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As each day passes, I become more and more convinced that I do not understand economics.  That does not scare me nearly as much as the increasing feeling that neither does anyone else.  So now I am writing a diary after seeing still one more pundit tell us what needs to be done.  George Soros writes A Plan for Economic Recovery  I like Soros for his analysis of what went wrong.  I wonder about his remedy.  So if I am not an economist why should I write a diary about economics?   Well, actually, this diary is only about economics as one of those things I study called "complex systems".  At this point let me warn you that no two people use those words the same way so we are into semantic trouble from the start.  There is something nice about writing about these things while other people have the responsibility for actually trying to do something.  The republicans come to mind when I write that.  They messed things up so bad and yet they sit on the sidelines hoping to make some sort of undefined political gain from hoping for a disaster they started to get far, far worse.  So if you are at all interested in Soros' plan, look below the break.

Before we get into Soros, let me remind us about a few things we should all agree on.  This situation we are in has been characterized by different people in radically different ways.  One hypothesis is that we are watching the same old economic system we have watched all along go through "another" crisis.  What ever that is supposed to mean.  Even if you believe in cyclic phases in the system, when the systems it is embedded in and linked to in so many ways has become uniquely different, this can not be just another cycle.  

The second hypothesis is more difficult to deal with.  One of the central problems in all out thinking is a very deeply rooted one.  Since the time of Descartes we have relied heavily on the "machine metaphor"  first in science and then in all fields of study as we forced them to deal with their subject matter as science did its own.  This is a topic for many books and has indeed been written about at least that much.  

The science of "complex systems" that I study is a direct reaction to this historical frame for our thinking.  We (at least some of us in complexity science)  have carefully and systematically tested the idea that all of the natural world is machine-like and that the problems it presents have mechanical solutions.  What we discover is that the world of such machines is a surrogate world we use to think about the complex real world because that real world is too difficult at times.

Now back to economics.  What I am reasonably sure of here is that we have let the situation I just described spill over that far.  What this means is that we have certain ideas about economic systems that reflect an unconscious belief that they have some machine-like qualities and we tend to approach them that way.

I can understand that you probably have a strong negative reaction to that idea, especially if you are one who thinks along Cartesian Reductionist lines.  I ask you to consider the very self=referential nature of that situation could be a demonstration of the complexity you would be so quick to dismiss.  Let us take a look at Soros' prescription for the economy and see whether or not it has some of the baggage I am describing.

We are facing the prospect of global deflation and depression, similar to but potentially worse than the 1930s. That said, I believe the situation could be turned around by adopting a bold and comprehensive program. Unfortunately, Treasury Secretary Geithner did not present a convincing case. I outline the basic elements of such a program in my forthcoming Book, The Crash of 2008 and What it Means. I am providing an excerpt here in the hopes that it will stimulate discussion and help generate the necessary political will for bold action.

 Given my introduction to all this, the first question that comes to my mind is whether or not this "bold action" is a drastic repair job on the economic mechanism or is it something different in kind?  You see, one thing that distinguishes complex systems from mechanisms is our inability to reverse engineer them.  We see this best in the case of the living organism.  A very good understanding of physiology is no help in designing one from scratch, for example.  The fabrication problem defies mechanistic analysis.  Is the economy more like an organism than we are ready to believe? Soros goes on like this:

The bursting of bubbles causes credit contraction, forced liquidation of assets, deflation, and wealth destruction that may reach catastrophic proportions. In a deflationary environment, the weight of accumulated debt can sink the banking system and push the economy into depression. That is what needs to be prevented at all costs.

 All well and good.  how do we prevent it?  Soros seems to be sensing our inability to just prevent it.  Here's a snapshot of how we fix things, sort of:

To prevent the economy from sliding into a depression, President Obama must embark on a radical and comprehensive policy package that has five major components:

  1. A fiscal stimulus package
  1. A thorough overhaul of the mortgage system
  1. Recapitalization of the banking system
  1. An innovative energy policy
  1. Reform of the international financial system

 Let me warn you that it is grossly unfair to Soros to judge his solution from the snippet I  give you here.  My point is merely to ask how much of what he has offered comes from a way of thinking that some of us see as inadequate for a complex system.  Here is the closest I can come to seeing an answer to my question:

It can be done by creating money to offset the contraction of credit, recapitalizing the banking system, and writing off or down the accumulated debt in an orderly manner. For best results, the three processes should be combined. This requires radical and unorthodox policy measures. If these measures were successful and credit started to expand, deflationary pressures would be replaced by the specter of inflation, and the authorities would have to drain the excess money supply from the economy almost as fast as they pumped it in. Of the two operations, the second is likely to prove both technically and politically even more difficult than the first, but the alternative--global depression and world disorder--is unacceptable. There is no way to escape from a far-from-equilibrium situation--global deflation and depression--except by first inducing its opposite and then reducing it.

