When stumped, it’s sometimes useful to consult a 10-year-old. I have been gathering material for this blog and sketching out the strategy for the first dozen or so posts, but there is just so much to write about. I have urgent interests in macro-economics, meta-ethics, power dynamics, philosophy of science, and statistics, to name a few. (I also have long-running obsessions ranging from game theory to “the meaning of the word ‘meaning'”). And in just the past few days current events have included the bursting of a stock market bubble in China, the completion of a nuclear deal with Iran, the steamrolling of Greek sovereignty by the “Euro Group”, and a declaration from Pope about the reality of (and moral implications of) climate change. Where do I even begin? Trying to describe my predicament to a nearby 10-year-old, I came up with the metaphor of a “eating a plate of spaghetti the size of this house.” How do you even decide where to take the first bite? “Start at the top,” she replied simply. OK, then.
Having just recently completed undergraduate degrees in economics and philosophy, I have a huge backlog of books and papers to read, as well as a list of topics to explore and write about, accumulated during the past few semesters in the form of “notes to self.”
To start I will be walking through a talk by Larry Summers given to the National Association for Business Economics in early 2014 (eventually published in their journal as “U.S. Economic Prospects: Secular Stagnation, Hysteresis, and the Zero Lower Bound”). I think this is a useful starting point for this blog because it raises a wide range of questions and leads to a very interesting conclusion — unfortunately buried near the end. Having been a candidate for Chairman of the Federal Reserve, he speaks in the same “sharp as a feather pillow” language as Janet Yellen, designed perhaps to avoid offending large egos on the one hand and unnecessarily alarming the hoi polloi on the other. I suffer from no such constraints, so I will happily translate for him as well as I am able. The paper is complex enough that it will take as many as a dozen posts just to summarize and explain the points. If you wish to read the paper yourself, it is available on his web site here.