segunda-feira, 30 de dezembro de 2013

Os Primeiros Cartomantes da Economia: Irving Fishser, Moody e Babson

Este livro parece bem interessante, descreve os primeiros que tentaram racionalizar a economia ao ponto de prever o futuro. Resultado deles: medíocre.

Bom, minha tese de doutorado trata do tema, por isso achei o livro interessante. Mas leiam o artigo do Financial Times sobre o livro:

Fortune Tellers, by Walter Friedman

Fortune Tellers: The Story of America’s First Economic Forecasters, by Walter Friedman, Princeton University Press, RRP£19.95, 288 pages
There are few things more terrifying than randomness, whether in the realm of mortality, meteorology or markets. Our best-laid plans fall prey to unpredictable heart attacks, tornadoes and popping bubbles in asset prices. So it is not surprising that profitable business opportunities lie in claims to reduce randomness and replace it with a sense of predictability and order. With some combination of eating our greens, weather forecasts and investment advice, we hope to know what tomorrow holds.

In Fortune Tellers, Walter Friedman, director of the Business History Initiative at Harvard Business School, brings to life the men who first created businesses based on the idea that people will pay to reduce randomness in economic life. Working in the early decades of the 20th century, each claimed to be able to find order and predictability in chaos, and each has an intellectual legacy that is visible today.

Roger Babson was a pioneer in technical analysis, a forecasting approach that seeks patterns in weather-type charts of asset prices. Irving Fisher, by contrast, saw the economy as a mechanical affair, and believed that its behaviour could be predicted through the study of money and prices. John Moody founded what would become one of the world’s largest financial information concerns, and was perhaps the first proponent of fundamental analyses, or the notion that reams of data on individual companies could predict future performance. Charles Bullock and Warren Persons built the first data-based macroeconomic models, which later evolved into widely used leading and lagging indicators.

As intellectual and business history, Fortune Tellers succeeds admirably. Friedman marshals sources of all kinds to compile detailed histories of each business: its customers, marketing strategies, business models and employees. At the same time, he is a captivating guide to the intellectual landscape, illuminating the development of the methods and ideas behind early forecasting, and comparing and contrasting the embedded assumptions of the different approaches.

The men themselves, however, are less fully formed, and appear to be portfolios of quirks rather than people we come to know. And what we do know is not terribly likeable or even interesting: they are petty in their rivalries, and prone to distasteful beliefs and strange causes such as eugenics and “calendar reform” (a movement to deal with the failure of the moon to line up neatly with months and years). The businesses and ideas are compelling reading; the characters and their personal lives, less so.

Although these pioneers left us much that is of lasting value, their records as forecasters were decidedly mediocre. None of the new ideas – the charts, the dividend forecasts, the leading indicators – worked very well in predicting the economic future; even today, macroeconomic forecasting models earn a gentleman’s C at best. Skill in predicting the worst macroeconomic outcomes – crashes and sustained slumps – appears not to have progressed at all between the crashes of 1929 and 2008. Yet forecasters continue to sell predictions about tomorrow and investors continue to buy them.

Could there be a correl­ation between the fact that the forecasters in Fortune Tellers are not terribly likeable and the fact that their predictions are so poor? I think so, but not in the way we might expect. We do not dislike these men because they have been wrong, but rather because they are so sure they are right.

Each of the men profiled in Fortune Tellers has nothing if not hubris; such overconfidence was not new then, nor is it obsolete now. It has even generated an academic literature of late, with studies finding that “high-hubris” individuals are more likely to overpay for acquisitions or commit fraud. Those who believe they have predictive power, in other words, tend to behave predictably.

There is a research group that boasts of using 2,000 variables and 1,500 equations to make 30-year (!) forecasts of US economic performance. A television talking head looks us in the eye and says things like, “We’re going to see 7.7 per cent growth in China next year.” A billion-plus people, an opaque government, swings in commodity prices, employment, birth rates, interest rates and weather – and they’ve figured it out to a tenth of a per cent? It’s a marvel, really, this hubris thing. It is also, the research shows, a mostly male thing. Just sayin’.

But Fortune Tellers is a marvel too. It is scholarship of the highest quality, without shortcuts or gimmicks. We may not be able to trust the forecasters, but when it comes to their stories we are in excellent hands.

Pietra Rivoli is a professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University

sábado, 28 de dezembro de 2013

Os Três Es: Educação, Economia e "Everything Else"


O presidente da American Chesterton Society, Dale Alhquist, explicou como do capitalismo surgiu o socialismo, na visão do Distributismo.

Na palestra, Alhquist expõe o que Chesterton pensa em matéria de educação, economia e tudo mais. Fazendo isso, Alhquist detalha os fundamentos do Distributismo. Para quem deseja entender a base da Doutrina Distributista, é um exposição brilhante, como costuma ser Alhquist.

O vídeo da palestra tem 50 minutos e vale cada segundo. Fiquei pensando em traduzir algumas passagens, mas mesmo podendo ser uma ótima parte, eu correria o risco de diminuir a profundidade e abrangência da palestra. Então, torço para que você, leitor, entenda inglês.

A palestra ocorreu durante a 32a Annual Chesterton Conference no Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Eu mesmo coloquei o vídeo da palestra no Youtube, que estava disponível apenas no Vimeo.

