John Komlos


John Komlos (born 28 December 1944) is an American economic historian of Hungarian descent and former holder of the chair of economic history at the University of Munich.

Quotes edit

On the Significance of Anthropometric History (1994) edit

by John Komlos, as published in Essays in Anthropometric History (1994) Stature, Living Standards and Economic Development ed. John Komlos, pp. 210-220.
  • The importance of anthropometric history is accentuated by the debate over the course of the material standard of living during the early phases of the industrial revolution, when food consumption still accounted for as much as three-fourths of total income among the laboring classes, even in the most advanced European societies.
  • Although scientists have been interested in the study of human height from a medical, biological, or anthropological point of view for centuries, economic historians became aware of the implications of quantifying nutritional status only recently.
  • Anthropometric history... has the advantage of having an abundant evidential basis beginning with the seventeenth century... This approach acknowledges... the inherent multidimensionality of the concept "standard of living" and asserts that the several dimensions might not move synchronously, and therefore they ought not to be collapsed into a single indicator...
  • Although a positive correlation between height and income has been amply documented... the correspondence has been found to be less than perfect... Thus some caveats are in order, because the distribution of income has also been found to affect the mean stature... and... the mix of calorie and protein intake matters to the growth process.
  • In the United States, beginning with the birth cohorts of the 1830s, adult male stature declined, by more than two centimeters. Men appear to have been quite underweight... an average... of 126 pounds... in their late teen-age years, even though... the economy was expanding rapidly... (between 1840 and 1870, per capita net national product increased by more than 40%). In the Hapsburg Monarchy, the decline in stature during the second half of the eighteenth century was between three and five centimeters. A similar pattern was found for industrializing Montreal. The birth weight of infants there fell after the 1870s, indicating that the nutritional status of mothers was declining.
  • Rapid economic growth brought about stress on the human organism, even though by conventional measures the standard of living was increasing.
  • [W]hile income determines the position of the demand curve for food, an individual who purchases food at higher market prices might consume less of it than a self-sufficient peasant isolated from the market... even if the income of the former is greater...
  • The divergence in the trend of biological and conventional indicators of well-being can be explained... [R]apid population growth and... urbanization... increased demand for food at a time when the agricultural labor force grew more slowly than the industrial... and the gains in labor productivity in agriculture... were lagging... Hence food prices rose relative to... other goods. ...Thus while the real wage might actually rise, it often did not rise as fast as food prices...
  • Because the price of a calorie is much greater if purchased through meat... there was a tendency to substitute away from meat consumption during the early phases of industrialization. This caused the intake of protein... to fall, making it difficult... to fight off nutrition-sensitive diseases.
  • [P]er-capita income can be an ambiguous measure of welfare during the early stages of economic development unless it moves in the same direction as the biological standard of living...
  • [I]n Europe the quantity of land under cultivation could be expanded only slowly; therefore, population growth ran again into Malthusian ceilings in the eighteenth century. The subsequent rise in food prices led to a decline in consumption, particularly of meat, because the price elasticity of demand for meat was much greater than that of grains.
  • [A] more unequal distribution in income will have a negative effect on the mean height of a population.
  • [S]o far all anthropometric studies have indicated substantial gender-based differences in the biological standard of living during episodes of economic change. ...[F]emales began to experience nutritional stress earlier than men during a downturn and were less likely to show improvements in an upswing.
  • In all studies without exception, the positive relationship between social status and physical stature has been consistently documented in various societies and at different times. ...[E]ven in egalitarian America, social standing affected height throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the wake of the New Deal, these effects became less pronounced as income distribution became less skewed.
  • [N]utritional advantages of the New World were quite pronounced by the early eighteenth century. Thereafter, the height of the American population was above European norms until the mid-twentieth century, confirming the extent to which the new... environment was favorable from a human biological point of view.
  • Being isolated from markets... had its advantages as long as the population density did not exceed the carrying capacity of the land, because subsistence peasants/farmers had little choice but to consume all of their own food output. Once they became integrated... they had to compete with other segments of the population for food, which tended to impinge on their nutritional intake...
  • [I]n the United States... southerners were 1.5 cm taller than men of the more industrialized North, even though the per capita income was greater in the North. ...Although England had a higher per capita income... as much as 25%, its soldiers were shorter than those of the United States in the eighteenth century. A century later, Irish recruits into the Union Army were taller than soldiers born in England, although English per capital income was... higher...
  • [M]uch work remains to be done before we have even a complete anthropometric history of Europe and America. ...The contributions to this volume testify to the fact that much has already been accomplished. ...It is important that the research continue, inasmuch as it promises to illuminate a large number of problems.

