(singing). Welcome to Economics & Beyond. I’m Rob Johnson, president of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. (singing). I’m here today with Bill Janeway, INET co-founder, board member, collaborator, and many, many things. He spent a great deal of time in the Venture Capital World at Warburg Pincus and is illuminated for us in a wonderful course. The relationship between technology governance with an eye towards addressing climate change. We maybe talk about that a little bit later, but Bill, thanks for joining me. Really excited to talk about what others will call the Janeway Institute. You’ll call the New Institute at Cambridge, which is a follow on after roughly 10 years of an INET Cambridge and I attended virtually your introductory meetings a week so ago and heard all kinds of enthusiasm from your team and many, many excellent scholars, including Joseph Stiglitz, Hyun Shin, and Eileen Ray.
So I think there’s a lot to celebrate and a lot of very good people, or how do we say? Pushing the cart with you. So thanks for joining me and exploring what it is that you’re doing. What I guess I’d start with is very simple. What inspired you to create this Janeway Institute? Where does that come from in your own heart?
Thank you, Rob. Thanks very much for this opportunity to share the history, the experience, the process, and the promise that have all gone together into creating this new institute. The origins go back actually more than 50 years back to when I was a research student at Cambridge University. I had the honor of receiving a Marshall scholarship when I graduated from Princeton. I was determined that I was going to go to Cambridge, and if you like, learn in the shade of John Maynard Keynes. I had encountered Keynes as an undergraduate. I had many conversations with my father who’d actually met Keynes in the early 1930s in London, and I was deeply inspired by both his vision for the way the world works and the importance of integrating into that vision and understanding of politics and finance in order to have an economics that made sense and corresponded with the dynamics of the real world.
I wrote my thesis, not unrelated to all of that. My PhD thesis on economic policy in Britain from 1929 to ‘31. Labor government was elected. The first majority Labor government ever was elected with a mandate to improve or to benefit the poor. It represented the organized working class and it was overwhelmed by the great depression. And it was overwhelmed by the forces that generated the great depression. Many of which came out of the financial system. I took away from that experience of spending four years of very, very focused work. I took away three lessons, deep lessons that’s stayed with me all the time from then until now and I expect I will die with it. The first is the deep interdependence of the financial system and the real economy of employment consumption, investment savings that the money is not a veil money, is not neutral. What goes on in the financial system influences what goes on in the real economy and it feeds back from the real economy to the financial system.
The second is that interactive interdependent complex system is fragile. We cannot depend upon it to sit in a state of stable equilibrium. And that’s a very good part because every participant, individual and institutional is operating, and this is deep Keynesian operating under conditions of more or less radical uncertainty about what the few consequences of decisions that have to be made today. Whether to buy or sell shares, whether to raise or lower interest rates, if you’re the central bank. Whether to build a new factory, whether to buy securities, all of those issues are made without the ability to know what the longer term consequences are going to be.
Now, because of those lessons, when in roughly 1970, I was considering what I was going to do. What I decided I could not do was stay within the confines of mainstream academic economics. It was very much a case that Paul Samuelson and MIT had won a war with Keynes’s descendants from whom I had studied, who had influenced me. Richard Conn, the author of the multiplier and Keynes’s leading student was my supervisor. I knew John Robinson well, Piero Straffa, Pasinetti, Nicky Caldor, were all active in the faculty. And their complex and undisciplined in some many respects approach to economics had simply been overrun, beaten in the field if you like, by Paul Samuelson and Bob Solo, and by the Neo classical called model, which… As John Robinson called it bastard Keynesianism. You took Keynes to say, we can now assume that all resources are fully employed at all times, and then that allows us to return to the perfectly competitive markets of microeconomics that were the centerpiece of Samuelson’s textbook. I decided I couldn’t teach that.
So I went on what I call my 35 year sabbatical, which led me into venture capital, led me into the emergent world of computing relatively very early, when IBM was still dominant, led me to participate very actively in, if you like contributing to IBM’s loss of control as computing decentralized became networked and then globally inter-networked. And a number of significant companies emerged at a time when first, the stock market was so depressed that I tried to tell my students… I tried to explain to my students what the stock market was like in the mid 1970s. When the Dow Jones average was at bottomed down at 550, that’s 550, not 5,500.
