Monday, August 06, 2012


Oh, there must be a better name than that.  Anyway, help me find the common thread here--five guys who are like, you know, not mainstream,  though they seem to have their hands on a microphone.   For lack of a better, alphabetical:

  • Doug Henwood.  Henwood has been around for years as proprietor of Left Business Observer,, and the author, inter alia of Wall Street (author-authorized free file here, take it straight to your ebook).  He is enjoying (sic?) his 15-minutes of fame right now thanks to a shoutout from Justin Fox at the  Harvard Business Review.  The casual observer (that would be me?) might mistake him for a Marxist but I think that is perhaps too kind.  I once referred to him as the Bruce Bartlett of the left: an ornery old f*ck with a knack for ferreting out inconvenient detail. 
  • Steve Keen. For most readers, anybody from the University of Western Sydney can justly be characterized as an outsider, but for Keen there is more: here is one guy who has a perfect right to say "I told you so."  In his Debunking Economics, there is a chapter called "Why I Did See 'It' Coming."  The takeaway is that Keen was worried about private debt while the great and good were still building their models on public debt alone (getting into an acrimonious public spat with Paul Krugman didn't hurt his reputation a bit).   The critique extends much further than that; it's a fullscale critique of the now scandalously tattered and bereft world of macro model making.   Keen is at pains to spread the credit around, and his argument is in fact far more sophisticated than a simple bullet point, but he doesn't seem to mind saying that he was right all along.
  • Scott Sumner.  Is it fair to treat Sumner as an "insurgent?"  Maybe not, for two different reasons.  One, there is no whiff of gelignite about him or his work.  He's just a hard-working analyst who, as the Germans say, "likes to wear his own hat"--in this case to create, more or less single-handed, his own brand of macro.   And two, by now he may almost count as mainstream --to get himself taken seriously by the usual suspects great and good. Sumner may be right on all relevant points. But right or wrong, his extraordinary success in getting himself taken seriously is an index (richly justified) unease among the macro establishment, after their dismal recent performance.
  • Yanis Varoufakis.  Is it just me or is he another one who is getting more attention than he used to?  Varoufakis is no beginner but he seems to have positioned himself as the go-to person for a broad-based root-and-branch criticism of European rescue efforts.   His latest work draws on a larger conceptual framework in which he undertakes to show how the current crisis has structural underpinnings that go deeper than the usual alleged culprits. Fun fact: I just now noticed that he and Keen blurb each others' books.  And that Varoufakis used to teach at the University of (non-West) Sydney.
  • --?--Is there a number five for this list? I was tempted to add Hyman Minsky of whom, I have to admit, I had scarcely heard the name until the current uproar (I did run across one guy who says Minsky wasn't a very good dissertation adviser, but who knows what the backstory might be there). Anyway, it saddens me to report that Minsky is dead. The vacancy therefor is open and will remain so until filled.


Ken Houghton said...

"Is there a number five for this list?"

Jamie Galbraith, who has worked beyond his pedigree (you may recognize the last name) and thrives at the University of Texas.

Sumner's brand of macro is basically, "The only people who count are finance professionals. And very few of those."

But I don't mean that in a bad way; he's at least honest in not giving a farthing about 95% of the population, considering them (us) to be just variations around the mean.

He may not be wrong, but I'm hard-put to see how you rationalize the claim that the goal of economics is to "expand the pie" with Sumner's framework.

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

Is there a number five for this list?

Max Sawicky: another Marxist who makes sense. Although he dropped his mike a few years ago; I don't know why.