Daniel Lacalle

“I am very positive on the US as a nation” (Interview in Vendome Magazine)

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Please read the complete interview here.

One of the top 20 most influential economists in the world, investment manager, best-selling writer… He makes complex economy issues look simple and debunks phony political leaders on live TV. Born in Spain, but living in London, Daniel Lacalle spreads uncomfortable truths about the international economy:

Are you positive regarding the USA’s economic future under Trump?

I’m very positive about the USA as nation.

I believe that we usually imbue the economy, especially the USA’s, with a presidential veil that doesn’t exist. America’s economy doesn’t depend, as it typically happens in European economies, on what president A or president B decides; it’s a very free economy and it’s much more attached to the interests of thousands and thousands of companies which don’t have any kind of relation with the State. I believe the Trump Administration is being demonized in a very aggressive way because the media and analysts, in general, don’t like the character himself, Donald Trump. I think we should discern between the character and reality. Just like it happened with Obama, but the other way around. With Obama, there was a “media lover affair” with the character. He was a very attractive, convincing and politically correct character, and due to that almost romantic relationship between the media, economic analysts and the government, there was a tendency to enrapture and sweeten his economic policies. The opposite is happening to Donald Trump. He hasn’t been there for a long time yet, but people tend to add a negative tone to everything he proposes from an economic point of view just because it’s him when, actually, many of his policies have been successfully applied in the past by previous presidents; that’s why I believe we need less Manicheism with the character, without failing to criticize him for the things we don’t like, but there’s no need to be so biased with American presidents.

It’s a very typical mistake of the media and of the consensus analysts in Europe to sweeten and deify the Democratic presidents and to demonize in an almost caricatured way the Republican presidents because, in Europe, right-wing and left-wing are usually closer to each other than the Democrat and Republican Party.

Very few news media outlets or analysts are in tune with the values of America’s Republican Party. I believe that polarization over the perception of presidents is a little bit fake, first of all. I remember when George W. Bush spoke at a reception where I was too and said that, after a month in the White House, receiving all the advisers who told him what to do, with whom he had to negotiate what and with whom he had to approve what, he told his wife “Let’s go on vacation because I can’t do anything”. In the USA’s economy things such as a regimental presidency where the president says “Do this” and everyone responding “Yes, sir” don’t exist; it’s an economy where advisors and State secretaries have their very own opinions and they defend them. It’s also a civil society with its institutions and what’s called “checks and balances”. Therefore, we should be less biased or actually, less “personalist” when it comes to analyzing American politics and economy from the point of view of a character.

Did you foresee the victory of Brexit?

No, and curiously I perceived a clear difference in the absolutely devastating messages coming from some news media outlets which didn’t even considered the possibility of a victory of Brexit. However, and these are things that are important to learn as an analyst, in the day-to-day and in the conversations with citizens, something different was perceived than what news media outlets and consensual economists tried to show as the only possibility, the NO. Something didn’t quite add up. The experience of that error when it comes to analyzing the risk of Brexit helped me a lot in the American elections shortly after.

I went to the USA and I thought “Wait, everyone is saying there’s an 81% chance that Hillary will win. 81%?!” – they didn’t even consider another option.

I remember an anecdote: I was watching on TV a show with Bill Maher and Ann Coulter. When asked who they thought was going to win the elections, she said Donald Trump. Both the audience and the other commentators in the table burst out laughing, which made me think “Hold on, something’s going on here; we might make the same mistake”. We must be much closer to citizens to understand not what the confirmation bias tries to perpetuate, which is: since we get together with people of the same class and the same media we all decide that the consensus must be this… and then we’re wrong.

 

The victory of Brexit really saddened me. It still does, because I understand the reasons why the UK wants to leave the EU, but it makes me sad because I think the UK was a force that exerted an important balance in the UE by keeping away the interventionist agenda of some countries.

Is there a short term positive future for the UK?

Yes. I believe I must be intellectually honest: just because I didn’t want the UK to vote for Brexit, doesn’t mean I won’t analyze where I was wrong and, especially, that I analyze in an objective way that we were wrong.

I remember that the affirmations of consensus analysts and experts was that simply due to the decision of the UK to vote Brexit the economy was going to plummet, hundreds of thousands of jobs were going to disappear and there was going to be a debacle. That hasn’t happened.

If we aren’t intellectually honest when it comes to analyzing, like it happened in the USA, where analysis was completely optimist and biased regarding the American economy as if it was all wonderful, and if we don’t analyze properly, instead of learning from the mistakes, what we do is justify ourselves with another premise like “Oh it came out this way because dumb people and rednecks voted it”.

