Behavioural Economics, A Methodological Account

  1. Introduction

Behavioural economics is a combination of behavioural and cognitive psychology on the one hand, and empirical economics on the other. Both strands are weak in theory and strong in empirics. Therefore in combination they have aggravated each other’s weakness, namely lack of the solid theoretical foundation. A last few decades there is a growing influence of neuroscience, offering an explanation of the results of the many experimental results. Neuroscience also lacks a solid theoretical foundation. A particular event cannot be explained by just showing which locality in the brains is at work.

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Why the Germans are NOT right about economics

In his article “Why the Germans are right about economics” in the Financial Times Gideon Rachman considers economics as part of ethics. He refers to Smith, Marx and Hayek to illustrate this view. Until the crisis of 2008 mainstream economics defended the globalization of the economy in moral terms. Then they advocated a huge rescue operation to save the bank system, without putting its top in jail. Many Americans were upset, and voted for Trump (“The system is unfair”). Also many Europeans reacted negatively; a strong rise of populist parties was the consequence. In the Greek case the US and South-Europe pled for a restructuring of the Greek debts. Rachman: Fortunately Merkel stand her ground, and did justice to the opinions of the hard working Germans, who did not ‘appreciate’ debt relieve for the Greek spenders.

Keizer: moral judgments are not the same as moral resentments, which is a term of Smith. Populists don’t make this distinction – they are the voice of these resentments. Keynes and Sen discuss the meaning of the term reasonable judgment in line with the German philosopher Kant. Moral judgment is influenced by rational judgment, which refers to judgment on the basis of a realistic analysis, in this case of the economy. So, Merkel’s refusal to restructure the Greek debts, so as to do justice to the resentments of the hard working Germans, is not a moral but a populist action.

Piet Keizer, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 29 December 2017.

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Is There An Alternative To the Neoliberal Strategy?

Dr. Piet Keizer, Associate Professor of Economic Methodology, Utrecht University School of Economics, November, 2017

There may be a time when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest – Elie Wiesel

The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people, who are evil, but because of the people, who don’t do anything about it – Albert Einstein



In the Western World TINA is popular: there is no alternative. ‘The goals of neoliberalism are the best, and so are its instruments. It offers us the best mix of freedom, equality and order by giving technological progress a clear path, complemented with a little redistribution of resources, so as to keep the people quiet’. Socialism seemed to offer a better strategy. Because of the assumed intrinsic instability of capitalism a central plan should keep the economy stable, especially by planning the necessary investments. After 1989 many believers in socialist strategy left the political scene. Many countries, that did not reach the stage of industrialisation, were ruled by conservatieve leadership. The problem of order dominated politics and richness of the mass of the people was or still is considered unnatural.

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Hayek, Keynes and Friedman about the Crisis in the Eurozone


The financial crisis of 2008 pushed the world economy into a depression. After a year or so many economies, such as those of the BRIC-countries, recovered; the eurozone, however, stayed behind. Empirical research of Eichengreen (2012) shows that those countries, which stimulated their economies performed significantly better than countries, which implemented austerity programmes. Eurozone policies harmed the eurozone over a long period, and that makes it necessary to find out why the eurozone leadership was and still is so stubborn in keeping the wrong direction. In this article we will discuss the theoretical contributions of three outstanding economists, who dominated economic science during the twentieth century: Hayek, Keynes and Friedman. We will see that the policy debates inside the eurozone were dominated by the ideas of Hayek and Friedman, while it seems almost forbidden to speak about Keynes. This bias will appear the most important reason why the eurozone has failed, and why so many economists attribute the failure to the existence of the euro rather than to ineffective monetary, budget and income policies.

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The Brexit-issue is not that important

The Brexit-issue is less important than most economists think

Most economists assume that the British referendum about Brexit is a historic moment; an issue that might change the course of European history. I think they exaggerate its importance. Of course, if most people think it is extremely important, then it is important. But I hope that in case of an exit, we all will be wise. In the first place, nobody knows when the UK steps out formally. Secondly, a whole series of negotiations will be organized to see in which cases the old EU-arrangements will still hold. Thirdly, There is a strong tendency within the EU to find out whether the integration has gone too far. The group of so-called federalists who see complete political integration as their final goal, has become ever smaller during the last few decades. The UK is definitely not the only one, which considers the growing power of ‘Brussels’ a problem.

