- Was NAFTA a Disasta? - Brad DeLong
- Useless Expertise - Paul Krugman
- Methodological seduction - mainly macro
- FOMC statement - FRB
- Poverty traps, I - MaxSpeaks
- Stealth Single Payer - Paul Krugman
- Deflation: The Case for Worrying Less - Tim Taylor
- Dealing with the threat of climate catastrophe - vox
- Are Corporate Taxes Headed the Way of Prohibition? - Justin Fox
- Entrepreneurship, job creation, and dynamism - Updated Priors
- Figuring out the Inflation Vigilantes - EconoSpeak
- The economic base of virtue - Chris Dillow
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
FOMC Statement, by Tim Duy: At the conclusion of this week's FOMC meeting, policymakers released yet another statement that only a FedWatcher could love. It is definitely an exercise in reading between the lines. The Fed cut another $10 billion from the asset purchase program, as expected. The statement acknowledged that unemployment is no longer elevated and inflation has stabilized. But it is hard to see this as anything more that describing an evolution of activity that is fundamentally consistent with their existing outlook. Continue to expect the first rate hike around the middle of next year; my expectation leans toward the second quarter over the third.
The Fed began by acknowledging the second quarter GDP numbers:
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in June indicates that growth in economic activity rebounded in the second quarter.
With the new data, the Fed's (downwardly revised) growth expectations for this year remain attainable, but still requires an acceleration of activity that has so far been unattainable:
Despite all the quarterly twists and turns, underlying growth is simply nothing to write home about:
That slow yet steady growth, however, has been sufficient to support gradual improvement in labor markets, prompting the Fed to drop this line from the June statement:
The unemployment rate, though lower, remains elevated.
and replace it with:
Labor market conditions improved, with the unemployment rate declining further. However, a range of labor market indicators suggests that there remains significant underutilization of labor resources.
While the unemployment rate is no longer elevated, this is a fairly strong confirmation that Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has the support of the FOMC. As a group, they continue to discount the improvement in the unemployment rate. And as long as wage growth remains tepid, this group will continue to have the upper hand.
The inflation story also reflects recent data. This from June:
Inflation has been running below the Committee's longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable...The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as nearly balanced. The Committee recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, and it is monitoring inflation developments carefully for evidence that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term.
Inflation has moved somewhat closer to the Committee's longer-run objective. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable...The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as nearly balanced and judges that the likelihood of inflation running persistently below 2 percent has diminished somewhat.
Rather than something to worry over, I sense that the majority of the FOMC is feeling relief over the recent inflation data. It is often forgotten that the Fed WANTS inflation to move closer to 2%. The reality is finally starting to look like their forecast, which clears the way to begin normalizing policy next year. Given the current outlook, expect only gradual normalization.
Finally, we had a dissent:
Voting against was Charles I. Plosser who objected to the guidance indicating that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate for "a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends," because such language is time dependent and does not reflect the considerable economic progress that has been made toward the Committee's goals.
We probably should have seen this coming; Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser raised this issue weeks ago. Clearly he is not getting much traction yet among his colleagues. I doubt they want to change the language before they have settled on a general exit strategy (which was probably the main topic of this meeting and will be the next). Somewhat surprising is that Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher did not join Plosser given Fisher's sharp critique of monetary policy in Monday's Wall Street Journal. Note to Fisher: Put up or shut up.
Bottom Line: Remember that we should see the statement shift in response to the data relative to the outlook. In short, the statement needs to remain consistent with the reaction function. The changes in the July statement reflect that consistency. The data continues to evolve in such a way that the Fed can remain patient in regards to policy normalization. We will see if that changes with the upcoming employment report; focus on the underlying numbers, as the Fed continues to discount the headline numbers.
Unemployment and the “Skills Mismatch” Story: Overblown and Unpersuasive, by Gary Burtless, Brookings: The jobless rate has dipped to 6.1 percent, and businesses are already complaining about a skills shortage. ... To an economist, the most accessible and persuasive evidence demonstrating a skills shortage should be found in wage data. ...
Where is the evidence of soaring pay for workers whose skills are in short supply? We frequently read anecdotal reports informing us some employers find it tough to fill job openings. What is harder to find is support for the skills mismatch hypothesis in the wage data..., there is little evidence wages or compensation are increasing much faster than 2% a year [i.e. outpacing inflation]. Even though unemployment has declined, there are still 2.5 times as many active job seekers as there are job vacancies. At the same time, there are between 3 and 3½ million potential workers outside the labor force who would become job seekers if they believed it were easier to find a job. The excess of job seekers over job openings continues to limit wage gains, notwithstanding the complaints of businesses that cannot fill vacancies. ...
It is cheap for employers to claim qualified workers are in short supply. It is a bit more expensive for them to do something to boost supply. Unless managers have forgotten everything they learned in Econ 101, they should recognize that one way to fill a vacancy is to offer qualified job seekers a compelling reason to take the job. Higher pay, better benefits, and more accommodating work hours are usually good reasons for job applicants to prefer one employment offer over another. When employers are unwilling to offer better compensation to fill their skill needs, it is reasonable to ask how urgently those skills are really needed. ...
Bill McBride at Calculated Risk:
Real gross domestic product ... increased at an annual rate of 4.0 percent in the second quarter of 2014... In the first quarter, real GDP decreased 2.1 percent (revised).
The increase in real GDP in the second quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.
The advance Q2 GDP report, with 4.0% annualized growth, was above expectations of a 2.9% increase. Also Q1 was revised up.
Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased at a 2.5% annualized rate - a decent pace. Private investment rebounded with residential investment up 7.5% annualized, and equipment up 5.3%. Change in private inventories added 1.66 percentage points to growth after subtracting 1.16 in Q1.
Overall this was a solid report. I'll have more later on the report and revisions.
Update: Dean Baker:
Economy Rebounds in Second Quarter Based on Inventories and Cars: GDP grew at a 4.0 percent annual rate in the second quarter after shrinking at a 2.1 percent rate in the first quarter. Much of the shift was due to a considerably more rapid pace of inventory accumulation. Inventory changes which had subtracted 1.16 percentage points from first quarter growth added 1.66 percentage points to growth in the second quarter. New car sales added another 0.42 percentage points to growth, after adding just 0.13 percentage points in the first quarter. Equipment investment, which grew at a 7.0 percent rate, added another 0.4 percentage points to growth for the quarter.
Another positive item in this report was continued slow growth in health care costs. After a reported drop in the first quarter, health care costs grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate. They stand just 3.0 percent above their year-ago level.
On the negative side, the trade deficit expanded again last quarter rising to an annual rate of $564.0 billion. It subtracted 0.61 percentage points from growth in the quarter.
While the 4.0 percent growth is a sharp turnaround, it was very much in line with expectations. It means that for the first half of the year, the economy the economy grew at less than a 1.0 percent annual rate. The economy will have to sustain a growth rate of more than 3.0 percent over the second half of the year just to reach 2.0 percent growth for the year as a whole. This means 2014 will likely be another disappointing year for growth.
