In search of search theory: This is going to be a long and wonkish post, so I’ll just give the dot-point summary here, and let those interested read on below the fold, for the explanations and qualifications.
* The dominant model of unemployment, in academic macroeconomics at least, is based on the idea that unemployment can best be modelled in terms of workers searching for jobs, and remaining unemployed until they find a good match with an employer
* The efficiency of job search and matching has been massively increased by the Internet, so, if unemployment is mainly explained by search, it should have fallen steadily over the past 20 years.
* Obviously, this hasn’t happened, but economists seem to have ignored this fact or at least not worried too much about it
* The fact that search models are more popular than ever is yet more evidence that academic macroeconomics is in a bad way ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 10:53 AM in Economics, Unemployment |
Robin Harding reports:
Fed explores overhaul of key rate: The US Federal Reserve is exploring an overhaul of the Federal funds rate – a benchmark that underlies almost every financial transaction in the world – as it prepares for an eventual rise in interest rates. ...
According to people familiar with the discussions, the Fed is could redefine its main target rate so that it takes into account a wider range of loans between banks, making it more stable and reliable. ...
In particular, the Fed is looking at redefining the Fed funds rate to include eurodollar transactions – dollar loans between banks outside the US markets – as well as traditional onshore loans between US banks. Other closely related rates that it could include are those on transactions for bank commercial paper and wholesale certificates of deposit between banks.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 10:52 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy |
QEInfinity Not, by Tim Duy: The Federal Reserve released the minutes of the June FOMC meeting today, but the contents had little in the way of groundbreaking news. Most interesting was that Fed officials tired of being pestered about the "October or December" question regarding the end of the QE and decided to more or less commit to the earlier date:
Some committee members had been asked by members of the public whether, if tapering in the pace of purchases continues as expected, the final reduction would come in a single $15 billion per month reduction or in a $10 billion reduction followed by a $5 billion reduction. Most participants viewed this as a technical issue with no substantive macroeconomic consequences and no consequences for the eventual decision about the timing of the first increase in the federal funds rate--a decision that will depend on the Committee's evolving assessments of actual and expected progress toward its objectives.
In other words, who cares about that last $5 billion? The Fed's answer was to take away the mystery:
In light of these considerations, participants generally agreed that if incoming information continued to support its expectation of improvement in labor market conditions and a return of inflation toward its longer-run objective, it would be appropriate to complete asset purchases with a $15 billion reduction in the pace of purchases in order to avoid having the small, remaining level of purchases receive undue focus among investors.
with, of course, the usual "data dependent" caveat. Thus the predictions of QE Infinity come to an end. In other news, the Fed fretted over market complacency:
However, participants also discussed whether some recent trends in financial markets might suggest that investors were not appropriately taking account of risks in their investment decisions. In particular, low implied volatility in equity, currency, and fixed-income markets as well as signs of increased risk-taking were viewed by some participants as an indication that market participants were not factoring in sufficient uncertainty about the path of the economy and monetary policy.
I find this somewhat irritating. What is "sufficient" uncertainty? I find it especially irritating given that, as Josh Zumbrun at the Wall Street Journal reports, Fed officials themselves appear to have less uncertainty regarding the outlook:
If the Fed has a well-communicated reaction function, and there is little uncertainty about the outlook, why should there be uncertainty about the path of monetary policy? The Fed's unease about complacency seems misplaced. The goal of the communications strategy should be to limit uncertainty regarding the path of monetary policy by clearing defining the objective function. The only residual uncertainty will be economic uncertainty. And even that arguably is reduced by establishing a well-communicated reaction function.
In any event, the Fed concluded that even if complacency is a problem, there is not much they can do about it:
They agreed that the Committee should continue to carefully monitor financial conditions and to emphasize in its communications the dependence of its policy decisions on the evolution of the economic outlook; it was also pointed out that, where appropriate, supervisory measures should be applied to address excessive risk-taking and associated financial imbalances. At the same time, it was noted that monetary policy needed to continue to promote the favorable financial conditions required to support the economic expansion.
Very similar to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's recent comments:
Taking all of these factors into consideration, I do not presently see a need for monetary policy to deviate from a primary focus on attaining price stability and maximum employment, in order to address financial stability concerns. That said, I do see pockets of increased risk-taking across the financial system, and an acceleration or broadening of these concerns could necessitate a more robust macroprudential approach.
If the Fed wants to increase uncertainty and, presumably, reduce potential financial instability, they could do so by changing the reaction function in a hawkish direction. The Fed, however, is not yet sufficiently concerned about complacency to attempt to gain more financial stability at the cost of economic growth.
Inflation remains well below target:
But the Fed believes we have seen the lows:
Readings on a range of price measures--including the PCE price index, the CPI, and a number of the analytical measures developed at the Reserve Banks--appeared to provide evidence that inflation had moved up recently from low levels earlier in the year, consistent with the Committee's forecast of a gradual increase in inflation over the medium term. Reports from business contacts were mixed, spanning an absence of price pressures in some Districts and rising input costs in others. Some participants expressed concern about the persistence of below-trend inflation, and a couple of them suggested that the Committee may need to allow the unemployment rate to move below its longer-run normal level for a time in order keep inflation expectations anchored and return inflation to its 2 percent target, though one participant emphasized the risks of doing so. In contrast, some others expected a faster pickup in inflation or saw upside risks to inflation and inflation expectations because they anticipated a more rapid decline in economic slack.
Seems like broad agreement that inflation rates bottomed out, but less agreement on where they head from here. Toward target, to be sure, but at what speed? That question, like all the forecasts, feeds into future policy decisions:
Some participants suggested that the Committee's communications about its forward guidance should emphasize more strongly that its policy decisions would depend on its ongoing assessment across a range of indicators of economic activity, labor market conditions, inflation and inflation expectations, and financial market developments. In that regard, circumstances that might entail either a slower or a more rapid removal of policy accommodation were cited. For example, a number of participants noted their concern that a more gradual approach might be appropriate if forecasts of above-trend economic growth later this year were not realized. And a couple suggested that the Committee might need to strengthen its commitment to maintain sufficient policy accommodation to return inflation to its target over the medium term in order to prevent an undesirable decline in inflation expectations. Alternatively, some other participants expressed concern that economic growth over the medium run might be faster than currently expected or that the rate of growth of potential output might be lower than currently expected, calling for a more rapid move to begin raising the federal funds rate in order to avoid significantly overshooting the Committee's unemployment and inflation objectives.
Is there any new information here? I think not. The current expected path of rates is data dependent, and as that data changes, so too will the expected rate path. The pattern of rate forecasts in the Summary of Economic Projections largely reflects differing forecasts rather than differing reaction functions. As the data evolves, the pattern of rate forecasts will converge as one of the paths becomes more obvious.
My own view is:
- The existing mix of data and forecasts suggest the first rate hike in the second quarter of 2015 with a gradual increase in rates thereafter. This is my baseline.
- If unemployment continues to drop at the same rate as recent months, bring forward the rate hike to the first quarter but continue to assume a gradual increase.
- If core-PCE inflation exceeds 2.25% and wage growth is accelerating , expect first quarter liftoff and a steeper path of rate hikes.
Obviously, the data could suggest a delay in the first rate hike, but I do not believe the risks are weighted in that direction. I think the risks are weighted toward tighter than expected policy.
Bottom Line: Fairly straightforward minutes. Policy is data dependent. The Fed, like all of us, are simply waiting to see how that data evolves.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
I am on the road and have a long travel day ahead of me, the second in a row, so probably not much more blogging until much later, if at all (I'm headed to UT Austin to teach a four week class beginning next Monday).
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 09:48 AM in Economics, Travel |
Brad DeLong quotes Adam Smith:
Adam Smith as Malthusian: “The Surplus Population”, by Brad DeLong: ...Adam Smith: Smith: Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter 8: “Is this improvement in the circumstances of the lower ranks of the people…
…to be regarded as an advantage or as an inconveniency to the society? The answer seems ... abundantly plain. Servants, abourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.
Poverty… seems even to be avourable to generation. A half-starved Highland woman frequently bears more than twenty children…. Luxury in the fair sex, while it enflames perhaps the passion for enjoyment, seems always to weaken and frequently to destroy altogether, the powers of generation. But poverty… is extremely unfavourable to the rearing of children…. It is not uncommon… in the Highlands… for a mother who has borne twenty children not to have two alive…. In civilized society it is only among the inferior ranks of people that the scantiness of subsistence can set limits to the further multiplication of the human species… by destroying a great part of the children which their fruitful marriages produce. The liberal reward of labour, by enabling them to provide better for their children, and consequently to bring up a greater number, naturally tends to widen and extend those limits…. The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the effect of increasing wealth, so it is the cause of increasing population. To complain of it, is to lament over the necessary effect and cause of the greatest public prosperity.
ItIt deserves to be remarked, perhaps, that it is in the progressive state, while the society is advancing to the further acquisition, rather than when it has acquired its full complement of riches, that the condition of the labouring poor, of the great body of the people, seems to be the happiest and the most comfortable. It is hard in the stationary, and miserable in the declining state. The progressive state is in reality the cheerful and the hearty state to all the different orders of the society. The stationary is dull; the declining melancholy…
And then Brad remarks:
Two things are worth noting here:
The first is that even as early as 1776 economics had already acquired the utilitarian bias toward an equal distribution of income: feeding, clothing, and lodging the working class “tolerably well” contributed much more to the flourishing and happiness of society then would devoting the same resources to further increasing the luxury of the rich. We are in the world of Jeremy Bentham, where any claim that we cannot make interpersonal comparisons of utility between rich and poor is dismissed with a laugh.
