill was centrally organized and skillfully executed without restriction. Nehru’s attraction for the Soviet model has been inherited by his daughter, Mrs. Gandhi. Her policies have clearly positioned India more towards the Soviet Union than the West. The consequences of this, as Dr Roy states, is that a bias can be seen in “the antipathy and pessimism towards market institutions found among the urban public, and sympathy and optimism to be found for collectivist or statist ones.” All that India has to show for it is the delivery of thousands of tanks in exchange for bartered goods, and the erection of steel mills and other heavy industry which help to perpetuate the unfortunate obsession with industrial performance at the expense of agricultural growth and the relief of rural poverty.”…..

I felt this may have been intended to be laudatory but it was also inaccurate and had to be corrected. I replied dated June 4 which The Times published in their edition of June 16 1984:

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I was 29 when Pricing, Planning and Politics was published, I am 54 now. I do not agree with everything I said in it and find the tone a little puffed up as young men tend to be; it was also five years before my main “theoretical” work Philosophy of Economics would be published. My experience of life in the years since has also made me far less sanguine both about human nature and about America than I was then. But I am glad to find I am not embarrassed by what I said then, indeed I am pleased I said what I did in favour of classical liberalism and against statism and totalitarianism well before it became popular to do so after the Berlin Wall fell. (In India as elsewhere, former communist apparatchiks and fellow-travellers became pseudo-liberals overnight.)

The editorial itself may have been due to a conversation between Peter Bauer and William Rees-Mogg, so I later heard. The work sold 700 copies in its first month, a record for the publisher. The wife of one prominent Indian bureaucrat told me in Delhi in December 1988 it had affected her husband’s thinking drastically. A senior public finance economist told me he had been deputed at the Finance Ministry when the editorial appeared, and the Indian High Commission in London had urgently sent a copy of the editorial to the Ministry where it caused a stir. An IMF official told me years later that he saw the editorial on board a flight to India from the USA on the same day, and stopped in London to make a trip to the LSE’s bookshop to purchase a copy. Professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University had been a critic of aspects of Indian policy; he received a copy of the monograph in draft just before it was published and was kind enough to write I had “done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems!”  My great professor at Cambridge, Frank Hahn, would be kind enough to say that he thought my “critique of Development Economics was powerful not only on methodological but also on economic theory grounds” — something that has been a source of delight to me.

Siddhartha Shankar Ray told me when we first met that he had been in London when the editorial appeared and had seen it there; it affected his decision to introduce me to Rajiv Gandhi as warmly as he came to do a half dozen years later.

In the Autumn of 1984, I went, thanks to Edwin Feulner Jr of the Heritage Foundation,  to attend the Mont Pelerin Society Meetings being held at Cambridge (on “parole” from the US immigration authorities as my “green card” was being processed at the time). There I met for the first time Professor and Mrs Milton Friedman.

Milton Friedman’s November 1955 memorandum to the Government of India is referred to in my monograph as “unpublished” in note 1; when I met Milton and Rose, I gave them a copy of my monograph; and requested Milton for his unpublished document; when he returned to Stanford he sent to me in Blacksburg his original 1955-56 documents on Indian planning. I published the 1955 document for the first time in May 1989 during the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project I was then leading, it appeared later in the 1992 volume Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by myself and WE James. (The results of the Hawaii project reached Rajiv Gandhi through my hand in September 1990, as told elsewhere here in “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”.) The 1956 document was published in November 2006 on the front page of The Statesman, the same day my obituary of Milton appeared in the inside pages.

Meanwhile, my main work within economic theory, the “Principia Economica” manuscript, was being read by the University of Chicago Press’s five or six anonymous referees. One of them pointed out my argument had been anticipated years earlier in the work of MIT’s Sidney Stuart Alexander. I had no idea of this and was surprised; of course I knew Professor Alexander’s work in balance of payments theory but not in this field. I went to visit Professor Alexander in Boston, where this photo came to be taken perhaps in late 1984:

Professor Alexander was extremely gracious, and immediately declared with great generosity that it was clear to him my arguments in “Principia Economica” had been developed entirely independently of his work. He had come at the problem from an American philosophical tradition of Dewey, I had done so from a British tradition of Wittgenstein. (CS Peirce was probably the bridge between the two.) He and I had arrived at some similar conclusions but we had done so completely independently.

Also, I was much honoured by this letter of May 1 1984 sent to Blacksburg by Professor Sir John Hicks (1904-1989), among the greatest of 20th Century economists at the time, where he acknowledged his departure in later life from the position he had taken in 1934 and 1939 on the foundations of demand theory.

