Scale, Profits, and Inequality, Growth Economics: After my post last week on inequality, I got a number of (surprisingly reasonable) responses. I pulled one line out of a recent comment ... because it encapsulates an argument for *not* caring about inequality.
“Gates and the Waltons really did probably add more value to humanity than the janitor at my school.“
The general argument here is about incentives. Without the possibility of massive profits, people like Bill Gates or Sam Walton will not bother to innovate and create Microsoft and Walmart. ... But if we take seriously the incentives behind innovation, then it isn’t simply the genius of the individual that matters for growth. The scale of the economy is equally relevant. ...
People like Gates and the Waltons earn profits on the scale effect of the U.S. economy, which they did not invent, innovate on, or produce. So the “rest of us”, like the janitor mentioned above, have some legitimate reason to ask whether those profits are best used in remunerating Bill Gates and the Walton family, or could be put to better use. ... Investing in health, education, and infrastructure all will raise the aggregate size of the U.S. economy, and make innovation more lucrative. Even straight income transfers can raise the effective scale of the U.S. economy be transferring purchasing power to people who will spend it.
Can we argue about exactly how much of the profits are due to “genius” (the markup) and how much to scale? Sure... But you cannot dismiss the idea of taxing high-income “makers” because their income represents the fruits of their individual genius. It doesn’t. Their incomes derive from a combination of ability and scale. And scale doesn’t belong to individuals.
The value-added of “the Waltons” is particularly relevant here. ... Alice Walton is worth around $33 billion. She never worked for Walmart. She is a billionaire many times over because her dad was smart enough to take advantage of the massive scale of the U.S. economy. I’m not willing to concede that Alice has added more value to humanity than anyone in particular. So, yes, I’ll argue that Alice should pay a lot more in taxes than she does today. And no, I’m not afraid that this will prevent innovation in the future, because those taxes will help expand the scale of the economy and incent a new generation of innovators to get to work.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 11:08 AM in Economics, Income Distribution |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
What Path for Development in Africa -- and Elsewhere?: As I've pointed out from time to time, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa have been experiencing genuine conomic growth for the last decade or so, and not just in oil- and mineral-exporting countries, creating what is by the standards of developing economies an expanding middle class. But here comes Dani Rodrik to ask some realistic tough questions in his essay, "Why an African Growth Miracle Is Unlikely," written for the Fourth Quarter 2014 issue of the Milken Institute Review. Rodrik also argues this case in "An African Growth Miracle?" given as the Richard Sabot lecture last April at the Center for Global Development.
As Rodrik readily acknowledges, many nations of Africa have seen both sustained growth and positive reform of their economic institutions. ...
But Rodrik's focus is not on whether a per capita growth rate of 3% is sustainable. Given continuing investments in human capital, infrastructure investment and building better trade ties across the continent, Africa's economy's can continue to grow. The question is whether sub-Saharan African can experience a growth "miracle" similar to that of many nations around south and east Asia--Japan, Korea, China, India, and others--where per capita economic growth veers up into the range of 7% per year or more, which is enough to double average living standards in a decade.
Here, Rodrik argues, Africa's prospects are shakier, because that kind of growth miracle requires some manner of structural transformation of the economy--and just how the nations of Africa might transform their economies in this way is quite unclear. How will Africa's jobs of the future be generated? Rodrik writes:
"To generate sustained, rapid growth, Africa has essentially four options. The first is to revive manufacturing and put industrialization back on track, so as to replicate as much as possible the now-traditional route to economic convergence. The second is to generate agriculture-led growth, based on diversification into non-traditional agricultural products. The third is to kindle rapid growth in productivity in services, where most people will end up working in any case. The fourth is growth based on natural resources, in which many African countries are amply endowed."
The problem with the manufacturing approach is that economic through a transformation that involves low-wage manufacturing is getting harder. Rodrik writes:
On the other hand, the obstacles to industrialization in Africa may be deeper, and go beyond specific African circumstances. For various reasons we do not fully understand, industrialization has become really hard for all countries of the world. The advanced countries are, of course, deindustrializing, which is not a big surprise and can be ascribed to both import competition and a shift in demand to services. But middle-income countries in Latin America are doing the same. And industrialization in low-income countries is running out of steam considerably earlier than was the case before. This is the phenomenon that I have called premature deindustrialization.
... Rodrik's bottom line is that while the nations of sub-Saharan Africa can surely continue to experience moderate rates of economic growth, it will need to invent its own path to find a growth miracle: "If African countries do achieve growth rates substantially higher than I have suggested is likely, they will do so by pursuing a growth model that is different from earlier miracles, which were based on industrialization. Perhaps it will be agriculture-led growth. Perhaps it will be services. But it will look quite different than scenarios we have seen before."
I would add that the U.S. economy and the world face their own version of Africa's economic growth problem. In the U.S., the old-style manufacturing jobs have been steadily diminishing. We aren't likely to build the future of the U.S. economy primarily on growth in agriculture. Although the emergence of the U.S. economy as the world's oil and gas production leader should offer real benefits to the U.S. economy in the next couple of decades, it isn't likely to be enough to drive the bulk of the $17 trillion U.S. economy. The core challenge facing the U.S. economy is how to combine its own service-sector workers, especially its low- and middle-skill workers, with the new possibilities of technology in a way that leads to well-paid jobs, as well as to the kind of rising productivity and evolving skills that are behind a satisfying career path.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 11:11 AM in Economics |
Maybe we'll finally start discussing something I've been writing about for years with little traction, how market power affects the distribution of income (the disconnect between income and the contribution to final product that occurs when market power exists):
The Profits-Investment Disconnect, by Paul Krugman: I caught a bit of CNBC in the locker room this morning, and they were talking about stock buybacks. Oddly — or maybe not that oddly, given my own experiences with the show — nobody brought up what I would have thought was the obvious question. Profits are very high, so why are companies concluding that they should return cash to stockholders rather than use it to expand their businesses?
After all, we normally think of high profits as a signal: a profitable business is one people should be trying to get into. But right now we see a combination of high profits and sluggish investment...
What’s going on? One possibility, I guess, is that business are holding back because Obama is looking at them funny. But more seriously, this kind of divergence — in which high profits don’t signal high returns to investment — is what you’d expect if a lot of those profits reflect monopoly power rather than returns on capital.
More on this in a while.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 10:02 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Market Failure |
Redistribution between generations: I ought to start a series on common macroeconomic misunderstandings. (I do not watch zombie films.) ... Here is one that crops up fairly regularly - that government debt does not involve redistribution between generations. The misunderstanding here is obvious once you see that generations overlap. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 09:41 AM in Economics |
"What's a plutocrat to do?":
Plutocrats Against Democracy, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...The ... political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy..., there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy. ...
This is a fantasy. ... All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s... But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals — and no, that’s not what ails Europe.
Still, while the “kind of politics and policies” that responds to the bottom half of the income distribution won’t destroy the economy,... the top 0.1 percent is paying quite a lot more in taxes right now than it would have if Mr. Romney had won. So what’s a plutocrat to do?
One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): ...
Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions — government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.
A third answer is to make sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different.
But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect. The obvious answer is...: Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.
And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights — at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.