The second is that Adam Smith is, in the longest run and in the last analysis, a Malthusian: economies are headed for a stationary–or, worse, a declining–state, and that stationary state is not a good one: “the condition of the… great body of the people… is hard in the stationary, and miserable in the declining state…” But there is no sense that we should not grab for the boom as long as we can, and as long as we are in the boom period, Adam Smith says, we should not complain about population growth
The liberal reward of labour… is the effect of increasing wealth… [and] the cause of increasing population. To complain… is to lament over the necessary effect and cause of the greatest public prosperity…
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 09:22 AM in Economics, History of Thought, Income Distribution |
Via the Liberty Street Economics blog at the NY Fed, should we worry as much about the bilateral repo market as we do about the tri-party market (which played a key role in the financial crisis and remains vulnerable to another "run on the shadow banking system")?:
Lifting the Veil on the U.S. Bilateral Repo Market, by Adam Copeland, Isaac Davis, Eric LeSueur, and Antoine Martin, Liberty Street Economics: The repurchase agreement (repo), a contract that closely resembles a collateralized loan, is widely used by financial institutions to lend to each other. The repo market is divided into trades that settle on the books of the two large clearing banks (that is, tri-party repo) and trades that do not (that is, bilateral repo). While there are public data about the tri-party repo segment, there is little to no information on the bilateral repo segment. In this post, we update a methodology we developed earlier to estimate the size and composition of collateral posted for bilateral repos, and find that U.S. Treasury securities are the dominant form of collateral for bilateral repos. This new finding implies that the collateral posted for bilateral repos is of higher quality than the collateral posted for tri-party repos. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 09:21 AM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation |
When The Fed Starts Raising Rates, by Tim Duy: Via Twitter, modest proposal summarizes my last post:
Shorter @TimDuy, short the front end not the 10 year because the Fed will tighten before inflation is a problem http://t.co/1a0xRNueEO
— modest proposal (@modestproposal1) July 7, 2014
This made me think about the last tightening cycle. For those that hope to use tighter monetary policy to bolster the case against equities, recall that patience may be required:
For those making the bear case against long bonds, recall that initially long rates fell, and over the entire cycle rose just (roughly) 50bp:
The short end of the curve suffered, and the yield curve inverted:
How does this compare to now? If we consider last December's taper the beginning of this tightening cycle (the Fed does not; they prefer to think of it at reducing financial accommodation), stocks continue to power higher:
The 10 year bond initially fell on the taper talk and the yield curve steepened through the 10 year. But that steepening ended when the taper began:
More interesting is the flattening of the very long end after the taper began:
It looks like rates are signalling that the Fed will act to contain activity such that the economy does not overheat. Which, assuming the Fed maintains its current reaction function, tends to support modest porposal's interpretation - favor the long end of the curve over the short end.
I think the flattening of the yield curve should be a concern to the Fed. It suggests that while we frequently hear Janet Yellen described as a dove, the expectation is that her actual policy approach will be cautious bordering on hawkish. Not good if you think like Andy Harless:
I will consider Yellen's tenure a failure if the economy does not overheat.
— Andy Harless (@AndyHarless) July 5, 2014
I am sympathetic to this view. I would be a little more optimistic that the Fed would have more room to maneuver in the next recession if the long-end of the yield curve was signalling that the Fed was a little behind instead of a little ahead. And for more on why that is important, see Brad DeLong and his 17 tweet bear case for inflation.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
The Unemployment Cost of Below-Target Inflation: Recently, inflation in the United States has been consistently below its 2% target. The situation in Sweden is similar, but has lasted much longer. The Swedish Riksbank announced a 2% CPI inflation target in 1993, to apply beginning in 1995. By 1997, the target was credible in the sense that inflation expectations were consistently in line with the target. From 1997 to 2011, however, CPI inflation only averaged 1.4%. In a forthcoming paper in the AEJ: Macroeconomics, Lars Svensson uses the Swedish case to estimate the possible unemployment cost of inflation below a credible target...
The unemployment rate would be about 0.8% lower if inflation averaged 2% (and presumable lower still if inflation averaged slightly above 2%). ...
Svensson concludes with policy implications:
"I believe the main policy conclusion to be that if one wants to avoid the average unemployment cost, it is important to keep average inflation over a longer period in line with the target, a kind of average inflation targeting (Nessén and Vestin 2005). This could also be seen as an additional argument in favor of price-level targeting...On the other hand, in Australia, Canada, and the U.K., and more recently in the euro area and the U.S., the central banks have managed to keep average inflation on or close to the target (the implicit target when it is not explicit) without an explicit price-level targeting framework.
Should the central bank try to exploit the downward-sloping long-run Phillips curve and secretly, by being more expansionary, try to keep average inflation somewhat above the target, so as to induce lower average unemployment than for average inflation on target?...This would be inconsistent with an open and transparent monetary policy."
[See the full post for more details.]
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 01:46 PM in Economics, Inflation, Monetary Policy, Unemployment |
Is Wage Growth the Problem or the Solution?, by Josh Bivens, WSJ Think Tank: Lots of talk has percolated recently about whether a sudden burst of rapid wage growth would force the Fed’s hand in pulling back monetary stimulus... Some who, like me, do not see any evidence of an imminent wage take-off have argued that the Fed should wait for some evidence of wage inflation before hitting the brakes.
These arguments essentially treat a pickup of wage growth as a problem to be guarded against. But the most conspicuous failure in the U.S. economy over the past generation, by far, has been too slow wage growth for the vast majority of American workers. ...
So one part of the “how much slack” debate that too often goes unaddressed is that there is not only a lack of evidence that wages are about to start growing rapidly but also that it wouldn’t be a big problem if they did. In fact, it would be a good thing.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Inflation, Monetary Policy |
Liz Laderman and Sylvain Leduc:
Slow Business Start-ups and the Job Recovery, by Liz Laderman and Sylvain Leduc: Employment growth during the current recovery has been weak compared with past recoveries. It has taken nearly five years since the beginning of the economic expansion for nonfarm employment to return to its pre-recession peak. One factor that may have contributed to this tepid job growth is slower-than-normal employment growth at new businesses, or “start-ups.” Because start-ups generate jobs at a much faster pace than older businesses during recoveries, they account for a significant proportion of job growth in the economy, even though their share of overall employment is quite small. Therefore, even modest slowdowns in start-up growth could result in significant drops in overall employment growth.
Employment at start-ups was particularly hard-hit during the Great Recession, suffering a much steeper decline in growth compared with more mature businesses and compared with start-ups in previous recessions. One issue may have been financing. Because personal assets are an important source of funding for start-ups, the tumble in house prices during the downturn may have weakened start-up activity. Since house prices remained depressed early in the recovery, this Economic Letter examines whether start-up employment growth also remained depressed. We further consider whether the slower growth may have been a significant factor behind the weak job recovery.
We show that, compared with the recovery from the deep downturn of 1981–82, start-up employment grew significantly less in the year following the Great Recession. Our analysis suggests that between March 2010 and March 2011, lower employment growth at start-ups may have subtracted as much as 0.7 percentage point from total job growth, translating into roughly 760,000 fewer jobs.
Despite the weakness thus far in the recovery, recent increases in home values may bring better news, translating into greater financing opportunities for start-ups and, in turn, contributing to faster employment growth. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 12:24 AM in Economics |
Mary Amiti, Oleg Itskhoki, and Jozef Konings:
Why Hasn't the Yen Depreciation Spurred Japanese Exports?, by Mary Amiti, Oleg Itskhoki, and Jozef Konings, Liberty Street Economics: The Japanese yen depreciated 30 percent from its peak in the fourth quarter of 2011 against its trading partners. This was expected to boost its exports as the lower yen makes Japanese goods more competitive on global markets. Instead, the volume of Japanese exports of goods actually fell by 0.6 percent over this same period, as can be seen in the chart below. Weaker external demand surely contributed to this poor export performance. Yet over the same period, U.S. goods exports grew by more than 6 percent, which suggests that other factors are also at play. In this post, we draw on our recent paper “Importers, Exporters, and Exchange Rate Disconnect” that highlights another channel to help explain these puzzling developments. In that study, we show that a key to understanding why there is low pass-through from exchange rates into export prices is that large exporters are also large importers, so they face offsetting exchange rate effects on their marginal costs. In the case of Japan, the connection between the yen and production costs has been made stronger since the country replaced nuclear power with imported fuels in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake.
It has been well established that exchange rate changes are not fully passed through to export prices in foreign currency terms; that is, a 10 percent depreciation in the yen results in a less than a 10 percent fall in Japanese export prices and, thus, a relatively smaller boost to export quantities in response to a depreciation. This low pass-through has generally been attributed to “local currency pricing” and to “pricing-to-market.” If firms choose to invoice their exports in foreign currency terms, then prices are “sticky” in that currency, so exchange rate changes mechanically translate into changes in the exporter’s markup, with a weaker yen increasing the profit margin of exporters. A local currency pricing study shows that Japanese exporters to the United States generally invoice in U.S. dollars. In addition, exporting firms often tend to adjust their markups in response to an exchange rate depreciation, even if they do not invoice in the foreign currency, with the size of this adjustment depending on demand conditions in each export market.
The new finding in our study is that the incomplete pass-through is the most pronounced for exporters with large import shares—each additional 10 percentage points of imports in total variable costs reduces exchange rate pass-through by over 6 percentage points. We also show that large exporters are import-intensive, have high foreign market shares, set high markups, and actively move them in response to changes in their marginal costs. Thus, the prices of the largest firms, which account for a disproportionate share of trade, are insulated from exchange rate movements both through the hedging effect of imported inputs and through active offsetting markup adjustment in response to cost shocks. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 12:15 AM in Economics, International Trade, Monetary Policy |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
...the American dream—the notion that we are living in the land of opportunity—is a myth. The life chances of a young American today are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in many other advanced countries, including “old Europe.”...
Today, inequality is growing dramatically..., and the past three decades or so have proved conclusively that one of the major culprits is trickle-down economics... But it has taken us far too long as a country to understand this danger. ...
Only with a vibrant middle class can the economy fully recover and grow faster. The more inequality, the slower the growth—a conclusion now endorsed even by the IMF. ...
None of this is the outcome of inexorable economic forces, either; it’s the result of policies and politics... If our politics leads to preferential taxation of those who earn income from capital; to an education system in which the children of the rich have access to the best schools, but the children of the poor go to mediocre ones; to exclusive access by the wealthy to talented tax lawyers and offshore banking centers to avoid paying a fair share of taxes—then it is not surprising that there will be a high level of inequality and a low level of opportunity. And that these conditions will grow even worse.
And now it’s also clear that ... the richer you are, the more you are able to influence the political process and the economic decisions that stem from it, and to rig it all in favor of the 1 percent. Is it any wonder the rich keep getting richer?
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 7, 2014 at 11:46 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Politics |
Beliefs, Facts and Money, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...On the eve of the Great Recession, many conservative pundits and commentators — and quite a few economists — had a worldview that combined faith in free markets with disdain for government. Such people were briefly rocked back on their heels by the revelation that the “bubbleheads” who warned about housing were right, and the further revelation that unregulated financial markets are dangerously unstable. ...