He later sent me a copy of his Wealth and Welfare: Collected Essays on Economic Theory, Vol. I, MIT Press 1981, as a gift. The context of our correspondence had to do with my criticism of the young Hicks and support for the ghost of Alfred Marshall in an article “Considerations on Utility, Benevolence and Taxation” I was publishing in the journal History of Political Economy published then at Duke University. In Philosophy of Economics, I would come to say about Hicks’s letter to me “It may be a sign of the times that economists, great and small, rarely if ever disclaim their past opinions; it is therefore an especially splendid example to have a great economist like Hicks doing so in this matter.” It was reminiscent of Gottlob Frege’s response to Russell’s paradox; Philosophy of Economics described Frege’s “Letter to Russell”, 1902 (Heijenoort, From Frege to Gödel, pp. 126-128) as “a document which must remain one of the most noble in all of modern scholarship; a fact recorded in Russell’s letter to Heijenoort.”

In Blacksburg, by the Summer and Fall of 1984 I was under attack following the arrival of what I considered “a gang of inert game theorists” — my theoretical manuscript had blown a permanent hole through what passes by the name of “social choice theory”, and they did not like it. Nor did they like the fact that I seemed to them to be a “conservative”/classical liberal Indian and my applied work on India’s economy seemed to their academic agenda an irrelevance. This is myself at the height of that attack in January 1985:

Professor Schultz at the University of Chicago came to my rescue and at his recommendation I was appointed Visiting Associate Professor in the Economics Department at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

I declined, without thanks, the offer of another year at Virginia Tech.

On my last day in Blacksburg, a graduate student whom I had helped when she had been assaulted by a senior professor, cooked a meal before I started the drive West across the country. This is a photo from that meal:

In Provo, I gratefully found refuge at the excellent Economics Department led at the time by Professor Larry Wimmer.

It was at Provo that I first had a personal computer on my desk (an IBM as may be seen) and what a delight that was (no matter the noises that it made).  I recall being struck by the fact a colleague possessed the incredible luxury of a portable personal computer (no one else did) which he could take home with him.   It looked like an enormous briefcase but was apparently the technology-leader at the time.  (Laptops seem not to have been invented as of 1985).

In October 1985, Professor Frank Hahn very kindly wrote to Larry Wimmer revising his 1980 opinion of my work now that the PhD was done, the India-work had led to The Times editorial and the theoretical work was proceeding well.

I had applied for a permanent position at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and had been interviewed positively at the American Economic Association meetings (in New York) in December 1985 by the department chairman Professor Fred C. Hung. At Provo, Dr James Moncur of the Manoa Department was visiting. Jim became a friend and recommended me to his colleagues in Manoa.

Professor Hung appointed me to that department as a “senior” Assistant Professor on tenure-track beginning September 1986. I had bargained for a rank of “Associate Professor” but was told the advertisement did not allow it; instead I was assured of being an early candidate for promotion and tenure subject to my book “Principia Economica” being accepted for publication. (The contract with the University of Chicago Press had become frayed.)

Hawaii was simply a superb place (though expensive).

Professor James Buchanan won the Economics “Nobel” in 1986 and I was asked by the Manoa Department to help raise its profile by inviting him to deliver a set of lectures, which he did excellently well in March 1988 to the University as well as the Honolulu community at large. Here he is at my 850 sq ft small condominium at Punahou Towers, 1621 Dole Street:

In August 1988, my manuscript “Principia Economica” was finally accepted for publication by Routledge of London and New York under the title Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason In Economic Inquiry. The contract with University of Chicago Press had fallen through and the manuscript was being read by Yale University Press and a few others but Routledge came through with the first concrete offer. I was delighted and these photos were taken in the Economics Department at Manoa by a colleague in September 1988 as the publisher needed them.

Milton and Rose Friedman came to Honolulu on a private holiday perhaps in January 1989; they had years earlier spent a sabbatical year at the Department.

Here is a luncheon that was arranged in their honour. They had in the Fall of 1988 been on their famous visit to China, and as I recall that was the main subject of discussion on the occasion.

Milton phoned me in my Manoa office and invited me to meet him and Rose at their hotel for a chat; we had met first at the 1984 Mont Pelerin meetings and he wished to know me better. I was honoured and turned up dutifully and we talked for perhaps an hour. I recall making a strong recommendation that he write his memoirs, especially so that the rumours and innuendo surrounding eg the Chile episode could be cleared up; I also said a “Collected Works” would be a great idea; when Milton and Rose published their memoirs Two Lucky People (Chicago 1998) I wondered if my first suggestion had come to be taken; as to the second, he wrote to me years later saying he felt no Collected Works were necessary.