- The Internet's Next Act - Brad DeLong
- Can large primary surpluses solve Europe’s debt problem? - vox
- Economists Agree the Stimulus Lifted the Economy - NYTimes.com
- The effect of the minimum wage on youth employment - Stephen Gordon
- Fear of bubbles hides the danger of stagnation - FT.com
- Economic Stimulus (revisited) - IGM Forum
- When is helicopter money optimal? - Nick Rowe
- Income Inequality And the Ills Behind It - NYTimes.com
- Universal Basic Income: A Thought Experiment - Tim Taylor
- The productivity silence - Stumbling and Mumbling
- Higher Minimum Wage, Faster Job Creation - NYTimes.com
- “The Costs of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change” - Econbrowser
- Wealth Inequality Bigger Problem Than Income Inequality - St. Louis Fed
- Transocean Transfer Pricing and Corporate Inversions - EconoSpeak
- Blogs review: The economics of big cities - Jérémie Cohen-Setton
- UK Fiscal Policy from 2015 with shocks - mainly macro
- Structural uncertainty - The Leisure of the Theory Class
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
If minimum wages, why not maximum wages?: I was in a gathering of academics the other day, and we were discussing minimum wages. The debate moved on to increasing inequality, and the difficulty of doing anything about it. I said why not have a maximum wage? To say that the idea was greeted with incredulity would be an understatement. So you want to bring back price controls was once response. How could you possibly decide on what a maximum wage should be was another.
So why the asymmetry? Why is the idea of setting a maximum wage considered outlandish among economists?
The problem is clear enough. All the evidence, in the US and UK, points to the income of the top 1% rising much faster than the average. ...
So why not consider a maximum wage? One possibility is to cap top pay as some multiple of the lowest paid, as a recent Swiss referendum proposed. That referendum was quite draconian, suggesting a multiple of 12, yet it received a large measure of popular support (35% in favour, 65% against). The Swiss did vote to ban ‘golden hellos and goodbyes’. One neat idea is to link the maximum wage to the minimum wage, which would give CEOs an incentive to argue for higher minimum wages! Note that these proposals would have no disincentive effect on the self-employed entrepreneur.
If economists have examined these various possibilities, I have missed it. One possible reason why many economists seem to baulk at this idea is that it reminds them too much of the ‘bad old days’ of incomes policies and attempts by governments to fix ‘fair wages’. But this is an overreaction, as a maximum wage would just be the counterpart to the minimum wage. I would be interested in any other thoughts about why the idea of a maximum wage seems not to be part of economists’ Overton window.
I have a new column:
Why the Rich Should Call for Income Redistribution: After the craze over Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century, nobody should be surprised to learn that inequality has been increasing over the last several decades. The question is what to do about it.One answer is to do nothing and hope the problem fixes itself, or to deny it is a problem at all. But that is a dangerous approach. - See more at: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2014/07/29/Why-Rich-Should-Call-Income-Redistribution#sthash.V51AksZQ.dpuf
One answer is to do nothing and hope the problem fixes itself, or to deny it is a problem at all. But that is a dangerous approach. ...
Me, at CBS MoneyWatch:
Is it worth spending to make workers happy?: Numerous studies have found a correlation between employee satisfaction and company success. Does this mean happy employees are also the most productive workers? Should firms spend money to make workers happier with their jobs?
Answering these questions is trickier than it might seem at first glance. ...
- Circles of Influence - Paul Krugman
- If minimum wages, why not maximum wages? - mainly macro
- Richard Fisher Wrongly Warned of Inflation 5 Times - New Republic
- Paul Ryan Would Create Massive Gov.t Bureaucracy - Mike the Mad Biologist
- Featured Blog: Economist's View - Everything Typepad
- Wages & profits - Stumbling and Mumbling
- Inflation OCD - Paul Krugman
- Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use - NBER
- The Cost of Chasing Returns - St. Louis Fed
- The Tradeoff between Inflation and Unemployment - Jared Bernstein
- Inflation, Unemployment, Ignorance - Paul Krugman
- A Second NBER Econometrics Group? - No Hesitations
- Median Wealth Is Down by 20 Percent Since 1984 - Beat the Press
- Regulating Money Market Mutual Funds - Money and Banking
- U.S. Growth, Update on the States - Oregon Office of Economic Analysis
- The Decline of Milk - Tim Taylor
- The Myth of Bretton Woods - Benn Steil
- Let’s Get Rid of Wage Labor - Filip Spagnoli
Monday, July 28, 2014
Alan Blinder and Mark Watson:
Presidents and the U.S. Economy: An Econometric Exploration, by Alan S. Blinder and Mark W. Watson, NBER Working Paper No. 20324 [open link]: The U.S. economy has grown faster—and scored higher on many other macroeconomic metrics—when the President of the United States is a Democrat rather than a Republican. For many measures, including real GDP growth (on which we concentrate), the performance gap is both large and statistically significant, despite the fact that postwar history includes only 16 complete presidential terms. This paper asks why. The answer is not found in technical time series matters (such as differential trends or mean reversion), nor in systematically more expansionary monetary or fiscal policy under Democrats. Rather, it appears that the Democratic edge stems mainly from more benign oil shocks, superior TFP performance, a more favorable international environment, and perhaps more optimistic consumer expectations about the near-term future. Many other potential explanations are examined but fail to explain the partisan growth gap.
Congress should do something about "ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance":
Corporate Artful Dodgers, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In recent decisions, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has made clear its view that corporations are people, with all the attendant rights. ...
There is, however, one big difference between corporate persons and the likes of you and me: On current trends, we’re heading toward a world in which only the human people pay taxes.
We’re not quite there yet: The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate profits taxation. But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s... Part of the decline since then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent.
Which brings us to the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion.” This refers to a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate.
The most important thing to understand about inversion is that it does not in any meaningful sense involve American business “moving overseas.” ... All they’re doing is dodging taxes on those profits.
And Congress could crack down on this tax dodge...
Opponents of a crackdown on inversion typically argue that instead of closing loopholes we should reform the whole system by which we tax profits, and maybe stop taxing profits altogether. They also tend to argue that taxing corporate profits hurts investment and job creation. But these are very bad arguments against ending the practice of inversion. ...
As for reforming the system: Yes, that would be a good idea. But..., there are big debates about the shape of reform, debates that would take years to resolve... Why let corporations avoid paying their fair share for years, while we wait for the logjam to break?
Finally, none of this has anything to do with investment and job creation. If and when Walgreen changes its “citizenship,” it will get to keep more of its profits — but it will have no incentive to invest those extra profits in its U.S. operations.
So this should be easy. By all means let’s have a debate about how and how much to tax profits. Meanwhile, however, let’s close this outrageous loophole.
- Unobservables in economics - Chris Dillow
- In praise of… Janet Yellen - The Guardian
- Blair and Reserves for All - John Cochrane
- New Keynesianism as a Club - Thomas Palley
- Understanding fiscal stimulus can be easy - mainly macro
- Where Is The Monopsony Power? - Modeled Behavior
- The Danger of Too Loose, Too Long - Richard Fisher
- More on Moore’s Strategic Tax Cuts and Employment - EconoSpeak
- China’s financial risk - Econbrowser
Sunday, July 27, 2014
I have said this before. But I seem to need to say it again…
The very intelligent and thoughtful David Beckworth, Simon Wren-Lewis, and Nick Rowe are agreeing on New Keynesian-Market Monetarist monetary-fiscal convergence. Underpinning all of their analyses there seems to me to be the assumption that all aggregate demand shortfalls spring from the same deep market failures. And I think that that is wrong. ...[continue]...
- Moore of the Same - Paul Krugman
- Financial stability and monetary policy - vox
- The continuum from monetary to fiscal - Nick Rowe
- On State Unemployment Rates, It’s Analyst Beware - NYTimes.com
- North Carolina’s Misunderstood Cut in Jobless Benefits - NYTimes.com
- Justin Wolfers False Symmetry on Unemployment Benefits - Beat the Press
- Hold the Phone: A Big-Data Conundrum - NYTimes.com
- Why strong UK employment growth could be really bad news - mainly macro
- Institutional logics -- actors within institutions - Understanding Society
- Labor Market Flows and Extended Unemployment Insurance II - Angry Bear
- Debt: The First 5000 Years - MacroMania
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Uwe E. Reinhardt:
The Illogic of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance, by Uwe E. Reinhardt, NY Times: ... Persuaded by both theory and empirical research, most economists believe that employer-based health insurance... ostensibly paid by employers ... is recovered from employees through commensurate reductions in take-home pay.