Above all, there were many dire warnings about the evils of “printing money.” ... Reality, however, declined to cooperate. Although the Fed continued on its expansionary course ... inflation stayed low...which was exactly what economists on the other side of the divide had predicted would happen. ...
So those who got it wrong went back to the drawing board, right? Hahahahaha.
In fact, hardly any of the people who predicted runaway inflation have acknowledged that they were wrong... Some have offered lame excuses; some, following in the footsteps of climate-change deniers, have gone down the conspiracy-theory rabbit hole, claiming that we really do have soaring inflation, but the government is lying about the numbers (and by the way, we’re not talking about random bloggers or something; we’re talking about famous Harvard professors.) Mainly, though, the currency-debasement crowd just keeps repeating the same lines, ignoring its utter failure in prognostication.
You might wonder why monetary theory gets treated like evolution or climate change. Isn’t the question of how to manage the money supply a technical issue, not a matter of theological doctrine?
Well, it turns out that money is indeed a kind of theological issue. Many on the right are hostile to any kind of government activism... — if you concede that the Fed can sometimes help the economy by creating “fiat money,” the next thing you know liberals will confiscate your wealth and give it to the 47 percent. Also, let’s not forget that quite a few influential conservatives, including Mr. Ryan, draw their inspiration from Ayn Rand novels in which the gold standard takes on essentially sacred status.
And if you look at the internal dynamics of the Republican Party, it’s obvious that the currency-debasement, return-to-gold faction has been gaining strength even as its predictions keep failing.
Can anything reverse this descent into dogma? A few conservative intellectuals have been trying to persuade their movement to embrace monetary activism, but they’re ever more marginalized. ... When faith — including faith-based economics — meets evidence, evidence doesn’t stand a chance.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 7, 2014 at 01:57 AM in Economics |
Inflation Hysteria Redux, by Tim Duy: I am in general agreement with Calculated Risk on this point:
I also think the economy is picking up, and I agree that as slack diminishes, we will probably see real wage growth and an uptick in inflation.
Moreover, note that this is largely consistent with the Federal Reserve's outlook as well. Recall St. Louis Federal Reserve President John Williams from April, via Bloomberg:
Williams, who forecast the Fed will start raising interest rates in the second half of next year, said inflation has “bottomed out” and will gradually accelerate to the central bank’s 2 percent target. He said prices have been held down by temporary forces such as a slowdown in health care costs.
The Federal Reserve has consistently predicted higher inflation, and consistently been surprised that that inflation has not yet arrived despite rapidly falling unemployment rates. It would appear, however, that their forecasts are finally coming true. Hence, I also agree with Calculated Risk when he says:
On inflation: I'm sympathetic to people like Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider who is looking for signs of inflation increasing; I'm starting to look for signs of real wage increases and inflation too. I just think inflation isn't a concern right now (Weisenthal was correct on inflation over the last several years in contrast to the people who were consistently wrong on inflation).
It is enough to simply say that inflation is coming. That in and of itself is insufficient. Any inflation call needs to be placed in the context of magnitude and expected monetary policy response. Regarding both, follow Calculated Risk's warning:
Monetary policy can't halt the violence in Iraq or make it rain in California - and this is why it is important to track various core measures of inflation.
The Fed doesn't target core inflation. They target headline inflation. But they also believe that headline inflation will revert to core, and as such tend to be more concerned with core inflation in excess of 2%. Consider the history of core inflation since 1985:
I included a 25pb "forecast error" band around the Federal Reserve stated 2% target for PCE inflation; no one believes they can consistently hit 2% in the short-term, hence it is a medium term target. The most obvious feature is that for the last twenty years, core measures of inflation have more often than not been at or below the the upper range of the Fed's error band, especially for core-PCE inflation. Average core-PCE inflation: 1.7%. Average core-CPI inflation: 2.2%. Indeed, if core-PCE were the target, it is fairly clear that the Fed would have been on average undershooting its objective for the past two decades.
It is simply difficult for me to become too worried about inflation given the history of the past twenty years - twenty years in which the US economy was at times substantially outperforming the current environment no less. Underlying inflation simply has not be a problem.
It was not a problem because the Federal Reserve tightened policy multiple times to preempt inflation. Expect the same during this cycle as well - the Fed will begin to gradually raise interest rates sometime next year, and they will maintain a gradual pace of tightening as long as they believe core-PCE will consistently average 2.25% or less. Currently, I anticipate the first rate hike will occur in the second quarter of 2015. If the unemployment rate falls to 5.5% by the end of this year, I would expect the first hike to be in the first quarter of 2015.
What about headline inflation? Headline inflation is at the mercy of the Middle East and the weather, leaving it more volatile than core:
Average PCE inflation since 1994: 1.9%. Average CPI inflation since 1994: 2.4%. Arguably a pretty good track record. It is really no wonder that it is so difficult to motivate the inflation lectures in Principles of Macroeconomics. All the students are twenty or less years old. They simply have no experience with inflation as a troubling 1970s-style phenomenon.
How will headline inflation influence monetary policy? If you combine headline inflation well in excess of 2.25% (I suspect something more like 3%) with tight labor markets and rapid wage/unit labor cost growth, I think the Fed will accelerate the pace of tightening (indeed, the second two conditions alone would probably do the trick). If we experience high headline inflation in the context of weak wage growth, expect the gradual pace of tightening to continue. Under those circumstances, the Fed will believe that headline inflation will depress demand and lessen inflationary pressures endogenously.
Bottom Line: If you are making a short-term bet on higher headline inflation, primarily you are making a bet on energy and food. That bet is about the Middle East and weather, not monetary policy. I don't have an opinion on that bet. If you are betting on inflation over the medium-term, primarily you are making a bet on higher core inflation. More to the point, you are betting against the Fed. You are essentially betting that the Fed will not do what it has done since Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volker - tighten policy in the face of credible inflationary pressures. I would think twice, maybe three times before making that bet.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 7, 2014 at 01:25 AM in Economics, Fed Watch, Inflation, Monetary Policy |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, July 7, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Keynesian Yellen versus Wicksellian BIS, by Gavyn Davies: The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) caused a splash last weekend with an annual report that spelled out in detail why it disagrees with central elements of the strategy currently being adopted by its members, the major national central banks. On Wednesday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen mounted a strident defence of that strategy in her speech on “Monetary Policy and Financial Stability”. She could have been speaking for any of the major four central banks, all of which are adopting basically the same approach .
Rarely will followers of macro-economics have a better opportunity to compare and contrast the two distinct intellectual strands in the subject...
Paul Krugman correctly points out that the BIS has been wrong in the past about the threat of inflation. Furthermore, their supply-led analysis of the real economy probably underestimates the pervasive importance of demand shocks during most economic cycles (see Mark Thoma). But the risk of financial instability is another matter entirely. It is optimistic to believe that macro-prudential policy alone will be able to handle this threat. The contrasting needs of the real economy and the financial sector present a very real dilemma for monetary policy.
The BIS was right about the dangers of risky financial behaviour prior to the crash. That caused the greatest demand shock for a century. Keynesians, including the Chair of the Federal Reserve, should be more ready to recognise that the same could happen again.
Inadequate demand calls for low interest rates to try to stimulate spending, but does the threat of financial instability necessarily call for higher rates? If so, which should prevail? As I see it (1) lack of demand is the bigger threat right now, (2) if financial instability looks like the bigger problem at some point in the future, then macroprudential policy targeted at the specific problem should be the first line of defense, (3) and, if it is "optimistic to believe that macro-prudential policy alone will be able to handle this threat," that is, if macroprudential policy alone is not enough to eliminate the threat, then, and only then, should interest rates by raised beyond where they would be given the state of aggregate demand.
As I said a few days ago:
"I think the macroprudential approach is correct. Using interest rates to deal with pockets of financial instability is too blunt of an instrument, e.g. it hits all industries, not just the ones where the instability is suspected and it may not directly address the particular problem generating the instability. It's much better to target the sectors where the problems exist, and to shape the policies to directly address the underlying problem(s)."
But let me conceded one point. If we wait until we can be sure that a dangerous bubble exists, and to see if macroprudential policy will be sufficient, it may be too late to raise interest rates to try to pop the bubble -- it may be past the point of no return. But I still prefer pricking the bubble with targeted policy rather than raising interest rates and causing a slowdown in a wide variety of markets, almost all of which are not a threat to the economy.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 10:55 AM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation |
Does evidence matter?:
Slump Stories and the Inflation Test: Noah Smith has another post on John Cochrane’s anti-Keynesian screed... All the anti-Keynesian stories (except “uncertainty”, which as Nick Rowe points out is actually a Keynesian story but doesn’t know it) are supply-side stories; Cochrane even puts scare quotes around the word “demand”. Basically, they’re claiming that unemployment benefits, or Obamacare, or regulations, or something, are reducing the willingness of workers and firms to produce stuff.
How would you test this? In a supply-constrained economy, the kind of monetary policy we’ve had, with the Fed quintupling the size of its balance sheet over a short period of time, would be highly inflationary. Indeed, just about everyone on the right has been predicting runaway inflation year after year.
Meanwhile, if you had a demand-side view, and considered the implications of the zero lower bound, you declared that nothing of the sort would happen...
It seems to me that the failure of the inflation predicted by anti-Keynesians to appear — and the fact that this failure was predicted by Keynesian models — is a further big reason not to take what these people are saying seriously.
In a "supply-constrained economy" the price of inputs like labor should also rise, but that hasn't happened either.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 09:52 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics |
The opening lines of a relatively long discussion from Robin Harding at the FT of "the productivity puzzle":
US economy: The productivity puzzle, by Robin Harding: To glimpse the miracle of productivity growth there is nowhere better to look than the ... US Corn Belt. A hundred years ago, an army of farmers toiled to produce 30 bushels an acre; now only a few hands are needed to produce 160 bushels from the same land.
The rise of modern civilisation rested on this trend: for each person to produce ever more. For the past 120 years, as if bound by some inexorable law, output per head of population increased by about 2 per cent a year. That is, until now.
There is a fear – voiced by credible economists such as Robert Gordon... – that 2 per cent is no law but a wave that has already run its course. According to Prof Gordon’s analysis, 2 per cent could easily become 1 per cent or even less, for the next 120 years. ...
Yet there are also techno-optimists, such as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee..., whose faith in new discoveries is such that they expect growth to accelerate, not decline.