And from there, it happened that in the late 1990s, as many of your viewers and listeners will know either by experience or certainly having read about it, the great tech internet.com bubble exploded. The Nasdaq rose by a factor of five in less than three years, four years, and everything that I’d been working on with my colleagues and partners at Warburg Pincus came to be valued at what appeared to be extremely high values. And I could look back at that point from the perspective of 1999 to what I’d learned in 1969, about 1929. And I could say to my partners, I’ve seen this movie before. I know how it ends.
So in collaboration with my boss, John Vogelstein, a great investor, Chief investment officer at Warburg Pincus. We basically liquidated my tech portfolio as aggressively as we possibly could. And my first thought was, thank you, Cambridge. It was that experience that had educated me and equipped me to be able to respond effectively to this unsustainable bubble in the stock market. And a couple of years later, three, four years later, I retired from active managerial responsibility at Warburg Pincus. My wife and I decided that we’d take a break. I didn’t want to be looking over the shoulder of the young fellows and a few women, not enough who were now in charge. And we established an alternative residents in Cambridge just in time for the global financial crisis to make everything I’d learned at Cambridge back in the late ’60s, or early ’70s, to make it profoundly relevant. And then Rob, I opened the Financial Times one day, and there was a full page ad for something called the Institute for New Economic Thinking which was about to hold or was announcing its launch conference at Kings College, Cambridge.
I hadn’t heard anything about this, but I read the ad carefully. I saw that there was a fellow involved as it happened, chairman of the board named Anatole Kaletsky, whom I’d known as an absolutely outstanding economic journalist. I got hold of Anatole, he introduced me to you. We met, we started talking, I think we shared an informed understanding both of the shortcomings of mainstream neoclassical economics, but also of the opportunity that was being opened up by the impact of the global financial crisis and the great recession. You asked if I might consider joining the board of INET. I did, I spent a year or so engaged at learning the various programs, projects, initiatives that you were orchestrating and decided that I could make a contribution of money as well as time and attention. Had a number of conversations with George Sos to leverage what I did with further commitment from George and became, as you say, a co-founder.
And what happened next was really not dependent upon me. I was only, I don’t know, toastmaster for it, but INET was looking at the possibility of establishing supporting centers of research excellence that played into that double theme. The shortcomings of received doctrine and the opportunity opened up by the crisis and the great recession. And I was reasonably well acquainted with the people who are now in charge of economics at Cambridge, long after my generation, the generation I’d learned from had retired. And I started the conversation there, but what was different about it was I think that the proposition that you and I had discussed was that INET would consider significant funding if it was the faculty of economics that generated a consensus program of research that a new center, a new Institute would be embedded within the faculty. Not outside of it. Not a sort of independent think tank, but as an engine for a storied historically enormously significant faculty to increase its capacity, its reach, its significance in recruiting and retention of first class scholars.
And it took about a year and a half or so, but somewhat I think to the amazement of people who know economic academics, the economics faculty of Cambridge actually did produce a consensus program with a set of research themes that were very much aligned with. Not just understanding what had happened, but going deeper into the dynamics of an economic system that had demonstrated its fragility so dramatically and had broken the rules that mainstream economics had laid down for it. No need to go into great detail about it, but over the next 10 years with very substantial support from New York, matched by local sources, 50/50. So there was real buy-in and skin in the game from different elements of the broader Cambridge community, Cambridge INET, the Cambridge INET Institute played the role that we had hoped it would and played it so effectively that as it became clear and appropriately so, that INET support should wind down.
I realized that the potential for perpetuating the mission and the effect of the Cambridge INET Institute was really compelling. And that’s what led to the funding that endows now in perpetuity, the new Institute to pursue these themes. Themes that address uncertainty, the complex ways that policy are translated through the economic into the real economy. The fact that market participants are not autonomous independent agents, they operate in a context, a social networked context. And of course above all, the integration of finance and economics that has been forced on both disciplines by the real world. So that’s the mission going forward. There’s direct carryover, a number of the leading economists in Cambridge who played central roles in the Cambridge INET Institute will continue as such in the new Institute with the endowment it has. However, it will have the potential to evolve creatively, responsibly.
