Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't lump everyone together, Professor Summers

In his response to Mark Thoma's "Great Divide," post, Larry Summers writes:
Second, as Keynes’ comments on the advantages of being conventionally wrong rather than unconventionally right illustrate, it is a serious mistake to overstate the insights possessed by practitioners in any field.  Anyone in mutual funds will tell you that active managers regularly outperform the market.  Only economic scientists realized they do not.  Contrary to the the implications of Thoma’s column, the best calls on the real estate bubble came from academics like Bob Shiller and Nouriel Roubini, not from any economists involved with the home building or realty industries.
While Summers' point about Bob Shiller and Nouriel Roubini is correct (and what was particularly impressive is that they explained the mechanisms that would create the destruction), he does not acknowledge that non-academic economics, such as Dean Baker and Chris Thornberg, also called the bubble.  On the other hand, lots of academic economists did not see the crisis coming (I certainly did not see the magnitude of it).

It is, moreover, not fair to lump Realtors and homebuilders together.  The Realtors' Chief Economist at the time (whose name I shall not mention) was ridiculous.  But while Dave Seiders, Chief Economist at the time with the National Association of Homebuilders, did not get it right, he did not do badly either.  I remember being impressed with NAHB at the time, because they were not being cheerleaders--they seemed to me to be playing things pretty straight down the middle.