Life Among the Econ: Talking history with Axel Leijonhufvud

[Cross posted from the History of Economics Playground – original here]

Like many economists, I have enjoyed Axel Leijonhufvud’sLife among the Econ” and nodded appreciatively when he described the social classifications of the Econ as “Grads, Adults and Elders” and chuckled when the young grad tries to impress the elders of the ‘dept’ through adept ‘modl’ building; so when the man himself was holding a glass of champagne and chatting with me at the INET conference, I had to ask how he got that paper started.

“Ah that, you know, of all the papers I have written that is the one they probably translated into the most languages”. [At this point Till jumped in and said of course we all started with ‘Keynes and the Keynesians’ but I digress].

“You know, that paper came out of me being department head, and after a long day of administrative duties, I found myself writing a paragraph here and there, and putting them all in a drawer by my desk.”  Over time those paragraphs accumulated, but there was further inspiration from Farlay Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf – a study of arctic wolves in their harsh northern climate – and it might have provided more than just the homeland of the Econ, as Mowat later wrote:

When I began ‘Never Cry Wolf’ thirty years ago, I intended to cast the wolf in a rather minor role. My original plan was to write a satire about quite a different beast – the peculiar mutation of the human species known as the Bureacrat, who has become the dictatorial arbiter of all our affairs. I also thought it would be fun to take the mickey out [i.e. make fun] of the new high priests of our times, the Scientists, who now consider themselves the only legitimate interpreters of truth. (Mowat, 1963 2001 paperback edition, Preface p. V)

Mowat’s intention was never published with the original book, but life among the Econ definitely puts it across very nicely for the economists…

Publication is a different story of editorial (mis)fortune. The new editor of the Western Economic Journal, Bob Clower, was in the process of changing the journal to Economic Inquiry and was purging a lot of previously accepted papers which he felt were not good enough for his new standards. Clower was in the rare position of being short for the next issues, and as a close friend of Axel, and sometime co-author, Bob asked Axel for his sociological piece (which Axel “had no plans to try and get into print”). The many paragraphs and loose sheets from the drawer were put together in a “somewhat consistent manner” and if you haven’t yet read it, or it’s been a while, it starts a little something like this:

“The Econ Tribe occupies a vast territory in the far North. Their land appears bleak and dismal to the outsider, and travelling through it makes for rough sledding… More research on this interesting tribe is badly needed… Read on

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Advice to young economists… zzzz

[Cross posted from New School Economic Review – original here]

A new video on the INET webpage promises ‘advice to young economists‘ but it’s not exactly awe-inspiring stuff (despite the star cast of the video). Best of the lot is probable INET director Rob Johnson who (paraphrasing Richard Hamming or Johnny Bunko) says to focus on important problems, because you only have so much time on earth and you should look at the big questions.

Beyond that John Kaye says to look at how people act, not how we think they should act – despite, as he says, the things he has been teaching over the last many years. Joe Stiglitz says to look at solving the problems of the developing world, Ian Goldin wants a toolbox and Anatole Kaletsky says these are exciting times to study economics. So yeah, despite the amount of interesting things these people usually have to say about economics, there’s not a lot to take away here. The cruel twist is perhaps Rob Johnson’s comment that he would give this advice to a ‘rising star in economics today’ … Of course, said rising star would probably not be coming with your radical or different ideas.

I think Deirdre McCloskey’s letter to a graduate student is a better time to spend five minutes, so let me leave you with her closing sentiment:

Please, please, my dear, be brave, and remake our splendid subject, the intelligent student of prudence, by bringing it back to science. I’ll hire you, if I can. And you’ll have a worthwhile life in science.

We are moving the playground – come join us

[Cross Posted from The History of Economics PlaygroundOriginal here]

Some time ago we got an e-mail from the guys at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) asking if we were interested in shifting our playground in their direction?  Well, as of Sunday we have moved our swings and slides to the brand new ineteconomics.org/blog/playground.

New shiny home, same Kids

So what does that mean? First off we intend to continue in the same vein and in keeping content control we think not much is changing… As usual, new young and restless (and good looking) historians will join as others move on, so the only change is if you are using RSS feeds, then you will need to update it. Other than that, it’s the same playground – only shinier.

OK, so it’s a lot shinier. In April – as you’ll know – they agreed to ship us to the INET conference, and our shiny badges means we  get interviews with people who we would not otherwise bump into. We’ve also been given a video editor who is working on the interview films which will be ready soon! Then they asked if we would be interested in covering the history related INET grants and presentations, meaning travel money and hopefully interesting blog posts. Reality is that we’d be reading this stuff anyway, but somehow INET agreed to fund our trips – I fear they missed our reservation price of zero. That said, we may have missed their reservation price too, as part of the deal includes a $25,000 grant to pay for research, travel and other work related to the blog and history, so expect more archival stories and maybe even a comic. All-in-all, we think this is a great opportunity, and if it all goes haywire, we’ll always have this spot.

So on behalf of everyone, I hope you like where we are taking this, and that you’ll join us. I noticed that Pedro and Yann have already started posting over on ineteconomics.org/blog/playground, so please, come over and play.

INET grants for New Schoolers

[Cross posted from the New School Economic ReviewOriginal here]

Rejection is a standard – if frustrating – part of academic life, but with INETs (Institute for New Economic Thinking) Spring 2011 grant money just being announced there is much to celebrate from a New School side of things. From 400 submissions and a selected 23 grants, the New Shool economics faculty picked up one grant and the alums got another. Not too shabby for a global competition!

Prof. Anwar Shaikh’s proposed book on Turbulent Dynamics and Hidden Patterns wants to look at the world from a perspective of ‘magnificent dynamics’… I have to be honest and say that I am not entirely sure what that means, but a quick browse revealed this review article which helps. I hope we won’t lose Anwar for too long as he attempts the full manuscript, for which an outline is provided:

The book’s aim is to demonstrate that a revived form of the “magnificent dynamics” of the classical economists can explain the actual patterns of developed economies involving relative industrial prices, stock prices and interest rates, exchange rates, growth, cycles and inflation. The book develops a classical theoretical approach to these and other fundamental economic issues which it then contrasts to the corresponding theoretical arguments in the neoclassical and Keynesian traditions. It also confronts all theories with the relevant empirical evidence. It is my hope that this will encourage others to analyze the “two-sidedness” of markets: strong patterns achieved through turbulent processes.

Also in the list is one of our recent alumni Ph.D. Students, Stephen Kinsella currently at Limerick University in Ireland where he is collecting a lot of (well deserved) accolades. He wants to build a stock-flow consistent model of Ireland. It looks like an exciting and ambitious project, which I suspect follows on from other work in this area which Steve has been doing and is forthcoming in EEJ among other places (see the stock-flow-consistent model papers here).

No model helped predict or understand why Ireland’s economy has collapsed so spectacularly since 2007. This is because the real and financial sides of the economy aren’t modeled using current tools. Using INET funds, we will build a stock flow consistent model for Ireland to solve this practical problem, as well as a theoretical problem in the estimation of large stock flow consistent models highlighted in the literature. The project is important because previous modeling methods have largely failed, and because small open economies in an era of globalization all over the world face the same challenges as Ireland.

All in all good news, and I hope that we can continue this kind of success going forward. I wonder if any of the grad students submitted a proposal or worked with the faculty on one? It’s good experience and a great opportunity to get a yes.