Already it’s working. Cambridge INET was already working across the traditional disciplinary boundaries with close Alliance with the Bennett policy of public policy Institute. Diane Coyle there with the history department, looking at joint appointments in economic history and with data science. The computer lab, the one of the original computer science departments in the world, were the very powerful team and the potential for bringing together a program in data science and economics is being explored very actively. So that cheers me up a lot, and as far as I’m concerned, it really is a testimonial to INET. The testimonial to INET reach, its leverage, and its ability to launch initiatives, which then can take on a life of their own and continue and extend what INET was founded to do a dozen years ago.
Good. I’m going to pay a little tribute to my late father because as you and I were exploring at Cambridge, and I was looking at other places with your help, Berkeley, Princeton, Bentimes Center, and others, my father who was retired was a famous physician and medical researcher. And he said to me, so you had this crisis, this is early 2012. You had this crisis and you’re fine in these institutes. And he said, “Well, remember when you were young and I told you, if you’re going to be a rebel, you can’t be a dragon.” And I said, “What do you mean dad?” He said, “They think you’re a dragon and you don’t meet with them, then you’re a dragon. But when you go meet with them and you do joint ventures with them, they see that you’re a human and not a dragon anymore and you become more effective.”
And I remember him giving me that talk at his bedside at the nursing home and trying to be what you might call, creating Trojan horses with a tremendous talent and a faith in the good spirits of the people you’d work with. In many instances Cambridge really did blossom and…
It has, and one area that I think was really strong in which we saw blossom at Cambridge, but much more broadly, much more broadly around the world. In 2008 while clearly macroeconomics had cut itself off, had abstracted itself from any connection with the financial system, any exposure to what happened in the banking system, the capital markets might have an influence at real economic factors and had rooted itself in a quote micro foundation based on the fantastical abstraction of the rational representative agent. However, across the field in microeconomics, in many places, there was absolutely first class practical, empirically founded work that was undermining those micro foundations radically.
I remember so well the Nobel prize in economics in 2004, that happened to go to three great economists who happened to be all closely aligned with the Institute for New Economic Thinking. In reverse alphabetical order, John Stiglitz, Mike Spencer, George Akerlof, each of whom had contributed to or being able to understand why markets do not and cannot be generated out of the inter contemporarily optimizing behavior of agents who know fully what the consequences of their action are going to be. Who share the same model of how the world works, the same the way the economy works, and the model that happens to be correct. Each in their way contributed at the micro level.
And I remember well that George Akerlof, Nobel lecture was on… The theme of it was, the title of it was, behavioral macroeconomics. And I took that as an inspiration, as an agenda that I hope Cambridge INET has contributed to and the new Institute will contribute more to, but more generally has begun to take hold in the discipline much more broadly. And I am encouraged by what has been going on in these last 10 years.
Yeah. Well, the things like Akerlof’s EARN program, economic research and norms, identity norms, and narrative in his book with Rachel Creton about taking… Which you might call, Taking the Ice Off of Preferences and Utility Functions and seeing where people’s desire comes from. And we can go on, John Stiglitz, has a whole constellation of things that he’s done. Mike Spencer in the realm of technology is very, very sensitive, and there are many, many more. Those three happen to, how would I say? I thought they divided up the price too tightly for all three of them could have had it alone.
That’s right. That’s fair, but it was good to see that work recognized even before the crisis. That’s my point.
Yes, that’s right.
Even before the crisis, but today what we can see just looking broad brush across the discipline first. To me, the first really important and very broad, quantifiable, observable aspect of how economics has evolved in the last decade has been the shift towards empirical work. The credibility revolution, as it’s often referred to the Nobel prize this year was given to three people. Unfortunately, Kruger was not there to share that prize, he surely would have. Most of that work has been done at the micro level, but has begun to spill over, using instruments, various techniques, to fight our way through the sea of correlations. That the sea of correlations that are generated by more and more and more data into understanding real cause of relationships.