Then there are more phlegmatic economists, whose answers are less exciting but also less speculative – and come in a bit below 2 per cent for growth in output per head.
The productivity question is of the greatest possible consequence for the US economy...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 09:41 AM in Economics, Productivity |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Another choice: The Intellectual Property Strategy, by Joshua Gans: Over the past two weeks, I have been outlining broad strategic options for entrepreneurs of which a disruption strategy is just one choice. The concept is that a given entrepreneurial idea can be commercialised in many different ways. The key to entrepreneurial strategy is to identify the feasible set of choices available to start-ups and to write a business plan for each. After all, you can’t have a strategic choice without actually having a choice and I maintain that entrepreneurs often have many more choices than they think at the outside.
Thusfar, I have considered two options that have in common that they are focused on execution. Recall that being focused on execution means that a start-up embraces potential and on-going competition and formulates a plan to continually beat that competition by developing and continually re-investing in capabilities that allow the venture to beat the next wave of competition on quality, cost or some combination of the two. However, in choosing to focus on execution, a start-up can choose whether to be oriented towards competition (and building out a new value chain in competition with established firms) or to be oriented towards cooperation (and work within existing value chains). These two strategies were termed disruption and value chain respectively and each might be the appropriate one to be matched with an entrepreneurial idea.
Today I want to turn to strategies that are based on investing in control rather than execution. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 04:24 PM in Economics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
The opening quote from chapter 2 of Mankiw's intermediate macro textbook:
It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to fit facts. — Sherlock Holmes
Or, instead of "before one has data," change it to "It is a capital mistake to theorize without knowledge of the data" and it's a pretty good summary of Paul Krugman's response to John Cochrane:
Macro Debates and the Relevance of Intellectual History: One of the interesting things about the ongoing economic crisis is the way it has demonstrated the importance of historical knowledge. ... But it’s not just economic history that turns out to be extremely relevant; intellectual history — the history of economic thought — turns out to be relevant too.
Consider, in particular, the recent to-and-fro about stagflation and the rise of new classical macroeconomics. You might think that this is just economist navel-gazing; but you’d be wrong.
To see why, consider John Cochrane’s latest. ... Cochrane’s current argument ... effectively depends on the notion that there must have been very good reasons for the rejection of Keynesianism, and that harkening back to old ideas must involve some kind of intellectual regression. And that’s where it’s important — as David Glasner notes — to understand what really happened in the 70s.
The point is that the new classical revolution in macroeconomics was not a classic scientific revolution, in which an old theory failed crucial empirical tests and was supplanted by a new theory that did better. The rejection of Keynes was driven by a quest for purity, not an inability to explain the data — and when the new models clearly failed the test of experience, the new classicals just dug in deeper. They didn’t back down even when people like Chris Sims (pdf), using the very kinds of time-series methods they introduced, found that they strongly pointed to a demand-side model of economic fluctuations.
And critiques like Cochrane’s continue to show a curious lack of interest in evidence. ... In short, you have a much better sense of what’s really going on here, and which ideas remain relevant, if you know about the unhappy history of macroeconomic thought.
Insufficient Demand vs?? Uncertainty: ...John Cochrane says: "John Taylor, Stanford's Nick Bloom and Chicago Booth's Steve Davis see the uncertainty induced by seat-of-the-pants policy at fault. Who wants to hire, lend or invest when the next stroke of the presidential pen or Justice Department witch hunt can undo all the hard work? Ed Prescott emphasizes large distorting taxes and intrusive regulations. The University of Chicago's Casey Mulligan deconstructs the unintended disincentives of social programs. And so forth. These problems did not cause the recession. But they are worse now, and they can impede recovery and retard growth." ...
Increased political uncertainty would reduce aggregate demand. Plus, positive feedback processes could amplify that initial reduction in aggregate demand. Even those who were not directly affected by that increased political uncertainty would reduce their own willingness to hire lend or invest because of that initial reduction in aggregate demand, plus their own uncertainty about aggregate demand. So the average person or firm might respond to a survey by saying that insufficient demand was the problem in their particular case, and not the political uncertainty which caused it.
But the demand-side problem could still be prevented by an appropriate monetary policy response. Sure, there would be supply-side effects too. And it would be very hard empirically to estimate the relative magnitudes of those demand-side vs supply-side effects. ...
So it's not just an either/or thing. Nor is it even a bit-of-one-plus-bit-of-the-other thing. Increased political uncertainty can cause a recession via its effect on demand. Unless monetary policy responds appropriately. (And that, of course, would mean targeting NGDP, because inflation targeting doesn't work when supply-side shocks cause adverse shifts in the Short Run Phillips Curve.)
On whether supply or demand shocks are the source of aggregate fluctuations, Blanchard and Quah (1989), Shapiro and Watson (1988), and others had it right (though the identifying restriction that aggregate demand shocks do not have permanent effects seems to be undermined by the Great Recession ). It's not an eithor/or question, it's a matter of figuring out how much of the variation in GDP/employment is due to supply shocks, and how much is due to demand shocks. And as Nick Rowe points out with his example, sorting between these two causes can be very difficult -- identifying which type of shock is driving changes in aggregate variables is not at all easy and depends upon particular assumptions. Nevertheless, my reading of the empirical evidence is much like Krugman's. Overall, across all these papers, it is demand shocks that play the most prominent role. Supply shocks do matter, but not nearly so much as demand shocks when it comes to explaining aggregate fluctuations.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 10:16 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics, Methodology |
I would be interested in seeing a discussion in comments about all of the ways in which our freedom and liberty has been curtailed in recent years. It is prompted by this commentary in the local paper:
Between your picnicking and fireworking, today would be a good day to contemplate how freedom can be taken from a nation.
While we’re being horrified by brutal dictators far away, we must remember there’s another way freedoms can be lost — by persuasion. If people become convinced they need protection, they will sacrifice their freedoms. ...
It seems to me that the examples given can be improved upon. For example, the NSA isn't even mentioned. What would your list include?
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 10:08 AM in Economics, Politics |
Why has public investment collapsed?:
Build We Won’t, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: You often find people talking about our economic difficulties as if they were complicated and mysterious, with no obvious solution. ... The basic story of what went wrong is, in fact, almost absurdly simple: We had an immense housing bubble, and, when the bubble burst, it left a huge hole in spending. Everything else is footnotes.
And the appropriate policy response was simple, too: Fill that hole in demand. In particular, the aftermath of the bursting bubble was (and still is) a very good time to invest in infrastructure. ... Since 2008,... our economy has been awash in unemployed workers ... and capital with no place to go (which is why government borrowing costs are at historic lows). Putting those idle resources to work building useful stuff should have been a no-brainer.
But what actually happened was exactly the opposite: an unprecedented plunge in infrastructure spending. ... In policy terms, this represents an almost surreally awful wrong turn; we’ve managed to weaken the economy in the short run even as we undermine its prospects for the long run. Well played!
And it’s about to get even worse. The federal highway trust fund ... is almost exhausted. Unless Congress agrees to top up the fund..., road work all across the country will have to be scaled back just a few weeks from now. If this were to happen, it would quickly cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs, which might derail the employment recovery that finally seems to be gaining steam. And it would also reduce long-run economic potential.
How did things go so wrong? As with so many of our problems, the answer is the combined effect of rigid ideology and scorched-earth political tactics. The highway fund crisis is just one example of a much broader problem. ... The collapse of public investment was ... a political choice.
What’s useful about the looming highway crisis is that it illustrates just how self-destructive that political choice has become. It’s one thing to block green investment, or high-speed rail, or even school construction. I’m for such things, but many on the right aren’t. But everyone from progressive think tanks to the United States Chamber of Commerce thinks we need good roads. Yet the combination of anti-tax ideology and deficit hysteria (itself mostly whipped up in an attempt to bully President Obama into spending cuts) means that we’re letting our highways, and our future, erode away.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy, Politics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 11:25 AM in Economics |
June Employment Report, by Tim Duy: The BLS reported solid numbers for the labor market in June, although there may be somewhat less acceleration than meets the eye. On net, the ongoing rapid fall in the unemployment rate nudges forward my expectation of when the Fed makes history and begins to lift rates from the zero bound. Still, there does not appear to be sufficient reason yet to believe the Fed will steepen the pace of increases.
Nonfarm payrolls rose by 288k, ahead of expectations for 211k. Job growth was broad-based and earlier months were revised higher. The three-month average for job growth is at its highest since 2011 while the 12-month average is slowly crawling up and now stands above 200k:
It is worth remembering that in order to maintain constant percentage changes over time, the absolute change has to increase. Indeed, the acceleration in percentage terms over the past year looks less than impressive:
Still somewhat below that experienced at the height of the housing bubble, clearly weaker then the late 1990s, and note in particular the acceleration in the early 1990's. It was that kind of acceleration that caught the Fed's attention. We are not seeing anything like that yet.
Also note that while hours worked has recovered from the winter doldrums, it too is not growing at some blockbuster pace:
In short, in some sense the excitement over the recent improvement in absolute job growth says less about an acceleration in actual activty and more about our diminished expectations for this recovery.
The persistent decline in the unemployment rate will undoubtedly cause consternation among the more hawkish FOMC members:
Recall St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard recent warning:
The Federal Open Market Committee is closer to its goals for full employment and low and stable inflation than many investors realize, Bullard said. He predicted the pace of economic growth will accelerate to 3 percent this year after an unexpectedly deep first-quarter contraction.
“Inflation is picking up now. It is still below target but it has been moving up in recent months,” he said in response to a question at a forum organized by the Council on Foreign Relations. “I don’t think financial markets have internalized how close we are to our ultimate goals, and I don’t think the FOMC has internalized how close we are.”
Bullard's story in a picture:
As the Fed closes in on its traditional policy goals, the pressure from the hawks, and even the center, for a rate increase will increase. Still, the doves are not without a defence. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's measures of underemployment are still underwhelming:
In particular, wage growth has stalled, adding additional credence to the argument that substantial labor market slack remains despite the decline in the unemployment rate:
Also note that there is nothing here yet to challenge the more general consensus among policymakers that equilibrium interest rates are lower than in past cycles.
