Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, December 10, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Economists Are Out. Goldman Is Back In: It looks like Gary Cohn will be leaving Goldman Sachs Group Inc., where he is president and chief operating officer, to become director of Donald Trump's National Economic Council. This is not a unique career trajectory!
The first director of the NEC, which President Bill Clinton created in 1993 to coordinate economic policy among the sometimes-warring government agencies responsible for it, was Robert Rubin... Stephen Friedman, became director of George W. Bush's NEC. If Cohn in fact takes the job, there will have been as many former top Goldman executives in charge of the NEC as Ph.D. economists.
The continuing prominence of Goldman Sachs alumni in Washington is a remarkable thing. In the throes of the financial crisis it seemed hard to imagine that the old Goldman-to-Washington pipeline could continue to operate. ...
So Government Sachs is back! ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, December 9, 2016 at 01:13 PM in Economics, Politics |
"Think about what America was like in 1970, the year the E.P.A. was founded":
Trump and Pruitt Will Make America Gasp Again, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Many people voted for Donald Trump because they believed his promises that he would restore what they imagine were the good old days — the days when America had lots of traditional jobs mining coal and producing manufactured goods. They’re going to be deeply disappointed...
But in other ways Mr. Trump can indeed restore the world of the 1970s. He can, for example, bring us back to the days when, all too often, the air wasn’t safe to breathe. And he’s made a good start by selecting Scott Pruitt, a harsh foe of pollution regulation, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Make America gasp again!
Much of the commentary on the Pruitt appointment has focused on his denial of climate science and on the high likelihood that the incoming administration will undo the substantial progress President Obama was beginning to make against climate change. And that is, in the long run, the big story...
But climate change is a slow-building, largely invisible threat, hard to explain or demonstrate to the general public — which is one reason lavishly funded climate deniers have been so successful at obfuscating the issue. So it’s worth pointing out that most environmental regulation involves much more obvious, immediate, sometimes deadly threats. And much of that regulation may well be headed for oblivion.
Think about what America was like in 1970, the year the E.P.A. was founded. ... It was ... a very polluted country. Choking smog was quite common in major cities...
It’s far better now — not perfect, but much better. ... And the improvement in air quality has had clear, measurable benefits. ...
The key point is that better air didn’t happen by accident: It was a direct result of regulation — regulation that was bitterly opposed at every step by special interests that attacked the scientific evidence of harm from pollution, meanwhile insisting that limiting their emissions would kill jobs.
These special interests were, as you might guess, wrong about everything. ...
But don’t expect rational arguments to ... sway the people who will soon be running the government. After all, what’s bad for America can still be good for the likes of the Koch brothers. ...
The good news, sort of, is that some of the nasty environmental consequences of Trumpism will probably be visible — literally — quite soon. And when bad air days make a comeback, we’ll know exactly whom to blame.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, December 9, 2016 at 09:30 AM in Economics, Environment, Regulation |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, December 9, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker:
Why Trade Deficits Matter, The Atlantic: However one feels about Donald Trump, it’s fair to say he has usefully elevated a long-simmering issue in American political economy: the hardship faced by the families and communities who have lost out as jobs have shifted overseas. For decades, many politicians from both parties ignored the plight of these workers, offering them bromides about the benefits of free trade and yet another trade deal, this time with some “adjustment assistance.”
One of Trump’s economic goals is to lower the U.S.’s trade deficit—which is to say, shrink the discrepancy between the value of the country’s imports and the value of its exports. Right now, the U.S. currently imports $460 billion more than it exports, meaning it has a trade deficit that works out to about 2.5 percent of GDP. Given that the job market is still not back to full strength and the U.S. has been losing manufacturing jobs—there are 60,000 fewer now than at the beginning of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—economists would be wise to question their assumption that such a deficit is harmless. ...
Is the U.S. trade deficit a problem whose solution would help American workers? ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, December 8, 2016 at 03:35 PM in Economics, International Trade |
The American Dream, Quantified at Last: ...Chetty, a Stanford professor, and his colleagues .... constructed a data set that shows the percentage of American children who earn more money — and less money — than their parents earned at the same age.
The index is deeply alarming. It’s a portrait of an economy that disappoints a huge number of people who have heard that they live in a country where life gets better, only to experience something quite different. ...
It begins with children who were born in 1940... The researchers went into the project assuming that most of these children had earned more than their parents — but were surprised to learn that nearly all of them had... About 92 percent of 1940 babies had higher pretax household earnings at age 30 than their parents had at the same age. (The results were similar at older ages and for post-tax earnings.)
The few 1940 children who earned less than their parents were also, for the most part, doing just fine. They were generally earning less because they had grown up rich...
For children born in 1950, the likelihood of achieving the American Dream had begun to fall but remained very high. ...
For babies born in 1980 — today’s 36-year-olds — the index of the American dream has fallen to 50 percent: Only half of them make as much money as their parents did. In the industrial Midwestern states that effectively elected Donald Trump, the share was once higher than the national average. Now, it is a few percentage points lower. There, going backward is the norm. ...
It goes on to discuss how the trend might be reversed.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, December 8, 2016 at 11:06 AM in Economics, Income Distribution |
Thomas Cooley, Ben Griffy, and Peter Rupert (not endorsing or questioning -- but seems worth noting):
Electronic Voting Machines and the Election: Three states are facing or currently undergoing a recount of votes cast, after a number of computer scientists reported some evidence of problems with the electronic voting. This finding was heavily disputed in the media, and seemingly little evidence was produced to support the conclusion that there was malfeasance in counties with electronic voting. Indeed, following the initial media response, the lead computer scientist backed down from initial reports, saying that there are flaws in electronic voting that could be easily exploited, and that an audit is important, but there isn’t direct evidence. We use our data to explore the claim that counties with electronic voting exhibited different voting patterns than their paper peers. What we find is definitely troubling: in some of the swing states, and specifically in states that were projected to vote Democratic at the top of the ticket, those with electronic voting had a decrease in the percent of the total vote going for the Clinton-Kaine campaign, and an increase for the Trump-Pence campaign. We try to determine if this is spurious by checking for patterns in other places with electronic voting, as well as during the 2012 election. We only find this correlation for swing states during the 2016 election. ...
... It’s tough to draw precise conclusions as to what these correlations mean. It’s still possible that there are other factors driving our results, other than electronic voting. But, what we do know is that results in key swing states differ in counties with electronic voting. Further, the patterns in these counties are not exhibited by other similar but not electorally important counties across the country. Additionally, electronic voting had no impact in swing states during the 2012 election. Taken together, it seems tough to dismiss the correlations that we have found in the data. While we don’t know how to interpret the findings practically, it certainly lends credence to the efforts to initiate recounts in several of the swing states.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, December 8, 2016 at 10:49 AM in Economics, Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, December 8, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
The Trouble with DTI as an Underwriting Variable--and as an Overlay: Access to mortgage credit continues to be a problem. Laurie Goodman at the Urban Institute shows that, under normal circumstances (say those of the pre-2002 period), we would expect to see 1 million more mortgage originations per year in the market than we are seeing. I suspect an important reason for this is the primacy of Debt-to-Income (DTI) as an underwriting variable.
There are two issues here. First, while DTI is a predictor of mortgage default, it is a fairly weak predictor. The reason is that it tends to be measured badly, for a variety of reasons. ...
Let's get more specific. Below are result from a linear default probability regression model based on the performance of all fixed rate mortgages purchased by Freddie Mac in the first quarter of 2004. This is a good year to pick, because it is rich in high DTI loans, and because its loans went through a (ahem) difficult period. ...
The definition of default is over-90 days late. ... This is an estimation sample with 166,585 randomly chosen observations; I did not include 114,583 observations so I could do out of sample prediction (which will come later). The default rate for the estimation sample is 14.34 percent; for the hold out sample is 14.31 percent, so Stata's random number generator did its job properly. For those that care, the R^2 is .12.
Note that while DTI is significant, it is not particularly important as a predictor of default. ...
The Consumer Financial Protection Board has deemed mortgages with DTIs above 43 percent to not be "qualified." This means lenders making these loans do not have a safe-harbor for proving that the loans meet an ability to repay standard. Fannie and Freddie are for now exempt from this rule, but they have generally not been willing to originate loans with DTIs in excess of 45 percent. This basically means that no matter the loan-applicant's score arising from a regression model predicting default, if her DTI is above 45 percent, she will not get a loan.
This is not only analytically incoherent, it means that high quality borrowers are failing to get loans, and that the mix of loans being originated is worse in quality than it otherwise would be. That's because a well-specified regression will do a better job sorting borrowers more likely default than a heuristic such as a DTI limit.