It happens that just before we went on the air, just before we started this conversation, I was reading a terrific article in the journal of the economic perspectives, the open access and accessible intellectually publication of the American economic association by Emi Nakamura of Berkeley, field medal winner and her co-author John Stinson on identification in macroeconomics. Taking instruments, tools, techniques from microeconomics and applying it to macroeconomic data in order be able to draw some pretty strong distinctions between models that make sense of the world and models that really don’t. Like real business cycle theory, for example.
That as Paul Krugman famously noted in 2009, ‘10 explained the great recession as either the great rusting or the physical capital of the world suddenly became unusable or the great vacation. The workers of the world decided to go on holiday because whatever happened, it couldn’t be a result of a shortfall in aggregate demand that could never be responsible for mass unemployment and bankruptcies and financial distress. So that again, as I say, this really cheers me up, and it says to me that INET’s been contributing to a movement, a movement that has had real impact within the discipline and is now beginning to spill over as we can see frustrating as it may be from moment to moment, but spill over to inform the policy initiatives of the Biden administration which are so different, go so far beyond what even 10 years or 12 years ago under the immediate impact of the financial crisis were considered to be inconceivable, politically impossible, intellectually impossible to grasp.
But a dozen years later, they’re not, they’re part of the policy debate. They may be stalled. They may be limited. They may be frustrated more than certainly you and I would like, but they’re on the table and they’re on the table with real backing from discipline rigorous research.
Yeah. But I see a situation where the great financial crisis was traumatic to experience as a nation macro statistics, but in it, the silver lining was the gift of breaking down what you might call hardened, false confidence and expertise, having to recognize the fault lines. And as that debate opened in well intentioned, sometimes empirically oriented people started to look more closely. We developed a momentum that moved through finance, but also started looking at the questions of distribution, inequality, race, and gender discrimination, and their contribution to inequality, and then things related to climate. Things related to the common good.
Absolutely. And this puts me in mind that some more than half a dozen years ago when we were sitting around, I think it was at a board meeting of INET, and a question kept coming up. Well, this phrase, New Economic Thinking is all very well, but it covers almost anything under the sun. What do we mean by it? And I did a little exercise that you may recall and the output of which can be found on the INET website. I wrote down what I consider just me, a short paper called, How to Recognize New Economic Thinking. And if you indulge me for a minute, I’m going to read out just a short paragraph, four points, four pillars of New Economic Thinking.
First, recognition that economic and financial decisions are necessarily made under varying degrees of uncertainty both to their direct consequences and more broadly to the future environment in which those consequences will be realized. That’s one.
Two, explicit efforts to reintegrate economic and financial studies, both theoretical and empirical all the way up and down the structural hierarchy of society. Three, reinstatement of the distribution of income and wealth as core subjects of economic and financial analysis. And then finally, taking history seriously. Thick history that reaches beyond quantitative data to take account of the evolution of the social and political and cultural context, which condition economic and financial experience. And I unequivocally can say that INET has contributed along all four of those dimensions. There are new phenomena, new academic phenomena that INET is not directing, but just to list those that has point out INET’s initial funding of Piketty’s empirical work.
Yeah. Tony Atkinson and Piketty working together?
Right on inequality. All the work…
The Price of Inequality, Joe Stiglitz’s book, I work very closely with him on that.
Roman Friedman on uncertainty and uncertainty economics. All the work from micro to macro on where finance meets the economy, whether it’s the constraints on access to finance for disadvantaged people in the population to the spill or the other side of it, the phenomena of bubbles occasionally productive. I contributed to that literature, but most often not particularly when it’s focused on real estate. And I think there’s more work to be done. I think that we’re beginning to see out of a young generation of historians who are rewriting American in history.
And it’s not the only one to be rewritten in the context of the evolution of capitalism over the last 400-500 years, which includes recognition that the most important source of wealth in what became the United States through till 1860 was wealth held in the form of human beings, of slaves. More important than industrial wealth, more important than agricultural wealth. So all of that leads me to look positively both on the discipline as it is continuing to evolve, but also on the potential influence of the discipline on the policy discussion and decisions that we will have to make. Obviously, that particularly gets us over into response to climate change as the existential challenge now on the table.
