淺談凱恩斯

February 11, 2009

凱恩斯是馬歇爾的弟子,父親也是著名學者。筆者一直感覺出自精英背景的凱恩斯對群眾智慧存在保留,支持靠著社會上的頂尖人物(例如他本人)對群眾行為加以引導。他在股票市場的投資經歷,或許加深其對個人理性的質疑。凱恩斯主張以政府力量調控經濟,偏離了新古典學派認為市場可以自然調節的觀念。以影響力而言,凱恩斯的「通論」可以被拿來與史密斯的「國富論」、馬克斯的「資本論」及馬歇爾的「經濟學原理」三大巨著相提並論。

 凱氏認大蕭條原因在於工資下調欠缺靈活、流動性不靈及需求不足,建議由政府擴大公共支出來帶頭推動經濟,更認為乘數效應(multiplier effect)會令政府的調控能力事半功倍。即使在一般情況,由於私人投資的力度時有波動,凱氏覺得政府依然要積極參予投資以確保社會總投資額穩定。凱氏卒於一九四六年,但其追隨者(Keynesian)繼續主張政府積極調控經濟,而凱恩斯思想遂從三十年代至六十年代主導了不少國家的經濟政策。這種偏離了依靠個人判斷的「大政府」理念終於在七十年代碰壁政府能夠帶動增長兼確保經濟暢順運行的神話,在「滯脹」(stagflation)發生後為之破滅。   菲立曲線(Philips curve)所呈現的關係曾經被認為是支持凱恩斯學派的最佳鐵證,但後來卻被佛利民及菲爾普斯挑戰而崩潰。期後凱恩斯學派改進了菲立曲線,將對通脹的定義收窄為未被預期的通脹(Phillips curve is the relationship between unanticipated inflation and non-structural unemployment),修正了對通脹與失業關係的釋。

凱恩斯提倡以政府力量抵抗大蕭條,在工資頑固、銀業受創及外貿萎縮的困境下可以帶來一定刺激,尤其在公眾信心方面。可惜凱氏把應急的理念看成普遍的經濟原則(通論;General Theory),高估了政府直接參予發展及判斷投資成效的能力(亞當史密斯早在國富論中說過「每一個人處於自己的位置,顯然能夠作出比政治家和立法者更好的判斷」),又忽視乘數效應的果效會被排擠效應(crowding out effect)所抵消畢境羊毛還是出於羊身上,所有公共開支其實源於納稅人—政客、官員並沒有向社會注入額外財富。換而言之,政府花的一分一毫來自國民口袋或以債渡日(亦即先洗納稅人的未來錢),並非真正創造財富!經濟成長始終有賴一系列「正和」(net sum)政策。

比較起一眾新古典經濟學者,凱恩斯更能明白心理及交易費用的重要性。前者最終在卡納曼手中備受正視(卡氏於2002年獲諾貝爾獎)。至於交易費用,高斯、艾智仁、德姆塞茨、張五常及巴賽爾等學者(新制度經濟學)讓我們知悉良好的制度安排可以改善市場效率是以市場運作不理想可以靠賴改革制度而非必須擴大政府直接投資。

最後要指出,儘管凱恩斯學派對通脹比較容忍,凱氏本人深明通脹之害!

 

 

 

 


Why China’s deflation back in the late 1990s was not damaging

February 9, 2009

Professor Cheung criticized macroeconomics heavily.  One example is the failure to identify the relationship between deflation and economic downturn (including the rise of unemployment).  According to Cheung, China showed that a country free of labor restrictions can survive deflation without losing jobs.

 我认为那只是其中一个原因,不是主要的。美国当时已有反托拉斯法,有福利经济,有最低工资,而工会早就林立了。有了这些,阻碍了雇用合约的自由选择。局限有别,通缩对经济的杀伤力激增,在这情况下,增加货币量,搞起一点通胀,对失业是有帮助的。但如果美国当年不搞三搞四,因币量不足而引起的通缩是不会导致大萧条的。这方面,中国九十年代后期是重要的例证。当时官方的通缩率百分之三,考虑到产品质量同期急升,这通缩率会在百分之十以上,而楼价则下降了七成!失业率怎样呢?基本上不变,更重要的是经济继续急升。这是因为北京当时没有推出福利经济,少管最低工资,雇用合约的选择一律自由。http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_47841af701000a8d.html