To make the point, I run the following comparison using my holdout sample: the default rate observed if we use the DTI cut-off rule vs a rule that ranks borrowers based on default likelihood. If we used the DTI rule, we would have ... a default rate of 14.0 percent. If we use the regression based rule, and make loans to slightly more borrowers..., we get an observed default rate of 10.0 percent. One could obviously loosen up on the regression rule, give more borrowers access to credit, and still have better loan performance.
Let's do one more exercise, and impose the DTI rule on top of the regression rule I used above. The number of borrower getting loans drops to 73,133 (or about 20 percent), while the default rate drops by .7 percent relative to the model alone. That means an awful lot of borrowers are rejected in exchange for a modest improvement in default. ... In short, whether the goal is access to credit, or loan performance (or, ideally, both), regression based underwriting just works far better than DTI overlays.
(I am happy to send code and results to anyone interested.)
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 12:57 PM in Economics, Housing, Regulation |
This is by David Glasner:
A Primer on Equilibrium: After my latest post about rational expectations, Henry from Australia, one of my most prolific commenters, has been engaging me in a conversation about what assumptions are made – or need to be made – for an economic model to have a solution and for that solution to be characterized as an equilibrium, and in particular, a general equilibrium. Equilibrium in economics is not always a clearly defined concept, and it can have a number of different meanings depending on the properties of a given model. But the usual understanding is that the agents in the model (as consumers or producers) are trying to do as well for themselves as they can, given the endowments of resources, skills and technology at their disposal and given their preferences. The conversation was triggered by my assertion that rational expectations must be “compatible with the equilibrium of the model in which those expectations are embedded.”
That was the key insight of John Muth in his paper introducing the rational-expectations assumption into economic modelling. So in any model in which the current and future actions of individuals depend on their expectations of the future, the model cannot arrive at an equilibrium unless those expectations are consistent with the equilibrium of the model. If the expectations of agents are incompatible or inconsistent with the equilibrium of the model, then, since the actions taken or plans made by agents are based on those expectations, the model cannot have an equilibrium solution. ...
That the correctness of expectations implies equilibrium is the consequence of assuming that agents are trying to optimize their decision-making process, given their available and expected opportunities. If all expected opportunities are correctly foreseen, then all decisions will have been the optimal decisions under the circumstances. But nothing has been said that requires all expectations to be correct, or even that it is possible for all expectations to be correct. If an equilibrium does not exist, and just because you can write down an economic model, it does not mean that a solution to the model exists, then the sweet spot where all expectations are consistent and compatible is just a blissful fantasy. So a logical precondition to showing that rational expectations are even possible is to prove that an equilibrium exists. There is nothing circular about the argument.
Now the key to proving the existence of a general equilibrium is to show that the general equilibrium model implies the existence of what mathematicians call a fixed point. ...
After a long discussion, he ends with:
The problem of price expectations in an intertemporal general-equilibrium system is central to the understanding of macroeconomics. Hayek, who was the father of intertemporal equilibrium theory, which he was the first to outline in a 1928 paper in German, and who explained the problem with unsurpassed clarity in his 1937 paper “Economics and Knowledge,” unfortunately did not seem to acknowledge its radical consequences for macroeconomic theory, and the potential ineffectiveness of self-equilibrating market forces. My quarrel with rational expectations as a strategy of macroeconomic analysis is its implicit assumption, lacking any analytical support, that prices and price expectations somehow always adjust to equilibrium values. In certain contexts, when there is no apparent basis to question whether a particular market is functioning efficiently, rational expectations may be a reasonable working assumption for modelling observed behavior. However, when there is reason to question whether a given market is operating efficiently or whether an entire economy is operating close to its potential, to insist on principle that the rational-expectations assumption must be made, to assume, in other words, that actual and expected prices adjust rapidly to their equilibrium values allowing an economy to operate at or near its optimal growth path, is simply, as I have often said, an exercise in circular reasoning and question begging.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 11:43 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics, Methodology |
Jen Deaderick at the NBER Digest:
1776 Was More About Representation than Taxation: "No taxation without representation" — the rallying cry of the American Revolution — gives the impression that taxation was the principal irritant between Britain and its American colonies. But, in fact, taxes in the colonies were much lower than taxes in Britain. The central grievance of the colonists was their lack of a voice in the government that ruled them.
The political underpinnings of the American Revolution have been discussed and debated for more than two hundred years, and there are multiple explanations of the causes and multiple analyses of the revolutionary dynamic. One question about the revolution that has remained difficult to answer is why, if a little representation in Parliament could have prevented a war for independence, did King George III not grant it?
This question is the motivation for Sebastian Galiani and Gustavo Torrens' study Why Not Taxation and Representation? A Note on the American Revolution (NBER Working Paper No. 22724). They note, in drawing attention to the role of representation as a spark for revolution, that the average British citizen who resided in Britain paid 26 shillings per year in taxes, compared with only one shilling per year in New England, even though the living standard of the colonists was arguably higher than that of the British.
Most accounts of the events that led to the American Revolution depict a conflict between the colonies and a unified British government. In fact, the researchers argue, the reality was more subtle. They draw on a variety of historical accounts to describe the tension between two rival British interest groups, the landed gentry and the democratically inclined opposition, and to explain the failure to reach a compromise that would have granted representation to the colonies. In particular, they focus on how extending representation would have affected the relative influence of these two groups.
The researchers consider events a century before the American Revolution to have set the stage for the domestic tensions in Britain at the time of the colonial protests. In 1649, during the English Civil War, a rebellion of Parliamentarians overthrew — and beheaded — King Charles I. Oliver Cromwell, who ruled for most of the subsequent decade, supported expanding representation in government beyond landowners, and his government was sympathetic to grievances like those raised by the American colonies many decades later. Following Cromwell's death in 1658, however, Royalists returned to power and sought to restore the historical ruling class.
When the colonies asked for representation in the middle of the 18th century, the monarchy was still recovering from its dethroning, and the landed gentry, now returned to primary power, still felt vulnerable. The researchers point out that the Royalists were contending with factions that sought to bring democracy to Britain. While these opposition groups did not hold significant power, if representatives from the American colonies were invited to join Parliament, they likely would have sympathized with the opposition and expanded their influence. The researchers see this tension as critical to understanding why Britain was so reluctant to enfranchise the colonists.
There were proposals to settle the colonial crisis peacefully, most notably by Thomas Pownall and Adam Smith. Smith, for example, proposed "a system in which the political representation of Great Britain and America would be proportional to the contribution that each polity was making to the public treasury of the empire." Such proposals were rejected by the ruling coalition in Britain. "The landed gentry, who controlled the incumbent government, feared that making concessions to the American colonies would intensify the pressure for democratic reforms, thus jeopardizing their economic and political position," the researchers find.
Ultimately, the opposition of the landed gentry to the demands for representation by the American colonies pushed the colonies to rebellion and independence, but helped to delay the development of the incipient democratic movement in Britain.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 09:46 AM in Economics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman:
Economic growth in the United States: A tale of two countries, by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, Equitable Growth: Overview The rise of economic inequality is one of the most hotly debated issues today in the United States and indeed in the world. Yet economists and policymakers alike face important limitations when trying to measure and understand the rise of inequality.
One major problem is the disconnect between macroeconomics and the study of economic inequality. Macroeconomics relies on national accounts data to study the growth of national income while the study of inequality relies on individual or household income, survey and tax data. Ideally all three sets of data should be consistent, but they are not. The total flow of income reported by households in survey or tax data adds up to barely 60 percent of the national income recorded in the national accounts, with this gap increasing over the past several decades.1
This disconnect between the different data sets makes it hard to address important economic and policy questions...
A second major issue is that economists and policymakers do not have a comprehensive view of how government programs designed to ameliorate the worst effects of economic inequality actually affect inequality. Americans share almost one-third of the fruits of economic output (via taxes that help pay for an array of social services) through their federal, state, and local governments. ... Yet we do not have a clear measure of how the distribution of pre-tax income differs from the distribution of income after taxes are levied and after government spending is taken into account. This makes it hard to assess the extent to which governments make income growth more equal.2
In a recent paper, the three authors of this issue brief attempt to create inequality statistics for the United States that overcome the limitations of existing data by creating distributional national accounts.3 We combine tax, survey, and national accounts data to build a new series on the distribution of national income. ... Our distributional national accounts enable us to provide decompositions of growth by income groups consistent with macroeconomic growth.
In our paper, we calculate the distribution of both pre-tax and post-tax income. The post-tax series deducts all taxes and then adds back all transfers and public spending so that both pre-tax and post-tax incomes add up to national income. This allows us to provide the first comprehensive view of how government redistribution in the United States affects inequality. Our benchmark series use the adult individual as the unit of observation and split income equally among spouses in married couples. But we also produce series where each spouse is assigned their own labor income, allowing us to study gender inequality and its impact on overall income inequality. In this short summary, we would like to highlight three striking findings.