Bottom Line: The jobs report is generally good news, albeit I would argue there remains room for substantial improvement. That room for improvement continues to restrain the Fed from dramatically tighter policy. My expectations for the first rate hike center around the middle of next year. On net, this report drags my expectations forward somewhat and suggests a higher probability of a hike before June than after June. Score one for the FOMC hawks. But I also see little here yet to suggest the need for any dramatic tightening; I doubt FOMC's expectation of a long, gradual tightening cycle is much altered. That's one for the doves.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 11:22 AM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy, Unemployment |
Simon Wren-Lewis responds to calls to raise interest rates to promote financial stability:
The financial instability argument for raising rates: ... Let’s call the proposition that we should raise rates now to avoid financial instability the BIS case, after the Bank of International Settlements who have been making this argument ever since the recession began. ...
I want to begin by conceding a point. Suppose, as a monetary policymaker, you believe a financial crisis is possible, and that by raising rates you may be able to prevent it. Assume, crucially, that there is nothing else you can do to help prevent the financial crisis. In that case, you will consider raising rates, even if inflation is below target. ...
However that is not the end of the story. If you raise rates to prevent financial instability when inflation is below target, inflation will remain below target or may fall even further. You cannot ignore that. So if interest rates are raised today to head off a financial crisis, they will have to be lower in the future to deal with the lower inflation or even deflation you have caused. ... So by raising rates by a modest amount today we might prevent financial instability, but at the cost of delaying the recovery. ...
As Ryan Avent says, we can avoid all these difficulties by adding an extra instrument, which is macroprudential regulation. ... Now, as R.A. notes, those taking the BIS position counter that such measures are untested and may not be effective. Here is a typical example in the FT, where it is stated that “macroprudential policies will fail to stop investors taking irrational risks”.
So we must raise interest rates, and delay the recovery, because nothing else can stop some in the financial system taking excessive risks. To which I can only say, summoning all my academic gravitas, what audacity, what impudence! Not only have we had to suffer the consequences of the Great Recession because of excessive risk taking within a largely unregulated financial system, we now have to cut short our main means of getting out of that recession because they might do it again. I do not know what planet these people are on, but if its mine, can they please get off and play their games elsewhere.
Jane Yellen on how to deal with financial instability:
... Well, I think my main theme here today is that macroprudential policies should be the main line of defense, and I think the efforts that we’re engaged in in the United States but all countries coordinating through the — through Basel, through the Financial Stability Boards — the efforts that we are taking to globally strengthen the resilience of the financial system: more capital, higher quality capital, higher liquidity buffers, stronger and — arrangements for central clearing of derivatives that reduce interconnectedness among systemically important financial institutions, strengthening of the architecture of payments and clearing system dealing with risks we see in areas like tri-party repo. ...
I would also put resolution planning which we’re engaging in actively as among those measures. And, you know, as I mentioned, I think cyclical policies and sector-specific policies that we’re seeing many emerging markets take steps that can be used, particularly when we see problems developing in housing or a particular sector. These are really promising.
I don’t think we yet understand how they work. When they can be effective, how we should use them. I hope this will be an area for the IMF and for us of active research so we can better deploy those tools, capital — countercyclical capital charges.
But I think importantly, I’ve not taken monetary policy totally off the table as a measure to be used when financial excesses are developing because I think we have to recognize that macroprudential tools have their limitations. ... So to me, it’s not a first line of defense, but it is something that has to be actively in the mix. ...
Paul Krugman says "It’s about sadomonetarism, not stability."
I think the macroprudential approach is correct. Using interest rates to deal with pockets of financial instability is too blunt of an instrument, e.g. it hits all industries, not just the ones where the instability is suspected and it may not directly address the particular problem generating the instability. It's much better to target the sectors where the problems exist, and to shape the policies to directly address the underlying problem(s).
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 11:21 AM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation |
Jobs Report, First Impressions: A Strong June for the Job Market: Payrolls were up 288,000 and the unemployment rate ticked down to a near six-year low of 6.1% last month, according to today’s employment report from the BLS (a rare Thursday edition due to the holiday weekend). It’s an unquestionably strong report, with industries across the economy posting job gains. Adding to the positive news, job growth estimates for the prior two reports were revised up by 29,000, implying an underlying average growth pace of 272,000 for payrolls in the second quarter of the year.
Unlike some prior months when the jobless rate came down, June’s unemployment rate fell for the “right reasons:” not more people leaving the labor force, but more people getting jobs.
The only negative I’m seeing at first glance is the 275,000 increase in the number of involuntary part-timers (part-time workers who’d rather have full-time jobs). But this is a volatile monthly number and is down 650,000 over the past year. ...
Comments on Employment Report: [Earlier: June Employment Report: 288,000 Jobs, 6.1% Unemployment Rate] Total employment increased 288,000 from May to June, and is now 415,000 above the previous peak. Private payroll employment increased 262,000 from May to June, and private employment is now 895,000 above the previous peak (the unprecedented large number of government layoffs has held back total employment). Through the first half of 2014, the economy has added 1,385,000 payroll jobs - up from 1,221,000 added during the same period in 2013 - even with the severe weather early this year. My expectation at the beginning of the year was the economy would add between 2.4 and 2.7 million payroll jobs this year, and that still looks about right. Hopefully - now that the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.1% - wage growth will start to pick up. Overall this was another solid employment report. ...
Real Time Economics:
In an Overall Sunny Jobs Report, Here Are the Few Clouds, by Ben Leubsdorf: The June U.S. jobs report was broadly positive. Payrolls rose strongly, the unemployment rate fell and the number of Americans who have been out of work for more than six months continued to decline.
But there were a few upbeat ingredients still missing from the brew: accelerating wage growth, rising labor-force participation and more Americans finding full-time work instead of settling for a part-time job. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Economics, Unemployment |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
An important reminder about the interpretation of GDP data:
GDP: Seasons and revisions: Growth from the fourth quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014, originally thought to have been about +0.1% in April, was revised last week to –2.9%. That’s at a seasonally-adjusted, annualized rate (SAAR)... News reports varied between shock and concern. Was the anemic recovery over? Or, was it just that this winter was especially harsh?
In reality, these headline growth numbers simply don’t contain all that much information for real-time business cycle analysis. There are many reasons, but two deserve special attention: (1) the statistical noise created by seasonality; and (2) the propensity to revise GDP many years after the period being measured.
Seasonality in GDP is enormous... The seasonal adjustments swamp the small changes in the adjusted growth rates..., in the first quarter of every year ... the level of output plunges on average by 18 percent! ... The point is that it is difficult to extract the useful signal – the SAAR economic growth rate that we care about – from the noisy unadjusted GDP data. ...
Next there are revisions – lots of them. ... And, the changes can be quite big...
Statistically, the revisions to economic growth for quarter t between the t+3-month estimate (which we just received last week for the first quarter) to the t+10-year estimate (which will not be available for nearly a decade) have ranged from minus 6 percentage points to plus 7 percentage points over the past 40 years, with a standard deviation of about 2 percentage points. Put differently, there remains a good chance that some of this reported decline will be revised away. We might even wonder whether the economy contracted at all last winter. ...
That’s why so many observers who care about the cyclical state of the economy turn to data other than GDP – like U.S. labor market reports – that are available quickly and revised quickly, too.
[The full post has more details and examples.]
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 10:55 AM in Economics |
Pricing Power and Lower Potential GDP: One of the results of the Great Recession has been a severe downward revision in potential GDP across many countries. Laurence Ball just had a Vox post on this..., finding that potential GDP is lower by 8.4% on average across the OECD, and up to 30% lower in places like Greece. This is similar to Fernald’s recent finding that potential GDP is lower in the U.S., the only difference being that Fernald finds the slowdown in potential GDP started before 2007. Potential GDP is growing more slowly than previously because of slower capital accumulation, slowing (or falling) labor force participation, and/or lower growth in total factor productivity (TFP).
One interpretation of slowing TFP growth is that we are actively getting worse at innovating and/or bringing innovations to market. For Fernald, the burst of innovations coming from the IT revolution are running out. In a recent Brookings report, new firms are not starting up as quickly, possibly reducing the rate at which new innovations are brought on board. Ball doesn’t really take a stand on what is happening, but the implication is that the Great Recession did something that is pulling down productivity levels.
The point I want to make here is that declining measures of TFP do not necessarily imply that our ability to innovate or bring innovations to market is declining. Measured aggregate TFP can decline, or grow more slowly, even though firms are just as technically productive as before, and are innovating at the same rate as before. Instead, measured TFP growth may be slowing down because of changes in the market power of firms during the recession. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 10:10 AM in Economics, Productivity |
... Because these issues are both new and complex, there is no simple rule that can prescribe, even in a general sense, how monetary policy should adjust in response to shifts in the outlook for financial stability. As a result, policymakers should clearly and consistently communicate their views on the stability of the financial system and how those views are influencing the stance of monetary policy.
To that end, I will briefly lay out my current assessment of financial stability risks and their relevance, at this time, to the stance of monetary policy in the United States. In recent years, accommodative monetary policy has contributed to low interest rates, a flat yield curve, improved financial conditions more broadly, and a stronger labor market. These effects have contributed to balance sheet repair among households, improved financial conditions among businesses, and hence a strengthening in the health of the financial sector. Moreover, the improvements in household and business balance sheets have been accompanied by the increased safety of the financial sector associated with the macroprudential efforts I have outlined. Overall, nonfinancial credit growth remains moderate, while leverage in the financial system, on balance, is much reduced. Reliance on short-term wholesale funding is also significantly lower than immediately before the crisis, although important structural vulnerabilities remain in short-term funding markets.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, I do not presently see a need for monetary policy to deviate from a primary focus on attaining price stability and maximum employment, in order to address financial stability concerns. That said, I do see pockets of increased risk-taking across the financial system, and an acceleration or broadening of these concerns could necessitate a more robust macroprudential approach. For example, corporate bond spreads, as well as indicators of expected volatility in some asset markets, have fallen to low levels, suggesting that some investors may underappreciate the potential for losses and volatility going forward. In addition, terms and conditions in the leveraged-loan market, which provides credit to lower-rated companies, have eased significantly, reportedly as a result of a "reach for yield" in the face of persistently low interest rates. The Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation issued guidance regarding leveraged lending practices in early 2013 and followed up on this guidance late last year. To date, we do not see a systemic threat from leveraged lending, since broad measures of credit outstanding do not suggest that nonfinancial borrowers, in the aggregate, are taking on excessive debt and the improved capital and liquidity positions at lending institutions should ensure resilience against potential losses due to their exposures. But we are mindful of the possibility that credit provision could accelerate, borrower losses could rise unexpectedly sharply, and that leverage and liquidity in the financial system could deteriorate. It is therefore important that we monitor the degree to which the macroprudential steps we have taken have built sufficient resilience, and that we consider the deployment of other tools, including adjustments to the stance of monetary policy, as conditions change in potentially unexpected ways.