Foundations of Real-World Economics (2019) edit

: What Every Economics Student Needs to Know and Doesn't Get in the Usual Principles Text by John Komlos
  • The financial crisis of 2008 illustrated... how markets often go haywire, yet textbooks remain unchanged, failing to convey the fundamental flaws and systematic weaknesses of the free-market system.
  • The recent election of Donald Trump was fueled by... an economic system that skews its benefits to a select few and leaves too many... scrambling to eke out a bare existence.
  • [A]cademics and politicians continue to sing the praises of abstract markets as if... descended... from heaven while maintaining... silence about the fact that without government help, countless... corporations would have landed in the dustbin of history.
  • [T]eachers of economics should admit... that while markets do well in some circumstances they only do so within an appropriate institutional framework and... in others... [they] often tip the stream of benefits toward a few insiders.
  • The ideological commitment to "market fundamentalism," ...has brought us to our current, precarious situation.
  • I hope the present volume can... improve the teaching of economics by presenting a real-world perspective as opposed to the fantasy world of mainstream textbooks.
  • [I]deology is unavoidable in economics because... [of] values and an organizing system of thought... preconceived notions of how the world works. This is unavoidable.
  • Greenspan and Benjamin Bernanke... ignored the evidence because they were blinded by their ideology and the infallibility of the markets. They were prisoners of their own ideology.
  • If one does not subject... ideology to empirical evidence... ideology becomes dogma.
  • [W]e cannot help but... to organize our thoughts without making some fundamental assumptions... a function of our... mindset, worldview... intellectual and emotional commitments... [that] influence... ideas developed in the discipline.
  • [E]conomics cannot be purged of ideology...
  • [E]conomics—despite the extensive use of mathematics—will not be a rigorous discipline until it is based... on verifiable empirical evidence.
  • I consider my views to be progressive, democratic, and humanitarian. ...[W]e could restructure the ecomomy improve our lives by focusing on increasing our life satisfaction instead of on income growth.
  • Pain... plays a major role in my thinking. I advocate its minimization.
  • [C]hildren who are attending dysfunctional schools in dysfunctional neighborhoods, people... unable to catch their bearings in... the IT revolution and globalization, the working poor... trapped in a culture of poverty... ought not be treated like machines without feelings.
  • My focus is on real human beings... rather than inanimate objects... as money or abstract concepts... which economists often substitute for the human dimension.
  • I do not believe that... income translates... into life satisfaction... particularly... statistical averages, because these hide what is going on in the lower tail of income distribution... [a] skewed... political force... manipulated by... Trumpism.
  • [T]he current U.S. economic system... is incapable of providing a satisfactory life to... 44% of the population. ...[I]s that good enough for a $20 trillion economy... supposedly the richest in the world?
  • [E]conomics ought to aspire to... a just society... in which compassion is as important as efficiency, if not more so.
  • [T]he economy should minimize suffering, while enhancing human dignity and self-worth.
  • [A] kinder and more just economic system is... one that is embedded in a truly democratic society that not only empowers people but enables them to live their daily lives with less uncertainty, less manipulation, less taking advantage of... weaknesses, and less fear that their lives could collapse like a house of cards. This capitalism... envisions... zero unemployment, zero inflation, zero trade deficits, and zero government deficit over the business cycle.
  • The purpose of any economic system ought not to be growth for its own sake, but the efficient allocation of resources. Foremost... the provision of a decent life in which output is distributed equitably, people do not need to struggle to meet their basic needs... and... realize their human potential. This means... sufficient leisure time to participate in... social, cultural, and political life.
  • The growth-at-any-price perspective does not consider... distribution: economic growth will not help the destitute, the uneducated underclass, or the majority of those... unemployed.
  • [I]n... 2017... 40% of the population evaluated their life as "struggling" and another 3%... "suffering."
  • [R]andom allocation at the start of life cannot... be the basis of a good society.
  • [F]ree markets, being a human invention, often become dysfunctional; they do not deserve our blind faith.
  • [T]here are better ways to measure progress than in terms of money.
  • One need not be a native utopian to be appalled by a society... [of] gross inequality...
  • There must be something wrong with an economics that fosters a system that leaves so many... stranded that they strike back at the establishment by voting for a leader such as Donald Trump.
  • [T]his book is dedicated to a new kind of economics that promotes Capitalism with a Human Face.