The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 01:01 PM in Economics, Methodology, Video |
After A Few Comments on QE, Bill McBride ends with:
...My view is QE was not a panacea, but overall QE was a success. I was a frequent critic of the Fed prior to the financial crisis - I think the Fed was almost anti-regulation during the housing bubble, and initially the Fed was behind the curve when the crisis was looming - however once Bernanke became aware of the severity of the crisis, the Fed was aggressive and effective. Perhaps they were a little slow in implementing QE3 - and with low inflation an argument could be made now to extend QE - but overall I think QE was a success.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 11:04 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
The Effects of a Money-Financed Fiscal Stimulus, by Jordi Galí, September 2014: Abstract I analyze the effects of an increase in government purchases financed entirely through seignorage, in both a classical and a New Keynesian framework, and compare them with those resulting from a more conventional debt-financed stimulus. My findings point to the importance of nominal rigidities in shaping those effects. Under a realistic calibration of such rigidities, a money-financed fiscal stimulus is shown to have very strong effects on economic activity, with relatively mild inflationary consequences. If the steady state is sufficiently inefficient, an increase in government purchases may increase welfare even if such spending is wasteful.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 09:13 AM in Academic Papers, Economics, Fiscal Policy |
This was in today's links (which were posted later than usual):
Does Raising the Minimum Wage Hurt Employment? Evidence from China, by Prakash Loungani, iMFDirect: ...China accounts for nearly 25 percent of the global labor force...
Our study is the first to use data on minimum wage changes for over 2400 counties in China. We combine the information on minimum wages changes with employment data from the Annual Survey of Industrial Firms, which covers over 70 percent of China’s manufacturing employment. While China instituted a minimum wage system in 1994, enforcement of compliance with the law was significantly tightened only in 2004; the results described below are based on post-2004 data.
So what does the evidence show? On average across all firms, we find that an increase in the minimum wage leads to a small decline in employment: a 10% percent increase in the minimum wage lowers employment by a little over 1% percent.
The impact differs across firms, being greater in low-wage firms than in high-wage firms. ... In the decile of firms with the lowest wages, a 10% increase in minimum wages lowers employment by nearly 1.8%. The impact declines steadily such that for the decile of firms with the highest wages, the impact is 0.6%.
We also find that the impact of the minimum wage on a firm’s wages depends on where the firm stands in the distribution of wages. On average, an increase in the minimum wage raises wages by about 1%. But ... in the lowest decile, the increase is about 2.5%. The effect declines steadily and there is essentially no impact for the highest decile. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 08:36 AM in Economics, Unemployment |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Everything you ever wanted to know about helicopter money:
Helicopter money, by Simon Wren-Lewis, Mainly Macro: Periodically articles appear advocating, or discussing, helicopter money. Here is a simple guide to this strange sounding concept. I go in descending order of importance, covering the essential ground in points 1-7, and dealing with more esoteric matters after that. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 09:17 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
Persuasion with statistics: Mark Thoma's point that apparently strong econometric results are often the product of specification mining prompts Lars Syll to remind us that eminent economists have long been wary of what econometrics can achieve.
I doubt if many people have ever thought "Crikey, the t stats are high here. That means I must abandon my long-held beliefs about an important matter." More likely, the reaction is to recall Dave Giles' commandments nine and 10. (Apparently?) impressive econometric findings might be good enough to get you published. But there's a big difference between being published and being read, let alone being persuasive.
This poses a question: how, then, do statistics persuade people to change their general beliefs (as distinct from beliefs about single facts)?
Let me take an example of an issue where I've done just this. I used to believe in the efficient market hypothesis. ...[explains why that changed]...
He concludes with:
The above is not a story about statistical significance (pdf). Single studies are rarely persuasive. Instead, the process of persuading people to change their mind requires diversity - a diversity of data sets, and a diversity of theories. Am I wrong? Feel free to offer counter-examples.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 08:32 AM in Econometrics, Economics |
I am not convinced that telling the kids to be good or else -- when there's a history of not doing much to enforce the request -- will work:
Will the big banks ever clean up their act?, by Mark Thoma: Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley delivered a stern warning to the largest banks in a speech earlier this week. Either clean up your illegal and unethical behavior through "cultural change" from within, he said, or be broken into smaller, more manageable pieces.
In his conclusion, the warning was direct and explicit:
"...if those of you here today as stewards of these large financial institutions do not do your part in pushing forcefully for change across the industry, then bad behavior will undoubtedly persist. If that were to occur, the inevitable conclusion will be reached that your firms are too big and complex to manage effectively. In that case, financial stability concerns would dictate that your firms need to be dramatically downsized and simplified so they can be managed effectively. It is up to you to address this cultural and ethical challenge."
How can the needed change be accomplished? ...
Will this work? Will large financial firms take the threat that they might be broken up seriously? Will they even bother to implement the many suggestions Dudley made?
Regulators have been reluctant to break up big banks in the past out of fear that it might undercut their ability to finance very large projects and hurt their competitiveness in international markets. And given that this behavior is so pervasive and has endured for so long, regulators haven't been as tough as they could be in stopping it.
Maybe this time is different. Maybe financial firms believe regulators are serious, and they will change the culture that has allowed these problems to exist. Perhaps the threat to break up the banks if they continue to prove they are "too big to manage" is real.
Let's hope so, because the financial instability that can occur when large banks behave unethically or when they fail to comply with existing regulations can be very costly for the nation's economy.
But, again, I doubt asking banks to change their culture will be enough, they will need to be persuaded through other, stronger means. (If it was up to me, I would have broken them into smaller pieces long ago. I do not beleive the minimum efficient scale is anywhere near as large as the largest banks, their political and economic power is too strong, and they pose a risk for the economy when they misbehave or make big mistakes. Smaller banks don't solve all these problems, there can still be widespread, cascading bank failures for example, but it does reduce the risks.)
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 08:32 AM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
This is related to yesterday's post "State 'Income Migration' Claims Are Deeply Flawed":
At the intersection of real estate and urban economics: Albert Saiz uses big data to understand real estate dynamics. As a professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and director of MIT’s Center for Real Estate, his work is at the confluence of urban policy and city-making and the factors that drive real estate markets. An urban economist and director of the MIT Urban Economics Lab, Saiz studies the industrial composition of cities with an eye toward understanding what makes cities successful. He also creates and studies incredibly-detailed information about housing markets and how urban growth impacts real estate markets.
Immigration explains half of city growth
Saiz’s focus is primarily on housing markets, with a particular view on understanding the demographic influences impacting their growth. “Immigration explains 50 percent of the differences in growth between metropolitan areas in the United States,” he says. “If you want to understand real estate markets or housing markets, construction values, etc., you have to understand immigration and immigration trends.”
He also studies several other key drivers of city growth and demand for housing and real estate assets. These include areas of low taxation, high levels of an educated population, and more lifestyle-oriented influences. “As recently as 20 years ago, we tended to believe that people followed jobs,” Saiz explains. “It is still the case that productive areas are becoming more attractive for housing demand, but it is also true that jobs are following people. And people are moving more for lifestyle and amenities.” Today, Saiz’s students are more likely to indicate they want to work in a particular city than for a particular company. That means firms that want to attract young professionals have to locate in these more highly desirable areas. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 09:41 AM in Economics, Housing |
Why our happiness and satisfaction should replace GDP in policy making, The Conversation: Since 1990, GDP per person in China has doubled and then redoubled. With average incomes multiplying fourfold in little more than two decades, one might expect many of the Chinese people to be dancing in the streets. Yet, when asked about their satisfaction with life, they are, if anything, less satisfied than in 1990.
The disparity indicated by these two measures of human progress, Gross Domestic Product and Subjective Well Being (SWB), makes pretty plain the issue at hand. GDP, the well-being indicator commonly used in policy circles, signals an outstanding advance in China. SWB, as indicated by self-reports of overall satisfaction with life, suggests, if anything, a worsening of people’s lives. Which measure is a more meaningful index of well-being? Which is a better guide for public policy?
