Category Archive for: Economics [Return to Main]

Friday, November 10, 2017

Paul Krugman: Trump and Ryan Versus the Little People

"The end result of this tax bill would be to leave most working Americans, even those who wouldn’t face direct tax increases, worse off, all for the benefit of a tiny minority":

Trump and Ryan Versus the Little People, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: According to news reports, Donald Trump wanted the House Republican tax “reform” bill to be called the Cut Cut Cut Act. Alas, he didn’t get his wish, and it was instead given a boring name nobody can remember. But there’s still time to change it! So let me propose, as one reader suggested, that it be renamed the Leona Helmsley Act, after the New York hotelier convicted of tax evasion, who famously declared that “only the little people pay taxes.”
That, after all, is the main thrust of the bill. It hugely favors the wealthy over the middle class, which is pretty much always true of Republican proposals. But it’s not just about favoring high incomes: It also systematically favors people who live off their assets, especially inherited wealth, over the little people — that is, poor shlubs who actually have to work for a living. ...
So when Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, says that the bill’s goal is “to deliver middle-class tax cuts to the hard-working families in this country,” he’s claiming that up is down and black is white. This bill does little or nothing for the middle class, and even among the affluent it’s biased against those who work hard in favor of the idle rich.
Also let’s not forget that tax increases on working Americans are only part of the story. This bill would also, according to the Congressional Budget Office, add $1.7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. You know what that means: If this bill or anything like it passes, Republicans will immediately revert to their previous pretense of being deficit hawks and start demanding spending cuts.
And since federal spending is dominated by programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — that benefit the middle and working classes, the end result of this tax bill would be to leave most working Americans, even those who wouldn’t face direct tax increases, worse off, all for the benefit of a tiny minority, especially those who haven’t even worked for their wealth.
You might wonder how Republicans imagine that they can get away with this. But anyone who has paid attention to U.S. politics knows the answer. First, they will lie, unashamedly, about what their bill actually does. Second, they will try to distract working-class voters by stoking racial animosity. That didn’t work too well in Tuesday’s elections, but they’ll keep on trying.

Links for 11-10-17

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Ten Years after the Crisis: Discredited Ideas (Video - Krugman)

Trade Policy and the Macroeconomy

Barry Eichengreen:

Trade Policy and the Macroeconomy, by Barry Eichengreen, IMF: It’s an honor and privilege to have been asked to deliver the Mundell-Fleming Lecture. It’s also a bit intimidating. I won’t read off the entire list of luminaries who have given this lecture. But they include our master of ceremonies and my Berkeley colleague Maury Obstfeld. They include Stanley Fischer, my boss when I worked at the IMF. And they include my oldest and closest childhood friend from the age of three. (If you don’t know who that is, you get to guess.)
My topic today is trade policy and the macroeconomy. I chose this as my topic for several reasons.
The first is, of course, Donald Trump. President Trump has controversially argued that tariffs are good for economic growth. This makes now an important time to reconsider the question.
A second reason is: Paul Ryan, or more precisely the idea of a border-adjustment tax...
Third, the framework most widely used to analyze these issues is, appropriately for this venue, the Mundell-Fleming model. ...
Fourth, the literature on this subject is importantly informed by research here at the IMF. ...
Fifth, these are issues on which historical evidence has been used to shed light. ...
Sixth and finally (perhaps I should say “sixth and self-indulgently”), this is where I came in. My Ph.D. dissertation was on the macroeconomic effects of trade restrictions...
My remarks are in three parts. First, I will consider the evidence on tariffs and growth from an historical vantage point. Next I will review what we know about trade policy and macroeconomic fluctuations. Although the first part is about growth and the second part is about fluctuations, similar issues arise in the two contexts. In concluding, I will then return to the current policy debate.
I will argue that both theory and empirics in this area have ambiguous implications. Even more than other areas of economics perhaps, conclusions are sensitive to assumptions. Theoretical results are fragile, and empirical findings are context specific. Given this uncertainty, I will argue that the best guideline for practitioners tempted to deploy trade policy for macroeconomic purposes remains Hippocrates’ dictum, “first, do no harm.” ...continue...  [conference papers]

Links for 11-08-17

Taking a Crack at Neoliberalism

Dani Rodrik:

Taking a Crack at Neoliberalism, by Dani Rodrik: ..my new piece “Rescuing Economics from Neoliberalism,” just out in the Boston Review. ... Here is the core of it:

That neoliberalism is a slippery, shifting concept, with no explicit lobby of defenders, does not mean that it is irrelevant or unreal. Who can deny that the world has experienced a decisive shift toward markets from the 1980s on? Or that center-left politicians—Democrats in the United States, Socialists and Social Democrats in Europe—enthusiastically adopted some of the central creeds of Thatcherism and Reaganism, such as deregulation, privatization, financial liberalization, and individual enterprise? Much of our contemporary policy discussion remains infused with norms and principles supposedly grounded in homo economicus.
But the looseness of the term neoliberalism also means that criticism of it often misses the mark. There is nothing wrong with markets, private entrepreneurship, or incentives—when deployed appropriately. Their creative use lies behind the most significant economic achievements of our time. As we heap scorn on neoliberalism, we risk throwing out some of neoliberalism’s useful ideas.
The real trouble is that mainstream economics shades too easily into ideology, constraining the choices that we appear to have and providing cookie-cutter solutions. A proper understanding of the economics that lies behind neoliberalism would allow us to identify—and to reject—ideology when it masquerades as economic science. Most importantly it would help us develop the institutional imagination we badly need to redesign capitalism for the twenty-first century.

