A Good Economist Knows What He Doesn’t Know

I’ve been banging the “uncertainty” drum (as opposed to “risk”) for a few months now (see here, here, here, and here):

In his latest book, Keynes’s biographer Lord Robert Skidelsky argues that you just can’t insure against some risks. In fact, some expectations shouldn’t be called risks at all. One of Keynes’s least appreciated contributions, also voiced by his contemporary Frank Knight, was the importance of uncertainty, events in the future that we can’t measure or predict because we don’t have enough information or computational capacity.

Markets depend on prices, and prices depend on information, rational behavior, and predictable distributions of random shocks. When those foundations break down, governments are the only institutions that have the ability to restore order, from central banks injecting liquidity during credit crunches to regulators preventing or monitoring new innovations (be they financial derivatives or oil rigs) with uncertain social costs.

One important example that I haven’t spent enough time talking about is…   Continue reading “A Good Economist Knows What He Doesn’t Know”

The Ethical Investor: August 2010

I want to write an investment newsletter, but I don’t like the pay-and-email model. I want it to be transparent, and like everything I write, I want the information and analysis to reach as many people as possible. So here it is. I wrote this first edition last Monday, but it took a week to get some feedback and rejigger the format. If any of it is out-of-date, now you know why. I most regret that I didn’t post it in time for you to take advantage of this. — AWO

It’s a stupid time to start an investment newsletter.

Economists are worried about a “double-dip” recession, public and private debt are at record levels, the world has just escaped two financial crises in three years, and the Chairman of the Fed says the future is “unusually uncertain.” With record-breaking temperatures outside, a smart person would work on their tan until the economy returns to normal.

Trouble is, I don’t know what “normal” looks like.   Continue reading “The Ethical Investor: August 2010”

When a Risk Isn’t Just a Risk

I promised you some interesting new material on economics, and here’s a new blog post at the Sun-Sentinel to that effect. I’ll explain more about the difference between risk and uncertainty in the coming weeks and months. Meanwhile, you can find more prescient papers by Pavlov and Wachter here, here, and here, and you can find the Princeton paper here.

The commenter “Max-42” counters that El Niño is responsible for the record-breaking ocean temperatures, and he’s partly right. El Niño is playing an important role, but so is climate change. Joseph Romm has an excellent post explaining how the two have worked in tandem. I encourage you to check it out.

And, as always, read the original post.