Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson:
The Path to Prosperity Is Blue: How can America’s leaders foster broad prosperity? For most Republicans — including Donald J. Trump — the main answer is to “cut and extract”: Cut taxes and business regulations, including pesky restrictions on the extraction of natural resources, and the economy will boom.
Mr. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are united by the conviction that cutting taxes — especially on corporations and the wealthy — is what drives growth.
A look at the states, however, suggests that they’re wrong. Red states dominated by Republicans embrace cut and extract. Blue states dominated by Democrats do much more to maintain their investments in education, infrastructure, urban quality of life and human services — investments typically financed through more progressive state and local taxes. And despite what you may have heard, blue states are generally doing better. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 11:42 AM in Economics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Hadn't heard this story before:
Why Does Economics Reject New Thinking?, by Rick McGahey: The Economist magazine is running a series on six big economic ideas that have shaped the field in recent decades, and they start with one of the best—George Akerlof’s 1970 “The Market for Lemons.”
The concepts in the paper were groundbreaking insights about the price distortions that come about when one party has more information than the other, and influence economics and regulation to this day. ...
Akerlof shared his Nobel with Joe Stiglitz and Michael Spence. All three economists questioned a basic premise of standard microeconomic theory—that parties to market transactions have equal and perfect information, and that information equality helps produce market-clearing prices (covering not only commodities, but labor and finance) resulting in fair competition between equally informed parties ... [and] ...optimal overall social returns. ...
But there is another essential part of the Akerlof story—the narrow-minded nature of academic economics. The paper was rejected from several major economics journals. His graduate students at Berkeley had to read the paper in mimeographed form, as Akerlof had trouble getting it published. He testifies that the American Economic Review and The Review of Economic Studies both rejected the paper on the grounds that the subject was trivial.
But the paper’s rejection from the Journal of Political Economy was the most telling. According to Akerlof, one reviewer recognized the profound issues in the paper, and rejected it on the basis that “if this paper was correct, economics would be different.” ...
...while it is good that The Economist and others recognize the power of Akerlof’s ideas, the story of “The Market for Lemons” also must remind us about how hard it was—and still is—for new economic thinking to be heard and accepted by most economists.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 29, 2016 at 03:25 PM in Economics, Market Failure |
The forthcoming changes in capitalism?: Sometimes it’s useful to put symbolic dates on when a different era begins. The end of Thatcherism, it could be argued, came on July 10 in the then PM-candidate speech by Theresa May. It was perhaps appropriate that another woman, a Tory Prime Minister, would be credited with the ending of Thatcherism. The key words, which immediately attracted attention (see also Philip Stevens in today’s “Financial Times”) were not those about inequality (which has become a common place these days) but about the changes in the internal structure of capitalism: reintroduction of workers’ and consumers’ representatives on management boards, limits on the executive pay, reduction of job insecurity for the young people and much greater access to top jobs for those coming from less privileged backgrounds.
For the first time since the late 1970s (at the top level of policy-making), we are back to the issues of reforms in the way capitalism functions rather than discussing the ways in which the external environment would be made more market friendly. In essence, this is a confession that “civilizing” capitalism cannot be done only “externally” by relying on the “harmony of private interests” but that the state has a bigger role that goes beyond ensuring the protection of property rights, taxation and redistribution.
The past 35 years have shown that the neo-liberal conception of capitalism, combined with its global reach, has increased inequality to often unsustainable levels, left large segments of the population in the rich world without significant increase in real income and with heightened insecurity, and brought populist policies with a vengeance. ...
He goes on to identify three areas where he can imagine change.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 29, 2016 at 10:08 AM in Economics |
women and econ blogs: I enjoy reading econ blogs. ... So why are there so few female economic bloggers? ... Here are some of my hypotheses:
1. Women with opinions are not well received. I have heard this one but I am not so sure. My gateway to tweeting and blogging was commenting on Marginal Revolution. I was tolerated (very few women comment there) but it was clear that some of the other commenters did not appreciate a woman with an opinion. I was once told that I was an example of why women should not have gotten the vote, hmm. In contrast, I have felt perfectly welcome in econ-dork Twitter. ...
2. Women are busy with other forms of service. ...many economist positions do not lend themselves well to blogging. There are many women working in government as economists ... I have never seen more female macroeconomists than at the Fed and I've enjoyed getting to know other female economists in government via DCWEP. But public service and blogging can be pretty tricky. And for junior women in academia it may be even riskier to blog. I don't understand why so few senior women in academia blog. Diane Coyle is on the only I can think of ... their absence makes me think blogging is a mistake. And of course, service goes beyond work ... there's family too.
3. Women underestimate what they would contribute by blogging. Blogs, for all their interesting ideas, have a bit of egos running amok too. ... I have sat in meetings with two male economists basically yelling at each other over something unknowable ... they finish and walk away pleased with their digs and I am drained just by listening. ... It is easy to think that showmanship is a part of blogging and maybe women are less likely to enjoy that. Or the ones who do are less likeable. But really blogs are about sharing ideas and all economists have plenty of ideas. Plus it is a very flexible format ... though maybe it is harder for women to imagine themselves as econ bloggers given the current landscape? ...
