Nobel Laurelates on the Economy

CNBC had three Nobel winners on Friday morn — Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Engle and Edmund Phelps — discussing Housing, Credit, and the state of the US economy.  It was terrific television, and showed how good the medium can be when it sets its mind on it.

Incidentally, longtime readers may remember our amusing encounter with Prof Robert Engle back in 2003. If you haven’t seen that, its definitely worth reading.

Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel Prize winner and Columbia University professor

"The real important point from an economic perspective is the gap between the economy’s potential growth and its actual growth. And without a doubt, there’s a big gap. I think we’re probably in a recession. The real concern is how long, how deep. This is one of the worst—clearly going to be the worst … downturns since the Great Depression.”


Robert Engle, Nobel Laureate Economist winner 2003 and New York University professor


"I think that we’ve got a lot of strength that’s going to come out of the export sector, the technology sector. We’ve seen good earnings reports from some of them. They’re thriving on this weak dollar. It’s giving them a chance to sell goods all over the world. And I think that’s going to probably pull us out."


Edmund Phelps, Nobel Prize winner in economics 2006


"The rise of the unemployment rate has been mild, and it started from a very, very low level of 4.3 just ten or twelve months ago. By that metric, this is a mild downturn.”


A funny thing happened to me on the way to the studio tonight . . .

Where’s the Economy Going? Nobel Winners Weigh In 25 Apr 2008

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  1. Sailorman commented on Apr 27

    The most amazing part of the discussion was the opinion that no wage inflation mitigated the the asset inflation. I think this is the very cause of the current problem.

    FED policy that exacerbates inflation while benefiting wall street will make the problem signifantly worse.

    I think anyone who doesn’t understand this should visit a shopping mall.

    In south west Florida in Naples, Sarasota and Tampa – the stores are having half price sales and the stores are still empty!

    Sears is going to offer a 30% discount on Kenmore appliances and that still won’t clear inventory.

    How is it that economists of this stature don’t seem to recognize that the bottom 60% (perhaps higher…I am guessing about this) of wage earners contribute significant amounts to GDP through their purchases and they are out of money.

    My brother in law is selling a trailer/camper and has put an add in the paper. His phone is ringing off the hook from people that want it to have a place to live!

  2. Byno commented on Apr 27


    FWIW, in contrast to Stiglitz and Phelps, it would not be unfair to say that Dr. Engle is discussing a subject in which he is neither more or less an authority than any economist down the street at CUNY.

    Yeah, I know the validity of a claim doesn’t necessarily flow from the source, but if I wanted to know the gap between Y and E, it doesn’t get better than Dr. Stiglitz; if I want a discussion on unemployment I’d start with Dr. Phelps.

    Dr. Engle is a brilliant statistician, and if you want to discuss volatility, he’s the man, but otherwise he’s a quant jock who happens to have a PhD in economics (not necessarily a bad thing otherwise). As such, I wouldn’t put any more stock in his opinions on tech and the weak dollar and exports than I would in any other economist’s.

  3. Rich Shinnick commented on Apr 27

    Well, its the old saying, you get 3 economists in a room and you get 6 opinions. What is interesting to me is the strong dollar versus weak dollar arguements. One the one hand, you hear that the weak dollar will save us by driving exports. On the other hand you have the crowd that claims it will be the ruin of our economy. Who do you believe?

    From my perspective if it is not going to be exports driven by a weak dollar that drive the economy going forward, it is hard to point at any particular factor that will. The last two recoveries were driving by a technology and productivity boom and then a creditreal estate boom. So, either we go back to being an agrarian economy (all growing corn and wheat), or we export. Look at the earnings reports, almost all large corporations have verbage to the effect that “The U.S. market sucks but exports rock!” So, if the dollar rises, then what happens?

    Without massive credit expansion, what exactly keeps this economy going? Although I am extremely skeptical, the export thing seems to be the only catalyst in sight. Anyone care to give an opinion on another possible solution to the slowdown?

  4. Byno commented on Apr 27

    Oh, and I wasn’t trying to disparage CUNY in any way, just making the point that Engle is no more accurate on the subject than anyone else at NYU, or CUNY, or Fordham, etc.

  5. cinefoz commented on Apr 27

    Wednesday is make or break day with respect to the economy for the next few months and years.

    The commodity bubble that is now building has to be burst at all costs. Only the most ignorant among us can rationalize how this or any economy can grow if the basic necessities of life are so expensive that purchasing them crowds out the discretionary spending required for economic growth. The gains from higher prices are not being used to build additional capacity. They are only speculator gains.

