Category Archive for: Politics [Return to Main]

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Prospect Theory & Populism

Chris Dillow:

Prospect theory & populism: Does prospect theory help explain support for Brexit in the UK and for Donald Trump in the US?
The bit of the theory I have in mind is the prediction that people are risk-seeking when they are losing, because they gamble to get even. This explains several phenomena: ...why (pdf) stock-pickers hold onto losing shares; why losing sports teams abandon their tactics in favour of risky all-out attack and “Hail Mary” passes; and why we sometimes get rogue traders – men who try to recoup losses by making riskier trades and so lose even more.
The same thing might explain support for Brexit and Trump. It’s generally agreed that both causes draw support from workers and the unemployed who feel that they’ve lost out under the existing order. ...
Of course, voting for Brexit, Trump or other populists is risky. But prospect theory tells us that those who feel they’ve lost might want to take risks. This might be because they feel they’ve nothing to lose: the threat of higher unemployment isn’t so scary if you’re already unemployed or if you think there’s a high chance of losing your job anyway. And/or it might be because they think that change carries upside risk.
This mechanism is amplified by another – distrust. The elite’s warnings that Brexit and Trump are risky are true. But many poorer workers and unemployed don’t trust elites...

Friday, May 20, 2016

Paul Krugman: Obama’s War on Inequality

Elections matter:

Obama’s War on Inequality, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: There were two big economic policy stories this week that you may have missed... Each tells you a lot about both what President Obama has accomplished and the stakes in this year’s election. ...
Donald Trump... — who has already declared that he will, in fact, slash taxes on the rich... — once again declared his intention to do away with Dodd-Frank... Just for the record, while Mr. Trump is sometimes described as a “populist,” almost every substantive policy he has announced would make the rich richer at workers’ expense.
The other story was about a policy change achieved through executive action: The Obama administration issued new guidelines on overtime pay, which will benefit an estimated 12.5 million workers. ...
Now, America isn’t about to become Denmark... But more has happened than you might think.
Most obviously, Obamacare provides aid and subsidies mainly to lower-income working Americans, and it pays for that aid partly with higher taxes at the top. That makes it an important redistributionist policy — the biggest such policy since the 1960s.
And between those extra Obamacare taxes and the expiration of the high-end Bush tax cuts... the average federal tax rate on the top 1 percent has risen quite a lot. In fact, it’s roughly back to what it was in 1979, pre-Ronald Reagan, something nobody seems to know. ...
Dodd-Frank actually has put a substantial crimp in the ability of Wall Street to make money hand over fist. It doesn’t go far enough, but it’s significant enough to have bankers howling, which is a good sign.
And while the move on overtime comes late in the game, it’s a pretty big deal, and could be the beginning of much broader action.
Again, nothing Mr. Obama has done will put more than a modest dent in American inequality. But his actions aren’t trivial, either.
And even these medium-size steps put the lie to the pessimism and fatalism one hears all too often on this subject. No, America isn’t an oligarchy in which both parties reliably serve the interests of the economic elite. Money talks on both sides of the aisle, but the influence of big donors hasn’t prevented the current president from doing a substantial amount to narrow income gaps — and he would have done much more if he’d faced less opposition in Congress.
And in this as in so much else, it matters hugely whom the nation chooses as his successor.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A General Theory of Austerity

Simon Wren-Lewis:

A General Theory of Austerity: ...I have just completed a working paper... It has the title of this post: in part an allusion to Keynes who had been here before, but also because its scope is ambitious. The first part of the paper tries to explain why austerity is nearly always unnecessary, and the second part tries to understand why the austerity mistake happened.
I start by making a distinction which helps a great deal. It is between fiscal consolidation, which is a policy decision, and austerity, which is an outcome where that fiscal consolidation leads to an increase in aggregate unemployment. If you understand why monetary policy can normally stop fiscal consolidation leading to austerity, but cannot when interest rates are stuck near zero, then you are a long way to understanding why austerity was a mistake. Fiscal consolidation in 2010 was around 3 years too early. A section of the paper is devoted to showing that the idea that markets prevented such a delay in consolidation is a complete myth. ...
None of this theory is at all new: hence the allusion to Keynes in the title. That makes the question of why policy makers made the mistake all the more pertinent. One set of arguments point to an unfortunate conjunction of events: austerity as an accident if you like. Basically Greece happened at a time when German orthodoxy was dominant. I argue that this explanation cannot play more than a minor role: mainly because it does not explain what happened in the US and UK, but also because it requires us to believe that macroeconomics in Germany is very special and that it had the power to completely dominate policy makers not only in Germany but the rest of the Eurozone.
The set of arguments that I think have more force, and which make up the general theory of the title, reflect political opportunism on the political right which is dominated by a ‘small state’ ideology. It is opportunism because it chose to ignore the (long understood) macroeconomics, and instead appeal to arguments based on equating governments to households, at a time when many households were in the process of reducing debt or saving more. But this explanation raises another question in turn: how was the economics known since Keynes lost to simplistic household analogies. ....
If my analysis is right, it means that we cannot be complacent that when the next liquidity trap recession hits the austerity mistake will not be made again. Indeed it may be even more likely to happen, as austerity has in many cases been successful in reducing the size of the state. My paper does not explore how to avoid future austerity, but it hopefully lays the groundwork for that discussion.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Paul Krugman: Trump and Taxes

Trumpworld:

Trump and Taxes, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: This seems to be the week for Trump tax mysteries. ... On the first mystery: Mr. Trump’s excuse, that he can’t release his returns while they’re being audited, is an obvious lie. ... Clearly, he must be hiding something. What?
It could be how little he pays in taxes... But I doubt it..., he’d probably boast that his ability to game the tax system shows how smart he is compared to all the losers out there.
So my guess ... is that the dirty secret ... is that he isn’t as rich as he claims to be. In Trumpworld, the revelation ... would be utterly humiliating. ...
Meanwhile, however, we can look at the candidate’s policy proposals. ... The story so far: Last fall Mr. Trump suggested that he would break with Republican orthodoxy by raising taxes on the wealthy. But then he unveiled a tax plan that would, in fact, lavish huge tax cuts on the rich..., adding around $10 trillion to the national debt over a decade.
Now, the inconsistency between Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and his specific proposals didn’t seem to hurt him in the Republican primaries. ...
Having secured the nomination, however, Mr. Trump apparently feels the need to seem more respectable. ...
But what’s really interesting is whom ... Mr. Trump has brought in to revise his plans: Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. That news had economic analysts spitting out their morning coffee all across America. ...Mr. Kudlow has a record of being wrong about, well, everything. ... Mr. Moore has a comparable forecasting record, but he also has a remarkable inability to get facts straight. ...
So why would Mr. Trump turn to these of all people to, ahem, fix his numbers?
It could be ... an attempt to reassure insiders by bringing in ... influential members of the Republican establishment — which incidentally tells you a lot about their party.
But my guess is that the explanation is simpler: The candidate has no idea who is and isn’t competent. I mean, it’s not as if he has any independent knowledge of economics...
So he probably just went with a couple of guys he’s seen on TV...
Now, you might wonder how someone that careless and incurious was such a huge success in business. But one answer is, how successful was he, really? What’s in those tax returns?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Send In The Clowns

 Paul Krugman:

Send In The Clowns: Still boggled by reports that Trump, having realized that the numbers on his tax plan aren’t remotely credible, has decided to fix things by bringing in as experts … Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore. I mean, at some level this was predictable. But it still tells you a lot about both Donald the Doofus and his chosen party.
Granted that Trump is deeply ignorant about policy; still, you might have thought that he would try to signal his independence from the establishment by, say, turning to some business economist. Instead, he turned to the usual suspects from the right-wing noise machine. And what a choice!
I mean, Kudlow is to economics what William Kristol is to political strategy: if he says something, you know it’s wrong. When he ridiculed “bubbleheads” who thought overvalued real estate could bring down the economy, you should have rushed for the bomb shelters; when he proclaimed Bush a huge success, because a rising stock market is the ultimate verdict on a presidency (unless the president is a Democrat), you should have known that the Bush era would end with epochal collapse.
And then there’s Moore, who has a similarly awesome forecasting record, and adds to it an impressive lack of even minimal technical competence. Seriously: read the CJR report on his mess-up over job numbers...
Of course, Moore remains the chief economist at Heritage. And maybe Trump believes that this is a certificate of quality, that anyone in that position must be a real expert.
Truly, Donald Trump, you know nothing.

 

Monday, May 09, 2016

Paul Krugman: The Making of an Ignoramus

Donald Trump is "frighteningly uninformed":

The Making of an Ignoramus, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Truly, Donald Trump knows nothing. He is more ignorant about policy than you can possibly imagine...
Last week the presumptive Republican presidential nominee ... finally revealed his plan to make America great again. Basically, it involves running the country like a failing casino: he could, he asserted, “make a deal” with creditors that would reduce the debt burden if his outlandish promises of economic growth don’t work out.
The reaction from everyone who knows anything about finance or economics was a mix of amazed horror and horrified amazement. ...
So why is Mr. Trump even talking about this subject? Well, one possible answer is that lots of supposedly serious people have been hyping the alleged threat posed by federal debt for years. ...
A lot of this debt hysteria was really about trying to bully us into cutting Social Security and Medicare, which is why so many self-proclaimed fiscal hawks were also eager to cut taxes on the rich. But Mr. Trump apparently wasn’t in on that particular con, and takes the phony debt scare seriously. Sad!
Still..., how can he imagine that it would be O.K. for America to default? One answer is that he’s extrapolating from his own business career, in which he has done very well by running up debts, then walking away from them.
But it’s also true that much of the Republican Party shares his insouciance about default. Remember, the party’s congressional wing deliberately set about extracting concessions from President Obama, using the threat of gratuitous default via a refusal to raise the debt ceiling.
And quite a few Republican lawmakers defended that strategy of extortion by arguing that default wouldn’t be that bad...
In fact, it’s remarkable how many ridiculous Trumpisms were previously espoused by Mitt Romney in 2012, from his claim that the true unemployment rate vastly exceeds official figures to his claim that he can bring prosperity by starting a trade war with China.
None of this should be taken as an excuse for Mr. Trump. He really is frighteningly uninformed...
Oh, and just for the record: No, it’s not the same on the other side of the aisle. You may dislike Hillary Clinton, you may disagree sharply with her policies, but she and the people around her do know their facts. Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom, but in this election, one party has largely cornered the market in raw ignorance.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Where Do Trump’s Bad Ideas Come From?