As with a lot causality debates, the reason why there are few women blogging is probably a complex mix of factors. But it's nothing set in stone either. In fact, I am always happy to see other women on Twitter, blogging ... or more generally voicing their opinion on economics. There is plenty of work to go around!
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 29, 2016 at 10:00 AM in Economics, Weblogs |
Republicans and the patriot act:
Who Loves America?, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: ...too many influential figures on the right are tribalists, not patriots.
We got a graphic demonstration of that reality after Michelle Obama’s speech, when she spoke of the wonder of watching her daughters play on the lawn of “a house that was built by slaves.” It was an uplifting and, yes, patriotic image, a celebration of a nation that is always seeking to become better, to transcend its flaws.
But many people on the right ... heard was a knock on white people. “They can’t stop talking about slavery,” complained Rush Limbaugh. The slaves had it good, insisted Bill O’Reilly: “They were well fed and had decent lodgings.” Both men were, in effect, saying that whites are their tribe and must never be criticized.
This same tribal urge surely underlies a lot of the right’s rhetoric about national security. Why are Republicans so fixated on the notion that the president must use the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” when actual experts on terrorism agree that this would actually hurt national security, by helping to alienate peaceful Muslims?
The answer, I’d argue, is that ... it’s all about drawing a line between us (white Christians) and them (everyone else), and national security has nothing to do with it.
Which brings us back to the Vlad-Donald bromance. Mr. Trump’s willingness to cast aside our nation’s hard-earned reputation as a reliable ally is remarkable. So is ... his support for Mr. Putin’s priorities... And he has offered only evasive non-answers to questions about his business ties to Putin-linked oligarchs.
But what strikes me most is the silence of so many leading Republicans in the face of behavior they would have denounced as treason coming from a Democrat...
What this tells you, I think, is that all the flag-waving and hawkish posturing had nothing to do with patriotism. It was, instead, about using alleged Democratic weakness on national security as a club with which to beat down domestic opponents, and serve the interests of the tribe.
Now comes Mr. Trump, doing the bidding of a foreign power and inviting it to intervene in our politics — and that’s O.K., because it also serves the tribe.
So if it seems strange to you that these days Democrats are sounding patriotic while Republicans aren’t, you just weren’t paying attention. The people who now seem to love America always did; the people who suddenly no longer sound like patriots never were.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 29, 2016 at 09:22 AM in Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 29, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
What Does 'Regulatory Capture' Mean to Business and the Economy?: In recent months, the idea of "regulatory capture" ... has been enjoying its star turn. ... Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office revealed that it had (at the urging of two members of Congress) begun investigating whether the New York office of the Federal Reserve is too close to the financial institutions it is supposed to regulate. This is, apparently, the first GAO investigation of its kind. ...
For all the ubiquity of charges of capture, however, it can be difficult to grasp exactly what capture is, or how serious a social and economic problem it represents.
As it is commonly used, "capture" seems malleable enough to fit into the worldviews of both the left (evil corporations outfox, outspend, and manipulate regulators) and the right (state regulation is harmful to businesses). And yet, historically, capture theory embodies a more collusive view of the relationship between government and enterprise. Classic capturists argue that ... businesses accept regulations because they ultimately help improve profits. ...
Intuitively, though, we know that not all regulation benefits companies. ...
Some scholars are urging that we rethink the entire idea. A 2013 essay by William Novak, a law professor at the University of Michigan, ... accepts that regulatory capture exists, but he offers two refinements... One is that capture may be more likely among "vertical" regulators--those who enforce rules within a single industry, such as trucking--than among "horizontal" regulators, those whose mandates apply broadly across society, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The second is that ... it is far from proven that regulators are any more prone to it than other institutions. The financial crisis ... was a regulatory failure, to be sure. But, as Novak said in an interview, "entire sectors of the government became enamored with financial interests, including Congress."
And thus, if we intend to tackle the problem of capture, we need more precise definitions and measurements. There is a risk of either weakening regulations that genuinely protect the public, or allowing some incumbents to continue their unearned free ride and squash disrupters. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 09:36 AM in Economics, Regulation |
The Case for a Financial Transactions Tax, The Century Foundation: There has been considerable interest in financial transactions taxes (FTTs) in the United States and other wealthy countries in the years since the financial crisis. An FTT can be a way to both raise a large amount of revenue and also rein in the financial sector. This report examines the evidence on the potential for raising revenue through an FTT, its impact on the economy, and also the possibility of using the revenue to defray in particular the cost of higher education. The report argues:
- A financial transactions tax could likely raise over $105 billion annually (0.6 percent of GDP) based on 2015 trading volume. This estimate is roughly in the middle of recent estimates that ranged from as high as $580 billion to as low as $30 billion.
- The full amount of this tax would be borne by the financial industry, and not individual holders of stock or pension funds and other institutional investors. Evidence suggests that trading volume is elastic with respect to price, meaning that any drop in trading volume resulting from the tax would reduce costs for end users by a larger amount than the tax would increase them.
- It is reasonable to believe that the industry would be no less effective in serving its productive use (allocating capital) after the tax is in place. This means that one of the primary effects of the tax would be to reduce waste in the financial sector, reducing costs while having little or no effect on its principal purpose: to allocate capital effectively.
- The revenue raised through an FTT would easily be large enough to cover the cost of free college tuition (among other social programs), although if nothing were done to stem the growth rate of college costs, it would eventually prove inadequate.