A recent article written by David Beckworth offered another explanation.  To him, aggregate supply-driven deflation (i.e. price level is driven down out of increase of productivity) should not be taken as the same as the one driven by declining aggregate demand.  The former one, which I assumed as the one China experienced back in the late 90s, is a ‘healthy’ one.

http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj28n3/cj28n3-1.pdf

Both explanations may be true.  I would add one more point: Chinese consumption model was less dependent on credit, thus allowed them to ‘immune’ to increasing debt burden.  Related to this perspective, Fisher’s ‘The Debt-Deflation Theory of Great Depression’ is a insightful one to read.

http://fraser.stlouisfed.org/docs/meltzer/fisdeb33.pdf


Panda Economics – Lessons from 看熊猫 & 红烧熊猫

February 7, 2009

First off all ladies and gentlemen, this is a post about Panda Economics after reading the interesting “本博客管理员新春日记” and NOT an entry about Prada Economics (see entry here). Now, I hope you will have as much fun in reading it as I had in writing it. now, I have two panda economics observations.

First panda economics observation,

电视播放到一则新闻,是台湾人春节期间去动物园看熊猫,抱怨时间太短的事。教授看了一眼,道:“真是蠢到死。为什么不分开两个时段,一个时段收价三千台币,可看半个小时,并供应座位、茶水;一个时段免费开放,排队轮候,随他们去打架争抢?”

My comment here is that while extreme solution like this may solve the superficial problem of visiting time of panda but solutions like this may “hurt” the societal sense of “fairness” or “fair play”. While the allocation of resources may be best and most determined by people’s willingness to pay with money, I submit that impossible to measure sense of “fairness to all” may be equally or more important in a society. And Canada is, I believe and hope, one of the society that respect and have an innate sense of fairness and equality embedded in our beings (and legally our section 15 equality rights). Incidentally, in 2005, I had the pleasure to attend a lecture by leading Canadian constitutional expert Prof. Peter Hogg at U of Calgary. Prof. Hogg gave an engaging and insightful lecture about section 15 of the Charter. (If you are interested here are two articles written in this issue of U of A Faculty of Law Students’ Newspaper (PDF file).)

Anyway, Canadians’ universal health care coverage is the envy of many people of the world, including many Americans with insufficient or no health insurance coverage wish they were Canadians. Now, before you imagine I think the Canadian system is without flaws, I would like to point out I know we have problems. But then I will tell you to go ask those Americans that have insufficient or no health care coverage would they rather have theirs or our system? (smile)

In a very short handed way to touch upon the Canadian paradox, I want to say I enjoy the subversive humour in The Barbarian Invasions by Canadian director Denys Arcand. In the film, while the Remy is determined to fight his terminal cancer in a Canadian hospital (well, darn it, he paid taxes for years for medicare and he wants to use it), but the over crowding hospital rooms and hallways are horrible, so his option-trading rich-and-handsome American-citizen son proceeds to bribe, negotiate, pull strings to get his father the biggest room, best services, and prompt access to state of the art medical equipment (in the US) that he wants his father to have. (Yes, Arcand is subversive. And this is our we show we love our health care system! (smile))

So in short, I know some of the problems in the Canadian medical systems but I won’t trade it for anywhere else’s health care system and definitely not the HMOs in US. Plus, ah, I enjoy fairness. I enjoy the fact that former Prime Minister of Canada got the same access as every other Canadians do, no queue jumping, purely depending on equal access and our medical urgency on a case by case basis.

Now, second panda observation,

我们大笑之下,教授继续发挥:“有一次去四川,他们说这里有很多很多熊猫。我问:‘很多是多少?’他们说:‘多得不得了。’我再问:‘你们这里有红烧熊猫这道菜吗?’他们说没有。这就证明其实不多嘛。”

Now, from the creative fire of “你们这里有红烧熊猫这道菜吗?’”and pushing the idea one step further, I will change the question to “红烧熊猫这道菜多少錢一碟?”

The officials won’t have the answer to this one but some “bad” people may. You see, there are people in the world that will take the legal risk to eat endangered species (animals or plants). Correct me if I am wrong, but I remembering the new year’s favourite “髮菜” is an endangered dessert plant, so the harvesting of it has now been banned. But you see, there are still people selling and buying them for a price.