Do you think Madrid has potential to become the new “City” after Brexit?

Well, if didn’t believe so I wouldn’t be supporting it (laughs). I think it has a lot of potential, but us, the citizens of Madrid and the institutions, must want it and show the merits. If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t support it.

The role that fills me professionally the most is all that hast to do with spreading and explaining my thesis, opinions and analysis. I think it’s very valuable and, in addition, you learn a lot from that process of divulging and listening to other people’s questions and criticisms. I find it very positive and rewarding.

Do you believe that political ideology influences the success of a country?

Absolutely. When you listen to an economist or an expert talking about economic policy or macroeconomic, monetary or fiscal policies saying that they’re only talking about economics and not about ideology, that’s the ultimate evidence that they’re lying to you.

There’s always an ideology and a personal stand that informs economic theories, analysis and recommendations.

Denying this is, first of all, lying; secondly, denying that you’re making an analysis and recommendations in what is an experience of systems, policies and, theories, you include a perception of what the benefit is for society. Economics is a social science, therefore saying that there isn’t an ideology behind its analysis is lying.

Have you ever considered working in politics as finance minister or have received any offer?

If I’m ever offered the honor of representing and supporting my country, I, like probably 90% of people, would consider it a real honor and would feel really proud. In any case, what I do is my professional activity. I believe it’s possible to influence and participate in society with your professional activity without being necessarily involved in politics. I have very good relations with political leaders and political figures and, furthermore,  and I believe it should be this way, many times we do a social function by sharing our opinions, our ideas and our recommendations with them.

Do you believe basic finance should be taught in schools?

Absolutely. It’s a deficiency of the education system that there isn’t basic finance and economy education. Not in economic policies and governments where political ideologies are included, but rather in finance management, the management of our savings, of our daily life, how to start a business… I think it’s absolutely essential.

Is it frustrating to you to find new political leaders who try to sell absurd economic policies and fool people due to that lack of economic education?

Rather than frustrating, it’s sad that it becomes politically profitable to present fake magic solutions.

I believe it’s important that society has basic knowledge so that when they’re sold fallacies such as “increasing taxes on rich people we can pay for all kinds of costs”, people can actually understand the mechanisms of the economy. I don’t think it’s a lost battle because all of us who are involved keep fighting, but when one analyses the last 600 years of the economy in the world, the tendency to turn complex economic problems into magic solutions that apparently nobody had thought about before and which are always wrong, is unfortunately politically profitable.

When you look back at the beginnings of your career do you think “what was I thinking”?

Of course! I remember when we were told that competitive devaluations were something great, and I remember because I suffered them when I started to work. While we were told from the academia or the Government that devaluations were positive for the economy, something didn’t quite add up. And what was it? How I was suffering in my own pocket and in my life the debacle that devaluation meant. I think this one is a very clear case of one’s evolution and how you realize things through empirical reality.

What made you choose a career as an economist? Did you always want to be one?

Yes. I love music and cinema. Particularly music, I’m a fanatic. Economy has always fascinated me. It fascinates me so much that one of the parts that I have always loved about music, for instance, has been the business side of it. The part related to how a recording studio works, the budgets of records, the tours, how you earn or lose money…

So did you ever considered working in the music business?

Yes, of course. When I was a youngster I thought I could be a rock star, but then I realized my lack of talent (laughs).

When you write your books do you target a particular section of the audience?

I target a general audience. What I strive to with my books is to make them accessible to the public, to make them interesting and to add rigorous analysis for the experts. What I don’t try is to dogmatize and step up to a podium to give lessons. I try to have a dialogue with the reader to bring that economic reality closer to everyone no matter their age or knowledge. To me, it’s very important to spread but not from the pulpit like “HA! Poor you, you can’t understand me”; if I can’t be understood, if what I’m trying to explain can’t be comprehended, that’s my mistake, not the reader’s.

 

My advice to economy students is: make mistakes. I would give them two recommendations: first of all, don’t think that filling up your CV with courses and masters will speed up or improve your options. Study, learn as much as you can, but work. Working gives you a tremendous perspective. One must make mistakes, and by this I don’t mean doing things the wrong way on purpose, but to take risks, take opportunities, go abroad… Don’t fall in that false comfort of a system that is very protective: family, etc. Take risks.

Daniel Lacalle is a PhD in Economics, fund manager and author of Escape from the Central Bank Trap (BEP), Life In The Financial Markets, and The Energy World Is Flat (Wiley).

Image courtesy Vendome Magazine

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