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The German Monetary Trauma is Terrorizing the Eurozone

The German Monetary Trauma is Terrorising the Eurozone


De eurozone shows a level of unemployment, which is too high for a long period of time already (about 10% on average). When introducing the euro politicians limited the possibilities to implement adequate budget policies. From 2008 the eurozone faces a depression (not a recession). Since it means that monetary policies have become ineffective, there are no effective macroeconomic policies anymore to get out of the depression. By buying government bonds from financial institutions, which are in Draghi (ECB) makes the financial system more liquid. In an attempt to discourage the banks to hold their assets in cash, thereby encouraging them to lend credit to private consumers and investors, the refinancing rate of the ECB is even negative. It illustrates the despair of the monetary authorities: everyone is looking at the ECB, while the solution must be found through the implementation of an adequate budget policy. In this article we will show that irrationality of the powerful politicians and economists is the cause of all evil.

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Maurice Obstfeld as the New Chief-economist of the IMF – What Can We Expect From Him?

Maurice Obstfeld as the new Chief Economist of the IMF – what can we expect from him?


In the period 2006-2008 the IMF was confronted with its most serious challenge. Previous problems were all local, and the task of the IMf was to solve the problems before it could infect other parts of the global economy. Now it had to deal with a genuine macroeconomic problem. The fragility of the global financial sytem was a direct threat to the stability of the global economy as a whole. However, the most important economies in the world, did not ask the IMF for help – not even for some coordinational activities. It was the G-20 who tried to organize a global effective demand increase. It failed, however. The USA, China, India and Brazil decided to stimulate their economies, while the eurozone decided to cut government expenditures, in a desparate attempt to stick to the budget rules as established in its Stability Pact.

Fortunately the global depression took not very long -but the eurozone got into serious trouble. Its banks stayed fragile, and its economy went into a long period of depression. Especially for the Mediterranean economies the economic, social and psychic effects on the people were significant. In a shrinking market they could not compete against the North-western European economies. Greece showed the worst results, and the speaking heads of the financial markets feared a sovereign default. Then the eurozone leadership asked the IMF for help. Several eurozone economies were in bad shape too, and the IMF was assumed to have the money and the authority to give conditioned help.

Oliver Blanchard

At that time Oliver Blanchard was the Chief Economist of the IMF. Many economics students know him from his popular textbook on macroeconomics (Blanchard et al. 2011). But close reading of his book leads to the conclusion that the text is methodologically speaking a chaos. He mixes up different interpretations of the concept of time: sometimes the typical neoclassical idea of logical time, and in other cases the typical heterodox idea of historical time. He interprets Keynesian analysis as short run, and neoclassical analysis as medium run, which is typical neoclassical – and in sharp contrast with Keynes. In such a construction it is difficult to see that in the neoclassical view both periods – short run and medium run – start at the same moment. So, if we want to solve the crisis in the neoclassical way, we must reduce the influence of the government from the first moment. But if we build a short run period in our analysis, which pretends to reflect Keynesian ideas, then we should start with an increase in effective demand. According to Keynes that means that the crisis will be solved within a few years. But according to the neoclassical approach this makes the crisis even worse.

It is interesting to see that Blanchard as the Chief Economist of the IMF showed this ambiguity regularly. At one moment he agreed with the eurozone leadership in its neoclassical strategy, but at other moments he warned and suggested that the effective demand should be stimulated. It made the IMF a weak partner of the other two parties in the so-called Trojka – Eurozone leadership and European Central Bank – , both dedicated to the neoclassical strategy. In the case of Greece the IMF took firmly the side of its partners in crime, and offered financial help under the conditions of sharp expenditure cuts and liberal reforms only. For a genuine Keynesian it was no wonder that this strategy made the Greek situation worse – thereby making political Left more popular.

This year Oliver Blanchard withdrew, and was succeeded by Maurice Obstfeld. It is very important to see what we can expect from this economist. Before we discuss his views, we will make a distinction between equilibrium and disequilibrium economics (Keizer, 2015). Then we will discuss the question, which kind of economics will be the most realistic for the near future.

Future imbalances require heterodox approaches

The neoclassical analysis dominates Western economic thinking. It is based on the idea of the homo oeconomicus, an idealtype of person, who is assumed to be economic, rational and non-social. The analysis based on this idea shows that a free market economy has the tendency to return to market equilibrium. So, if there are disequilibria on some or many markets, governments should not intervene – just wait and let the markets do their job. Heterodox economics rejects this idea, and states that free market economies are unstable, and in need for intervention, mostly by governments (with the Austrian School as the exception) (Keizer, 2015). So, in order to understand complex market economies, including its institutions, we need a broader framework, and a more sophisticated foundation than the familiar homo oeconomicus. Examples of heterodox economic schools, which have barely space in the academic educational programmes are the radical economic approach, the post-Keynesian perspective, the evolutionary-economic approach, behavioural economics and social economics.They all have a different understanding of the crisis, but do barely play a role in the political discussions – the decision-makers have no knowledge of these alternative views.