For the full piece, go here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Links for 11-07-17

Paul Krugman: Trump, Gillespie and the Same Old Party

"And the cynic would be right":

Trump, Gillespie and the Same Old Party, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Since last year’s presidential election a number of establishment Republicans have very publicly wrung their hands over what has happened to their party. ...
But how different is Trump, really? ...
What, after all, does the modern ... Republican Party stand for? A cynic might say that it has basically served the interests of the economic elite while winning votes from the white working class with racial dog whistles. And the cynic would be right.
And if that’s what modern Republicanism is really about, how much has changed in the era of Trump? Consider two current news stories: the House Republican tax plan and the campaign that Ed Gillespie, a consummate Republican insider, has been running for governor of Virginia.
On the tax plan...
True, the plan contains a few initial tax breaks for middle-income families, but these erode or disappear over time. According to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, by the time the law would be fully phased in, there would be huge income gains for millionaires — even bigger if you take repeal of the estate tax into account — with minimal benefits for a great majority of the population. In fact, tens of millions of middle- and lower-income families would end up facing tax increases, which is pretty amazing for a bill that would add $1.5 trillion to the deficit. ...
In short, Trumpist tax policy is as elitist if not more elitist and anti-populist than the policies of previous Republican administrations. Same old, same old.
But what about Trump’s more or less naked white nationalism? Isn’t that a departure? Well, how different is it from Ronald Reagan’s talk about welfare queens driving Cadillacs, or the elder Bush’s Willie Horton ad? And in any case, we don’t have to argue about the past: Just look at how Ed Gillespie has campaigned in Virginia over the past few months. ... As The Washington Post put it, “His campaign’s thrust has not been just a dog whistle to the intolerant, racially resentful parts of the Republican base; it’s been a mating call.”
So has Gillespie faced strong criticism from establishment Republicans for waging such a gutter campaign? No...
Oh, and if you’re in Virginia, reading this, and haven’t yet voted, please do. This is a hugely consequential election, and it will be a shame — indeed, a tragedy — if its outcome is determined by people who couldn’t be bothered to get to the polls.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Fed Will Keep the Rate Hikes Coming

Tim Duy:

Fed Will Keep the Rate Hikes Coming, by Tim Duy: Lots of news from last week, most of which supported the Fed’s current anticipated rate path of one 25bp hike in December followed by three more in 2018. The only potential obstacle on that path is the persistent weakness of inflation. But the ongoing decline in the unemployment rate, along with the promise of further declines in the months ahead, will dominate lingering concerns at the Fed regarding the inflation numbers. ...Continued as newsletter...

Links for 11-06-17

Friday, November 03, 2017

Links for 11-03-17

Paul Krugman: Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and the Con Man Caucus

"The big question should be, why do any of this?":

Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and the Con Man Caucus, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: ...On Thursday, House Republicans unveiled a tax “reform” bill with the same good order and careful deliberation with which they unveiled their various attempts to repeal Obamacare. That is, after having had years to prepare, the G.O.P. waited until the last minute to throw something together, without any hearings or serious analysis.
Budget wonks are frantically going through the legislative language, trying to figure out what it means and what it would do — but they can take some comfort in the fact that the bill’s authors are almost equally in the dark.
O.K., some things are clear: The bill would give huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, especially wealthy heirs, while opening vast new opportunities for tax avoidance. You won’t go far wrong if you think of the big tax cuts in the law as having been custom designed to benefit the Trump family.
But these big tax cuts would blow a multitrillion-dollar hole in the budget, so Republicans have been scrambling to find “pay-fors” that limit the addition to the deficit. ...
Since the point of these measures is to offset tax cuts for the rich, they will, more or less by definition, end up raising taxes on large numbers of middle-class families. ...
The big question should be, why do any of this? Ryan used to claim that his plans were about reducing the budget deficit, but he has now given up that pretense.
And why should tax cuts even be on the table? We have budget deficits, not surpluses, and lots of unmet needs for future spending. U.S. taxes are low, not high, compared with other wealthy countries. Predictions that tax cuts will lead to rapid economic growth have been wrong time and again. And by large margins, voters want taxes on corporations and the wealthy to go up, not down.
The ruling theory among Republicans seems to be that going into the midterm elections they need a “win”... I guess this might be right, although it’s a theory that reveals extraordinary contempt for voters, who are supposed to be impressed by the G.O.P.’s ability to ram through policies that only benefit a tiny elite.
How ever the politics turn out, this is remarkably terrible policy, devised via a remarkably terrible process. Most Americans realize that Donald Trump is a very bad president; they need to realize that his party’s congressional leadership is pretty awful, too.