A few decades ago, economists – the most influential social scientists shaping public policy – would have said that the SWB result for China demonstrates the meaninglessness of self-reports of well-being. Economic historian Deirdre McCloskey, writing in 1983, aptly put the typical attitude of economists this way:
Unlike other social scientists, economists are extremely hostile towards questionnaires and other self-descriptions… One can literally get an audience of economists to laugh out loud by proposing ironically to send out a questionnaire on some disputed economic point. Economists… are unthinkingly committed to the notion that only the externally observable behaviour of actors is admissible evidence in arguments concerning economics.
But times have changed. A commission established by the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008 and charged with recommending alternatives to GDP as a measure of progress, stated bluntly (my emphasis):
Research has shown that it is possible to collect meaningful and reliable data on subjective as well as objective well-being … The types of questions that have proved their value within small-scale and unofficial surveys should be included in larger-scale surveys undertaken by official statistical offices.
This 25-member commission was comprised almost entirely of economists, five of whom had won the Nobel Prize in economics. Two of the five co-chaired the commission.
These days the tendency with new measures of our well-being – such as life satisfaction and happiness – is to propose that they be used as a complement to GDP. But what is one to do when confronted with such a stark difference between SWB and GDP, as in China? What should one say? People in China are better off than ever before, people are no better off than before, or “it depends”?
To decide this issue, we need to delve deeper into what has happened in China. When we do that, the superiority of SWB becomes apparent: it can capture the multiple dimensions of people’s lives. GDP, in contrast, focuses exclusively on the output of material goods.
People everywhere in the world spend most of their time trying to earn a living and raise a healthy family. The easier it is for them to do this, the happier they are. This is the lesson of a 1965 classic, The Pattern of Human Concerns, by public opinion survey specialist Hadley Cantril. In the 12 countries – rich and poor, communist and non-communist – that Cantril surveyed, the same highly personal concerns dominated determinants of happiness: standard of living, family, health and work. Broad social issues such as inequality, discrimination and international relations, were rarely mentioned.
Urban China in 1990 was essentially a mini-welfare state. Workers had what has been called an “iron rice bowl” – they were assured of jobs, housing, medical services, pensions, childcare and jobs for their grown children.
With the coming of capitalism, and “restructuring” of state enterprises, the iron rice bowl was smashed and these assurances went out the window. Unemployment soared and the social safety net disappeared. The security that workers had enjoyed was gone and the result was that life satisfaction plummeted, especially among the less-educated, lower-income segments of the population.
Although working conditions have improved somewhat in the past decade, the shortfall from the security enjoyed in 1990 remains substantial. The positive effect on well-being of rising incomes has been negated by rapidly rising material aspirations and the emergence of urgent concerns about income and job security, family, and health.
The case to replace
Examples of the disparity between SWB and GDP as measures of well-being could easily be multiplied. Since the early 1970s real GDP per capita in the US has doubled, but SWB has, if anything, declined. In international comparisons, Costa Rica’s per capita GDP is a quarter of that in the US, but Costa Ricans are as happy or happier than Americans when we look at SWB data. Clearly there is more to people’s well-being that the output of goods.
There are some simple, yet powerful arguments to say that we should use SWB in preference to GDP, not just as a complement. For a start, those SWB measures like happiness or life satisfaction are more comprehensive than GDP. They take into account the effect on well-being not just of material living conditions, but of the wide range of concerns in our lives.
It is also key that with SWB, the judgement of well-being is made by the individuals affected. GDP’s reliance on outside statistical “experts” to make inferences based on a measure they themselves construct looks deeply flawed when viewed in comparison. These judgements by outsiders also lie behind the growing number of multiple-item measures being put forth these days. An example is the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI) which attempts to combine data on GDP with indexes of education and life expectancy.
But people do not identify with measures like HDI (or GDP, of course) to anywhere near the extent that they do with straightforward questions of happiness and satisfaction with life. And crucially, these SWB measures offer each adult a vote and only one vote, whether they are rich or poor, sick or well, native or foreign-born. This is not to say that, as measures of well-being go, SWB is the last word, but clearly it comes closer to capturing what is actually happening to people’s lives than GDP ever will. The question is whether policy makers actually want to know.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 09:24 AM in Economics, Methodology |
Just in case you haven't had your fill of articles reviewing Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century:
The problem of riches, by Paul Segal: Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a very important book that is not really about capital, and is not really about the twenty-first century. It is predominantly a work of analytical economic history, focusing on the late nineteenth century to the present – with words of warning for the future, nestled among caveats regarding the pitfalls of economic predictions. And its subjects are the dynamics and distribution of incomes and wealth, where wealth is to capital what an hourly wage is to an hour of work: the market value, not the thing itself.
Inequality is the great challenge of our time. Still, Piketty’s runaway public success was expected by no one – his publisher ran out of copies in the first few weeks – and is due in no small part to generous endorsements from uber-public intellectual Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist (and who sportingly admitted to ‘sheer, green-eyed professional jealousy’ (Krugman, 2014)). Piketty’s book has spawned countless reviews and commentaries. Yet this text of 577 pages plus endnotes is no easy conquest, and the public sphere is occupied by more opinions of Piketty than readers of Piketty. In addition, the combination of fame and the ideological nature of its subject has given him the status of Big Game to be hunted by ambitious economists and journalists – very publicly in a belligerent and careful-but-not-quite-careful-enough critique by the Financial Times’ Chris Giles that turned out to be badly misguided (Giles and Giugliano, 2014 and Piketty, 2014). (Piketty points out that if Giles were correct it would imply that Britain today had one of the most equal distributions of wealth in modern history, which is risible).
They are the 1 per cent
Given this exposure it is ironic that one of Piketty’s great contributions to the lexicon of public debate is not usually credited to him: through his unearthing of data on the incomes of the richest 1 per cent, he is ultimately responsible for the slogan ‘we are the 99 per cent’, for without him we would not know who does not fall into that category (1). Starting with France, Piketty used income tax data to reveal the incomes of the richest in society, which had previously been inaccessible. Following this work, Piketty and the great British economist of inequality Tony Atkinson led a project of dozens of researchers to collect top income data from around the world, which have been collated into a database that now covers 29 countries (2).
The key finding of this research is that the income share of the richest 1 per cent has risen dramatically in many countries around the world since the 1980s. In the US the richest 1 per cent received about 8 per cent of total income through the 1960s and 1970s. This share started to rise in the mid-1980s, reaching about 18 per cent in recent years. Britain followed a similar pattern, its share rising from a low of only 6 per cent in 1980 to 15 per cent. Famously egalitarian Sweden has become less so, having seen its top 1 per cent income share rising from only 4 per cent in the 1980s to 7 per cent. Still, it is important to note that major increases were not inevitable: in both France and Japan there has been only a modest rise, from about 7 per cent in the 1980s to about 9 per cent now. ...[continue reading]...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 09:24 AM
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Differences in income taxe ratess across states have little impact on migration:
State “Income Migration” Claims Are Deeply Flawed, by Michael Mazerov, CBPP: Some proponents of state income tax cuts are making highly inaccurate claims about the impact of interstate migration patterns on states with relatively high income taxes based on a misleading reading of Internal Revenue Service data.