In some economies the crisis seems over, but in other areas it is still going, with far-reaching consequences for the people. Greece, Italy, Spain, and recently also Great Britain shows the emergence of a new kind of political Left. Most Dutch politicians suggest that the crisis is over – but meanwhile the world around the Netherlands looks more unstable than ever. Important sources for new disturbances are The Chinese economic decline, the new Russian unreliability, the ‘Arab Spring’, the sharp reductions in the oil price. Moreover, most financial and monetary experts agree that the global financial system is still very fragile. Positive news from the large Stock Exchanges is at odds with the other news – as if the financial investors are aliens, who are not aware of what is going on in the world.

Maurice Obstfeld

Like Blanchard he wrote an important textbook on “Foundations of International Macroeconomics (Obstfeld & Rogoff 1996). This makes it possible to see what he considers to be important topics and perspectives in his specialization. The book counts 806 pages, and has played an important role in prestigious university programmes under the heading ‘International Finance’. This course title shows how Obstfeld approaches the international economic relations: a phenomenon, which is dominated by the global financial market. On the international level labour is quite immobile, goods are more mobile, but capital is very mobile. Therefore, capital is the decisive factor, and his book does not pay much attention to the goods market, and barely to the labour market.

A second characteristic of the book is its continuing emphasis on the micro-foundations of its analyses. Without being explicit it is clear that the authors refer to the assumed homo oeconomicus. It means that the global economy is not approached from a global perspective – it is just the aggregate of economies of many countries. This country perspective has far-reaching consequences for the IMF-policies. The typical micro methodology implies that a global economy, which is out of balance must be restored by many countries, who improve the competitiveness of their economies (Keizer, 2015). The book appears a very sophisticated expression of this typical neoclassical thinking, without any reference to serious alternatives. Even the macroeconomics of Keynes is not discussed and compared with the neoclassical approach.

A third characteristic of the book is the absence of a serious discussion of the institutions. Labour markets are not discussed, and therefore social security matters do not matter. The discussion of welfare states versus free market economies is completely ignored.

A fourth characteristic is the minor attention it pays to the problem of a currency area. The texts imply that a currency area needs a government, that is responsible for the implementation of the one and only fiscal policy, which is budget balance.

A last and interesting characteristic is the broad attention it pays to the socalled trilemma. According to Obstfeld and Rogoff there is a trilemma in the relationships between the degree of capital control, the exchange rate regime and the monetary policy regime. If capital flows are free, and the exchange rate is fixed, monetary policy cannot be used to manipulate the interest rate. In case of a regime of floating exchange rates, and capital flows are still free, monetary authorities are independent and can implement monetary policies of their liking.

If we would make a more realistic analysis of the global economy, we might be able to construct all sorts of dilemma’s, trilemma’s and even hexalemma’s. These include the labour market regime, the social protection regime and the degree of trade protection, for instance.

By leaving out so many important topics and relationships, the book is politically highly biased. If the IMF attracts the best and the brighest economics students, who had to study neoclassical finance rather than genuine international economics about the global economy, we must be pessimistic about the quality of the policy advice of the IMF in the near future.

The book is published in 1996 – long before the crisis. May be Obstfeld himself has been through a crisis and had switched to a more pluralistic stand. Reading Obstfeld, Cho, Mason (eds.) (2012) there is not any sign of such a reversion. It is all standard neoclassical.

In his textbook there is one sentence, which could function as a straw to be clutched: p.632: “the key result that fixed exchange rates are optimal when financial disturbances dominate is likely to hold in more complete models”. Out of the blue we read a text, which expresses the insight that in turbulent periods fixed prices might contribute to the stability of the economy as a whole rather than preventing micro-markets from returning to their equilibrium.


It is shocking to discover that the most important economist, who is involved in global economy matters, essentially denies its existence! “There is no such thing as a global economy”. There are many global markets, of which the capital markets are the most important ones –period. To me such a position means the end of macroeconomics. What is left is microeconomics, which can be applied to persons, organizations and markets. If every person and every organization is trying to improve its competitiveness, it is at the benefit of everyone.

It is easy to predict that for Obstfeld and his allies it will be difficult to understand politically important economists, who have a different economics education. The economists of the Chinese Central Planning Bureau, for instance, have developed sophisticated radical economic analyses. Some other countries are advised by economists, with ample knowledge of the post-Keynesian ideas and concrete policy advices (Keizer, 2015). The Greek case has shown us the lack of understanding of the Trojka. Not only the IMF-economists, but all economists in the world would profit from an extensive economics programme of a pluralist type.


Blanchard, O., A. Amighini, F. Giavazzi, Macroeconomics (2011), a European Perspective. London: Prentice-Hall.

