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Asad Zaman

Asad Zaman

Physician executive. All opinions are my personal. It is okay for me to be confused as I’m learning every day. Judge me and be confused as well.

Articles by Asad Zaman

Weekend read – Four flaws in foundations of statistics

October 9, 2022

From Asad Zaman and the WEA Pedagogy Blog
Rejecting Arbitrary Distributional Assumptions
In the early 20th Century, Sir Ronald Fisher initiated an approach to statistics that he characterized as follows:: “… the object of statistical methods is the reduction of data. A quantity of data, which usually by its mere bulk is incapable of entering the mind, is to be replaced by relatively few quantities which shall adequately represent the whole …” As he clearly indicates, we want to reduce the data because our minds cannot comprehend large amounts of data. Therefore, we want to summarize the data in a few numbers which adequately represent the whole data set.
It should be obvious from the start that this is an impossible task. One cannot reduce the information contained in 1000

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Real statistics: a radical approach

June 13, 2022

From Asad Zaman
In a previous posts Preface to Radical Statistics and Why an Islamic Approach to Statistics?, I have explained how we can develop a new approach to statistics, which rejects a century of developments based on a methodology created by Sir Ronald Fisher, father of modern statistics. It is my hope that this will be a disruptive technology – it will eventually sweep away the entire structure of knowledge which has been built up under this name, and replace it with a radically different alternative. This structure of statistics (which I studied in detail and depth at the Ph.D. Statistics program at Stanford University), is currently being taught in universities around the globe. This structure is deeply deficient for a number of reasons. The most important among these is the

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Weekend read – Fisher’s flawed foundations of statistics

February 12, 2022

From Asad Zaman
This lecture is about the personality of Sr Ronald Fisher and his foundational ideas about statistics. The idea that statistics is all about “data reduction” is due to lack of computational capabilities at the time of Fisher – it was not possible to analyze 1000’s of data points, without reducing them to manageable summaries. Even though computer capabilities now make this possible, intellectual inertia has kept the discipline of statistics bound to the now obsolete mold into which it was cast by Fisher.
Fisher was a prominent Eugenicist, and he had six children in accordance with his belief that the path to improvement of the human race involved increasing the propagation of superior specimens of humanity. A central question for us is:  “Is modern statistics FREE of

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Weekend read – More quotes against economics

December 17, 2021

From Asad Zaman
A previous post Quotes Critical of Economics collected assorted quotes which are useful in writing up different kinds of critiques of economics. In addition, I collected quotes from Romer’s Trouble With Macro which are sharply critical of economics. In terms of the “Loyalty, Voice, Exit” paradigm, I look for “Exit” quotes, which suggest that we need to throw out the entire discipline and rebuild on new foundations; for a proposed alternative, see “Uloom-ul-Umran: An Islamic alternative to Western Social Science“. I try to avoid “Voice” critiques which suggest that we can rescue economics by making modifications, minor or major. I have been collecting more quotes along these lines for two years. I was hoping to sort them into categories, and organize them via some

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More quotes against economics

December 3, 2021

From Asad Zaman
A previous post Quotes Critical of Economics collected assorted quotes which are useful in writing up different kinds of critiques of economics. In addition, I collected quotes from Romer’s Trouble With Macro which are sharply critical of economics. In terms of the “Loyalty, Voice, Exit” paradigm, I look for “Exit” quotes, which suggest that we need to throw out the entire discipline and rebuild on new foundations; for a proposed alternative, see “Uloom-ul-Umran: An Islamic alternative to Western Social Science“. I try to avoid “Voice” critiques which suggest that we can rescue economics by making modifications, minor or major. I have been collecting more quotes along these lines for two years. I was hoping to sort them into categories, and organize them via some

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Causality as child’s play

November 26, 2021

From Asad Zaman
1      THE DILEMMA OF CAUSALITY
Study of causality confronts us with a huge dilemma. Intense controversy has raged for centuries over this topic among the philosophers. At the same time, studies of child development show that infants learn about causal concepts almost from birth, and toddlers have a sophisticated approach to causality. How can causality be easily understood by babies, but remain confusing and complicated to the best philosophers for centuries? The difficulty is compounded by the fact that philosophical approaches serve as a basis for empirical data analysis in statistics and econometrics. Even though correct estimation of causal effects is essential for policy, widely used econometric textbooks are deeply defective in their approaches to causality.