The report also notes that the financial sector is the main source of income for many of the highest earners in the economy. This means that downsizing the industry through an FTT could play an important role in reducing income inequality. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 09:23 AM in Economics, Taxes |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Here's a link to the Fed's statement on its policy decision today:
FOMC statement - FRB
Policy is unchanged, sees improvements in the economy, says short-term risks have fallen.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at 11:15 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
July FOMC Preview on Bloomberg: How long can doves at the Federal Reserve stand their ground?
The fight within the U.S. central bank continues at this week's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting as both hawks and doves jockey for dominant position. This battle will go to the doves; the Fed is not expected to raise its interest rate target just yet. Both the hawks and the doves know this. Both camps also know that this meeting is about laying down markers for the September meeting. And while the doves have the upper hand this month, the current flow of data will increasingly place them on the defensive as the second half of the year progresses.
Continued at Bloomberg....
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Economists Give Up on Milton Friedman's Biggest Idea: One of the core pieces of modern macroeconomic theory, handed down to us by the great Milton Friedman, probably missed the mark. ...
The idea is called the permanent income hypothesis (PIH). ... The PIH says that people’s consumption doesn’t depend on how much they earn today, but on how much they expect to earn over their lifetime. ...
That assumption about human behavior has huge implications for policy. If true, the PIH means that the effectiveness of a fiscal stimulus is likely to be a lot lower than economists thought in the 1960s. ...
It’s also important for finance. ... Friedman’s idea says that consumers want to smooth out their consumption... So in theory people will spend a lot for financial assets that pay off during recessions, allowing them to avoid tightening their belts.
PIH is so dominant that almost all modern macroeconomic theories are based on it. ... Unfortunately, there’s just one small problem -- it’s almost certainly wrong. Not completely wrong, mind you, just somewhat wrong. ...
The mounting evidence against the PIH -- the papers I cited are only a small sampling -- is causing economists to cast around for an alternative. ...Narayana Kocherlakota ...thinks macroeconomists should set aside their big, complex formal models of the economy, since these elaborate constructions are built on a foundation that probably doesn’t describe reality all that well. He recommends that economists go back to the drawing board, and look around for new, more accurate kernels of insight with which to build the theories of tomorrow.
In the meantime, we should all recognize that Milton Friedman’s ideas might have been too influential. His impact on economics was deep and lasting, but this theory, at least, hasn’t stood the test of time.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 08:25 AM in Economics |
Jeff Frankel at Econbrowser:
Trump Jr.’s Pants-on-Fire Allegation of Manipulated Jobs Numbers: When interviewed about the unemployment numbers, which have fallen steadily since 2010, Donald Trump Jr., replied “These are artificial numbers. These are numbers that are massaged to make the existing economy look good, to make this administration look good when, in fact, it’s a total disaster.” PolitiFact asked a variety of experts about the quote. Their bottom line: the quote from the younger Trump was a “Pants on Fire” lie. The truth is that presidents don’t and can’t manipulate the jobs numbers. No White House has even tried — at least not since Richard Nixon made a heavy-handed attempt in 1971 to interfere with BLS staffing. After that, extra firewalls were put in place.
Here is my own full response to PolitiFact’s question regarding the Trump claim...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 08:24 AM in Economics, Politics, Unemployment |
Pax Trumpiana: With everything else going on, it may be hard to stay with the evolving Trump/Putin story. But it’s really crucial. I don’t think Trump is literally an agent of the Kremlin; instead, he’s someone Putin is aiding because he knows Trump is close to, probably financially entangled with friendly oligarchs. And equally important, Putin knows that Trump’s combination of ignorance and greed would quickly undermine the Western alliance: already we have, incredibly, a presidential candidate essentially proposing that we turn NATO into a protection racket, in which countries get defended only if they pay up.
All of this is, as it turns out, dovetailing with my bedtime reading.
I’m a huge fan of Adrian Goldsworthy’s histories, and I have a galley of his new opus, Pax Romana. Great fun as usual, plus lots of detail. ...
America is, one hopes, not ancient Rome; we aspired to universal values from the beginning, and the Pax Americana, while far from being perfect or even free from some evil, has surely been the most benign great-power domination in history. Still, there is some parallel between how we’ve run much of the world and what the Romans learned to do.
But Trump doesn’t care about any of that — he basically wants America to behave like Rome at its worst, to become the predatory power of Lucullus and Sulla.
And all those ultra-patriotic Republicans are cheering him on.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 08:01 AM in Economics, Politics |
I have a new column:
Economists, Blogs, and Donald Trump: The reason I have this column can be credited to, or blamed on, George Bush.
During the presidential campaigns before the 2004 election, I was very unhappy with the coverage of Bush’s economic proposals in the press. The reporting on the claim that tax cuts would cause so much growth they would pay for themselves, and the discussion of Social Security privatization were particularly irksome, but there was a more general sense that people writing about economic issues were too easily lulled into “bothsideism” and swayed by political spin. Readers were not being informed about what economic theory and evidence says about the policies the candidates were proposing.
In an attempt to do whatever I could to change that, I started writing letters to the local paper followed by three op-eds. Then, one day in March of 2005 I started ablog. That eventually led to this column.
