I recently came across a saying about the four ways of answering questions according to the Pañha Sutta.
- There are questions that should be answered categorically [straightforwardly yes, no, this, that].
- There are questions that should be answered with an analytical answer, defining or redefining the terms.
- There are questions that should be answered with a counter-question.
- There are questions that should be put aside.
A lot of the questions that economists get asked a lot can be answered in all four ways. I thought it would be fun to play a little "Economics Q&4A." I'll provide a few examples. If you wish, chime in with your own Q&4As in the comments.
Q: Is economics a science?
- This depends on exactly how you define science and what you consider to be the bounds and scope of economics. For the most part, economists cannot do controlled laboratory experiments. You can see lots of people's opinions on this question here, and you can read Mark Thoma and Paul Krugman here.
- Does this really matter? If it were not a science, should we stop trying to do it?
- **goes back to work**
- You are probably asking about the Federal Reserve's unconventional monetary policies. For an explanation of why they haven't (and probably won't) cause problematically high inflation, see these posts.
- What do you mean by inflation problem? Isn't it possible that a bit more inflation would be a good thing? Do you see any signs of an inflation problem? Don't we have bigger problems than inflation?
- By belt-tightening, I presume you mean reducing the deficit of the federal government. You might have heard President Obama say, in 2010, "Small businesses and families are tightening their belts. Their government should too." But households are different than the government. You can read some bloggers' reactions here and here.
- Is the government a household?
Q: How should I invest my money?
- This depends on your situation and your financial goals. I don't know of any guaranteed get-rich-quick investment schemes. You should probably try to diversify, and not keep all your money under your mattress or in gold. I'm also not an investment adviser, just a young academic economist with no experience, so I'm horribly underqualified to help you with this.
- How much money do you have? And what are your investment goals? And why are you asking an economics grad student?
- **shrugs wildly**
- Here is an excerpt from Barry Eichengreen's answer:
"Envisioning a statute requiring the Federal Reserve to redeem its notes for fixed amounts of specie is easy, but deciding what that fixed amount should be is hard. Set the price too high and there will be large amounts of gold-backed currency chasing limited supplies of goods and services. The new gold standard will then become an engine of precisely the inflation that its proponents abhor. But set the price too low, and the result will be deflation, which is not exactly a healthy state for an economy...The distributional effects of deflation are no happier than those of inflation.... The populist revolt of the 1880s was stoked by farmers with fixed mortgages who labored under growing debt burdens and financial distress as a result of falling crop prices. Nor is deflation likely to support robust economic growth, as any close observer of the Japanese economy will tell you....
And even if we are lucky enough to get it right at the outset, consider what happens subsequently. As the economy grows, the price level will have to fall. The same amount of gold-backed currency has to support a growing volume of transactions, something it can do only if the prices are lower, unless the supply of new gold by the mining industry magically rises at the same rate as the output of other goods and services. If not, prices go down, and real interest rates become higher. Investment becomes more expensive, rendering job creation more difficult all over again. Under a true gold standard, moreover, the Fed would have little ability to act as a lender of last resort to the banking and financial system...Its proponents paint the gold standard as a guarantee of financial stability; in practice, it would be precisely the opposite."
3. What have you learned from history?
Q: When is Noah coming back?
- In about 3 months.
- If you mean coming back to the blog, that will be in about 3 months. However, he has never left Twitter. If you mean coming back to the United States, I think that already happened.
- What, don't you like us?
- **checks watch**