Those making these arguments claim that many of the people who leave states with relatively robust income taxes do so largely in order to pay little or no income tax in another state, and that they take their incomes with them when they move, harming the economies of the states they left. As a consequence, these “income migration” proponents claim, states with relatively high income taxes are suffering severe damage from the loss of income as “money walks” out of their states to lower-tax states.
The first part of this argument — that interstate differences in tax levels are a major explanation for interstate migration patterns — is not supported by the evidence, as we documented in an earlier paper. People rarely move to lower their state income taxes. Other factors, such as job opportunities, family considerations, climate, and housing costs, are much more decisive.
The second part of the argument — that states with relatively high income taxes are suffering severe economic damage because they are losing the incomes of people who migrate to other states — is also deeply flawed. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, October 20, 2014 at 10:17 AM in Economics, Taxes |
I've been harping on the lack of concern about market power since I began blogging almost 10 years ago. Nobody much listened or cared -- so this is very welcome:
Amazon’s Monopsony Is Not O.K., by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Amazon.com, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America. ...
If you haven’t been following the recent Amazon news: Back in May a dispute between Amazon and Hachette, a major publishing house, broke out into open commercial warfare. Amazon had been demanding a larger cut of the price of Hachette books it sells; when Hachette balked, Amazon began delaying their delivery, raising their prices, and/or steering customers to other publishers.
You might be tempted to say that this is just business — no different from Standard Oil, back in the days before it was broken up...
Does Amazon really have robber-baron-type market power? When it comes to books, definitely. Amazon overwhelmingly dominates online book sales...
So far Amazon has not tried to exploit consumers. In fact, it has systematically kept prices low, to reinforce its dominance. What it has done, instead, is use its market power to put a squeeze on publishers, in effect driving down the prices it pays for books — hence the fight with Hachette. In economics jargon, Amazon is not, at least so far, acting like a monopolist, a dominant seller with the power to raise prices. Instead, it is acting as a monopsonist, a dominant buyer with the power to push prices down. ...
So can we trust Amazon not to abuse that power? The Hachette dispute has settled that question: no, we can’t. ...
Specifically, the penalty Amazon is imposing on Hachette books is bad in itself, but there’s also a curious selectivity in the way that penalty has been applied. Last month the Times’s Bits blog documented the case of two Hachette books receiving very different treatment. One is Daniel Schulman’s “Sons of Wichita,” a profile of the Koch brothers; the other is “The Way Forward,” by Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate and is chairman of the House Budget Committee. Both are listed as eligible for Amazon Prime, and for Mr. Ryan’s book Amazon offers the usual free two-day delivery. What about “Sons of Wichita”? As of Sunday, it “usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.” Uh-huh.
Which brings us back to the key question. Don’t tell me that Amazon is giving consumers what they want, or that it has earned its position. What matters is whether it has too much power, and is abusing that power. Well, it does, and it is.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, October 20, 2014 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Market Failure |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, October 20, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Robert Shiller's narrative:
When a Stock Market Theory Is Contagious: Since Sept. 18, the stock market has fallen more than 6 percent. An abrupt decline last week — after five years of gains — prompted fears that the market may have reached a major turning point. Has a bear market begun? It’s a great question. ...
Fundamentally, stock markets are driven by popular narratives, which don’t need basis in solid fact. True or not, such stories may be described as “thought viruses.” ... They spread by contagion. ... The most prominent story since the September peak seems to be one of a “global slowdown” with associated “deflation.” Underlying this tale are deeper, longer-term fears. There is a name for these concerns too. It is “secular stagnation”...
Why? It’s probably because Lawrence H. Summers ... used the phrase in a talk he gave on Nov. 8... Paul Krugman wrote approvingly about the talk...
There is little talk about secular stagnation in scholarly circles today. The recent chatter has centered in the news media, in conference panel discussions and in the blogosphere. ...
The current secular-stagnation story is ... so vague, the negative feedback loop can’t be resolved ... neatly. The question may be whether this thought virus mutates into a more psychologically powerful version, one with enough narrative force to create a major bear market.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, October 19, 2014 at 09:34 AM in Economics |
How will Saudi Arabia respond to lower oil prices?: Oil prices (along with prices of many other commodities) have fallen dramatically since last summer. Some observers are waiting to see if Saudi Arabia responds with significant cutbacks in production. I say, don’t hold your breath. ...
Last week I discussed the three main factors in the recent fall in oil prices: (1) signs of a return of Libyan production to historical levels, (2) surging production from the U.S., and (3) growing indications of weakness in the world economy. ...
In terms of surging U.S. production, the key question is how low the price can get before significant numbers of U.S. producers ... move into the red..., it’s in the Saudis’ longer-term interests to let that pain take its toll until some of the newcomers decide to pack up and go home. If U.S. production does decline, prices would quickly move back up. But if that happens after a shake-out, the next time there would be less enthusiasm for everybody to jump into the game...
My guess is that Saudi Arabia would lower prices rather than cut production as long as that’s the name of the game. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, October 19, 2014 at 09:34 AM in Economics, Oil |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, October 19, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 09:28 AM in Economics, Unemployment |
The Slowdown in Reallocation in the U.S.: One of the components of productivity growth is reallocation. From one perspective, we can think about the reallocation of homogenous factors (labor, capital) from low-productivity firms to high-productivity firms, which includes low-productivity firms going out of business, and new firms getting started. A different perspective is to look more closely at the shuffling of heterogenous workers between (relatively) homogenous firms, with the idea being that workers may be more productive in one particular environment than in another (i.e. we want people good at doctoring to be doctors, not lawyers). Regardless of how exactly we think about reallocation, the more rapidly that we can shuffle factors into more productive uses, the better for aggregate productivity, and the higher will be GDP. However, evidence suggests that both types of reallocation have slowed down recently.
Foster, Grim, and Haltiwanger have a recent NBER working paper on the “cleansing effect of recessions”. This is the idea that in recessions, businesses fail. But it’s the really crappy, low-productivity businesses that fail, so we come out of the recession with higher productivity. The authors document that in recessions prior to the Great Recession, downturns tend to be “cleansing”. Job destruction rates rise appreciably, but job creation rates remain about the same. Unemployment occurs because it takes some time for those people whose jobs were destroyed to find newly created jobs. But the reallocation implied by this churn enhances productivity – workers are leaving low productivity jobs (generally) and then getting high productivity jobs (generally).
But the Great Recession was different. In the GR, job destruction rose by a little, but much less than in prior recessions. Job creation in the GR fell demonstrably, much more than in prior recessions. So again, we have unemployment as the people who have jobs destroyed are not able to pick up newly created jobs. But because of the pattern to job creation and destruction, there is little of the positive reallocation going on. People are not losing low productivity jobs, becoming unemployed, and then getting high productivity jobs. People are staying in low productivity jobs, and new high productivity jobs are not being created. So the GR is not “cleansing”. It is, in some ways, “sullying”. The GR is pinning people into *low* productivity jobs.
This holds for firm-level reallocation well. ...
[An aside: For the record, there is no reason that we need to have a recession for this kind of reallocation to occur. ... So don't take Foster, Grim, and Haltiwanger's work as some kind of evidence that we "need" recessions. ...] ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 09:23 AM in Economics |
... Interestingly enough..., now that the deficit is shrinking in large part due to a growing economy—not the other way around—the deficit fetishists seem to have grown silent. Simpson and Bowles are suddenly quiet, and John Boehner is riding other hobbyhorses.
