Keynes is Back

I am reading Soldiers of Reason, Alex Abellas hagiographic account of  the rise of the RAND Corporation in which he shows how ideas that originated with its mathematicians have by virtue of its proximity to power come to dominate such diverse disciplines as political science, international relations, philosophy, sociology, (even religious studies!) and economics (NB: for more on the subject, don’t miss Adam Curtis’s classic film The Trap). Prominent among them are systems analysis, game theory, and rational choice theory. The latter gave us everything  from the arms race to the recent financial collapse. In his review of Robert Skidelsky’s Keynes: The Return of the Master, the new biography of John Maynard Keynes, Joseph Stiglitz writes:

We should be clear about this: economic theory never provided much support for these free-market views. Theories of imperfect and asymmetric information in markets had undermined every one of the ‘efficient market’ doctrines, even before they became fashionable in the Reagan-Thatcher era. Bruce Greenwald and I had explained that Adam Smith’s hand was not in fact invisible: it wasn’t there. Sanford Grossman and I had explained that if markets were as efficient in transmitting information as the free marketeers claimed, no one would have any incentive to gather and process it. Free marketeers, and the special interests that benefited from their doctrines, paid little attention to these inconvenient truths.

While economists who criticised the ruling free-market paradigm often still employed, as a matter of convenience, simple models of ‘rational’ expectations (that is, they assumed that individuals ‘rationally’ used all the information that they had available), they departed from the ruling paradigm in assuming that different individuals had access to different information. Their aim was to show that the standard paradigm was no longer valid when there was even this seemingly small and obviously reasonable change in assumptions. They showed, for instance, that unfettered markets were not efficient, and could be characterised by persistent unemployment. But if the economy behaves so poorly when such small realistic changes are made to the paradigm, what could we expect if we added further elements of realism, such as bouts of irrational optimism and pessimism, the ‘panics and manias’ that break out repeatedly in markets all over the world?

Joseph Stiglitz on Media Matters with Bob McChesney

Joseph Stiglitz on BookTV, interviewed by Lori Wallach of Public Citizen.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

3 thoughts on “Keynes is Back”

  1. Joe Stiglitz is a great man.
    It’s easy to be wise in retrospect as so many now are. Prof. Stiglitz pointed out the dangers AT THE TIME.

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