Paul Krugman:

Where Do Trump’s Bad Ideas Come From?: So everyone is having fun with Donald Trump’s suggestion that he’ll negotiate forgiveness on U.S. debt — making America great by running it like a failing Atlantic City casino. ... A number of people have also pointed out that willingness to trifle with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government didn’t start with Trump — it started with Republicans in the House, who casually tried to extort concessions by refusing to raise the debt limit.
But one thing I haven’t seen much discussion of is the question of why Trump imagines that we have a severe debt problem, requiring extraordinary measures. Here, after all, is what U.S. interest payments look like:

050716krugman1-tmagArticle

See the crisis? Neither do I.
But Trump, we can assume, doesn’t look at economic data, or for that matter employ anyone who can. Remember how unemployment is really 42 percent? What he does do is pick up stuff that everyone around him says.
And here’s the thing: claims that America is facing a debt crisis have been all over the political landscape for years... So it’s not really surprising that Trump, who doesn’t know much about policy, would pick up on all this buzz, and not get the memo that it’s all really about finding excuses to slash social programs. And he knows, or thinks he knows, a lot about being overextended on credit; so let’s declare bankruptcy and make a deal!
The point is that this isn’t coming solely from the would-be ignoramus-in-chief...

Friday, May 06, 2016

Paul Krugman: Truth and Trumpism

Don't believe everything you read:

Truth and Trumpism, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: How will the news media handle the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? I suspect I know the answer — and it’s going to be deeply frustrating. But maybe, just maybe, flagging some common journalistic sins in advance can limit the damage. ...
First, and least harmful, will be the urge to make the election seem closer than it is, if only because a close race makes a better story. You can already see this tendency...
A more important vice in political coverage, which we’ve seen all too often in previous elections — but will be far more damaging if it happens this time — is false equivalence.
You might think that this would be impossible on substantive policy issues, where the asymmetry between the candidates is almost ridiculously obvious. ... But beware of news analyses that, in the name of “balance,” downplay this contrast. ...
And what about less quantifiable questions about behavior? I’ve already seen pundits suggest that both presumptive nominees fight dirty, that both have taken the “low road” in their campaigns. For the record, Mr. Trump has impugned his rivals’ manhood, called them liars and suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was associated with J.F.K.’s killer. On her side, Mrs. Clinton has suggested that Bernie Sanders hasn’t done his homework on some policy issues. These things are not the same.
Finally, I can almost guarantee that we’ll see attempts to sanitize the positions and motives of Trump supporters, to downplay the racism that is at the heart of the movement and pretend that what voters really care about are the priorities of D.C. insiders — a process I think of as “centrification.” ...
 I’m seeing suggestions that Trumpism is driven by concerns about political gridlock. No, it isn’t. It isn’t even mainly about “economic anxiety.”
Trump support in the primaries was strongly correlated with racial resentment: We’re looking at a movement of white men angry that they no longer dominate American society the way they used to. And to pretend otherwise is to give both the movement and the man who leads it a free pass.
In the end, bad reporting probably won’t change the election’s outcome, because the truth is that those angry white men are right about their declining role. ...
Still, the public has a right to be properly informed. The news media should do all it can to resist false equivalence and centrification, and report what’s really going on.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Hofstadter on the American right

Daniel Little:

Hofstadter on the American right: Richard Hofstadter opened his 1963 Herbert Spencer Lecture at Oxford with these prescient words:

Although American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict, it has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds. Today this fact is most evident on the extreme right wing, which has shown, particularly in the Goldwater movement. how much political leverage can he got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. Behind such move­ments there is a style of mind, not always right-wing in its affiliations, that has a long and varied history. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. (3)

This lecture became the title essay of The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Its emphasis on "uncommonly angry minds" is of obvious relevance to the politics of the right in the United States today. There is more that has a great resonance today:

But there is a vital difference between the para­noid spokesman in politics and the clinical paranoiac: although they both tend to be overheated, oversuspicious, overaggres­sive, grandiose, and apocalyptic in expression, the clinical paranoid sees the hostile and conspiratorial world in which he feels himself to be living as directed specifically against him; whereas the spokesman of the paranoid style finds it directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone but millions of others.... His sense that his political passions are unselfish and patriotic, in fact, goes far to intensify his feeling of righteousness and his moral indignation. (4)

Hofstadter mentions the particular objects of paranoid wrath in the 1950s and 1960s: gun control, fluoridation of municipal water, and international Communist conspiracy. Most especially, the paranoid philosophy is nativist; it directs fear and hostility against "others" (in the first half of the twentieth century in the United States, Masons, Catholics, and Mormons, for example; 9). We can hear these same strands of thought to be expressed in current political bigotry against immigrants, Muslims, and transgendered people.

Hofstadter offers perspective on this strand of American political thought from an historian's point of view. He takes up the American campaign against Illuminism and Masonry in the early part of the nineteenth century as an example.

The anti-Masonic movement of the late 1820's and 1830's took up and extended the obsession with conspiracy. At first blush, this movement may seem to be no more than an exten­sion or repetition of the anti-Masonic theme sounded in the earlier outcry against the Bavarian Illuminati--and, indeed, the works of writers like Robison and Barruel were often cited again as evidence of the sinister character of Masonry.  But whereas the panic of the 1790's was confined mainly to New England and linked to an ultra-conservative argument, the later anti-Masonic movement affected many parts of the northern United States and was altogether congenial to popu­lar democracy and rural egalitarianism. (14)

So what about the content of paranoid politics in the twentieth century?

If we now take the long jump to the contemporary right wing. we find some rather important differences from the nineteenth-century movements. The spokesmen of those earlier movements felt that they stood for causes and personal types that were still in possession of their country--that they were fending off threats to a still well-established way of life in which they played an important part. But the mod­ern right wing. as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old Amer­ican virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialist and communist schemers; the old national security and independence have been de­stroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major states­men seated at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors discovered foreign conspiracies; the modem radical right finds that conspiracy also embraces betrayal at home. (23-24)

Hofstadter believed that mass media had a lot to do with the deepening influence of paranoid politics in the 1960s; it isn't difficult to argue that social media takes that influence to an even greater pitch in the current environment.

He closes the essay with yet another astute observation very relevant to contemporary right-wing rhetoric:

In American experience, ethnic and religious conflicts, with their threat of the submergence of whole systems of values, have plainly been the major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but elsewhere class conflicts have also mobilized such energies. The paranoid tendency is aroused by a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular political interest--perhaps because of the very un­realistic and unrealizable nature of their demands--cannot make themselves felt in the political process. Feeling that they have no access to political bargaining or the making of deci­sions, they find their original conception of the world of power as omnipotent, sinister, and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power--and this through distorting lenses--and have little chance to observe its actual machinery. L. B. Namier once said that "the crowning attain­ment of historical study" is to achieve "an intuitive sense of how things do not happen." It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resist­ance of his own, of course, to such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him. We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well. (39-40)

This is brilliant diagnosis of the political psychology of reaction, very much in line with Fritz Stern's analysis of the politics of cultural despair in the context of Weimar Germany (link). What Hofstadter does not clearly distinguish here is the political psychology of followers and leaders.  But much about mass political mobilization turns on this point. Much of what seems to have transpired in the current political season is the artful orchestration of messages of fear, resentment, and antagonism along the lines of paranoid politics that Hofstadter describes. Antagonism and suspicion appear to be powerful motivators in a mass movement, and scapegoating of minority groups is a familiar and repugnant strategy. These messages have succeeded in motivating followers and voters in support of candidates espousing these messages. What is unclear is what political values actually motivate the candidates; and it is fair enough to speculate that there is a substantial degree of cynical manipulation at work in the message mills of the right in creating a movement around these hateful and suspicious themes.

These are important historical observations by Hofstadter, and they seem to shed a great deal of light on the political rhetoric and successes of the right in the United States over the past fifty years. They capture important insights into the mentality and rhetoric of the political passions that have animated a lot of political activity, both electoral and social, throughout the past half century. They point to the underpinnings of suspicion, hatred, and alienation which seem to drive the bus on the extreme right. And what was on the "extreme" right a decade ago has become mainstream conservatism today. It seems crucial for the future of our democracy to reawaken the political values of trust, mutual acceptance, and equality which are so fundamental to stable and sustainable civic peace within a mass democracy. Significantly, this was the core political message of Barack Obama in 2008.

(There is a thread here that I haven't mentioned but may also be illuminating -- Hofstadter's analysis of American political consciousness seems to shed some indirect light on the Bernie Sanders phenomenon as well. Hofstadter notes several times above that class conflict has not been a prominent theme in American politics. But perhaps part of the appeal of the Sanders candidacy is exactly his ability to speak about the one percent in ways that resonate with younger voters; and this is a class-based message. Wouldn't it be interesting if large numbers of young and poor voters in the United States became active in support of their long-term economic interests.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Political Consequences of Slow Economic Growth

I have a new column:

How Slow Economic Growth Could Thwart a Clinton Presidency : Much has been written about the economic consequences of the slowdown in economic growth in recent years, but what about the political implications? If the slowdown continues, and there is reason to believe that it will, how will it affect the ability of the next president to implement his, or more likely her, economic agenda?
If Hillary Clinton wins in November and economic growth remains low, the call from Republicans for tax cuts will become louder than it already is. ...
If growth remains low we will also hear much more about how government regulation is stifling business activity. ...

And so on (it's already started, John Cochrane, calling for deregulation "While the current presidential front-runners are not championing economic growth, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other House members are.").

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How Does Trade with China affect U.S. Elections?

At MoneyWatch:

How will global trade affect the U.S. elections?, by Mark Thoma: In textbook economic models, adjusting to changes in the economy is deceptively simple. If the labor market suffers a "shock" due, for example, to increased globalization, it adjusts quickly to restore full employment.
In the real world, it doesn't happen like this. It takes time for workers to find new jobs, if they can find them. New businesses and new job openings at existing businesses aren't created instantaneously. And wage adjustments, which create the incentives for workers to move and new jobs to be created, don't happen as fast as the textbooks generally assume.
And now, the effect of international trade and globalization has become a big issue in the presidential campaign. Recent research showing that a large number of manufacturing jobs have been lost to China helps explain why. But what evidence shows that trade with China actually changes voting behavior?
A recent paper from the National Bureaus of Economic Research attempts to answer this question. ...