A Progressive View on the Need for a Paradigm Shift in Economics (Dec 2020) edit

A Youtube video presentation by John Komlos, Les inégalités et l'Ere progressiste: Quels enseignements contemporains? (3 décembre, 2020) from the CREG: Centre de recherche en Economie de Grenoble channel
  • Reaganomics was supposed to be good for the economy. It meant small government, low taxes, trickle down economics, deregulation, and all of these turned out to be bad... The slogan was to starve the beast... the government...
  • Reagan lowered the taxes on the top bracket and that made the [top] 1%... super rich.
  • Today 21% of [total] annual income goes to 1% of households. ...That cannot be the basis of a good democracy.
  • Blackboard economists said that globalization would be good for Americans. ...It had a few winners and... many losers. ...It ...led to an epidemic of Deaths of Despair in which so much was destroyed in America. Hyper-globalization destroyed... neighborhoods and cities and everything in the Rust Belt... It was like an atomic bomb hit... Alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses accelerated... the destruction of human lives.
  • Deregulation was supposed to make the economy more efficient... but instead it led to the financial crisis... and Blackboard Economists did not even see the crisis coming when it was around the corner.
  • [H]ousing prices had doubled by 2005 in 10 years time, which would have made sense if incomes had also increased substantially, but they didn't.
  • [H]ousehold incomes... weren't going up. You don't need a Ph.D. in economics to figure out that something's not right with that.
  • [I]n 2016. ...Trump ...said ...this is a good economy ...tremendous, we've never had it so good... but... people do not kill themselves [or kill strangers] to the extent of 150,000 people per annum in a good economy. You've got to generate a lot of despair in order to do that...
  • They were also disregarding the real true unemployment rate... even in January of 2016, among African Americans 16%... were unemployed... so this is not full employment... and by education, among African Americans [those who did not finish high school] 32% were unemployed. Now you know why the George Floyds get into trouble with the law. They are not able to find their place in the legal labor market. ...So this is what Marty Feldstein and Donald Trump think of [as] a good economy. Not in my view!
  • [W]ith 250 years of growth... we... have 78% of the US workers living from paycheck to paycheck. No savings. ...40% of adults do not have $400 for an emergency expense.
    • Ref: Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017 (May 2018) p.21.
  • The Gallup poll says that half of the population is doing well, 52%... thriving, but the rest are either struggling or suffering... 44% struggling means that they have a very difficult time meeting their obligations. That's not a good economy.
    • Ref: Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, January 2008-November 2013.
  • The meltdown of 2008 was a wasted crisis... because the homeowners were not bailed out. The financial sector was bailed out, the banks... the bankers... but... 8 million homeowners were thrown out of their homes.
  • Usually the relationship between the true unemployment rate and the official unemployment rate is 2:1.
  • Here is the Lehman Brothers, 2008... the assets of the Federal Reserve is under $1 trillion... and within weeks you have more than a doubling of the assets of the Federal Reserve, and then comes quantitative easing 2 and... 3 and by that time you're at $4 1/2 trillion... and then... comes the Covid crisis and we're up to $7 trillion. Now... that kind of a Capitalism is unsustainable. ...[N]o wonder that there is asset inflation as a consequence... and the stock market went through the roof.
  • The US became a dual economy... which generated a lot of despair. Half the population is doing well and the other half is getting by... or getting by in very difficult circumstances... Trump would not have won otherwise in 2016. That's the basis of the Trump revolution... against... the political elite, the foreign policy elite, the intellectual elites.
  • So why were economists so wrong? The problem is that economics is an axiomatic theory, it's deductive, based on assumptions almost all of which are false [with] too many omitted factors, and they don't care about contradictions. They don't care about people killing themselves... That's not an economic problem.
  • The economic playing field is not level.
  • With [incomplete or] assymetric information [and that's practically always the case]... Stiglitz and Greenwald proved... markets are inefficient, and that should be the default model.
    • Ref: Bruce C. Greenwald and Joseph Stiglitz, "Externalities in Economies with Imperfect Information and Incomplete Markets" (1986) The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 101, Issue 2, pp. 229-264.
  • [Imperfect information is ubiquitous.] People with more [or better] information can take advantage of people with less information, so exploitation becomes a real possibility.
  • People who are cheaters, swindlers who can take advantage, especially of poor people... [who] do not have the education... the information. They cannot afford to buy the information so they get the short end of the stick... [O]pportunistic behavior is a big problem in the economy, and economists are not paying... attention...
  • People are not rational. Mainstream economics is pre-Freudian... because they don't think about the subconscious mind. Daniel Kahneman... has proven that rationality is impossible for mortals, human beings [with finite minds]... We're not superhuman.
  • [F]our economists have received Nobel Prizes for Behavioral economics... [T]hat should be the default model. ...Forget about rationality. That's a silly assumption.
  • IQ, intelligence quotient is normally distributed. ...The smart can take advantage of those with low IQ. That's not going to be the basis of a good economy and a good democracy if if people take advantage of one another. ...That's especially true of an educational system that is mediocre for a goodly portion of the population.
  • Economists disregard the... crucial result that people can be conditioned and... corporations can take advantage of that.
  • The character is formed during the first few years of life, and the corporations have an impact on the way we think... so consumer sovereignty... is not realistic, because producers spend an incredible amount of money in order to condition children and youth to drink Coca-Cola, to depend on the iPhone, to go to hamburger joints, to McDonald's... So adult economics, forget it! You've got to start the analysis with children, and that means that tastes are endogenous [determined within the economic system! ...The assumption of exogenous tastes is toxic.]
  • Status seeking is important. Relative incomes matter... Mainstream... economists said inequality was not a problem, and that's how we got an oligarchy [and populism].
  • We're not Robinson Crusoes. We live in a society and we're influenced by social forces, social processes, and that's not included in the DSGE models.
  • Wealth is... political power... and that's how we got from a democracy, to an oligarchy, to a plutocracy. Economists forgot completely about the need for countervailing power... and the oligarchs have taken over...
  • Power is the ability to control the action or thought of others. ...The oligarchs use their power also to control the thinking. They invested heavily... to control the thinking of the population.
  • [Oligarchs] are spending a lot of money on lobbies to influence government, and... the laws are made to benefit those that already are privileged.
  • Future generations cannot influence our decisions today unless we approach the problem from a moral perspective.
  • [The need for [j]ustice [and morality] is innate in human beings, and mainstream economics neglects [ethics,] justice [and morality].
  • [J]ustice is as important as efficiency.
  • Path dependence means that many processes are non-reversible... Poor people who go to poor schools... can't get into college and their whole life course is messed up...
  • Taxes are not all bad. ...[T]axes are used for infrastructure investments, for schooling, for basic research, and to bail out markets when they go haywire.
  • [M]arkets were not made in heaven... and they are helping the privileged, as they are constituted today.
  • [M]ainstream economics is fundamentally flawed [and] ignores the elephant in the room, which is the real existing economy.
  • I am advocating... a new paradigm of humanistic Rawlsian economics which puts human beings at the center... and not income, not growth, not GNP...
  • [T]he current system depends too much on luck. If you choose your parents right and you live in a decent neighborhood, you can grow up and become a productive member of the society... and John Rawls argues that... [luck] cannot be the basis of a just society.
  • Rawls says... let's design an economy... in such a way that you would be willing to enter that society at random. That's a just society... You don't know your position in it. You don't know whether you're smart or dumb. You don't know your skin color. You don't know your gender. You don't know your parents. You don't know anything about yourself. ...[In that case] we wouldn't design a society like it is today. You would make sure that there is an equitable distribution of power.... that the power is not concentrated... that there is countervailing power, that wealth is not concentrated...
  • [H]umanistic economics advocates a creation of a capitalism with a human face. That requires a paradigm shift... away from a rat race, [away from] a social Darwinistic economy with a few winners and many losers.
  • Capitalism with a human face would require the elimination of poverty... the reduction of inequality... the establishment of real true... full employment... a less stressful life. ...Economists disregard stress.
  • Less anxiety, less insecurity and less crime. That's Capitalism with a human face, and you can read more about it in my textbook...
    • Ref: John Komlos, Foundations of Real-World Economics: What Every Economics Student Needs to Know (2019)

Quotes about Komlos edit

  • Prof. emeritus John Komlos... lecture... "The Economic History of Trumpism"... [H]e used his lecture to show that the... U.S. had entered a path of deconstruction of its own system starting with the watershed moment of Reagonomics and leading to the election of Trump... Desperate voters make desperate decisions, in this case, for Trump. ...People have slipped down the social ladder ...Reagan’s administration turned away from the New Deal ...benefitting the rich ...[I]nequality rose immediately, which has not been reversed ...GDP growth stayed exactly where it was... Reagan... [set] the path towards today’s economic and societal malaise. ...Additionally, deindustrialization and hyper-globalization hit ...[and] areas in the American heartland were destroyed, according to Komlos. ...For him, it is natural that the losers of globalization... would lash out... Workers were not reskilled, or trained. They were not helped to bridge the gap... Flash forward to the 21st century... Obama turned to the 'old guard' of economists and experts that had helped to create the crisis... For Komlos, this led to Wall Street being saved and Main Street being ignored... The desperation that followed the last Great Recession, including... so many... lost... homes... led many... to believe that the establishment politicians... could never right the wrongs... Komlos... thinks that the U.S. is still marching down the bleak [unsustainable] path... entered in the 1970s and 80s.
  • He thinks a kinder and more just capitalism is possible, one that empowers people and enables them to live with less fear and uncertainty. He claims that this encompasses zero unemployment, zero inflation, zero trade deficits and zero government debt.
    It is a strong claim... Unfortunately, Komlos does not structure his book accordingly, but is rather too caught up with extensively criticizing the mainstream. I suspect he is pushing at open doors... There is no extensive elaboration of how this better system of the four zeros could be achieved and maintained. ...[T]here is no attempt there to make and prove the claims that trade deficits are best eliminated. ...[I]t is very much to be hoped that he will undertake to show, in a focused way, that the alternative, kinder economics is indeed possible. I suspect that he will have to water down some of his claims, but I can be convinced otherwise.

See also edit

External links edit

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