Evidently the majority of Supreme Court justices who just ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case do not buy the economists’ theory. These justices seem to believe that the owners of “closely held” business firms buy health insurance for their employees out of the kindness of their hearts and with the owners’ money. On that belief, they accord these owners the right to impose some of their ... religious beliefs ... on their employee’s health insurance. ...
The Supreme Court’s ruling may prompt Americans to re-examine whether the traditional, employment-based health insurance ... is really the ideal platform for health insurance coverage in the 21st century. The public health insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act are likely to nibble away at this system....
In the meantime, the case should help puncture the illusion that employer-provided health insurance is an unearned gift bestowed on them by the owners and paid with the owners’ money, giving those owners the moral right to dictate the nature of that gift.
Why are so many of the rich and powerful so callous and indifferent to the struggles of those who aren't so fortunate?:
Are the Rich Coldhearted?, by Michael Inzlicht and Sukhvinder Obhi, NY Times: ... Can people in high positions of power — presidents, bosses, celebrities, even dominant spouses — easily empathize with those beneath them?
Psychological research suggests the answer is no. ...
Why does power leave people seemingly coldhearted? Some, like the Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske, have suggested that powerful people don’t attend well to others around them because they don’t need them in order to access important resources; as powerful people, they already have plentiful access to those.
We suggest a different, albeit complementary, reason from cognitive neuroscience. On the basis of a study we recently published with the researcher Jeremy Hogeveen, in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, we contend that when people experience power, their brains fundamentally change how sensitive they are to the actions of others. ...
Does this mean that the powerful are heartless beings incapable of empathy? Hardly..., the bad news is that the powerful are, by default and at a neurological level, simply not motivated to care. But the good news is that they are, in theory, redeemable.
Here are the myths described by Vivien Labaton:
1. The pay gap is closing rapidly. ...
2. Women earn less because they work in industries that pay less. ...
3. Women earn less because they don’t negotiate well. ...
4. Women earn less because mothers choose to work less. ...
5. To close the pay gap, we should focus on deterring discrimination. ...
Larry Summers on why he supports (conditionally) the Export-Import bank (from a longer interview):
Danny Vinik: I want to turn to your op-ed in the Financial Times on July 6 on the U.S. global stance on economic issues. In particular, you expressed support for the Export-Import bank and said that eliminating it would be an act of unilateral disarmament. Can you explain that?
Larry Summers: Probably at this moment, the greatest threat to open market capitalism comes from state-driven mercantilism capitalism, often carried on by authoritarian governments. They do not seek a level playing field. They seek a playing field that is tilted in their favor through the use of a variety of kinds of subsidized credits. The best and most credible way of deterring and limiting that behavior is to have a capacity to respond so that it does not produce commercial advantages. That’s what the Ex-Im bank enables us to do.
There are some who believe that it is good for everybody globally to subsidize exports. I’m not among them. I’m in favor of negotiations that would move towards a system where you didn’t have every country racing to compete with subsidies. But unilaterally renouncing our subsidies would be a source of great satisfaction in important parts of the world with which we compete and I do not think would be a productive way to bring about a more rules-based system.
- The End of the Cringe - Paul Krugman
- Five myths about the gender pay gap - The Washington Post
- The Evidence Is In: Patent Trolls Do Hurt Innovation - James Bessen
- Polanyi, Classical Liberalism, and Varieties of "Neoliberalism" - Brad DeLong
- CEO Pay and Stock Performance correlation Pretty Random - Businessweek
- A Quick Check-in on the Wage Front - Jared Bernstein
- Are the Rich Coldhearted? - NYTimes.com
- How not to introduce official e-money? - FT Alphaville
- The Will to Make Legible - Acemoglu and Robinson
- Ezra Klein Asks the Wrong Question - Paul Krugman
- Forward Premia and the Carry Trade - Econbrowser
- Quick Thoughts on Ryan's Poverty Plan - Rortybomb
- The inequality snowball effect - The Washington Post
- Fun and games with transfer pricing - Angry Bear
- Beware Faraway Shareholder Meetings - Tim Taylor
- Repressive diversity - Chris Dillow
- Synthesis!? David Beckworth's Insurance Policy - mainly macro
- We could fund Social Security with the output gap - Tim Stuhldreher
- Federal regulators let utilities gouge customers - David Cay Johnston
Friday, July 25, 2014
In case you missed this in today's links, it's worth noting explicitly:
Devolution Number Nine, by MaxSpeak: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Crazy) has a new plan to fight poverty..., the common theme throughout the report is to convert Federal programs into block grants. A block grant is a fixed pot of money provided to a state or local government for broadly-defined purposes. Ryan’s report is at pains to assert that the conversion would not entail spending cuts. This could not be further from the truth.
The story goes back to the days of Richard Nixon. I told it here. ... The short version is that a program or programs converted to a block grant is being set up to wither away. Block grants are designed through formulas to grow slowly or not at all, despite the likelihood that whatever the included programs were aimed at typically costs more to deal with every year. There are also two malignant political dynamics at work. One is that ... block grants transfer control to state governments. They have the fun of spending the money, Congress has the fun of raising the taxes to pay for it. The other is that the more vague — “flexible” — the purposes of the grant, the less focused is its political support. ...
The transfer of program responsibility from the Federal government to the states is known as devolution. It is the standard way of attacking domestic spending for social purposes, going back to Richard Nixon’s dismantling of the original, more interesting War on Poverty launched by Lyndon Johnson. ...
How ignoring climate change could sink the U.S. economy, by Robert E. Rubin: ...When it comes to the economy, much of the debate about climate change ... is framed as a trade-off between environmental protection and economic prosperity. Many people argue that moving away from fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions will impede economic growth, hurt business and hamper job creation.
But from an economic perspective, that’s precisely the wrong way to look at it. The real question should be: What is the cost of inaction? In my view — and in the view of a growing group of business people, economists, and other financial and market experts — the cost of inaction over the long term is far greater than the cost of action.
I recently participated in a bipartisan effort to measure the economic risks of unchecked climate change in the United States. We commissioned an independent analysis, led by a highly respected group of economists and climate scientists, and our inaugural report, “Risky Business,” was released in June. The report’s conclusions demonstrated the ... U.S. economy faces enormous risks from unmitigated climate change. ...
We do not face a choice between protecting our environment or protecting our economy. We face a choice between protecting our economy by protecting our environment — or allowing environmental havoc to create economic havoc. ...
Beware of "anti-government propaganda":
Left Coast Rising, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The states, Justice Brandeis famously pointed out, are the laboratories of democracy. And it’s still true. For example, one reason we knew or should have known that Obamacare was workable was the post-2006 success of Romneycare in Massachusetts. More recently, Kansas went all-in on supply-side economics, slashing taxes on the affluent in the belief that this would spark a huge boom; the boom didn’t happen, but the budget deficit exploded, offering an object lesson to those willing to learn from experience.
And there’s an even bigger if less drastic experiment under way in the opposite direction. California has long suffered from political paralysis, with budget rules that allowed an increasingly extreme Republican minority to hamstring a Democratic majority; when the state’s housing bubble burst, it plunged into fiscal crisis. In 2012, however, Democratic dominance finally became strong enough to overcome the paralysis, and Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare.