From 1986 onwards, I had been requested by the University of Hawaii to lead a project with William E James on the political economy of “South Asia” .I had said there was no such place, that “South Asia” was a US State Department abstraction but there were India and Pakistan and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and Afghanistan etc. Sister projects on India and Pakistan had been sponsored by the University, and in 1989 important conferences had been planned by myself and James in May for India and in June for Pakistan.

I was determined to publish for the first time Milton’s 1955 memorandum on India which the Government of India had suppressed or ignored at the time. At the hotel-meeting, I told Milton that and requested him to come to the India-conference in May; Milton and Rose said they would think about it, and later confirmed he would come for the first two days.

This is a photo of the initial luncheon at the home of the University President on May 21 1989. Milton and India’s Ambassador to the USA at the time were both garlanded with Hawaiian leis. The first photo was one of a joke from Milton as I recall which had everyone laughing.

There was no equivalent photo of the distinguished scholars who gathered for the Pakistan conference a month later.

The reason was that from February 1989 onwards I had become the victim of a most vicious racist defamation, engineered within the Economics Department at Manoa by a senior professor as a way to derail me before my expected Promotion and Tenure application in the Fall. All my extra time went to battling that though somehow I managed to teach some monetary economics well enough in 1989-1990 for a Japanese student to insist on being photographed with me and the book we had studied.

I was being seen by two or three temporarily powerful characters on the Manoa campus as an Uppity Indian who must be brought down. This time I decided to fight back — and what a saga came to unfold! It took me into the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii and then the Ninth Circuit and upto the United States Supreme Court, not once but twice.

Milton Friedman and Theodore Schultz stood valiantly among my witnesses — first writing to the University’s authorities and later deposing in federal court.

Unfortunately, government lawyers, far from wanting to uphold and respect the laws of the United States, chose to deliberately violate them — compromising a judge, suborning demonstrable perjury and then brazenly purchasing my hired attorney (and getting caught doing it). Since September 2007, the State of Hawaii’s attorneys have been invited by me to return to the federal court and apologise for their unlawful behaviour as they are required by law to do.

They had not expected me to survive their illegalities but I did: I kept going.

Philosophy of Economics was published in London and New York in September 1989

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The hardback quickly sold out on its own steam and the book went into paperback in 1991, and I was delighted to learn from a friend that it had been prescribed for a course at Yale Law School and was strewn along an alley in the bookshop:

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The sister-volumes on India and Pakistan emerging from the University of Hawaii project led by myself and James were published in 1992 and 1993 in India, Pakistan, Britain and the United States.

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As described elsewhere, the manuscript of the India-volume contributed to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform during my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi in his last months; the Pakistan-volume came to contribute to the origins of the Pakistan-India peace process. The Indian publisher who had promised paperback volumes of both books reneged under leftwing pressure in Delhi; he has since passed away and James and I still await the University of Hawaii’s permission to publish both volumes freely on the Internet as copyright rests with the University President.

In 2004 from Britain, I wrote to the 9/11 Commission stating that it was possible that had the vicious illegalities against me not occurred at Manoa starting in 1989, we may have gone on after India and Pakistan to study Afghanistan, and come up with a pre-emptive academic analysis a decade before September 11 2001.

To be continued in Part Two.

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America’s divided economists


America’s divided economists

by

Subroto Roy

First published in

Business Standard 26 October 2008

Future doctoral theses about the Great Tremor of 2008 will ask how it was that the Fed chief, who was an academic economist, came to back so wholeheartedly the proposals of the investment banker heading the US Treasury. If Herbert Hoover and FDR in the 1930s started something called fiscal policy for the first time, George W Bush’s lameduck year has marked the total subjugation of monetary policy.

In his 1945 classic, History of Banking Theory, the University of Chicago’s Lloyd Mints said: “No reorganisation of the Federal Reserve System, while preserving its independence from the Treasury, can offer a satisfactory agency for the implementation of monetary policy. The Reserve banks and their branches should be made agencies of the Treasury and all monetary powers delegated by Congress should be given to the Secretary of the Treasury…. It is not at all certain that Treasury control of the stock of money would always be reasonable… but Treasury influence cannot be excluded by the creation of a speciously independent monetary agency that cannot have adequate powers for the performance of its task…” Years later, Milton Friedman himself took a similar position suggesting legislation “to end the independence of the Fed by converting it into a bureau of the Treasury Department…”(see, for example, Essence of Friedman, p 416).

Ben Bernanke’s Fed has now ended any pretence of monetary policy’s independence from the whims and exigencies of executive power. Yet Dr Bernanke’s fellow academic economists have been unanimous in advising caution, patience and more information and reflection upon the facts. The famous letter of 122 economists to the US Congress was a rare statement of sense and practical wisdom. It agreed the situation was difficult and needed bold action. But it said the Paulson-Bernanke plan was an unfair “subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.”