It’s almost as if crying over the deficit weren’t about the deficit at all, but rather a cover for ideological maneuvering. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 08:48 AM in Budget Deficit, Economics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 05:01 PM in Economics |
Janet Yellen at the Conference on Economic Opportunity and Inequality, FRB Boston, Boston:
Perspectives on Inequality and Opportunity from the Survey of Consumer Finances, by Janet Yellen, Chair, FRB: The distribution of income and wealth in the United States has been widening more or less steadily for several decades, to a greater extent than in most advanced countries.1 This trend paused during the Great Recession because of larger wealth losses for those at the top of the distribution and because increased safety-net spending helped offset some income losses for those below the top. But widening inequality resumed in the recovery, as the stock market rebounded, wage growth and the healing of the labor market have been slow, and the increase in home prices has not fully restored the housing wealth lost by the large majority of households for which it is their primary asset.
The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me. The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression. By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years, much higher than the average during that time span and probably higher than for much of American history before then.2 It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority. I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation's history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.
Some degree of inequality in income and wealth, of course, would occur even with completely equal opportunity because variations in effort, skill, and luck will produce variations in outcomes. Indeed, some variation in outcomes arguably contributes to economic growth because it creates incentives to work hard, get an education, save, invest, and undertake risk. However, to the extent that opportunity itself is enhanced by access to economic resources, inequality of outcomes can exacerbate inequality of opportunity, thereby perpetuating a trend of increasing inequality. Such a link is suggested by the "Great Gatsby Curve," the finding that, among advanced economies, greater income inequality is associated with diminished intergenerational mobility.3 In such circumstances, society faces difficult questions of how best to fairly and justly promote equal opportunity. My purpose today is not to provide answers to these contentious questions, but rather to provide a factual basis for further discussion. I am pleased that this conference will focus on equality of economic opportunity and on ways to better promote it.
In my remarks, I will review trends in income and wealth inequality over the past several decades, then identify and discuss four sources of economic opportunity in America--think of them as "building blocks" for the gains in income and wealth that most Americans hope are within reach of those who strive for them. The first two are widely recognized as important sources of opportunity: resources available for children and affordable higher education. The second two may come as more of a surprise: business ownership and inheritances. Like most sources of wealth, family ownership of businesses and inheritances are concentrated among households at the top of the distribution. But both of these are less concentrated and more broadly distributed than other forms of wealth, and there is some basis for thinking that they may also play a role in providing economic opportunities to a considerable number of families below the top.
In focusing on these four building blocks, I do not mean to suggest that they account for all economic opportunity, but I do believe they are all significant sources of opportunity for individuals and their families to improve their economic circumstances. ...[continue]...
See also Neil Irwin, "What Janet Yellen Said, and Didn’t Say, About Inequality," who says:
If there was any doubt that Janet Yellen would be a different type of Federal Reserve chair, her speech Friday in Boston removed it. ...
Ms. Yellen’s speech is a thorough airing of some of the latest research on how much inequality has widened in recent years and why. ...
It seems like Ms. Yellen offered this speech as a way to use her bully pulpit to cast public attention on an issue she cares about deeply, deliberately avoiding areas where inequality intersects with the policy areas under which she has direct control. And it is true that the future of inequality in the United States is surely shaped more by decisions on the levels of certain taxes and the size of the social welfare state more than by anything that the Fed does.
Perhaps in future appearances, Ms. Yellen will give us a sense not just of what is wrong with inequality, but what it might mean for the policies over which she has some control.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 09:10 AM in Economics, Fed Speeches, Income Distribution, Monetary Policy |
Market fundamentalists should listen to what markets are saying:
What Markets Will, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... We have been told repeatedly that governments must cease and desist from their efforts to mitigate economic pain, lest their excessive compassion be punished by the financial gods, but the markets themselves have never seemed to agree that these human sacrifices are actually necessary. ...
How have policy crusaders responded to the failure of their dire predictions? Mainly with denial, occasionally with exasperation. For example, Alan Greenspan once declared the failure of interest rates and inflation to spike “regrettable, because it is fostering a false sense of complacency.” But that was more than four years ago; maybe the sense of complacency wasn’t all that false? ...
In fact, if you look closely, the real message from the market seems to be that we should be running bigger deficits and printing more money. And that message has gotten a lot stronger in the past few days. .. I’m talking about interest rates, which are flashing warnings, not of fiscal crisis and inflation, but of depression and deflation.
Most obviously, interest rates on long-term U.S. government debt — the rates that the usual suspects keep telling us will shoot up any day now unless we slash spending — have fallen sharply. This tells us that markets aren’t worried about default, but that they are worried about persistent economic weakness, which will keep the Fed from raising the short-term interest rates it controls. ...
It’s also instructive to look at interest rates on “inflation-protected” or “index” bonds, which are telling us two things. First, markets are practically begging governments to borrow and spend, say on infrastructure; interest rates on index bonds are barely above zero, so that financing for roads, bridges, and sewers would be almost free. Second, the difference between interest rates on index and ordinary bonds tells us how much inflation the market expects, and it turns out that expected inflation has fallen sharply over the past few months, so that it’s now far below the Fed’s target. In effect, the market is saying that the Fed isn’t printing nearly enough money. ...
In any case, the next time you hear some talking head opining on what we must do to satisfy the markets, ask yourself, “How does he know?” For the truth is that when people talk about what markets demand, what they’re really doing is trying to bully us into doing what they themselves want.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 12:24 AM in Economics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Tim Taylor on why textbooks cost so much:
Thoughts on High-Priced Textbooks: High textbook prices are a pebble in the shoe of many college students. Sure, it's not the biggest financial issue they face, But it's a real and nagging annoyance that for hinders performance for many students. ...
David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein at National Public Radio took up this question recently on one of their "Planet Money" podcasts. ... For economists, a highlight is that they converse with Greg Mankiw, author of what is currently the best-selling introductory economics textbook, which as they point out is selling for $286 on Amazon. Maybe this is a good place to point out that I am not a neutral observer in this argument: The third edition of my own Principles of Economics textbook is available through Textbook Media. The pricing varies from $25 for online access to the book, up through $60 for both a paper copy (soft-cover, black and white) and online access.
Several explanations for high textbook prices are on offer. The standard arguments are that textbook companies are marketing selling to professors, not to students, and professors are not necessarily very sensitive to textbook prices. (Indeed, one can argue that before the rapid rise in textbook prices in the last couple of decades, it made sense for professors not to focus too much on textbook prices.) Competition in the textbook market is limited, and the big publishers load up their books with features that might appeal to professors: multi-colored hardcover books, with DVDs and online access, together with test banks that allow professors to give quizzes and tests that can be machine-graded. At many colleges and universities, the intro econ class is taught in a large lecture format, which can include hundreds or even several thousand students, as well as a flock of teaching assistants, so some form of computerized grading and feedback is almost a necessity. Some of the marketing by textbook companies involves paying professors for reviewing chapters--of course in the hope that such reviewers will adopt the book.
The NPR show casts much of this dynamic as a "principal-agent problem," the name for a situation in which one person (the "principal") wants another person (the "agent") to act on their behalf, but lacks the ability to observe or evaluate the actions of the agent in a complete way. Principal-agent analysis is often used, for example, to think about the problem of a manager motivating employees. But it can also be used to consider the issue of students (the "principals") wanting the professor (the "agent") to choose the book that will best suit the needs of the students, with all factors of price and quality duly taken into account. The NPR reporters quote one expert saying that the profit margin for high school textbooks is 5-10%, because those books decisions are made by school districts and states that negotiate hard. However, profit margins on college textbooks--where the textbook choice is often made by a professor who may not even know the price that students will pay--are more like 20%.