Well, you’ve talked about, sir, the role of economic history in your formative experience and again now, and what I feel like is the economic history as a discipline in the history of economic thought, are teaching people to be multidisciplinary because they have to look at the institutions. They borrow across disciplines without even knowing it and synthesize. A historian is a person who goes and looks for the clues and the methods to explain what did happen, not trying to concoct hypotheses about what might happen in the future.
Yeah. Rob, can we take a moment on that?
I’d like to take a couple of moments on that because, first of all, there are two circumstances that I think we have to take account of, which are not good. Economic history has very largely, as you know, been driven out of economic departments. Berkeley is one of the few places where Barry Eichengreen and his colleagues have maintained a real commitment to rigorous economic history. I may say in parenthesis, in Cambridge what we’re discussing is joint appointments between the history faculty and the economic faculty to rebuild and to build out a stronger, broader base in economic history. But there is an institutional challenge, which I think in my view reflects the transitory triumph of mainstream neoclassical economics in the last quarter of the 20th century, which suggested that not necessarily that history is bunk, but that history is kind of irrelevant because we have our models that abstract truth about the world.
So we don’t have to go back and look at the actual experience, but there was also another phenomenon which was cliometrics. And particularly the cliometrics associated with the Nobel prize winning, late, very significant scholar Robert Fogel, and in particular his work on the railroads, the economic significance of the railroads in the United States and on the economics of slavery. Now that work was animated by taking historical data and force fitting it into the neoclassical production thesis, the neoclassical production model. And it basically insisted that at the macro level, all resources are fully employed. But second, the only thing to focus on is the efficiency with which resources are used. So in the railroad work, which I’m very closely a student of, focal purported to demonstrate that if you’ve taken the railroads out, if the railroads had never been built, the economic process would’ve invested equivalent amounts in building more canals, in more turnpikes, more roads. And the total loss of economic activity in 1890 with no railroads, would’ve been on the order of 2% to 4%.
Now coming along a generation later, two really terrific economic historians, Hornbeck and Donaldson have looked at the data around that and have broadened the scope beyond the solo production model to include the impact of the railroads first on land values. Enormous impact on the redistribution of wealth and of income on whether or not you happen to be in the town that the railroad went through rather than away from. And the transformation of market access in turn led to fundamental restructuring of the economic geography of the United States, leading to a massive increase in industrial concentration, in manufacturing, economies of scale. And in the conclusion of the work on the impact on manufacturing, the outcome is that without the railroads, 1890 would’ve had an economy that was on the order of 25%, not 2% smaller.
That really excites me, it motivates me that this is the kind of work that minds have been liberated to explore. And I look forward now, particularly as I was mentioning to this new rethinking of American history in the context of the history of capitalism. As you know, I think it’s accessible on the INET website. I published a paper on Jonathan Levy of Chicago. Extraordinary book called the Ages of American Capitalism, and I urgent on anyone who wants to engage with this new literature.
Well, I think Bill also your book doing capitalism, which looked at a kind of history, but structural interaction between basic science and government, markets and the entrepreneurs, the people who I used to say, do the D in the R&D and transform things into economic value through the markets. You spend a lot of time in the private sector. We’re now looking at what you illuminate in your book and in the course that I mentioned at the outset is how important the state was in catalyzing many of these transformation. I knew in the years I worked on Capitol Hill, the late Felix Rohatyn in his book, Bold Endeavors.
I remember reading the manuscript as he was preparing it and giving him comments. I believe it was 11 different projects where government helped transform the structure and productivity of society. But with regards to Silicon Valley, I’ve always scratched my head when I go out and spend time in the summer, because everybody just say, Ayn Rand free marketeer, except the government played a pretty big role in how they got off the launching pad. And I’m not saying they don’t have tremendous energy and ability, but it was a complimentary within e-process.
Well, my book came out of a recognition that as a working venture capitalist in the digital, the nascent emergent digital economy from semiconductors to computers, to software and to the services that were enabled that we, the entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists who are financing them were all dancing on a platform that had been built by the United States department of defense, just as my colleagues, friends and peers who were investing in the genetic revolution of the biotechnology revolution were dancing on a platform that had been constructed by the National Institutes for Health. And that led me going back first to sponsor research that was published through a project from the social science research council, Co-Edited by Naomi Lamro and the late Ken Saklove on financing innovation in the United States series of papers. One of those papers was written by a brilliant young historian at the Harvard business school named Tom Nicholas, who went on 15 years later to publish a great history of American venture capital called VC. And I urge that on anyone.