Our first finding—a surge in income inequality
First, our data show that the bottom half of the income distribution in the United States has been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s. ...
It’s a tale of two countries. For the 117 million U.S. adults in the bottom half of the income distribution, growth has been non-existent for a generation while at the top of the ladder it has been extraordinarily strong. And this stagnation of national income accruing at the bottom is not due to population aging. ...
Our second finding—policies to ameliorate income inequality fall woefully short
Our second main finding is that government redistribution has offset only a small fraction of the increase in pre-tax inequality. ...
Our third finding—comparing income inequality among countries is enlightening
Third, an advantage of our new series is that it allows us to directly compare income across countries. Our long-term goal is to create distributional national accounts for as many countries as possible; all the results will be made available online on the World Wealth and Income Database. One example of the value of these efforts is to compare the average bottom 50 percent pre-tax incomes in the United States and France.8 In sharp contrast with the United States, in France the bottom 50 percent of real (inflation-adjusted) pre-tax incomes grew by 32 percent from 1980 to 2014, at approximately the same rate as national income per adult. While the bottom 50 percent of incomes were 11 percent lower in France than in the United States in 1980, they are now 16 percent higher. (See Figure 3.) ... Since the welfare state is more generous in France, the gap between the bottom 50 percent of income earners in France and the United States would be even greater after taxes and transfers.
The diverging trends in the distribution of pre-tax income across France and the United States—two advanced economies subject to the same forces of technological progress and globalization—show that working-class incomes are not bound to stagnate in Western countries. In the United States, the stagnation of bottom 50 percent of incomes and the upsurge in the top 1 percent coincided with drastically reduced progressive taxation, widespread deregulation of industries and services, particularly the financial services industry, weakened unions, and an eroding minimum wage.
Given the generation-long stagnation of the pre-tax incomes among the bottom 50 percent of wage earners in the United States, we feel that the policy discussion at the federal, state, and local levels should focus on how to equalize the distribution of human capital, financial capital, and bargaining power rather than merely the redistribution of national income after taxes. Policies that could raise the pre-tax incomes of the bottom 50 percent of income earners could include:
- Improved education and access to skills, which may require major changes in the system of education finance and admission
- Reforms of labor market institutions to boost workers’ bargaining power and including a higher minimum wage
- Corporate governance reforms and worker co-determination of the distribution of profits
- Steeply progressive taxation that affects the determination of pay and salaries and the pre-tax distribution of income, particularly at the top end
The different levels of government in the United States today obviously have the power to make income distribution more unequal, but they also have the power to make economic growth in America more equitable again. Potentially pro-growth economic policies should always be discussed alongside their consequences for the distribution of national income and concrete ways to mitigate their unequalizing effects. We hope that the distributional national accounts we present today can prove to be useful for such policy evaluations. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 at 12:30 PM in Economics, Income Distribution |
Why not centrism?: Some people want to revive centrism. Tony Blair wants to “build a new policy agenda for the centre ground”. And the Lib Dems’ victory in Richmond Park is being seen as a warning to the Tories that it must “keep the votes of the middle ground.”
This poses the question: does the idea of political centre ground even make sense? It does, if you think of political opinion being distributed like a bell curve with a few extremists at either end and lots of moderates in the middle. But this doesn’t seem to apply today, and not just because political opinion has always been multi-dimensional. What we have now is a split between Leavers and Remainers, and the ideas correlated with those positions such as openness versus authoritarianism. Where does the “centre ground” fit into this? ...
This, I think, is the essence of centrism. It accepts that globalization and free markets (within limits) bring potential benefits, but that these benefits must be spread more evenly via the tax and welfare system. This stands in contrast to nativism and some forms of leftism which oppose globalization and favour market intervention. It also contrasts to libertarianism and Thatcherism which emphasize freeish markets whilst underplaying redistribution. It’s also what New Labour stood for. ...
I have a ... beef. It’s that this form of centrism offers too etiolated a vision of equality. Inequality isn’t simply a matter of pay packets but of power too. Centrism fails to tackle the latter. This is a big failing... For me, therefore, a centrism which ignores inequalities of power must be inadequate.
Herein, though, lies the sadness: even this form of centrism would be a big improvement upon a lot of today’s politics.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 at 09:57 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Politics |
Team Trump’s New Pledge on Tax Cuts: ...Last week..., Steven Mnuchin said something unexpected on CNBC in his first interview after becoming Donald Trump’s choice for Treasury secretary. A friendly host invited Mnuchin to respond to the liberal charge that Trump’s tax cut was a sop to the rich. Mnuchin, a financier and former Goldman Sachs partner, refused — and made news instead.
“It’s not the case at all,” he said. “Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions, so that there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class. There will be a big tax cut for the middle class, but any tax cuts we have for the upper class will be offset by less deductions that pay for it.” ...
Of course, a single comment from Trump’s orbit — even from the captain of the economic team, who repeated it for emphasis — deserves skepticism. ...
Most Americans oppose a tax cut for the rich, polls indicate. History shows that the economic rationale is nonsense, which means it would not help the working-class voters who elected Trump. And the incoming president’s own Treasury secretary said it would not happen: “There will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.”
It’s a simple, yes-or-no standard. Call it the Mnuchian standard. Any plan that cuts taxes for the rich falls short and deserves to fail.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 at 09:48 AM in Economics, Politics, Taxes |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Paul Krugman responds to Tim Duy:
Trade, Facts, and Politics: I see that Tim Duy is angry at me again. The occasion is rather odd: I produced a little paper on trade and jobs, which I explicitly labeled “wonkish”; the point of the paper was, as I said, to reconcile what seemed to be conflicting assessments of the impacts of trade on overall manufacturing employment.
But Duy is mad, because “dry statistics on trade aren’t working to counter Trump.” Um, that wasn’t the point of the exercise. This wasn’t a political manifesto, and never claimed to be. Nor was it a defense of conventional views on trade. It was about what the data say about a particular question. Are we not allowed to do such things in the age of Trump? ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 12:46 PM in Economics, International Trade, Politics |
Republicans have promised to repeal Obamacare, but they haven't told us what their replacement would look like. Why not?:
The Art of the Scam, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: ...While many Americans say they disapprove of Obamacare, large majorities approve of the things the Affordable Care Act does, notably ensuring that people with pre-existing medical conditions can still buy insurance. And there’s no way to achieve these things without either a major expansion of government health programs — hardly a Republican priority — or something very much like the law Democrats passed.
Worse yet, from the Republican point of view, Obamacare has worked. .. And Americans newly insured thanks to Obamacare are highly satisfied with their coverage.
So what can the G.O.P. offer as an alternative? We know what Republicans want: a free-for-all in which insurance companies can discriminate as they like, with minimal regulation and drastic cuts in government aid. Going there would, however, cause millions of Americans — many of them people who voted for Trump, believing that their recent gains were safe — to lose coverage. The political blowback would be terrible.
Yet failing to repeal Obamacare would also bring heavy political costs. So the emerging Republican health care strategy, according to news reports, is “repeal and delay” — vote to kill Obamacare, but with the effective date pushed back until after the 2018 midterm elections. By then, G.O.P. leaders promise, they’ll have come up with the replacement they haven’t been able to devise over the past seven years.
There will, of course, be no replacement. And there’s likely to be chaos in health care markets well before Obamacare’s official expiration date, as insurance companies exit markets they know will soon collapse. But the political thinking seems to be that they can find a way to blame Democrats for the debacle.
It’s all very Trumpian, if you think about it. An honest memoir of the president-elect’s business career would be titled “The art of the scam.” After all, his hallmark has been turning a profit on failed business projects, because he finds a way to leave other people holding the bag.
In this case, the effort to replace Obamacare will clearly fail miserably in terms of serving the American people... But it could nonetheless be a political success if the public can be convinced to blame the wrong people.
You might think that this would be impossible, given the obviousness of the ploy. But given what we’ve seen so far, you have to take seriously the possibility that they’ll get away with it.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 10:19 AM in Economics, Health Care, Politics |
I have a new column:
The 'Carrier' of Crony Capitalism Is Evident in Trump’s Deal: When I first started teaching economics, one day a student came to my office to argue about how a multiple test question was graded. He believed his answer was correct and explained why, but I disagreed. However, the student would not give up; he kept arguing and began to get angry. Finally, to make it go away I took what seemed to be the simple route and gave him credit for the question.
That was a mistake. It turned out the student knew lots of other people in the course, and within three or four hours at least 20 students who had marked the same wrong answer showed up and demanded they be given credit as well. I had no choice but to give in. I then had to check all the answers for the 300+ students in the course to make sure everyone was treated the same, and in the end the question was essentially nullified. That was unfair to those who answered correctly. Once I made that first fateful choice to take the easy way out there was no way to be fair to everyone.