 What this sounds like to me is that we learned that this system has certain responses to certain stimuli in the past.  We therefore are justified in using those stimuli to elicit those responses now.  Are we?  Can we predict system response now based on the past?  Unfortunately the arguments I see going on all seem to assume so.  I have a strong feeling that we are in a new domain here and the combination of the global economy, global ecology, global energy needs and lack of any real global system of government make for a highly unpredictable situation here.

This has been a tough diary to write because these ideas need so much more elaboration.  I hope I have given you a glimpse of the problem I am having understanding what is going on.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:10 PM PST.

Poll

"Fixing" the economy

16%6 votes
13%5 votes
2%1 votes
55%20 votes
5%2 votes
5%2 votes

| 36 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  TIP JAR (18+ / 0-)

    how did you like it?

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:10:47 PM PST

    •  Evidently not very much! n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      linkage

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:39:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Soros has it about right at the (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      vox humana, linkage, don mikulecky

      macro-economic level.  Unfortunately, so much real capital was destroyed and misallocated during this greatest of robberies, that real economies were running on fictions and credit instead of adequate  capital and there is no easy macro-economic method to replace that lost capital.  At best, under-utilized or idle capital can be turned on to make this depression less dreadful.

      What FDR giveth; GWB taketh away.

      by Marie on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 07:22:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A global meltdown (6+ / 0-)

    of this magnitude is unique..so I'm not surprised, I think if honest men with ethics sublimate their self interest maybe they will get it resolved in some way.. I doubt they could predict where this all will end.

    Housing world wide has to be stabilised,because that leads to confidence, that's a personal opinion.

    Think Tank. "A place where people are paid to think by the makers of tanks" Naomi Klein.

    by ohcanada on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:19:46 PM PST

  •  I heard an interesting analysis on the radio (7+ / 0-)

    today, namely, that there are really three problems (or possibly four)

    1. The recession, in terms of constricting GDP, loss of consumer confidence, etc.
    1. The financial system, in which we still have to sort out how to burden society with the loss of so much in the way of fake assets without breaking the system
    1. The housing price crash

    (4. Two wars)

    They're inter-related, of course, but it made sense to think of them separated out like this

    •  Yes that's the machine model all right! n/t (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Marie, vox humana, Cliss, linkage, sydneyluv

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:22:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've thought for a long time that economists (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        linkage, sydneyluv, ZAP210

        should study online gaming economies in massive multiplayer online roleplaying games. It' seems as though there are scores of psychology and economics PhD thesis topics in how those online economies work, how they don't work, how they're fixable, and how humans react to economic stimuli.

        My feeling about our problems right now is more intuitive. I everything we have is less valuable than we thought it was, and the question is how do we disperse the poverty in such a way that we don't break anything essential.

        •  Have you ever heard of Nash? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          linkage, plumbobb

          here's a snippit about him:

          John Forbes Nash, Jr. (born June 13, 1928), is an American mathematician and economist whose works in game theory, differential geometry, and partial differential equations provided insight into the forces that govern chance and events inside complex systems in daily life. His theories are still used today in market economics, computing, accounting and military theory. Serving as a Senior Research Mathematician at Princeton University during the later part of his life, he shared the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with game theorists Reinhard Selten and John Harsanyi.

          Nash is also the subject of the Hollywood movie, A Beautiful Mind, which was nominated for eight Oscars (winning four). The film was based on the biography of the same name, and focuses on Nash's mathematical genius and his struggle with schizophrenia.

           Lot's more out there since then.

          An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

          by don mikulecky on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:38:24 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  If economists hadn't paid attention to (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          linkage, plumbobb

          game theory, we might not have this economic meltdown.  

          What FDR giveth; GWB taketh away.

          by Marie on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 07:25:09 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  the economy and not knowing (5+ / 0-)

    the biggest problem in the whole debate is the media. If I see one more set of Demo vs Repug strategist head-to-head I'm going to lose it. If the media cared a whit about informing the public they'd have economists explaining things. They so seldom do but they're more than happy to give Lou Dobbs, for example, an hour long platform to trash this "borrowing and spending bill." And host political strategists.

