Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Economists And The Holy Grail

Ben Benanke says finding the true cause of the Great Depression is the Holy Grail of macroeconomics. The Wall Street Journal had an article called Economists' Grail: A Post-Crash Model.

A paper I wrote called Economists, Parsifal, and the Search for the Holy Grail that was published in the Journal of Economic Issues.

A longer version of the Journal of Economic Issues article

A Spanish version that was published in Colombia

Here is the abstract:

"Modern economists behave like Parsifal. He is a poor and innocent boy who becomes a knight for King Arthur, finds the Grail Castle and eventually replaces the Fisher King as the guardian of the Holy Grail. He has to widen his consciousness and travel beyond his station as a naive fool to discover himself and to reconcile the conflicting aspects of his psyche. Economists should take Parsifal as a model and expand their consciousness to remedy their cynicism and despair, and enliven their field."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Myths Can Teach Us Self Control

A new book agues that many of our personal failings are because we lack self-restraint. See The Wall Street Journal Book Review Saying Yes to Saying No: Surrounded by excess, we seem to have forgotten how to exercise self-control by MEGHAN CLYNE. The book is by Daniel Akst. Click here to go to the Amazon link.

And why do we lack self-restraint?

"... new technologies have removed the built-in delays that gave reason time to tame our baser instincts. Meanwhile, the erosion of community and hierarchy, of church and family, has robbed us of the external supports we relied on to keep ourselves in check. And while democracy and capitalism both demand and nurture self-mastery, they can also corrode it."

What is the solution? Where might we find an answer to this problem?

"Any inquiry into self-control also needs a standard, some ideal balance between severe self-denial and wretched excess. For his model, Mr. Akst chooses Odysseus from Greek mythology. Though Odysseus does occasionally yield to temptation—his interlude with Circe is one example—he mastered enough self-command to return to Ithaca. "When it counts," Mr. Akst notes, "he can resist." Readers may be less able to resist thinking of Odysseus' faithful wife, Penelope, as an even better exemplar of self-command."

Odysssues had his sailors tie him to the mast as their ship passed near the Sirens. Their song normally dangerous and would cause ships to be destroyed on the rocks. But his crew plugged their ears. So they were able to sail through without being destroyed.


Freakonomics says commitment devices are "tools that hold you to your promises, like putting a replica glob of human fat on your kitchen counter to remind you to keep to your diet, or signing a contract to have yourself fined each time you smoke a cigarette."