Robert Skidelsky - Return of the Master

Pouhý rok po začátku krize vyšla kniha Roberta Skidelského, ve které se snaží popsat filosofii Johna Maynarda Keynese, jednoho z nejvýznamějších ekonomů 20. století. Ač jeho myšlenky byly z části opuštěny jak na akademické tak na politické úrovni, krize, Skidelsky míní, vrací jeho přístup zpět do diskuse.

Nečekejte nějaké sáhodlouhé závěry či vlastně jakýkoliv komentář. Jsou to jen uvozené úryvky z knihy, mírně zasazené do kontextu. Závěry si udělejte sami, případně si knížku přečtěte, je dost krátká.

Kniha není žádný životopisem, ostatně ten už Skidelsky napsal, je to jen krátký přehled myšlenkových proudů Keynese a jeho oponentů. Jelikož kniha vyšla v září 2009, nejde o zhodnocení dopadů krize a našeho návratu z ní, je to víceméně přehled ideologie vztahující se k tehdejší situaci.

Skidelsky není váš běžný ekonom, je to především historik, který k ekonomii ale víc než načuchnul. > My first academic study – and love – was history, and though I studied economics later, and was indeed a member of the economics department at the University of Warwick, I am not a professional economist. I would describe myself as an economically literate historian. The advantage I would claim is that of not having been brainwashed to see the world as most economists view it: I have always regarded their assumptions about human behaviour as absurdly narrow. For reasons which will become clearer as the book goes on, I have come to see economics as a fundamentally regressive discipline, its regressive nature disguised by increasingly sophisticated mathematics and statistics.

 Keynes ekonom

Autor je očividně zaujatý. Přijímá myšlenky Keynese a je kritický k opozici a i když se snaží být objektivní, ne vždy to vychází. > It was the wrong ideas of economists which legitimzed the deregulation of finance, and it was the deregulation of finance which led to the credit explosion which collapsed into the credit crunch. It is hard to convey the harm done by the recently dominant school of New Classical economics.

Za hlavní přínos pro mě osobně bylo boření mýtů, které o Keynesovi slýcháme zleva zprava. Hned na začátku knihy Skidelsky stručně popisuje nosné myšlenky Keynese, které nejednoho překvapí.

[H]e thought that economics should be intuitive, not counterintuitive: it should present the world in a language which most people understand. This is one reason why he opposed the excessive mathematicization of economics, which separated it from ordinary understanding.

But let’s get Keynes – and Keynesianism – right. In the US, more than in Britain, he is considered a kind of socialist. This is wrong. Keynes was not a nationalizer, nor even much of a regulator. He came not exactly to praise capitalism, but certainly not to bury it. He thought that, for all its defects, it was the best economic system on offer, a necessary stage in the passage from scarcity to abundance, from toil to the good life.

It may surprise readers to learn that Keynes thought that government budgets should normally be in surplus. […] Nor was Keynes a tax-and-spend fanatic. At the end of his life he wondered whether a government take of more than 25% of the national income was a good thing.

Keynes was not an inflationist. He believed in stable prices, and for much of his career he thought that central governments could achieve price stability by limiting money growth – another link with Friedman.

 Krize a cesta ven

Autor se přesouvá ke krizi samotné a po smršti čísel z turbulentního roku 2009 začíná probírat etické a ekonomické aspekty důvodů krize. Nepřidává se do přehršle kritiků, kteří kritizují bankéře-jednotlivce.

What does it mean to say bankers were ‘greedy’? The concept of greed is incomplete unless one has a notion of what is ‘enough’, which we lack. The more thoughtful realized that bankers’ failures were part of a wider intellectual and regulatory failure, as well as a moral climate which celebrated moneymaking above all other activities.

Moreover, in following ‘risk-management’ models which they barely understood, bankers acted, in their own lights, correctly. Indeed, had they acted otherwise, they might have been held culpable for failing to ‘maximize shareholder value’. Their behaviour, while selfish and self-satisfied, was in the highest degree conventional.

Přidává i svůj vlastní odhad dopadů, ne úplně špatný.

How long will the slump last? This is the worst global turndown since the Great Depression. But it is highly unlikely to be as bad. The years 1929–32 saw twelve successive quarters of economic contraction. If repeated, this would mean the economic slide will continue till mid-2011. But the present contraction will be neither as deep nor as long, and this for two reasons. First, the will to international cooperation is stronger. Second, we do have Keynes.

