20 July 2009

Time to Account for the Asset Bubble

Opinions may vary as to whether the economics profession was asleep on the job, following Nelson's lead in watching the financial markets with only their blind eye, or engaged in some form of self-reinforcing mass delusion. My money is on the latter. For political reasons, the methods used in neoclassical economics are designed to abstract from reality rather than respond to it. This allows injustice and inefficiency to prevail while careers are made proving mathematically the superiority of capitalism.

But are the accountants doing any better? A paper you can find here (if you are suffering sleep deprivation and are seeking a rapid route to a few zzzzs) concludes that the techniques of following the flow of money through the economy that accountants use identified the problem. Meanwhile the 'equilibrium' models so beloved of neoclassical economists concealed the ballooning asset bubble.

But the accountants are not immune to criticism. Far from the Arthur Pooty stereotype who longed to become a lion-tamer in the Monty Python TV series, today accountants bestride the globe, creating value merely be defining it into existence. When is a liability an asset? It is within an accountant's power to turn one into another and effect a total dislocation of real economic value from accounting value.

You can find a nice summary of the paper on Steve Keen's blog. As one commentator there notes, 'I can’t help but feel capitalism needs this ignorance to function, if people knew the game no one would play.'

*Thanks to Paul Nollen for sending this paper.

No comments:

Post a comment