I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” ...
What has actually happened? There is ... no sign of the promised catastrophe. If tax increases are causing a major flight of jobs from California, you can’t see it in the job numbers. Employment is up 3.6 percent in the past 18 months, compared with a national average of 2.8 percent...
And, yes, the budget is back in surplus.
Has there been any soul-searching among the prophets of California doom, asking why they were so wrong? Not that I’m aware of. ...
So what do we learn from the California comeback? Mainly, that you should take anti-government propaganda with large helpings of salt. Tax increases aren’t economic suicide; sometimes they’re a useful way to pay for things we need. Government programs, like Obamacare, can work if the people running them want them to work, and if they aren’t sabotaged from the right. In other words, California’s success is a demonstration that the extremist ideology still dominating much of American politics is nonsense.
- Devolution Number Nine - MaxSpeaks
- Obama’s uphill struggle against economic inequality - Larry Bartels
- Hazlitt, Keynes and the glazier’s fallacy - Crooked Timber
- Corporatism not capitalism is to blame for inequality - Edmund Phelps
- Why Voters Aren’t Angrier About Economic Inequality - NYTimes.com
- Vox’s Poor Measure of Food Affordability - Blog of the Century
- Employee satisfaction and firm value - vox
- The Slow Recovery Continues - Olivier Blanchard
- A Chinese Gold Standard? - NYTimes.com
- Three growth stages of the New Keynesian model - Nick Rowe
- ResearchGate - The Leisure of the Theory Class
- SMEs lending: ‘Relationship lending’ vs arm’s length - vox
- See no evil - Chris Dillow
- Why I like Frequentism - Noahpinion
- More On Consumers’ Inflation Forecasts - Angry Bear
- How big can the U.S. current account stay? - Cecchetti & Schoenholtz
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Me, at MoneyWatch:
Should the Fed have to play by a rule?: What if the U.S. Federal Reserve Board had to implement monetary policy according to a specific rule that would require specific policy actions depending on the circumstances?
That's the intent of a bill Republicans in the House of Representatives recently proposed. The Federal Reserve Accountability and Transparency Act would force the Fed's conduct of monetary policy to follow a prescribed rule...
Economists have long debated whether specific rules are better than giving central bankers the discretion to set monetary policy as they see fit. Here are the arguments for and against policy rules, and a compromise position that many economists advocate. ...
Meritocracy won’t happen: the problem’s with the ‘ocracy’, by Andrew Gelman, Monkey Cage: I’ve written about this before but I think the topic is worth returning to, because it comes up a lot in our political discourse.The “self-made” man or woman, the symbol of American meritocracy, is disappearing. Six of today’s ten wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. . . . We don’t have to sit by and watch our meritocracy be replaced by a permanent aristocracy . . .
I don’t disagree with Reich on the data..., the data seem to support Reich’s point that lots of rich people come from rich families.
But I want to dispute Reich’s other statement, which is that this is somehow contrary to the spirit of “meritocracy.”
I claim the opposite: that inherited privilege is an intrinsic and central aspect of meritocracy. ...
Is this why prices are sticky?:
Sticky prices and behavioural indifference curves, by John Komlos, Vox EU: Many quantities fail to respond smoothly to price changes. This column stresses that the ‘endowment effect’ – a well-known behavioral economics concept – implies kinks in indifference curves at the current consumption bundle price. Such kinks may account for the stickiness of prices, wages, and interest rates.
- Additional Dimensions of Inequality - Brad DeLong
- Yellen's Storyline Strategy - Carola Binder
- Can the BRICS build something new? - Branko Milanovic
- Insure Against Central Bank Incompetence - David Beckworth
- A unique, informal banking system of rickshaw drivers - Ideas for India
- Deep Poverty Among Children Worsened by Welfare Law - CBPP
- The Alleged Benefits of Corporate Inversions - EconoSpeak
- How's California Doing? - Paul Krugman
- Fixing the Reputation Score at ebay - Digitopoly
- New Keynesian neo-fiscalists for increasing austerity - Nick Rowe
- Does Ms Market Reject the National Income Identities? - Brad DeLong
- A brief history of the shrunken workweek fantasy - The Washington Post
- Unemployment and LF Participation: Revisiting the Puzzle - Tim Taylor
- On crowding out - Stumbling and Mumbling
- Macroeconomic innumeracy - mainly macro
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
From James Choi:
Why the Third Pounder hamburger failed: One of the most vivid arithmetic failings displayed by Americans occurred in the early 1980s, when the A&W restaurant chain released a new hamburger to rival the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. With a third-pound of beef, the A&W burger had more meat than the Quarter Pounder; in taste tests, customers preferred A&W’s burger. And it was less expensive. A lavish A&W television and radio marketing campaign cited these benefits. Yet instead of leaping at the great value, customers snubbed it. Only when the company held customer focus groups did it become clear why. The Third Pounder presented the American public with a test in fractions. And we failed. Misunderstanding the value of one-third, customers believed they were being overcharged. Why, they asked the researchers, should they pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as they did for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s. The “4” in “¼,” larger than the “3” in “⅓,” led them astray. --Elizabeth Green, NYT Magazine, on losing money by overestimating the American public's intelligence.
Another false alarm on US inflation?, by Gavyn Davies: There have been a few false alarms about a possible upsurge in inflation in the US in the past few years... There is an entrenched belief among some observers that the huge rise in central bank balance sheets must eventually leak into consumer prices, and they have not been deterred by the lack of evidence in their favour so far.
Another such scare has been brewing recently. ... As so often in the past, this happened because of temporary spikes in commodity prices, especially oil. But these have usually been reversed before a generalised inflation process has been triggered. ....
It now seems probable that part of the recent jump in core inflation was just a random fluctuation in the data. There have been suggestions that seasonal adjustment may have been awry in the spring.
But the main reason for the lack of concern is that wage pressures in the economy have remained stable, on virtually all the relevant measures. ...
On today’s evidence, there has been yet another false alarm on US inflation.
The discussion continues:
Wall Street Skips Economics Class, by Noah Smith: If you care at all about what academic macroeconomists are cooking up (or if you do any macro investing), you might want to check out the latest economics blog discussion about the big change that happened in the late '70s and early '80s. Here’s a post by the University of Chicago economist John Cochrane, and here’s one by Oxford’s Simon Wren-Lewis that includes links to most of the other contributions.
In case you don’t know the background, here’s the short version...
- Debt Disaster Dead-Enders - Paul Krugman
- Is economics jargon distortionary? - mainly macro
- A Dearth of Investment in Much-Needed Drugs - NYT
- Geography Matters Even if it Doesn’t - Growth Economics
- America’s economy: Jobs are not enough - The Economist
- A ‘crowding out’ theory of the Eurozone crisis - vox
- Unintentional tax humor at - Kenneth Thomas
- Not Everyone Is Addicted to Inflation - NYTimes.com
- The Second Machine Age (Excerpt) - Milken Institute
- Euro Area: An Unbalanced Rebalancing? - IMF Blog
- Rethinking African solar power for Europe - vox
- John Taylor's Reply to Alan Blinder - WSJ
- "Weird Al" Yankovic - Mission Statement
- Monetary policy: Overruled - The Economist
- Crime prevention: where’s the evidence? - Tim Harford
- Inflation mostly at or below Fed's Target in June - Calculated Risk
- The Pragmatic Case for a Universal Basic Income - Ed Dolan
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Running late today -- two very quick ones. First, from Scientific American:
Will Automation Take Our Jobs?: Last fall economist Carl Benedikt Frey and information engineer Michael A. Osborne, both at the University of Oxford, published a study estimating the probability that 702 occupations would soon be computerized out of existence. Their findings were startling. Advances in ... technologies could, they argued, put 47 percent of American jobs at high risk of being automated in the years ahead. Loan officers, tax preparers, cashiers, locomotive engineers, paralegals, roofers, taxi drivers and even animal breeders are all in danger of going the way of the switchboard operator.