Besides, the plan was unclear and too far-reaching. “Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards…. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.”

The House’s initial bipartisan “backbench revolt” against “The Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act of 2008” (ESSA) followed this academic argument and rejected the Bernanke Fed’s advice. Is there an “emergency”, and if so what is its precise nature? Is this “economic stabilisation”, and if so, how is it going to work? The onus has been on Dr Bernanke and his staff to argue both, not merely to assert them. Even if the House “held its nose” and passed the measure for now, the American electorate is angry and it is anybody’s guess how a new President and Congress will alter all this in a few months.

Several academic economists have argued for specific price-stabilisation of the housing market being the keystone of any large, expensive and risky government intervention. (John McCain has also placed this in the political discussion now.) Roughly speaking, the housing supply-curve has shifted so far to the right that collapsed housing prices need to be dragged back upward by force. Columbia Business School economists Glenn Hubbard and Chris Mayer, both former Bush Administration officials, have proposed allowing “all residential mortgages on primary residences to be refinanced into 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 5.25 per cent…. close to where mortgage rates would be today with normally functioning mortgage markets….Lower interest rates will mean higher overall house prices…” Yale’s Jonathan Koppell and William Goetzmann have argued very similarly the Treasury “could offer to refinance all mortgages issued in the past five years with a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage at 6 per cent. No credit scores, no questions asked; just pay off the principal of the existing mortgage with a government check. If monthly payments are still too high, homeowners could reduce their indebtedness in exchange for a share of the future price appreciation of the house. That is, the government would take an ownership interest in the house just as it would take an ownership interest in the financial institutions that would be bailed out under the Treasury’s plan.”

Beyond the short run, the US may play the demographic card by inviting in a few million new immigrants (if nativist feelings hostile to the outsider or newcomer can be controlled, especially in employment). Bad mortgages and foreclosures would vanish as people from around the world who long to live in America buy up all those empty houses and apartments, even in the most desolate or dismal locations. If the US’s housing supply curve has moved so far to the right that the equilibrium price has gone to near zero, the surest way to raise the equilibrium price would be by causing a new wave of immigration leading to a new demand curve arising at a higher level.

Such proposals seek to address the problem at its source. They might have been expected from the Fed’s economists. Instead, ESSA speaks of massive government purchase and control of bad assets “downriver”, without any attempt to face the problem at its source. This makes it merely wishful to think such assets can be sold for a profit at a later date so taxpayers will eventually gain. It is as likely as not the bad assets remain bad assets.

Indeed the University of Chicago’s Casey Mulligan has argued there is a financial crisis involving the banking sector but not an economic one: “We’re not entering a second Great Depression.” The marginal product of capital remains high and increasing “far above the historical average. The third-quarter earnings reports from some companies already suggest that America’s non-financial companies are still making plenty of money…. So, if you are not employed by the financial industry (94 per cent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent is not alarming, and we should reconsider whether it is worth it to spend $700 billion to bring it down to 5.9 per cent.”

Dr Bernanke has been a close student of A Monetary History of the United States in which Milton Friedman and Anna J Schwartz argued that the Fed inadvertently worsened the Great Contraction of 1929-1933 by not responding to Congress. Let not future historians find that the Fed, at the behest of the Treasury Secretary, worsened the Great Tremor of 2008 by bamboozling Congress into hasty action.

Milton Friedman: A Man of Reason, 1912-2006

A Man of Reason


Milton Friedman (1912-2006)

 

First published in The Statesman, Perspective Page Nov 22 2006

 

Milton Friedman, who died on 16 November 2006 in San Francisco, was without a doubt the greatest economist after John Maynard Keynes. Before Keynes, great 20th century economists included Alfred Marshall and Knut Wicksell, while Keynes’s contemporaries included Irving Fisher, AC Pigou and many others. Keynes was followed by his younger critic FA Hayek, but Hayek is remembered less for his technical economics as for his criticism of “socialist economics” and contributions to politics. Milton Friedman more than anyone else was Keynes’s successor in economics (and in applied macroeconomics in particular), in the same way David Ricardo had been the successor of Adam Smith. Ricardo disagreed with Smith and Friedman disagreed with Keynes, but the impact of each on the direction and course both of economics and of the world in which they lived was similar in size and scope.