Monday, April 25, 2016

Paul Krugman: The 8 A.M. Call

Are the presidential candidates prepared to handle an economic crisis?:

The 8 A.M. Call, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Back in 2008, one of the ads Hillary Clinton ran during the contest for the Democratic nomination featured an imaginary scene in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. with news of a foreign crisis, and asked, “Who do you want answering that phone?” ... As it turned out ... Mr. Obama, a notably coolheaded type who listens to advice, handled foreign affairs pretty well...
That 3 a.m. call is one thing; but what about the 8 a.m. call – the one warning that financial markets will melt down as soon as they open? ...
At this point there are three candidates who have a serious chance of receiving their party’s presidential nomination. ... So what do we know about their economic policy skills?
Well, Mrs. Clinton isn’t just the most knowledgeable, well-informed candidate in this election, she’s arguably the best-prepared candidate on matters economic ever to run for president. ...
On the other side, I doubt that anyone will be shocked if I say that Mr. Trump doesn’t know much about economic policy, or for that matter any kind of policy. He still seems to imagine, for example, that China is taking advantage of America by keeping its currency weak — which was true once upon a time, but bears no resemblance to current reality.
Oh, and coping with crisis in the modern world requires a lot of international cooperation. Things like currency swap lines... How well do you think that kind of cooperation would work in a Trump administration?
Yet things could be worse. The Donald doesn’t know much, but Ted Cruz knows a lot that isn’t so..., he demands a gold standard to produce a “sound dollar.” He chose, as his senior economic adviser, Phil Gramm — an architect of financial deregulation who helped set the stage for the 2008 crisis, then dismissed warnings of recession when that crisis came, calling America a “nation of whiners.”
Mr. Cruz is ... utterly divorced from reality and impervious to evidence... A financial crisis with him in the White House could be, let’s say, an interesting experience.
I don’t know how much play the candidates’ readiness for economic emergencies will get in the general election. There will, after all, be so many horrifying positions, on everything from immigration to Planned Parenthood, to dissect. But let’s try to make some room for this issue. For that 8 a.m. call is probably coming, one way or another.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Presidential Candidates and Fed Accountability

Carola Binder:

Presidential Candidates and Fed Accountability: In an interview with Fortune, Donald Trump gave his views on  Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who will come up for reappointment in 2018. "I don’t want to comment on reappointment, but I would be more inclined to put other people in," he remarked, despite his opinion that Yellen "has done a serviceable job." ...
Recently, Narayana Kocherlakota, who was President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 2009 through 2015, has been urging Presidential candidates to address their views on the Fed. ...
The other candidate who has said most about the Fed is Bernie Sanders, who wrote an op-ed about the Fed in the New York Times in December. Sanders' remarks focus mainly on Fed governance and financial regulation, though he also comments on the Fed's interest rate policy...
I asked Bernanke whether he thought that the presidential candidates should talk about monetary policy and the (re)appointment of the Fed Chair. He agreed with Kocherlakota that candidates should talk about what they would like to see in a Fed Chair, but said that he does not think it's a good idea to politicize individual interest rate decisions, emphasizing that the Fed does not have goal independence, but does have instrument independence. In other words, Congress has given the Fed a monetary policy mandate—full employment and price stability—but does not specify what the Fed needs to do to try to achieve those goals.
Anyone who wants to is welcome to evaluate the Fed on how successfully they are achieving that mandate. Anyone who wants to is also welcome to evaluate the merits of the mandate itself. Different people will come to different evaluations depending on their own beliefs and preferences. But neither of these two evaluations requires an audit of monetary policy by the Government Accountability Office, as both Sanders and Trump have advocated.
Anyone who is dissatisfied with the mandate itself can go through the usual channels of political change in a democracy and pressure Congress to change the mandate. Congress, by design, is susceptible to such pressure: they need votes. Presidential candidates are in a good position to draw public attention to the Fed's mandate and urge change if they believe it is necessary. Sanders, for example, could propose redefining the Fed's full employment mandate to mean unemployment below 4 percent. I'm not quite sure what kind of mandate Trump would support. It is also fair game for any member of the public to evaluate the Fed on how successfully they are achieving their mandate. But Congress does not (or at least, should not) tell the Fed how to set interest rates to achieve its mandate, and Presidential candidates shouldn't either.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

John Kasich’s Interview with The Washington Post Editorial Board

This is pretty funny:

A transcript of John Kasich’s interview with The Washington Post editorial board:
... CATHERINE RAMPELL, COLUMNIST: On the balanced budget question, you have positioned yourself as the sole candidate of fiscal responsibility based on your record in Ohio and previously in Congress, but arguably of all of the candidates still standing you have released the least details about budgeting, about taxes. You’re the only candidate that the Tax Foundation, Tax Policy Center, Committee for a Responsible [Federal] Budget have said they can’t score your tax plan because it’s too thin on details.
KASICH:  Yes. Well,... look, I mean, we’re working through it. I’ve cut taxes in Ohio. It’s not confusing. I’m going to have a 28, 25 and 10 percent rate. We’re going to have an increase in the earned income tax credit.
RAMPELL:  Yes, but that doesn’t lead to surpluses. That doesn’t lead to – ...
KASICH: Well, you get the surpluses three ways:  ...Common sense regulations so you’re not crushing small business. ...
Two, lower taxes. ...
And the third thing is a fiscal plan. Now, I will tell you how we’ll run the fiscal plan. And I can lay out all – you’re going to send welfare and Medicaid and, you know, this job training and all that back to the states. ...
So it’s not that hard to budget. Entitlements?  I’ve already talked about Social Security. You’re going to have to means test it and say if you’ve had, you know, significant income over your lifetime; and we’re trying to put the details to what that number is, you’ll get Social Security. You’ll get less and people that depend on it will get what they need.
RAMPELL:  So to clarify, you’re saying you would balance through spending cuts?
KASICH:  No, no, no. You get it through economic growth. That’s the way you get it. Economic growth. Our tax plan, all that projects 3.9 percent economic growth. It’s not some flimsy put-together – you know... I don’t put together smoke and mirrors ... it’s one of the reasons why I got in trouble with conservatives – I have never operated from a – one of these dynamic models. Okay?  But there’s a legitimate amount of dynamic activity. And I just don’t get beyond what I think is a legitimate pale.
MARCUS:  Well, but you have a tax cut that – as far as I can see though it’s been unscoreable for the reasons that Catherine says – that most closely approximates Jeb Bush’s. Jeb Bush’s tax cut was scored on a non-dynamic basis by the Tax Policy Center as costing about $6.8 trillion. ...
KASICH: Well, look, I would tell you that look at the plan and see how they project it. I believe that we have not overused dynamic scoring...– I think that what we’ve done is a set of reasonable assumptions. Now, who’s working on it?  People like Kerry Knott, worked for [former congressman] Dick Armey. I mean, we got a lot of people looking at it. ...
MARCUS:  So, but your path to balance, which doesn’t include Social Security ... rests on sustained economic growth rate approaching four percent, which ... has not really been seen in ... recent American history. So –
KASICH:  You know why?  Because they over-regulate, over-tax and blow up the budget. ... Tax cuts matter because I believe they provide economic growth. I don’t think you should make numbers up. ...

This part was amusing too:

TOM TOLES, EDITORIAL CARTOONIST:  Do you support a market tax on carbon..., doesn’t it get to the problem in a significant way?

KASICH:  No.

STROMBERG:  So the economists are wrong on this, then?
KASICH:  Well, which economists?
STROMBERG:  Essentially all of them.
KASICH:  Well no, I can get you an economist out of Ohio University, and he wouldn’t agree with these economists. ...

A bit later:

KASICH:  ...Somebody comes to me and says, you know, some bunch of economists or scientists that say, “Look, this is a problem” — of course I’d listen to them. ...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Debunking Republican Health Care Myths

From the NY Times editorial board:

Debunking Republican Health Care Myths: “Disaster.” “Incredible economic burden.” “The biggest job-killer in this country.”
Central to the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz has been the claim that the Affordable Care Act has been a complete failure, and that the only way to save the country from this scourge is to replace it with something they design.
It’s worth examining the big myths they are peddling about the Affordable Care Act and also their ill-conceived plans of what might replace it. ...
In inventing problems that don’t exist and proposing solutions that won’t help, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz show that they don’t care about helping Americans get health care, which has never been their interest. They want to trash the Affordable Care Act, and they’re willing to mislead the public any way they can.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Paul Krugman: The Pastrami Principle

"We’re all real Americans":

The Pastrami Principle, bt Paul Krugman, NY Times: A couple of months ago, Jeb Bush (remember him?) posted a photo of his monogrammed handgun to Twitter, with the caption “America.” Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, responded with a picture of an immense pastrami sandwich, also captioned “America.” ...
Mr. Bush’s post was an awkward attempt to tap into the common Republican theme that only certain people — white, gun-owning, rural or small-town citizens — embody the true spirit of the nation. ...
Mr. de Blasio’s riposte, celebrating a characteristically New York delicacy, was a declaration that we’re also Americans — that everyone counts. ...
Which is why it’s disturbing to see ... attempts to delegitimize large groups of voters surfacing among some Democrats.
Quite a few people seem confused about the current state of the Democratic nomination race. But the essentials are simple: Hillary Clinton has a large lead in both pledged delegates and the popular vote so far....
So the Sanders campaign is arguing that superdelegates ... should give him the nomination even if he loses the popular vote. ...
But how can the campaign make the case that the party should defy the apparent will of its voters? By insisting that many of those voters shouldn’t count. Over the past week, Mr. Sanders has declared that Mrs. Clinton leads only because she has won in the “Deep South,” which is a “pretty conservative part of the country.” The tally so far, he says, “distorts reality” because it contains so many Southern states.
As it happens, this isn’t true... But never mind. ... Mrs. Clinton didn’t win big in the South on the strength of conservative voters; she won by getting an overwhelming majority of black voters. This puts a different spin on things, doesn’t it?
Is it possible that Mr. Sanders doesn’t know this... It’s more likely, however, that ... his effort to delegitimize a big part of the Democratic electorate is a cynical ploy ... aimed at misleading Sanders supporters, giving them an unrealistic view of the chances that their favorite can still win — and thereby keeping the flow of money and volunteers coming. ...
I’m not saying that Mr. Sanders should drop out. ... But trying to keep his campaign going by misleading his supporters is not O.K. And sneering at millions of voters is truly beyond the pale, especially for a progressive.
Remember the pastrami principle: We’re all real Americans. And African-Americans are very definitely real Democrats, deserving respect.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

'Donald Trump's Fuzzy Deficit-Cutting Math'

At MoneyWatch:

Donald Trump's fuzzy deficit-cutting math, by Mark A. Thoma: Donald Trump has big -- huuuge -- plans for the economy. Do those plans have any merit?
Perhaps it's a mistake to take presidential candidates' economic proposals as serious policy rather than signals of tribal affiliation, opening bids in post-election negotiations or pandering for votes by telling various groups what they want to hear, even if the parts don't add up to a feasible whole.
Nevertheless, I'm taking Trump's proposals for taxes, the government debt, Medicare and Social Security as though they are genuine...

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Can Central Banks Make 3 Major Mistakes in a Row and Stay Independent?