    I’ve heard rumors of new stripper oil wells in the US being drilled and capped. Additional capacity is being withheld, either because it isn’t required or because higher prices are expected down the road (aka inflationary expectations). This is said to be somewhat common right now.

    Combine basic inflation for necessities with stagnant real wages, a lowered velocity of money accentuated by a growing malaise, the expectation of continuing price increases, a weak dollar, and an apparent embracing of ignorance by reporters, economists, and government officials and there is nothing good to look forward to.

    The FOMC need to revive the concept of ‘inflation hawk’, and do it with extremism. Counter intuitively, it will build a base that we will build on. Growth is possible only if the commodity bubble bursts immediately. Markets may drop for a couple of months, but they will recover because the economy will recover, albeit slowly. I suspect oil will fall to the $80 range within a couple of weeks if the FOMC does the right thing and, possibly, even raises rates by 1/4%

    The next crop of politicians must figure out how to encourage real investment that creates jobs, and not empty suit investment that only encourages the trading of stocks an other paper based capital assets.

  6. Will Rahal commented on Apr 27

    The Economy is clearly in trouble.
    Banks got into a mess with mortgages and are lending big-time to the commercial sector.
    I have posted graphs illustrating how each dollar of Commercial & Industrial Loans generates less and less output.

    Nevertheless, Core Capital Equipment as % of Durable Goods has been rising lately. Consequently, despite the slowing in the economy, you have to favor the Business sector over the consumer sector.

  7. steve commented on Apr 27

    You know who else had a couple of Nobel-Prize-winning economists?

    Long Term Capital Management.

  8. Winston Munn commented on Apr 27

    Patrice Hill in The Washington Times reports:

    Quote: “Costco and other grocery stores in California reported a run on rice, which has forced them to set limits on how many sacks of rice each customer can buy. Filipinos in Canada are scooping up all the rice they can find and shipping it to relatives in the Philippines, which is suffering a severe shortage that is leaving many people hungry.

    While farmers here and abroad generally are benefiting from the high prices, even they have been burned by a tidal wave of investors and speculators pouring into the futures markets for corn, wheat, rice and other commodities and who are driving up prices in a way that makes it difficult for farmers to run their businesses.

    ‘Something is wrong,’ said National Farmers Union President Tom Buis, adding that the CFTC’s refusal to rein in speculators will force farmers and consumers to take their case to Congress.

    ‘It may warrant congressional intervention,’ he said. ‘The public is all too aware of the recent credit crisis on Wall Street. We don’t want a lack of oversight and regulation to lead to a similar crisis in rural America.'” End Quote.

    Note to Tom Buis: You cannot stop crack-up boom behavior with price controls any more than you can stop a tsunami with a sandbar.

    Military Keynesianism this year will pour (US)$1.1 trillion down the black hole of non-consumption, non-investment that is the military industrial complex. We have been building this monstrosity for the past 60 years, so no one person is to blame. But combined with lack of savings, military Keynesianism causes a massive shortage in trade balance, requiring massive debt to sustain.

    Commodity prices are displaying symptoms of George Soros’s “reflexivity theory”, where the participants’ biases alter the fundamentals, which reinforce the bias, creating a mismatch between perception and reality. In my view, reflexivity is a good description of crack-up boom behavior, as well.

    When you peel back the curtain on Oz, you discover that all the magic has been created through the illusion of inflation from utilizing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency coupled with massive deficit spending on non-consumption, non-investment.

    And like Oz, once the curtain has been pulled back and the reality exposed, the magic disappears.

  9. kateNC commented on Apr 27

    I was really interested in Shiller’s discussion of innovation in the mortgages themselves.

    I’m not knowledgeable about economics but the others seem to be confined primarily to analysis while he is looking for solutions. Coming up with comprehensive long-lasting solutions, as opposed to fixes, is always much more difficult in my humble opinion.

  10. Clowns commented on Apr 27

    It’s amazing to see these clowns hoping that inflation doesn’t spread to wages when middle class wage stagnation is the root of the problem.

    Mexicans are already heading back south of the border and immigrants aren’t flooding in as they had been. Hopefully after we get rid of Bush the producer economy will strengthen more. It seems wages are sticky kind of like house prices but will be increasing gradually in the near future with some trickle up effect of minimum wage increases.

  11. DownSouth commented on Apr 27

    ☺☺”You know who else had a couple of Nobel-Prize-winning economists?”
    “Long Term Capital Management.”
    Posted by: steve | Apr 27, 2008 12:06:13 PM


    What a ridiculous notion.