Whether or not you buy Frey and Osborne's analysis, it is undeniable that something strange is happening in the U.S. labor market. Since the end of the Great Recession, job creation has not kept up with population growth. Corporate profits have doubled since 2000, yet median household income (adjusted for inflation) dropped from $55,986 to $51,017. ... Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee ... call this divergence the “great decoupling.” In their view, presented in their recent book The Second Machine Age, it is a historic shift. ...
The Next Wave of Technology?, by Tim Taylor: Many discussions of "technology" and how it will affect jobs and the economy have a tendency to discuss technology as if it is one-dimensional, which is of course an extreme oversimplification. Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee, and Michael Spence offer some informed speculation on how they see the course of technology evolving in "New World Order: Labor, Capital, and Ideas in the Power Law Economy," which appears in the July/August 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs (available free, although you may need to register).
Up until now, they argue, the main force of information and communications technology has been to tie the global economy together, so that production could be moved to where it was most cost-effective. ...
But looking ahead, they argue that the next wave of technology will not be about relocating production around the globe, but changing the nature of production--and in particular, automating more and more of it. If the previous wave of technology made workers in high-income countries like the U.S. feel that their jobs were being outsourced to China, the next wave is going to make those low-skill workers in repetitive jobs--whether in China or anywhere else--feel that their jobs are being outsources to robots. ...
If this prediction holds true, what does this mean for the future of jobs and the economy?
1) Outsourcing would become much less common. ...
2) For low-income and middle-income countries like China..., their jobs and workforce would experience a dislocating wave of change.
3) Some kinds of physical capital are going to plummet in price, like robots, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence...
4) So..., who does well in this future economy? For high-income countries like the United States, Brynjolfsson, McAfee, and Spence emphasize that the greatest rewards will go to "people who create new ideas and innovations," in what they refer to as a wave of "superstar-based technical change." ...
This final forecast seems overly grim to me. While I can easily believe that the new waves of technology will continue to create superstar earners, it seems plausible to me that the spread and prevalence of many different new kinds of technology offers opportunities to the typical worker, too. After all, new ideas and innovations, and the process of bringing them to the market, are often the result of a team process--and even being a mid-level but contributing player on such teams, or a key supplier to such teams, can be well-rewarded in the market. More broadly, the question for the workplace of the future is to think about jobs where labor can be a powerful complement to new technologies, and then for the education and training system, employers, and employees to get the skills they need for such jobs. If you would like a little more speculation, one of my early posts on this blog, back on July 25, 2011, was a discussion of "Where Will America's Future Jobs Come From?"
- An Imaginary Budget and Debt Crisis - Paul Krugman
- Long-term damage of the US court’s Argentinian debt ruling - vox
- More on Step-(Un)Wise Regression and Pre-Testing - Dave Giles
- The Inflation Truther Crank Index - Bloomberg View
- GDP Growth: Will We Find a Higher Gear? - macroblog
- U.S. Unemployment Demands New Ideas - Bloomberg View
- You'll get no edge with Zero Hedge - Noahpinion
- Blogs review: The Taylor Rule legislation debate - Jérémie Cohen-Setton
- Asymmetrical Doctrines (Vaguely Wonkish) - Paul Krugman
- Partial corporate tax harmonisation in the EU - vox
- Yes, We Have No Banana - Paul Krugman
- One paywall model to rule them all - Digitopoly
- Comparing Bank and Federal Reserve Stress Test Results - Liberty Street
- Are Labor Markets Exploitative? - Tim Taylor
- House keeps trying to kill Dodd-Frank - Center for Public Integrity
- Unanchored - Econbrowser
Monday, July 21, 2014
Via the SF Fed:
The Wage Growth Gap for Recent College Grads, by Bart Hobijn and Leila Bengali, FRBSF Economic Letter: Starting wages of recent college graduates have essentially been flat since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. Median weekly earnings for full-time workers who graduated from college in the year just before the recession, between May 2006 and April 2007, were $653. Over the 12 months ending in April 2014, the earnings of recent college graduates had risen to $692 a week, only 6% higher than seven years ago.
The lackluster increases in starting wages for college graduates stand in stark contrast to growth in median weekly earnings for all full-time workers. These earnings have increased 15% from $678 in 2007 to $780 in 2014. This has created a substantial gap between wage growth for new college graduates and workers overall.
In this Economic Letter we put the wage growth gap in a historical context and consider what is at its heart. In particular, we find that the gap does not reflect a switch in the types of jobs that college graduates are able to find. Rather we find that wage growth has been weak across a wide range of occupations for this group of employees, a result of the lingering weak labor market recovery. ...
... A well-functioning financial system is based on trust. Widespread belief in honesty and integrity are essential for intermediation. That is, when we make a bank deposit, purchase a share of stock or a bond, we need to believe that terms of the agreement are being accurately represented. Yes, the value of the stock can go up and down, but when you think you buy an equity share, you really do own it. Fraud can undermine confidence, and the result will be less saving, less investment, less wealth and less income.
Unfortunately, in a complex financial system, the possibilities for fraud are numerous and the incidence frequent. Most cases are smaller and more mundane than Madoff or Ponzi. But they are remarkably common even today, despite enormous public efforts to prevent or expose them. One website devoted to tracking financial frauds in the United States lists 67 Ponzi schemes worth an estimated $3 billion in 2013 alone. ...
"We don’t have a debt crisis, and never did":
The Fiscal Fizzle, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: For much of the past five years readers of the political and economic news were left in little doubt that budget deficits and rising debt were the most important issue facing America. Serious people constantly issued dire warnings that the United States risked turning into another Greece ...
I’m not sure whether most readers realize just how thoroughly the great fiscal panic has fizzled...
In short, the debt apocalypse has been called off.
Wait — what about the risk of a crisis of confidence? There have been many warnings that such a crisis was imminent, some of them coupled with surprisingly frank admissions of disappointment that it hadn’t happened yet. For example, Alan Greenspan warned of the “Greece analogy,” and declared that it was “regrettable” that U.S. interest rates and inflation hadn’t yet soared.
But that was more than four years ago, and both inflation and interest rates remain low. Maybe the United States, which among other things borrows in its own currency and therefore can’t run out of cash, isn’t much like Greece after all.
In fact, even within Europe the severity of the debt crisis diminished rapidly once the European Central Bank began doing its job, making it clear that it would do “whatever it takes” to avoid cash crises in nations that have given up their own currencies and adopted the euro. Did you know that Italy, which remains deep in debt and suffers much more from the burden of an aging population than we do, can now borrow long term at an interest rate of only 2.78 percent? Did you know that France, which is the subject of constant negative reporting, pays only 1.57 percent?
So we don’t have a debt crisis, and never did. Why did everyone important seem to think otherwise?
To be fair, there has been some real good news about the long-run fiscal prospect, mainly from health care. But it’s hard to escape the sense that debt panic was promoted because it served a political purpose — that many people were pushing the notion of a debt crisis as a way to attack Social Security and Medicare. And they did immense damage along the way, diverting the nation’s attention from its real problems — crippling unemployment, deteriorating infrastructure and more — for years on end.