Economy Not Likely Easy For Next Fed Chair

Tim Duy:

Economy Not Likely Easy For Next Fed Chair, by Tim Duy: The U.S. appears set to enter a more risky phase of the business cycle as the Federal Reserve attempts to glide the economy into a so-called soft-landing. For President Donald Trump’s likely nominee as chair, Jerome Powell, this means tightening policy enough to settle the economy into full employment, but not so much that it trips into recession.
Navigating this transition will be challenging for investors and the Fed alike. Market participants should be wary of assuming that a slowing economy means a recession is near. At the same time, central bankers need to be wary that they don’t slow the economy too much and set the stage for the next recession. Altogether, this means the relative calm of the past year is likely to end soon. ...[Continued at Bloomberg]...

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Links for 11-02-17

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Federal Reserve Independence: The Never-Ending Story

I have a new article on the past, present, and future of Federal Reserve Independence (it was written during the summer):

Federal Reserve Independence: The Never-Ending Story, by Mark Thoma: In December 1965, President Lyndon Johnson met with Federal Reserve Chairman William McChesney Martin at the president’s surprisingly modest ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Johnson was upset with Martin for tightening credit despite Johnson’s expressed preference for more accommodative policy. At one point, the president began pushing the Fed chairman around the room, haranguing him with one of his patented hard sells, “Martin, my boys are dying in Vietnam, and you won’t print the money I need.”
Martin resisted Johnson at the time, but eventually moved policy in the direction the White House demanded. Looking back years later, Martin, who was dubbed the “happy Puritan” by one journalist, lamented, “To my everlasting shame, I finally gave in to him.”
The idea that monetary policy should be made independent of political influence is widely (though hardly completely) accepted today. As former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (2006-14) noted, “Careful empirical studies support the view that more-independent central banks tend to deliver better inflation outcomes than less-independent central banks, without compromising economic growth.” But as the LBJ anecdote suggests, the Fed did not always enjoy the degree of independence it has today. Before the era that began with Paul Volcker (1979-87), political influence on monetary policy was the rule rather than the exception.
The independence of today’s Fed is supported by its unusual institutional framework. But the primary bulwark against interference is psychological, driven less by laws and regulations and more by the convictions of key players that the economy is better off with a central bank that can exercise broad discretion in monetary policy. Hence a president inclined to dismiss Bernanke’s “careful empirical studies” who is abetted by a Congress unwilling to resist meddling could reverse the four-decade precedent. ...[continue]...

Links for 11-01-17

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Links for 10-31-17

Paul Krugman: Trump Won’t Bring Joy to Moolaville

"The party’s willingness to turn a blind eye to corruption with a hint of treason would be horrifying whatever the motivation":

Trump Won’t Bring Joy to Moolaville, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Over the weekend Donald Trump raged against the Russia “witch hunt,” which he claimed was an effort to distract from his push for “historic Tax Cuts & Reform.” And there actually is a relationship — but it goes in the other direction. If Trump survives this crisis — which may mean that American democracy doesn’t — tax cuts will have a lot to do with it.
For Republicans in Congress know perfectly well that Trump is utterly unfit for office and has been abusing his position for personal gain. Many of them surely suspected, long before Monday’s indictments, that members of his inner circle, and perhaps he himself, have colluded with a hostile foreign power.
If they nonetheless circle the wagons around Trump — in particular, if they allow him to fire Robert Mueller... — there will be one main reason: Trump offers their big opportunity to cut taxes for the very wealthy. Indeed..., almost 80 percent of the Trump tax cut would go to people with incomes over $1 million; these people would get an average cut of around $230,000 a year.
But here’s what gets me: The wealthy donors for whom the G.O.P. will apparently do anything, up to and including covering up for possible treason, will get no joy from their tax cuts.
I don’t mean that history will judge them harshly, although it will. I don’t even mean that plutocrats as well as plebeians will eventually suffer if America becomes a lawless, authoritarian regime. I mean that a few hundred thousand dollars extra will do little if anything to make the already wealthy more satisfied with their lives. ...
Again, arguably none of this matters very much. The G.O.P. policy agenda of rewarding the wealthy at the expense of the poor and working class would be vile even if tax cuts would make the rich ecstatic. The party’s willingness to turn a blind eye to corruption with a hint of treason would be horrifying whatever the motivation. Still, there seems to me to be an extra dimension of awfulness to the whole situation once you realize that all this betrayal serves no real purpose, not even a bad one.
And maybe, just maybe, members of the G.O.P. donor class will take this moment of national crisis to ask themselves what really matters. For what shall it profit a man, if he gain a $230,000 tax cut, and his formerly democratic nation lose its soul?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Links for 10-30-17

Fed Meeting the Nonevent of the Week

Tim Duy:

Fed Meeting the Nonevent of the Week: [Newsletter version here] Central bankers will meet this week, but only to sign off on the existing policy stance. Although it pains this fedwatcher to admit, the FOMC meeting is arguably the least important event of the week. It competes with a slew of critical data, including the employment report for October, to be released Friday. Plus, we should learn President Trump’s pick to lead the Fed when Yellen’s term expires next February. An FOMC meeting widely expected to yield no change in policy and likely little in the accompanying statement simply can’t compete with this week’s news flow. ...Continued here...