    The abstractions of scientific materialism illuminated one aspect of physical reality that helped seventeen-century physics and chemistry to fructify. But when we come to the truths of human experience, these abstractions are utterly inappropriate. They have been a total disaster in the scientific study of mental and social processes such as economics.

    The problem with all these nonsensical models these economists is that they focus too exclusively on a severely limited aspect of relity. They are not a faithful and full description of the stubborn irreducible facts as they occur in experience but a narrow abstraction often systematically misapplied by those who use them. Thus the tendency to mistake an abstraction for a concrete reality without realizing that it is an abstraction.

    Most economists are nothing but ideologues trying to pass their pet nostrums off as fact. They have demonstated almost no ability to distinguish between their opinions and fact.

    This nonsense will continue until they forsake, or are forced to forsake by overwhelming failure, the narrow objectivist strategy that has led them to develop massive blind spots to areas of life where an exclusive preoccupation with the measureable facts distort reality and twist judgment.

  12. Al Czervic commented on Apr 27

    “It was terrific television,
    and showed how good the medium can be when it sets its mind on it.”

    Then perhaps a nod to the hosts might be in order. Two of the more professional CNBC personalities. Now imagine how much those segments would have sucked if Kudlow or Kneale had been involved.

  13. roger commented on Apr 27

    I think the kneejerk reaction of the economist is always that equilibrium re-asserts itself. Thus, the notion that exports are the benefit to the falling dollar. The problem, of course, is that the U.S. has intentionally shrunk the manufacturing sector, and has also long ago lost its reserve of oil – which means that when you look at the trade deficit, the falling dollar has not put a dent in it. Just as the oil shocks of the 70s made devastated LDCs, because they did not have big countering export sectors, so, too, the U.S. has long depended on its internal market and its services sector for growth. Caterpillar might be having a bust up year, but it pales in comparison to, say, Exxon, and those profits are all made on the steady leaking away of U.S. money, purchasing less all the time.

    This, after all, is the logic of globalisation. Suddenly the same economists who touted it are pretending that it didn’t happen, and didn’t have the results we see all around us. The same crowd that applauds John McCain telling Michigan workers that the jobs aren’t coming back are saying, oh, but our exports are going to take us out of the hole. Something isn’t right here.

  14. ECCONOMISTA NON GRATA commented on Apr 27

    I guess it’s true then.

    That sitting in a cage and throwing feces at the spectators, will win you a Nobel Prize…. :-)

    Just kidding. I agree with Joe Stiglitz, “This is one of the worst—clearly going to be the worst … downturns since the Great Depression.” If not worse….

    Best regards,


  15. austincompany commented on Apr 27

    I also like the analogy that economists are like weathermen, they predict but are never held to the predictions. If we burned ’em at the stake if they got it wrong, they would either shut up (becuase they really don’t know) or they would try a little harder.

  16. steve commented on Apr 27

    roger: Exactly. If we don’t make anything here anymore, what are we exporting?

  17. Ross commented on Apr 27

    One more comment before I go out to watch my $8 wheat ripen.

    Winston has it about right. Tom Buis is one funny fellow. Bitching about evil speculaters and hedge funds in farm commodities and wanting Congress to do something may go down as the most inane diatribe of the year. What he is angry about is the difference between cash prices paid to farmers and the cash settled prices in the futures market. He was not argueing that the price of corn was too high. It is a technical problem that will be addressed.

    If there is a bubble in farm commodities, why are most markets in backwardation? Why aren’t the futures prices in contango with steep outward curves?

    The price of a box of cereal goes up by 10% and everyone is now a commodities expert. Why don’t these experts bemoan the 50% reduction in the interest paid on my money market account. Gee, you thing savers may be paying for the bank bailout???

  18. Dave commented on Apr 27

    If I’m not wrong, they all endorsed Obama as well.

  19. cinefoz commented on Apr 27

    I just came back from a shopping trip. The parking lot at a Best Buy was 1/2 empty. The parking lot at a Marshall’s was also 1/2 empty and the store was less active. Sam’s Club parking was quite open. A lot of empty spaces were close in. The lines were short and everyone was buying food. No computers or LCD tvs. My impression is that people are hunkering down.

    Ross, normally I would buy into the scarce resource argument. At this time, I think you grossly underestimate how oceans of credit being poured into hard assets are affecting prices. At this time, ‘scarcity’ is the argument used by snake oil salesmen. Ditto ‘the falling dollar’. Too many people with influence are making money to stop the bubble. It’s really an intelligence test, and a lot of people appear to lack even minimum common sense.