Simon Wren-Lewis:

Can central banks make 3 major mistakes in a row and stay independent?: Mistake 1 If you are going to blame anyone for not seeing the financial crisis coming, it would have to be central banks. They had the data that showed a massive increase in financial sector leverage. That should have rung alarm bells...
Mistake 2 Of course the main culprit for the slow recovery from the Great Recession was austerity... But the slow recovery also reflects a failure of monetary policy. In my view the biggest failure occurred very early on in the recession. Monetary policy makers should have said very clearly, both to politicians and to the public, that with interest rates at their lower bound they could no longer do their job effectively, and that fiscal stimulus would have helped them do that job. Central banks might have had the power to prevent austerity happening, but they failed to use it. ...
What could be mistake 3 The third big mistake may be being made right now in the UK and US. It could be called supply side pessimism. Central bankers want to ‘normalise’ their situation... They want to declare that they are back in control. But this involves writing off the capacity that appears to have been lost as a result of the Great Recession.
The UK and US situations are different. ...
I think these differences are details. In both cases the central bank is treating potential output as something that is independent of its own decisions and the level of actual output. ...
Perhaps that is correct, but there has to be a fair chance that it is not. If it is not, by trying to adjust demand to this incorrectly perceived low level of supply central banks are wasting a huge amount of potential resources. Their excuses for doing this are not strong. It is not as if our models of aggregate supply and inflation are well developed and reliable... The real question to ask is whether firms with current technology would like to produce more if the demand for this output was there, and we do not have good data on that.
What central banks should be doing in these circumstances is allowing their economies to run hot for a time, even though this might produce some increase in inflation above target. If when that is done both price and wage inflation appear to be continuing to rise above target, while ‘supply’ shows no sign of increasing with demand, then pessimism will have been proved right and the central bank can easily pull things back. The costs of this experiment will not have been great...
It does not appear that the Bank of England or Fed are prepared to do that. If we subsequently find out that their supply side pessimism was incorrect ..., this could spell the end of central bank independence. ... The Great Moderation is becoming a distant memory clouded by more recent failures. ... Mainstream economics remains pretty committed to central bank independence. But as we have seen with austerity, at the end of the day what mainstream economics thinks is not decisive when it comes to political decisions on economic matters. ...

Friday, April 08, 2016

Paul Krugman: Sanders Over the Edge

Paul Krugman:

Sanders Over the Edge, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: From the beginning, many and probably most liberal policy wonks were skeptical about Bernie Sanders. On many major issues — including the signature issues of his campaign, especially financial reform — he seemed to go for easy slogans over hard thinking. And his political theory of change, his waving away of limits, seemed utterly unrealistic.
Some Sanders supporters responded angrily when these concerns were raised... But intolerance and cultishness from some of a candidate’s supporters are one thing; what about the candidate himself? Unfortunately,... Mr. Sanders is starting to sound like his worst followers. Bernie is becoming a Bernie Bro.
Let me illustrate the point about issues by talking about bank reform..., were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis...?
Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no. Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers that weren’t necessarily that big..., pounding the table about big banks misses the point. ...
And this absence of substance beyond the slogans seems to be true of his positions across the board.
You could argue that policy details are unimportant as long as a politician has the right values and character ... But ... the way Mr. Sanders is now campaigning raises serious character and values issues.
It’s one thing for the Sanders campaign to point to Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street connections, which are real, although the question should be whether they have distorted her positions, a case the campaign has never even tried to make. But recent attacks on Mrs. Clinton as a tool of the fossil fuel industry are just plain dishonest, and speak of a campaign that has lost its ethical moorings.
And then there was Wednesday’s rant about how Mrs. Clinton is not “qualified” to be president. ...
Is Mr. Sanders positioning himself to join the “Bernie or bust” crowd, walking away if he can’t pull off an extraordinary upset, and possibly helping put Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in the White House? If not, what does he think he’s doing?
The Sanders campaign has brought out a lot of idealism and energy that the progressive movement needs. It has also, however, brought out a streak of petulant self-righteousness among some supporters. Has it brought out that streak in the candidate, too?

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

What Bernie Sanders Gets Right

I have a new column:

What Bernie Sanders Gets Right: A little over a year ago, Bernie Sanders expressed one of the themes of his presidential campaign in a speech at the Brookings Institution:
We are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society… billionaire families are now able to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase the candidates of their choice. The billionaire class now owns the economy, and they are working day and night to make certain that they own the United States government.
This gets at the heart of the justification for our economic system. According to economic theory, one of the wonders of capitalism is that the pursuit of self-interest by individuals in society is guided, as if by an invisible hand, to maximize the collective social interest. Ruthless, cutthroat competition between individuals and businesses is magically transformed through the marketplace into a harmonious outcome that is best for society as a whole.
But there are important questions about the extent to which this describes how our economy actually works. ...

Friday, April 01, 2016

Paul Krugman: Learning From Obama

 "The lesson of the Obama years":

Learning From Obama, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Like many political junkies, I’ve been spending far too much time looking at polls... But the primaries aren’t the only things being polled; we’re still getting updates on President Obama’s overall approval. And ... his approval has risen sharply while disapproval has plunged. ... What’s going on?
Well, one answer is that voters have lately been given a taste of what really bad leaders look like. But I’d like to think that the public is also starting to realize just how successful the Obama administration has been...
I know that it’s hard for many people on both sides to wrap their minds around the notion of Obama-as-success. On the left, those caught up in the enthusiasms of 2008 feel let down by the prosaic reality of governing in a deeply polarized political system. Meanwhile, conservative ideology predicts disaster from any attempt to tax the rich, help the less fortunate and rein in the excesses of the market...
But the successes are there for all to see.
Start with the economy..., it’s important news if the economy has performed well. And it has..., just imagine the boasting we’d be hearing if Mitt Romney occupied the White House.
Then there’s health reform, which has (don’t tell anyone) been meeting its goals. ...
Then there’s financial reform, which the left considers toothless and the right considers destructive. In fact, while the big banks haven’t been broken up, excessive leverage — the real threat to financial stability — has been greatly reduced. And as for the economic effects, have I mentioned how well we’ve done on job creation?
Last but one hopes not least, the Obama administration has used executive authority to take ... very significant action on climate change.
All in all, it’s quite a record. ...
The 2008 election didn’t bring the political transformation Obama enthusiasts expected, nor did it destroy the power of the vested interests: Wall Street, the medical-industrial complex and the fossil fuel lobby are all still out there, using their money to buy influence. But they have been pushed back in ways that have made American lives better and more secure.
The lesson of the Obama years, in other words, is that success doesn’t have to be complete to be very real. You say you want a revolution? Well, you can’t always get what you want — but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

'Trump, Cruz Tax-Cut Plans Would Force Historically Dramatic Cuts'

From the CBPP:

Trump, Cruz Tax-Cut Plans Would Force Historically Dramatic Cuts: The tax-cut proposals from Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, in conjunction with their calls for balancing the budget, would dictate low levels of government spending not seen since about 1950, as we explain in a new paper.  Programs that receive support across the political spectrum and are important to the well-being of most Americans would dramatically shrink or disappear altogether.  Even if policymakers didn’t achieve budget balance under their tax-cut plans but simply offset the costs of the plans themselves, the consequences to essential programs — and to low- and middle-income Americans — would be severe. 
These conclusions emerge from an analysis of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center’s (TPC) revenue estimates of the Trump and Cruz tax plans — which would reduce revenues by $9.5 trillion and $8.7 trillion over the next ten years, respectively, according to TPC — and CBPP estimates of what such revenue levels imply for government spending.  This analysis examines only the Trump and Cruz plans because TPC has not analyzed John Kasich’s proposals and because the proposals of Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would raise revenues, not reduce them.  The specific findings include...
As dramatic as these figures are, they understate the pressure that the two candidates’ proposals would place on many government programs.  Both have proposed large spending increases in certain areas, including Senator Cruz’s proposal to increase defense spending by $2.7 trillion over the next decade and Mr. Trump’s proposal to increase spending on veterans by $500 billion to $1 trillion over this period.  Offsetting the cost of such increases, as well as the tax cuts, would require even deeper cuts to other programs. ...

Monday, March 28, 2016

Paul Krugman: Trade, Labor, and Politics

Why have Republican been more protectionist than Democrats?:

Trade, Labor, and Politics, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: There’s a lot of things about the 2016 election that nobody saw coming, and one of them is that international trade policy is likely to be a major issue... What’s more, the positions of the parties will be the reverse of what you might have expected: Republicans, who claim to stand for free markets, are likely to nominate a crude protectionist, leaving Democrats, with their skepticism about untrammeled markets, as the de facto defenders of relatively open trade.
But this isn’t as peculiar a development as it seems. ... It’s true that globalization puts downward pressure on the wages of many workers — but progressives can offer a variety of responses to that pressure, whereas on the right, protectionism is all they’ve got.
When I say that Republicans have been more protectionist than Democrats, I’m not talking about the distant past... Reagan, after all, imposed an import quota on automobiles that ended up costing consumers billions of dollars. And Mr. Bush imposed tariffs on steel that were in clear violation of international agreements, only to back down after the European Union threatened to impose retaliatory sanctions. ...
But protectionism isn’t the only way to fight that downward pressure. ... Consider, for example, the case of Denmark... As a member of the European Union, Denmark is subject to the same global trade agreements as we are... Yet Denmark has much lower inequality than we do. Why?
Part of the answer is that workers in Denmark, two-thirds of whom are unionized, still have a lot of bargaining power. If U.S. corporations were able to use the threat of imports to smash unions, it was only because our political environment supported union-busting. Even Canada, right next door, has seen nothing like the union collapse that took place here.
And the rest of the answer is that Denmark (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) has a much stronger social safety net than we do. In America, we’re constantly told ... we can’t even afford even the safety net we have; strange to say, other rich countries don’t seem to have that problem. ...
And there’s a lesson here that goes beyond this election. If you’re generally a supporter of open world markets — which you should be, mainly because market access is so important to poor countries — you need to know that whatever they may say, politicians who espouse rigid free-market ideology are not on your side.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Paul Krugman: Crazy About Money

 "Mr. Cruz has staked out positions on crucial issues that are, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy":

Crazy About Money, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In this year of Trump, the land is loud with the wails of political commentators ... crying out, “How can this be happening?” But a few brave souls are willing to whisper the awful truth: Many voters support Donald Trump because they actually agree with his ideas.
This is not, however, a column about Mr. Trump. It is, instead, about Ted Cruz, who has emerged as the favored candidate of the G.O.P. elite...
In a way, that’s quite a remarkable development. For Mr. Cruz has staked out positions on crucial issues that are, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. How can elite Republicans back him?
The answer is the same for Mr. Cruz and the elite as it is for Mr. Trump and the base: Leading Republicans support Mr. Cruz, not despite his policy positions, but because of them. ... Establishment Republicans may wince at the candidate’s fondness for talking about “carpet bombing” or his choice of a noted anti-Muslim bigot and conspiracy theorist as an adviser.
But both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio chose foreign policy teams dominated by the very people who pushed America into the Iraq debacle, and learned nothing from the experience. ...
And then there’s ... monetary policy. ... Mr. Cruz has staked out a distinctive position, by calling for a return to the gold standard. .... Mr. Cruz’s obsession with gold is one reason to believe that he would do even more economic damage in the White House than Mr. Trump...
Take, as a not at all arbitrary example, Paul Ryan,... the de facto leader of the Republican establishment ...Mr. Ryan is fundamentally a con man on his signature issue, fiscal policy. Incidentally, for what it’s worth, Mr. Cruz has been relatively honest by his party’s standards..., openly declaring his intention to raise taxes that hit the poor and the middle class even as he slashes them on the rich.
But Mr. Ryan seems to be a true believer on monetary policy... But what, exactly, is the nature of his monetary faith? The same as ... Mr. Cruz’s beliefs: Both men are devotees of Ayn Rand ...
The moral here is that we shouldn’t be surprised by the Republican establishment’s willingness to rally behind Mr. Cruz..., while his policy ideas are extreme, they reflect the same extremism that pervades the party’s elite.
There are no moderates, or for that matter, sensible people, anywhere in this story.