Ostatní proudy

Klasický popis hlavních proudu, ať už jde o (neo)klasiky nebo Rakušany, je opět zkontfrontován s Keynesovým pohledem.

As an economist, Keynes firmly believed in making his assumptions as realistic as possible, in contrast to many theorists at all times for whom unrealism of assumptions has been their models’ chief merit.

He used to say that his best ideas came to him from ‘messing about with figures and seeing what they must mean’. He could be as excited as any economist at discovering correlations in the data. Yet he was famously sceptical about econometrics – the use of statistical methods for forecasting the future. He championed the cause of better statistics not to provide material for the regression coefficient, but for the intuition of the economist to play on. He believed that statistical information in the hands of the philosophically untrained was a dangerous and misleading toy.

Keynes replied effectively to these charges by saying that the world constructed by classical economics happened not to be the world we actually live in. The debate between what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘abnormal’, and whether any epoch has a special claim to be considered one or the other, still lies at the heart of economic theorizing, and has paralysed the ability of economics to be useful to the policymaker.

Keynes was convinced that economics had taken a decisively wrong turn with the economist David Ricardo (1772–1823). ‘The extraordinary achievement of the classical theory was to overcome the beliefs of the “natural man” and, at the same time, to be wrong.’

A zmíněno je i Keynesovo oddělení krátkého a dlouhé období, včetně citátu, který málokdo chápe a který je více než často zneužíván. > His first major impact on economics was to switch the focus of economic reasoning from the long run to the short term. […] ‘But this long run is a misleading guide to affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.’

Like any other economist, Keynes used models, but he rejected the ideal-type approach to model-building. Economic theorizing, he said, should conform to what the world is like, not invent a perfect world. Unlike Friedman, and the New Classical economists, he attached enormous importance to realism of assumptions. He was not prepared to sacrifice realism to mathematics, because he thought this would make economics useless for policy.

Ve knize je mnoho narážek na matematizovanou ekonomii. Ať už skrz Keynesovy myšlenky, tak přímo od autora. > First, he argues that employing regression analysis* to get parameters and then treat them as if they were constant is fundamentally flawed. ‘There is no reason at all why they should not be different every year,’ since we know that many economic relations are ‘non-homogeneous through time’. Second, Keynes criticizes the ad hoc character of much quantitative modelling. ‘With a free hand to choose coefficients and time lags, one can, with enough industry, always cook a formula to fit moderately well a limited range of past facts. But what does this prove?’

Nosnou linkou je ono srovnání laissez-faire pohledu s tím intervenčním. Riziko a nejistotu autor zmiňuje velmi často v druhé polovině knihy. > The persistent criticism of Keynes’s economics has been that, if applied, it would reduce the natural dynamism of the capitalist system, which thrives on ‘irrational exuberance’. Keynes believed that capitalism suffered not from a surfeit of dynamism, but from a surfeit of fear, which allowed dynamism to break out only sporadically. So, as he saw it, a reduction in uncertainty would make the economy more dynamic over time, though more steadily.

 Pohled na data

Skidelsky si uvědomuje, že není snadné porovnávat data z period keynesiánských politik a těch ostatních, i tak se do toho opatrně pouští. Resp. je to snadné, ale vyvozovat z toho závěry je trochu horší.

It is easy enough to compare outcomes in different periods, much harder to explain the causes of those outcomes. Did a football team’s performance over successive periods improve because it had a better coach or because of other factors? We lack a counter-factual comparison – a comparison between what happened and what would have happened under different conditions. Our comparison between the Bretton Woods and Washington Consensus eras is a comparison of outcomes. And the outcomes differed significantly. Later we shall ask how much difference the old coach (Keynes) made to the performance of the Bretton Woods era.

Nabízí zajímavá data, ale trochu nezajímavé závěry. > The growth rate during the Bretton Woods years was on average higher than during the Washington Consensus period – at 4.8% as compared to the 3.2% growth rate after 1980. These averages are indicated by the horizontal lines in the graph. A 1.6 percentage point difference might not seem very big. However, had the world economy grown at 4.8% rather than at 3.2% from 1980 until today, it would have been more than 50% larger, something we shall achieve only in 2022 with the 1980–2009 average rate.

Viktoria Hnatkovska at Georgetown University and Norman Loayza at the World Bank analysed the relationship between volatility and growth between 1960 and 2000 and found not only that ‘macroeconomic volatility and long-run economic growth are negatively related’, but, more importantly, that ‘the negative global relationship between macroeconomic volatility and long-run growth actually reflects an even stronger, harmful effect from volatility to growth.’11 This link, they claim, is particularly strong for low and middle-income countries, but holds true across the board. Thus, keeping volatility low can have important benefits for the economy.

James Galbraith is leading the University of Texas Inequality Project (UTIP), which is pioneering inequality measurement. It replaces the Gini coefficient, which is used to measure income inequality between individuals, with the Theil index, which measures inequality between groups and regions. Galbraith finds that, among the OECD countries, all but Denmark saw an increase in inequality from the beginning of the 1960s.15 Among the non-OECD countries the trend was similar.

To sum up, then, the comparison between the Bretton Woods and Washington Consensus years shows that the former had less unemployment, higher growth, lower exchange-rate volatility and lower inequality. The Washington Consensus era was not, as often assumed, more volatile in terms of GDP growth, although it has now suffered from five global recessions – the latest being the largest and deepest since the Great Depression.

Zpět ke Keynesovi

Kde teda? Jak moc nalevo? Nebo vůbec nalevo?

He was not a socialist, but nor was he an uncritical admirer of capitalism. He saw it as a necessary stage to get societies from poverty to abundance, after which its usefulness would disappear. This brings him close to the Karl Marx of the Communist Manifesto of 1848. But, unlike Marx, he did not look forward to capitalism’s violent overthrow, nor did he think it was inevitable: his criticisms of Soviet Communism were devastating, and he appreciated the value of private property and decentralized decision-making as requirements for economic efficiency and political liberty. So he wanted to preserve capitalism from its wreckers on both the extreme right and the extreme left. This aim underpinned his politics of the ‘middle way’.

What did Keynes mean by a ‘just’ economic system? He accepted the classic view of justice that reward should be proportioned to merit or contribution, with its Aristotelian corollary that ‘nothing is more unjust than to treat unequals equally.’ He was not, therefore, an egalitarian. Justice is a matter of equity, not equality, and just prices are those which correctly reward talents and efforts. He was a meritocratic elitist. It was ‘most unjust and most unwise’, he wrote, ‘to put on an appearance of being against anyone who is more successful, more skilful, and more industrious, more thrifty than the average’, and elsewhere he declared, ‘I do not want to level down individuals, I want to give encouragement to all exceptional effort, ability, courage, character.’14 None of these positions distinguished Keynes from the classical liberals of his day.

Opět se vracíme k tématu nejistoty. > Prudence in face of the unknown is the key to Keynes’s philosophy of statesmanship. It insulated him from the extremism of the revolutionaries who were prepared to wade through blood to attain utopias. Less obviously, it protected him against the extremism of the reactionaries who were prepared to risk revolution rather than make timely concessions. It set him on his collision course with the Ricardian school, with their indifference to the ‘short-run’ consequences of their laissez-faire policies.

K podivu některých se Keynes s Hayekem v mnohém shodoval. > In a letter of warm appreciation for Hayek’s essay, with whose moral and philosophical position he found himself ‘not only in agreement, but in deeply moved agreement’,

Jejich náhled na informace v ekonomice byl stejný, ale vedl k různým závěrům. > Hayek thought that such knowledge as people had was dispersed through society; much of it was ‘tacit’. His conclusion was that the stock of government knowledge was inevitably inferior to that of dispersed knowledge. This was his trump card against central planning, and it was valid. But it was a weak argument to use against Keynes’s statesmanship. Keynes certainly did not believe that government knew, or could know, more than ‘society’. But he did believe that it was in a position to take precautions against the consequences of uncertainty which private individuals or even informal social arrangements could not do.

A znovu a opět k nejistotám a riziku. > Keynes’s distinction between risk and uncertainty led him in a different direction. Risk could be left to look after itself; the government’s job was to reduce the impact of uncertainty. Risky activities, Keynes implies, should be left to the market, with entrepreneurs being allowed to profit from good bets and to suffer the consequences of bad bets. On the other hand, uncertain activities with large impacts should be controlled by the state in the public interest. How to make this distinction operationally significant should be the major object of the reform of financial services in the aftermath of the crisis.