- What annoys me about market monetarists - mainly macro
- The State of Macroeconomics? Not Good... - Brad DeLong
- Agglomeration and product innovation in China - vox
- Corporate governance of banks and financial stability - vox
- EU Infrastructure Cutbacks Worry Economists - WSJ
- The Fed’s intervention in biotech and internet stocks - Gavyn Davies
- Promoting Econometrics Through Econometrica - Dave Giles
- How did the Snowden revelations impact behaviour? - Digitopoly
- A qualified defence of economic complexity - FT.com
- The Downside of Efficiency - Bloomberg View
- The Horror, The Horror - Paul Krugman
- Look Both Ways! - Economic Principals
- Keeping oil production from falling - Econbrowser
- Stationary processes - The Leisure of the Theory Class
- Some History of NBER Econometrics - No Hesitations
- How Fox News Helped Obama - Robert Waldmann
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Tyler Cowen on global inequality: Tyler Cowen sounds a bit like Voltaire's Pangloss when he argues, as the New York Times headline puts it, that we are living "all in all, [in] a more egalitarian world" (link). Cowen acknowledges what most people concerned about inequalities believe: "the problem [of inequality] has become more acute within most individual nations"; but he shrugs this off by saying that "income inequality for the world as a whole has been falling for most of the last 20 years." The implication is that we should not be concerned about the first fact because of the encouraging trend in the second fact.
Cowen bases his case on what seems on its face paradoxical but is in fact correct: it is possible for a set of 100 countries to each experience increasing income inequality and yet the aggregate of those populations to experience falling inequality. And this is precisely what he thinks is happening. Incomes in (some of) the poorest countries are rising, and the gap between the top and the bottom has fallen. So the gap between the richest and the poorest citizens of planet Earth has declined. The economic growth in developing countries in the past twenty years, principally China, has led to rapid per capita growth in several of those countries. This helps the distribution of income globally -- even as it worsens China's income distribution.
But this isn't what most people are concerned about when they express criticisms of rising inequalities, either nationally or internationally. They are concerned about the fact that our economies have very systematically increased the percentage of income and wealth flowing to the top 1, 5, and 10 percent, while allowing the bottom 40% to stagnate. And this concentration of wealth and income is widespread across the globe. (Branko Milanovic does a nice job of analyzing the different meanings we might attach to "global inequality" in this World Bank working paper; link.)
This rising income inequality is a profound problem for many reasons. First, it means that the quality of life for the poorest 40% of each economy's population is significantly lower than it could and should be, given the level of wealth of the societies in which they live. That is a bad thing in and of itself. Second, the relative poverty of this sizable portion of society places a burden on future economic growth. If the poorest 40% are poorly educated, poorly housed, and poorly served by healthcare, then they will be less productive than they have the capacity to be, and future society will be the poorer for it. Third, this rising inequality is further a problem because it undermines the perceived legitimacy of our economic system. Widening inequalities have given rise to a widespread perception that these growing inequalities are unfair and unjustified. This is a political problem of the first magnitude. Our democracy depends on a shared conviction of the basic fairness of our institutions. (Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson also argue that inequality has negative effects on the social wellbeing of whole societies; link.)
The seeming paradox raised here can be easily clarified by separating two distinct issues. One is the issue of income distribution within an integrated national economy -- the United States, Denmark, Brazil, China. And the second is the issue of extreme inequalities of per capita GDP across national economies -- the poverty of nations like Nigeria, Honduras, and Bangladesh compared to rich countries like Sweden, Germany, or Canada. Both are important issues; but they are different issues that should not be conflated. It is misleading to judge that global inequality is falling by looking only at the rank-ordered distribution of income across the world's 7 billion citizens. This decline follows from the moderate success achieved in the past fifteen years in ameliorating global poverty -- a Millenium Development Goal (link). But it is at least as relevant to base our answer to the question about the trend of global inequalities by looking at the average trend across the world's domestic economies; and this trend is unambiguously upward.
Here is a pair of graphs from The Economist that address both topics (reproduced at the XrayDelta blog here). The left panel demonstrates the trend that Cowen is highlighting. The global Gini coefficient has indeed leveled off in the past 40 years. The right panel indicates rising inequalities in US, Britain, Germany, France, and Sweden. As the second panel documents, the distribution of income within a sample set of national economies has dramatically worsened since 1980. So global inequalities are both improving and worsening -- depending on how we disaggregate the question.
The global Gini approach is intended to capture income inequalities across the world's citizens, not across the world's countries. Essentially this means estimating a rank-order of the incomes of all the world's citizens, and estimating the Lorenz distribution this creates.
We get a very different picture if we consider what has happened with inequalities within each of the world's national economies. Here is a graph compiled by Branko Milanovic that represents the average Gini coefficient for countries over time (link):
This graph makes the crucial point: inequalities within nations have increased dramatically across the globe since 1980, from an average Gini coefficient of about .45 to an average of .54 in 2000 (and apparently still rising). And this is the most important point: each of these countries is suffering the social disadvantages that go along with the fact of rising inequalities. So we could use the Milanovic graph to reach exactly the opposite conclusion from the one that Cowen reaches: in fact, global inequalities have worsened dramatically since 1980.
Thomas Piketty's name does not occur once in Cowen's short piece; and yet his economic arguments about capitalism and inequality in Capital in the Twenty-First Century are surely part of the the Cowen's impetus in writing this piece. Ironically, Piketty's findings corroborate one part of Cowen's point -- the global convergence of inequalities. Two French economists, François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson, made a substantial effort to measure historical Gini coefficients for the world's population as a whole (link). Their work is incorporated into Piketty's own conclusions and is included on Piketty's website. Here is Piketty's summary graph of global inequalities since 1700 -- which makes the point of convergence between developed countries and developing countries more clearly than Cowen himself:
So what about China? What role does the world's largest economy (by population) play in the topic of global economic inequalities? China's per capita income has increased by roughly 10% annually during that period; as a population it is no longer a low-income economy. But most development economists who study China would agree that China's rapid growth since 1980 has sharply increased inequalities in that country (link, link). Urban and coastal populations have gained much more rapidly than the 45% or so of the population (500 million people) still living in backward rural areas. A recent estimate found that the Gini coefficient for China has increased from .30 to .45 since 1980 (link). So China's rapid economic growth has been a major component of the trend Cowan highlights: the rising level of incomes in previously poor countries. At the same time, this process of growth has been accompanied by rising levels of inequalities within China that are a source of serious concern for Chinese policy makers.
Here are charts documenting the rise of income inequalities in China from the 2005 China Human Development Report (link):
So rising global income inequality is not a minor issue to be brushed aside with a change of topic. Rather, it is a key issue for the economic and political futures of countries throughout the world, including Canada, Great Britain, the United States, Germany, Egypt, China, India, and Brazil. And if you don't think that economic inequalities have the potential for creating political unrest, you haven't paid attention to recent events in Egypt, Brazil, the UK, France, Sweden, and Tunisia.
This article, by David Cay Johnston, is getting a surprising number of retweets:
State’s job growth defies predictions after tax increases, by David Cay Johnston, The Bee: Dire predictions about jobs being destroyed spread across California in 2012 as voters debated whether to enact the sales and, for those near the top of the income ladder, stiff income tax increases in Proposition 30. Million-dollar-plus earners face a 3 percentage-point increase on each additional dollar.
“It hurts small business and kills jobs,” warned the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, the National Federation of Independent Business/California, and Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee.
So what happened after voters approved the tax increases, which took effect at the start of 2013?
Last year California added 410,418 jobs, an increase of 2.8 percent over 2012, significantly better than the 1.8 percent national increase in jobs. ...