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Links for 10-29-17

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Links for 10-26-17

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Paul Krugman: The Doctrine of Trumpal Infallibility

"What happens to economists who never admit mistakes, and never change their views in the light of experience?":

The Doctrine of Trumpal Infallibility, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: ...we are living in the age of Trumpal infallibility: We are ruled by men who never admit error, never apologize and, crucially, never learn from their mistakes. Needless to say, men who think admitting error makes you look weak just keep making bigger mistakes; delusions of infallibility eventually lead to disaster, and one can only hope that the disasters ahead don’t bring catastrophe...
Which brings me to the subject of the Federal Reserve. ...
You see, when the 2008 financial crisis struck, the Federal Reserve ... cut interest rates to zero and “printed money” on a huge scale — not literally, but it bought trillions of dollars’ worth of bonds by creating new bank reserves.
Many conservatives were aghast. ... In 2010 a who’s who of conservative economists and pundits published an open letter warning that the Fed’s policies would cause inflation and “debase the dollar.”
But it never happened..., the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation has consistently fallen short of its target of 2 percent... Four years after that open letter..., Bloomberg tracked down many of the signatories to ask what they had learned..., not one ... was even willing to admit having been wrong.
So what happens to economists who never admit mistakes, and never change their views in the light of experience? The answer, apparently, is that they get put on the short list to be the new Fed chair.
Consider, for example, the case of Stanford’s John Taylor (one of the signatories of that open letter). ...
Since the financial crisis ... he has repeatedly demanded that the Fed raise interest rates in line with a policy rule he devised a quarter-century ago. Failing to follow that rule was supposed to cause inflation... — but seven years of being consistently wrong hasn’t inspired any rethinking on his part.
What it has inspired is a descent into increasingly strange reasons the Fed should raise rates despite low inflation. ... And never, ever, an admission that maybe something was wrong with his initial analysis.
Again, everyone makes forecast errors. ... But it’s much worse if you can never bring yourself to admit past errors and learn from them.
That kind of behavior makes it all too likely that you’ll keep making the same mistakes; but more than that, it shows something wrong with your character. And men with that character flaw should never be placed in positions of policy responsibility.

Links for 10-24-17

Monday, October 23, 2017

In Defense of the Conventional Wisdom

Tim Duy:

In Defense of the Conventional Wisdom: Let’s revisit this from San Francisco Federal Reserve Resident John Williams:
If you look until 2015 or so, the inflation data basically followed our models, emphasizing the role of weakness in the economy. Where this mystery has happened is really in the last year or two. I view both inflation picking up faster than expected in early 2017 and now the pullback as just part of the variability that’s going to happen. I don’t see any signs that somehow the inflation process is fundamentally changed.
I’ve been doing this a long time, and the Phillips curve has been declared dead far more times than Mark Twain.
This is representative of the conventional wisdom at the Fed, summed up succinctly as adherence to a basic expectations-augmented Phillips curve as a primary policy guide. As unemployment falls toward and below full employment, capacity constraints in the economy tighten and eventually create inflationary pressures. The central bank needs to offset these pressures via tighter policy to contain inflation and maintain inflation expectations, the center of gravity for actual inflation over time. ...Continued here...

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Links for 10-22-17

Friday, October 20, 2017

Paul Krugman: Trump, Trade and Tantrums

"Breaking up or degrading Nafta would have the same disruptive effects that came from Nafta’s creation":

Trump, Trade and Tantrums, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Everyone here wants to know what’s going to happen to Nafta — the North American Free Trade Agreement... Donald Trump has described Nafta as the “worst trade deal ever made.” But will he actually destroy it?
Until just a few days ago I was pretty sure that he wouldn’t. My guess was that he would negotiate some minor changes to the agreement, declare victory and move on. Markets seemed to agree...
But I’ve been revising that view in light of recent events — especially Trump’s health care temper tantrum. Breaking up Nafta would be terrible for Mexico and bad for the U.S. ... But it might be good for Trump’s fragile ego. And that’s a reason to fear the worst. ...
We now live in a North American economy built around the reality of free trade. In particular, U.S., Canadian and Mexican manufacturing are deeply enmeshed with one another. Many industrial plants were built precisely to take advantage of our economic integration, buying from or selling to other industrial plants across the borders.
As a result, breaking up or degrading Nafta would have the same disruptive effects that came from Nafta’s creation: Plants would close, jobs would disappear, communities would lose their livelihoods. And, yes, many businesses, small, large and in some cases huge, would lose many billions of dollars.
Oh, and it’s not just manufacturing. What do you think would happen to the farmers of Iowa if they lost one of the most important markets for their corn? ...
Most important, look at what Trump has been doing with his open, indeed gleeful sabotage of the U.S. health care system. Never mind the huge human costs he’s imposing; he isn’t even following any plausible political strategy, since he and his party are likely, with good reason, to be blamed for the damage. Furthermore, his actions will cost big businesses — insurers and health providers — billions; he’s even boasting about how much he has hurt their stock prices.
So we’ve now seen Trump deliberately hurt millions of people and inflict billions of losses on a major industry out of sheer spite. If he’s willing to do that on health care, why assume he won’t do the same thing on international trade policy?
Nafta, then, is at real risk. And if it does get destroyed, the only question is whether the consequences will be ugly, or extremely ugly.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Incoming Data Supportive of December Rate Hike

Tim Duy:

Incoming Data Supportive of December Rate Hike: If we ignore inflation, then nothing is really standing in the way of a rate hike in December. Of course, given that arguably the primary job of a central bank is to meet its definition of price stability, the Fed shouldn’t really ignore inflation. Policymakers, however, would counter that they are not ignoring inflation. They are simply favoring the inflation forecast over actual inflation. And they would further argue they have good cause – with the economy chugging along, it is only a matter of time before resource constraints become evident and price pressures rise. That’s their story, and they are sticking to it. ...Continued here...