Conclusion In closing, the policy approach to promoting financial stability has changed dramatically in the wake of the global financial crisis. We have made considerable progress in implementing a macroprudential approach in the United States, and these changes have also had a significant effect on our monetary policy discussions. An important contributor to the progress made in the United States has been the lessons we learned from the experience gained by central banks and regulatory authorities all around the world. The IMF plays an important role in this evolving process as a forum for representatives from the world's economies and as an institution charged with promoting financial and economic stability globally. I expect to both contribute to and learn from ongoing discussions on these issues.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 09:50 AM in Economics, Financial System, Monetary Policy |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Are Calls for Income Redistribution Based on Envy or Justice?: The redistribution of income and wealth has come to the forefront of discussions about economics and capitalist systems thanks to Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Is rising inequality an inevitable feature of capitalist systems, or is it the result of the particular institutions that shape how capitalism expresses itself? What, if anything, should be done to reverse the trend toward rising inequality?
The answer depends upon whether the calls for redistribution are based upon envy as the political right often asserts, or the desire for the justice...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 09:09 AM in Economics, Fiscal Times, Income Distribution, Politics |
I have a new article at MoneyWatch:
Stiglitz: Making the case for industrial policy: Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz's latest book, "Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress," co-written with Bruce C. Greenwald, takes on one of the most sacred ideas in economics, the benefits of free trade between nations. Ever since Adam Smith and David Ricardo pointed out the benefits of absolute and comparative advantage, economists have promoted the advantages of specialization and trade among nations: Protectionism of markets or industries within a country is to be avoided, and open markets are the key to prosperity for all.
There may be winners and losers within a country, with an example of the latter being workers who become unemployed as production moves to countries with an advantage in a particular industry. Still, it's generally possible to compensate the losers and still have enough left over to make everyone in a country better off.
But is this true always and everywhere? If not, what are the exceptions to the argument that free trade has the potential to make everyone better off? And when is protectionism in one form or another justified? ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 09:09 AM in Economics, International Trade, MoneyWatch |
Deep recessions do long-term damage:
The Great Recession’s long-term damage, by Laurence Ball, Vox EU: According to macroeconomics textbooks, a fall in aggregate demand causes a recession in which output drops below potential output – the normal level of production given the economy’s resources and technology. This effect is temporary, however. A recession is followed by a recovery period in which output returns to potential, and potential itself is not affected significantly by the recession.
A growing literature has called this textbook theory into question. Authors such as Cerra and Saxena (2008) and Reinhart and Rogoff (2009) find that deep recessions have highly persistent effects on output. Haltmaier (2012) and Reifschneider et al. (2013) argue that these effects occur because a recession damages an economy’s labour force and productivity, thereby reducing its potential output. Some economists use the term ‘hysteresis’ for these scarring effects of recessions (Blanchard and Summers 1986).
Experience since the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2008–2009 has strengthened the evidence for long-term effects of recessions. It has become increasingly clear that the recession has done lasting harm – that countries around the world face a new normal with lower levels of output than anyone expected in 2007. In a recent paper (Ball 2014), I seek to quantify the damage suffered by 23 OECD countries.
Measuring the damage
For each country, I measure potential output with estimates from the OECD, which are based on a production function and trends in labour, capital, and total factor productivity. I estimate the effects of the Great Recession by comparing two paths for potential: the path that potential has followed according to current OECD data, and a hypothetical path that it would have followed if the recession had not occurred.
The current data for potential come from the OECD’s Economic Outlook for May 2014, and include forecasts through 2015. To construct my counterfactual series for potential, I examine the Economic Outlook for December 2007, on the eve of the financial crisis. This issue of the Outlook reports estimates of potential through 2009. I extend these pre-crisis estimates through 2015 by log-linear extrapolation – for the period after 2009, I assume that the annual change in log potential equals the average change from 2000 to 2009.
Figures 1 and 2 illustrate my procedure for the US and Spain. In these graphs, y is the log of actual output, y* is the log of potential output according to current OECD estimates, and y** is the no-recession counterfactual based on the 2007 data. For both countries in the figures – and for most others in my study – the path of y** over 2000–2009 is close to a straight line. In extrapolating y** beyond 2009, I essentially extend the straight line.
Figure 1. The effect of the Great Recession on potential output in the US
Figure 2. The effect of the Great Recession on potential output in Spain
I measure the long-term damage from the Great Recession by the percentage deviation of potential from its no-recession path. In 2013, this loss of potential is 4.7% in the US and 18.2% in Spain. According to current OECD forecasts, the loss will grow to 5.3% in the US and 22.3% in Spain in 2015.
Results for 23 countries
I estimate the damage from the Great Recession in 23 countries for which the OECD published series for potential output in both 2007 and 2014. The loss in potential varies greatly across countries, but is large in most cases. For 2015, the loss ranges from almost nothing in Switzerland and Australia to over 30% in Greece, Hungary, and Ireland. The average loss for the 23 countries in the sample, weighted by the sizes of their economies, is 8.4%.
My analysis yields two related results, which are also illustrated by the Figures (most clearly in the case of Spain).
- First, in most countries the loss of potential output from the Great Recession has been almost as large as the loss of actual output.
That is, the dashed line for y* falls almost as far below the pre-crisis trend as the solid line for y. This finding implies that hysteresis effects have been remarkably strong in recent years.
- Second, in the countries hit hardest by the recession, the growth rate of potential output is much lower today than it was before 2008.
In Spain, the OECD currently predicts that potential will grow at an average rate of only 0.8% over 2014–2015, compared to a 3.5% growth rate in the pre-crisis data for 2001–2009. In Greece (not pictured here), the predicted growth rate is 0.2% for 2014–2015, compared to 4.0% in the pre-crisis data. In countries like Spain and Greece, if potential growth rates remain at current depressed levels, then the losses of potential output relative to pre-crisis trends will grow rapidly over time.
Through what mechanisms do recessions reduce potential output? This question is addressed in a number of recent papers (see Ball 2014). While the results vary, it appears that recessions sharply reduce capital accumulation, have long-term effects on employment (largely through lower labour force participation), and may slow the growth of total factor productivity. This last effect is poorly understood – one possible factor is a decrease in the formation of businesses with new technologies. A better understanding of hysteresis mechanisms is a high priority for research.
Can policymakers repair the damage from the Great Recession? Once again, the answer is not clear, but I believe that hysteresis effects can work in reverse if macroeconomic policy creates a strong economic expansion. Procyclical investment would increase the capital stock, plentiful job opportunities would increase workers’ attachment to the labour force, and so on. My past research finds that expansionary policy can reduce the natural rate of unemployment (Ball 2009). Today, a strong expansion might push potential output back toward its pre-crisis path. Failing that, the expansion might at least reverse declines in the growth rate of potential, so the damage from the Great Recession does not continue to grow.
Ball, Laurence (2009), “Hysteresis: Old and New Evidence”, in Jeff Fuhrer, Yolanda K Kodrzycki, Jane Sneddon Little, and Giovanni P Olivei (eds.), Understanding Inflation and the Implications for Monetary Policy: A Phillips Curve Retrospective, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
Ball, Laurence (2014), “Long-Term Damage from the Great Recession in OECD Countries”, NBER Working Paper 20185, May.
Blanchard, Olivier J and Lawrence H Summers (1986), “Hysteresis and the European Unemployment Problem”, NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1986.
Cerra, Valerie and Sweta Chaman Saxena (2008), “Growth Dynamics: The Myth of Economic Recovery”, The American Economic Review, 98(1): 439–457.
Haltmaier, Jane (2012), “Do Recessions Affect Potential Output?”, International Finance Discussion Paper 1066, Federal Reserve Board, December.
Reifschneider, Dave, William L Wascher, and David Wilcox (2013), “Aggregate Supply in the United States: Recent Developments and Implications for the Conduct of Monetary Policy”, 14th Jacques Polak Annual Research Conference, November.
Reinhart, Carmen M and Kenneth S Rogoff (2009), “The Aftermath of Financial Crises”, The American Economic Review, 99(2): 466–472.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 09:00 AM in Economics |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 12:06 AM
Yifan Cao and Adam Shapiro:
Will Inflation Remain Low?, by Yifan Cao and Adam Shapiro, FRBSF Economic Letter: Over the past two years, inflation has remained persistently low. As measured by the core personal consumption expenditures price index (core PCEPI), which excludes volatile energy and food prices, annual inflation has been below the Federal Reserve’s 2% target since April 2012. Given the recent path of inflation, a natural question to consider is how likely it is to remain low in the future. Recent research using financial market forecasts (Bauer and Christensen 2014) shows that inflation will remain low going forward. In this Economic Letter, we examine the outlook for inflation using model-based forecasts.
We rely on the well-known Phillips curve model and examine its implications for inflation over the next two years. In its most basic form, this model posits that inflation depends on past inflation and a measure of slack in the overall economy. We show that a basic Phillips curve implies that inflation is likely to remain low over the next two years.
As with any forecasting model, the basic Phillips curve is sensitive to the assumptions inherent in its underlying structure. The basic model has very few components and leaves out several potentially important determinants of inflation. Indeed, over the years, numerous extensions to the basic Phillips curve framework have incorporated additional factors that are likely to affect the dynamics of inflation. In this Economic Letter, we focus on two simple extensions that are potentially important to the current inflation outlook.
The first extension incorporates anchored inflation expectations with the constraint that long-run inflation eventually returns to the Fed’s inflation target of 2% (see Williams 2006, Stock and Watson 2010, and Cogley, Primiceri, and Sargent 2010). The second extension uses an alternative measure of economic slack that excludes the long-term unemployed and focuses on the short-term unemployed (see Gordon 2013, Rudebusch and Williams 2014, and Watson 2014). A Phillips curve model that incorporates these two extensions predicts a path for inflation that is still low but is higher than implied by the basic model.