Why not worker control?: "Workplace autonomy plays an important causal role in determining well-being" conclude Alex Coad and Martin Binder in a new paper. This is consistent with research by Alois Stutzer which shows that procedural utility matters; people care not just about outcomes but about having control, which is why the self-employed tend to be happier than employees.
This implies that a government that is concerned to increase happiness - as David Cameron claims to be - should have as one of its aims a rise in worker control of the workplace.
This is especially the case because research shows that the cliche is true - a happy worker really is a productive worker. For this reason, it shouldn't be a surprise that there's a large (pdf) body of research which shows that worker coops can be at least as productive and successful as hierarchical firms. ...[examples]...
Greater worker control, therefore, might increase well-being directly and also raise productivity. Which poses the question: why, then, is it so firmly off of the political agenda? It's not because it's a loony lefty policy. ... Nor do I think it good enough to claim that there's no voter demand...
Instead, I suspect there are other answers to my question. ... As Pablo Torija Jimenez has shown, "democratic" politics now serves the interests of the very rich. And these benefit from managerialist control of workplaces even if most of the rest of us do not.
- Always Inflation Somewhere - Paul Krugman
- Many ways of being smart - Stumbling and Mumbling
- A short note on tobacco packaging - mainly macro
- The TTP: Review of the debate on economic blogs - vox
- The Most Transparent Central Bank in the World? - Carola Binder
- Kindle Unlimited: There may be a danger for authors - Digitopoly
- Intellectual property and service sector innovation - vox
- Thinking Like Rich People Does Not Make You Rich - The Mad Biologist
- Income Inequality Is Not Rising Globally. It's Falling. - NYTimes.com
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Is Choosing to Believe in Economic Models a Rational Expected-Utility Decision Theory Thing?: I have always understood expected-utility decision theory to be normative, not positive: it is how people ought to behave if they want to achieve their goals in risky environments, not how people do behave. One of the chief purposes of teaching expected-utility decision theory is in fact to make people aware that they really should be risk neutral over small gambles where they do know the probabilities--that they will be happier and achieve more of their goals in the long run if they in fact do so. ...[continue]...
Here's the bottom line:
(6) Given that people aren't rational Bayesian expected utility-theory decision makers, what do economists think that they are doing modeling markets as if they are populated by agents who are? Here there are, I think, three answers:
Most economists are clueless, and have not thought about these issues at all.
Some economists think that we have developed cognitive institutions and routines in organizations that make organizations expected-utility-theory decision makers even though the individuals in utility theory are not. (Yeah, right: I find this very amusing too.)
Some economists admit that the failure of individuals to follow expected-utility decision theory and our inability to build institutions that properly compensate for our cognitive biases (cough, actively-managed mutual funds, anyone?) are one of the major sources of market failure in the world today--for one thing, they blow the efficient market hypothesis in finance sky-high.
The fact that so few economists are in the third camp--and that any economists are in the second camp--makes me agree 100% with Andrew Gelman's strictures on economics as akin to Ptolemaic astronomy, in which the fundamentals of the model are "not [first-order] approximations to something real, they’re just fictions..."
- The free market is an impossible utopia - Henry Farrell
- Step-wise Regression - Dave Giles
- China’s unemployment and labour shortage - vox
- Price Indices Based on Scanner Data - Dave Giles
- James Tobin and Aggregate Supply (Implicitly Wonkish) - Paul Krugman
- Differences between econometrics and statistics - Andrew Gelman
- The Worst Bank Robbers in Mendham, New Jersey - Liberty Street
- Part-Time for Economic Reasons: A Cross-Industry Comparison - macroblog
- It’s here: Netflix for Books or ‘The Library’ - Digitopoly
- Banks, government bonds, and default - vox
- Evidence on the Samuelson Conjecture - Tim Taylor
Friday, July 18, 2014
Did the Banks Have to Commit Fraud?: Floyd Norris has an interesting piece discussing Citigroup's $7 billion settlement for misrepresenting the quality of the mortgages in the mortgage backed securities it marketed in the housing bubble. Norris notes that the bank had consultants who warned that many of the mortgages did not meet its standards and therefore should not have been included the securities.
Towards the end of the piece Norris comments:
"And it may well be true that actions like Citigroup’s were necessary for any bank that wanted to stay in what then appeared to be a highly profitable business. Imagine for a minute what would have happened in 2006 if Citigroup had listened to its consultants and canceled the offerings. To the mortgage companies making the loans, that might have simply marked Citigroup as uncooperative. The business would have gone to less scrupulous competitors."
This raises the question of what purpose is served by this sort of settlement. Undoubtedly Norris' statement is true. However, the market dynamic might be different if this settlement were different.
Based on the information Norris presents here, Citigroup's top management essentially knew that the bank was engaging in large-scale fraud by passing along billions of dollars worth of bad mortgages. If these people were now facing years of prison as a result of criminal prosecution then it may well affect how bank executives think about these situations in the future. While it will always be true that they do not want to turn away business, they would probably rather sacrifice some of their yearly bonus than risk spending a decade of their life behind bars. The fear of prision may even deter less scrupulous competitors. In that case, securitizing fraudulent mortgages might have been a marginal activity of little consequence for the economy.
Citigroup's settlement will not change the tradeoffs from what Citigroup's top management saw in 2006. As a result, in the future bankers are likely to make the same decisions that they did in 2006.
Further thoughts on Phillips curves: In a post from a few days ago I looked at some recent evidence on Phillips curves, treating the Great Recession as a test case. I cast the discussion as a debate between rational and adaptive expectations. Neither is likely to be 100% right of course, but I suggested the evidence implied rational expectations were more right than adaptive. In this post I want to relate this to some other people’s work and discussion. (See also this post from Mark Thoma.) ...
The first issue is why look at just half a dozen years, in only a few countries. As I noted in the original post, when looking at CPI inflation there are many short term factors that may mislead. Another reason for excluding European countries which I did not mention is the impact of austerity driven higher VAT rates (and other similar taxes or administered prices), nicely documented by Klitgaard and Peck. Surely all this ‘noise’ is an excellent reason to look over a much longer time horizon?
One answer is given in this recent JEL paper by Mavroeidis, Plagborg-Møller and Stock. As Plagborg-Moller notes in an email to Mark Thoma: “Our meta-analysis finds that essentially any desired parameter estimates can be generated by some reasonable-sounding specification. That is, estimation of the NKPC is subject to enormous specification uncertainty. This is consistent with the range of estimates reported in the literature….traditional aggregate time series analysis is just not very informative about the nature of inflation dynamics.” This had been my reading based on work I’d seen.
This is often going to be the case with time series econometrics, particularly when key variables appear in the form of expectations. Faced with this, what economists often look for is some decisive and hopefully large event, where all the issues involving specification uncertainty can be sidelined or become second order. The Great Recession, for countries that did not suffer a second recession, might be just such an event. In earlier, milder recessions it was also much less clear what the monetary authority’s inflation target was (if it had one at all), and how credible it was. ...
I certainly agree with the claim that a "decisive and hopefully large event" is needed to empirically test econometric models since I've made the same point many times in the past. For example, "...the ability to choose one model over the other is not quite as hopeless as I’ve implied. New data and recent events like the Great Recession push these models into unchartered territory and provide a way to assess which model provides better predictions. However, because of our reliance on historical data this is a slow process – we have to wait for data to accumulate – and there’s no guarantee that once we are finally able to pit one model against the other we will be able to crown a winner. Both models could fail..."
