Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Via the indispensable Tyler Cowen, a new paper from Johnson and Fowler explores whether overconfidence is, in fact, adaptive. They show that it it is under some very reasonable assumptions. They model competition for resources as a two-player game and then analyze the evolutionary dynamics of populations playing this game.
The basic result is that overconfidence is beneficial in proportion to two factors: (1) the size of the payoff relative to the cost to play and (2) uncertainty about competitor capabilities. There are two optimal strategies for a population, overconfidence (which minimizes unclaimed resources) and underconfidence (which minimizes conflict costs). Unbiased self-perception is always dominated by these strategies. However, an overconfident person can successfully invade an underconfident population while the reverse is not true. So overconfidence is the stable solution.
The direct implication is that resources get destroyed. It is optimal for an individual to be overconfident, but then he ends up fighting with other overconfident individuals, which imposes costs. If you think about it for a minute, this is a pretty important fundamental problem. All of the big societal decisions we face have potentially big payoffs (or avoidance of costs), but it’s really unclear who has the best expertise to make a recommendation. So we get a bunch of “experts” telling us they are absolutely right.
Note that if it is public knowledge how “good” someone is, the “overconfidence premium” goes to zero. This is why forcing experts to make public predictions is so important. Then you can figure out how good they really are.
As most of you already know, I am an anthropogenic global warming skeptic, aka “denier”. Well, a new paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has turned me into a credit crunch skeptic too.
The maintstream narrative on why we need a bailout is that credit is “frozen”. We can’t just let the financial sector sort itself out because it provides the credit “grease” that lubricates the rest of the economy. The graphs in this paper make it pretty clear that the wheels of Main Street have plenty of grease. So it looks to me like the bailout is corporate welfare plain and simple. It also means that Paulson and Bernanke talking about how bad things are to justify the bailout may have actually exacerbated any real recession by magnifying the psychological salience of the crisis.
As we saw in Act I and Act II, the current financial crisis was enabled by government interference in the housing and mortgage markets, then initiated by Wall Street’s willful blindness to systematic risk in the MBS market. Now we are observing the government’s flailing response.
First they bail out Bear Stearns. Then they let Lehman go bankrupt. But AIG gets a lifeline. On to a $700B bailout intended to purchase toxic MBSs. And most recently forcing several probably healthy banks to absorb $250B in government investment. Along the way, there were a bunch of changes to FDIC regulations and a see-sawing stock market.
You might be asking yourself, what the heck is going on here? The reason for all the flailing is that the government is attempting to implement a command and control solution to an extremely distributed problem.
When the bailout passed, I first thought this post was moot. But then I reconsidered. There’s still plenty of time to affect the implementation and several lessons to be learned. Also, when I’m pissed off, it’s nice to know that I have a good reason.
In Act I, we saw how government meddling overheated the housing and mortgage markets. Now we’ll see how Wall Street took advantage of this opportunity and also apportion some blame to ourselves.
Let me start by saying that the financial crisis is a very complex situation. I read several economics blogs every day and quite a few academic papers every month. My semi-professional opinion is that no economist even comes close to fully understanding the financial system, let alone the complete macroeconomy. Luckily, I haven’t seen any of them delusional enough to assert that they do in a professional forum. So when you hear a talking head spouting off about the crisis, take what he says with a grain of salt (this includes me, of course). At best, he only sort of knows what he’s talking about.
Because of the complexity, I think we should be very careful to take baby steps. Going off half-cocked is much more likely to make things worse than better. I think we need to do three things. First, we need to understand the underlying causes of the mortgage meltdown that kicked off the cascade (not because I think fixing the cause will solve the problem, but because it will help us avoid making things worse). Second, we need to examine how the cascade was magnified so we can hopefully install some breaks going forward. Third, we need to agree on the outcomes we most want to prevent as a society (as individuals, I’m sure we all want to keep our houses, jobs, and savings).
So as not to waste my expensive schooling, I still keep up with economics as a hobby. I don’t expect other people to generally share this interest, but it occurred to me that the current financial crisis is an excellent example of what happens when a complex adaptive system experiences a shock. Is anybody curious to have us discuss this topic? If so, what is specifically interesting to you? My short answer is to read everything by Arnold Kling at EconLog. Of course, I have a lot more thoughts if anyone wants to hear them.