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Weekend Read – Hockey Stick or Growth Illusion?

July 10, 2021

From Asad Zaman
Most economists are committed to Friedman’s methodology which advocates a nominalist philosophy of science. Theories do not aim to discover hidden real structures which explain the observations. Instead, they aim to “save the appearances”: provide a good match to the observations. Although a small minority of voices has advocated a realist methodology – Bhaskar Roy, Peter Manicas, Tony Lawson, and some others – the vast majority remains unconvinced. One important reason for this is the Duhem-Quine thesis. Any given set of core assumptions about hidden reality can be put into conformity with any collection of observations by suitable auxiliary assumptions. Furthermore, the protective belt for core theory can accommodate any incoming stream of contrary observations. Peter

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Causal explanation of autonomy and invariance of regression relationships

May 6, 2021

From Asad Zaman
Brief History of Econometrics: Launched in early 20th Century by Ragnar Frisch, econometric methodology was strongly shaped by the Cowles Commission (CC) in the 1960’s. The CC approach relied on structural equations, which embodied causal information known in advanced to the researcher. The goal was estimation of causal effects, and not discovery or assessment of the hypothesized causal structures. The oil shock of the 1970’s led to dramatic failures of macroeconomic regression models, leading to general distrust of econometric methodology. Two major critiques emerged.  read more

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Brief history of econometrics

April 26, 2021

From Asad Zaman
Launched in early 20th Century by Ragnar Frisch, econometric methodology was strongly shaped by the Cowles Commission (CC) in the 1960’s. The CC approach relied on structural equations, which embodied causal information known in advanced to the researcher. The goal was estimation of causal effects, and not discovery or assessment of the hypothesized causal structures. The oil shock of the 1970’s led to dramatic failures of macroeconomic regression models, leading to general distrust of econometric methodology. Two major critiques emerged. The Sims critique argued that hypothesized causal structures were false, and should be abandoned. We should go back to a purely descriptive analysis, looking for patterns in the numbers, without any reference to the real world

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Causal versus Positivist Econometrics

April 17, 2021

From Asad Zaman
Defining Feature of Real Econometrics
We can define “Real Econometrics” as being the search for causal relationships within a collection of variables. There exists an enormous amount of confusion about what exactly is a causal relationship. We will take a simple and practical approach, developed by Woodward in his book on “Making Things Happen”. Given a collection of variables X,Y,Z1,Z2,…,Zn, we will say that X is a cause of Y if we can create changes in Y by changing the values of X. This is a “practical” definition in the sense that if we learn about causal relationship, we can use it to create changes in the world around us.
Why is there confusion about causality?
Children (and animals) are born with the ability to learn about causal relationships, and to use them to

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Econometrics versus reality

March 31, 2021

From Asad Zaman
Underlying Philosophy of Science
Many important structures of the real world are hidden from view. However, as briefly sketched in previous lecture on Ibnul Haytham: First Scientist, current views say that science is only based on observables. Causation is central to statistics and econometrics, but it is not observable. As a result, there is no notation available to describe the relationship of causation between two variables. We will use X => Y as a notation for X causes Y. Roughly speaking, this means that if values of X were to change, then Y would have a tendency to change as a result. This is not observable for two separate reasons. ONE because it is based on a counterfactual. In another world, where the value of X was different from what was actually observed in

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Critique of Rajan on debt

February 2, 2021

From Asad Zaman 
“my views are based on insights acquired from MMT, but  .  . . . . . . . . . . . ”         
In this post, I will provide a critique of Raguram Rajan’s article “How Much Debt is Too Much?”. (Alternative link to Rajan’s article)
The article opens with a description of the governments “opening their coffers, to support small households and firms” in the COVID era. Required spending has been on the order of 15-20% of the GDP, and the article examines the extent to which government can finance this extra expense by borrowing at low interest rates from the private sector.
The language reminded me Robin Hood and his team swooping down on government convoys laden with coffers of gold. In face of this generosity by the government, it seems churlish to examine their coffers, to