Anyway...he goes on to discuss "How does what I did relate to recent discussions by Paul Krugman?," and concludes with:
My interpretation suggests that the New Keynesian Phillips curve is a more sensible place to start from than the adaptive expectations Friedman/Phelps version. As this is the view implicitly taken by most mainstream academic macroeconomics, but using a methodology that does not ensure congruence with the data, I think it is useful to point out when the mainstream does have empirical support. ...
What does "inflation addiction" tell us?:
Addicted to Inflation, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. That goes for political movements as well as individuals. So I have some advice for so-called reform conservatives trying to rebuild the intellectual vitality of the right: You need to start by facing up to the fact that your movement is in the grip of some uncontrollable urges. In particular, it’s addicted to inflation — not the thing itself, but the claim that runaway inflation is either happening or about to happen. ...
Yet despite being consistently wrong for more than five years,... at best, the inflation-is-coming crowd admits that it hasn’t happened yet, but attributes the delay to unforeseeable circumstances. ... At worst, inflationistas resort to conspiracy theories: Inflation is already high, but the government is covering it up. The ... inflation conspiracy theorists have faced well-deserved ridicule even from fellow conservatives. Yet the conspiracy theory keeps resurfacing. It has, predictably, been rolled out to defend Mr. Santelli.
All of this is very frustrating to those reform conservatives. If you ask what new ideas they have to offer, they often mention “market monetarism,” which translates under current circumstances to the notion that the Fed should be doing more, not less. ... But this idea has achieved no traction at all with the rest of American conservatism, which is still obsessed with the phantom menace of runaway inflation.
And the roots of inflation addiction run deep. Reformers like to minimize the influence of libertarian fantasies — fantasies that invariably involve the notion that inflationary disaster looms unless we return to gold — on today’s conservative leaders. But to do that, you have to dismiss what these leaders have actually said. ...
More generally, modern American conservatism is deeply opposed to any form of government activism, and while monetary policy is sometimes treated as a technocratic affair, the truth is that printing dollars to fight a slump, or even to stabilize some broader definition of the money supply, is indeed an activist policy.
The point, then, is that inflation addiction is telling us something about the intellectual state of one side of our great national divide. The right’s obsessive focus on a problem we don’t have, its refusal to reconsider its premises despite overwhelming practical failure, tells you that we aren’t actually having any kind of rational debate. And that, in turn, bodes ill not just for would-be reformers, but for the nation.
- An Unnecessary Fix for the Fed - Alan S. Blinder
- Intellectual Origins of Reagan-Thatchernomics - Brad DeLong
- Making macroprudential regulation operational - vox
- Thoughts on the Fed's New Labor Market Conditions Index - Carola Binder
- An Application of the Art of Not Being Governed - Acemoglu and Robinson
- Lucas and Sargent Revisited - John Cochrane
- Warren, McCain: Rein in 'too big to fail' banks - CNN.com
- Senate Approves Move to Reserve Fed Seat for Community Banks - WSJ
- The Phillips Curve: Looking in All the Wrong Places - Thomas Palley
- Entropic social mechanisms - Understanding Society
- Is the universe a bubble? Let's check - EurekAlert
- Legislated Taylor Rules again - Nick Rowe
- Cochrane on Growth and Macro - Growth Economics
- John Cochrane and the Taylor rule - longandvariable
- Enhancing the transparency of the Bank of England’s Inflation Report - vox
- Demand Analysis, Henry Schultz and the Rediscovery of Slutsky - Dave Giles
- Forced into work? - Chris Dillow
- World Trade by Region - Tim Taylor
- Understanding the Crank Epidemic - Paul Krugman
- Austrianism, wrong? Inconceivable! - Noahpinion
- Guest Contribution: Taylor Rule Legislation - Econbrowser
- Public Investment and Borrowing Targets - mainly macro
- I Draw a Different Message from Fernald's Calculations... - Brad DeLong
- Cutting Corporate Taxes Won’t Help the Middle Class - Jared Bernstein
- Stop the tax inversions of free-riding corporations - David Cay Johnston
- A Systemic Explanation for The 2008 Financial Crisis - Roger Farmer
- Monthly GDP - Econbrowser
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Do patents stifle cumulative innovation?: There has been a movement that began with the notion of the anti-commons that suggested that, whatever the other benefits and faults might be with the patent system, a fault that really matters for the operation of the system and for growth prospects (a la endogenous growth theory) is how patents might stifle cumulative or follow-on innovation. ...
The standard, informal theory of harm here is that follow-on innovators, feeling that they can’t easily deal with the patent holder on the pioneer innovation, decide that the risks are too high to invest and so opt not to do so. To be sure, this ‘hold-up’ concern is not good for anyone, including possibly the patent rights holder who loses the opportunity to earn licensing fees from applications of their knowledge. Suffice it to say, this has been a big feature of the movement against the current strength and, indeed, existence of the patent system.
One issue, however, was that the evidence on the impact of patents on cumulative innovation was weak. Mostly that was due to the problem of finding an environment where impact could be measured. ...
For this reason, all previous attempts concerned intermediate steps — most notably, the impact of patents on citations whether in publications or in patents. This includes work by Fiona Murray and Scott Stern, Heidi Williams and Alberto Galasso and Mark Schankerman. While there is some variation, this work showed, using various clever approaches, that patent protection (or other IP changes) might deter cumulative innovation upwards of 30%. That’s a big effect and a big concern even if the results were somewhat intermediate.
At the NBER Summer Institute a new paper by Bhaven Sampat and Heidi Williams (the same Williams from the previous paper) actually found a way to examine the impact of patents on follow-on innovations themselves. ... The ... paper presents pretty convincing evidence that you cannot reject zero as the likely prediction. That is, the effect patents on follow-on research appears to be non-existent. ...
Suffice it to say, while it is only a particular area, this is evidence enough that should cause many to identify and change their bias regarding the impact of patents on cumulative innovation. ...
The original post has a much longer discussion of the theory and evidence.
Cecchetti & Schoenholtz:
Debt, Great Recession and the Awful Recovery: ... In their new book, House of Debt, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi portray the income and wealth differences between borrowers and lenders as the key to the Great Recession and the Awful Recovery (our term). If, as they argue, the “debt overhang” story trumps the now-conventional narrative of a financial crisis-driven economic collapse, policymakers will also need to revise the tools they use to combat such deep slumps. ...
House of Debt is at its best in showing that: (1) a dramatic easing of credit conditions for low-quality borrowers fed the U.S. mortgage boom in the years before the Great Recession; (2) that boom was a major driver of the U.S. housing price bubble; and (3) leveraged housing losses diminished U.S. consumption and destroyed jobs.
The evidence for these propositions is carefully documented... The strong conclusion is that – as in many other asset bubbles across history and time – an extraordinary credit expansion stoked the boom and exacerbated the bust. Of that we can now be sure.
What is less clear is that these facts diminish the importance of the U.S. intermediation crisis as a trigger for both the Great Recession and the Awful Recovery..., while the U.S. recession started in the final quarter of 2007, it turned vicious only after the September 2008 failure of Lehman. ...
What about the remedy? Would greater debt forgiveness have limited the squeeze on households and reduced the pullback? Almost certainly. ...
The discussion about remedies to debt and leverage cycles is still in its infancy. House of Debt shows why that discussion is so important. Its contribution to understanding the Great Recession (and other big economic cycles) will influence analysts and policymakers for years, even those (like us) who give much greater weight to the role of banks and the financial crisis than the authors.
They also talk about the desirability of "new financial contracts that place the burden of bearing the risk of house price declines primarily on wealthy investors (rather than on borrowers) who can better afford it."