There is a lesson here regarding Trump’s announcement that he is essentially bribing Carrier with tax cuts to keep jobs in the US. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 09:22 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy, Fiscal Times |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Desperately Searching For A New Strategy, by Tim Duy: President-Donald Trump’s renewed call for a 35% import tax on firms that ship jobs out of the United States triggered the expected round of derision from an array of critics, both on the left and the right. The critics are correct. It is indeed a terrible idea. One sure way to discourage job creation in the US is to guarantee that firms will be punished if they need to layoff employees in the future. It is just bad policy, plain and simple.
But if that’s your takeaway, I think you are making a mistake.
Whether or not Trump can or should attempt to reverse the decline in manufacturing jobs is not the big story here. He can’t. The real story is that he continues to tap into the anger of his voters about being left behind. That will give him much more power than our criticisms will take away.
Politicians, aided by economists, have long ignored the negative impacts of trade-induced structural change. Indeed, they have even cheered it on. After all, the process “releases resources” for use in other, more productive parts of the economy. Those workers are just “low-skilled” workers. The US needs more “high-skilled” workers anyway.
Fact: Workers hate being referred to as “low-skilled.”
How we respond to Trump is important. If we simply fall back on our standard numbers, we lose. If we confidently predict that TPP is a big win because it will add 0.5% to GDP by 2030, we lose. If we just use this as an opportunity to reiterate the importance of a college degree, we lose. We have been doing this for decades, and it helped deliver Trump to office.
As an example, take Paul Krugman’s latest on trade. I don’t want to keep picking on Krugman, but he epitomizes traditional economic thinking on international trade. He concludes with this:
But what about the now-famous Autor-Dorn-Hanson paper on the “China shock”? It’s actually consistent with these numbers. Autor et al only estimate the effects of the, um, China shock, which they suggest led to the loss of 985,000 manufacturing jobs between 1999 and 2011. That’s less than a fifth of the absolute loss of manufacturing jobs over that period, and a quite small share of the long-term manufacturing decline.
I’m not saying that the effects were trivial: Autor and co-authors [sic] show that the adverse effects on regional economies were large and long-lasting. But there’s no contradiction between that result and the general assertion that America’s shift away from manufacturing doesn’t have much to do with trade, and even less to do with trade policy.
Nothing is wrong with the analysis here. But I think Krugman is downplaying the transition costs, especially regional impacts. Politically, that is the important part. Economists tend to just play lip-service to the negative effects as we seek what is perceived to be the bigger prize, the aggregate effects. Fundamentally. Krugman is looking for what we got right in trade theory, and he finds it in Autor et al.
For me, Autor et al is not about what we got right in trade theory, but what we got wrong. Spectacularly wrong:
The importance of location for evaluating trade gains depends on how long it takes for regional adjustment to occur. A presumption that US labor markets are smoothly integrated across space has long made regional equilibration the starting point for welfare analysis. The US experience of trade with China makes this starting point less compelling. Labor-market adjustment to trade shocks is stunningly slow, with local labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and local unemployment rates remaining elevated for a full decade or more after a shock commences. The persistence of local decline perhaps explains the breadth of public transfer programs whose uptake increases in regions subject to rising trade exposure. The mobility costs that rationalize slow adjustment imply that short-run trade gains may be much smaller than long-run gains and that spatial heterogeneity in the magnitudes of the net benefits may be much greater than previously thought. Using a quantitative theoretical model, Caliendo et al. (2015) find that in the immediate aftermath of a trade shock, constructed to mimic the effects of growth in US imports from China, US net welfare gains are close to zero. The ultimate and sizable net gains are realized only once workers are able to reallocate across regions to move from declining to expanding industries. Establishing the speed of regional labor-market adjustment to trade shocks should capture considerably more attention from trade and labor economists.
The speed of regional labor market adjustment to shocks is agonizingly slow in any area that lacks a critical mass of population. Rural and semi-rural areas remain impacted by negative shocks for at least a decade, but often longer. Relative to life spans, in many cases the shocks might as well be permanent.
And note that this is not just about negative trade shocks. Trade is an easy punching bag for Trump, but his message carries wider because we are really talking about structural shocks in general. For example, rural towns in Oregon where devastated by the collapsed of the timber industry in the mid-80s. Here is what the New York Times wrote about Oakridge, Oregon a decade ago:
For a few decades, this little town on the western slope of the Cascades hopped with blue-collar prosperity, its residents cutting fat Douglas fir trees and processing them at two local mills.
Into the 1980’s, people joked that poverty meant you didn’t have an RV or a boat. A high school degree was not necessary to earn a living through logging or mill work, with wages roughly equal to $20 or $30 an hour in today’s terms.
But by 1990 the last mill had closed, a result of shifting markets and a dwindling supply of logs because of depletion and tighter environmental rules. Oakridge was wrenched through the rural version of deindustrialization, sending its population of 4,000 reeling in ways that are still playing out.
Residents now live with lowered expectations, and a share of them have felt the sharp pinch of rural poverty. The town is an acute example of a national trend, the widening gap in pay between workers in urban areas and those in rural locales, where much of any job growth has been in low-end retailing and services.
Trump is speaking to all of these workers, not just the trade-impacted workers. And you can complain that they don’t matter, they aren’t high-skilled workers, that the economy is shifting away to urban areas, that they should just move. In the rural Oregon case, you can add in that the big (and labor-intensive) trees were almost gone anyway, that technology was taking over at the logging site and at the mill, that falling transportation costs meant you didn’t need to mill locally.
None of that works because all you are doing is telling people they have no value relative to the lives they knew.
We don’t have answers for these communities. Rural and semi-rural economic development is hard. Those regions have received only negative shocks for decades; the positive shocks have accrued to the urban regions. Of course, Trump doesn’t have any answers either. But he at least pretends to care.
Just pretending to care is important. At a minimum, the electoral map makes it important.
These issues apply to more than rural and semi-rural areas. Trump’s message – that firms need to consider something more than bottom line – resonates in middle and upper-middle class households as well. They know that their grip on their economic life is tenuous, that they are the future “low-skilled” workers. And they know they will be thrown under the bus for the greater good just like “low-skilled” workers before them.
The dry statistics on trade aren’t working to counter Trump. They make for good policy at one level and terrible policy (and politics) at another. The aggregate gains are irrelevant to someone suffering a personal loss. Critics need to find an effective response to Trump. I don’t think we have it yet. And here is the hardest part: My sense is that Democrats will respond by offering a bigger safety net. But people don’t want a welfare check. They want a job. And this is what Trump, wrongly or rightly, offers.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, December 4, 2016 at 12:57 PM in Economics, International Trade, Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, December 4, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, December 3, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
I think I have to change my mind: Back when Card and Krueger first suggested that there was substantial effective monopsony power in the low-wage labor market and thus that there would be no disemployment effect from (modest) increases in the minimum wage to make it binding, I said: "Clever, but nahhh." The reason for their findings, I thought, was that labor demand is just inelastic in the short and perhaps the medium run--but maybe not in the long run.
I confess that I think I have to change my mind. Economists do not fail to find disemployment effects from (modest) increases in the minimum wage that make it binding because labor demand is inelastic and statistical power is insufficient. Employers actually do have substantial monopsony power in the low-wage labor market--even though they shouldn't. And the minimum wage is best thought of as an anti-monopsony rate-regulation policy that raises low-wage employment, raises average low-wage earnings, and brings the market closer to its competitive equilibrium:
Sandra Black, Jason Furman, Laura Giuliano and Wilson Powell: Minimum Wage Increases and Earnings in Low-Wage Jobs ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, December 2, 2016 at 10:26 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Market Failure, Unemployment |
Be careful what you vote for:
Seduced and Betrayed by Donald Trump, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Donald Trump won the Electoral College (though not the popular vote) on the strength of overwhelming support from working-class whites, who feel left behind by a changing economy and society. And they’re about to get their reward... Yes, the white working class is about to be betrayed.
The evidence of that coming betrayal is obvious in the choice of an array of pro-corporate, anti-labor figures for key positions. In particular..., the selection of Tom Price, an ardent opponent of Obamacare and advocate of Medicare privatization, as secretary of health and human services probably ... means that the Affordable Care Act is doomed...
What the choice of Mr. Price suggests is that the Trump administration is, in fact, ready to see millions lose insurance. And many of those losers will be Trump supporters...., we’re probably looking at more than five million ... who just voted to make their lives nastier, more brutish, and shorter. ...
And ... no, Mr. Trump can’t bring back the manufacturing jobs ... lost mainly to technological change, not imports...
There will be nothing to offset the harm workers suffer when Republicans rip up the safety net.
Will there be a political backlash, a surge of buyer’s remorse? Maybe. ... But we do need to consider the tactics that he will use to obscure the scope of his betrayal.