    I suggest reading up on the FDR's New Deal for yourself and moving forward from there...

    "If that's what Fallujah is, then what's that band with all the Mexican kids in it?"

    by iSenseChange on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:24:00 PM PST

    •  I see this every day (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      linkage

      If the media cared a whit about informing the public they'd have economists explaining things

      What is this diary about?  How many other diaries about this?  I'm missing your point.

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:26:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Don't worry about it (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        linkage

        His point, I mean. iSenseChange is one of those commenters who runs around rapidly spewing nonsense like so many urinating suburban dogs. I'd be willing to bet he didn't even read your diary.

        •  Wow (0+ / 0-)

          Was that really necessary? I read the diary, we were talking about trying to understand some of the big economic issues of the day and I'm now some kind of urinating dog? Maybe here's a good spot for you, Tocque, to really shine and show the world what an intelligent response to a diary really looks like? Jesus, why be such a dick, one wonders?

          "If that's what Fallujah is, then what's that band with all the Mexican kids in it?"

          by iSenseChange on Sat Feb 14, 2009 at 10:35:31 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  iSenseChange (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        linkage

        probably means that the media has access to economists and those who know the most about what is happening and who  could give clearer details, so we wouldn't have to guess what we are dealing with.

        Poor leadership and politicaly corporate biased media have given us low wages and high housing costs, high insurances and health care and high gas and food prices.  

        It isn't what we earn, it is the buying power of what we earn.  We could work for lower wages, if we weren't expected to pay high expenses for our necessities.

        Some banks are saying they want to loan, it is the people who don't want to borrow. I hope that is true.  

        •  the Media can put on whoever they want to (0+ / 0-)

          and it might never be more important to get sound economic knowledge from established economists and all we get is standard Lefty Right talking heads, and more Righty than Lefty. It's a big problem right now

          "If that's what Fallujah is, then what's that band with all the Mexican kids in it?"

          by iSenseChange on Sat Feb 14, 2009 at 10:37:27 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  economics is really an emergent (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, don mikulecky

    phenomenon.  From simple interaction rules among the players, incredibly complex structures evolve.

    You can play with Epstein and Axtell's sugarscape model here to get a taste of simple rules of economic activity producing intricate patterns of behavior.

    (-8.00,-7.85) 'The idiot is not our greatest problem. It is the moron type that is our great problem." -- H. H. Goddard

    by bubbanomics on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:44:06 PM PST

  •  Soros seems to subscribe to the debt-deflation (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, don mikulecky, ZAP210

    hypothesis, which originator Irving Fisher said could be prevented by 'reflation' of the price level up to the average level at which the prices were originated, and which was partially caused by a fall in the velocity of money.

    Just throwing this out there, but if the problem is deflation, why not apply the same solution to deflation as is generally applied to inflation, namely, indexing? Simply mandate that the value of all debt originated between a certain period, say 2003 to 2007, must be tied to the overall price index. This way, the debt will only rise if the overall price index rises. If the price index falls, the value of the debt will fall by the same amount. The creditors cannot cry foul because at the time those loans were made, none of them were expecting prices to fall and to profit from the price fall. So they are neither better nor worse off than before.

    And regarding the propensity of consumers to spend, why not replace dollars with a certain voucher, valued at $1.05. For example, if my paycheck is $2,000, instead of being paid $2,000, I am paid 2,000 vouchers each worth $1.05 (collectively worth $2,100) and dated at the date of my payment. One month after this date, if the money is not spent, its value is depreciated to $.95 per voucher. If the vouchers are spent within one month, then the date resets and the clock begins ticking again. For example, I pay Sam 1,000 worth $1,050. If Sam spends the money within one month of my payment to him, he can spend $1,050, but if he saves it, the value falls to $950.

    This arrangement will disincentivize savings and act as a reverse to the ordinary motivation during deflations to save. To prevent a gradual decline in the money supply, I propose that a portion of my salary is paid in cash and a portion is paid in vouchers, where the portion paid in cash is below my propensity to save but the portion paid in vouchers depreciates drastically enough such that I and anyone I pay with it will always spend all of it within one month.

  •  maybe i'm just a stupid fuck (6+ / 0-)

    but seems to me that with 6 billion, with more to come, on the planet and peak oil having occurred in july 2008, that these times they are a changing. something has to eventual give and it's not that everybody gets to live happily ever after.

    things are not more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can think.

    by markie on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 05:56:56 PM PST

  •  Giant "DUH:" Why Not Unwind the Conservative (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, ZAP210

    economic legislation beginning in 1980?

