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I am a staunch free-trader with strong but pragmatic libertarian leanings. I am also an immigrant (of “color” in the prevailing euphemism). All this makes me seriously conflicted about immigration, which I cannot reduce to a matter of high libertarian principle.

The questions are difficult:how many immigrants can our public infrastructure tolerably accommodate? How do we prevent criminal contamination of refugee inflows? How freely do we admit immigrants whose backgrounds cannot be reliably checked or from countries which celebrate honor killings and punish homosexuals and blasphemers? How do we treat those caught trying to beat the rules? How about their children?

Unfortunately, immigration demands more pragmatic tough mindedness than trade as my oped argues. Timidity or tender-heartedness will simply allow authoritarians and demagogues to more harshly exclude or expel immigrants.

Why Is Immigration Different from Trade?

Jan 11, 2019 Amar Bhidé

There is no doubt that immigration brings a host of benefits, both to immigrants themselves and to the native-born population. But if broadly beneficial immigration is to be sustained, destination countries must acknowledge and address the real risks that it raises.

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Talking heads on “financial” TV channels have always provided “infotainment” — information so blended with entertainment that you couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other started.  One rated the Fed Chair’s “performance” at his press conference on the Fed decision to hike rates an “F”.
But why should the Fed and its chairs have to “perform” for the market or soothe its tantrums, my just published oped argues.

WSJ OPINION   |   December 26, 2018  p. A21

Stock-Market Volatility Can Be Good for the Economy

Cheap, abundant capital doesn’t create good ideas. Scarce, expensive capital helps weed out bad ones.

Amar Bhidé

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The WSJ op-ed reflects my ingrained First Amendment-absolutism: fake news will always be with us and any remedy is likely to make things worse.

(Yes, I did recently suggest corralling infopolists’ assaults on privacy. But, our Constitution protects the exercise of free speech not of market power — even if the power was “fairly” secured. Moreover, as Emerson said, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.)

Skepticism Beats Snopes as an Antidote to Fake News

These days what’s called ‘fact checking’ is no more than a comprehensive gotcha effort

Sophisticated netizens swear by the myth-busting of Snopes, a website that has debunked many an urban legend. But Snopes—or any other enterprise established only to check facts—can’t stop the epidemic of fake news allegedly pervading social and traditional media.

When customer reviews of sellers first appeared on eBay , scholars quickly lauded—and backed with rigorous, fact-based research—the benefits of independent evaluation. But it didn’t take long for scammers to produce fake reviews. Sellers learned to pay not-so-independent reviewers to post glowing evaluations of their products and viciously bad-mouth the competition.

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I am viscerally skeptical about expanding state power but recognize that technological advances do often require new rules: Automobiles required brake inspections and traffic police for instance.

Similarly, I argue in this just published Project Syndicate oped,  the digital economy poses new risks and requires new rules. The info-monopolists are not your great grandfather’s oil trusts. Market power can deprive us of more than the loss of the “little triangles” of consumer surplus as I think Zvi Griliches used to put it.

 

Opening of the new Google data center in Eemshaven

The question of how to encourage innovation while limiting the abuse of market power long precedes the advent of the digital age. And today, the need to strike the right balance is nowhere more apparent than in the case of dominant information-technology companies like Facebook and Google.
In a modern capitalist economy, we celebrate innovations that produce market power, but fear the risks of unchecked dominance. Nowhere are those risks more apparent than with today’s information-technology monopolies. (more…)

This article in many ways, is the “debt” counterpart to my 1993 Journal of Financial Economics piece and offers an even broader critique of the reflexive belief that more complete financial markets are always better.

I conclude thus:

Lemon problems do not stop the sale of well over a million used cars in the U.S. each year, but they do prevent the operation of a market in which buyers place sight-unseen bids for used cars offered by unknown sellers. In fact, anonymous markets for physical goods are restricted mainly to metals or agricultural commodities. Most goods—including new or secondhand cars, shoes and homes—are purchased from identifiable sellers.
Buyers also prefer to examine specific items—test-driving cars or trying on shoes, for instance—before they make a purchase.

Outside finance, revolutionary technological advances have not turned many goods or services into anonymously traded commodities. Rather, the advances have reduced the cost of communicating and using detailed information, mitigating information asymmetries, and helping buyers select items that match their preferences. And technology has reduced anonymity: in contrast to the street-hailing of taxis, users of ride-hailing apps can screen drivers based on their ratings. Similarly, consumers can review the ratings of plumbers on the web instead of randomly picking one from the telephone directory.

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(Manifesto-like) Syllabus

This seminar examines the development of knowledge embodied in artifacts (including physical objects, protocols, and organizations) intended to transform “existing conditions into preferred ones.”We are particularly interested in knowledge “inclusively” produced by the many and for the many. Thus, we care more about how ready-to-wear footwear is designed, produced, and sold, than in customizing handcrafted boots for buyers who don’t think about the price. Likewise, general tools and techniques commonly used to produce a variety of artifacts are of greater interest than specialized tools. Thus, we are interested in how consumer goods, not just shoes, are designed, produced, and marketed.

