Tutorials
January 16, 2024

Using AI to Interview the Greats

This method of learning can be used as a springboard to deeper explorations into any subject.

Dr Ron Strand
by 
Dr Ron Strand

Having a conversation with the great minds in a field can be a lot more interesting than reading about them. This method of learning can be used as a springboard to deeper explorations into any subject. This article explains how this can be done.

At the beginning of the year, there is always a lot of discussion in the media about economic forecasts and current policies. With this in mind, I decided to try the conversation technique with two of the greats in economics, John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman. Galbraith taught at Harvard for decades and was an advisor to several democratic presidents, including JFK and Johnson. Friedman also had a distinguished academic career and was an advisor to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

For purposes of the experiment, I used Perplexity in writing mode set with Claude 2.1 AI. I have found that Claude works the best at mimicking conversation. Indeed, ChatGPT has responded by stating that it is AI and can’t respond as someone else.

A Conversation with John Kenneth Galbraith

Since both economists were American (Galbraith was Canadian by birth but spent his career in the US), I asked them for comment on the US economy, using the prompt:

Acting as the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, what troubles you about the current state of the economy in the United States?

clears throat and speaks in a scholarly tone As the eminent economist John Kenneth Galbraith, I have several concerns about the current state of the US economy in January 2024.

For one, I worry about the growing level of inequality and concentration of corporate power. The top 1% of income earners seem to be capturing an ever greater share of the economic pie, while real wages have stagnated for middle and working class families. This does not bode well for aggregate demand or social cohesion. Policymakers must be more attentive to issues of equity and inclusion.

Additionally, I am troubled by the lack of serious public investment in infrastructure, education, healthcare, and other foundations for long-term prosperity. There is too much focus on quick profits and short-term gains. More vision is needed to upgrade our roads, bridges, ports, broadband networks, schools, and R&D programs for the 21st century. Neglecting these public goods undermines economic efficiency and resilience.

Finally, the growth of private debt relative to GDP gives me pause. With household debt at historic highs, the economy remains vulnerable to demand shocks or spikes in interest rates. The deregulation of the financial sector also concerns me, as does the rise of exotic derivatives and complex securities that few understand. These could again pose systemic risks if left unchecked.

In sum, promoting more equitable and sustainable growth through prudent public investment, financial oversight, and corporate accountability should be top priorities. This will require political will and leadership, which currently seem to be in short supply. But the health of both our economy and democracy may well hang in the balance.

I then asked what economic theories and principles are represented in this statement:

It seems John Kenneth Galbraith’s statement reflects several key economic ideas and principles:

1. Inequality and concentration of power: This speaks to concerns over income and wealth inequality, as well as monopolistic or oligopolistic corporate power. It aligns with Galbraith’s long-standing critique of mainstream neoclassical economics for neglecting issues of power and distribution.

2. Stagnating wages and aggregate demand: Stagnant middle/working class wages threaten consumer spending and aggregate demand, a key component of macroeconomic growth theories. This relates to concepts like marginal propensity to consume and effective demand.

3. Public investment: Galbraith argues for more spending on infrastructure, education, healthcare — public/merit goods that boost productivity and growth. This aligns with Keynesian economics and its emphasis on government’s role in the economy.

4. Short-termism: Galbraith criticizes the focus on quick profits over long-term prosperity. This reflects arguments against shareholder theory and in favor of more stakeholder-driven approaches.

5. Private debt levels: High household debt and financial sector deregulation threaten economic stability per theories on the role of credit, money supply, and systemic risk. Echoes Hyman Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis.

In general, Galbraith makes the case for a more interventionist, equitable, and long-term oriented economic policy — relying on Keynesian, institutionalist and progressive economic schools of thought. The statement is very much in keeping with his past heterodox views.

I then switched to Academic mode and asked the same question:

Based on the passage, several economic theories and principles are represented in John Kenneth Galbraith’s statement:

  1. Inequality and concentration of corporate power
  • Reflects concerns from Marxist economic theory about inequality between social classes and the power dynamics between capital owners and workers.
  1. Stagnating wages and declining labor share of income
  • Related to classical and neoclassical economic theories of factor incomes and the labor market. Suggests weakening bargaining power of labor.
  1. Importance of aggregate demand
  • Draws on Keynesian economic theory which emphasizes the role of aggregate demand in driving economic growth.
  1. Issues of equity and inclusion
  • Relates to normative economic analysis and social welfare theory in evaluating economic outcomes.
  1. Concerns over underinvestment in public goods
  • Reflects market failure theory and the economic rationale for public goods provision by government.
  1. Short-termism in business decisions
  • Critiques the rational actor model and assumptions around maximizing economic utility over longer time horizons.
  1. Financial instability and inadequate regulation
  • Criticism of laissez-faire economic ideology and need for addressing information asymmetries in financial markets.

In summary, the main theories referenced are Marxian economics, Keynesian theory, public goods theory, and concepts from behavioral economics around decision-making. Achieving equitable and sustainable growth is highlighted as a key economic principle.

Citations:

[1] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/66138e554a5712c9bff3bf16bab61ccb0098dc0d

[2] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/be82c6714bf1bc279b7bdad2e6d83d356573ce8f

[3] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/ceb967ac3b7dcb3eebb4bac0481526bfde3fa6c5

[4] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/bf933e62ee3ccb28dbfcd08fa33a98b902e58f04

[5] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/d8d3b6deede54c5a4fdebeac03f94b428832bfbe

Uses for Students and Teachers

Economics is not my field, so I can’t immediately assess the accuracy of the statement made by the AI version of Galbraith or the subsequent analysis. But if I was a student, I would have lots to look up and verify. What is the rational actor model? What is market failure theory? And so on.

I can see how the brief statement by the AI Galbraith could be the starting point for extensive discussion. Or for the solo learner, perhaps working on an online course, these questions could be asked by continuing the conversation with AI Galbraith. Or follow-up questions could be posed in academic mode. Lots of possibilities.

Another Conversation Example — Milton Friedman

I tried the same process with another economist, Milton Friedman, using the same prompts.

Acting as the economist Milton Friedman, what troubles you about the current state of the economy in the United States?

clears throat and speaks in a scholarly tone

As the renowned economist Milton Friedman, I have several concerns about the current state of the US economy in 2024. For starters, I worry that the massive government spending and stimulus packages enacted over the past few years have led to dangerously high levels of national debt. This mounting debt burden threatens to stunt economic growth for years to come.

Additionally, the ultra-loose monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, with interest rates kept artificially low for over a decade now, has distorted asset prices and incentivized reckless risk taking behavior in financial markets. I fear we are blowing up dangerous bubbles that could pop and spark another painful recession.

Inflation also gnaws at me — while the Consumer Price Index has eased a bit from its peak levels, inflation remains stubbornly high at around 5%. This erodes consumer purchasing power and forces the Fed to maintain restrictive policies that hamper growth. The rising price of essentials like food, housing, healthcare and education is squeezing American families.

Widening inequality across income groups and regions also concerns me greatly. While corporate profits and asset prices climb ever higher, real wage growth for the average worker continues to stagnate. Many rural and Rust Belt communities are being left behind in our modern economy as jobs and industries change. More must be done to spread prosperity.

In summary, I worry that short-sighted economic policies focused on quick fixes and stimulus have left us vulnerable to a host of issues — excessive debt, distorted markets, high inflation, and widening inequality. As a nation, we face profound choices on how to set our economic path right and promote sustainable, broadly-shared prosperity.

What economic theories and principles are represented in this statement?

This hypothetical statement from Milton Friedman represents several key economic theories and principles:

  1. Government debt burden — Relates to theories on crowding out, Ricardian equivalence, and limits of fiscal stimulus. Aligned with classical/neoclassical school on self-regulating markets.
  2. Easy money policies — Criticism of ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing reflects monetarist theory and the idea that too much money supply causes inflation. Also suggests Austrian business cycle theory on policy-induced booms and busts.
  3. Asset bubble risks — Echoes Hyman Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis whereby stability breeds instability in markets prone to speculation. Also tied to efficient market hypothesis and rational expectations theories.
  4. High inflation — Indicates concerns over excess money growth leading to inflation in line with the quantity theory of money. Related to monetarism and inflation expectations theories.
  5. Inequality and stagnation — Reflects neoclassical growth models on distribution of gains. But contrasts with neoliberal faith in “trickle down” economics.

Overall, the perspective aligns closely with Friedman’s monetarist, libertarian leanings favoring fiscal restraint, controlled money supply growth, deregulation, and limited government intervention. It presents more classical/neoclassical arguments than Keynesian theories.

Same question in academic mode:

Several key economic theories and principles are reflected in Milton Friedman’s statement:

  1. Concerns over rising national debt
  • Relates to Ricardian equivalence theory and the idea that high public debt can crowd out private investment.
  1. Critique of loose monetary policy and asset price bubbles
  • Draws on monetarist theory and the Austrian school which argue that excess money creation leads to distortion in prices and malinvestment.
  1. Persistent inflation
  • Reflects monetarist view that inflation is mainly a monetary phenomenon and loose policy causes high inflation.
  1. Widening inequality
  • Highlights limitations of trickle-down economics theory, need to address impacts on income distribution.
  1. Stagnating real wage growth
  • Suggests flaws in neoclassical labor market models, need to improve worker bargaining power.
  1. Regional disparities
  • Critique of free market ideology, some areas/groups require specialized policy focus.

Overall the statement advocates for more fiscal discipline, tighter monetary policy, addressing unequal outcomes, and ensuring broad-based economic prosperity. Main schools of thought referenced are monetarism, Austrian economics, and classical economic liberalism.

Citations:

[1] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/a96157722af2976f0d19cbeb4d7503db04a9934a

[2] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/be82c6714bf1bc279b7bdad2e6d83d356573ce8f

[3] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/ceb967ac3b7dcb3eebb4bac0481526bfde3fa6c5

[4] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/d8d3b6deede54c5a4fdebeac03f94b428832bfbe

[5] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/11548172d09e9ccefce31cc03b6cd0cd3748712a

The Great Mind Prompt

Using the questioning of a great mind prompt, following up with an analysis, and then searching for academic verification seems like a good sequence for learning. It may also be an interesting way to start a paper on a topic. The incremental prompting I wrote about in other articles may be a way to get a list of questions to ask the great minds.

In addition to having a conversation with great minds using AI, it may be possible to have a debate between them. Using the reaction of one to another as a prompt. I’ll try this and write about it in another article.