The NPR report suggests this principal-agent framework to Greg Mankiw, author of the top-selling $286 economic textbook. Mankiw points out that principal-agent problems are in no way nefarious, but come up in many contexts. For example, when you get an operation, you rely on the doctor to make choices that involve costs; when you get your car fixed, you rely on a mechanic to make choices that involve costs; when you are having home repairs done, you rely on a repair person or a contractor to make choices that involve costs. Mankiw argues that professors, acting as the agents of students, have legitimate reason to be concerned about tradeoffs of time and money. As he notes, a high quality book is more important "than saving them a few dollars"--and he suggests that saving $30 isn't worth it for a low-quality book.
But of course, in the real world there are more choices than a high-quality $286 book and a low-quality $256 book. The PIRG student surveys suggest that up to two-thirds of students are avoiding buying textbooks at all, even though they fear it will hurt their grade, or are shifting to other classes with lower textbook costs. If a student is working 10 hours a week at a part-time job, making $8/hour after taxes, then the difference between $286 book and a $60 book is 28.25 hours--nearly three weeks of part-time work. I am unaware of any evidence in which students were randomly assigned different textbooks but otherwise taught and evaluated in the same way, and kept time diaries, which would show that higher-priced books save time or improve academic performance. It is by no means obvious that a lower-cost book (yes, like my own) works less well for students than a higher-cost book from a big publisher. Some would put that point more strongly.
A final dynamic that may be contributing to higher-prices textbooks is a sort of vicious circle related to the textbook resale market. The NPR report says that when selling a textbook over a three-year edition, a typical pattern was that sales fell by half after the first year and again by half after the second year, as students who had bought the first edition resold the book to later students. Of course, this dynamic also means that many students who bought the book new are not really paying full-price, but instead paying the original price minus the resale price. The argument is that as textbooks have increased in price, the resale market has become ever-more active, so that sales of a textbook in later years have dwindled much more quickly. Textbook companies react to this process by charging more for the new textbook, which of course only spurs more activity in the resale market.
A big question for the future of textbooks is how and in what ways they migrate to electronic forms. On one side, the hope is that electronic textbooks will offer expanded functionality, as well as being cheaper. But this future is not foreordained. At least at present, my sense is that the functionality of reading and taking notes in online textbooks hasn't yet caught up to the ease of reading on paper. Technology and better screens may well shift this balance over time. But even setting aside questions of reading for long periods of time on screen, or taking notes on screen, at present it remains harder to skip around in a computerized text between what you are currently reading and the earlier text that you need to be checking, as well as skipping to various graphs, tables, and definitions. To say it more simply, in a number of subjects it may still be harder to study an on-line text than to study a paper text.
Moreover, as textbook manufacturers shift to an on-line world, they will bring with them their full bag of tricks for getting paid. The Senack report notes:
Today’s marketplace offers more digital textbook options to the student consumer than ever. “Etextbooks” are digitized texts that students read on a laptop or tablet. Similar to PDF documents, e-textbooks enable students to annotate, highlight and search. The cost may be 40-50 percent of the print retail price, and access expires after 180 days. Publishers have introduced e-textbooks for nearly all their traditional textbook offerings. In addition, the emergence of the ereader like the Kindle and iPad, as well as the emergence of many e-textbook rental programs, all seemed to indicate that the e-textbook will alter the college textbook landscape for the better. However, despite this shift, users of e-textbooks are subject to expiration dates, on-line codes that only work once, page printing limits, and other tactics that only serve to restrict use and increase cost. Unfortunately for students, the publishing companies’ venture into e-textbooks is a continuation of the practices they use to monopolize the print market.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 11:29 AM in Economics, Universities |
Here are the conclusions to Regret and economic decision-making:
Conclusions We are clearly a long way from fully understanding how people behave in dynamic contexts. But our experimental data and that of earlier studies (Lohrenz 2007) suggest that regret is a part of the decision process and should not be overlooked. From a theoretical perspective, our work shows that regret aversion and counterfactual thinking make subtle predictions about behaviour in settings where past events serve as benchmarks. They are most vividly illustrated in the investment context.
Our theoretical findings show that if regret is anticipated, investors may keep their hands off risky investments, such as stocks, and not enter the market in the first place. Thus, anticipated regret aversion acts like a surrogate for higher risk aversion.
In contrast, once people have invested, they become very attached to their investment. Moreover, the better past performance was, the higher their commitment, because losses loom larger. This leads the investor to ‘gamble for resurrection’. In our experimental data, we very often observe exactly this pattern.
This dichotomy between ex ante and ex post risk appetites can be harmful for investors. It leads investors and businesses to escalate their commitment because of the sunk costs in their investments. For example, many investors missed out on the 2009 stock market rally while buckling down in the crash in 2007/2008, reluctant to sell early. Similarly, people who quit their jobs and invested their savings into their own business, often cannot with a cold, clear eye cut their losses and admit their business has failed.
Therefore, a better understanding of what motivates people to save and invest could enable us to help them avoid such mistakes, e.g. through educating people to set up clear budgets a priori or to impose a drop dead level for their losses. Such simple measures may help mitigate the effects of harmful emotional attachment and support individuals in making better decisions.
[This ("once people have invested, they become very attached to their investment" and cannot admit failure) includes investment in economic models and research (see previous post).]
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 08:34 AM in Economics, Methodology |
Brad DeLong wonders why Cliff Asness in clinging to a theoretical model that has clearly been rejected by the data:
... What is not normal is to claim that your analysis back in 2010 that quantitative easing was generating major risks of inflation was dead-on.
What is not normal is to adopt the mental pose that your version of classical austerian economics cannot fail--that it can only be failed by an uncooperative and misbehaving world.
What is not normal is, after 4 1/2 years, in a week, a month, a six-month period in which market expectations of long-run future inflation continue on a downward trajectory, to refuse to mark your beliefs to market and demand that the market mark its beliefs to you. To still refuse to bring your mind into agreement with reality and demand that reality bring itself into agreement with your mind. To still refuse to say: "my intellectual adversaries back in 2010 had a definite point" and to say only: "IT'S NOT OVER YET!!!!"
There's a version of this in econometrics, i.e. you know the model is correct, you are just having trouble finding evidence for it. It goes as follows. You are testing a theory you came up with, but the data are uncooperative and say you are wrong. But instead of accepting that, you tell yourself "My theory is right, I just haven't found the right econometric specification yet. I need to add variables, remove variables, take a log, add an interaction, square a term, do a different correction for misspecification, try a different sample period, etc., etc., etc." Then, after finally digging out that one specification of the econometric model that confirms your hypothesis, you declare victory, write it up, and send it off (somehow never mentioning the intense specification mining that produced the result).
Too much econometric work proceeds along these lines. Not quite this blatantly, but that is, in effect, what happens in too many cases. I think it is often best to think of econometric results as the best case the researcher could make for a particular theory rather than a true test of the model.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 07:50 AM in Econometrics, Economics, Inflation |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
A nice collection of essays on inequality and what can be done about it by Heather Boushey, Emmanuel Saez, Michael Ettlinger, and Fiona Chin:
Understanding economic inequality and growth at the top of the income ladder
For example, from Saez:
... Zucman and I show in our new working paper that the surge in wealth concentration and the erosion of middle class wealth can be explained by two factors. First, differences in the ability to save by the middle class and the wealthy means that more income inequality will translate into more inequality in savings. Upper earners will naturally save relatively more and accumulate more wealth as income inequality widens.
