The Importance of Psychology in Economics: JSP – April 1, 2016

So I’ve taken this blog in a little bit of a different direction. For all the fellow fans of the Jason Stapleton show, I’m still listening and I’m still going to point out where he deviates from the Austrian School. It doesn’t mean he isn’t worth listening to, he is probably the best source for news from a libertarian perspective.

At one point, about 30 minutes into Friday’s program, he begins discussing the great depression, and I think he got it all right. There would have merely been a panic as there was in 1819 were it not for the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, and the various other interventions that Jason discusses.

A few minutes into this talk, he brings up a very interesting question; one about psychology and how it has an influence, about what information we receive, how we receive it, and how that makes a difference in what decisions we make.

Jason talks about how the Federal Reserve tries to keep the markets calm and chooses every word very carefully so as not to spook the markets and that Ben Bernanke was giving positive outlooks right up until a week before the housing crash of 2008.

Besides this, he brings up a very interesting question about what Bernanke knew back in 2008. Did he know the markets were going to collapse and keep it quiet? Or, was he caught off guard?  I believe he was caught off guard. I don’t think he even realized we were in trouble until we were well into the recession.  But, that’s a question that we’ll have to try to get into later.

Back to the psychology of things, I think Jason does have sort of a point. If you are an Austrian you’re probably familiar with the master builder analogy. The entrepreneurs in a market are like a master builder, working on building a house, and the master builder believes he has X number of building materials and he is just a buzz of activity building away. Then he realizes he only has X-250 building materials, and he is going to be unable to acquire anymore.  So now, he stops building and panic ensues.  Some have modified this analogy so that the builder is drunk.   Jason gets this, except he doesn’t use the analogy of a builder, but a wounded soldier on the battlefield feeling the distorting effect of morphine. Not nearly as good. The wounded soldier isn’t producing, he isn’t dealing with limited resources, he is just lying there with injuries. Though he isn’t feeling pain that he really should be feeling so he thinks he is okay when he isn’t okay at all. The master builder is producing just like the economy. But, the entrepreneurs in the economy are being deceived by the artificially low interest rates created by fractional reserve banking and the expansionary monetary policies of the federal reserve.

Now, if we suppose that the master builder is drunk, or otherwise has his senses impaired, I think that Jason’s statement has some merit. The builder believes what he is told and keeps building in his drunken state (and yes, you can build things while drunk). But, as soon as he is told the resources are not as plentiful as he thought they were, he panics.

He is intoxicated, as it were, and can’t make out what supplies he actually has through his beer goggles, but is happy to just keep building. He is relying on the interest rates, and what information the Federal Reserve tells him to determine how much material he has to build with.

So, yes, what the people down at the fed say has an impact, but it isn’t because of psychological factors, it’s because, thanks to the actions of the Federal Reserve, the economy is wearing beer goggles and can’t see for itself and is thus dependent on what the fed says about how the economy is doing.

If, for instance, we didn’t have a Federal Reserve people wouldn’t be relying on a financial guru, but would instead look to market indicators, principally the interest rates to determine where the markets are going. Instead, because we don’t have that, the market is relying on every word that comes from the Federal Reserve Chairman.

So, it isn’t a matter of psychological factors, but simply trying to see through the distortions created by manipulations of the interest rate.

Here is an article exerted from Human Action that gives a great explanation.

And, there are two good Tom Woods episodes that discuss the boom-bust:
Episode 118 and Episode 419

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