The basic Phillips curve model
The Phillips curve framework is based on the premise that, during times of economic prosperity when overall demand rises higher than overall supply in the economy, there will be increasing pressure to push prices up. By contrast, during times of economic distress when demand falls relative to supply, there is a downward pressure on prices. The model therefore suggests that inflation depends on some indicator of unused productive capacity in the economy, or “slack.” While there are numerous measures of slack, a popular choice among economists is a measure referred to as the unemployment gap. This gap is defined as the difference between the level of the current unemployment rate and what the unemployment rate should be if the economy were operating at its full capacity. This latter measure is referred to as NAIRU, or the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, and an estimate of it is produced by the Congressional Budget Office. The underlying intuition is that, when the economy is in distress, the unemployment rate will lie above NAIRU.
The basic Phillips curve describes the behavior of current inflation as a function of the past unemployment gap and past inflation. We estimate this model using data going back to 1985. We then use the parameters from our estimates to project future inflation, assuming that the unemployment gap follows some specified future path. We assume that the unemployment rate for the second quarter of 2014 will be 6.3%, as measured in May 2014, and thereafter it will move at a steady pace toward 5.55% by the end of 2015, which is the average unemployment rate projection from the Fed’s most recent Summary of Economic Projections (Board of Governors 2014).
Projected PCEPI inflation: Basic Phillips curve model
Sources: Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and
Board of Governors, Summary of Economic Projections.
Figure 1 depicts actual inflation, measured by the annualized quarterly change in core PCEPI and the projection for inflation using the basic Phillips curve model. The basic model implies inflation is very persistent and projects core PCEPI inflation will remain below 2% through the end of 2015.
Extensions to the basic model
The basic Phillips curve is a parsimonious model and therefore leaves out a myriad of different variables that may affect the path of inflation. Indeed, throughout the past few decades, economists have extended the basic Phillips curve in a host of different ways. Looking at these variations can help give some insights into how certain components can change the outlook for future inflation. For this Economic Letter, we consider two simple extensions of the model that are particularly relevant given the current situation.
In our first exercise, we examine how much a credible Fed inflation target would affect the inflation forecast generated by the Phillips curve. Specifically, we impose a restriction that steady-state core PCEPI inflation lies at the Fed’s perceived inflation target, currently 2%. This is equivalent to assuming that, on average, consumers and firms believe that future inflation is “well anchored” around the Fed’s inflation target level (see Williams 2006). The assumption is reasonable if firms are forward-looking, setting prices based on expectations of future demand and cost, and incorporating the Fed’s explicit inflation target.
Projected inflation: Basic vs. anchored expectations
Sources: BEA and Board of Governors, Summary of Economic Projections.
Figure 2 depicts this Phillips curve model that imposes inflation expectations anchored at the Fed’s target, alongside the basic model projection. The modified projection is slightly higher, but still lies below 2% by the end of 2015. This slow movement of inflation from its current level, even assuming anchored expectations at 2%, highlights the strong persistence of inflation implied by the data and the model. Generally, most models of inflation dynamics agree on this key trait, that is, inflation moves sluggishly over time.
Breakdown of unemployment: Short-term vs. long-term
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In our second exercise, we alter the measure of slack used in the Phillips curve inflation forecast. The years since the most recent recession have been marked not just by higher overall unemployment, but also by different durations of unemployment taking divergent paths. As Figure 3 shows, the short-term unemployment rate, defined as the number of people out of work for less than 27 weeks divided by the labor force, has dropped precipitously since the most recent recession ended. In terms of the short-term unemployed, the economy is back to its historical average. By contrast, the long-term unemployment rate has remained elevated. As Robert Gordon (2013) and Mark Watson (2014) recently pointed out, these long-term unemployed may be exerting less upward pressure on wages and prices than the short-term unemployed. For instance, this may be the case if firms compete more for potential employees who have only recently become unemployed than for those whose skills may have eroded or who may otherwise be scarred by prolonged unemployment.
For this exercise, we alter our measure of economic slack to account for this dichotomy. Rather than using overall unemployment, we focus on the short-term unemployed. Specifically, we create a short-term unemployment gap measure by gauging how monthly rates over the 1985 to 2014 sample period deviate from the average short-term unemployment rate.
Projected inflation: Short-term unemployment as slack
Sources: BEA and Board of Governors, Summary of Economic Projections.
Figure 4 shows that the projections for inflation using the short-term unemployment gap exceed the projections of the basic model using the overall unemployment gap. If we also impose well-anchored inflation expectations, inflation rises at a relatively fast pace, surpassing 2% by the end of 2015. The reason for the higher inflation projection is that, in terms of the short-term unemployment rate, there is currently little economic slack. In fact, the short-term unemployment rate projects excess demand over the next two years, which implies strong upward pressure on prices.
Inflation, as measured by the core PCEPI, currently stands below the Fed’s 2% target. A simple empirical Phillips curve implies that inflation will remain relatively low in the near future. Estimating just how low depends a great deal on the assumptions in the model. We test two specific variations to the basic model, altering the measure of slack and the assumptions about inflation expectations. We find that these variations produce some higher projections for future inflation. However, it is difficult to prove that any one specification of the model is the true one. Instead, examining the effects of various specifications can be instructive in exploring how various factors affect forecasts of inflation.
Bauer, Michael D., and Jens H.E. Christensen. 2014. “Financial Market Outlook for Inflation.” FRBSF Economic Letter 2014-14 (May 12).
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. 2014. “Economic Projections of Federal Reserve Board Members and Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, June 2014.” Table 1, Summary of Economic Projections.
Cogley, Timothy, Giorgio E. Primiceri, and Thomas J. Sargent. 2010. “Inflation-Gap Persistence in the U.S.” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 2(1), pp. 43–69.
Gordon, Robert. 2013. “The Phillips Curve Is Alive and Well: Inflation and the NAIRU during the Slow Recovery.” NBER Working Paper 19390.
Rudebusch, Glenn, and John Williams. 2014. “A Wedge in the Dual Mandate: Monetary Policy and Long-Term Unemployment.” FRB San Francisco Working Paper 2014-14 (May).
Stock, James, and Mark Watson. 2010. “Modeling Inflation after the Crisis.” NBER Working Paper 16488.
Watson, Mark. 2014. “Inflation Persistence, the NAIRU, and the Great Recession.” American Economic Review 104(5, May), pp. 31–36.
Williams, John. 2006. “Inflation Persistence in an Era of Well-Anchored Inflation Expectations.” FRBSF Economic Letter 2006-27 (October 13).
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, June 30, 2014 at 12:38 PM in Economics, Inflation |
At macroblog, Julie L. Hotchkiss, a research economist and senior policy adviser at the Atlanta Fed, and Fernando Rios-Avila, a research scholar at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College look at the relationship betwen education and inequality:
... There is little debate about whether income inequality has been rising in the United States for some time, and more dramatically recently. The degree to which education has exacerbated inequality or has the potential to reduce inequality, however, offers a more robust debate. We intend this post to add to the evidence that growing educational attainment has contributed to rising inequality. This assertion is not meant to imply that education has been the only source of the rise in inequality or that educational attainment is undesirable. The message is that growth in educational attainment is clearly associated with growing inequality, and understanding that association will be central to the understanding the overall growth in inequality in the United States.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, June 30, 2014 at 11:51 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Universities |
I didn't realize the share of the securitization market that is government-backed was so high. This is from Cecchetti & Schoenholtz:
How securitization really works: ... The success of U.S. securitization – as an alternative to bank finance – is a key factor behind the current push of euro-area authorities to increase securitization. ... Because finance is predominantly bank based in Europe – and banks faced heightened capital requirements – governments and potential borrowers are anxious to shift at least some financing into capital markets (including bonds and equities). ...
Yet, emulating American securitization ... probably means providing government guarantees at a scale that people currently do not envision. ...
To see what we mean, we can look at a few numbers regarding U.S. securitization. According to the Federal Reserve’s flow of funds statistics (the Z.1 release), total securitization stood at $9,360.4 billion as of end-March 2014... But government-backed securitizations – these are mortgages, student loans and the like – accounted for $7,721 billion of this total... That is, only 18% of U.S. securitization – primarily auto loans and credit card debt – are free from government guarantees! Even at the peak of private-sector securitization in mid-2007 ... the government-backed share exceeded 60%. ...
To put these numbers into perspective, we can look at another part of the U.S. financial system: insured bank deposits. You may be surprised to learn that ... only ... 61% of bank deposits are government backed ... versus 82% of securitizations. ...
We believe that U.S. government backing of securitizations can (and should) be scaled back... Nevertheless, it also seems difficult to jumpstart a large-scale securitization market in Europe without sizable public support. ...
The bottom line: If the euro area wishes to get securitization going in a big way, it will still need more of the mutual insurance among nations that has been so difficult to achieve. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards for now.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, June 30, 2014 at 10:22 AM in Economics, Financial System |
James Surowiecki explains why we have "Moaning Moguls":
Moaning Moguls, by James Surowiecki: The past few years have been very good to Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and C.E.O. of the Blackstone Group, the giant private-equity firm. ... Schwarzman is now worth more than ten billion dollars. You wouldn’t think he’d have much to complain about. ... He recently grumbled that the U.S. middle class has taken to “blaming wealthy people” for its problems. Previously, he has said that it might be good to raise income taxes on the poor so they had “skin in the game,” and that proposals to repeal the carried-interest tax loophole—from which he personally benefits—were akin to the German invasion of Poland.
Schwarzman isn’t alone..., the basic sentiment is surprisingly common. ...[examples]... That’s not how it’s always been. ...
If today’s corporate kvetchers are more concerned with the state of their egos than with the state of the nation, it’s in part because their own fortunes aren’t tied to those of the nation the way they once were. In the postwar years, American companies depended largely on American consumers. Globalization has changed that... The well-being of the American middle class just doesn’t matter as much to companies’ bottom lines. And there’s another change. Early in the past century, there was a true socialist movement in the United States, and in the postwar years the Soviet Union seemed to offer the possibility of a meaningful alternative to capitalism. Small wonder that the tycoons of those days were so eager to channel populist agitation into reform. Today..., corporate chieftains have little to fear... Moguls complain about their feelings because that’s all anyone can really threaten.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, June 30, 2014 at 09:38 AM in Economics, Income Distribution |
"The enduring power of bad ideas":
Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom...
But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.
There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people. ...
For the Brownback tax cuts didn’t emerge out of thin air. They closely followed a blueprint laid out by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which has also supported a series of economic studies purporting to show that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will promote rapid economic growth. The studies are embarrassingly bad, and the council’s Board of Scholars — which includes both Mr. Laffer and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation — doesn’t exactly shout credibility. ...