    Extrapolate out a few months and imagine how the average person will afford to live, and how that will affect profits that don’t depend on currency effects, if oil is $150 by the end of the year.

    It’s time for those who can make a difference to grow brains, and do it now. This plundering has to stop.

  20. Greg0658 commented on Apr 27

    Subject: question for Doc Stiglitz
    Date: Friday, April 25, 2008 4:26:30 AM

    Business nature is to look for lower costs of production.
    IMO it started as moving the industrial north south, then abroad globally.

    Do you have a solution in mind for a quick rebalancing ie: USA economy with global economys?

    Is quick the dread word? And just realize where you are in the hurricane and wait it out?
    Is near slavery a requirement for profitable capitalism?

    Subject: exactly why save
    Date: Friday, April 25, 2008 5:46:17 AM

    I was a union HVAC worker.
    Our raises into pension funds FUNDED globalization shooting my factory creating abilities into Asia.
    WHY SAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Subject: ps on ship’g depots
    Date: Friday, April 25, 2008 5:52:01 AM

    > our area building shipping depots? a crane flys in a package unit sitting on roof spill’g into condition’d space

    > a story in the woods to the east of me … the Indians were starved to death by supply chains cut off

  21. Estragon commented on Apr 27

    Will Rahal,

    Further to the expansion of C&I lending, it’s important to take the contraction in ABCP and LBO lending into consideration. At least some of the bank lending expansion is accomodating the severe contraction in short term non-bank lending that happened last year.

  22. Greg0658 commented on Apr 27

    ps – CNBC picked some really good questions to air
    and yes, they did, some relunctantly endorse Obama, hopefully not out the door if its one of the other two or no election at all

    … but still its time to begin referendum government and skip dictatorship republics … true freemarkets should expand humanity, eventually, even if some sects are forced into dissolvement or retribe’g

    I believe in collective thought, as long as folks are not totally brain dead

  23. Ritchie commented on Apr 27

    Rick Shinnick: “One the one hand, you hear that the weak dollar will save us by driving exports. On the other hand you have the crowd that claims it will be the ruin of our economy. Who do you believe?”

    Not a problem. In a couple of hundred years there will likely be enough data to answer this question.

  24. Ritchie commented on Apr 27

    steve: “…what are we exporting?”

    airplanes, arms, food, entertainment

    Those last two have traditionally been called Bread & Circus.

  25. MitchN commented on Apr 27

    BR wrote: Incidentally, longtime readers may remember our amusing encounter with Prof Robert Engle back in 2003. If you haven’t seen that, its definitely worth reading.

    As a newish reader, I went back to read it. Damn, Barry, is there anything you can’t write well about? When’s the novel going to be published? I mean it, Dude.

  26. VJ commented on Apr 27

    Edmund Phelps, Nobel Prize winner in economics 2006:

    The rise of the unemployment rate has been mild, and it started from a very, very low level of 4.3 just ten or twelve months ago. By that metric, this is a mild downturn.


    That is truly scary that he can be that out of touch and uninformed of reality. Has none of his friends or employees had the compunction to show him the ‘Civilian Employment-to-Population Ratio’ data since 2000 ?

  27. Ross commented on Apr 27

    We gots us a prize down here on the farm. It’s called a No Bell Lariot. If you can’t put the rope on the calf critter, we don’t ring the bell and you’re no damned good.

  28. AGG commented on Apr 27

    I like the “Can’t stop a tsunami with a sand bar” similie. The hurricane that swept Galveston in 1900 caused the deaths of 20% of the population because the sand bars were eliminated to provide fill to raise the level of the marshy land where the houses were built.
    You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You can guide people to reality, but you can’t make them think.

  29. Winston Munn commented on Apr 27

    Does anyone else get the odd sensation from these varying projections that he is listening to the old story about the three blind men describing an elephant by feeling different parts?

  30. Will Rahal commented on Apr 27

    That would make some sense!
    Will Rahal

  31. Francois commented on Apr 28

    Will Rahal,

    “Consequently, despite the slowing in the economy, you have to favor the Business sector over the consumer sector.”

    Isn’t this a very risky proposition? Consumers are already badly hamstrunged and they make up 70% of the US economy? Is the business sector going to have to export the hell of its production to thrive?

    Plus, if the consumer keeps on being “neglected”, the politics would become, shall we say, not very conducive of sensible policies down the road. Should the natives become restless, it could get ugly…never a good thing to do business.

  32. bluestatedon commented on Apr 28

    I’m with VJ 100% on Phelps. That someone who regards the “official” unemployment figures as an accurate picture of reality could receive a Nobel is bizarre. I guess next year there’ll be a Nobel awarded to some researcher who says the sun revolves around the earth or that dinosaurs were the pets of cavemen.