By traditional intellectual standards, studying practical knowledge may seem undignified and uninspiring. The ancient Greeks venerated contemplation, music and the other arts, abstract truths, and mathematical reasoning. Merchants and craftsmen (including, presumably, builders of large hollow horses) occupied the bottom rung of Plato’s idealized society; their knowledge and toil was but a means towards the realization of the good life by a small enlightened class. Modern society has raised science into the pantheon of the wisdom we venerate. Engineers, physicians, lawyers, entrepreneurs, managers, and accountants earn high incomes; but, many dismiss their knowledge as a mere application of deeper scientific ideas or simply unfounded superstition. Similarly, in higher education: the first European universities started by offering practical medical and legal training and the University of Pennsylvania emerged from Benjamin Franklin’s 1749 proposal for an Academy to teach “those Things that are likely to be most useful.” But now, some in the upper reaches of the Academy deride professional education as verging on the teaching of trades that must be kept in its subordinate place.

 

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Fair-lending laws turned consumers into anonymous credit scores—and a target for identity thieves.

In a longer working paper I further argue that reducing individuals to scores has also undergirded the vast growth of anonymous markets in securitized consumer and mortgage loans.

Photo: David Goldman/Associated Press

My working paper just posted on SSRN synthesizes ideas Ive been working on for my practical knowledge seminar, a case writing project on medical innovation and a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance.

I argue that economics lacks an “engineering” counterpart to its “physics” side. That’s fine as long as you don’t rely just on the “science” of economics to make practical choices. But wouldn’t we be better off with an engineering side? (I grant social engineering is a scary phrase!)

Abstract:
Keynes thought it would be “splendid” if economists became more like dentists. They have instead become more like physical scientists who focus on propositions about invariant tendencies amenable to decisive verification. This predisposition, I argue, limits the utility of economics in evaluating concrete policy choices. I further suggest that emulating the more pluralistic and less decisive techniques used to develop and test new engineering and medical technologies would mitigate these limitations. Additionally, I offer an example of how a simulation model can help evaluate policies that affect the extension of credit.

My article, just accepted by Ekonomisk Debatt, will be published after translation by the Swedish Economics Association in May.

The argument is half-Hayekian in the sense it argues for an important role for the decentralized, private sector creation of the medium of exchange, which Hayek presumably would have approved of, but anchored in a government monopoly for creating base money that Hayek did not favor, but which dates back to antiquity.

Abstract:

The decentralized enterprise that sustains the dynamism of economies makes top-down monetary interventions, such as quantitative easing, that target aggregates such as overall inflation, futile. Moreover, economic stability and dynamism also require prudent, decentralized lending to decentralized borrowers. But, sustained monetary interventions aimed at aggregate inflation (or employment) targets induce imprudent credit extension, jeopardizing stability and dynamism.

 

https://ssrn.com/abstract=2924514

Amar Bhidé

Financial Times  August 16, 2016

Easy money is a dangerous cure for a debt hangover

Amar Bhidé and Anders Barsk

Quartz June 21, 2016

Brexiters are making a dangerous mistake in their argument for leaving the EU


From Quartz  January 7, 2015

When it comes to ISIL Europe is repeating the sins of its fathers

political posters

Widespread private and public cheating in Greece is old hat. Michael Lewis documented it splendidly in Vanity Fair in 2010.

What’s “novel” in this just published piece (tho Ive made it a few times before) is that the Euro doesn’t need or can’t have “convergence” of standards of living or in the quality of governance.  Rather the common currency needs rules and structures that *minimize* the supporting standardization and regimentation.

 “Standardize and centralize only when necessary” is a staple of modern management.  And figuring out what and how to centralize (establishing “loose tight controls as Peters and Waterman put it) are an important part of a CEOs job. (more…)

A civil libertarian and free-speech absolutist’s concern about the Charlie Hedbo demonstrations

By Amar Bhidé

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2015/01/restraint_is_called_for053846.php

Mass demonstrations of solidarity in favor of free speech and against the Charlie Hebdo killings are understandable, but they could inadvertently give cover to actions that subvert the very liberties the protesters cherish. Legitimate public outrage should not be channeled into declaring or escalating wars on Islamic (or any other kind of) terror. Democracies should coolly rely on existing tools and procedures against criminal conspiracies.

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Talk at Cato conference on the future of US growth

While preparing for for my practical knowledge seminar last week I saw something in Chandler that had been hiding in plain sight, which I think aligns Chandler with Frank Knight — and away from the transaction cost view of organizations advanced by two Nobel Laureates Ron Coase and Oliver Williamson. (Chandler felt strongly that Williamson had misapplied his histories).

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Paul Volcker’s critique of 2% inflation targets in his recent memoir spurred me to write this oped just published in the Wall Street Journal. Volcker focuses on the economic hazards of the targets; I question the legitimacy of “independent” appointees in making inherently political choices about ends and not just means. The Constitution envisions a republic messily governed “by the people” not just “for the people” by philosopher-kings in an efficient Kallipolis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My argument (which Volcker may well dispute) echoes the problem raised in Dick Nelson’s 1977 classic, The Moon and the Ghetto, of carelessly throwing policy goals “over the legislative wall” to experts. I plan to expand on this in a book based on my practical knowledge seminar (This become a consuming obsession for me, so Id love to get any thoughts on the seminar’s manifesto-like syllabus).

But here I’d like to add my two bits to the flood of eloquent, well-deserved tributes occasioned by the Volcker memoir.

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