It’s a terrific work and it certainly centers the history of the rise of venture capital as dependent upon the investments made by the state, not only in fundamental research, but as the first customer. The first support of and collaborative customer for new technology that wasn’t yet ready for commercial prime time. But there was an intersection there, that’s why I always talk about the three player game because there’s a third player in that game whose history and role in financing innovation actually goes back before an active, if you like, Hamiltonian State reach substantial scale. And that is financial speculation, the role of bubbles in financing the canals of the late 18th to the early 19th century, above all the railroads of the 19th century.
And in the 20th century, first during the roaring ’20s as I tell my students, the roaring ’20s were all about bathtub gin and flappers in the Charleston. It was also about building out the electrification of the world. In the United States, the increase in generating capacity was of three to four times in only five or six years funded by a massive speculation focused on the public utility holding companies. Most of which went bankrupt in the great depression, but like the railroads had gone bankrupt after the railway manias. Nobody pulled up the railroad tracks, nobody tore down the electricity wires. And just as in 2000, when the great internet tech bubble burst, nobody pulled up the dark fiber. It was there for good or ill available to Facebook and YouTube and Google, et cetera, and Amazon.
So this interactive mode between this is what, of course, in a pragmatic way looked at, not just the way that the interaction of finance in the real economy can be destructive as it was in 1929 to ‘31, ‘33, or as it again was in 2008, ‘09, but it can be constructive when it mobilizes resources on a scale far beyond what any set of rational, prudent investors, ranking projects on the basis on the net present value of their expected future cash flows. Of course, this can also spill over into the kind of fantasy games being played in the stock market today. I have to say, I think that the bubble that’s going on between crypto and the mean stocks and the incredible valuation of the tech giants maybe the first bubble that not deliberately, but quite directly has been sponsored by the central bank. Negative, real risk free interest rates have sent not just retail investors, but major institutional investors on the road, looking for the opportunity to accept extraordinary risk illiquidity in pursuit of positive, real returns.
I have frankly little doubt that this will not end and end disruptively at such time as the market participants recognize that the fed, the bank of England, the European Central Bank are going to be raising interest rates and eliminating the quantitative easing and this will feed back and there will be disruption. But it is to say that what is going on in those institutions, in those markets has enormous bearing on what’s going on in the real economy, including on the one hand, the allocation, the acceleration of investment in productivity enhancing invest assets. But on the other hand, also generating transitory bubbles and wealth based on the financing and valuation of businesses who have no potential whatsoever, ever to generate positive cash flow from operations and have a fundamental value to lean on when markets, as they say, lose the fantastic element and begin again to look at some measures of cash flow as the basis for valuation.
Yeah. You get a push and a pull, and in many ways the central banks created an optionality. We’re going to give you so much, liquidity is only going to go up, but when that runs out of steam, then it’s a two way street again, and the tide can go out.
Well, Bill, let’s talk a little bit about the issue of climate because here a role of government, a role at vitality of the private sector, some kind of catalytic connection and because we’re in a globalized world, it’s not one government, governments have to cooperate, number one. And number two, because it’s about the public good, the price signals won’t always tell you how valuable it is left to the market to its own devices. So how do we elevate from what Glitter Thundbird calls, blah, blah, blah, to getting it done?
Well, I think about this through a couple of different lenses. First, lens one, and this may sound… It’s not cynical and it really is, I think an important way to mobilize for how we get things done. In one dimension, the threat, the reality of climate change, the necessity of response, does have the economic and political significance weight of a major war. It is an existential crisis which can legitimize government programs, policies, interventions that under normal circumstances would be off the table. That’s number one. And in a way, I’d look at this as a potential gift to the entrepreneurial politicians who can mobilize it as in effect, better than a war, because this is one that creates the opportunity for mobilization without having to kill anybody on the contrary to save lives, that’s one.