Assista abaixo

quarta-feira, 25 de dezembro de 2013

Malthus e Adam Smith no Conto de Natal de Charles Dickens

Interessante artigo de Jerry Bowyer na Forbes, ele viu que Charles Dickens criticou a abordagem de crescimento zero da população de Thomas Malthus no Conto de Natal.

Ou melhor, eu diria, Dickens ressaltou o valor do humano no seu Conto de Natal e dessa forma viu perversidade em Malthus.

Vejam o artigo abaixo:

What Was Charles Dickens Really Doing When He Wrote 'A Christmas Carol'?

By Jerry Bowyer

 Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.” “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.” “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”


That phrase–surplus population–is what first tipped me off to Dickens’ philosophical agenda. He’s taking aim at the father of the zero-growth philosophy, Thomas Malthus. Malthus’ ideas were still current in British intellectual life at the time A Christmas Carol was written. Malthus, himself, had joined the surplus generation only nine years before. But his ideas have proved more durable.

What was Dickens really doing when he wrote A Christmas Carol? Answer: He was weighing in on one of the central economic debates of his time, the one that raged between Thomas Malthus and one of the disciples of Adam Smith.

Malthus famously argued that in a world in which economies grew arithmetically and population grew geometrically, mass want would be inevitable. His Essay on Population created a school of thought which continues to this day under the banners of Zero Population Growth and Sustainability.

The threat of a “population bomb” under which my generation lived was Paul Ehrlich’s modern rehashing of the Malthusian argument about the inability of productivity to keep pace with, let alone exceed, population growth.

Jean Baptiste Say, Smith’s most influential disciple, argued on the other hand, as had his mentor, that the gains from global population growth, spread over vast expanses of trading, trigger gains from a division of labor which exceed those ever thought possible before the rise of the market order.
Guess whose ideas Charles Dickens put into the mouth of his antagonist Ebenezer Scrooge.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation? … If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Interesting, isn’t it? Later in the story, the Ghost of Christmas Present reminds Scrooge of his earlier words and then adds about Tiny Tim:

“What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust.”

Interesting also, that Ehrlich was not an economist, agronomist or even demographer but rather an etymologist, an expert in insect biology. Malthusianism is, indeed, the philosophy of the bug heap, of man as devouring swarm rather than ennobling angel.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is the key to understanding Dickens’ political and economic philosophy. He is the symbol of abundance. He literally and figuratively holds a cornucopia, a horn of plenty. While he wears a scabbard at his side, it is bereft of sword and neglected in care. Peace and plenty.

When Scrooge asks him how many brothers he has, the ghost replies “More than 1,800.” When Scrooge declares that this is a ‘tremendous family to provide for,” the ghost rises in anger. And then he takes Scrooge where? To the university economics department? To the socialist meeting house? No, he takes Scrooge to the market, and shows him the abundance there, especially the fruits (sometimes literal) of foreign trade:

“There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Friars… There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, … there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, … there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.”

Onions from Spain, grapes from the Mediterranean and citrus from the equatorial regions. How else could one eat oranges in England in winter? At the end of their Christmas feast, the poor Cratchits eat, yes, oranges. How else, other than through international trade, could the poor afford oranges? Surely, Christmas Present, and his creator Mr. Dickens, and his teacher Mr. Say, are true disciples of Mr. Smith.

Ironically, this made Scrooge a much less wealthy man than he could have been. He was a miser, not an entrepreneur, because his economic philosophy was a miserly one, not an entrepreneurial one. Look at Scrooge’s mentor Fezziwig, who had two apprentices and dozens of employees.

By contrast Scrooge, even as an old man, had no apprentices and only one employee, a low wage and low skilled one at that. Where was Scooge’s ambition? What was his plan for expansion?
Michael Dell is reported to have started his dream with an image of a large building filled with employees with a flag pole outside. But Scrooge didn’t even update his Scrooge and Marley sign upon the death of his partner seven years after the event, preferring to let rust simply erase the latter’s name. What entrepreneur thinks that way? Scrooge and Marley is basically a collection agency micro-business, whose proprietor did not even make the Forbes 15 List of Wealthiest Fictional Characters.

When Scrooge’s nephew Fred presses his uncle to reveal the cause of their alienation, Scrooge exclaims “Why did you marry?” This is not a change of subject; it is another bitter fruit of the old man’s anti-natal philosophy. Small wonder then, that after Scrooge’s conversion he spends Christmas day with his nephew’s family and cheerfully watches Topper court Fred’s wife’s “plump sister.”

If Scrooge has modern counterparts, they’re more likely to be found among those sad, self-sterilizing minimizers of carbon footprints than in the circles of supply-side entrepreneurs. Who, after all, could claim to a smaller carbon footprint than the man who tried to heat his office with a single piece of coal?

The question is, how did Scrooge’s economics get to be so confused? The answer is that this fictional character would have grown up during the ‘lean years’ in British history, before the supply-side tax cuts of Adam Smith had been implemented. The adult Scrooge, living in a time of growing global trade and strong economic growth, still retained the stagnation mindset of the ‘lean years,’ even when the ‘fat years’ at the prosperous end of the Laffer Curve were upon him. More on this next time.

(Agradeço a indicação do texto de Bowyer ao site American Catholic)