Sadly, not much, says economist Arnold Kling:
I am shocked at the behavior of my fellow economists during this crisis. They are claiming to know much more than they do about causes and solutions. Rather than trying to understand and explain what is going on, they are engaged in a fierce battle over narrative.
For example, many economists breathlessly cited high short-term interest rates in interbank lending markets as an indicator of credit markets "freezing up." However, as some Minneapolis Fed economists point out, the volume of lending does not indicate such a freeze. In fact, very short-term interest rates are a ridiculously melodramatic indicator to use, because even a small increase in default probability can cause the annualized interest rates to soar. (Thanks to Alex Tabarrok for the pointer to this article.)
My main beef with economists is that standard macroeconomics does such a poor job of describing what is going on. The textbooks models are pretty much useless. Where in the textbooks is "liquidity preference" a demand for Treasury securities? Where in the textbooks does it say that injecting capital into banks is a policy tool?
I have always thought that the issue of the relationship between financial markets and the "real economy" was really deep……But the economics profession for the past thirty years instead focused on producing stochastic calculus porn to satisfy young men's urge for mathematical masturbation.
Economists ought to admit that we do not know much about what is going on today. Neither do the Fed Chairman and the Treasury Secretary. Of course, the market demand is for "strong" leaders and for "strong" economists, who can fool the public into believing that they have great knowledge. The ones who do this best are those who have fooled themselves.
Kling talks to reason.tv about the bailout.