Part two, like all economic phenomena, the devil is in the distributional consequences, both of the event and of the response. Joe Stiglitz has work with Nick Stern and his paper that derives from that, which I use in my course in Cambridge, is outstanding in recognizing how merely responding with the kind of the automatic knee jerk economist response, that if we only get the prices right, then the markets will deal with it. And across the board carbon tax is the magic bullet that will lead to the efficient response to climate change. As John points out with his usual, absolutely cutting rigor, the problem of course, is that any carbon tax is going to have radically different consequences for people, to be technical, whose elasticity of demand with respect to the price of carbon is very low versus those who’s very high. And by the way, guess what? That corresponds with poorer people versus richer people.
In Maine, if you want to have a job outside of Portland, by and large, you have to drive an hour or two hours to work each way. Telling people, well, you could always move to Portland, there are such things as general equilibrium effects. Tell me how I’m going to be able to afford to move to Portland when the housing stock isn’t elastic and it supply and demand drives up prices, just like it has, of course, in the other coastal cities and cities like San Francisco. So regulatory interventions will undoubtedly need to be negotiated sector by sector, as well as some of those interventions will lead directly or indirectly to increased price. And any tax can be redistributed back, but linking it closely to the benefits makes one remember just what a genius, a costly genius Franklin Roosevelt was.
He demanded that before any social security benefits be paid, taxes be collected in an individual social security account so that every individual would know that they had skin in the game of the social security system. And as he said at the time, “That way no goddam politician will ever be able to take away my social security. He was right. The cost of course was, it’s massive contribution to the Roosevelt recession of 1938, except for 1929 to ‘33, the single worst measured contraction in the 20th century in the United States, which contributed mightily to the Republican recovery in Congress in the 1938 elections with further consequences. But what I’m saying is that, the challenge, the opportunity represented by response to climate change can only be implemented in a complex negotiated way and the conversations between president Biden and Joe Mansion are just the beginning, just the beginning.
Second, the second distributional aspect of course, is that’s just within the United States, but the distributional impact across the world of climate change. It’s one thing to say, it’s an existential crisis for the United States, for the people at Bangladesh, let alone the people in Mauritania, it really is. And the spillovers, we have seen nothing like what the potential migratory movement. There is no place in the rich world to hide from the consequences of climate change. And the more extreme it is, the more extreme will those consequences be in the movement of peoples. So this where again, entrepreneurial politicians and I have deep respect when they emerge. And they have emerged from time to time, whether it’s Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt, entrepreneurial politicians can show how it is, in fact, in the constituency’s self-interest to be generous.
This is what after world war II, given the consequences of the catastrophe documented by Keyens in his first book, The Economic Consequence of The Side Peace, that was the lessons that was learned. It was an America’s self-interest to rebuild its former enemies to create the Marshall plan, to support the revitalization of Japanese industry rather than to impose the Cather genian piece that effectively had been imposed in 1918. Rob, I have to confess, I’m a temperamental optimist the fellow at Warburg Pincus who hired me, my collaborator in using the lessons of 1929 to save us in 1999, John Vogelstein always liked to say that you can’t survive as a venture capitalist if you’re a pessimist. The first time you lose a company, you’ll slit your throat, you’ll be out of the game. So I am an optimist, but I think there’s some basis. I think there’s some basis for optimism. It’s not by any means entirely due to the positive transformation of the discipline of economics and it’s reintegration with the discipline of finance, but it does have something to do with that. And that’s where I think we can take some pride jointly and separately, INET and its children in what we’ve been up to over the last dozen years.
Well, Bill, I’ll have to say rod shotgun with you over this decade, your collaboration, your inspiration, you becoming a founder of INET is a big, big part of that success. I’m not talking just about money. I’m talking about what was on between your ears in the board room, when you’re on the phone with me or my staff and everything else. So I can be the optimist for the moment. I think the new Institute, the Janeway Institute has tremendous potential because the precedent on which it was founded, the place where it’s based, which was your source of learning and your leadership, I think that’s an awful lot of side for the continuation of new economic thinking in your new Institute.
Well, thank you, Rob. You were present at the creation and don’t be a stranger.
And we we’ll continue this collaboration long into the future.
I agree. Thank you, Bill.
Thank you, Rob.
And check out more from the Institute for New Economic Thinking at ineteconomics.org. (singing).