  33. Juan commented on Apr 28


    I’ve a notion that if the CFTC were to close the loophole which permits (generally long-only) index funds to evade position limits, we might see a nice pullback in commodities.

    Too often people think these prices are determined strictly by fundamentals or that futures are an efficient representation of real conditions, as though reallocating funds, record inflows, self-reinforcing expectations could never be, gasp, indicative of mania and bubble.

  34. john commented on Apr 28

    This is entirely anecdotal but I visit my local mall every couple of weeks. I went last Saturday and it was busy so I thought well maybe things aren’t that bad. I then did some cruising, lots of people around but not much evidence of buying. Had a chat to sales assistants at a few of the stores I patronize(some quite attractive chicks as well as guys with bad ties) to take the temperature. It aint good. Things are pretty slow. Then there was my Best Buy experience. Computer problems meant four, yep four, visits to Geeksquad. On every occasion there appeared to be more sales staff than customers, it was not the best buy I’m used to. Chatted to a couple of sales assistants while waiting. Consensus: business is awful. Just about everyone I know is complaining about inflation, not just gast prices, everything. There’s a major consumer slowdown going on and I mean major which although it’s being picked up on doesn’t seem to be causing that much heartburn on the street. Given that we’re continually told those consumers are 70% of economic activity when is the penny going to drop.

  35. Rick commented on Apr 28

    So the falling dollar will create higher demand and higher margins for our products overseas ? Exports will bail us out of this recession. I think not.

    First, as many have pointed out, our manufacturing base has been depleted (steel is a good example – China and Japan now lead the world in steel exports, a market we once dominated, not to mention electronics). Yes, there are sweet spots such as grains, entertainment, sweeteners, weapons, airplanes, wine. We don’t make clothes. We don’t make computers, televisions, radios. We have fallen behind in the auto industry.

    Second, and a bigger problem not mentioned, is that with rising fuel costs, the price of an object needs to be inflated to cover transportation costs. It used to be inexpensive to ship wheat to Russia. Not anymore. So as long as commodity prices stay high, especially fuel, margins will be taxed.

    As for the comment that the falling dollar is allowing companies like IBM to report big profit increases, it is the repatriatization of the foreign currencies back into US dollars that inflates the earnings – not the export of US goods by IBM.

  36. mike montagne – PEOPLE For Mathematically Perfected Economy commented on Apr 28

    “If you can’t put the lariot on the calf critter, you’re no damn good.”

    Some of these comments, like the first and third are so excellent. I don’t benefit from this (I receive as much hate mail as these lariots must), but it *has* been my life’s work to advocate solution; and I tell you all once again that it is for ignoring the fundamental principles at the very bottom of all this that we are suffering these problems.

    In other words, lariats who *were* any damn good would not by trying to explain away the facts; they would have projected all this as a simple computer model I provided the Reagan Administration in the early 1980s did (which model you can still download from my pages).

    That model, for praticed/imposed rates of interest and “growth” projected a maximum practical lifespan of the present “economy” to approximately 2010 AD.

    In other words, a privatized circulation even *intended* to reap unearned profit by an inherently ever escalating and *irreversible* process eventually imposes collapse.

    How so?

    Merely to maintain a vital circulation we are forced perpetually to re-borrow whatever we pay against principal and interest obligations as subsequent sums of debt, perpetually increasing therefore so much as periodic interest on the sum of debt.

    The process is irreversible, because so long as you maintain a circulation, you are multiplying insoluble debt upon yourselves.

    This explains your price inflation, your unemployment, your lies, your debt, the exhaustion of opportunity, and the resultant deflation as you soon fail to meet the obligations of the abysmally unpayable debt which has been artificially multiplied upon you.

    Someone here asked if there is a solution. In 1979 I published papers arguing then that there is one and one only integral solution to 1) inflation and deflation, 2) systemic manipulation of the cost or value of money or property, and 3) inherent, irreversible multiplication of debt in proportion to a circulation.

    Google “mathematically perfected economy” ( if you are disposed to rectify our situation. Otherwise, sit back and excuse whatever you shall continue to lose away.

  37. Mario Sikorski commented on Apr 29

    “Learn how America could escape a bout of the unstoppably widely-spreading world wide debt famine and food shortage – by adopting the voice of PfmPe solution.

    US abyssimally unpayable debt has to be fix, and fix ASAP, for the bankers max themselves out to the limits of unimaginable possibilities and are not brained enough to see alternative possibilities”.mms

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