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Marilyn & the Goats: A new solution to an old problem

January 21, 2021

From Asad Zaman
Introduction: In a previous lecture, we gave a New Definition of Probability. In this lecture, we will show how this definition enables us to resolve the massive amount of controversy which surrounds an apparently simple probability puzzle, known as the Monty-Hall problem. The book The Power of Logical Thinking, quotes cognitive psychologist Massimo Piattelli Palmarini: “No other statistical puzzle comes so close to fooling all the people all the time [and] even Nobel physicists systematically give the wrong answer, and that they insist on it, and they are ready to berate in print those who propose the right answer.” Before proceeding to discuss this problem, we review the key features of our new definition:
Probability is a feature of external reality, not an aspect of

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A new definition of “probability”

January 13, 2021

From Asad Zaman
An article by Alan Hajek in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists six major categories of definitions. Many more are possible if causality is also taken into account. These definitions conflict with each other, and face serious problems as interpretations of real-world probabilities. The basic definition of probability we will offer in this lecture falls outside all of these listed categories. Before going on to present it, we briefly explain why there is such massive confusion about how to define probability.  read more

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Why do we need pluralism in times of disruption? A practical guide

January 7, 2021

From Asad Zaman
Today we are going through a period of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic that impacts us individually and collectively in an unprecedented manner. Because we see how interconnected we are, the sense of unity, solidarity in time of crisis is necessary. So why bother with pluralism in the first place?
Introductory remarks about pluralism and the new normal
We are currently in an unprecedented moment in human history. Although humanity went through several pandemics and disruptions, this is the first time that all the globe is equally affected by the virus, and everyone, everywhere, has to deal with the lock-down and its consequences. Our normal is gone, and we do not know what is ahead of us. The world as we knew it is not there, and there is little left of the

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Debt, levered losses, & unemployment

December 29, 2020

From Asad Zaman
A previous post on “Causes of the Global Financial Crisis” provided a detailed summary of the first three chapters of “House of Debt” by Mian and Sufi. This post provides a brief summary of Chapters 4 and 5, in which they present a theoretical framework which explains why leveraged debt leads to high unemployment following a shock to asset prices. The main insight is that the problem is caused by interest-based debt contracts which put most of the risks of default on the weaker party (borrowers), and very little on the stronger party (lenders). Equitable risk sharing between lenders and borrowers would provide a solution.
Background: In the Keynesian Revolution and the Monetarist Counter-Revolution, I have explained how high and persistent unemployment after the Great

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Differentiating social, market, and government debts

December 25, 2020

From Asad Zaman
In a previous post on “ABC’s of MMT”, I explained the basics of MMT as a preliminary to a critique of Raghuram Rajan’s article on “How Much Debt is Too Much?”. A significant part of the discussion on this post consisted of debates over words and their meanings. My use of words like assets, savings, wealth, liability, and debt was contested, and alternative usages were offered. It seems necessary to pause for a discussion of these terminological confusions, prior to going on Rajan’s article. This is because part of the critique is about the terminology used by Rajan. Standard terminology is based on false analogy between the government and the household. In a previous post on “The Power of False Names”, I have explained how the use of misleading terminology can lead to

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ABC’s of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

December 13, 2020

From Asad Zaman
I was overwhelmed by the level of ignorance displayed by distinguished economist Raghuram Rajan in his article entitled “How Much Debt Is Too Much?” published recently in Project Syndicate on Nov 30, 2020. I had meant to write a critique of the article, but to do so requires starting from the very beginning. In this post, I go over some basic MMT concepts, in order to prepare the ground for this critique. There are now many good videos explaining these basics. I will go over six questions discussed in the first ten minutes of “Modern Money & Public Purpose 1: The Historical Evolution of Money and Debt” by Professor L Randall Wray. Learning the answers to these questions provides foundations for understanding MMT which are evidently missing in Rajan’s paper. Professor

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Economics as moral philosophy