And what is ALEC? It’s a secretive group, financed by major corporations, that drafts model legislation for conservative state-level politicians.... And most of ALEC’s efforts are directed, not surprisingly, at privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
And I do mean for the wealthy. ...ALEC supports ... cutting taxes at the top while actually increasing taxes at the bottom, as well as cutting social services.
But how can you justify enriching the already wealthy while making life harder for those struggling to get by? The answer is, you need an economic theory claiming that such a policy is the key to prosperity for all. So supply-side economics fills a need backed by lots of money, and the fact that it keeps failing doesn’t matter.
And the Kansas debacle won’t matter either. Oh, it will briefly give states considering similar policies pause. But the effect won’t last long, because faith in tax-cut magic isn’t about evidence; it’s about finding reasons to give powerful interests what they want.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, June 30, 2014 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Politics, Taxes |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Monday, June 30, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Thelen on the prospects for egalitarian capitalism:
source: Kathleen Thelen, Varieties of Liberalization (kl 3310)
There is a version of economic historical thinking that we might label as "capitalist triumphalism" -- the idea that the institutions of a capitalist economy drive out all other economic forms, and that they tend towards an ever-more pure form of unconstrained market society. "Liberalization," deregulation, and reduction of social rights are seen as economically inevitable. On this view, the various ways in which some countries have tried to ameliorate the harsh consequences of unconstrained capitalism on the least well off in society are doomed -- the welfare state, social democracy, extensive labor rights, or universal basic income (link). Through a race to the bottom, any institutional reforms that impede the freedom and mobility of capital will be forced out by a combination of economic and political pressures.
The graphs above demonstrate the current structural differences among Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, and USA when it comes to training and income support for the unemployed and underemployed. It is visible that the four European economies devote substantially greater resources to support for the unemployed than the United States. And on the triumphalist view, the states demonstrating more generous benefits for the less-well-off will inevitably converge towards the profile represented by the fifth panel, the United States.
Kathleen Thelen is a gifted historical sociologist who has studied the institutions of labor education and training throughout the past twenty years. Her book How Institutions Evolve: The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States, and Japan is an important contribution to our understanding of these basic economic institutions, and it also sheds important light on the meta-issues of stability and change in important social institutions. With James Mahoney she also edited the valuable collection Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power on this topic.
Thelen's most recent book, Varieties of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity addresses the question of capitalist triumphalism. (That isn't a term that she uses, but it seems descriptive.) She locates her analysis within the "varieties of capitalism" field of scholarship, which maintains that there is not a single pathway of development for capitalist systems. "Coordinated" capitalism and neoliberal capitalism represent two poles of the space considered by the VofC literature.
From the beginning, the VofC literature challenged the idea that contemporary market pressures would drive a convergence on a single best or most efficient model of capitalism. (kl 228)
Thelen is interested in assessing the prospects for what she calls "egalitarian" capitalism -- the variants of capitalist political economy that feature redistribution, social welfare, and significant policy support for the less-well-off. She focuses on several key institutions -- industrial relations, vocational education and training, and labor market institutions, and she argues that these are particularly central for the historical issue of the development of capitalism towards harsher or gentler versions.
Different varieties of liberalization occur under the auspices of different social coalitions, and this has huge implications for the distributive outcomes in which many of us are ultimately interested. (kl 243)
This point is key to her view of the plasticity and path-dependency of basic economic institutions: these institutions change as a result of economic imperatives and the strength of various social groups who are in a position to influence the form that change takes. "The conclusions I reach here are based on a view of institutions that emphasizes the political-coalitional basis on which they rest" (kl 259). But there is no simple calculus proceeding from power group to institutional outcome; instead, the results for institutional change are a dynamic consequence of strategy, coalition, and constraint.
I suggest that the institutions of egalitarian capitalism survive best not when they stably reproduce the politics and patterns of the Golden Era, but rather when they are reconfigured -- in both form and function -- on the basis of significantly new political support coalitions. (kl 330)
A key finding in Thelen's analysis is that "coordinated" capitalism and "egalitarian" capitalism are not the same. Coordinated capitalism corresponds to the models associated with social democracies of the 1950s and 1960s, the "Nordic" model. But Thelen holds that egalitarian capitalism can take more innovative and flexible forms and may be a more durable alternative to neoliberal capitalism.
Is a more "egalitarian" capitalism possible? The data on labor markets that Thelen presents shows that there are major differences across OECD economies when it comes to wage inequality. Here is a striking chart:
Source: Thelen, Figure 3.3. Share of Employees in Low-Wage Work, 2010
Fully a quarter of US workers are employed in low-wage work in 2010. This is about double the rate of Denmark and quadruple the rate of low-wage workers in Sweden. Plainly this reflects a US economy that is creating substantially greater numbers of low-income people than any other OECD country. And yet all of these countries are capitalist economies, some with rates of growth that are higher than the United States. This demonstrates that there are institutional and policy choices available that are consistent with the imperatives of a capitalist market economy and yet that give rise to more egalitarian outcomes than we observe in the US, Canada, and the UK.
A key element in common among the more egalitarian labor outcomes that Thelen studies (Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany) is the expansion of part-time work, mini-jobs, and "flexi-curity". This phenomenon reflects a combination of liberalization (relaxation of work rules and requirements of long labor contracts), with a set of arrangements that allows a smoother allocation of labor to jobs and an improvement in income and security for the lower end of the labor market. This trend is part of what Thelen calls a strategy of "embedded flexibilization", which she regards as the best hope for a pathway towards equitable capitalism.
Thelen closes with a realistic observation about the uncertain coalitional basis that is available in support of the policies of embedded flexibilization. Xenophobic tendencies in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have the potential for destroying the social consensus that currently exists for this model, and the leaders of nationalistic anti-immigrant parties have made this a key to their efforts at political mobilization (kl 5541). Maintenance of these policies will require strong political efforts on the part of progressive coalitions in those countries, and organized labor is key to those efforts.
This analysis is deeply international and comparative, but it has an important consequence for the political economy of the United States: where are the coalitions that can help steer our economy towards a more egalitarian form of capitalism?
(Readers may be interested in an earlier discussion of the Nordic model; link.)
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 09:48 AM in Economics, Social Insurance |
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links |
Simon Wren-Lewis (my comments are at the end):
Understanding the New Classical revolution: In the account of the history of macroeconomic thought I gave here, the New Classical counter revolution was both methodological and ideological in nature. It was successful, I suggested, because too many economists were unhappy with the gulf between the methodology used in much of microeconomics, and the methodology of macroeconomics at the time.
There is a much simpler reading. Just as the original Keynesian revolution was caused by massive empirical failure (the Great Depression), the New Classical revolution was caused by the Keynesian failure of the 1970s: stagflation. An example of this reading is in this piece by the philosopher Alex Rosenberg (HT Diane Coyle). He writes: “Back then it was the New Classical macrotheory that gave the right answers and explained what the matter with the Keynesian models was.”
I just do not think that is right. Stagflation is very easily explained: you just need an ‘accelerationist’ Phillips curve (i.e. where the coefficient on expected inflation is one), plus a period in which monetary policymakers systematically underestimate the natural rate of unemployment. You do not need rational expectations, or any of the other innovations introduced by New Classical economists.
No doubt the inflation of the 1970s made the macroeconomic status quo unattractive. But I do not think the basic appeal of New Classical ideas lay in their better predictive ability. The attraction of rational expectations was not that it explained actual expectations data better than some form of adaptive scheme. Instead it just seemed more consistent with the general idea of rationality that economists used all the time. Ricardian Equivalence was not successful because the data revealed that tax cuts had no impact on consumption - in fact study after study have shown that tax cuts do have a significant impact on consumption.
Stagflation did not kill IS-LM. In fact, because empirical validity was so central to the methodology of macroeconomics at the time, it adapted to stagflation very quickly. This gave a boost to the policy of monetarism, but this used the same IS-LM framework. If you want to find the decisive event that led to New Classical economists winning their counterrevolution, it was the theoretical realisation that if expectations were rational, but inflation was described by an accelerationist Phillips curve with expectations about current inflation on the right hand side, then deviations from the natural rate had to be random. The fatal flaw in the Keynesian/Monetarist theory of the 1970s was theoretical rather than empirical.
I agree with this, so let me add to it by talking about what led to the end of the New Classical revolution (see here for a discussion of the properties of New Classical, New Keynesian, and Real Business Cycle Models). The biggest factor was empirical validity. Although some versions of the New Classical model allowed monetary non-neutrality (e.g. King 1982, JPE), when three factors are present, continuous market clearing, rational expectations, and the natural rate hypothesis, monetary neutrality is generally present in these models. Initially work from people like Barrow found strong support for the prediction of these models that only unanticipated changes in monetary policy can affect real variables like output, but subsequent work and eventually the weight of the evidence pointed in the other direction. Both expected and unexpected changes in the money supply appeared to matter in contrast to a key prediction of the New Classical framework.
A second factor that worked against New Classical models is that they had difficulty explaining both the duration and magnitude of actual business cycles. If the reaction to an unexpected policy shock was focused in a single period, the magnitude could be matched, but not the duration. If the shock was spread over 3-5 years to match the duration, the magnitude of cycles could not be matched. Movements in macroeconomic variables arising from informational errors (unexpected policy shocks) did not have enough "power" to capture both aspects of actual business cycles.
The other factor that worked against these models was that information problems were a key factor in generating swings in GDP and employment, and these variations were costly in aggregate. Yet no markets for information appeared to resolve this problem. For those who believe in the power of markets, and many proponents of New Classical models were also market fundamentalists, the lack of markets for information was a problem.
The New Classical model had displaced the Keynesian model for the reasons highlighted above, but the failure of the New Classical model left the door open for the New Keynesian model to emerge (it appeared to be more consistent with the empirical evidence on the effects of changes in the money supply, and in other areas as well, e.g. the correlation between productivity and economic activity).
But while the New Classical revolution was relatively short-lived as macro models go, it left two important legacies, rational expectations and microfoundations (as well as better knowledge about how non-neutralities might arise, in essence the New Keynesian model drops continuous market clearing through the assumption of short-run price rigidities, and about how to model information sets). Rightly or wrongly, all subsequent models had to have these two elements present within them (RE and microfoundaions), or they would be dismissed.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 10:27 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics, Methodology |