    We know we never had this problem for about 70 years, and that for 30 years the Republicans who have never accomplished a single benefit to the nation, have been pushing new economic legislation and regulations.

    A lot of things in life are very complex in some ways, but grow out of fairly simple rules when looked at in other ways.

    If we look at the 'trees' of all the countless different financial games that were played with credit, mortgages, stocks, oil speculation, mergers, etc. we have a system that seems unapproachably complex to try to regulate.

    If on the other hand we look at the human beings who run everything, we see from history and probably can prove through behavioral psych that humans like all wild animals begin to behave irrationally when either punishments or rewards become available at amounts and speeds beyond certain bounds related to our evolution.

    We've run this experiment with post-agrarian economies twice now in the United States. In response to advanced economies heading the country toward an aristocratic few super rich and everyone else poor or working poor, we imposed steep top-end tax rates around 90%. Each time we got better-off middle classes and stable growing economies.

    Twice we've become so enraged at that travesty that we rolled back top end taxation well below 50%.

    Both times the United States of America triggered global depression.

    Fool me twice, you cain't get fooled again.

    So for an emergency measure let's postpone overthinking this situation and apply the one brake that is consistent with sane healthy national and world economics.

    Then we'll have time to open our minds to the many dimensions of complexity.

    BTW this is an appalling track record for a nation that considers itself some kind of beacon of anything.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 06:12:43 PM PST

    •  Computers are made to deal (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      linkage

      with complexity.  The right figures and programs have to be used to track new financial instruments, but that could be done.

      Auditors didn't understand the new derivitives and splitting of loans.  That should have raised red flags and should have been dealt with at that time before it grew out of control.

      They can decide, now, what is illegal and what needs to be tracked.  To not even know who owns a mortgage that has been split should never be legal.

      Dishonest people sometimes slip in on the reputation of other people.  A woman I knew had a sterling financial reputation and was well thought of until a man she married took total advantage of her and everyone she dealt with.

      Picture small groups in different areas all taking all they can in devious ways in different areas from Iraq to Wall Street and the accumulated effect of it all being bigger than any of the small acts.

      The biggest problem is the countries overseas are involved and they can't be shortchanged as easily as the average American, so something has to be done that will satisfy them.  When you are talking about trillions in derivitives, that is a big problem.

    •  Raising taxes on the those (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      linkage

      who have benefitted most from this country would help stop some of the bleeding. Small drips wear away great stones.

      The way it has been going, the more we give to businesses so they will  'create jobs' the more power and money they have and the more they demand for themselves.  

      It is at the point of being ridiculous.  We taxpayers pay for the ball parks and the ball team owners rake in the profits.  At taxpayer expense,  the government scientific discoveries and creations such as satellites and medical cures are handed to businesses who then charge the taxpayer for them.  We build industrial parks at taxpayer expense, so manufacturers will come to the area.

      The fatal flaw in our government's thinking is that the less taxes businesses pay, the more jobs they will create.  It is a mantra of business and republican and republican lite leaders that revenues have went up as taxes went down.  They ignore the fact that two wars brought in more revenue, so did new international trading.  

  •  Re: what to do? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, ggwoman55, don mikulecky, ZAP210

    The economy is going through a slow-motion train wreck.  

    For the past few months, here's the sequence of events I've been listening to:

    (a) whether or not the economy was in fact in cratering.  This was a few months ago.  After lots of nervous waiting....waiting...biting nails...The verdict was finally, Yes it's cratering.

    (b) how bad is it?  (now reality starts to sink in) Is it the entire economy?  Or maybe just a few bad companies.  Should we let them fold?  Is it the entire world is affected?  

    (c) When will we pull out of it? (obvious next question) Here's where you really get to hear the lies, the sweaty desperation.

    ================================
    The fact is that (a) the economy is in a state of free-fall.  The FED and the government is frantically trying to put its best face on it.  It's (b) so bad that there is NO amount of money that can fix it.  

    This is just something that (c) we don't know how long it's going to last.  Some say by 2011 things will start to improve...a little. Maybe.  

    The real question here is, what can we do about it?  The answer is NOTHING on an aggregate scale.  The government will try anything and everything, sinking deeper into debt.  As more businesses fold and more people lose their homes, it becomes obvious there is no solution in terms of new policies, or money injections.  And the Obama White House know it.  

