Not rational, not irrational, but “for itself” behavior.

Tired of the mechanical, narrowly rational human behavior of the Chicago school, but not exactly comforted by the emphasis on irrational activity in behavioral economics? So am I. Richard Robb, professor at Columbia and fund manager, offers a third way. In Willful: How We Choose What We Do (Yale University Press, 2019), Robb develops the notion of “for itself” behavior and decision making that can’t be reduced to the algorithms of calculating machines, or even those that are adjusted for human foibles. Willful is not a comprehensive theory of decision making, but an effort to reinsert some element of humanity into explanations of …

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The impact of the Chicago model: NBN Interview with Binya Appelbaum

Think economics is the “dismal science” with abstract formulas that have no impact on life as it is actually lived? Think again.  In The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society (Little Brown, 2019), Binyamin Appelbaum–former correspondent and now an editorial board member of the New York Times–brings to life how academic economists rose “from the basement” of banks and universities in the post-war period to have a direct impact on almost every aspect of our lives. The end of the draft, unemployment levels, inflation, deregulation, air transport, phone service, patent law, monopolies and anti-trust activity, …

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NBN “interview”: Robert Shiller’s Narrative Economics

Culture matters. And a key element of culture is storytelling. These maxims can be accepted as given, except in modern economics, where the mechanistic framework of modern macroeconomic analysis allows just for formulas. Concerned about the relationship between unemployment levels and inflation? Here’s the formula:  gW = gWT – f(U − U*) + λ·gPex    It’s called the Phillips Curve. Your personal experience of unemployment or rising costs, the stories that you tell others or hear from them–about globalization, about jobs being exported, about “disintermediation” through technology, etc–these stories play no role in the economics taught in the classroom, but may have a significant impact on the decisions that …

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How’s your portfolio doing? Do you really know?

In a prior post, I questioned whether relying exclusively on Total Return—the industry standard of measuring the results from publicly traded financial assets—was actually a good idea. Setting that heretical idea aside for a moment, it’s worth taking an additional step back to make sure that investors understand how they are counting, regardless of what they are counting. Specifically, in a world dominated by stock price charts, investors need to be reminded that price changes and total return are two separate things, and in the case of dividend-oriented stocks or portfolios, they can be very separate. So let’s review the …

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The Economics in Two Lessons NBN inteview

Trying to follow the key macroeconomic debates that are swirling around DC, CNBC, the WSJ and the NYT? If you are but don’t want to go back to graduate school or re-open your college macroeconomics textbook, John Quiggin has a solution. His Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly (Princeton University Press, 2019) achieves several goals. First, it frames the current debates, providing a concise, well-written history of macroeconomics and the key twists and turns in economic policy that have brought us to our current state of (general) disagreement on economic policy. Second, he structures …

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Prufrock Ponders Total Return

Prufrock Ponders Total Return (with earnest apologies to T.S. Eliot) And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— (They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”) My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin— (They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”” Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions …

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Big is Beautiful interview: not what you might expect!

Small is beautiful, right? Isn’t that what we’ve all been taught? From Jeffersonian politics to the hallowed family farm, from craft breweries to tech start ups in the garage. Small business is the engine and the soul and the driver of the American system. That’s the dominant narrative. And according to Robert Atkinson and Michael Lind, it is really wrong. In their new book, Big is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business (MIT Press, 2018), the authors review the empirical evidence and conclude that large businesses create more, generate more intellectual capital, pay better, pollute less, are more diverse, and score higher on pretty …

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New Books in Finance interview: The machines versus the humans…..

The machines have taken over…. For many operating in investment management, it can certainly seem that way: factor investing, algorithmic investing, dynamic hedging instruments, risk management derivatives driven by changes in market prices, etc. dominate much of the investment narrative. And now and again these supposedly superior investment approaches get blamed for causing big blow ups. If portfolio insurance led to a wave of computer selling in 1987, then the chaos generated by the models in 2008-2009 was incomparably larger. So say the critics. But in Financial Models and Society: Villains or Scapegoats (Elgar, 2018), Ekaterina Svetlova begs to differ. She looks at how …

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