Second, the saving rate among the middle class has plummeted since the 1980s, in large part due to a surge in debt, in particular mortgage debt and student loans. With such low savings rates, middle class wealth formation is bound to stall. In contrast, the savings rate of the rich has remained substantial.
If such trends of growing income inequality and growing disparity in savings rates between the middle class and rich persist, then U.S. wealth inequality will continue to increase. The rich will be able to leave large estates to their heirs and the United States could find itself becoming a patrimonial society where inheritors dominate the top of the income and wealth distribution as famously pointed out by Piketty in his new book “Capital in the 21st Century.”
What should be done about the rise of income and wealth concentration in the United States? More progressive taxation would help on several fronts. Increasing the tax rate as incomes rise helps curb excessive and wasteful compensation of top income earners. Progressive taxation of capital income also reduces the rate of return on wealth, making it more difficult for large family fortunes to perpetuate themselves over generations. Progressive estate taxation is the most natural tool to prevent self-made wealth from becoming inherited wealth. At the same time, complementary policies are needed to encourage middle class wealth formation. Recent work in behavioral economics by Richard Thaler at the University of Chicago and Cass Sunstein at Harvard University shows that it is possible to encourage savings and wealth formation through well-designed programs that nudge people into savings.
Maybe if they had more income to save??? Another part of the essay gets at this (what I've called the mal-distribution of income, i.e. workers receiving less than the value of what they produce, and those at the top receiving more through rent-seeking and other means):
...while standard economic models assume that pay reflects productivity, there are strong reasons to be skeptical, especially at the top of the income ladder where the actual economic contribution of managers working in complex organizations is particularly difficult to measure. In this scenario, top earners might be able partly to set their own pay by bargaining harder or influencing executive compensation committees. Naturally, the incentives for such “rent-seeking” are much stronger when top tax rates are low.
In this scenario, cuts in top tax rates can still increase the share of total household income going to the top 1 percent at the expense of the remaining 99 percent. In other words, tax cuts for the wealthiest stimulate rent-seeking at the top but not overall economic growth—the key difference from the supply-side scenario that justified tax cuts for high income earners in the first place.
[I talked what I think should be done to curb rising inequality here and tried to make the point that one of the first things we can do is to claw back some of the income from high income earners and return it to those who actually deserve it. In the short-run, this can be done through progressive taxation and the redistribution of income to where it belongs, but in the longer run I'd like to see the distribution mechanism fixed, at least in part, through measures that increase the bargaining power of workers so that the playing filed is a bit more level. In addition, I'd also like to see measures/policies that will produce better jobs for working class households.]
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 10:38 AM in Economics, Income Distribution |
Josh Bivens has an adjective quibble:
Adjective Quibble: The Long-Term Unemployment Rate is NOT “Sticky” or “Stubborn”: A Wall Street Journal blog post this morning describes an Obama administration initiative to combat long-term unemployment. In the opening sentence, the author follows a too-common convention in describing the long-term unemployment rate as “sticky.” Sometimes the adjective is “stubborn.”
I know that this will sound like quibbling, but in this case adjectives really matter for understanding the problem. As a paper I co-wrote shows pretty clearly, the long-term unemployment rate (LTUR) has not been sticky or stubborn for years. In fact, the LTUR has fallen faster than one would expect given the overall pace of labor market improvement. It is true that the LTUR remains too high, but that is because it skyrocketed during the Great Recession and in the six months after its official end. But the LTUR has since then not become resistant to wider labor market improvement.
The concrete policy implication of recognizing this is that by far the most important thing that can be done to lower the still too-high LTUR is to maintain support for economic recovery more broadly. In today’s far too narrow macroeconomic policy debate, this simply means the Fed should not boost short-term interest rates until the labor market is much, much healthier (including a much lower LTUR). ...
And it's still far from too late for fiscal policy -- infrastructure spending for example -- to make a difference. But don't get your hopes up...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 10:02 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy, Monetary Policy, Unemployment |
Biagio Bossone and Richard Wood
To G-20 Leaders: Urgent Need to Boost Demand in the Eurozone: The economies in the Eurozone are continuing to slide into recession and depression. Senior officials of G-20 countries (including those in Australia, the host government) have not understood, or anticipated, that the Eurozone crisis is a major threat to global recovery. The officials have provided sub-standard advice to their leaders. The deepening crisis must be addressed. This article identifies a strong monetary/fiscal policy combination that could boost consumer and aggregate demand, and simultaneously address high public debt burdens and deflation.
1937: From the beginning, economists who had studied the Great Depression warned that policy makers needed, above all, to be careful not to pull another 1937 — a reference to the fateful year when FDR prematurely tried to balance the budget and the Fed prematurely tried to normalize monetary policy, aborting the recovery of the previous four years and sending the economy on another big downward slope.
Unfortunately, these warnings were ignored. ... And now things are sliding everywhere. Actually, Europe already had one 1937, with its slide into a double-dip recession; but now it’s very much looking like another. And the world economy as a whole is weakening fast. ...
I hope that the Fed will stop talking about exit strategies for a while. We are by no means out of the Lesser Depression.
Update: See also The Depressing Signals the Markets Are Sending About the Global Economy - NYTimes.com
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 10:01 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy, Monetary Policy |
Public spending increased life expectancy in eastern Germany:
Three hours of life per euro, EurekAlert: Public spending appears to have contributed substantially to the fact that life expectancy in eastern Germany has not only increased, but is now almost equivalent to life expectancy in the west. While the possible connection of public spending and life expectancy has been a matter of debate, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) have now for the first time quantified the effect. They found that for each additional euro the eastern Germans received in benefits from pensions and public health insurance after reunification, they gained on average three hours of life expectancy per person per year.
These are the conclusions of an analysis based on a newly developed set of age-specific data on public expenditures through the year 2000. MPIDR demographer Tobias Vogt published the results of the analysis recently in the scientific journal Journal of the Economics of Ageing. ...
"What has often been called an explosion in social spending in the wake of reunification has, however, led to a gratifying jump in life expectancy," says Tobias Vogt. ...
Additional expenditures by the health care system were found to have had a greater impact on life expectancy than higher pensions... However, Vogt observed, "without the pension payments of citizens in east and west converging to equivalent levels, the gap in life expectancy could not have been closed." This is because when there are no differences in the quality and level of medical care, the standard of living becomes the decisive factor in life expectancy. And the standard of living of older people is determined to a large extent by the size of their pensions. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy |
Jordan Weissmann asks Piketty about the IGM poll:
No, Mainstream Economists Did Not Just Reject Thomas Piketty’s Big Theory, by Jordan Weissmann: ...the University of Chicago’s Initiative on Global Markets ... asked economists whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "The most powerful force pushing towards greater wealth inequality in the US since the 1970s is the gap between the after-tax return on capital and the economic growth rate.” ... Overwhelmingly, the panel’s answer was no, with only one out 36 panelists agreeing with the statement.
Afterwards, a number of journalists, economists, and other wags took to Twitter and blogs to talk about how Piketty had just gotten a black eye. ... Except ... Piketty ... never suggests r>g is the main reason behind the recent rise of inequality. Rather, [he] theorizes that, in the absence of government intervention, r>g ensures the future concentration of income and wealth. ... Ultimately,... IGM was asking economists to opine on an argument that nobody was making in the first place.
I found myself wondering: How would Piketty himself weigh in? “Well,” he told me in an email this morning, “I think the book makes pretty clear that the powerful force behind rising income and wealth inequality in the US since the 1970s is the rise of the inequality of labor earnings, itself due to a mixture of rising inequality in access to skills and higher education, and of exploding top managerial compensation (itself probably stimulated by large cuts in top tax rates), So this indeed has little to do with r>g.”