 

Friedman’s impact on the contemporary world may have been largest through his design and advocacy as early as 1953 of the system of floating exchange-rates. In the early 1970s, when the Bretton Woods system of adjustable fixed exchange-rates collapsed and Friedman’s friend and colleague George P. Shultz was US Treasury Secretary in the Nixon Administration, the international monetary system started to become of the kind Friedman had described two decades earlier. Equally large was Friedman’s worldwide impact in re-establishing concern about the frequent cause of macroeconomic inflation being money supply growth rates well above real income growth rates. All contemporary talk of “inflation targeting” among macroeconomic policy-makers since the 1980s has its roots in Friedman’s December 1967 presidential address to the American Economic Association. His main empirical disagreement with Keynes and the Keynesians lay in his belief that people held the intrinsically worthless tokens known as “money” largely in order to expedite their transactions and not as a store of value – hence the “demand for money” was a function mostly of income and not of interest rates, contrary to what Keynes had suggested in his 1930s analysis of “Depression Economics”. It is in this sense that Friedman restored the traditional “quantity theory” as being a specific theory of the demand for money.

 

Friedman’s main descriptive work lay in the monumental Monetary History of the United States he co-authored with Anna J. Schwartz, which suggested drastic contractions of the money supply had contributed to the Great Depression in America. Friedman made innumerable smaller contributions too, the most prominent and foresighted of which had to do with advocating larger parental choice in the public finance of their children’s school education via the use of “vouchers”. The modern Friedman Foundation has that as its main focus of philanthropy. The emphasis on greater individual choice in school education exemplified Friedman’s commitments both to individual freedom and the notion of investment in human capital.

 

Friedman had significant influences upon several non-Western countries too, most prominently India and China, besides a grossly misreported episode in Chile. As described in his autobiography with his wife Rose, Two Lucky People (Chicago 1998), Friedman spent six months in India in 1955 at the Government of India’s invitation during the formulation of the Second Five Year Plan. His work done for the Government of India came to be suppressed for the next 34 years. Peter Bauer had told me during my doctoral work at Cambridge in the late 1970s of the existence of a Friedman memorandum, and N. Georgescu-Roegen told me the same in America in 1980, adding that Friedman had been almost insulted publicly by VKRV Rao at the time after giving a lecture to students on his analysis of India’s problems.

 

When Friedman and I met in 1984, I asked him for the memorandum and he sent me two documents. The main one dated November 1955 I published in Hawaii on 21 May 1989 during a project on a proposed Indian “perestroika” (which contributed to the origins of the 1991 reform through Rajiv Gandhi), and was later published in Delhi in Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by myself and WE James.

 

The other document on Mahalanobis is published in The Statesman today for the first time, though there has been an Internet copy floating around for a few years. The Friedmans’ autobiography quoted what I said in 1989 about the 1955 memorandum and may be repeated: “The aims of economic policy (in India) were to create conditions for rapid increase in levels of income and consumption for the mass of the people, and these aims were shared by everyone from PC Mahalanobis to Milton Friedman. The means recommended were different. Mahalanobis advocated a leading role for the state and an emphasis on the growth of physical capital. Friedman advocated a necessary but clearly limited role for the state, and placed on the agenda large-scale investment in the stock of human capital, encouragement of domestic competition, steady and predictable monetary growth, and a flexible exchange rate for the rupee as a convertible hard currency, which would have entailed also an open competitive position in the world economy… If such an alternative had been more thoroughly discussed at the time, the optimal role of the state in India today, as well as the optimum complementarity between human capital and physical capital, may have been more easily determined.”

 

A few months before attending my Hawaii conference on India, Friedman had been in China, and his memorandum to Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and two-hour dialogue of 19 September 1988 with him are now classics republished in the 1998 autobiography. Also republished there are all documents relating to Friedman’s six-day academic visit to Chile in March 1975 and his correspondence with General Pinochet, which speak for themselves and make clear Friedman had nothing to do with that regime other than offer his opinion when asked about how to reduce Chile’s hyperinflation at the time.

 

My association with Milton has been the zenith of my engagement with academic economics, with e-mails exchanged as recently as September. I was a doctoral student of his bitter enemy yet for over two decades he not only treated me with unfailing courtesy and affection, he supported me in lonely righteous battles: doing for me what he said he had never done before, which was to stand as an expert witness in a United States Federal Court. I will miss him much though I know that he, as a man of reason, would not have wished me to.

Subroto Roy

Theodore W. Schultz 1902-1998

I was graced with the selfless friendship of this great American from 1983 onwards. We met last at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1992 when I flew from Washington DC to see him. He was without a doubt among the most decent, honourable and scholarly of all economists in the 20th Century.

Theodore W. Schultz’s defence of *Philosophy of Economics*

Not only did he write this, he later deposed on my behalf as an expert witness in a US federal court.