I wasn’t the only one who began using blogs to try and improve communication about economics. The number of economists with blogs has grown substantially, and it has made a difference. The press coverage of economic issues is much better than it was during the campaigns for president in 2004. It’s not perfect, there are still occasions when I want to tear my hair out in frustration, but it’s far better than it was. ...
So it’s been frustrating to see how little difference it has made in the current presidential campaign. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 07:38 AM in Economics, Politics, Weblogs |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Brexit: a blow to the low-paid?: The CBI reported today that manufacturers’ business confidence has fallen at its fastest rate since early 2009, causing falls in investment and hiring plans. This corroborates surveys by Deloitte, Markit (pdf), the Institute of Directors and, to a lesser extent the Bank of England* all of which suggest that the Brexit vote will depress economic activity. ...
What worries me is that the pain of this will disproportionately hit the low-paid. A new paper (pdf) from the Minneapolis Fed says:
It is precisely the households at the bottom of the wealth distribution with low savings rates and high propensities to consume out of current income that suffer the largest welfare losses from a severe recession. Further, these losses are much more severe than those sustained by the "average" household.
This is because the low-paid have no financial assets to cushion themselves against job loss and so must suffer either big falls in living standards or resort to high-cost payday lenders whereas the rich have savings and/or access to cheaper credit**. Also, firms faced with uncertainty might well respond by hoarding skilled labour – which is harder to find when needed – and trimming unskilled workers.
Although the coming downturn will probably not be as severe as the 2009 one, I suspect that these mechanisms will still operate. ...
What’s more, for now we are only seeing the short-run effect of increased uncertainty. In the long-run, it’s possible that by depressing world trade growth, the losers from Brexit will be those in more skilled manufacturing and finance jobs.
For now, though, it might be the low-paid that suffer the most from Brexit. These, though, were more likely (pdf) to have voted Leave. We might ask them Johnny Rotten’s famous question: ““Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 12:13 PM in Economics |
Marilyne Tolle at the Bank of England's Bank Underground blog:
Central bank digital currency: the end of monetary policy as we know it?: Central banks (CBs) have long issued paper currency. The development of Bitcoin and other private digital currencies has provided them with the technological means to issue their own digital currency. But should they?
Addressing this question is part of the Bank’s Research Agenda. In this post I sketch out how a CB digital currency – call it CBcoin – might affect the monetary and banking systems – setting aside other important and complex systemic implications that range from prudential regulation and financial stability to technology, operational and financial conduct.
I argue that taken to its most extreme conclusion, CBcoin issuance could have far-reaching consequences for commercial and central banking – divorcing payments from private bank deposits and even putting an end to banks’ ability to create money. By redefining the architecture of payment systems, CBcoin could thus challenge fractional reserve banking and reshape the conduct of monetary policy. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 09:35 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
The phrase "trumped up" comes to mind:
Delusions of Chaos, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Last year there were 352 murders in New York City. This was a bit higher than the number in 2014, but far below the 2245 murders ... in 1990, the city’s worst year. In fact..., New York is now basically as safe as it has ever been, going all the way back to the 19th century.
National crime statistics, and numbers for all violent crimes, paint an only slightly less cheerful picture. And it’s not just a matter of numbers; our big cities look and feel far safer than they did a generation ago...
How, then, was it even possible for Donald Trump to give a speech accepting the Republican nomination whose central premise was that crime is running rampant, and that “I alone” can bring the chaos under control? ...
Yet there’s no question that many voters — including, almost surely, a majority of white men — will indeed buy into that vision. Why? ...
Well, I do have a hypothesis..., Trump supporters really do feel, with some reason, that the social order they knew is coming apart. It’s not just race, where the country has become both more diverse and less racist (even if it still has a long way to go). It’s also about gender roles — when Mr. Trump talks about making America great again, you can be sure that many of his supporters are imagining a return to the (partly imagined) days of male breadwinners and stay-at-home wives. ...
But what are the consequences of these changes in the social order? Back when crime was rising, conservatives insistently drew a connection to social change — that was what the whole early ’90s fuss over “family values” was about. ...
Then a funny thing happened: Crime plunged instead of continuing to rise. Other indicators also improved dramatically — for example, the teen birthrate has fallen 60 percent since 1991. Instead of societal collapse, we’ve seen what amounts to a mass outbreak of societal health. The truth is that we don’t know exactly why. ...
The point, however, is that in the minds of those disturbed by social change, chaos in the streets was supposed to follow, and they are all too willing to believe that it did, in the teeth of the evidence.
The question now is how many such people, people determined to live in a nightmare of their own imagining, there really are. I guess we’ll find out in November.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 01:39 AM in Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Dani Rodrik and Mr. Trump: David Brooks, of The New York Times, wrote the single best piece I read last week on the Republican convention: “Death of the Party.” Like him, I was riveted by Donald Trump’s acceptance speech. The scene seemed straight out of one of those dystopian Batman movies of the 1980s, ’90s, and ’00s, an outlandish character, sailing under false colors, bullying and threatening, preying on fears, selling Gotham a bill of goods, preparing chaos.
By the time the nominee bellowed, “I am your voice” to the hall of delegates, he seemed simply the latest in a long line of improbable adversaries: the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Ra’s al Ghul, the Scarecrow, Bane, Mr. Trump.