Will the Donor Class Still be at the Front of the Line When the Election is Over?

I have something at MoneyWatch:

Will Election 2016 Soothe Americans' Fears?:... The extent to which employment can recover further depends in large part on the availability of jobs and the wage rate, both of which will be affected by the course of monetary and fiscal policy. If the Fed raises interest rates too fast and too soon, wages and employment will be suppressed, and valuable members of the workforce will never return.
If Congress continues to serve the interests of the donor class rather than the working class, fails to provide the economy with the infrastructure it needs and the jobs that come with it, and forces further reductions in social services through tax cuts and demagoguery over the national debt, the discouragement so many people feel will only get worse. ...
Events in this year's presidential campaign have made it clear that people are unhappy with the present state of the economy. They believe policy has been tilted too much toward the interests of the financial industry, big business and the wealthy -- and that they've been forgotten.
But these problems won't be solved by closing the door to international trade and immigration, by enacting huge tax cuts for the wealthy or by embracing politics that divide us as a nation.
Policymakers at the Fed and in Congress must do all that they can to create jobs and opportunity for those who feel overlooked and forgotten. People are speaking clearly this election cycle: They want jobs, they want opportunity, they want wages to go up and they want inequality in to go down. ...

[The beginning was changed by the editor...]

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

'Cruz Seeks Economic Wisdom in the Wrong Place'

Barry Ritholtz:

Cruz Seeks Economic Wisdom in the Wrong Place:

Some people look at subprime lending and see evil. I look at subprime lending and I see the American dream in action. -- former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm, Nov. 16, 2008

...Gramm has been brought on as a senior economic adviser to Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. This isn't a promising development for Cruz... Not to put too fine a point on it, but I believe -- as do many others -- that Gramm was one of the major figures who helped set the stage for the crisis. ...

Gramm was a key sponsor of the ... Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which effectively repealed the piece of the Glass-Steagall Act... The damage caused by rolling back Glass-Steagall pales compared with ... the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. Gramm was a co-sponsor of the legislation, which exempted many derivatives and swaps from regulation.  Not only was the law problematic, but it veered into potential conflict-of-interest territory. ...

We got a chance to see those consequences a few years later when American International Group failed, thanks in part to swaps ... on $441 billion of securities that turned out to be junk. AIG wasn't required to put up much in the way of collateral, set aside capital or hedge its risk on the swaps. Why would it, when the law said it didn’t have to? The taxpayers were then called upon to bailout AIG to the tune of more than $180 billion.

Maybe it isn't too surprising that Cruz would seek advice from Gramm. Cruz, after all, seems to want to hobble modern economic policy by returning to the gold standard. ... We have seen these movies before, and they end in tragedy and tears. 

He also talks about Gramm's sad performance in his brief appearance as one of McCain's advisors in 2008.

The State of American Politics

Paul Ryan, in a speech on the state of American politics, says:

We don’t lock ourselves in an echo chamber, where we take comfort in the dogmas and opinions we already hold.

Followed by:

... in 1981 the Kemp-Roth bill was signed into law, lowering tax rates, spurring growth, and putting millions of Americans back to work.

Bruce Bartlett:

... I was the staff economist for Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) in 1977, and it was my job to draft what came to be the Kemp-Roth tax bill, which Reagan endorsed in 1980 and enacted the following year. ...
Republicans like to say that massive growth followed the Reagan tax cut. But average real GDP growth during Reagan’s eight years in the White House was only slightly above the rate of the previous eight years: 3.4 percent per year vs. 2.9 percent. The average unemployment rate was actually higher under Reagan than it was during the previous eight years: 7.5 percent vs. 6.6 percent. ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

'Trumpism, the Economic Wrecking Ball'

Alan Blinder:

Trumpism, the Economic Wrecking Ball: For much of the past six months, I’ve tried to ignore the political ascent of Donald Trump. Too horrible to be true, I assured myself. But the unthinkable has happened, and Mr. Trump is now the likely nominee of the Republican Party. So what might a Trump presidency bring?
To be frank, the most horrifying aspects of Trumpism are not his economic policies. The worst he could do there would be to precipitate a global depression. It’s far scarier to contemplate an erratic, blustering demagogue taking command of the most powerful military force on earth. Or the foreign-policy calamities that might befall us.
But I’m an economist, so I’ll stick with economics. ...
Let’s tote up the score. Mr. Trump’s tax plan is doable, if Congress is sufficiently pliant. But it would exacerbate income inequality and explode the federal deficit. Mr. Trump’s immigration plans are heartless, hugely expensive and incredibly disruptive to the U.S. economy. His positions on international trade display abysmal ignorance, are economically harmful and threaten America’s standing in the world.
And remember: These are the best parts of what Mr. Trump has to offer.

Why Republican Elites are Threatened

New Column:

Why Republican Elites are Threatened, by Mark Thoma: ... Donald Trump’s tax plan will result in a fall in revenue of 9.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years, yet somehow he will fulfill his promise to protect Social Security and Medicare and balance the budget? When push comes to shove (or worse – this is Trump after all), who do you think he will protect, social insurance programs the working class relies upon for economic security or his own and his party’s wealthy interests? Ted Cruz has proposed an 8.6 trillion dollar tax cut. How, exactly, will that be financed without large cuts to social insurance programs or huge increases in the budget deficit?
Republicans have fooled people into thinking budget deficits can be reduced substantially by eliminating waste and fraud in government, cutting foreign aid, or that it is the fault of lazy, undeserving “others” who sponge off of government programs. ...

I am very happy that the Republican con is starting to come to light. Members of the working class who support Trump are beginning to see that the elites in the Republican Party do not have their best interests at heart. I am not pleased at all, however, that people are still being led to believe that there are simple answers to budget problems that do not require raising taxes, or, alternatively, reducing their hard-earned benefits from programs such as Social Security or Medicare. ...

Monday, March 21, 2016

'Goodbye to Pluralism? Studying Power in Contemporary American Politics'

Paul Pierson:

Goodbye to Pluralism? Studying Power in Contemporary American Politics, by Paul Pierson: The efforts of contemporary political scientists to understand American politics reveal a striking paradox. On the one hand, “Americanists” have documented a rapid increase in the inequality of political resources. On the other, they have largely failed to detect inequalities of power. Most political scientists continue to insist that we lack clear evidence that the inequality of political resources translates systematically into markedly unequal influence over American government.
For most non-inhabitants of the political science village the inference is probably obvious: so much the worse for political science. I’m inclined to agree, but as a fellow villager I’m forced to pause. These are very smart folks working at this very hard, and they are inclined to let their data do the talking. Moreover, many of them went looking for unequal influence. Nonetheless, they were unable to track it down in a manner that met their standards of evidence. That leaves two possibilities. One is that they’re largely right – which would suggest that concerns about rapidly rising political inequality are overblown. Or they’re mostly wrong, which is the argument I want to make today.
This isn’t just a quarrel among villagers. Explaining why I think the political scientists are mostly wrong requires a careful examination of how power is exercised in the American political system. Political scientists have mostly missed unequal influence because they’ve looked in the wrong places. If influence is hiding then we need to know where it is hiding. Looking in the right places reveals not just political inequality, but a distinctive take on the processes that are at the heart of modern governance. This in turn has implications for how we think about whether influence has become more unequal, and what needs to be done if we in fact consider inequalities of power to be a problem.
After briefly describing the central paradox in a bit more detail, the bulk of this essay explores how best to think about influence and how best to assess its distribution. I then briefly apply the argument to one important realm in American society, the provision of health care, before drawing out a few tentative conclusions about the distribution of influence in contemporary American politics. ...

Paul Krugman: On Invincible Ignorance

Republicans are in denial:

On Invincible Ignorance, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Remember Paul Ryan? The speaker of the House... I was interested to read what Mr. Ryan said in a recent interview with John Harwood. What has he learned from recent events?
And the answer is, nothing.
Like just about everyone in the Republican establishment, Mr. Ryan is in denial about the roots of Trumpism, about the extent to which the party deliberately cultivated anger and racial backlash, only to lose control of the monster it created. ...
You might think that Republican thought leaders would be engaged in some soul-searching about their party’s obsession with cutting taxes on the wealthy. ...
But here’s what Mr. Ryan said about all those tax cuts for the top 1 percent: “I do not like the idea of buying into these distributional tables. What you’re talking about is what we call static distribution. It’s a ridiculous notion.”
Aha. The income mobility zombie strikes again.
Ever since income inequality began its sharp rise in the 1980s, one favorite conservative excuse has been that it doesn’t mean anything, ... statistics showing that many people who are in the top 1 percent in any given year are out of that category the next year.
But a closer look at the data shows that there is less to this observation than it seems. These days, it takes an income of around $400,000 a year to put you in the top 1 percent, and most of the fluctuation in incomes we see involves people going from, say, $350,000 to $450,000 or vice versa..., which means that tax cuts that mainly benefit the rich are indeed targeted at a small group of people, not the public at large.
And here’s the thing: This isn’t a new observation. ...
Appalled Republicans may rail against Donald Trump’s arrogant ignorance. But how different, really, are the party’s mainstream leaders? Their blinkered view of the world has the veneer of respectability, may go along with an appearance of thoughtfulness, but in reality it’s just as impervious to evidence — maybe even more so, because it has the power of groupthink behind it. ...
What we’re getting ... is at least the possibility of a cleansing shock — of a period in the political wilderness that will finally force the Republican establishment to rethink its premises. That’s a good thing — or it would be, if it didn’t also come with the risk of President Trump.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Paul Krugman: Republican Elite’s Reign of Disdain

Why have Republican elites "lost control of the nominating process"?:

Republican Elite’s Reign of Disdain, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... There has been a lot of buzz over the past few days about an article by Kevin Williamson in National Review, vigorously defended by other members of the magazine’s staff, denying that the white working class — “the heart of Trump’s support” — is in any sense a victim of external forces. A lot has gone wrong in these Americans’ lives — “the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy” — but “nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.”
O.K., we’re just talking about a couple of writers at a conservative magazine. But ... this attitude is widely shared on the right. ...
The ... writers at National Review are right to link these social ills to the Trump phenomenon. ... The question, however, is why this is happening. ...
Stripped down to its essence, the G.O.P. elite view is that working-class America faces a crisis, not of opportunity, but of values. ... And this crisis of values, they suggest, has been aided and abetted by social programs that make life too easy on slackers.
The problems with this diagnosis should be obvious. Tens of millions of people don’t suffer a collapse in values for no reason. Remember, several decades ago the sociologist William Julius Wilson argued that the social ills of America’s black community ... were the result of disappearing economic opportunity. If he was right, you would have expected declining opportunity to have the same effect on whites, and sure enough, that’s exactly what we’re seeing.
Meanwhile,... every other advanced country has a more generous social safety net than we do, yet the rise in mortality among middle-aged whites in America is unique: Everywhere else, it is continuing its historic decline.
But the Republican elite can’t handle the truth. It’s too committed to an Ayn Rand story line about heroic job creators versus moochers to admit either that trickle-down economics can fail to deliver good jobs, or that sometimes government aid is a crucial lifeline. So it ends up lashing out at its own voters when they refuse to buy into that story line.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Donald Trump has any better idea about what the country needs; he’s just peddling another fantasy, this one involving the supposed power of belligerence. But at least he’s acknowledging the real problems ordinary Americans face, not lecturing them on their moral failings. And that’s an important reason he’s winning.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

'House Republicans Cling to False Promise of Austerity in their Budget Resolution'

The EPI's Hunter Blair:

House Republicans cling to false promise of austerity in their budget resolution: This week, the House Budget Committee reported out, on a party-line vote, their fiscal year 2017 budget resolution. Infighting between House Republicans, centered on the idea that proposed spending cuts should be even more drastic, suggests that this year’s budget resolution is unlikely to pass. However, with all the media attention focused on the House Republican’s inability to come to an agreement, we shouldn’t lose sight of just how austere their budget resolution already is, and how much damage the cuts it calls for would do to the economy over both the short and long run.
For example, the cuts over the first two years would impose a significantly larger fiscal drag on economic recovery than previous Republican budgets. ...
GOP House budget resolutions for the past several years have been obsessed with eliminating the budget deficit by the end of the ten year budget window. This was already a quixotic and damaging goal, and it has become even more so thanks to changes in the CBO’s baseline. And while deficits are created from revenue minus spending, congressional Republicans’ outright refusal to raise any taxes means that spending cuts—and thereby low- and middle- income people—must bear the entire brunt of the budget resolution’s burden. They bear this burden to the tune of $6.5 trillion in spending cuts to vital programs over ten years—programs that overwhelmingly serve those most in need. The cuts would take away affordable health insurance coverage from the millions that have gained it under the Affordable Care Act and then further erode the safety net with cuts to Medicaid, unemployment benefits, and nutrition assistance. Besides making the economic lives of vulnerable populations harder, focusing cuts on this group imposes a large fiscal drag, since these are households that tend to spend (not save) additional dollars of resources back into the economy. ...
In years beyond 2017, the fiscal drag would remain considerable (and would likely damage growth and job creation), but we’re unable to forecast these impacts precisely because the Fed may have regained some scope to (at least partially) offset fiscal cuts in later years. Looking forward, while it is hard to precisely quantify by how much, the deeper budget cuts throughout the ten year window in the House GOP budget resolution would almost surely further hinder and delay a full economic recovery, especially in the near-term.1 ...
1.The cuts in fiscal 2017 of the House GOP budget resolution total $186 billion. We assume a very conservative multiplier of 1.25—Medicaid and SNAP have very high multipliers (between 1.5-2 or even higher), so 1.25 strikes us as quite conservative. This 1.25 multiplier implies that the House budget cuts will place a 1.2 percent drag on a GDP growth in the next year. This loss in GDP means, all else equal, that job-growth in the next year will be 1.4 million less. Putting that in context, job-growth in 2015 was 2.7 million, so the pace of job-growth would be cut by more than half in the coming year. We should note that we are quite confident about this impact for 2017, given that there is little scope or obvious appetite for monetary policymakers to provide enough stimulus with their policy tools to offset this fiscal drag. Cuts totaling $321 billion in fiscal 2018 will also likely drag significantly on growth, but uncertainty about other economic influences on recovery (particularly the response of the Federal Reserve) makes calculating exactly how much hard to quantify.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Paul Krugman: Trump Is No Accident

Establishment Republicans "had it coming":

Trump Is No Accident, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Establishment Republicans who are horrified by the rise of Donald Trump...
The truth is that the road to Trumpism began long ago, when movement conservatives — ideological warriors of the right — took over the G.O.P. And it really was a complete takeover. Nobody seeking a career within the party dares to question any aspect of the dominating ideology, for fear of facing not just primary challenges but excommunication.
You can see the continuing power of the orthodoxy in the way all of the surviving contenders for the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump included, have dutifully proposed huge tax cuts for the wealthy, even though a large majority of voters, including many Republicans, want to see taxes on the rich increased instead.
But how does a party in thrall to a basically unpopular ideology — or at any rate an ideology voters would dislike if they knew more about it — win elections? Obfuscation helps. But demagogy and appeals to tribalism help more. Racial dog whistles and suggestions that Democrats are un-American if not active traitors aren’t things that happen now and then, they’re an integral part of Republican political strategy.
During the Obama years Republican leaders cranked the volume on that strategy up to 11 (although it was pretty bad during the Clinton years too.) Establishment Republicans generally avoided saying in so many words that the president was a Kenyan Islamic atheist socialist friend of terrorists ... but they tacitly encouraged those who did, and accepted their endorsements. And now they’re paying the price.
For the underlying assumption behind the establishment strategy was that voters could be fooled again and again: persuaded to vote Republican out of rage against Those People, then ignored after the election while the party pursued its true, plutocrat-friendly priorities. Now comes Mr. Trump, turning the dog whistles into fully audible shouting, and telling the base that it can have the bait without the switch. And the establishment is being destroyed by the monster it created. ...
Let’s dispel with this fiction that the Trump phenomenon represents some kind of unpredictable intrusion into the normal course of Republican politics. On the contrary, the G.O.P. has spent decades encouraging and exploiting the very rage that is now carrying Mr. Trump to the nomination. That rage was bound to spin out of the establishment’s control sooner or later.
Donald Trump is not an accident. His party had it coming.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

'Thank You Donald Trump'

Kevin Grier:

Thank you Donald Trump: People, I believe that Donald Trump is teaching many of us a valuable lesson. He's performing an important public service, and I for one am grateful.

I'm one of those guys who thought, hey we really don't need affirmative action anymore, women are treated with respect and dignity now, facism is a relic of a bygone age.

But Trump is showing me/us that a large chunk of US adults (what like 25-30% or so?) are racist, sexist, xenophobic, economically illiterate morons.

I guess even in a red state like Oklahoma, living in a University town helps to insulate you from the "common man" (thank god).

But Trump's campaign has made it clear to me that we still have serious human rights / equality / logical reasoning issues in our country.

So I say to all you SJWs out there, live long and prosper. You have a lot of work left to do.

And to my libertarian friends I say, continued affirmative action and gender equity programs are needed and important.

We still have a very long way to go in this country. Trump is showing me/us just how far.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Paul Krugman: Trade and Tribulation

"Politicians should be honest and realistic about trade":

Trade and Tribulation, by Paul Krugman, Commentary NY Times: Why did Bernie Sanders win a narrow victory in Michigan, when polls showed Hillary Clinton with a huge lead? Nobody really knows, but there’s a lot of speculation that Mr. Sanders may have gained traction by hammering on the evils of trade agreements. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, while directing most of his fire against immigrants, has also been bashing the supposedly unfair trading practices of China and other nations.
So, has the protectionist moment finally arrived? Maybe, maybe not...
To make sense of the debate over trade, there are three things you need to know.
The first is that we have gotten to where we are — a largely free-trade world — through ... diplomacy, going all the way back to F.D.R. This process combines a series of quid pro quos — I’ll open my markets if you open yours — with rules to prevent backsliding.
The second is that protectionists almost always exaggerate the adverse effects of trade liberalization. Globalization is only one of several factors behind rising income inequality, and trade agreements are, in turn, only one factor in globalization. ...
And yes, Mr. Sanders is demagoguing the issue...
That said, not all free-trade advocates are paragons of intellectual honesty. In fact, the elite case for ever-freer trade ... is largely a scam..., in general, agreements that lead to more trade neither create nor destroy jobs; that they usually make countries more efficient and richer, but that the numbers aren’t huge; and that they can easily produce losers as well as winners. In principle ... the winners could compensate the losers, so that everyone gains. In practice, especially given the scorched-earth obstructionism of the G.O.P., that’s not going to happen.
Why, then, did we ever pursue these agreements? A large part of the answer is foreign policy... And anyone ragging on about those past deals, like Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, should be asked what, exactly, he proposes doing now. Are they saying that we should rip up America’s international agreements? Have they thought about what that would do to our credibility and standing in the world? ...
The larger point in this election season is, however, that politicians should be honest and realistic about trade, rather than taking cheap shots. Striking poses is easy; figuring out what we can and should do is a lot harder. But you know, that’s a would-be president’s job.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The 'Strong Case' Against Central Bank Independence Critically Examined

Simon Wren-Lewis has a follow-up to his recent post on central bank independence:

The 'strong case' critically examined: Perhaps it was too unconventional setting out an argument (against independent central banks, ICBs) that I did not agree with, even though I made it abundantly clear that was what I was doing. It was too much for one blogger, who reacted by deciding that I did agree with the argument, and sent a series of tweets that are best forgotten. But my reason for doing it was also clear enough from the final paragraph. The problem it addresses is real enough, and the problem appears to be linked to the creation of ICBs.

The deficit obsession that governments have shown since 2010 has helped produce a recovery that has been far too slow, even in the US. It would be nice if we could treat that obsession as some kind of aberration, never to be repeated, but unfortunately that looks way too optimistic. The Zero Lower Bound (ZLB) raises an acute problem for what I call the consensus assignment (leaving macroeconomic stabilisation to an independent, inflation targeting central bank), but add in austerity and you get major macroeconomic costs. ICBs appear to rule out the one policy (money financed fiscal expansion) that could combat both the ZLB and deficit obsession. I wanted to put that point as strongly as I could. Miles Kimball does something similar here, although without the fiscal policy perspective ...

Skipping ahead (and omitting quite a bit of the argument):

... The basic flaw with my strong argument against ICBs is that the ultimate problem (in terms of not ending recessions quickly) lies with governments. There would be no problem if governments could only wait until the recession was over (and interest rates were safely above the ZLB) before tackling their deficit, but the recession was not over in 2010. Given this failure by governments, it seems odd to then suggest that the solution to this problem is to give governments back some of the power they have lost. Or to put the same point another way, imagine the Republican Congress in charge of US monetary policy.