    However there is something we can all do, on an individual level.  We can start to put out houses in order, cut back, lay low.  Cut back on expenses and wait out the storm.  

  •  I don't know dick about economics (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marie, Cliss, linkage, don mikulecky

    but will offer the following anyway:

    a. The idea that investments, (stock portfolios, real estate, etc.) must show growth way beyond, and out of proportion, to the growth in world population, is simply beyond me.

    b. Boom and bust cycles  are part of the routine. Greedy bankers, an enabling government, and a foolish populace are all players in a game that will replay with regularity.

    c. The "bust" of many will benefit the few.

    Until we embrace a socialistic model, all bets are off.

  •  ideas??? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marie, linkage

    Is framing it as a complex system helpful in terms of what do we do now? Can the butterfly that flaps its wings in Tokyo know when the tornado's going to hit Topeka?

    How do we establish a global/local economy that doesn't grow, but keeps us happy? How do we avoid the exponential expectation, the bad bad badness Markie's talking about?

    I'm leaning towards big huge taxes on tremendous wealth, but at best that gives us bubble protection - Tums for the fizz we like with our exponential growth, but no remedy for the poison in the drink.

    We abolish money and replace it with . . . money?

    Is there an economist out there who is looking at this as a systems problem and exploring new paradigms? Hasn't deregulation funneled all our brightest minds into the financial arena? So where's our economic Einstein?

    "I gave my life to Jesus and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" Jesse Showalter

    by ZAP210 on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 07:06:19 PM PST

  •  Geithner gang will drag Obama down (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    denise b, linkage, don mikulecky

    Anyone who thinks all will be well once this stimulus bill passes, you NEED TO SEE Bill Moyers Journal interview with economist Simon Johnson .

    The foxes are in charge of security of the hen house. It appears Wall Street insiders are now running the Treasury and early signs are deeply  troubling.

    Damn right I'm a conspiracy theorist! If you are not, then you just haven't been paying f#@king attention.

    by CitizenOfEarth on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 07:47:22 PM PST

    •  Interesting example of what I mean (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CitizenOfEarth, linkage

      Just to get the scenario straight I just finished a paper entitled:"An New Approach to a Theory of Management:  Manage the Real Complex System, Not its Model" for a book about to come out on the theory of management.  (Johnson's field).

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 07:58:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Geithner is republican (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage

    Republicans are never questioned.  He thought he could do like Greenspan and not give details.  It worked for Greenspan, why not Geithner?  Because Geithner is working for the Democratic party and everything they do is second guessed and questioned.  That is the difference.

  •  Metaphors for Money (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    foolknot

    Money - As a token for bargaining, money circulates in the opposite direction to goods and services and therefore tends to move away form consumers and accumulate at the producers. But as it must follow a closed path in the social body, it is necessary for an artificial mechanism to carry it in the opposite direction. Such a mechanism can depend only on the structure of society, on authority: in this way money is imbued with the gradient of authority (grad u) by the process of taxes. When it arrives at the summit, it is divided up by the chief, who can in a permanent (or at least annual) catastrophe, share out the portions where necessary: in fact, this power is one of the essential means of government. Thus, in all societies, the gradient of production and the gradient of authority have a tendency to organize themselves in an antagonistic manner and so bring about a sufficiently stable circulation of money.

    Rene' Thom - From his Structural Stability and Morphogenesis

    This is why I answered the poll above: It is a political issue.

    It is a political issue. The governance of the current gradient is determined by the liberal - Conservative aspect.

    A Liberal can understand Thom's Metaphor for Money, and perhaps apply it to governance. But , A Conservative will reject the above or only see one side of the flow. Thus, the break down we see.

    It is time to make models such as above mandatory in the political discussion.

    Don, I appreciate you exposing me the works of Robert Rosen. It takes a of work to read and understand his ideas. But I'm not giving up.

    Regards,

    JON

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 09:54:12 PM PST

  •  Not one big act will solve (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage

    the problem.  Small steady acts will eventually take care of a lot of it.

    Raise taxes on the wealthy. Stimulate the economy.  Pass ironclad laws regarding all financial instruments and enforce them. Quit letting the republicans put their idiotic ideas on Democratic bills. (I know, they say we have to deal, but it sounds good, though.)  There is nothing in the constitution that says bills have to have a 60 vote majority to pass.  Get that 60 vote rule changed.

    Bankruptcies would help dump a lot of debt.

    It is making it right overseas and the investors in 401ks and IRAs who could be hurt that is a big part of the difficulty of solving the problem.

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