So the question of “红烧熊猫这道菜多少錢一碟?” has embedded in it the signal of the people’s willingness to take risk and be caught (and probably be executed) to make money. Blood money indeed. You see, for some years, the trading of tusk (象牙) has been banned by countries around the world via a UN convention (I think) but the harvesting and trading for the illegal tusks continued for some years with a price premium (I think).

As Steven had taught me through his articles, I see ‘你们这里有红烧熊猫这道菜吗?’ as a yes/no question. Whereas “红烧熊猫这道菜多少錢一碟?” is a question that has the additional details and hidden signal that a “price” is bringing me.


Sight & Sound: Armen A. Alchian

February 6, 2009

Professor Armen A. Alchian is professor Cheung’s teacher and I’ve read many stories about Armen. So it was my great pleasure when I finally found this insightful hour-long audio interview of Alchian, “The Intellectual Portrait Series: A Conversation with Armen A. Alchian (2000)” at The Online Library of Liberty in 2008.

Enjoy.


Sight & Sound: Milton Friedman

February 6, 2009

Professor Cheung has discussed and referenced Milton Friedman many times and I first got exposed to Milton’s work through Steven. Here are some sights and sounds from Milton.

Here is Milton in his famous and popular Free to Choose TV series (1980 & 1990). Call me old school, I love the original 1980 series (10 hours in total) much much more because it was less “produced” and more spontaneous/heated in the debate, plus there were a total of 10 episodes in 1980 and only 5 in 1990. Hong Kong got an honourable mention in episode 1 where Milton was in Hong Kong to shoot the series.

Enjoy.

P.S. You will see Arnie introducing the 1990 series. (smile)

P.P.S. It has not escaped my attention that this series is available online for free for all to watch. A good example of “Free Lunch”? (smile)


Sight & Sound: Ronald Coase

February 6, 2009

Over the years, I have been exposed to some really interesting and insightful economists by the columns of professor Cheung. And as one math professor taught me well, I’ve always try to learn directly from the masters themselves. So here are some sights and sounds from these masters starting with professor Ronald Coase.

Here is prof. Coase’s 2003 Coase Centennial Speech (500MB QuickTime file, recommend downloading it before you watch it) from Ronald Coase Institute’s online material section. I now can say I have watched or listened to the video more than five times now, and I am sure I will still learning from it when I watch it again.

Enjoy.


Father and Son – 想像力的培养 – On Creativity

February 5, 2009

I am very touched by Professor’s lovely and touching post “想像力的培养“.

To me the post is about,

  • the love between a father and son,
  • his journey in finding creativity,
  • and ultimately an attempt to impart his views on creativity to his son and the sons and daughters of China.

While it is probably presumptuous for me to share my views on creativity, I am blessed with the firm belief that my lack of knowledge on something should not be a reason to stop me from writing about it. I know I am an idiot sometimes and I am proud of it. (big smile)

Anyways, I love to read a lot. And a lot of useless stuff. Magazines, books, biographies, and fictions. I started a love affair with libraries because of the free books & magazines (yes, Seventeen was one of my fav) I could browse and borrow plus the wonderful air conditioning in a hot Hong Kong! I also picked up some of my English speaking and listening skills from watching a few fun but completely pointless and silly TV shows. And, I seem to not mind making a fool out of myself which has helped me a lot in learning English when I first came to Canada for my last year of high school.

Keeping this post to a reasonable length, I want to mention just one more story.

In 2001, I discovered prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s (a former head of U of Chicago Department of Psychology) wonderful book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” by random “chance”. (ah, one of the benefit of reading loads of random stuff.) And I also had a great time listening to his audio-book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” read by Csikszentmihalyi himself. A few things that prof. Cheung wrote about him experiencing reminded me of what the state of “Flow” is all about,

Finally, allow me to end this post with the music video of the song “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens. I picked up this song from Kevin Roberts‘ whose ideas (through his articles, interviews, books, etc) I’ve tried to learn from for over 10 years now. (Kevin is the CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi.)

P.S. I think prof. Cheung may have been too harsh on himself re the way he had taught his son. For me, I will ask if Ronald is happy himself. He has to walk his own path and be his own man. I am sure Ronald is creative in his own way that prof. Chueng is not aware of.

P.P.S. While I said random “chance”, I also believe chances favoured the prepared minds. When you have worked hard and are prepared, sometime “lucky” things seem to happen. 🙂 Well, thats what I hope and use as an excuse to pile on learning about “useless” stuff and reading about “useless” things. This is a gamble. But what else in life isn’t? (big smile)