But if abolishing ICBs is not the answer to the very real problem I set out, does that mean we have to be satisfied with the workarounds? One possibility that a few economists like Miles Kimball have argued for is to effectively abolish paper money as we know it, so central banks can set negative interest rates. Another possibility is that the government (in its saner moments) gives ICBs the power to undertake helicopter money. Both are complete solutions to the ZLB problem rather than workarounds. Both can be accused of endangering the value of money. But note also that both proposals gain strength from the existence of ICBs: governments are highly unlikely to ever have the courage to set negative rates, and ICBs stop the flight times of helicopters being linked to elections.       
These are big (important and complex) issues. There should be no taboos that mean certain issues cannot be raised in polite company. I still think blog posts are the best medium we have to discuss these issues, hopefully free from distractions like partisan politics.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Paul Krugman: When Fallacies Collide

Does protectionism cause recessions?:

When Fallacies Collide, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The formal debates among the Republicans who would be president have exceeded all expectations. Even the most hardened cynics couldn’t have imagined that the candidates would sink so low, and stay so focused on personal insults. Yet last week, offstage, there was in effect a real debate about economic policy between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, who is trying to block his nomination.
Unfortunately, both men are talking nonsense. Are you surprised?
The starting point for this debate is Mr. Trump’s deviation from free-market orthodoxy on international trade. Attacks on immigrants are still the central theme of the Republican front-runner’s campaign, but he has opened a second front on trade deficits, which he asserts are being caused by the currency manipulation of other countries, especially China. This manipulation, he says, is “robbing Americans of billions of dollars of capital and millions of jobs.”
His solution is “countervailing duties” — basically tariffs — similar to those we routinely impose when foreign countries are found to be subsidizing exports in violation of trade agreements.
Mr. Romney claims to be aghast. In his stop-Trump speech last week he warned that if The Donald became president America would “sink into prolonged recession.” Why? The only specific reason he gave was that those duties would “instigate a trade war and that would raise prices for consumers, kill our export jobs and lead entrepreneurs and businesses of all stripes to flee America.”
This is pretty funny if you remember anything about the 2012 campaign. ... Mr. Romney was saying almost exactly the same things Mr. Trump is saying now. ...
More important than Mr. Romney’s awkward history here, however, is the fact that his economic analysis is all wrong. Protectionism can do real harm, making economies less efficient and reducing long-run growth. But it doesn’t cause recessions.
Why not? ... In fact, a worldwide trade war would, by definition, reduce imports by exactly the same amount that it reduces exports. There’s no reason to assume that the net effect on employment would be strongly negative.
But didn’t protectionism cause the Great Depression? No, it didn’t — protectionism was a result of the Depression, not its cause. ...

So there you have it. The good news is that there was a real policy debate going on within the G.O.P. last week. The bad news is that it was junk economics on both sides.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

'Forecasting Elections'

Rajiv Sethi has been assessing the performance of prediction markets:

Forecasting Elections: This wild and crazy election cycle is generating an enormous amount of data that social scientists will be pondering for years to come. We are learning about the beliefs, preferences, and loyalties of the American electorate, and possibly witnessing a political realignment of historic proportions. Several prominent republicans have vowed not to support their nominee if it it happens to be Trump, while a recent candidate for the Democratic nomination has declared a preference for Trump over his own party's likely nominee. Crossover voting will be rampant come November, but the flows will be in both directions and the outcome remains quite uncertain. 
Among the issues that the emerging data will be called upon to address is the accuracy of prediction markets relative to more conventional poll and model based forecasts.
... The results are in, with Cruz taking Kansas and Maine and Trump holding on to Kentucky and Louisiana. The only missed call by the prediction markets was therefore Maine. Still, the significant margins of victory for Cruz in Kansas and Maine suggest to me that traders in the aggregate continue to have somewhat inflated expectations regarding Trump's prospects. And I'm even more confident than I was early this morning that Rubio faces a humbling and humiliating loss in his home state of Florida, though he may have no option now but to soldier on.

Friday, March 04, 2016

'Trade, Trump, and Downward Class Warfare'

This is from Mark Kleiman (via Brad DeLong):

Trade, Trump, and Downward Class Warfare, by Mark Kleiman: A conversation with my Marron Institute colleague Paul Romer yesterday crystallized an idea I’d been toying with for some time. In a nutshell: opponents of taxing the rich have destroyed, on a practical level, the theoretical basis for believing that free trade benefits everyone.
The Econ-101 case for free trade is straightforward: Trade benefits those who produce exports and those who consume imports (including producers who use imported goods as inputs). It hurts the producers of goods which can be made better or more cheaply abroad. But the gains to the winners exceed the gains to the losers: that is, the winners could make the losers whole and still come out ahead themselves. Therefore, trade passes the Pareto test.
[Yes, this elides a number of issues, including path-dependency in increasing-returns and learning-by-doing markets on the pure-economics side and the salting of actual agreements with provisions that create or protect economic rents on the political-economy side. It also ignores the biggest gainers from trade: workers in low-wage countries, most notably the Chinese factory workers whose parents were barefoot peasants.]
So when the modern Republican Party (R.I.P), in the name of “small government” and opposition to “class warfare,” set its face against policies to redistribute the gains from economic growth, it destroyed the theoretical basis for thinking that a rising tide would lift all the boats, rather than lifting the yachts and swamping the trawlers. Free trade without redistribution (especially the corrupt version of “free trade” with corporate rent-seeking written into it) is basically class warfare waged downwards. ...

Paul Krugman: Clash of Republican Con Artists

"Why, exactly, the Republican establishment is really so horrified by Mr. Trump?":

Clash of Republican Con Artists, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: So Republicans are going to nominate a candidate who talks complete nonsense on domestic policy; who believes that foreign policy can be conducted via bullying and belligerence; who cynically exploits racial and ethnic hatred for political gain.
But that was always going to happen, however the primary season turned out. The only news is that the candidate in question is probably going to be Donald Trump.
Establishment Republicans denounce Mr. Trump as a fraud... In fact, you have to wonder why, exactly, the Republican establishment is really so horrified by Mr. Trump. Yes, he’s a con man, but they all are. ...
The answer, I’d suggest, is that the establishment’s problem with Mr. Trump isn’t the con he brings; it’s the cons he disrupts.
First, there’s the con Republicans usually manage to pull off in national elections ... where they pose as a serious, grown-up party honestly trying to grapple with America’s problems. The truth is that that party died a long time ago, that these days it’s voodoo economics and neocon fantasies all the way down. But the establishment wants to preserve the facade, which will be hard if the nominee is someone who refuses to play his part. ...
Equally important, the Trump phenomenon threatens the con the G.O.P. establishment has been playing on its own base..., the bait and switch in which white voters are induced to hate big government by dog whistles about Those People, but actual policies are all about rewarding the donor class.
What Donald Trump has done is tell the base that it doesn’t have to accept the whole package. He promises to make America white again — surely everyone knows that’s the real slogan, right? — while simultaneously promising to protect Social Security and Medicare, and hinting at (though not actually proposing) higher taxes on the rich. Outraged establishment Republicans splutter that he’s not a real conservative, but neither, it turns out, are many of their own voters.
Just to be clear, I find the prospect of a Trump administration terrifying... But you should also be terrified by the prospect of a President Rubio, sitting in the White House with his circle of warmongers, or a President Cruz, whom one suspects would love to bring back the Spanish Inquisition.
As I see it, then, we should actually welcome Mr. Trump’s ascent. Yes, he’s a con man, but he is also effectively acting as a whistle-blower on other people’s cons. That is, believe it or not, a step forward in these weird, troubled times.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

'Cameron’s Chickens'

Simon Wren-Lewis:

Cameron’s chickens: As many have written, although Donald Trump is despised by the Republican party establishment, he is an unintended and unfortunate creation of that party. They built up a system where you needed money to enter politics, because they controlled the money. (It is to Sanders’ credit, and the popular will behind his campaign, that he has overcome this hurdle.) But that allowed someone very rich to highjack the system. The Republicans have exploited prejudice to win votes, which allowed someone to throw away the dog whistle and openly attack those from other religions. [1] And so on. In these ways, Trump represents the Republican’s chickens coming home to roost. As Matt Taibbi writes (sorry about ad in link), Trump is a rather good con man and so for him the US political system is an easy mark.
Will the EU referendum be the moment David Cameron’s chickens come home? Although economic arguments are central, and the case for staying is strong and the case for leaving weak, how much will voters without any economics background be able to come to that conclusion? Most newspapers will push the weak arguments, or more generally just try and muddy the waters as they do all the time on climate change. The visual media’s natural format is to set this up as a two-sided debate, and if the leave campaign can find enough credible advocates to put the economic case for leaving the main outcome might be confusion. [2] ...
The EU referendum is therefore another test of how much economic expertise can influence public opinion. As regular readers will know, we have been here before, and not just on austerity. The overwhelming evidence was that independence would initially leave Scottish people worse off, but for many this evidence was successfully counteracted by the SNP’s wishful thinking projections. From recent experience, therefore, I am not too optimistic that the economic evidence will prevail. [3] For a Prime Minister who has preferred the economics of the Swabian housewife to anything taught in universities, this too is a chicken come home to roost.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

'Trump’s Rise Illustrates How Democratic Processes Can Lose Their Way'

Larry Summers:

Trump’s rise illustrates how democratic processes can lose their way: While comparisons between Donald Trump and Mussolini or Hitler are overwrought, Trump’s rise does illustrate how democratic processes can lose their way and turn dangerously toxic when there is intense economic frustration and widespread apprehension about the future. ...
The possible election of Donald Trump as President is the greatest present threat to the prosperity and security of the United States. I have had a strong point of view on each of the last ten presidential elections, but never before had I feared that what I regarded as the wrong outcome would in the long sweep of history risk grave damage to the American project.
The problem is not with Trump’s policies, though they are wacky in the few areas where they are not indecipherable. It is that he is ... demagogically offering the power of his personality as a magic solution to all problems—and making clear that he is prepared to run roughshod over anything or anyone who stands in his way. ...
Donald Trump’s rise goes beyond his demagogic appeal. It is a reflection of the political psychology of frustration – people see him as responding to their fears about the modern world order, an outsider fighting for those who have been left behind. If we are to move past Trumpism, it will be essential to develop convincing responses to economic slowdown.
The United States has always been governed by the authority of ideas, rather than the idea of authority. Nothing is more important than to be clear to all Americans that the tradition of vigorous political debate and compromise will continue. The sooner Donald Trump is relegated to the margins of our national life, the better off we and the world will be.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Paul Krugman: Planet on the Ballot

 "Salvation is clearly within our grasp":

