Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Isn't Aggregate Policy A Science?

   (Commentary posted by Roger Erickson)

A very useful review article has been posted at NEP, by Randy Wray, about JF Foster
The Reality of the Present and the Challenge of the Future: Fagg Foster for the 21st Century

Reading the Foster quotes drives home that enough Americans understood aggregate economics ... but never managed to convey their insights to enough Americans to consistently leverage those insights.

One in particular stands, out, a conclusion that is stated differently in system science. Namely, that most people get no practice discerning the difference between current fiat and future options. Foster clearly did, 50 years ago, rather like Beardsly Ruml, Michael Kalecki, Abba Lerner, Marriner Eccles, and a few others, on to the present flowering of the miniature MMT community.

So how many people must understand MMT, before it matters? How many Americans must know what some Americans know - to reinstitute operations allowing political economy?  

If we're lucky, even 50 Key People in Key Positions in Key Institutions can make a dramatic difference, as FDR's Brain Trust did. 

However they obviously couldn't ensure that our electorate could MAINTAIN that level of success. To RETAIN aggregate success, many have estimated that 10% of the electorate must grasp the emerging operations that made success possible.  Today that would mean at least 16 million citizens!

It's ironic that the legions of Keynes' followers & opponents alike largely misunderstood the messages of Lerner, Kalecki, Ruml & Keynes.

Worse, it's doubly ironic that the legions of Americans, in both policy positions, universities & electorate, didn't understand the operational functions that Marriner Eccles & the rest of FDR's Brain Trust introduced ... who themselves DID NOT READ Lerner, Kalecki, Ruml or Keynes, or acted largely before most of their summary articles were published.

Finally, it's triply ironic that pundits throughout the ages were right. Humans - and human aggregates too - often stumble over new truths, then pick themselves up and go on in their old ways - for astoundingly long periods of stagnation - as though nothing new had happened.

Yet does that seem to happen MORE often in disciplines not yet favored with the audacity and openness of a science? Other professions glom onto every new advance like a dog on a bone, using the basic, questioning methods of the "scientific method" - aka, to question EVERYTHING, and answer every operational RESULT relentlessly, with yet more questions.

This sums to a simple but profound question. Why isn't aggregate policy dealt with as a science? 

It's not that difficult for aggregates to determine the best course of aggregate action. We mobilize to do it well, in times of crisis or war, but during peacetime we go right back to purposely maintaining a significant, completely unnecessary Output Gap

Is it only the frictions of politics that makes us treat the operations of functional democracy (always changing, uniquely scale-dependent) as a fearful taboo? Is that what FDR meant when he said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself? We're afraid to play as an aggregate team? We're terrified of the return-on-coordination? 

Maybe we should let sports coaches, choreographers and band-leaders run the country? They'd remind us that there's no "I" in team, and also nothing taboo about teamwork.

1 comment:

Roger Erickson said...

Thanks, James;
That's become an ingrained motor reflex when typing.

Nearly 100% of the time, I have to go back & remove some apostrophes, IF I catch 'em during proofreading.

Why isn't typing a science? (Because to gain tempo, it tends to become a collection of reflex patterns?)

When policy becomes a group reflex, we call it ideology?

To improve group policy, we need to acknowledge the need to slow down at key times, and make fewer, timelier, more SELECTIVE outcome & policy decisions?

Even while letting distributed strategies & tactics accelerate ... through exercise of distributed freedom of action?