One tactic, which we’ve already seen with ... Carrier..., will be to distract the nation with bright, shiny, trivial objects. True, this tactic will work only if news coverage is both gullible and innumerate.
No, Mr. Trump didn’t “stand up” to Carrier — he seems to have offered it a bribe. And we’re talking about a thousand jobs in a huge economy...
But judging from the coverage of the deal so far, assuming that the news media will be gullible and innumerate seems like a good bet.
And if and when the reality that workers are losing ground starts to sink in, I worry that the Trumpists will do what authoritarian governments often do to change the subject away from poor performance: go find an enemy. ... Even as he took a big step toward taking health insurance away from millions, Mr. Trump started ranting about taking citizenship away from flag-burners. This was not a coincidence.
The point is to keep your eye on what’s important. Millions of Americans have just been sucker-punched. They just don’t know it yet.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, December 2, 2016 at 10:26 AM in Economics, Politics |
Unemployment Rate Falls to 4.6 Percent in November, a New Low for Recovery: The unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in November, almost equal to the pre-recession lows in 2007. However, the sharp decline was partly due to people leaving the labor force, the employment to-population ratio (EPOP) was unchanged at 59.7 percent. It actually fell slightly for prime-age workers (ages 25-54), from 78.2 percent to 78.1 percent, although it is still 0.7 percentage points above its year ago level.
The establishment survey put job growth at 178,000, roughly in line with expectations. The revisions for the prior two months’ data were largely offsetting, leaving the average for the last three months at 176,000.
This would be a healthy pace for an economy that is near full employment, but the low EPOP suggests that the economy still has a substantial way to before the labor force is fully employed. While there is some evidence of an acceleration in the pace of wage growth, it is very weak.
The average hourly wage reportedly fell 3 cents in November after a sharp jump reported for October. These erratic movements are likely due to measurement error, but the November fall does weaken the case for accelerating wage growth. Wages have risen by 2.5 percent over the last year.
When we factor in the shift from non-wage to wage compensation (mostly a reduction in health care benefits), this means there is essentially no evidence of wage acceleration whatsoever. The Employment Cost Index showed a rise of just 2.3 percent in compensation over the last year. If the average hourly wage for the last three months is compared with the prior three months, there is a bit more evidence with an annual rate of increase of 2.9 percent, but this is still very limited.
It is also worth noting that the labor share of corporate income is still far from recovering to its pre-recession level. It actually fell slightly in the third quarter, from 68.9 percent to 68.3 percent. While there is a modest upward trend in the labor share over the last two years, it is still more than 3.0 percentage points below the pre-recession level.
The somewhat slower pace of job growth could be associated with a speedup in productivity growth. Productivity grew at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter, the fastest pace in two years. The quarterly numbers are highly erratic, and the 3.1 percent figure followed three quarters with negative growth, but it could be the beginning of an uptick in the growth rate. Productivity growth has been extraordinarily weak in this recovery, which is the reason that job growth has been relatively rapid in spite of weak GDP growth.
If the weak productivity growth is explained by the availability of low cost labor, which can be profitable to hire for low productivity jobs, then a tightening labor market would be expected to lead to more rapid productivity growth as workers switch from low paying, low productivity growth, to higher paying, higher productivity jobs.
Apart from the decline in the EPOP, most other data in the household survey was positive, most notably a drop of 220,000 in the number of people involuntarily working part-time to a new post-recession low. At the same time, those choosing to work part-time jumped by 327,000. This is likely a dividend of the Affordable Care Act with workers now having the option to get insurance through the exchanges so that they don't need full-time jobs to get insurance through an employer. This number is now up by almost 2.2 million from December 2013, the month before the exchanges came into existence.
The percentage of unemployment due to people quitting their jobs rose to 12.5 percent. This is a new high for the recovery, which is equal to the pre-recession quit rates, although it is still almost 3.0 percentage points below the peaks hit in 2000. The duration measures all showed moderate improvements, with the average and median durations of unemployment spells hitting new lows for the recovery.
On the whole this report shows a relatively positive picture of the labor market. Job growth is still proceeding at a reasonable pace although wage growth remains moderate. The big question is how many people will come back into the labor force, but with no evidence of inflation, there seems little risk in waiting for the answer.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, December 2, 2016 at 10:26 AM in Economics, Unemployment |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, December 2, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Some concrete proposals for economists and the media: You can now listen to my SPERI/New Statesman prize lecture in full here, or even watch it all here. The talk looks at recent UK history, involving austerity and Brexit, to argue that there are serious problems in how the broadcast media treats economics. The two main problems I talk about are exclusion and balance. Exclusion, where academic economists are simply ignored because they are not part of the Westminster bubble, can lead journalists to assume statements made by politicians are true even though an economist knows they are false or at least highly questionable. I give a number of examples in the talk... Balance is where a view that represents a consensus among academic economists is treated as just another opinion, to be balanced by the opposite view. This simply devalues knowledge. ...
Solutions to these problems must start with academic economists themselves. It is asking too much to expect journalists to know whether a view put forward by an economist represents a consensus among academics or an idiosyncratic view. An obvious way to remedy this is through regular, topical polls of as many academic economists as possible. (I prefer this approach to sampling selected academic ‘leaders’...) ... What these establish is whether a consensus exists or not on key issues. They are much better at doing this than letters to newspapers.
The reason why this is far better than getting more academics on programs like Newsnight (not that I have any problem with that) is that it can then prevent the problem of balance. I use in the talk the example of climate change to show how the broadcast media could treat a consensus view among economists (90% or more agreement) as knowledge, not as simply an opinion to be balanced against another. Getting the broadcasters to do that will not be easy... Our target audience should not be Newsnight but the 6pm or 10pm news programs, which may be the only non-partisan news that readers of the right wing press ever see. We need political correspondents to routinely say what the economic consensus is, and use it to interrogate politicians when they deviate from it. ...
Only once this pressure is brought to bear on the media will we see the media begin to improve its own capability in the area of economics. ...
The broadcast media should be a defense against populism, not the means by which populism takes hold. If you treat knowledge as just an opinion, of course people will vote for whatever sounds good to their ears. ...
We cannot expect people to make sensible decisions about these issues if expertise on these issues (not just economic, but legal, constitutional etc) is kept locked away in specialist programs they will never see, or ignored altogether. We must stop allowing politicians to dictate what is knowledge and what is just an opinion.
 The lecture and this post are about the UK. Although the general points I make about expertise are universal, my specific recommendations only apply to a broadcast media that is not under government control and is regulated to prevent partisan broadcasting. Although my knowledge of the US is far less, it seems to me the problems there are deeper still, particularly now we have a POTUS and Congress who show no respect for truth. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 11:24 AM in Economics, Press |
Alexander Naumov at Bank Underground.
Global growth: The *old* normal?: “Too slow for too long”, referring to global GDP growth, was the title of a recent IMF publication. But is world economic growth really that slow? Looking at the data over the past several decades, global growth since the crisis does not appear particularly weak; at least not in a historical perspective
Still, there is more to this chart…
Two more observations stand out. First, global growth was very strong in the five years immediately before the global financial crisis, but this period was rather an exception than a rule in the past 35 years that the latest IMF dataset covers. Second, the composition of global growth has changed dramatically. That is, while growth has been in line with historical norms globally, the contribution of advanced economies (AEs), shown in blue, has shrunk considerably; whereas the contribution of emerging market economies (EMEs) shown in red, has grown substantially.
Finally, even if world GDP growth today is close to trend, it is being buttressed by unprecedented monetary policy actions. So the answer to the question of how weak global growth currently is, among other things, will depend on your view of how much stimulus the current low policy rates and other unconventional measures provide to the real economy.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 11:24 AM in Economics |
The Future of Aid for Health: Yesterday, I gave a keynote speech at the World Innovation Summit for Health on “The Future of Aid for Health”. When I agreed to give the speech, which built on the work of a Commission I chaired several years ago on Global Health 2035, I did not imagine the degree of uncertainty that the US election would bring to the global health area and indeed to the global community.
We are in uncharted territory. No one can know what the attitude of the new US administration will be to funding foreign assistance of any kind or to global cooperation in the health area. Certainly an “America first” strategy is not highly propitious. Global health has been an area of bipartisan cooperation with major initiatives launched during both Democratic and Republican administrations and has some Congressional champions in both parties so perhaps things will work out.
Rather than dwelling on political uncertainties I could not dispel, I chose to concentrate on something that should be a priority for those concerned with reducing premature death around the world, for those looking to foreign assistance as forward defense of US interests, and to those primarily interested in reducing budgets—assuring the optimal allocation of aid resources.