In short, you can add Piketty to the "Disagree" column, too.
The caption under the picture of Piketty in the article says it well:
He's probably thinking how it would be nice if people read his book before arguing with it.
See also Brad DeLong, Nick Bunker, and Matt O'Brien.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 09:54 AM in Economics, Income Distribution |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
I have a new column:
What’s the Best Way to Overcome Rising Economic Inequality?: A debate over the use of progressive taxation and redistribution as a means of solving the problem of rising inequality erupted in the last week or so. The debate began with three publications, one from Edward Kleinbard, one from Nezih Guner, Martin Lopez-Daneri, and Gustavo Ventura, and one from Cathie Jo Martin and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez. They argue in turn that “progressive fiscal outcomes do not require particularly progressive tax systems,” “making taxes more progressive taxes won’t raise much revenue,” and “The way a tax system fights inequality isn't just redistribution. It's by generating enough revenue to fund programs and benefits that help middle class, working class, and poor people participate and succeed in the economy. While talk of taxing top earners may make for good political rhetoric on the left, relying on such taxes cannot pay the bills.” This brought responses from Jared Bernstein, Matt Bruenig, and Mike Konczal the three of whom, as Steve Waldman says in a nice summary of this debate, “offer responses that examine what ‘progressivity’ really means and offer support for taxing the rich more heavily than the poor.”
This debate brings up an important question: what is the best way to fight economic inequality? ...[continue]...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 07:56 AM in Economics, Fiscal Times, Income Distribution |
Jean Tirole in the latest TSE Magazine:
Economics is a positive discipline as it aims to document and analyse individual and collective behaviours. It is also, and more importantly, a normative discipline as its main goal is to better the world through economic policies and recommendations.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 07:55 AM in Economics, Methodology |
An entry in the ongoing debate over the Phillips curve:
The mythical Phillips curve?, by Simon Wren-Lewis, mainly macro: Suppose you had just an hour to teach the basics of macroeconomics, what relationship would you be sure to include? My answer would be the Phillips curve. With the Phillips curve you can go a long way to understanding what monetary policy is all about.
My faith in the Phillips curve comes from simple but highly plausible ideas. In a boom, demand is strong relative to the economy’s capacity to produce, so prices and wages tend to rise faster than in an economic downturn. However workers do not normally suffer from money illusion: in a boom they want higher real wages to go with increasing labour supply. Equally firms are interested in profit margins, so if costs rise, so will prices. As firms do not change prices every day, they will think about future as well as current costs. That means that inflation depends on expected inflation as well as some indicator of excess demand, like unemployment.
Microfoundations confirm this logic, but add a crucial point that is not immediately obvious. Inflation today will depend on expectations about inflation in the future, not expectations about current inflation. That is the major contribution of New Keynesian theory to macroeconomics. ...[turns to evidence]...
Is it this data which makes me believe in the Phillips curve? To be honest, no. Instead it is the basic theory that I discussed at the beginning of this post. It may also be because I’m old enough to remember the 1970s when there were still economists around who denied that lower unemployment would lead to higher inflation, or who thought that the influence of expectations on inflation was weak, or who thought any relationship could be negated by direct controls on wages and prices, with disastrous results. But given how ‘noisy’ macro data normally is, I find the data I have shown here pretty consistent with my beliefs.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 07:54 AM in Economics, Inflation, Macroeconomics, Unemployment |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
This is not my area, so I'll turn the discussion over to others:
Research by Tirole, 61, now a professor of economics at the University of Toulouse in his native France, has highlighted the need for regulation to be tailored to individual industries, while creating a general framework for understanding the nuances of regulation across industries.
Tirole received his PhD in economics from MIT in 1981 under the supervision of Eric Maskin, a former MIT professor (now at Harvard University) who was himself a winner of the Nobel Prize in economic sciences in 2007.
Tirole remains an MIT faculty affiliate as the Annual Visiting Professor of Economics in MIT’s Department of Economics. He has co-authored papers with a number of members of the MIT economics faculty, including Olivier Blanchard, Jerry Hausman, Bengt Holmstrom, and Paul Joskow. Tirole and Holmstrom co-authored a 2011 book about liquidity in markets, “Inside and Outside Liquidity.”
Many of Tirole’s research advances have involved cases of oligopoly, where a few firms dominate a given industry, controlling the quantity and quality of goods being produced, as well as prices.
“From the mid-1980s and onwards, Jean Tirole has breathed new life into research on such market failures,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, which grants the Nobel awards, stated on Monday. “His analysis of firms with market power provides a unified theory with a strong bearing on central policy questions: how should the government deal with mergers or cartels, and how should it regulate monopolies?”
The academy emphasized that its award to Tirole also recognizes many of his findings on regulatory policy, some of which employ game theory and contract theory to describe the dynamics of regulating markets. For instance, regulators may know less than they wish about a firm’s costs and strategic options, so regulators can offer firms a series of options, in essence, regarding the regulatory contract the firm will enter into. It may also make sense, Tirole has concluded, for regulations to be drawn up in recognition of the fact that firms may hide information from regulators.
As the Nobel citation also noted, Tirole observed the potential for phenomena such as the “ratchet effect,” which relates to the timeframe of regulations: If a company does well in a short-term regulatory time frame, regulations may be ratcheted up, lowering the incentives for the firm to perform as well. Alternately, Tirole has suggested, regulators might impose lesser conditions and study their effects. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, October 13, 2014 at 08:52 AM in Economics |
Why didn't homeowners, unlike banks, get the debt relief they needed?:
Revenge of the Unforgiven, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The world economy appears to be stumbling. For a while, things seemed to be looking up, and there was talk about green shoots of recovery. But now growth is stalling, and the specter of deflation looms.
If this story sounds familiar, it should; it has played out repeatedly since 2008. ... Why does this keep happening? ... The answer, I’d suggest, is an excess of virtue. Righteousness is killing the world economy.
What, after all, is our fundamental economic problem? ... In the years leading up to the Great Recession, we had an explosion of credit..., debt levels that would once have been considered deeply unsound became the norm.
Then the music stopped, the money stopped flowing, and everyone began trying to “deleverage,” to reduce the level of debt. For each individual, this was prudent. But ... when everyone tries to pay down debt at the same time, you get a depressed economy.
So what can be done? Historically, the solution to high levels of debt has often involved writing off and forgiving much of that debt. ...
What’s striking about the past few years, however, is how little debt relief has actually taken place. ...
Why are debtors receiving so little relief? As I said, it’s about righteousness — the sense that any kind of debt forgiveness would involve rewarding bad behavior. In America, the famous Rick Santelli rant that gave birth to the Tea Party wasn’t about taxes or spending — it was a furious denunciation of proposals to help troubled homeowners. In Europe, austerity policies have been driven less by economic analysis than by Germany’s moral indignation over the notion that irresponsible borrowers might not face the full consequences of their actions.
So the policy response to a crisis of excessive debt has, in effect, been a demand that debtors pay off their debts in full. What does history say about that strategy? That’s easy: It doesn’t work. ...
But it has been very hard to get either the policy elite or the public to understand that sometimes debt relief is in everyone’s interest. Instead, the response to poor economic performance has essentially been that the beatings will continue until morale improves.
Maybe, just maybe, bad news — say, a recession in Germany — will finally bring an end to this destructive reign of virtue. But don’t count on it.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, October 13, 2014 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Policy |