Links for 10-19-17

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Monetary Policy in a New Era (Video) - Ben Bernanke

Links for 10-18-17

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy Conference (Video): Blanchard and Summers

Monday, October 16, 2017

Paul Krugman: The G.O.P. Is No Party for Honest Men

"A strategy based entirely on lies":

The G.O.P. Is No Party for Honest Men, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: According to a new CBS News poll, almost 60 percent of the American public believes that the current Republican tax plan favors the wealthy. Some people see this number as a sign that the plan is in trouble; I see it as a sign that Republican lies are working far better than they deserve to.
For the plan does indeed favor the wealthy — overwhelmingly.... It’s shocking that as many as 40 percent of Americans don’t realize this. ...
So the question about this plan isn’t whether it favors the wealthy — it does, to an outrageous extent. The questions we should be asking instead are why Republicans are pushing this so hard, and how they can hope to get away with it. ...
So what’s behind this priority? Follow the money. Big donors are furious at missing out on the $700 billion in tax cuts that were supposed to come out of Obamacare repeal. If they don’t get big bucks out of tax “reform,” they might close their pocketbooks for the 2018 midterm elections.
Beyond that, modern conservatism is a sort of ecosystem of media outlets, think tanks, lobbying outfits and more that offers many lucrative niches — so-called wingnut welfare — for the ideologically reliable. And that means being reliable to the interests of the wealthy.
But how can an administration that pretends to be populist, to stand up for ordinary (white) working people, sell such elitist policies?
The answer is a strategy based entirely on lies. ...
Nor do I mean that there are just one or two big lies. There are many — so many I literally don’t have space to ... list them... In a long blog post ... I came up with 10 major Republican lies about tax cuts, and I’m sure I missed a few.
So, politically, can they really get away with this? A lot depends on how the news media handles it. ...
One thing we know for sure, however, is that a great majority of Republican politicians know perfectly well that their party is lying about its tax plan — and every even halfway competent economist aligned with the party definitely understands what’s going on.
What this means is that everyone who goes along with this plan, or even remains silent in the face of the campaign of mass dissimulation, is complicit — is in effect an accomplice to the most dishonest political selling job in American history.

Is The Fed Setting Itself Up To Fail In The Next Recession?

Tim Duy:

 

Is The Fed Setting Itself Up To Fail In The Next Recession?: The Federal Reserve remains committed to a December rate hike, persistent low inflation not withstanding. With unemployment below Fed estimates of its longer-run natural rate, most FOMC participants do not need evidence of stronger inflation to justify further rate hikes. Ongoing solid job growth will be sufficient cause for tighter policy, especially in what they perceive to be an environment of loosening financial conditions. The main risk from this scenario is that the US economy enters the next recession with diminished inflation expectations, which could further hobble central bankers already facing the prospect of returning to the effective lower bound in the next cycle. ...Continued here as a newsletter...

 

Links for 10-16-17

Friday, October 13, 2017

Paul Krugman: Let Them Eat Paper Towels

"The betrayal and abandonment of three and a half million of our own people":

Let Them Eat Paper Towels, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: The situation in Iowa remains horrifying. More than a third of the population has been without clean water for three weeks, and waterborne diseases appear to be spreading. Only a sixth of the population has electricity..., health care system is a shambles, and sheer hunger may be a problem in some remote areas.
Fortunately, the federal government is going all out to aid its citizens in distress..., while praising the often heroic efforts of Iowa residents to help themselves. And generous aid, he promises, will continue as long as it’s needed.
O.K., I lied. The dire situation I just described is in Puerto Rico, not Iowa (which happens to have just about the same number of U.S. citizens). And my upbeat portrayal of the federal response ... is the opposite of the truth. What we’re actually witnessing, in effect, is the betrayal and abandonment of three and a half million of our own people. ...
From the beginning, Donald Trump — who literally seems to think that he deserves praise for throwing a few rolls of paper towels into a crowd — has suggested that Puerto Rico is responsible for its own disaster, and he has systematically denigrated the efforts of its people to take care of one another. ...
Meanwhile, it took almost three weeks ... before Trump asked Congress to provide financial aid — and his request was for loans, not grants, which is mind-boggling when you bear in mind that the territory is effectively bankrupt.
And then came Thursday morning... Trump ... appeared to threaten to cut off aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the military. ...
The simple fact is that millions of our fellow citizens are facing catastrophe. How can we be abandoning them...?
Much of the answer, no doubt, is ... race. Puerto Ricans would doubtless be getting better treatment if they were all of, say, Norwegian descent.
But let’s be fair: Trump is also working ... to destroy health care for millions of other Americans, many of them working-class non-Hispanic whites — the very people who voted for him... I wouldn’t go so far as to call him an equal-opportunity monster — he clearly has a special animus toward minorities — but his self-centeredness and complete lack of empathy extend quite widely.
Whatever the precise mix of motives, what’s happening in Puerto Rico is utterly shameful. And everyone who enables the regime perpetuating this shame shares part of the guilt.

