Prychitko, D. 2010. “Competing Explanations of the Minsky Moment: The Financial Instability Hypothesis in Light of Austrian Theory,” The Review of Austrian Economics 23: 199–221.There is some merit in the article, and it is not entirely negative. I have actually enjoyed some of Prychitko’s work in the past (such as Prychitko 1993).
But Prychitko’s own arguments against Minsky have problems as well, some of which I list here:
(1) On p. 218, Prychitko misses the point that effective and careful regulation of the financial markets – the policy actions that stop reckless lending to speculators and that prevent serious asset bubbles before they happen – was already a fundamental Post Keynesian policy prescription long before the 1990s.BIBLIOGRAPHY
Thus Wray’s interpretation of the origins of the 2000s financial crash is in no sense some sudden change in the Post Keynesian explanation of what happened or “post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning” (Prychitko, p. 218).
Prychitko accuses Wray of misinterpreting “the past decade as a return toward an unhampered market economy.” That is just a straw man: nobody says that the 1980s–2000s saw a creation of some Austrian fantasy world of anarcho-capitalism or Misesian classical liberalism. The point is that the economic system that existed from the 1940s to the late 1970s was modified and attacked by New Classical, monetarist and neoliberal ideologues after about 1980, and was made deeply dysfunctional.
The system was made relatively more laissez faire than what preceded it – not made an “unhampered market economy.”
As for financial deregulation that occurred in these years, the acts that changed the Post-WWII system are easy to list:Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act (1980)(2) It is strange to see Prychitko complain that the FIH is not a general theory of business cycles (p. 220), when even prominent Austrians like Kirzner and Lachmann never thought that the ABCT was a universal theory of cycles either. E.g., here is the opinion of Lachmann:
Garn–St. Germain Depository Institutions Act (1982)
These two acts were major contributors to the Savings and Loan crisis.
Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act (1994)
Financial Services Modernization Act of (1999), also called the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
Commodity Futures Modernization Act (2000).
The SEC’s Voluntary Regulation Regime for Investment Banks (2004).“The Trade Cycle cannot be appropriately described by means of one theoretical model. We need a number of models each showing what happens when certain potential causes become operative. The many models that have been constructed by economists in the past are therefore not necessarily incompatible with each other. Overinvestment and underconsumption theories, for instance, are not mutually exclusive. None of them of course is the true theory of the Trade Cycle; each is probably an unduly broad generalization of certain historical facts. Once we admit the dissimilarity of different historical fluctuations we can no longer look for an identical explanation. In dealing with industrial and financial fluctuations eclecticism is the proper attitude to take. There is little reason to believe that the causes of the crisis of 1929 were the same as those of the crisis of 1873.” (Lachmann 1978:100–101).Under the sensible viewpoint of Lachmann that the “many models that have been constructed by economists in the past are therefore not necessarily incompatible with each other,” it would seem that Austrians could accept Irving Fisher’s debt deflation theory of depressions or even Hyman Minsky’s development of that theory in the financial instability hypothesis.
See my post here.
(3) Needless to say, Prychitko’s attempt to defend the ABCT (pp. 212–217) doesn’t convince me.
Time preference theory of interest rates is false. Prychitko even uses the imaginary, non-existent natural rate of interest (“To Mises, borrowing from Wicksell, the so-called natural rate of interest has fallen,” p. 213), when even a number of his fellow Austrians (e.g., the later Mises, Hülsmann, and Robert Murphy) are well aware that the Wicksellian unique natural rate does not exist and attempts to found the Austrian business cycle theory on it are flawed:
Prychitko also manages to commit the most astonishing distortion of what happened in the 2000s:“During those years [sc. 2000s], credit-induced demands for new homes caused a doubling of their values—an historically unprecedented event. The housing industry, of course, is a latticework of timely production projects and draws a wide variety of specific (yet complementary) higher-ordered inputs into the housing market.” (p. 215).But the new housing component of the boom is greatly exaggerated: many of the mortgages in the 2000s were merely refinancing and home equity loans, and the money obtained from the debt not used for new housing construction at all, but to pay credit card debt down or purchase more consumer goods.
Even a Mises.org Austrian like Robert Blumen understands this:
The economic effects – essentially caused by consumer loans – are clearly very different from the alleged distortions of capital structure imagined in the ABCT. Even if we assume that alleged unsustainable capital structure distortions occurred, they would have been swamped by effects coming from consumer credit expansion to asset bubble speculation, the financial effects of banks loading up on CDOs, MBSs, and CDSs, and then the financial crisis and debt deflation.
(4) Prychitko complains that the FIH “emphasizes uncertainty, but assumes that interventions designed to reduce systemic risk can actually do so.” In response to this, I would say that well-designed government interventions can reduce economic uncertainty:
Lachmann, L. M. 1978. Capital and its Structure, S. Andrews and McMeel, Kansas City.
Prychitko, D. 1993. “After Davidson, Who needs the Austrians: Reply to Davidson,” Critical Review 7.2–3: 371–380.
Prychitko, D. 2010. “Competing Explanations of the Minsky Moment: The Financial Instability Hypothesis in Light of Austrian Theory,” The Review of Austrian Economics 23: 199–221.