But then Batman movies depend on the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, to answer the Bat signal, expose the fraud, counter the villains’ plans, and save the city.
Batman in this case is Dani Rodrik, 58, of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is likely to be the next economist to enter the pantheon of those who went to school in the ’70s whom much of the public knows today” Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Krugman, Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke. ...
Rodrik isn’t exactly fighting with Trump, the way Batman fights with those villains. He is, by his own account, recasting the globalization narrative, replacing the familiar triumphalist version with a more nuanced account, including the ill-effects of integration that gave rise to the Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns, and those of H. Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan before them. (Meanwhile, Rodrik is interpreting events in Turkey as well.)
The Trump campaign supports no intellectual edifice whatsoever. For all its flaws, it is up to the Clinton campaign to begin translating into political terms the deeper understanding globalization – its costs as well as its benefits – that Rodrik, Unger, and many others have been working out.
Holy Hoodwink, Batman! Let’s get to work!
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at 10:14 AM in Economics, International Trade, Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, July 23, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
In defense of equality (without welfare economics): When I taught recently at the Summer School at Groningen University, I began my lecture on the measurement of inequality by distinguishing between the Italian and English schools as they were defined in 1921 by Corrado Gini...
I put myself squarely in the camp of the “Italians”. Measurement of income inequality is like measurement of any natural or social phenomenon. We measure inequality as we measure temperature or height of people. The English (or welfarist) school believes that the measure of income inequality is only a proxy for a measure of a more fundamental phenomenon: inequality in welfare. The ultimate variable, according to them, that we want to estimate is welfare (or even happiness) and it is distributed. Income provides only an empirically feasible short-cut to it.
I would have been sympathetic to that approach if I knew how individual utility can be measured. There is, I believe, no way to compare utilities of different persons. ... The only way for the “welfaristas” to solve this conundrum is to assume that all individuals have the same utility function. This is such an unrealistically bold assumption that I think nobody would really care to defend it...
Now, the welfarst approach continues to be associated with pro-equality policies. Why? Because if all people have the same utility function, then the optimal distribution of income is such that everybody has the same income. ...
My students then asked how I can justify concern with inequality if I reject the welfarist view which is the main ideological vehicle through which equality of outcomes is being justified. (A non-utilitarian, contractarian alternative is provided by Rawls. Yet another alternative, based on equal capabilities—a close cousin to equality of opportunity (of which more below) is provided by Amartya Sen.)
My answer was that I justify concern with income inequality on three grounds.
The first ground is instrumental: the effect on economic growth. ...
The second is political effect. In societies where economic and political spheres are not separated by the Chinese wall (and all existing societies are such), inequality in economic power seeps and ultimately invades and conquers the political sphere. ...
The third ground is philosophical. As Rawls has argued, every departure from unequal distribution of resources has to be defended by an appeal to a higher principle. Because we are all equal individuals (whether as declared by the Universal Charter of Human Rights or by God), we should all have an approximately equal opportunity to develop our skills and to lead a “good (and pleasant) life”. Because inequality of income almost directly translates into inequality of opportunities, it also directly negates that fundamental equality of all humans. ...
I have to say here that in addition inequality of opportunity affects negatively economic growth...
My argument, if I need to reiterate it, is: you can reject welfarism, hold that inter-personal comparison of utility is impossible, and still feel very strongly that economic outcomes should be made more equal—that inequality should be limited so that it does not strongly affect opportunities, so that it does not slow growth and so that it does not undermine democracy. Isn’t that enough?
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 22, 2016 at 08:59 AM in Economics, Income Distribution |
Is it more than ignorance?:
Donald Trump, the Siberian Candidate, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: If elected, would Donald Trump be Vladimir Putin’s man in the White House? This should be a ludicrous, outrageous question. After all, he must be a patriot — he even wears hats promising to make America great again. ...
I’m not talking about merely admiring Mr. Putin’s performance — being impressed by the de facto dictator’s “strength,” and wanting to emulate his actions. I am, instead, talking about indications that Mr. Trump would ... actually follow a pro-Putin foreign policy, at the expense of America’s allies and her own self-interest.
That’s not to deny that Mr. Trump does, indeed, admire Mr. Putin. ... But admiration for Putinism isn’t unusual in Mr. Trump’s party. ...
All of this is, or should be, deeply disturbing..., what we’re now seeing ... goes beyond emulation, and is starting to look like subservience.
First, there was the Ukraine issue — one on which Republican leaders have consistently ... criticized Mr. Obama for insufficient action... And the G.O.P. platform was going to include a statement reaffirming this line, but it was watered down to blandness on the insistence of Trump representatives.
Then came Mr. Trump’s interview with The New York Times, in which ... he declared that even if Russia attacked members of NATO he would come to their aid only if those allies — which we are bound by treaty to defend — have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”
Now, some of this is Mr. Trump’s deep ignorance of policy... But is there more to the story? Is there some specific channel of influence?
We do know that Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, has worked as a consultant for various dictators, and was for years on the payroll of Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president and a Putin ally.
And there are reasons to wonder about Mr. Trump’s own financial interests. Remember, we know nothing about the true state of his business empire, and he has refused to release his taxes... We do know that he has substantial if murky involvement with wealthy Russians and Russian businesses. ...