Planet on the Ballot, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: We now have a pretty good idea who will be on the ballot in November: Hillary Clinton, almost surely..., and Donald Trump, with high likelihood.... But even if there’s a stunning upset in what’s left of the primaries, we already know very well what will be at stake — namely, the fate of the planet.
Obviously, the partisan divide on environmental policy has been growing ever wider..., denial of climate science and opposition to anything that might avert catastrophe have become essential pillars of Republican identity..., even a blowout Democratic victory this year probably wouldn’t create a political environment in which anything ... could pass Congress.
But here’s the thing: the next president won’t need to pass comprehensive legislation... Dramatic progress in energy technology has put us in a position where executive action ... can achieve great things. All we need is an executive willing to take that action, and a Supreme Court that won’t stand in its way.
And this year’s election will determine whether those conditions hold.
Many people ... still seem oddly oblivious to the ongoing revolution in renewable energy...: the cost of electricity generated by wind and sun has dropped dramatically, while costs of storage ... are plunging as we speak.
The result is that we’re only a few years from a world in which carbon-neutral sources of energy could replace much of our consumption of fossil fuels at quite modest cost. ... All it would take to push us across the line would be moderately pro-environment policies. ...
I don’t know about you, but this situation makes me very nervous. As long as the prospect of effective action on climate seemed remote, sheer despair kept me, and I’m sure many others, comfortably numb — you knew nothing was going to happen, so you just soldiered on. Now, however, salvation is clearly within our grasp, but it remains all too possible that we’ll manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And this is by far the most important issue there is; it, er, trumps even such things as health care, financial reform, and inequality.
So I’m going to be hanging on by my fingernails all through this election. No doubt there will be plenty of entertainment along the way, given the freak show taking place on one side of the aisle. But I won’t forget that the stakes this time around are deadly serious. And neither should you.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

'An Open Letter to the Republican Establishment'

Robert Reich:

An Open Letter to the Republican Establishment: You are the captains of American industry, the titans of Wall Street, and the billionaires who for decades have been the backbone of the Republican Party.
You’ve invested your millions in the GOP in order to get lower taxes, wider tax loopholes, bigger subsidies, more generous bailouts, less regulation, lengthier patents and copyrights and stronger market power allowing you to raise prices, weaker unions and bigger trade deals allowing you outsource abroad to reduce wages, easier bankruptcy for you but harder bankruptcy for homeowners and student debtors, and judges who will let you to engage in insider trading and who won’t prosecute you for white-collar crimes.  
All of which have made you enormously wealthy. Congratulations.
But I have some disturbing news for you. You’re paying a big price – and about to pay far more. ...

Skipping to the end:

... Finally, by squeezing wages and rigging the economic game in your favor, you have invited an unprecedented political backlash – against trade, immigration, globalization, and even against the establishment itself.
The pent-up angers and frustrations of millions of Americans who are working harder than ever yet getting nowhere, and who feel more economically insecure than ever, have finally erupted. American politics has become a cesspool of vitriol.
Republican politicians in particular have descended into the muck of bigotry, hatefulness, and lies. They’re splitting America by race, ethnicity, and religion. The moral authority America once had in the world as a beacon of democracy and common sense is in jeopardy. And that’s not good for you, or your businesses.
Nor is the uncertainty all this is generating. A politics based on resentment can lurch in any direction at almost any time. Yet you and your companies rely on political stability and predictability. ...
You forgot the values of a former generation of Republican establishment that witnessed the devastations of the Great Depression and World War II, and who helped build the great post-war American middle class.
That generation did not act mainly out of generosity or social responsibility. They understood, correctly, that broad-based prosperity would be good for them and their businesses over the long term.
So what are you going to do now? ...

Friday, February 26, 2016

'My View on the Controversy over Sander's Economic Plan'

Here's my view on the controversy over Sander's economic plan:

I do not believe that we can sustain 5% growth over the next eight years. In the short-run -- over the next two to four years -- the situation is different. In that timeframe, our ability to achieve rapid growth depends upon the size of the output gap, the effectiveness of monetary and fiscal policy at boosting the economy (fiscal policy in particular), the difficulty in overcoming the factors that caused the recession in the first place, and the responsiveness of potential output to policy measures and the recovery itself (i.e. how much of the decline in potential output is permanent, and how much is cyclical).

The main point of emphasis is familiar: it would be a bigger mistake not to try and increase output if there actually is more room to expand than we think than it would be to push for expansion and find the gap is small. In the first case, we’d have people who could be employed remaining idle, a costly error, in the second inflation which the Fed can reverse fairly quickly. So it’s the same asymmetric cost tradeoff many of us have been pounding the Fed about.

I’m worried people will accept without question that the gap is small due to the pushback against Friedman's analysis of the Sander's plan, and that will justify policy passivity when we need just the opposite. So let's stop arguing, put the policies we need in place, and push as hard as we can to increase employment until inflation reveals that we have, in fact, hit capacity constraints. Maybe that happens quickly, but maybe not and we owe it to those who remain unemployed, have dropped out of the labor force but would return, or took a job with lousy wages to try. People who had nothing to do with causing the recession have paid the costs for it, and if we experience a short bout of above target inflation I can live with that. We've been wrong about this before in the 1990s, and we may very well be wrong about this again.

'A New Deal for Europe'

Thomas Piketty:

A New Deal for Europe, NYRB: The far right has surged in just a few years from 15 percent to 30 percent of the vote in France, and now has the support of up to 40 percent in a number of districts. Many factors conspired to produce this result: rising unemployment and xenophobia, a deep disappointment over the left’s record in running the government, the feeling that we’ve tried everything and it’s time to experiment with something new. These are the consequences of the disastrous handling of the financial meltdown that began in the United States in 2008, a meltdown that we in Europe transformed by our own actions into a lasting European crisis. The blame for that belongs to institutions and policies that proved wholly inadequate, particularly in the eurozone, consisting of nineteen countries. We have a single currency with nineteen different public debts, nineteen interest rates upon which the financial markets are completely free to speculate, nineteen corporate tax rates in unbridled competition with one another, without a common social safety net or shared educational standards—this cannot possibly work, and never will.
Only a genuine social and democratic refounding of the eurozone, designed to encourage growth and employment, arrayed around a small core of countries willing to lead by example and develop their own new political institutions, will be sufficient to counter the hateful nationalistic impulses that now threaten all Europe. ...[continue]...

Paul Krugman: Twilight of the Apparatchik

Why is the Republican Party is such disarray?:

Twilight of the Apparatchik, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... As many have noted, it’s remarkable how shocked — shocked! — that establishment has been at the success of Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic campaign. Who knew that this kind of thing would appeal to the party’s base? ...
Seriously, Republican political strategy has been exploiting racial antagonism, getting working-class whites to despise government because it dares to help Those People, for almost half a century. So it’s amazing to see the party’s elite utterly astonished by the success of a candidate who is just saying outright what they have consistently tried to convey with dog whistles.
What I find even more amazing, however, are the Republican establishment’s delusions about what its own voters are for. ...
Here’s an example: Last summer,... when Mr. Trump ... promised not to cut Social Security,... insiders like William Kristol gleefully declared that he was “willing to lose the primary to win the general.” In reality, however, Republican voters don’t at all share the elite’s enthusiasm for entitlement cuts...
Oh, and the G.O.P. establishment was also sure that Mr. Trump would pay a heavy price for asserting that we were misled into Iraq — evidently unaware just how widespread that (correct) belief is among Americans of all political persuasions.
So what’s the source of this obliviousness? ... Most Republican officeholders hold safe seats, which they can count on keeping if they are sufficiently orthodox. Moreover, if they should stumble, they can fall back on “wingnut welfare,” the array of positions at right-wing media organizations, think tanks and so on that are always there for loyal spear carriers. ... They know that people outside their party disagree, but that doesn’t matter much for their careers.
Now, however, they face the reality that most voters inside their party don’t agree with the orthodoxy, either. And all signs are that they still can’t wrap their minds around that fact. ... Even now, when it’s almost too late to stop the Trump Express, they still imagine that “But he’s not a true conservative!” is an effective attack.
Things would be very different, obviously, if Mr. Trump were in fact to lock in the Republican nomination (which could happen in a few weeks). Would his raw appeal to white Americans’ baser instincts continue to work? I don’t think so. But given the ineffectuality of his party’s elite, my guess is that we will get a chance to find out.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

'Senator Sander's Proposed Policies and Economic Growth'

This is the conclusion to Christina and David Romer's detailed evaluation and critique of Gerald Friedman's analysis of Senator Sander's economic plan:

Senator Sander's Proposed Policies and Economic Growth: ...IV. CONCLUSION The bottom line of our evaluation of Professor Friedman’s analysis is that it is highly deficient. The estimated demand - induced effects of Senator Sanders’s policies are not just implausibly large but literally incredible. Moreover, even if they were not deeply flawed, Freidman’s enormous estimates of demand - fueled growth could not and would not come to pass. Even very generous estimates of the amount of slack still present in the American economy would not be enough to accommodate demand - driven growth of anything near what Friedman is estimating. As a result, inflation would soar and monetary policy would swing strongly to counteract them. Finally, a realistic evaluation of the impact of Senator Sanders’s policies on productive capacity (something that is neglected in Friedman’s analysis) suggests that those impacts are likely small and possibly negative.
Though we have been frankly critical of Professor Friedman’s analysis, he has provided a service to public debate by posting his analysis so that other economists can evaluate its validity. We are posting our evaluation in the same spirit.

'A Letter to Tony Blair'

From Simon Wren-Lewis:

A letter to Tony Blair: Dear Mr. Blair
We have not met, but I have talked to your former colleague Gordon a few times and I did some academic work on his 5 tests for Euro entry. I saw a report that you were mystified by the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. I have an article today in The Independent that might help you understand your puzzle.
I know you find it strange that people that appear to you like those your predecessor Neil Kinnock did battle with over the future of the Labour Party in the 1980s are now running the party. It must also seem strange that in the US where socialism once seemed to be regarded as a perversion, large numbers should be supporting a socialist candidate. You suggest some explanations, but you do not mention the power of finance, inequality and the senselessness of austerity. You say that these new leaders will not be electable. But if the alternative is to try and elect leaders from the centre who will do nothing to confront these great issues, and will instead cut spending, accept stagnation and wait for the next financial crisis, is it any wonder that many people would rather take their chance with someone different? ...
There are many Labour MPs and left leaning journalists who seem to share your puzzlement, and have decided that they have to fight again the battles of the 1980s by doing everything to undermine their new Labour leadership. ... Rather than celebrating the enthusiasm and interest of the many young people that have recently joined (even if they regard some of their aspirations as naive), and who will be vital in future election campaigns, this overtly anti-Corbyn group seem to regard them as a threat. ...
Please tell them to stop. I fear they need someone they respect like you to point out the foolishness of their actions.
Yours
Simon Wren-Lewis