John Tamny: When Economists Are Enemies of Economic Growth

The great investor and writer Andy Kessler frequently points out that the failure rate among Silicon Valley start-ups is 90 percent.  Every member of the economics profession would be wise to memorize the previous figure and repeat it daily. If so, economists might come closer to understanding why they’re mystified by what they deem slow economic growth. And mystified they are. So much so that they’ve apparently given up.

Central bankers plainly don’t understand what drives economic growth.

Less Is More

According to New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum, the theme that emerged from the Kansas City Fed’s Jackson Hole confab is that economists have ceased offering growth proposals. Appelbaum indicates that they’re playing defense now; floating ideas to allegedly ensure things don’t get worse. Having tried everything since 2008 (more on this in a bit), they’ve given up arguing about what they plainly don’t understand, or recognize. It almost renders the credentialed sympathetic in some weird, pathetic way.

And it’s encouraging. While the role of central banks (the Federal Reserve the world’s #1 employer of economists) in the economy is vastly overstated either way, it’s good to see a routinely incorrect profession realize that it is nearly always incorrect. The first step to healing is recognition of the problem, or something like that.

While central bankers plainly don’t understand what drives economic growth, they need to realize that what they do has little to do with growth as is. Lest they or readers forget, central banks project their always overstated and rapidly shrinking economic influence through antiquated banks; banks arguably the least dynamic sources of credit in the world, and surely the least dynamic in the U.S. Going back to the Silicon Valley stat that begins this piece, does any sane person think banks have anything to do with the finance that drives this hotbed of innovation? This is a short way of saying that even if central bank economists actually had a clue, their doings would have little relevance to the economic sectors that actually power growth.

It’s also worth pointing out that Silicon Valley dynamism is likely not being captured by GDP, and other dopey numbers that central bankers follow.  To understand the previous point, readers might consider how the 19th-century introduction of coal as a source of fuel multiplied the productivity of workers twenty times over.  And this was coal. Imagine what technological advances like the computer, internet, smartphone, and the GPS that is standard in modern smartphones have meant for individual productivity.  

Recessions Are a Source of Strength

Yet the economists in Jackson Hole were busy self-flagellating about sub-2% GDP. Ok, but GDP is backwards. It rises when governments take our wealth and consume it, it falls when our productivity rates voluminous imports and foreign investment, and it rises when governments bail out sub-optimal producers like General Motors.

Silicon Valley succeeds a lot precisely because it fails a lot.

GDP isn’t just backwards and wrong, it plainly can’t factor our enormous surges in productivity that spring from technological advancement. In short, the slow-growth laments of economists are the equivalent of one judging the quality of play in the NFL by solely watching games played by the New York Jets; the Jets the non-dynamic equivalent of the banks that central bankers still think relevant to economic progress.

Taking the above further, readers should never forget that the economics profession is near monolithic in its absurd belief that World War II ended the Great Depression. Oh yes, the horrid, sick-inducing process whereby armies in developed countries killed the customers of their countries’ top businesses around the world, whereby developed countries’ best and brightest were taken out of production so that they could be murdered and maimed around the world, whereby production of goods and services was halted to varying degrees so that it could be directed toward weaponry meant to destroy people and wealth around the world, whereby the division of labor that is the source of abundant production around the world was shredded in favor of murder and wealth destruction around the world, had an economic upside.  

The extermination of people and wealth constitutes growth to economists. In that case, how can they possibly lament a lack of what they once again don’t understand, or recognize?   

Back to reality, economists would be wise to memorize the stat about Silicon Valley because it might turn on a light where there’s presently darkness. The most prosperous region in the world, one where economic growth is abundant, is defined by near constant failure.  

The extermination of people and wealth constitutes growth to economists.

Here’s the reason why economists don’t get growth. They don’t see that the quickest path to it is experimentation, realization of information (good and bad) through experimentation, and the release of precious resources back into the marketplace when experiments fail. Silicon Valley succeeds a lot precisely because it fails a lot. Its “recessions” are the source of its strength, yet economists think the path to growth involves fighting recessions. It’s not just GDP that’s backwards.   

Despite economy-cleansing slowdowns being the source of strength in booming parts of the world, at Jackson Hole former Obama administration Council of Economic Advisors chairman Jason Furman talked up government spending to allegedly make sure things don’t get worse. Ok, but when governments spend they’re extracting precious resources from the private sector only to centrally plan their use in politicized fashion. When governments spend there’s less experimentation, less information, and less in the way of precious resources being released to new stewards by the failures simply because government experiments generally aren’t allowed to fail.

Fed Chairman Janet Yellen talked up the dangers of bank deregulation, but as Silicon Valley reminds us yet again, it’s the total lack of regulation there that ensures intrepid experimentation, abundant information, and quick failure if the experiments come up short.  Banks aren’t relevant to the U.S. economy for many reasons, but a major one has to do with the fact that they’re too regulated to die with the frequency that ensures the industry’s dynamism. Regulation is stagnation – for any industry – simply because industry sectors gain essential strength from the information-abundant failures.

Not only are economists incapable of recognizing what economic growth is (once again, they think war has a growth upside), they also propose policies that are inimical to the progress necessary for growth. The profession is near-monolithically confused.

But if it wants to matter, as in if it wants to stop retreating into defensive postures, it must realize that its problems are bigger than not being able to predict growth, or not being able to recognize policies conducive to same. Indeed, missed by economists is that the policies are the problem; meaning economists are the problem. “Economy” is just a word for people. People want things, but they can only fulfill their wants insofar as they supply first. Which means the answer to growth isn’t policy as much as it’s a reduction of the barriers to our natural desire to supply.  Basically an absence of policy.

Which should cause one to wonder if economists will ever move beyond admitting they have a problem. They would have to acknowledge that growth is the natural human state, and “policy” is the only barrier to growth. If economists can realize the latter they’ll see that we don’t need them, and better yet that we’ll thrive without them.  Economists need to recognize that the path to economic growth is an absence of economists.

Reprinted from Real Clear Markets. 

John Tamny


John Tamny

John Tamny is a Forbes contributor, editor of RealClearMarkets, a senior fellow in economics at Reason, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research & Trading. He’s the author of the 2016 book Who Needs the Fed? (Encounter), along with Popular Economics (Regnery Publishing, 2015).

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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7 Responses to John Tamny: When Economists Are Enemies of Economic Growth

  1. JohnA

    Good stuff!

    Banks aren’t relevant to the U.S. economy for many reasons, but a major one has to do with the fact that they’re too regulated to die with the frequency that ensures the industry’s dynamism. Regulation is stagnation – for any industry – simply because industry sectors gain essential strength from the information-abundant failures.

    Indeed, hits the nail on the head. In a previous life I was accountant to a credit union or two and watched a) Paul Keating float the dollar and introduce foreign banks, and b) the State regulator of building societies fail to protect depositors of the Geelong/Pyramid groups while the State regulator of credit unions in the next door office adopted a different approach to their troubles, such that no credit union depositor EVER lost their money.

    Now I see (post-Campbell and other “banking” enquiries) every financial institution being regulated in the same way, and all being stifled into a boring sameness, so that there is no point in being a co-operative credit society, a terminating building society or any other form of thrift co-operative because the regulations rigidly prevent innovation.

  2. thefrolickingmole

    Good article and quite relevant.
    i cant see a way out as long as economists keep telling government they “create” jobs or “save” jobs subsidizing buggy whip makers though.

    Silicon Valley succeeds a lot precisely because it fails a lot. Its “recessions” are the source of its strength, yet economists think the path to growth involves fighting recessions. It’s not just GDP that’s backwards.

    Creative destruction, exactly what should have followed the GFC with 2-3 years of pain followed by a host of new financila companies springing up instead of the eternal bubble of QE/stockmarket and moribund wages growth.

  3. max

    central bankers, are the problem.
    fractional reserve banking, is the problem.
    no honest money, is the problem.

    end the FED.

  4. Empire GTHO Phase III

    A good practical explanation of what catallaxy is and why the state is a larcenous psychopath.

  5. Entropy

    Creative destruction, exactly what should have followed the GFC with 2-3 years of pain followed by a host of new financila companies springing up instead of the eternal bubble of QE/stockmarket and moribund wages growth.

    Well, yes. Problem is those 2-3 years of pain is felt by people. Some of which will never bounce back. Labour isn’t as liquid as currency. Fathers, Mothers, tough ‘independent’ farmers, little old lady savings are all badly impacted in that 2-3 years of pain. For them it doesn’t matter about the economy as a whole, the long term beneficiaries are quiet, the short term losers, some of which become long term losers, are much more noisy and visible.
    And politicians will respond to the market signals generated by those in pain. Economists of the sort handy to politicans just provide the framework for the politicians to justify their actions. Economists respond to market signals too. Good policy aimed at long run outcomes don’t get a look in.

  6. duncanm

    If crypto currencies take off without state control – I sense the death of much of central banking

  7. thefrolickingmole

    Entropy

    Thats the point, there will always be a Kenysean there to say “keep kicking the can down the road” until we end up exactly where we are, overregulated and sclerotic coasting along on the assets built up by previous generations and our natural resources.

    Fair is a place where kids go on rides and eat sugar laden crap till they are sick, economics, much the same.

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