Keizer, Piet (2015), Multidisciplinary Economics, A Methodological Account, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Obstfeld, Maurice, Kenneth Rogoff (1996), Foundations of International Economics, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Obstfeld, Maurice, Dongchul Cho, Andrew Mason (eds.) (2012), Global Economic Crisis: Impacts, Transmission and Recovery, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

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The Greek people are proud of being the inventors of democracy. This concept refers to self-governance on all levels of society. At the moment the economic problems are very difficult to solve, and society is at the edge of a very serious divide. About a few days there is a referendum about the Trojka-proposals. Whatever the result, the near future of Greece will be problematic, and sustainable solutions take a long time. If the Greeks say yes to the Trojka, there will be financial help, primarily to pay-off the Greek debts and ongoing liberalization. If the people say no, there is no financial help, but also no debts anymore. In both cases the Greeks have barely access to the international financial markets, which is a serious restriction, of course.

Whatever the result of the referendum, the Greek people should work on the improvement of their democracy[1].


Self-governance on the personal level means that a particular person knows his dreams, and have the willpower to go for it with an open mind. On the social level self-governance means that groups, such as families, neighbourhoods, and labour organizations, function well. It means that they also operate with an open mind towards other social communities. If some communities are much wealthy and capable, communities should invite rich and capable communities to sponsor them and to offer management skills for all sorts of social activities, such as sports, music practising, activities with handicapped people, youth care, and neighbourhood watch.

On the level of the economy unions must operate democratically; for the members in the first place, but with an open mind to the interests of other workers. On the national level they must be co-responsible for macro-stability, and legislation, which guarantee workers a fair and decent job and a decent living – also for workers who are unemployed, ill or handicapped. On the micro-level unions must fight against corruption, fraud and discrimination. Employers’ organizations are not the enemy, but if they are not open minded, all peaceful instruments must be used to persuade these organizations, to negotiate and close a fair deal.

Employers should organize themselves in an transparant way, and formulate strategies to be or to become well-functioning parts of a bigger and democratic whole. Their contribution to society should not stick to members of their own networks, but should extend to everyone, who appears willing to contribute positively to their labour organizations.

On the level of society at large, Socrates-like discussions about everything important between open-minded people should fill the Greek media. Now the press is in the hands of a few capitalists, as is the case in many countries in the Western world. Internet is a marvellous instrument in this respect.

Political balance

Societies in disarray tend to search for extreme solutions; dictatorship seems attractive. A truly democratic society finds its solution in the people themselves. Economically it means a mix of free markets and government production, socially it means voluntary work of many kinds by committed persons, and politically it means a radical centre. ‘Radical’ refers to a well-thought position – not just a compromise. ‘Centre’ means that there is a balance between indvidual freedom, social justice and societal order. This radical centre cannot be based on a compromise between powerful groups, which serve their own short-term interests. It can only be based on a common culture, which expresses societies’ democratic values – in short: every person counts! All powerful groups should underline this value. Only in this way a society can avoid capitalist exploitation as well as conservative dictatorship.

Be faithful to your own principles

Strong personalities do not wait taking economic, social and political action, until others have formed impressive groups. They are intrinsically motivated to function well in a democracy. THEY ARE INSPIRED AND BEGIN! (dutch); (English)

Piet Keizer(2015), Multidisciplinary Economics, A Methodological Account, Oxford: Oxford University Press.





[1] For all persons, and for all people it is desirable to continuously work on an imporvement of their democracy. For Greece this is more than ever an important issue.

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Piet Keizer on the Bump, Bust, Bump Movie

Piet Keizer on the Bumb, Bust, Bump movie

Tuschinski Theater, Amsterdam Tuesday 26 may, 16.00 h. première!

The movie is about the incapability of neoclassically educated economists to foresee the financial crisis 2008, and it deals with the problems of the neoclassically orientated politicians and media economists in diagnosing the actual situation. It offers serious criticism on the neoclassical dominance, and is presented in a funny Monty Pyton-like way.

The paradigm of the movie

The movie focusses on the rationality axiom of the neoclassical analysis, which is

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Economics as an (In)dependent Science


Science has always been heavily influenced by the ideologies and interests of people. Although this phenomenon is unavoidable, it makes sense to reduce it as much as possible.

When reviewing the history of economics, we see that texts were influenced by the interests of the political and clerical powers, and later by the interests of traders and factory-owners, or by the intertests of the workers. During the 17th and 18th century moral philosophers became more independent of private interests, and searched for universal truth. Adam Smith is considered as the first economist, who made economics to an independent science. He was followed by economists, such as David Ricardo, Robert Malthus, and Karl Marx. Now we group these economists under the heading Classical Political Economy.

The question arises of which economics became more independent. There are three possibilities: independent of economic-social-political powers (1), of the subject of the

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