December 6, 2020

From Asad Zaman
Among the many dimensions I have listed in “New Directions in Macroeconomics”, the most important is the moral dimension. If we take Adam Smith as the founder, economics was born as a branch of moral philosophy. However, modern economists claim that the subject is purely positive and scientific, and makes no value judgments. Before we can discuss moral dimensions of economic theories, we must counter this claim, and establish that, contrary to claims made by economists, the subject is deeply and inherently normative. The level of cognitive dissonance required to maintain that economics is objective and value free is much greater than that required to maintain that the earth is flat. How apparently rational and sane people can hold such a stance is in itself a puzzle. I

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Complexity Economics

December 4, 2020

From Asad Zaman
Classical Physics, the model for modern economics, was based on the ideas of stability and permanence of astronomical orbits; see Mirowski (1992). Deeper examination of astrophysics led to the replacement of this view by big bang which gave birth to the universe, and increasing entropy, which will lead to its heat death. “Equilibrium” just appears as a temporary and local phenomenon in an evolving and chaotic universe.
Complexity economics takes non-equilibrium seriously. Constantly evolving systems may never be in equilibrium and may even lack a tendency towards equilibrium. The mode of analysis required for such systems cannot be based on the kind of mathematic currently dominant in the economics profession. Complex systems theory was pioneered in the 1980s and 1990s

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Ecological Economics

November 28, 2020

From Asad Zaman
Eurocentric history portrays the West as advanced, rational, scientific, and democratic, while the East is superstitious, unscientific, autocratic, and backwards. This poisonous philosophy enabled the incredibly brutal and ruthless violence required for the conquest of the globe, and continues to sustain extremely exploitative economic systems. A partial antidote is World Systems theory which portrays all human beings, nations, and cultures, as joint participants in weaving the rich fabric of human history. Ecological economics goes further to take the entire humanity as one element of the biosphere and geosphere of our planet. All of the biological species have their “economics” where they consume and produce, directly or indirectly affecting other species. All of

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Developments in money and finance absent from conventional macro textbooks.

November 2, 2020

From Asad Zaman
Somebody aptly quipped that ‘Trying to understand the economy without understanding money and finance is like trying to understand how birds fly, without taking the wings into account”.
The Hegelian anti-thesis of the orthodox economic position that money is neutral, is the idea that “money is everything”. Economics is just the analysis of monetary flows, both within a society, and globally. Karl Marx describes the change in perspective via the formulae C-M-C’ versus M-C-M’. In the first paradigm, commodities C are sold to get money M, in order to buy another set of commodities C’. This picture of a barter economy, in which money just facilitates exchange, is at the heart of modern economics; this is why money does not matter. However, in a capitalist economy, M(oney)

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Political Economy

September 30, 2020

From Asad Zaman
This is a sequence of posts on “New Directions in Macroeconomics“, which discusses the numerous directions of research which must be incorporated to create a viable Macroeconomics for the 21st Century. We have previously discussed “Post-Keynesian Economics“, and “Modern Monetary Theory“. This post discusses the necessity of re-incorporating politics into economics.
Once we recognize the importance of history and institutions, it becomes clear that economic problems cannot be separated from politics and society. The interplay of class interests, and their relative power, is of essential importance in understanding political and economic structures of society. Current commitment to methodological individualism has blinded economists to these aspects, and left them unable

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Modern Monetary Theory

September 22, 2020

From Asad Zaman
This continues from the previous post on Post-Keynesian Response. A large number of contributions from different areas need to be integrated to build an economics for the 21st Century. For an acknowledgement of the failure of 20th Century Macro from one of its architects, see Romer’s Trouble With Macro. This post explains Modern Monetary Theory briefly.
Since the time of Keynes, major changes have taken place in the global financial system. Against wishes of Keynes, Bretton-Woods created a dollar centered system based on notional exchangeability of dollars for gold. The Nixon Shock in 1971 removed the gold backing from dollars, leading to the modern world of floating exchange rates. Dramatic changes in the monetary exchange systems and financial institution play no role