At some level, Mr. Trump’s motives shouldn’t matter. We should be horrified at the spectacle of a major-party candidate casually suggesting that he might abandon American allies — just as we should be horrified when that same candidate suggests that he might welsh on American financial obligations. But there’s something very strange and disturbing going on here, and it should not be ignored.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 22, 2016 at 08:36 AM in Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 22, 2016 at 12:06 AM
Yellen Needs to Make More Speeches: What does the U.S. Federal Reserve think about the repercussions of Britain's vote to leave the European Union? Amazingly, we still don’t really know...
Fed officials give a lot of speeches, and many have addressed Brexit in recent weeks. But, as they always say, they don’t speak on behalf of the Federal Open Market Committee...
Only one official, Fed Chair Janet Yellen, has the authority to speak on the committee's behalf, and she does so rarely. ... In all, according to the Fed's website, she has discussed policy at six formal public appearances this year. Her next won’t come until the Kansas City Fed's Jackson Hole conference in late August and the committee meeting of Sept. 20 to 21. ...
The Fed hasn’t always been so taciturn. In 2004, at the beginning of the central bank's last tightening cycle, Chairman Alan Greenspan spoke or testified on 29 separate occasions... Granted, his language was famously hard to parse. But by speaking nearly three times a month, he left no confusion among the public or Fed watchers about who to follow if they wanted to know the future course of monetary policy.
Today, people are a lot more concerned about the state of the global economy than they were in 2004... So if anything, the Fed should be communicating more. That means having a press conference after every open-market committee meeting, and having Yellen make a lot more public speeches. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 21, 2016 at 10:45 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
Mike Konczal and Marshall Steinbaum:
New Paper: Demand-Side Business Dynamism, by Mike Konczal and Marshall Steinbaum: We—Marshall Steinbaum, who has recently joined the Roosevelt Institute as a visiting fellow, and Mike Konczal—have a new working paper out titled Declining Entrepreneurship, Labor Mobility, and Business Dynamism: A Demand-side Approach. We hope you check it out! We think it adds some important evidence on an unfolding debate. ...
A lot of people have recently been focusing on a worsening economic phenomenon commonly referred to as the decline in “business dynamism” or “labor market fluidity.” There are a lot of ways to measure that, but it’s generally defined as the declining rate at which new businesses are formed and grow, or a decline in overall labor market mobility, which includes job transitions, quitting a job, and geographic migration for work. ...
Most ... analyses stress supply-side factors such as excessive occupational licensing, restrictions on building new housing, and regulations more broadly. However, recent investigations haven’t found evidence for these supply-side factors as drivers of the decline. Measures of dynamism that don’t require geographic mobility are also falling, so it’s not driven by housing. ...
This paper provides an alternative explanation for the recent trends of declining entrepreneurship, falling labor mobility, and rising concentration of employment in old firms and large firms. Our explanation focuses on weakening demand, especially during the slow recovery from the last two recessions. That demand slowdown should, in turn, be investigated further, keeping in mind both secular stagnation and how power is shifting in favor of the owners and managers of incumbent firms alongside rising profits and inter-firm inequality. The key findings in this report are...
Jumping to the conclusion:
This paper argues that the decline in mobility, dynamism, and entrepreneurship is a result of declining labor demand since 2000. When it is hard to find another job, employed workers stay at the jobs they have, impairing their ascent up the job ladder and the accompanying wage growth over careers that historically led to the middle class. Declining entrepreneurship can also be explained by workers’ reluctance to leave large, stable incumbents to start their own firm or to work at a start-up when they cannot be assured that they will have a more stable job to return to. Thus, we find that the concentration of employment in old firms and in large firms mirrors the timing of declining labor mobility due to declining demand.
Regardless of what you make of the merits of policy debates over occupational licensing, housing restrictions, and regulation, these items are not the driver of the aggregate decline in labor market fluidity. Our alternative analysis suggests future research should investigate potential policy-related causes of those trends in demand and market structure—such as declining effective marginal tax rates on high earners and a permissive environment for inter-firm mergers—that deemphasize full employment and market competition and enable secular stagnation. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 21, 2016 at 08:48 AM in Economics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 21, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Saleem Bahaj, Iren Levina, and Jumana Saleheen at the Bank of England's Bank Underground:
Is finance a powerful driver of growth?: Since the financial crisis the UK has experienced a period of weak productivity growth, weak investment coupled with a decline in credit to non-financial sectors of the economy. But there is debate about the direction of causality: did low growth and other structural factors mean firms and households wanted to borrow less – as argued by Martin Wolf? Or did the financial sector offer too few funds to the real economy in the wake of the crisis as banks tried to repair their balance sheets. Alternatively, the financial system may not be functioning properly in general, if much of the financial sector’s activity contributes little to the betterment of lives and efficiency of business – a point made by John Kay.
In this post, we analyse whether there has been enough finance to enable productive investment? This question was posed to the Bank of England by the Government last year, as part of its ‘productivity plan’. One concern is: Is the financial sector is holding back UK productivity? This post summarises our own insights on this topic, partly drawing on the recent Bank Discussion Paper. Importantly, our interpretation is blurred by the lack of data. But let’s start with the really interesting things we uncovered.
