Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I [learned] something interesting from Doyne Farmer of the Santa Fe Institute, while he was ranting against the state of the art in macroeconomic models. He said that in 2006, the Fed simulated a 20 percent decline in home prices in its model, and the effect was minor.On top of that is Megan McArdle's reaction in the Atlantic:
That sounds highly plausible, of course. But it just adds to my frustration about the infamous Blinder-Zandi black-box simulations purporting to show that the economy would have been much worse without TARP. Such an exercise assumes that we have precise quantitative knowledge of the feedback between real and financial variables. But the exercise that Farmer referred to illustrates just how weak an assumption that is.
It's fine to say "Our best guess is that TARP and the stimulus did some good. But it's well to remember that our best guess really isn't very good. And putting an exact number on it--"3.1 million jobs created or saved!" creates a dangerous false precision, giving people the illusion that we have good knowledge in a very foggy area.Now, I supported TARP--until its bailout expanded from banks to automakers and beyond. But presuming complex modeling perfection for political purposes requires regulation proponents to endorse economic evidence and predictability that they reject everywhere else. Such as tax cuts stimulating the economy, and growth being the best anti-poverty program.
Indeed, it's worth reflecting on the fact that the simulation the Fed ran--and a million others run by regulators, bankers, and investors--probably made the bubble, and the resulting crash, much worse. People thought they knew something they didn't, and it made them complacent. I doubt the unanticipated results of the stimulus will be so devastating, but it's nonetheless important to guard against hubris.
Why is it that progressives disbelieve in economics except when bashing banks or "proving" man-made global warming?
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In case you're wondering, "Who the heck is this Doyne Farmer guy, and what does he know?", he's one of the guys who worked early in the late 1970s and early 1980s developing the first understood aspects of what came to be known as Chaos Theory. He was part of a group attempting to create a miniaturized computer to beat the Roulette wheel, and is a part of an effort since graduation to apply Chaos Theory for economic market prediction.
Didn't know that, OBH; very helpful.
Thanks, OBH. I read about Farmer and the others in the late 80's, but didn't make the connection until you brought it up.
Yeah, he's the real deal. Most especially, folks that far-up smart are often very good at seeing what is wrong with others' work. Putting one's own new ideas into workable form seems to take some additional skill(s) beyond intelligence and practice. But for looking over other people's claims - sometimes even at a glance - they can see right to the core.