My argument was simple. The world needs to move decisively away from the current regime where 80 percent of health assistance is devoted to supporting national health care delivery and only 20 percent is devoted to global service delivery towards a model where half of assistance is devoted to global goods. ...
While I have often disagreed with particular judgments or been distressed that political considerations sometime carried the day my experience in policymaking in the United States and at the international level is that reason has always had its day in court and usually carried the day.
I desperately hope this tradition continues. But when the President of the United States is someone who believes that vaccines cause autism, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and that global climate change is a hoax, I am far from certain how decisions will be made going forward.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 11:01 AM in Economics, Health Care |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Employment Going South. Literally: From 1990 to 2015, the US economy as a whole increased employment by about 30 million (30,056,664 according to the BLS). Employment in 1990 was 118,900,000, so that meant that there was a roughly 25% increase in employment over that 25 year period, with a little more than 1 million jobs added per year, on average.
I’m not going to surprise anyone by saying that these 30 million jobs were not spread equally across the entire US. What I didn’t have a good sense of, personally, was how disparate the change in employment was across the US. This post is just some documentation about the absolute size of the change in job distribution across the US. ...
... Again, I’m not claiming that this is some kind of revelation here. The movement of population, and hence jobs, from the Northeast/Midwest to the Sunbelt is well known. What I found interesting was putting some tangible numbers of the shift. The little counter-factual I’m doing here is not very rigorous; there is no particular reason to believe that the 1990 distribution is the “right” distribution of jobs to compare against. But the 1990 distribution does have the feature of being prior to NAFTA and prior to China’s accession to the WTO, both of which are at times cited as sources of manufacturing job losses in the upper Midwest and Northeast.
The scale of the relative job changes, though, indicates that more of the losses have to do with free trade within the US than free trade outside of the US. The areas with relative decline lost 13 million jobs compared to the 1990 distribution of jobs. In total the US shed 6 million manufacturing jobs from 1990 to 2015 (18 million to 12 million, roughly). So this relative decline cannot possibly be a function only of manufacturing and international trade in manufactured goods. There is just too much relative movement out of the declining counties to attribute to this. This is a sloppy way of thinking about how this would work counter-factually (I’m ignoring spillovers entirely), but if you magically added 6 million extra jobs to those counties in relative decline, they would still be in relative decline compared to the Sunbelt in terms of jobs. They’d have 84.4 million jobs (as opposed to 78.4 million), but you’d expect them to have 95.6 million based on the 1990 distribution, so they would still be 11.2 million jobs off the pace.
The breadth of relative loss, though, seems striking, and is the one thing I did not appreciate prior to looking at this data. 909 counties lost jobs in absolute terms, which is 29% of all counties. Another 1,279 counties, 41% of all counties, gained jobs in absolute terms buy lost in relative terms. 944 counties, 30%, gained in relative terms. Just as many counties gained in relative terms as lost in absolute terms. The winning locations - Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix, Denver, Vegas - won big, but the losing was spread across a wide area.
More jobs in 2015 are still located in places in relative decline (78.4 million) than are in places in relative ascent (70.5 million). Of those 78.4 million, 18 million (or about 12% of jobs) are in counties that experienced absolute job losses over the last 25 years. Most jobs are still in places that look to be losing out to Sunbelt cities over time. To the extent that your local economy plays a role in forming your opinions, this seems relevant, although I am going to stop now before I try to do any amateur political science or sociology.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 01:53 PM in Economics, Unemployment |
I have a new article at MoneyWatch:
Infrastructure, jobs and wages: It's not so simple: Whether Donald Trump implements a major infrastructure rebuilding program remains to be seen, but he has certainly created the expectation that it could happen. The U.S. surely needs more infrastructure spending, and not just on new projects -- updating of existing systems is also needed.
Discussions about increasing outlays on infrastructure frequently include claims about the positive impact these programs would have on employment and wages, often referring to the fiscal policy “multiplier.” For example, it’s often claimed that government spending on infrastructure has a multiplier between 1.5 and 2.
Does this mean we should expect a significant increase in employment and income if the government undertakes major new investment in the nation’s infrastructure? Let’s take a closer look. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 10:20 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy, MoneyWatch |
Gerald E. Scorse:
One tax policy Americans yugely favor, The Hill: Nobody likes taxes, but roughly nine out of 10 Americans want income from investments to be taxed at least as much as other income. Republican leaders, tone-deaf,... close their eyes to a reform enacted under President Ronald Reagan: equal taxes on capital gains, dividends, and ordinary income such as wages. It’s one policy the country would love to have back, yugely. ...
The landslide national preference for at least equal taxes on investments—for tax fairness, not tax breaks—meshes perfectly with the populist belief that the system is rigged in favor of the rich. ... According to an analysis by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent of Americans receives over 62 percent of the benefits from lower rates on capital gains, dividends and related tax preferences; for the top 10 percent, the total benefit share is just short of 80 percent.
That’s more than alright with Republicans, whose tax plans will likely drive those percentages even higher—in exactly the opposite direction of the reform ushered in a generation ago by President Reagan. He took Main Street’s side on taxing Wall Street gains, but the GOP likes to pretend it never happened. ...
Donald Trump rode the populist tide all the way to the White House. Let’s see if President Trump listens to the populist yearning—the yuge populist yearning—for equal taxes on income from wealth and income from work.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 10:20 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Politics, Taxes |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell (for a more optimistic take on the "new normal," see Is Our Economic Future Behind Us? by Joel Mokyr):
Recent Economic Developments and Longer-Run Challenges: ...Longer-Run Challenges Productivity and Growth
Let's turn to longer-run challenges, and start by asking why growth has been so slow, and how fast we are likely to grow going forward. This next slide shows the five-year trailing average annual real GDP growth rate (figure 8). By this measure, growth averaged about 3.2 percent annually through the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. But growth began to decline after 2000 and then nose-dived with the onset of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007 and the slow expansion that followed. Since the financial crisis ended in 2009, forecasters have gradually reduced their estimates of long-run trend growth from about 3 percent to about 2 percent--a seemingly small difference that would make a huge difference in living standards over time.3
How much of this decline is just a particularly bad business cycle, and how much represents a long-run downshift? To get at that question, let's take a deeper look at the growth slowdown. We can think of economic growth as coming from two sources: more hours worked (labor supply) or higher output per hour (productivity). Hours worked mainly depends on growth in the labor force, which has been slowing since the mid-2000s as the baby-boom generation ages. As you can see, the labor force is now growing at only about 0.5 percent per year (figure 9). Another way to see this is through the sustained increase in the ratio of people over 65 to those who are in their prime working years (figure 10). This long-expected demographic fact has now arrived, and it has challenging implications for our potential growth and also for our fiscal policy.4
The unexpected part of the growth slowdown reflects weak productivity growth rather than lower labor supply. Labor productivity has increased only 1/2 percent per year since 2010--the smallest five-year rate of increase since World War II and about one-fourth of the average postwar rate (figure 11). The slowdown in productivity has been worldwide and is evident even in countries that were little affected by the crisis (figure 12). Given the global nature of the phenomenon, it is unlikely that U.S.-specific factors are mainly responsible.
A portion of the productivity slowdown is undoubtedly due to low levels of investment by businesses. The financial crisis and the Great Recession left firms with excess capacity, reducing incentives to invest. If businesses expect slower growth to continue, that will also hold down investment.
The other important factor is the decline in what economists call total factor productivity, or TFP, which is the part of productivity that is not explained by capital investment or increases in the skills of the labor force. TFP is thought to be mainly a function of technological innovation and efficiency gains.
There is no consensus about the future direction of productivity.5 The pessimists argue that the big paradigm-changing innovations, such as electrification or the advent of computers, are behind us. If that is so, then our standard of living will increase more slowly going forward. The optimists think that this slowdown is only a passing phase and that the age of robots and machine learning will transform our economy in coming decades. Still others argue that we are currently underestimating productivity and output because of the real difficulties we face in measuring GDP in a modern economy. For example, how do we measure the value-added of free digital services like Facebook or Twitter?6
The future is, as always, uncertain. But I would sum up the growth discussion as follows. Growth in the labor force has slowed, and we can estimate it with reasonable confidence to be only about 0.5 percent. Growth in productivity is both more important and much harder to predict. Productivity varies significantly over time, as figure 11 showed. If productivity growth returns to, say, 1.5 percent, then the U.S. economy could grow at about 2.0 percent over the long term. Actual growth may turn out to be weaker or stronger, and the choices we make as a society will have something to say about that.
Why Are Long-Term Interest Rates So Low?
Let's turn to the related question of why long-term interest rates are so extraordinarily low in advanced economies around the world. The yield on our own benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury security has increased lately, but at 2.3 percent it is still far below what was normal before the financial crisis. In fact, this next chart shows that, as growth and inflation have fallen, longer term interest rates have fallen as well over the past 35 years (figure 13).
