Sunday, November 26, 2023

Interview with Vernon L. Smith by Sami Al-Suwailem

 Here's an interview with Vernon Smith, in which he comments on the history of economics and his place in it.

Interview with Vernon L. Smith by Sami Al-Suwailem 

"Smith was born in 1927 in Wichita, Kansas. He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Caltech in 1949, an M.A. in economics from the University of Kansas, and a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University in 1955.


"GL: In your recent book, Economics of Markets, coauthored with Sabiou Inoua, you argue (convincingly, I’d say) that “markets succeeded where theory failed.” Does that imply that economic (neoclassical) theory failed to study real-world markets well enough?

"VS: It’s more that they failed to study them at all and, in particular, failed to model price formation or price discovery in market processes.


"Walras not only failed to model price discovery but gave us a mechanism that required price mysteriously to be given, then used to model price change depending on the sign of excess demand. This diverted theorists from modeling price discovery and, we believe, created the illusion of progress, but it was more appropriately considered a regress occasioned by marginal analysis, which helped not a wit to address the fundamental task.


"GL: In your work, you argue that competitive equilibrium can be quickly achieved under very reasonable experimental conditions for consumption goods, but that this is not the case for assets where speculation may substantially distort the outcomes. Economic theory seems to pay no attention to this important difference. Why is that?

"VS: It is because standard theory tends to be insensitive to close observation: Item A is purchased in preference to item B if and only if U(A) > U(B), a theory that makes no advance prediction but rather concludes only that if A is bought rather than B it must have had higher utility value.


"In consumer markets, buyers attempt to buy cheap, constrained by their maximum wtp private value. Sellers try to sell dear but are limited by their minimum willingness-to-accept (wta) costs.

"The problem with asset markets is that they have a value-in-use like any consumer good but also a value-in-resale. This sets up a conflict that has to get resolved before an asset market can settle into any sort of equilibrium.

"All economic stability arises in consumer markets, while all instability arises in asset markets for re-tradable goods. Fortunately, about 75% of private products cannot be re-traded, causing great stability.

"GL: The Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded in 2012 to Lloyd S. Shapley and Alvin Roth for their work on market design. How do you see the relationship between these two branches, market design and experimental economics?

"VS: They are closely and intimately related. Indeed, my work in market design was part of my recognition in 2002, and was part of my presentation in 2001 at the Nobel Conference on Experiments in Economics, the year prior to the award."

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