Links for 10-13-17

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy

There is a conference on Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy "coordinated by Olivier Blanchard ...and Lawrence H. Summers..." taking place today and tomorrow (wanted to go, but couldn't).

"Academic experts and policymakers will address the challenges to macroeconomic thinking and policymaking that today’s economic environment presents–low inflation despite low unemployment, the apparent interactions of rising inequality and stagnating productivity, and the unresponsiveness of long-term interest rates to rising public debt, among others." [Conference program, papers, presentations, and conference webcast.]

Here are links to the first two papers presented at the conference. First, Olivier Blanchard and Lawrence Summers:

Rethinking Stabilization Policy. Back to the Future (Preliminary): Nearly ten years after the onset of the Great Financial Crisis, both researchers and policy makers are still assessing the policy implications of the crisis and its aftermath. Previous major crises, from the Great Depression to the stagflation of the 1970s, profoundly changed both macroeconomics and macroeconomic policy. The question is whether this crisis should and will have similar effects.
We believe it should, although we are less sure it will. Rather obviously, the crisis has forced macroeconomists to (re)discover the role and the complexity of the financial sector, and the danger of financial crises. But the lessons should go largely beyond this, and force us to question a number of cherished beliefs. Among other things, the events of the last ten years have put into question the presumption that economies are self stabilizing, have raised again the issue of whether temporary shocks can have permanent effects, and have shown the importance of non linearities.
These call for a major reappraisal of macroeconomic thinking and macroeconomic policy. As the paper is a curtain raiser for a conference that will look in more detail at the implications for specific policies, we make no attempt at being encyclopedic and feel free to pick and choose the issues which we see as most salient. ...

Ben Bernanke posted a summary of his paper on his blog at Brookings:

Temporary price-level targeting: An alternative framework for monetary policy: Low nominal interest rates, low inflation, and slow economic growth pose challenges to central bankers. In particular, with estimates of the long-run equilibrium level of the real interest rate quite low, the next recession may occur at a time when the Fed has little room to cut short-term rates. As I have written previously and recent research has explored, problems associated with the zero-lower bound (ZLB) on interest rates could be severe and enduring. While the Fed has other useful policies in its toolkit such as quantitative easing and forward guidance, I am not confident that the current monetary toolbox would prove sufficient to address a sharp downturn. I am therefore sympathetic to the view of San Francisco Fed President John Williams and others that we should be thinking now about adjusting the framework in which monetary policy is conducted, to provide more policy “space” in the future. In a paper presented at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, I propose an option for an alternative monetary framework that I call a temporary price-level target—temporary, because it would apply only at times when short-term interest rates are at or very near zero.
To explain my proposal, I’ll begin by briefly discussing two other ideas for changing the monetary framework:  raising the Fed’s inflation target above the current 2 percent level, and instituting a price-level target that would operate at all times.  (See my paper for more details.) ...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Links for 10-11-17

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fed Watch: Kevin Warsh, Very Serious Person

Tim Duy:

Kevin Warsh, Very Serious Person, by Tim Duy: Scott Sumner is perplexed by Fed chair candidate Kevin Warsh. He reads the 2010 FOMC transcripts and finds Warsh explaining:
First, my views on policy. As I said when we met by videoconference, my views are increasingly out of step with the views of most people around this table. The path that you’re leading us to, Mr. Chairman, is not my preferred path forward. I think we are removing much of the burden from those that could actually help reach these objectives, particular the growth and employment objectives, and we are putting that onus strangely on ourselves rather than letting it rest where it should lie. We are too accepting of dangerous policies from others that have been long in the making, and we should put the burden on them.
I can think, Mr. Chairman, of a tough weekend that the Europeans had, particularly your counterpart at the ECB, in the spring or summer, when we all knew that the European Central Bank, rightly or wrongly, was going to take action. But Jean-Claude Trichet did not take action until very late that Sunday night, until the fiscal authorities did their part. He thought that if on Friday night he were to say all of the things he’d be willing to do, he’d be taking the burden off the fiscal authorities. He chose to wait. I think we would be far better off waiting. If we proceed on this path, as I suspect we will, I would still encourage you to put the burden where it rightly belongs, which is on other policymakers here in Washington, and to do so in a way that is respectful of different lines of responsibility.
Sumner is understandably scratching his head, trying to figure out what Warsh is getting at:
His reasoning process is poor and he lacks good communication skills.  He has very poor judgment when interpreting data.  I really don’t know what he’s trying to say here, but the reference to Trichet is interesting.  Trichet was trying to encourage fiscal authorities to adopt more contractionary fiscal policies, not expansionary policies.  Trichet did not want to “bail out” expansionary policies with ultra-low interest rates, and Warsh seems to be endorsing Trichet’s approach.  And given Warsh’s reputation as a conservative, and the massive deficits being run by Obama back in 2010, I find it odd that Warsh would be advocating fiscal stimulus, as Brannon suggests.  But again, the passage is so garbled that I could easily be wrong.
I don’t think Warsh was advocating for more fiscal stimulus at this meeting. Warsh is a Very Serious Person, and all Very Serious People know that deficits are bad. I believe that Warsh was at this juncture advocating a Trichet-style approach to the crisis, using the independence of the central bank to force the fiscal authorities to rein in those bad deficits, because of course everything wrong in the economy can be tied back to deficit spending. All Very Serious People know this. Of course, Trichet’s approach proved to be disastrous, which is why Sumner is rightfully puzzled when hearing a Fed governor suggest the same.
Sadly, Warsh was not the only Fed official who advocated such an approach. Warsh is apparently cut from the same cloth as the person I believe was the worst regional bank president in recent memory. Recall when the FOMC statement contained this sort of reference:
Household spending and business fixed investment advanced, and the housing sector has strengthened further, but fiscal policy is restraining economic growth.
Of course, if you bothered to know what the FOMC was saying, you knew the complaint was that they believed monetary policy had reached its limits to stimulate the economy, and that faster growth required a more stimulative monetary policy.
Then Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher either didn’t understand what the FOMC said, or deliberately misinterpreted the FOMC. In a 2013 speech, Fisher says:
Even if we at the Dallas Fed are right and the overall outlook for the economy is better than the current dashboard or the conventional prognostications of economists, there exists a formidable brake on growth. It was referred to point-blank in the last statement issued by the FOMC: “…fiscal policy is restraining economic growth.”
Fiscal policy is inhibiting the transmission of monetary policy into robust job creation…
…The propensity of members of Congress has been to spend in excess of revenues to give pleasure to their constituents and garner their affection…Until the Congress and the president provide a clear road map as to how fiscal rectitude will be implemented, this lack of credible details for limiting the debt-to-GDP ratio and reengineering fiscal policy to stimulate rather than constrain growth is creating undue uncertainty about future tax rates, future government purchases, future retiree benefits and all manner of factors that impact employment and economic growth. Meanwhile, the divisive nature and petty posturing of those who must determine the fiscal path of the nation is further undermining confidence and limiting the effectiveness of monetary policy…
…I argue that the Fed has no hope of moving the economy to full employment unless our fiscal authorities get their act together…Until then, I argue that the Fed is, at best, pushing on a string and, at worst, building up kindling for a massive shipboard fire of eventual inflation.
These aren’t the kind of people you want in charge of monetary policy. We need policymakers that understand their role is not to withhold monetary stimulus to force fiscal authorities to pursue countercyclical policy simply because Very Serious People know that deficit spending is always bad and cutting deficits is the solution to every problem. Monetary policy is about independently assessing the economy and enacting the policy necessary to maintain full employment and price stability. And oftentimes that means taking fiscal policy as an exogenous factor.
What is particularly discouraging is that neither Warsh nor Fisher appears to understand that during a recession, at a minimum automatic stabilizers themselves will swell the deficit. Taking aim at the deficit in such times is naive at best, deliberately spiteful at worst.
My concern remains that a Fed with someone like Kevin Warsh at the helm would prove to be disastrous for Wall Street and Main Street alike when the next recession hits. Neither group needs a central banker that believes a recession is an opportunity to inflict more pain.

Links for 10-10-17

Paul Krugman: Virginia Is for Haters

"Virginia is now the most important place on the U.S. political landscape":

Virginia Is for Haters, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: ...If you want to understand why policies toward the poor are so different at the state level..., one predictor stands out: the African-American share of the population. The more blacks, the less compassion white voters feel.
The story gets even clearer if you look at the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which allows states to expand Medicaid coverage at federal expense...
Which brings me to Virginia, which is holding crucial state elections in just four weeks. ... The state is becoming more ethnically diverse..., it supported the Democratic presidential candidate in the last three elections.
But is Virginia’s apparent moral progress an illusion? And if it is, what does that say about America as a whole?
Virginia was, of course, the site of the infamous Charlottesville march by torch-carrying white supremacists — “very fine people,” according to Donald Trump — that ended with the death of a counterprotester. More important, perhaps, is ... that despite its growing political moderation and its Democratic governor, Virginia is among the states still refusing to expand Medicaid, even though that refusal means gratuitous financial hardship for many and a significant number of people dying from lack of medical care.
How is this possible? Democratic-leaning voters are much less likely than Republican-leaning voters to cast ballots in state and local elections; as a result, a politically moderate state has a hard-right legislature. And there’s a real possibility that it may soon have a Republican governor, too.
...Ed Gillespie, the G.O.P. candidate, is trying to pull off an upset by going full-on Trumpist, doing all he can — with assistance from the tweeter in chief — to mobilize the white nationalist vote. ...
Whatever happens..., the consequences will be huge. If Gillespie pulls this off, all the worst impulses of the Trumpist G.O.P. will be empowered; you might think that things can’t get even worse, but yes, they can.
If ... Northam wins and Democrats make big inroads in the state legislature, it won’t just probably mean that hundreds of thousands of Virginians will get health insurance, and it won’t just be an omen for the 2018 midterms. It will also encourage at least some sane Republicans to break with a man they privately fear and despise (see Corker, Bob). ...
Folks, right now ... Virginia is now the most important place on the U.S. political landscape — and what happens there could decide the fate of the nation.

Suppression of the Wealth Tax: An Historical Error

Thomas Piketty:

Suppression of the wealth tax: an historical error, by Thomas Piketty: Let it be said at once: the suppression of the wealth tax (Impôt sur la Fortune or ISF) constitutes a serious moral, economic and historical mistake. This decision reveals a profound misunderstanding of the challenges to inequality posed by globalization.
Let’s go back for a moment. During the first globalization period between 1870 and 1914, a strong international movement gradually took shape which sought to promote a new type of redistribution and taxation. Based on a progressive taxation system on income, wealth and inheritance, this new model was aimed at a better distribution of productivity gains and the structural reduction of the concentration of property and economic power. It was successfully implemented in the period 1920 to 1970, partly as a result of the pressure of dramatic historical events, but equally thanks to a lengthy intellectual and political process.
We may perhaps today be witnessing the premises of a similar movement. Confronted with the rise in inequality, awareness is gaining momentum. ...

Monday, October 09, 2017

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Friday, October 06, 2017

Paul Krugman: Will Trump Trumpify the Fed?

"The Fed, which sets monetary policy, is by far our most important economic agency":

Will Trump Trumpify the Fed?, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: By all accounts, Rex Tillerson has demoralized and degraded the State Department to the point of uselessness. Tom Price did much the same to Health and Human Services before jetting off. Scott Pruitt has moved rapidly to eliminate the “protection” aspect of the Environmental Protection Agency. And similar stories are unfolding throughout the executive branch. ...
And one question I don’t see being asked often enough is, will the same thing happen to the Federal Reserve? And if it does, how disastrous will that end up being for the world economy?
The Fed, which sets monetary policy, is by far our most important economic agency...
When the financial crisis struck in 2008, it was essential that the Fed engage in aggressive monetary expansion...
But congressional leaders fought these necessary measures every step of the way. Most notably, Paul Ryan, who gets his ideas about monetary policy from Ayn Rand novels, berated Bernanke, claiming that his policies would debase the dollar and lead to runaway inflation. ...
And it goes more or less without saying that none of the people who kept warning that the Fed would cause terrible inflation have admitted having been wrong, or learned anything from the experience.
What all this means is that if congressional Republicans play a large role in selecting the next Fed chair, they’ll insist that it be someone who has been wrong about everything for the past decade.
Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor widely considered a favorite for the job, certainly fits the bill. He warned about inflation in the midst of global economic collapse; he argued vigorously against doing anything, monetary or other, to fight 10 percent unemployment; he warned that the United States was about to turn into Greece, Greece I tell you. And he has shown no hint of being chastened by the failure of events to play out the way he expected.
Now, I don’t know who Trump will actually pick to head the Federal Reserve. It might actually end up being someone smart, knowledgeable and honest. Hey, there’s a first time for everything.
But surely it’s possible, even probable, that the Federal Reserve, like other government agencies, is about to get Trumpified, that one of American policy’s last remaining havens of competence and expertise will soon share in the general degradation. And won’t that be fun when the next crisis hits?

Links for 10-06-17

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Hurricanes Help Boost Data While Powell Reportedly Rises to The Top of The Pack

Tim Duy:

Hurricanes Help Boost Data While Powell Reportedly Rises to The Top of The Pack, by Tim Duy: The ISM manufacturing report for September came in stronger than expected. To be sure, hurricane impacts accounted for some of the boost, particularly in supplier deliveries and prices; anecdotal responses made this clear. But it isn’t all hurricanes. Manufacturing has been gaining steam since last year. The sector continues to throw off the 2015/2016 weakness associated with the oil price decline and rise in the dollar. I often feel this improvement has been overlooked. ...Continued here...

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Links for 10-03-17

Paul Krugman: Republicans, Trapped by Their Flimflam

"In broad outlines, the tax story is a lot like health care":

Republicans, Trapped by Their Flimflam, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Last week the Trump administration and its congressional allies working on tax reform achieved something remarkable. They released a tax plan — or, actually, a vague sketch of a plan — that manages both to add trillions to the deficit and to raise taxes on a large fraction of the population. That takes talent.
...On taxes, as with health, leading Republicans have been lying for years. And now the fraud has caught up with the fraudsters.
The road to this tax-cut turkey began in 2010, when Paul Ryan ... unveiled the first of a series of much-hyped budget plans, all purporting to offer a blueprint for eliminating the U.S. budget deficit.
In fact, they did no such thing. They proposed major tax cuts — primarily benefiting the rich, of course — then simply asserted that no revenue would be lost ...
And what was the Ryan plan if you took out those mysterious revenue raisers and spending cuts? A plan to drastically cut taxes on the rich, savagely cut benefits for the poor and the middle class, and increase the overall deficit.
In other words, it was all a con. ...
And the con went on for years. ...
But then Republicans regained the White House, meaning that they had to come up with actual tax legislation. And this has put the con under terrible strain. ...
So they came up with what probably seemed like a clever idea: eliminate the deductibility of state and local taxes. Hey, that would mainly punish people in tax-and-spend blue states, right? Not their problem.
But this turns out to be a much bigger deal than they seemed to realize. ... According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, their plan would give huge tax cuts to the top 1 percent, who would receive 79.7 percent of the benefits. But eliminating deductions would make many Americans, especially in the upper reaches of the middle class, directly worse off: ...
And this would happen even though the plan would add several trillion dollars to the deficit. Did I mention that many of those facing tax hikes vote Republican? ...
In broad outlines, the tax story is a lot like health care. In both cases, Republicans have spent years getting away with big promises backed by lies. Now, with real policy to be made, the lies won’t work anymore. And they can’t handle the truth.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Links for 10-02-17