So why are long-term interest rates so low? Many of you will no doubt be thinking, "They are low because you people at the Fed set them low!" While there is an element of truth there, that is not the whole story. The FOMC has considerable control over short-term interest rates. We have much less influence over long-term rates, which are set in the marketplace. Long-term interest rates represent the price that balances the supply of saving by lenders and demand for funds by borrowers, such as businesses needing to fund their capital expenditures. Lenders expect to receive a real return and to be compensated for inflation and for the risk of nonpayment. Meanwhile, borrowers adjust their demand for funds based on their changing assessment of the risks and expected returns of their investment projects. When desired saving rises or investment demand falls, then long-term interest rates will decline. Today's very low level of long-term rates suggests that both of these factors are at play.
Both expectations of slower growth and the aging of our population are having significant effects on desired saving and investment and are thus important causes of lower interest rates. If the economy is expanding more slowly, then the level of investment needed to meet demand will be lower. The lower path of growth reduces future income prospects of households, and they will tend to raise their saving. The pending retirement of baby boomers means higher saving, because people tend to save the most in the years just before their retirement. In addition, the lower rate of return on capital owing to lower productivity growth will lead to less investment and lower interest rates.
As with productivity, the factors behind the fall in U.S. interest rates include an important global component, as rates are low around the world. Indeed, although our rates are near historical lows, U.S. Treasury rates are among the highest among the major advanced economy sovereigns (figure 14).
Is This the New Normal?
What can we do to prevent low growth, low inflation, and low interest rates from becoming the new normal? We need to focus on ways to increase our long-term growth and spread that prosperity as broadly as possible. I hasten to add that these policies are, for the most part, outside the purview of the Federal Reserve. We need policies that support productivity growth, business hiring and investment, labor force participation, and the development of skills. We need effective fiscal and regulatory policies that inspire public confidence. Increased spending on public infrastructure may raise private-sector productivity over time, particularly with the growth of the stock of public infrastructure near an all-time low.7 Greater support for public and private research and development, and policies that improve product and labor market dynamism may also be fruitful.8 Monetary policy can contribute by supporting a strong and durable expansion in a context of price stability.
The low interest rate environment presents special challenges for monetary policy. In setting our target for the federal funds rate, a good place to start is to identify the rate that would prevail if the economy were at 2 percent inflation and full employment--the so-called neutral rate. "Neutral" in this context means that the rate is neither contractionary nor expansionary. If the fed funds rate is lower than the neutral rate, then policy is stimulative or accommodative, which will tend to raise growth and inflation. If the fed funds rate is higher than the neutral rate, then policy is tight and will tend to slow growth and reduce inflation.
But we can only estimate the neutral rate, and those estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. Before the crisis, the long-run neutral rate was generally thought to be roughly stable at around 4.25 percent. Since the crisis, estimates have steadily declined, and the median estimate by FOMC participants stood at 2.9 percent in September. Many analysts believe that the neutral rate is even lower than that today and will only return to its long-run value over time.9 The low level of the neutral interest rate has several important implications. First, today's low rates are not as stimulative as they seem--consider that, despite historically low rates, inflation has run consistently below target and housing construction remains far below pre-crisis levels. Second, with rates so low, central banks are not well positioned to counteract a renewed bout of weakness. Third, persistently low interest rates can raise financial stability concerns. A long period of very low interest rates could lead to excessive risk-taking and, over time, to unsustainably high asset prices and credit growth. These are risks that we monitor carefully. Higher growth would increase the neutral rate and help address these issues.
Turning to the outlook for monetary policy, incoming data show an economy that is growing at a healthy pace, with solid payroll job gains and inflation gradually moving up to 2 percent. In my view, the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has clearly strengthened since our previous meeting earlier this month. Of course, the path of rates will depend on the path of the economy. With inflation below target, relatively slow growth, and some slack remaining in the economy, the Committee has been patient about raising rates. That patience has paid dividends. But moving too slowly could eventually mean that the Committee would have to tighten policy abruptly to avoid overshooting our goals.
To wrap up, since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, our economy has recovered slowly but steadily. Today, we are reasonably close to achieving full employment and our 2 percent inflation objective. But we face real challenges over the medium and longer terms. Our aging population will mean slower growth, all else held equal. If living standards are to continue to rise, we need policies that will support productivity and allow our dynamic economy to generate widespread gains in prosperity.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 10:29 AM in Economics, Fed Speeches, Monetary Policy |
Jayme Wiebold at Regblog:
Currency Authority Proposes Ban on Bank Investments in Commercial Metals: In addition to typical banking activities such as issuing home loans and administering savings accounts, should your neighborhood bank be able to buy and trade metals like copper and gold? Presently, financial institutions can legally participate in commodities markets—which include trading in these precious metals—creating a state of affairs that some regulators and politicians say may increase commodities prices for consumers and create financial instability. ...
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates and supervises national banks and federal savings associations, recently ... proposed [a] rule that would prohibit banking institutions from buying or selling metals including copper, aluminum, and gold. ...
Designating dealing in certain commercial metals as an out-of-bounds activity for commercial banks marks a reversal of position for the Currency Comptroller. It previously issued an interpretive letter stating that national banks could buy and sell copper—an industrial metal—because such trading was functionally equivalent to trading in precious metals like gold—an activity considered within the “business of banking.”
As indicated by the proposed rule, the Comptroller no longer believes that investing in copper markets is principally the same as dealing with coins made from precious metal or other types of gold. ...
The Comptroller’s proposed rule comes on the heels of a report it co-authored with the Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which contains several recommendations to ensure the separation of traditional banking activities from more commercial activities. The report specifically states that the Comptroller would publish a proposed rule about limits on trading copper.
In the report, the Federal Reserve also recommends several other reforms that aim to “help ensure the separation of banking and commerce.” It proposes repealing a rule that allows bank holding companies to participate in commodities activities similar to those addressed by the Comptroller’s proposed rule for national banks and recommends strengthening standards for other commodity-related activities like trading derivatives. The report’s authors also recommend repealing authority for financial holding companies to participate in merchant banking activities like buying a stake of ownership in a company instead of providing a traditional loan.
The Comptroller’s proposed rule is part of a growing trend of regulatory and political pressure to separate traditional banking activity from commercial activity. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 10:13 AM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation |
Antonio Fatás (I have an article that will post tomorrow that makes a similar point about multipliers over the business cycle):
The OECD procyclical revision of fiscal policy multipliers: The OECD just published its November 2016 Global Economic Outlook. Their projections suggest an acceleration of global growth rates in particular in countries with plans for a fiscal expansion. In the case of the US, and based on the "plans" of the Trump administration, the OECD projects an acceleration of GDP growth to 3% in 2018. ...
But I am puzzled that they ... are upgrading their estimates of fiscal policy multipliers (in particular for tax cuts) at the wrong time in the business cycle, when the economy must be closer to full employment.
Here is the history: back in 2011 many advanced economies switched to contractionary fiscal policy at a time where their growth rates were low and unemployment rates remained very high. During those years the OECD seemed be ok with fiscal consolidation given the high government debt levels (consolidation was necessary). They understood that there were some negative effects on demand but as they assumed multipliers or about 0.5 (in the middle of a crisis with very high unemployment rates!) the cost did not seem that high.
Today, in an economy with unemployment rate below 5%, and wages and inflation slowly returning to normal values and a central bank ready to raise interest rate, the OECD turns around and decides to change the fiscal policy multipliers to something close to 1 even if the announced fiscal measures consists mostly of tax cuts to the wealthier households with low propensity to consume.
This is what I would call a procyclical revision of fiscal policy multipliers. Encourage consolidations in the middle of a crisis and expansion in good times. Not quite what optimal fiscal policy should look like.
And, of course, the media (including the Financial Times) reported on the OECD study as a validation of the new US administration policies.
And I leave for another (longer) post the absence of any serious discussion of the risks associated to a Trump presidency. This is coming from an organization that has been obsessed with the risks of inflation and excessive asset appreciation during the crisis.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 09:51 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
From the NBER:
Immigrants and Firms' Outcomes: Evidence from France, by Cristina Mitaritonna, Gianluca Orefice, and Giovanni Peri, NBER Working Paper No. 22852 Issued in November 2016: In this paper we analyze the impact of an increase in the local supply of immigrants on firms’ outcomes, allowing for heterogeneous effects across firms according to their initial productivity. Using micro-level data on French manufacturing firms spanning the period 1995-2005, we show that a supply-driven increase in the share of foreign-born workers in a French department (a small geographic area) increased the total factor productivity of firms in that department. Immigrants were prevalently highly educated and this effect is consistent with a positive complementarity and spillover effects from their skills. We also find this effect to be significantly stronger for firms with low initial productivity and small size. The positive productivity effect of immigrants was also associated with faster growth of capital, larger exports and higher wages for natives. Highly skilled natives were pushed towards firms that did not hire too many immigrants spreading positive productivity effects to those firms too. Because of stronger effects on smaller and initially less productive firms, the aggregate effects of immigrants at the department level on average productivity and employment was small.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, November 28, 2016 at 12:53 PM in Academic Papers, Economics, Immigration |
"So how bad will the effects of Trump-era corruption be?":
Why Corruption Matters, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Remember all the news reports suggesting, without evidence, that the Clinton Foundation’s fund-raising created conflicts of interest? Well, now the man who benefited from all that innuendo is ... giving us an object lesson in what real conflicts of interest look like as authoritarian governments around the world shower favors on his business empire. ...