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Post-Keynesian Response

September 3, 2020

From Asad Zaman
This continues from previous post on New Directions in Macroeconomics. Among the heterodox responses to the crisis in economic theory created by the Global Financial Crisis 2007, we will briefly discuss the following:  Post-Keynesian Economics, Modern Monetary Theory, Political Economy, Evolution of Global Finance, Ecological Economics, Complexity Economics, Islamic Economics. This post is about Post-Keynesian Economics.
The response of mainstream macroeconomists to this crisis has been disappointing; see for example Antara Haldar (2018) “Economics: The Discipline that refuses to change”. The failure of classical economics in the Great Depression of 1929 led Keynes to the create the field of macroeconomics, which was revolutionary many different ways. Unfortunately,

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Four narratives about central banks

June 26, 2020

From Asad Zaman
The previous post (Three Mega-Events Which Shape Our Minds) explains the importance of history in shaping the world we live in. Historical events (facts) by themselves are not meaningful until they are linked together into a coherent narrative. The mortar which connects the facts must be supplied by our minds, and can never be asserted with certainty. The fact that we can never be certain about the narratives which connect and explain history has led to two polar mistakes. The positivist mistake is to renounce narratives, and focus solely on the facts. This makes it impossible to make sense of history, which deprives us of a rich storehouse of human experience. In effect, it means that we must start afresh every day, since the past makes no sense. The other extreme is

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Three mega-events which shape our minds

June 22, 2020

From Asad Zaman
What is the nature of the world in which I live? As I look around me, I see walls, windows, doors, and furniture. But these are insignificant parts of the world as constructed by my mind. I conceptualize the world through the teachings of history, according to which human history started in the remote past, with hunter-gatherers. I have a smattering of knowledge of the ancient civilizations of Sumeria and Babylon, and much more of the Roman Empire. The rise of Christianity, Islam, the Ottoman Empire, the Industrial Revolution in England.  The NARRATIVE, or the stories woven around these events, and my own place – or that of my ancestors – within these events, shapes my identity, my allegiances, and also my hopes, visions and projects for the future. These narratives

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Bagehot’s engaging naiveté

June 16, 2020

From Asad Zaman
Chapter 2 of Goodhart’s “Evolution of Central Banks” cites in detail several arguments made by Bagehot (pronounce Badge-it) in favor of a free banking system without a Central Bank. After listing them, he notes that Bagehot is “engagingly naïve”, as a gentle critique. It is astonishing that a hard-nosed practical financial analyst like Bagehot would indulge in such visionary daydreams about a “free market” system. This testifies to the power of ideology to blind one to the faults of idolized system. Here are some of the “naïve” arguments advanced by Bagehot in favor of free banking:
In a competitive free banking system, every bank would maintain adequate reserves, to create credibility.
Also, in case of panics, they would lend to distressed banks, in order to protect

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Central Banks: Monopoly or Public Service?

May 30, 2020

From Asad Zaman
The Reagan-Thatcher revolution in the late 1970’s consisted of a move towards free markets, and away from government regulation and control. Of central importance in this move was the deregulation of financial institutions. We would like to understand WHY this change took place, and WHAT were the effects of this change on the working of the USA/UK economies.
Summary of Basic Facts: Financial de-regulation, guided by an ideological belief that free financial markets would work better than regulated ones, was at the heart of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution. The evils of free financial sector had clearly been recognized in the Great Depression, The Emergency Banking Act of 1933 and other regulatory measures wrapped a large number of chains around the financial monster,

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How economic models became substitutes for reality

May 21, 2020

From Asad Zaman
The problem at the heart of modern economics is buried in its logical positivist foundations created in the early twentieth century by Lionel Robbins. Substantive debates and critiques of the content actually strengthen the illusion of validity of these methods, and hence are counterproductive. As Solow said about Sargent and Lucas, you do not debate cavalry tactics at Austerlitz with a madman who thinks he is Napoleon Bonaparte, feeding his lunacy.  Modern macroeconomic models are based assumptions representing flights of fancy so far beyond the pale of reason that Romer calls them “post-real”.   But the problem does not lie in the assumptions – it lies deeper, in the methodology that allows us to nonchalantly make and discuss crazy assumptions. The license for this

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