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Zombies on Econtalk

November 2nd, 2010

I’ve done a podcast discussion with Russ Roberts for EconTalk. There’s also a transcript of the highlights, great for people who lack the time/ to listen to a long podcast.

Although we are pretty much at opposite ends of the spectrum as conventionally viewed (Roberts is a George Mason prof and Chicago PhD and EconTalk is published at the EconLib site) we found quite a few areas of agreement, and had a constructive discussion on the points of disagreement.[1] That’s partly because Russ is a good host, but also because, as Matt Yglesias noted in a tweet not so long ago, my critique of ideas like the EMH is very similar to that of Austrian-inclined critics like Amar Bhide[2]. I plan to have more to say about this.

fn1. I also got a review from Arnold Kling on the same site, which began “I agree with some of it, which might be considered a rave review.”
fn2. I’ve retweeted this, but I don’t know how to hyperlink to it

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  1. BilB
    November 2nd, 2010 at 07:26 | #1

    Here is a loosely connected thought. Perhaps Zombie thinking keeps re-emerging because there is nothing new to take its place. Western thinking is locked in peserving an ideal which does not work.

    Last night I caught the tail end of a US steel man lamenting the dilema that the west faces competing with Chinese captialism. He pointed out that there is one hour of human time involved in the production of each tonne of steel. So that is $35 in the $1000, and it costs (guessing) $60 per tonne to ship steel from China to the US. So labour is not the issue for the competitiveness of steel imports into the US. The problem is that the Chinese operate under different rules, different thinking.

    Our economics systems do not have an answer for this. Nor do they have a solution for externalised environmental costs. Our economic model has so many holes in it around the water line that if it were a ship it would sink every time the economic seas got a little choppy. And not surprisingly that is just exactly what it periodically does. So when you consider that we have not one but two perfect economic storms heading our way, climate change and peak oil, any good economic captain should be heading back to dry dock for an economic refit.

    Doesn’t seem to be happening.

    Zombies are an expression of the problem, what is the solution?

  2. Greg
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:03 | #2

    Bilb #1 > Perhaps Zombie thinking keeps re-emerging because there is nothing new to take its place.

    Taking what you are saying in a different direction, Herbert Gintis excoriates economists for continuing to teach undergraduates the economic equivalents of the ‘phlogiston’ theory of chemistry and the ‘influence of vapours’ theory of disease. To borrow from Terry Pratchett, graduate economics almost exactly doesn’t match what is taught to undergraduates. Why force the majority of students to learn theories and methods we know are wrong — misleadingly wrong?

    Gintis also excoriates post-WWII social science researchers in general for seeking to build names for themselves rather than build a body of knowledge. Students are taught the carefully-branded thoughts of a collection of Great Names, rather than being exposed to a carefully built up coherent body of knowledge which could be taught entirely without reference to names.

    With academics doing these things, the lay-person (rightly) gets the idea that there is no progress in the science, and therefore feels free to choose what to believe.

    The solution is radical (in the sense of “root and branch”) reform in the undergraduate curriculum, and for introducing a new theoretical “brand name” to be a firing offence among researchers.

  3. Kizzy
    November 2nd, 2010 at 15:39 | #3

    Congratulations on possibly being the first person ever to get Russ Roberts to agree that some regulation is good. I really enjoyed the podcast and was pleased that Russ finally invited on a guest with opposing views so listeners were able to hear a balanced conversation.

  4. paul walter
    November 2nd, 2010 at 18:30 | #4

    Prof.Quiggin, are you going to put up a thread with your responses to Kling’s comments?

  5. Dave
    November 2nd, 2010 at 19:31 | #5

    Great podcast.

    You and Russ are my favourite commentators from either end of the spectrum and it was good to hear you both respectfully and I think constructively discuss your varying point of views, and it seems, find some common ground.

    Have you ever though about doing a similar podcast from an Australian Social Democrat perspective? Would be a great balance to the Econtalk podcast I listen to every week.

  6. robert (not from UK)
    November 3rd, 2010 at 19:28 | #6

    An interesting podcast, readily intelligible even to non-experts like myself. This marks the first occasion, incidentally, on which I have ever heard Professor Quiggin’s speaking voice. Somehow I had previously assumed that it would sound more “professorial” – and less identifiably Australian – than in fact it does!

  7. Robert from UK
    November 3rd, 2010 at 21:35 | #7

    Here is Yglesias’s longform discussion (not quite a review) of the book, for those interested:
    http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2010/11/zombie-economics/

  8. November 3rd, 2010 at 23:13 | #8

    Shorter Strocchi on Obama: I was wrong on both his policies and politics.

    In policy: I predicted Obama would follow janitorial Centrist policies. In fact he made fair progress towards Leftist transformational policies, especially in health care and financial regulation.

    In politics: I predicted Obama would suffer negligible political losses in the congressional mid-terms. In fact the Obama-DEMs suffered severe losses well in excess of what would be predicted for a first up re-election test.

    The glib explanation is that Obama was too Left-wing. I don’t buy that, he mostly did what he had to do to make things right.

    But the deeper explanation is that the US is too Right-wing. In some sense the US citizens don’t know whats good for them.

  9. Chris Warren
    November 4th, 2010 at 08:49 | #9

    I don’t know whether it is due to ANU training or not, but surely it must take a lot of hidden agenda or First World complacency, to manage to discuss the ins and outs of the 07-08 economic crisis, without once considering the nature of capitalism.

    Actually most OECD economists adopt this behaviour. They will point to exploding macroeconomic instabilities (different type for different decades) but without looking at the underlying political economy.

    Apparently, according to the discussants, its OK to have poor people in a bottom quintile, because the bottom quintile is rising :!: . The adverse trends in GINI coefficient did not get a mention :?: .

  10. Uncle Milton
    November 4th, 2010 at 19:09 | #10

    The zombies are multiplying! A book called “Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance”
    Lisa Desjardins, is going to be published in May 2011.

  11. Alice
    November 5th, 2010 at 19:17 | #11

    @Chris Warren
    The more I read you Chris Warren – the more I see you are on the right track. So was Marx. Perhaps even more prescient than Keynes, and after all…what good is an economist who isnt prescient?

  12. Alice
    November 5th, 2010 at 19:21 | #12

    @Chris Warren
    But Chris – I have to tell you from close observation – you cannot trust the Gini co-efficient. Its onje of economics most meaningless measures. There are better ways to measure inequality. The Gin co-efficient tells blatant lies. Dont ask me to explain – just get better measures. The Gini also is sex discrimnatory (dont even ask me why…..!) It cant measure women like it measures men – therefore its pretty banal as a measure all round.

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