What we know
To measure the concept of finance for productive investment, we split our thinking into two questions:
(Q1) Are there unexploited productive investment opportunities in the UK? We found no conclusive evidence of investment deficiency....
(Q2) Is there enough finance to ensure productive investment takes place? Yes for the corporate sector as a whole, but not for all firms
The real question of interest here is if investment is low, is the blockage that is stopping investment taking place due to real economy factors – such as globalisation and secular stagnation – or financial factors – such as a lack of access to finance. ...
Large firms, with access to bond and stock markets, don’t appear to have problems financing themselves. Small firms that do have access to capital markets rely heavily on net equity issuance to finance their business... But the vast majority of small firms do not have access to market-based finance and are heavily dependent on bank funding or internal funds. Surveys show that small firms’ access to finance remains an issue, but it now affects a smaller proportion of firms than in recent years...
In an era of big data, we have discovered the presence of big data gaps. These data gaps may have blurred our bottom line: we have not found any conclusive evidence of investment deficiency in the UK; and the corporate sector as a whole appears to have an adequate supply of finance to fund their desired investment activities. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 05:37 AM in Economics, Financial System |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Simeon Djankov at PIIE:
European Red Tape Is a Bogus Justification for Brexit: Did the European Union’s ship of state run aground on misleading anecdotes? It would appear so. Red tape is frequently mentioned as one of the main reasons for Brexit. ...
But however much Brussels is reviled for burdensome regulations, especially in the conservative British press, it is primarily up to the national governments to regulate business and ensure that their regulation is competitive. In recent years, individual European countries have actually improved the environment for doing business. Half of the 25 countries in the world where it is easiest to do business are EU members, according to the 2016 World Bank’s Doing Business survey. These are Denmark (3), United Kingdom (6), Sweden (8), Finland (10), Germany (15), Estonia (16), Ireland (17), Lithuania (20), Austria (21), Latvia (22), Portugal (23), and Poland (25). Malta is the lowest-ranked EU country, at 80 (of 189 economies). ...
An examination of the EU’s record on regulations shows that in practice the EU governs few areas of business activity and that it has a lighter regulatory touch than many other parts of the world, including the United States. Yet the perception of bureaucratic Europe persists. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 08:26 AM in Economics, Politics, Regulation |
Tim Duy at Bloomberg:
Why the Fed Can't and Shouldn't Raise Interest Rates: ... The flattening of the U.S. yield curve as investors see little chance of rates rising in the longer term should serve as a red flag that their focus on short-term interest rates may be doomed to failure.
One of the defining features of this tightening cycle is the same as the cycles that came before – the yield curve is flattening, and very quickly. The spread between 10-year and two-year U.S. Treasuries has collapsed to 88 basis points at a time when the federal funds target rate is 25-50bps. This suggests that the Fed actually has very little room to raise short-term rates. If additional rates hikes compress the yield curve further, the capacity for maturity transformation – effectively the process of borrowing on shorter time frames to lend on longer time frames – will soon be compromised. ...
... Bottom Line: The Fed needs to remember that how they got into this policy stance may offer a lesson for how to get out. Policy makers cut rates to zero and then instituted quantitative easing. Now they should consider selling assets before raising rates. Or, at a minimum, utilizing a mixed strategy of rate hikes and asset sales. The objective of meeting the Fed's mandate in the context of maintaining financial stability may be unattainable using the interest rate tool and associated forward guidance alone. Unfortunately, the Fed does not appear to be debating the policy mix — at least not in public. They remain focused on interest rates, delaying balance sheet policy to a later date. On the current trajectory, however, that later date may never come.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 07:43 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
Don't Try This Crazy Trick on the Economy: Some economists argue that the Federal Reserve should take a highly unconventional approach to ending a long period of below-target inflation: Instead of keeping interest rates low to spur economic activity and push up prices, it should raise rates.
Labeled "Neo-Fisherism" ... (after the famous monetary economist Irving Fisher), it's an idea I once entertained. Allow me to explain why I now think it’s dangerous. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 07:43 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Why has transparency been so damn confusing?: The theme of our recent series of posts on understanding FOMC actions and communications has been the well-disguised, steady predictability of FOMC policy. The basic story is that policy is driven by a consensus on the FOMC. The consensus tends to evolve slowly and predictably, and for some time now, the consensus has behaved consistently as if driven by two principles:
So long as steady job market gains persist, continue a gradual, pre-announced removal of accommodation.
So long as inflation remains below target, take a tactical pause if credible evidence arises that the job gains might soon falter.
The factual record, I argued, is unambiguous: over the last three years, we’ve gotten normalization at a preannounced pace as in to the first principle, punctuated only by brief (so far) tactical pauses as under the second.
But the fact that my low-drama story lines up with the facts doesn’t make it correct. And my story directly contradicts the popular narrative of a skittish, market-obsessed Fed flip-flopping at every opportunity. This is where the well-disguised part comes in.