And his early appointments suggest that he won’t be the only player using political power to build personal wealth. ... America has just entered an era of unprecedented corruption at the top. ...
Normally, policy reflects some combination of practicality — what works? — and ideology — what fits my preconceptions? And our usual complaint is that ideology all too often overrules the evidence.
But now we’re going to see a third factor powerfully at work: What policies can officials, very much including the man at the top, personally monetize? And the effect will be disastrous. ...
But what’s truly scary is the potential impact of corruption on foreign policy. Again, foreign governments are already trying to buy influence by adding to Mr. Trump’s personal wealth, and he is welcoming their efforts.
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is illegal, in fact unconstitutional, a clear violation of the emoluments clause. But who’s going to enforce the Constitution? Republicans in Congress? Don’t be silly.
Destruction of democratic norms aside, however, think about the tilt this de facto bribery will give to U.S. policy. What kind of regime can buy influence by enriching the president and his friends? The answer is, only a government that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law.
Think about it: Could Britain or Canada curry favor with the incoming administration by waiving regulations to promote Trump golf courses or directing business to Trump hotels? No — those nations have free presses, independent courts, and rules designed to prevent exactly that kind of improper behavior. On the other hand, someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top in return for, say, the withdrawal of security guarantees for the Baltic States.
One would like to hope that national security officials are explaining to Mr. Trump just how destructive it would be to let business considerations drive foreign policy. But reports say that Mr. Trump has barely met with those officials, refusing to get the briefings that are normal for a president-elect.
So how bad will the effects of Trump-era corruption be? The best guess is, worse than you can possibly imagine.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, November 28, 2016 at 09:57 AM in Economics, Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, November 28, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
A secular religion that lasted one century: The death of Fidel Castro made me think again of the idea that I had for a while about our lack of understanding of what is the place of communism in global history of mankind. We have thousands of historical volumes on communism, and similarly thousands of volumes of apologia and critiques of Communism, but we have no conception of what its position in global history was—e.g. whether colonialism would have ended without communism, whether communism kept capitalism less unequal, whether it promoted social mobility, or made transition from agrarian to industrial societies in Asia much faster etc. As Diego Castaneda mentioned in today’s tweet, we probably will not be able to assess communism for a while, probably until the passions that it arose have died down.
The death of Fidel Castro is a useful marker because he was the last canonic communist revolutionary: the leader of a revolution that overthrew the previous order of things, nationalized property, and ruled through a single party-state. We can pretty confidently state that no communist revolutionary in that canonic mould that was so common in the 20th century, from Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Liu Shaoqi, Tito and Fidel will arise in this century. The ideas of nationalized property and central planning are dead. In a very symmetrical way, the arrival of Utopia to power that began in glacial Petrograd in November 1917 ended with the death of its last actual, physical, proponent, in a far-away Caribbean nation, in November 2016.
Let me go over some grossly simplified ideas that, perhaps one day, I will expound more fully in a book format. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, November 27, 2016 at 10:56 AM in Economics |
...Earnings mobility for children from the very broad middle—parents whose income ranges from the bottom 10 percent all the way to the cusp of the top 10 percent—is not tied strongly to family income. These children tend to move up or down the income distribution without regard to their starting point in life. This may be one element of insecurity among the middle class: in spite of their best efforts, their children may be as likely to lose ground and fall in the income distribution as they are to rise.
The situation is very different for children raised by top-earning parents...
Much more here.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, November 27, 2016 at 10:48 AM in Economics, Income Distribution |
On Krugman And The Working Class, by Tim Duy: Paul Krugman on the election:
The only way to make sense of what happened is to see the vote as an expression of, well, identity politics — some combination of white resentment at what voters see as favoritism toward nonwhites (even though it isn’t) and anger on the part of the less educated at liberal elites whom they imagine look down on them.
To be honest, I don’t fully understand this resentment.
To not understand this resentment is to pretend this never happened:
“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” she said to applause and laughter. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
Clinton effectively wrote off nearly half the country at that point. Where was the liberal outrage at this gross generalization? Nowhere – because Clinton’s supporters believed this to be largely true. The white working class had already been written off. Hence the applause and laughter.
In hindsight, I wonder if the election was probably over right then and there.
In particular, I don’t know why imagined liberal disdain inspires so much more anger than the very real disdain of conservatives who see the poverty of places like eastern Kentucky as a sign of the personal and moral inadequacy of their residents.
But they do know the disdain of conservatives. Clinton followed right along the path of former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney:
It was the characterization of “half of Trump’s supporters” on Friday that struck some Republicans as similar to the damning “47 percent” remark made by their own nominee, Mitt Romney, in his 2012 campaign against President Obama. At a private fund-raiser Mr. Romney, who Democrats had already sought to portray as a cold corporate titan, said 47 percent of voters were “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims” and who “pay no income tax.”
There was, of course, liberal outrage at Romney.
Krugman forgets that Trump was not the choice of mainstream Republicans. Trump’s base overthrew the mainstream – they felt the disdain of mainstream Republicans just as they felt the disdain of the Democrats, and returned the favor.
I doubt very much that these voters are looking for the left’s paternalistic attitude:
One thing is clear, however: Democrats have to figure out why the white working class just voted overwhelmingly against its own economic interests, not pretend that a bit more populism would solve the problem.
That Krugman can wonder at the source of the disdain felt toward the liberal elite while lecturing Trump’s voters on their own self-interest is really quite remarkable.
I don’t know that the white working class voted against their economic interest. I don’t pretend that I can define their preferences with such accuracy. Maybe they did. But the working class may reasonably believe that neither party offers them an economic solution. The Republicans are the party of the rich; the Democrats are the party of the rich and poor. Those in between have no place.
That sense of hopelessness would be justifiably acute in rural areas. Economic development is hard work in the best of circumstances; across the sparsely populated vastness of rural America, it is virtually impossible. The victories are – and will continue to be – few and far between.
The tough reality of economic development is that it will always be easier to move people to jobs than the jobs to people. Which is akin to telling many, many voters the only way possible way they can live an even modest lifestyle is to abandon their roots for the uniformity of urban life. They must sacrifice their identities to survive. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. Follow the Brooklyn hipsters to the Promised Land.
This is a bitter pill for many to swallow. To just sit back and accept the collapse of your communities. And I suspect the white working class resents being told to swallow that pill when the Democrats eagerly celebrate the identities of everyone else.
And it is an especially difficult pill given that the decline was forced upon the white working class; it was not a choice of their own making. The tsunami of globalization washed over them with nary a concern on the part of the political class. To be sure, in many ways it was inevitable, just as was the march of technology that had been eating away at manufacturing jobs for decades. But the damage was intensified by trade deals that lacked sufficient redistributive policies. And to add insult to injury, the speed of decline was hastened further by the refusal of the US Treasury to express concern about currency manipulation twenty years ago. Then came the housing crash and the ensuing humiliation of the foreclosure crisis.
The subsequent impact on the white working class – the poverty, the opioid epidemic, the rising death rates – are well documented. An environment that serves as fertile breeding ground for resentment, hatred and racism, a desire to strike back at someone, anyone, simply to feel some control, to be recognized. Hence Trump.
Is there a way forward for Democrats? One strategy is to do nothing and hope that the fast growing Sunbelt shifts the electoral map in their favor. Not entirely unreasonable. Maybe even the white working class turns on Trump when it becomes evident that he has no better plan for the white working class than anyone else (then again maybe he skates by with a few small but high profile wins). But who do they turn to next?
And how long will a "hold the course" strategy take? One more election cycle? Or ten? How much damage to our institutions will occur as a result? Can the Democrats afford the time? Or should they find a new standard bearer that can win the Sunbelt states and bridge the divide with the white working class? I tend to think the latter strategy has the higher likelihood of success. But to pursue such a strategy, the liberal elite might find it necessary to learn some humility. Lecturing the white working class on their own self-interest hasn’t worked in the past, and I don’t see how it will work in the future.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, November 27, 2016 at 10:13 AM in Economics, Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, November 27, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, November 26, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |