Ben Bernanke vs. Thurston Moore, or Macro vs. Noise: The Common Feature of Macroeconomics and Noiserock

As odd as it may seem, macroeconomics and noiserock have a common feature. It struck me today while listening to Sonic Youth. (Not that odd; neither me listening to Sonic Youth nor that it struck me that macroeconomics and noiserock have a common feature.)

A musician who uses noise cannot control every soundwave; compare the virtous pianist who’s in full control. Rather, the noise-musician controls a set of parameters that shapes the overall sound picture. The control may be direct or indirect and usually extends to full control over the level.

A macroeconomist, a central banker for example, can in a similar way not control every transaction in an economy. Rather, the macroeconomist controls a set of parameters that ideally shapes the overall structure and development of the economy. The control may be direct or indirect, but the economist does not directly control the size of the economy.

Both the musician and the economist tries to control a perceivable random process through parameters partly directly and partly indirectly under his control.

The big difference, of course, is the potential consequences of their skill and luck. (Some would maybe argue that central banking has little to do with skill, but that’s a different story.) The worst thing that happens when a noise-musician makes bad noise-music is that the audience may get a head ache; head ache is the last thing you worry about when it comes to bad macroeconomic policy.

PS: I could not decide on the best title of this post, so I threw in the kitchen sink; I apologize. Here’s an explanation for those bewildered: Ben Bernanke is the current chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve ; Sonic Youth is one of the best noise-rock bands out there (check it out), and it has Thurston Moore on guitar and noise.


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