Before continuing, however, I want to emphasize that I came to the views I’m describing during my years working on transparency and communications on behalf of the chairs Bernanke and Yellen—a job that ended about 2 years ago now. Yes, I did my small part in making the mess. But the FOMC members and Fed staffers like me also worked pretty hard to understand what was going wrong and attempting to improve the situation. This series of posts is essentially the lessons I took from these efforts. It would be inappropriate for me to say who among my former colleagues subscribes to these views, but I similarly don’t want to claim the ideas as my own. For now, I’ll be deliberately and appropriately vague in saying that all the points I’m making were in the air at the Fed while I was there. In this post, I’ll sketch the basics, leaving details and support for subsequent posts. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 18, 2016 at 08:44 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
I have a new post at MoneyWatch:
The toughest question about global trade: This year's battle for the White House has put international trade in the spotlight. Donald Trump has led the charge against trade agreements, but Hillary Clinton's reversal of her support for President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) also reflects the evolving view of the benefits of globalization.
The American public has long been suspicious of international trade, but economists have been much more supportive. However, new evidence in the economics literature has caused a rethinking of how to evaluate trade agreements.
This research documents that the negative effects of globalization on employment and wages are larger than many people realized. In addition, it recognizes that most of the benefits have accrued to those at the top of the income distribution while the costs -- lost jobs, lower wages and fewer attractive employment opportunities -- have fallen mainly on the working class.
One response from many advocates is to point out that international trade has lifted millions of people around the world out of poverty and that reducing the pace of globalization would slow the rate of global poverty reduction.
All of which brings up an important and rather difficult question: Just how should we value international trade? ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 18, 2016 at 08:37 AM in Economics, International Trade |
Balancing the unbalanced:
Both Sides Now?, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: When Donald Trump began his run for the White House, many people treated it as a joke. Nothing he has done or said since makes him look better. On the contrary, his policy ignorance has become even more striking, his positions more extreme, the flaws in his character more obvious, and he has repeatedly demonstrated a level of contempt for the truth that is unprecedented in American politics.
Yet while most polls suggest that he’s running behind in the general election..., there’s still a real chance that he might win. How is that possible? Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that voters don’t fully appreciate his awfulness. And the reason is that too much of the news media still can’t break with bothsidesism — the almost pathological determination to portray politicians and their programs as being equally good or equally bad, no matter how ludicrous that pretense becomes. ...
You might think that Donald Trump, who lies so much that fact-checkers have a hard time keeping up, who keeps repeating falsehoods even after they’ve been proved wrong, and who combines all of this with a general level of thuggishness aimed in part at the press, would be too much even for the balance cultists to excuse.
But you would be wrong. ...
And in the last few days we’ve seen a spectacular demonstration of bothsidesism...: an op-ed article from the incoming and outgoing heads of the White House Correspondents’ Association, with the headline “Trump, Clinton both threaten free press.” How so? Well, Mr. Trump has selectively banned news organizations he considers hostile; he has also, although the op-ed didn’t mention it, attacked both those organizations and individual reporters, and refused to condemn supporters who, for example, have harassed reporters with anti-Semitic insults.
Meanwhile, while Mrs. Clinton hasn’t done any of these things, and has a staff that readily responds to fact-checking questions, she doesn’t like to hold press conferences. Equivalence!
Stung by criticism, the authors ... issued a statement denying that they had engaged in “false equivalency” — I guess saying that the candidates are acting “similarly” doesn’t mean saying that they are acting similarly. And they once again refused to indicate which candidate was behaving worse.
As I said, bothsidesism isn’t new, and it has always been an evasion of responsibility. But taking the position that “both sides do it” now, in the face of this campaign and this candidate, is an act of mind-boggling irresponsibility.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 18, 2016 at 08:02 AM in Economics, Politics, Press |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 18, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Helicopter money: Despite aggressive actions by central banks, many of the world’s economies are still stagnating and facing new shocks, leading to renewed calls for helicopter money as a serious policy prescription for countries like Japan and the U.K.. And, if things go badly, maybe the United States? ...
After discussing helicopter money, he concludes with:
... If helicopter money is no more than a combination of fiscal expansion and LSAP, and if we think LSAP hasn’t been able to do that much, it’s clear that the fiscal expansion part is where the real action is coming from. On the other hand, if we think both components make a difference, there’s no inherent reason that the size of the fiscal operation has to be exactly the same as the size of the monetary operation.
Nevertheless, as has been true with LSAP, there might be some psychological impact, if nothing else, from announcing this as if it were a new policy. For example, I could imagine the Fed announcing that for the next n months, it will buy all the new debt that the Treasury issues. For maximal effect this would be coupled with a Treasury announcement of a new spending operation. Doubtless the announcement would bring out calls from certain quarters that the U.S. was going the route of Zimbabwe. And just as in the previous times we heard those warnings, those pundits would be proven wrong, as indeed the effects would not be that different from what we’re already getting from central bank expansions around the globe.
Helicopter money is no bazooka for stimulating the economy. Ben Bernanke offered this reasonable summary:
Money-financed fiscal programs (MFFPs), known colloquially as helicopter drops, are very unlikely to be needed in the United States in the foreseeable future. They also present a number of practical challenges of implementation, including integrating them into operational monetary frameworks and assuring appropriate governance and coordination between the legislature and the central bank. However, under certain extreme circumstances– sharply deficient aggregate demand, exhausted monetary policy, and unwillingness of the legislature to use debt-financed fiscal policies– such programs may be the best available alternative. It would be premature to rule them out.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, July 17, 2016 at 10:36 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy, Monetary Policy |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, July 17, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |