Category Archive for: Politics [Return to Main]

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

'Getting It Wrong on Disability Insurance'

It didn't take Republicans long to begin their assault on Social Security:

Getting It Wrong on Disability Insurance, by Kathy Ruffing, CBPP: I’ve explained that a new House rule will make it harder to reapportion payroll taxes between Social Security’s retirement and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds to avert a one-fifth cut in benefits to severely impaired DI recipients in late 2016.  In a revealing statement, co-sponsor Representative Tom Reed (R-NY) says the change is designed to prevent Congress from “raiding Social Security to bail out a failing federal program.”  He’s doubly wrong.
First, far from “failing,” DI has grown mostly in response to well-understood demographic and program factors like the aging of the baby boom, and the program’s trustees have long anticipated the need to replenish the trust fund next year...  Second, DI isn’t distinct from Social Security; it’s an essential part of Social Security.
Social Security is much more than a retirement program.  It pays modest but guaranteed benefits when someone with a steady work history dies, retires, or becomes severely disabled. ...
Statements like Representative Reed’s implicitly attempt to pit Social Security retirement and disability beneficiaries against each other. ...

The Mythical Confidence Fairy

After harming the recovery from the Great Recession -- and making it harder for the unemployed to find jobs -- through austerity, blocking jobs bills, and standing in the way of additional stimulus measures, Republicans are trying to take credit for the recovery. They made things worse, and when they stopped doing harmful things, the economy improved and they want credit for that:

The new Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, suggested earlier today that the Republican Party deserves credit for recent data showing that the economic recovery has picked up speed. ... Mr. McConnell is claiming credit for a recovery based solely on the fact that Republicans have just taken control of both houses of Congress...
Here’s what Mr. McConnell said on the floor this morning:
“After so many years of sluggish growth, we’re finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope. The uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama Administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress.”

That deserves ridicule. Republicans were terribly wrong about Federal Reserve policy, just as wrong about austerity and the confidence fairy, yet here they are once again telling us that the confidence fairy rather than the end of their awful policy is responsible for the recovery.

Monday, January 05, 2015

'Do Tax Cuts Partly Pay for Themselves?'

Me, at MoneyWatch, on the Republican's effort to institute dynamic scoring:

Do tax cuts partly pay for themselves?: Now that Republicans have taken control of the House and Senate, they are pushing to change how the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Tax Committee (JTC) evaluate tax legislation.
The effort is being made on two fronts. The first is an attempt by many Republicans to replace the director of the CBO, Doug Elmendorf, with someone more sympathetic to a new approach to evaluating the budgetary impact of proposed legislation. The second is a push from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who will take over as chair of the to the Ways and Mean Committee in January, to implement a new rule that would require the CBO and JCT to implement the alternative approach.
At issue is what is known as "dynamic scoring." ...

[I should note that this was written before this appeared.]

Paul Krugman: Presidents and the Economy

Can President Obama take credit for the improving economy?:

Presidents and the Economy, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Suddenly, or so it seems, the U.S. economy is looking better. ...
The improving economy is surely one factor in President Obama’s rising approval rating. ... How much influence does ... the White House have on the economy,,,? The standard answer among economists ... is: not much. But is this time different?
To understand why economists usually downplay the economic role of presidents,... normally the Fed, not the White House, rules the economy. Should we apply the same rule to the Obama years?
Not quite.
For one thing, the Fed has had a hard time gaining traction ... because the aftermath of a huge housing and mortgage bubble has left private spending relatively unresponsive to interest rates. This time around, monetary policy really needed help from a temporary increase in government spending, which meant that the president could have made a big difference. And he did, for a while; politically, the Obama stimulus may have been a failure, but an overwhelming majority of economists believe that it helped mitigate the slump.
Since then, however, scorched-earth Republican opposition has more than reversed that initial effort. In fact, federal spending adjusted for inflation and population growth is lower now than it was when Mr. Obama took office...
There is, however, another sense in which Mr. Obama has arguably made a big difference. The Fed has had a hard time getting traction, but it has at least made an effort to boost the economy — and it has done so despite ferocious attacks from conservatives... Without Mr. Obama to shield its independence, the Fed might well have been bullied into raising interest rates, which would have been disastrous. So the president has indirectly aided the economy by helping to fend off the hard-money mob.
Last but not least,... the fact is his opponents have spent years claiming that his bad attitude — he has been known to suggest ... that some bankers have behaved badly — is somehow responsible for the economy’s weakness. Now that he’s presiding over unexpected economic strength, they can’t just turn around and assert his irrelevance.
So is the president responsible for the accelerating recovery? No. Can we nonetheless say that we’re doing better than we would be if the other party held the White House? Yes. Do those who were blaming Mr. Obama for all our economic ills now look like knaves and fools? Yes, they do. And that’s because they are.

Friday, December 26, 2014

'Underinvesting in the Public Good'

Daniel Little:

Underinvesting in the public good, Understanding Society: There are quite a few investments in social programs that would have spectacular return on investment, but that in fact remain unfunded or underfunded. I am thinking here of things like broadened preschool programs, enhanced dropout prevention programs, regional economic development efforts, and prison re-entry programs. Why are these spectacular opportunities so dramatically under-exploited in the United States and other nations?

One line of answer derives from a public choice perspective: the gains that follow from the investment represent public goods, and public goods are typically under-provided. But that doesn't really answer the question, because it is governments that are underinvesting, not uncoordinated groups of independent agents. And governments are supposed to make investments to promote the public good.

Another plausible answer is that the citizens who are primarily served by most of the examples provided above are poor and disenfranchised; so the fact that they would benefit from the program doesn’t motivate the politically powerful to adopt the policy.

There is also a powerful influence of political ideology at work here. Conservative ideas about what a good society looks like, how social change occurs, and the role of government all militate against substantial public investment in programs and activities like those mentioned above. These conservative political beliefs are undergirded by a white-hot activism against taxes that makes it all but impossible to gain support in legislative bodies for programs like these -- no matter what the return on investment is.

Failure to achieve these kinds of social gains through public investment might seem like a very basic element of injustice within our society. But it also looks like strong evidence of system failure: the political and economic system fail to bring about as much public good as is possible in the circumstances. The polity is stuck somewhere on the low shoulders of the climb towards maximum public benefit for minimum overall investment. It is analogous to the situation in private economic space where there are substantial obstacles to the flow of investment, leaving substantial possible sources of gain untapped. It is s situation of massive collective inefficiency, quite the contrary of Adam Smith's view of the happy outcomes of the hidden hand and the market mechanism.

This last point brings us back to the public goods aspect of the problem. A legislature that designs a policy or program aimed at capturing the gains mentioned here may succeed in its goal and yet find that the gains accrue to someone else -- the public at large or another political party. The gains are separated from the investment, leaving the investment entity with no rational incentive to make the investment after all.

Some policy leaders have recognized this systemic problem and have turned to an innovative possible solution, social impact bonds (link). Here is how the Center for American Progress explains this idea.

A social impact bond, or SIB, is an innovative financial tool that enables government agencies to pay for programs that deliver results. In a SIB agreement, the government sets a specific, measurable outcome that it wants achieved in a population and promises to pay an external organization—sometimes called an intermediary—if and only if the organization accomplishes the outcome. SIBs are one example of what the Obama administration calls “Pay for Success” financing. (link)

Essentially the idea is to try to find a way of privatizing the public gains in question, so that private investors have an incentive to bring them about.

This is an interesting idea, but it doesn't really solve the fundamental problem: society's inability to make rational investment in its own wellbeing. It seems more like a way of shifting risks of program success or failure from the state agency to the private entity. Here is a McKinsey discussion of the concept (link), and here is a more skeptical piece in the Economist (link).

Paul Krugman: Tidings of Comfort

Sometimes, government is the best solution to our problems:

Tidings of Comfort, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... All year Americans have been bombarded with dire news reports portraying a world out of control and a clueless government with no idea what to do.
Yet if you look back at what actually happened over the past year,... a number of major government policies worked just fine — and the biggest successes involved the most derided policies. You’ll never hear this on Fox News, but 2014 was a year in which the federal government, in particular, showed that it can do some important things very well...
Start with Ebola... Judging from news media coverage..., America was on the verge of turning into a real-life version of “The Walking Dead.” And many politicians dismissed the efforts of public health officials... As it turned out, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ... knew what they were doing..., there was no outbreak here.
Consider next the state of the economy. There’s no question that recovery from the 2008 crisis has been painfully slow and should have been much faster. In particular, the economy has been held back by unprecedented cuts in public spending and employment.
But the story you hear all the time portrays economic policy as an unmitigated disaster... So it comes as something of a shock when you look at the actual record and discover that growth and job creation have been substantially faster during the Obama recovery than they were during the Bush recovery last decade (even ignoring the crisis at the end)...
What’s more, recent data suggest that the economy is gathering strength... Maybe economic management hasn’t been that bad, after all.
Finally, there’s the hidden-in-plain-sight triumph of Obamacare, which is just finishing up its first year of full implementation. ... In fact, Year 1 surpassed expectations on every front. ... And all indications suggest that year two will be marked by further success.
And there’s more. For example, at the end of 2014, the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which tries to contain threats like Vladimir Putin’s Russia or the Islamic State rather than rushing into military confrontation, is looking pretty good.
The common theme here is that, over the past year, a U.S. government subjected to constant bad-mouthing, constantly accused of being ineffectual or worse, has, in fact, managed to accomplish a lot. On multiple fronts, government wasn’t the problem; it was the solution. Nobody knows it, but 2014 was the year of “Yes, we can.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Wall Street Salivating Over Further Destruction of Financial Reform'

Surprise! Or not (more concerned with this than whether the Fed changed a few words in its Press Release following the FOMC meeting):

Wall Street Salivating Over Further Destruction of Financial Reform, by Kevin Drum: Conventional pundit wisdom suggests that Wall Street may have overreached last week. Yes, they won their battle to repeal the swaps pushout requirement in Dodd-Frank, but in so doing they unleashed Elizabeth Warren and brought far more attention to their shenanigans than they bargained for. They may have won a battle, but ... they're unlikely to keep future efforts to weaken financial reform behind the scenes, where they might have a chance to pass with nobody the wiser.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe it was all just political theater and Wall Street lobbyists know better than to take it seriously. Ed Kilgore points to this article in The Hill today:

Banks and financial institutions are planning an aggressive push to dismantle parts of the Wall Street reform law when Republicans take control of Congress in January. ...

Will Democrats in the Senate manage to stick together and filibuster these efforts to weaken Dodd-Frank? ... I'd like to think that Elizabeth Warren has made unity more likely, but then again, I have an uneasy feeling that Wall Street lobbyists might have a better read on things than she does. Dodd-Frank has already been weakened substantially in the rulemaking process, and this could easily represent a further death by a thousand cuts. ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Fiscal Policy Failed During the Great Recession

I have a new column:

How Fiscal Policy Failed During the Great Recession: Fiscal policy failed us during the Great Recession. We did get a fiscal stimulus package shortly after Obama took office, and it helped. But it wasn’t big enough and did not last long enough to make the kind of difference that was needed. Fear of deficits stood in the way, though all the dire predictions that were made about the debt associated with the stimulus package did not come to pass. We could have done so much more. ...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Paul Krugman: Wall Street’s Revenge

The battle over financial reform is far from over:

Wall Street’s Revenge, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: On Wall Street, 2010 was the year of “Obama rage,” in which financial tycoons went ballistic over the president’s suggestion that some bankers helped cause the financial crisis. They were also, of course, angry about the Dodd-Frank financial reform, which placed some limits on their wheeling and dealing.
The Masters of the Universe, it turns out, are a bunch of whiners. But they’re whiners with war chests, and now they’ve bought themselves a Congress. ...
Wall Street overwhelmingly backed Mitt Romney in 2012, and invested heavily in Republicans once again this year. And the first payoff to that investment has already been realized. Last week Congress passed a ... rollback of one provision of the 2010 financial reform.
In itself, this rollback is significant but not a fatal blow to reform. But it’s utterly indefensible. ... One of the goals of financial reform was to stop banks from taking big risks with depositors’ money. ... If banks are free to gamble, they can play a game of heads we win, tails the taxpayers lose. ...
Dodd-Frank tried to limit this kind of moral hazard in various ways, including a rule barring insured institutions from dealing in exotic securities, the kind that played such a big role in the financial crisis. And that’s the rule that has just been rolled back. ...
What just went down isn’t about free-market economics; it’s pure crony capitalism. And sure enough, Citigroup literally wrote the deregulation language that was inserted into the funding bill.
Again, in itself last week’s action wasn’t decisive. But it was clearly the first skirmish in a war to roll back much if not all of the financial reform. And if you want to know who stands where in this coming war, follow the money: Wall Street is giving mainly to Republicans for a reason. ...
Meanwhile, it’s hard to find Republicans expressing major reservations about undoing reform. You sometimes hear claims that the Tea Party is as opposed to bailing out bankers as it is to aiding the poor, but there’s no sign that this alleged hostility to Wall Street is having any influence at all on Republican priorities.
So the people who brought the economy to its knees are seeking the chance to do it all over again. And they have powerful allies, who are doing all they can to make Wall Street’s dream come true.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

'What is Congress Trying to Secretly Deregulate in Dodd-Frank?'

And so it begins:

What is Congress Trying to Secretly Deregulate in Dodd-Frank?, by Mike Konczal: There are concerns that the budget bill under debate in Congress will eliminate Section 716 of Dodd-Frank, using language previously drafted by Citigroup. So what is this all about?
Section 716 of Dodd-Frank says that institutions that receive federal insurance through FDIC and the Federal Reserve can’t be dealers in the specialized derivatives market. Banks must instead “push out” these dealers into separate subsidiaries that don’t benefit from the government backstop. They can still trade in many standardized derivatives and hedge their own risks, however. This was done because having banks act as swap dealers put taxpayers at risk in the event of a sudden collapse. That’s it.
Why would you want a regulation like this? The first is that it acts as a complement to the Volcker Rule. ...
A second reason is 716 will also prevent exotic derivatives from being subsidized by the government’s safety net. ...
The third reason is for the sake of financial stability. ...
Stiglitz reiterated this point today, saying “Section 716 facilitates the ability of markets to provide the kind of discipline without which a market economy cannot effectively function. I was concerned in 2010 that Congress would weaken 716, but what is proposed now is worse than anything contemplated back then.”
Now many on Wall Street would argue that this rule is unnecessary. However, their arguments are not persuasive. ...
We should be strengthening, not weakening, financial reform. And removing this piece of the law will not benefit this project.

See also Barney Frank Criticizes Planned Roll-Back of Namesake Financial Law.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

'The Imaginary World of Small State People'

Simon Wren-Lewis:

The imaginary world of small state people: ...In ... Europe ... there actually was a large constituency on the left that wanted a large state as a matter of principle. In the UK that constituency lost all its influence with Margaret Thatcher and New Labour, and it has also lost its influence in the rest of Europe. However this decline in the influence of big state people on the left was matched by a rise to power on the right of those who want a small state as a matter of principle. George Osborne’s plan for the UK over the next few years is the apotheosis of this neoliberal view.
I think I’m like the majority of people in not having any fixed ideological position about whether the state should be large or small. The state is clearly good at doing some things, and bad at doing others. In between there is a large and diverse set of activities which may or may not be better achieved through state direction or control, and they really need to be looked at item by item on their merits.
My first major problem with small state people is that they are not prepared to look at these items on their merits. Instead they have a blanket ideological distaste for all things to do with government. ... My second major difficulty with many small state people, like George Osborne, is that they are using fear of a debt crisis (a possibility which for the UK and US is non-existent) to achieve their ends. This is political deceit on a grand scale. My third major problem follows from the second: reducing government spending during a liquidity trap recession does real harm. It wastes resources on a huge scale. ...
Which brings me to a final problem I have with small state people, which is their disregard for the evidence. It is true that most people are bad at acknowledging counter evidence, but those with an ideological conviction are worse than most. ...
The ... claim that Osborne’s cuts have been such a success that they will cause a “deeper intellectual wound to the left than we currently understand” is simply delusional. These are fantasy ideas from those living in an imaginary world, while in reality the policies they support do serious harm.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Paul Krugman: Democrats Against Reform

Despite the political difficulties it has caused, Obamacare was not a mistake:

Democrats Against Reform, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: It’s easy to understand why Republicans wish health reform had never happened.... But it’s more puzzling — and disturbing — when Democrats like Charles Schumer, senator from New York, declare that the Obama administration’s signature achievement was a mistake.
In a minute I’ll take on Mr. Schumer’s recent remarks. But first, an update on Obamacare..., which continues to rack up remarkable (and largely unreported) successes ... with more than 10 million people gaining coverage since last year. ... And ... a huge majority of the newly insured are pleased with their coverage...
What about costs? There were many predictions of soaring premiums. But... Premiums for 2014 came in well below expectations...
In short,... as a policy intended to improve American lives, it’s going really well. Yet it has not ... been a political winner for Democrats. Which brings us to Mr. Schumer.
The Schumer critique — he certainly isn’t the first to say these things... — calls health reform a mistake because it only benefits a minority of Americans, and that’s not enough to win elections. What President Obama should have done ... was focus on improving the economy as a whole.
This is deeply wrongheaded in at least three ways.
First, while it’s true that most Americans have insurance through Medicare, Medicaid, and employment-based coverage..., but what happens if you’re fired, or your employer goes bust, or it cancels its insurance program? What if you want to change jobs for whatever reason, but can’t find a new job that comes with insurance? ...
Second, whenever someone says that Mr. Obama should have focused on the economy, my question is, what do you mean by that? Should he have tried for a bigger stimulus? I’d say yes, but ... especially after 2010 scorched-earth Republican opposition killed just about every economic policy he proposed. Do you think this would have been different without health reform? Seriously? ...
Finally, we need to ask, what is the purpose of winning elections? The answer, I hope, is to do good — not simply to set yourself up to win the next election. ....
And one related observation: If more Democrats had been willing to defend the best thing they’ve done in decades, rather than run away from their own achievement and implicitly concede that the smears against health reform were right, the politics of the issue might look very different today.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

'Return of Focus Hocus Pocus'

Paul Krugman:

Return of Focus Hocus Pocus: I’ve been getting correspondence from people saying that I need to respond to Tom Edsall channeling Chuck Schumer on how health reform was a mistake, Obama should have focused on the economy.
The thing is, I responded to this argument four years ago, and everything I said then still applies. When people say that Obama should have “focused” on the economy, what, specifically, are they saying he should have done? Enacted a bigger stimulus? Maybe he could have done that at the very beginning, but that wouldn’t have conflicted with the effort to pass health reform — and anyway, I don’t hear many of the “focus” types saying that. So what do they mean? Obama should have gone around squinting and saying “I’m focused on the economy”? What would that have done?
Look, governing is not just theater. For sure the weakness of the recovery has hurt Democrats. But “focusing”, whatever that means, wouldn’t have delivered more job growth. What should Obama have done that he actually could have done in the face of scorched-earth Republican opposition? And how, if at all, did health reform stand in the way of doing whatever it is you’re saying he should have done?
I have seen no answer to these questions.

I am going to have to disagree slightly. Politics is, in large part, about identity and I don't think Obama did nearly enough to show he identifies with the working class. Fighting for their needs publicly and loudly probably wouldn't have made any difference in terms of fiscal policy, but doing more to signal that he identifies with their struggles might have helped at the ballot box. I don't see how it could have hurt. Yes, various jobs programs were proposed along the way, and nothing came of them for the most part, but there just wasn't enough fist-pounding on this issue by the administration.

Update: See also Robert Waldmann.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Paul Krugman: Pollution and Politics

Why and when did Republicans become anti-environmentalists?:

Pollution and Politics, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed regulations to curb emissions of ozone, which causes smog, not to mention asthma, heart disease and premature death. And you know what happened: Republicans went on the attack, claiming that the new rules would impose enormous costs.
There’s no reason to take these complaints seriously... Polluters and their political friends have a track record of crying wolf. ... Again and again, the actual costs have been far lower than they predicted. In fact, almost always below the E.P.A.’s predictions.
So it’s the same old story. But why, exactly, does it always play this way? ... When and why did the Republican Party become the party of pollution?
For it wasn’t always thus. The Clean Air Act of 1970 ... was signed into law by Richard Nixon. (I’ve heard veterans of the E.P.A. describe the Nixon years as a golden age.) A major amendment of the law, which among other things made possible the cap-and-trade system that limits acid rain, was signed in 1990 by former President George H.W. Bush.
But that was then. Today’s Republican Party is putting a conspiracy theorist who views climate science as a “gigantic hoax” in charge of the Senate’s environment committee. And this isn’t an isolated case. ...
So what explains this anti-environmental shift?
You might be tempted simply to blame money in politics... But this doesn’t explain why money from the most environmentally damaging industries, which used to flow to both parties, now goes overwhelmingly in one direction. ...
One answer could be ideology... My guess, however, is that ideology is only part of the story — or, more accurately, it’s a symptom of the underlying cause...: rising inequality. ... Any policy that benefits lower- and middle-income Americans at the expense of the elite — like health reform, which guarantees insurance to all and pays for that guarantee in part with taxes on higher incomes — will face bitter Republican opposition.
And environmental protection is, in part, a class issue,... ownership of, say, stock in coal companies is concentrated in a few, wealthy hands. ...
In the case of the new ozone plan, the E.P.A.’s analysis suggests that, for the average American, the benefits would be more than twice the costs. But that doesn’t necessarily matter to the nonaverage American driving one party’s priorities. On ozone, as with almost everything these days, it’s all about inequality.

'Economists vs Politicians'

Chris Dillow:

Economists vs politicians: ... I suspect that there is a greater distance now between the political parties and economist than there has been for years. ...

You might think this isn't a wholly bad thing. Many ideas are not worth adopting ... This, however, doesn't justify politicians' lack of interest in the settled, established knowledge that economists do have.   

So, where is there such a gap between politicians and economists?

The fault might partly lie with economics. Many academics aren't as interested in closing the gap between academia and the "real world" as they should be. At least some of the discipline was discredited by the crisis, and I get the feeling that there aren't so many good new policy-relevant ideas now.

It might be that the voters are to blame. Maybe they don't want serious politicians who are interested in good ideas but rather, in our narcissistic age, they simply expect their demands to be met, however unreasonable. But is this the whole story? Janan Ganesh thinks not:

There is...an unsatisfied demand for seriousness and leadership. Most people do not vote Ukip or parse an MP’s tweet for class meaning. The flight to frivolity in public life is not the voters’ doing. Many are in fact waiting for a leader to arrest it.

This leaves a third suspect - the media. ... Political journalists have been complicit in creating a hyperreal bubble of mediamacro which perpetuates witless ideas (such as conflating the economy with the deficit) to the exclusion of such good ones as might exist.

I'm not sure, then, how exactly to apportion blame for the divorce between politicians and economists. But I do suspect that, net, it is a bad thing.  

[I left out his examples of "established knowledge that economists do have".]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

'Keynes Is Slowly Winning'

[Travel day, so no more until later.]

Paul Krugman:

Keynes Is Slowly Winning: Back in 2010, I had a revelation about just how bad economic policy was about to get; I read the OECD Economic Outlook, which called not just for fiscal austerity but for interest rate hikes — 350 basis points on the Fed funds rate by the end of 2011! — because, well, because.
Now, the OECD is calling for fiscal and monetary stimulus in Europe. ....
It has taken a while. ... But the hawks seem in retreat at the Fed; Mario Draghi ... sounds an awful lot like Janet Yellen; the whole way we’re discussing Japan is very much on Keynesian turf. Three and a half years ago Businessweek was declaring that expansionary austerian Alberto Alesina was the new Keynes; now it tells us that Keynes is the new Keynes. And we have people like Paul Singer complaining about the “Krugmanization” of the debate.
Why does the tide finally seem to be turning? Partly, I think, it’s just a matter of time; after six years it’s becoming hard not to notice that the anti-Keynesians have been wrong about everything. Europe’s slide toward deflation makes it even harder to deny the realities of liquidity-trap economics. And the refusal of almost everyone on the anti-Keynesian side to admit any kind of error has gradually made them look ridiculous.
All of this may be coming too little and too late to avoid policy disaster, especially in Europe. But it’s something to cheer, faintly.

'Understanding George Osborne' or 'Osborne's Idiotic Idea'

Simon Wren-Lewis:

Understanding George Osborne: Yesterday I spoke at the Resolution Foundation’s launch of their analysis of the UK political parties’ fiscal plans post 2015. I believe this analysis shows two things very clearly. First, there is potentially a large gap between the amount of austerity planned by the two major parties. Second, George Osborne’s plans are scarcely credible. They represent a shrinking of the UK state that is unprecedented and which in my view virtually no one wants.  
I would add one other charge - Osborne's plans are illiterate in macroeconomic terms. The UK economy desperately needs more growth. ...
In this situation a Chancellor should not plan to reduce growth further. I have yet to come across a single macroeconomist who argues that Osborne’s plans for renewed austerity will not in themselves reduce aggregate demand. So doing this when the recovery could go much further but is still fragile is just plain dumb. It is even dumber if you have done this once before, in a very similar situation, and the risks I outlined above have indeed materialised.
So why is the Chancellor proposing to make the same mistake twice? ...
I cannot think of any way to rationalise what the Chancellor is planning in macroeconomic terms. But perhaps I’m looking for something that does not exist. Perhaps he does not have a coherent economic framework. Instead he has a clear political framework, which has so far been remarkably successful. The goal is to reduce the size of the state, and because (with his encouragement) mediamacro believes reducing the deficit is the number one priority, he is using deficit reduction as a means to that end. However another priority is to get re-elected, so deficit reduction has to take place at the start of any parliament, so its impact on growth has disappeared by the time of the next election. But this explanation would imply we have a Chancellor that quite cynically puts the welfare of the majority of the UK’s citizens at major risk for ideological and political ends, and I do not think I have ever experienced a UK Chancellor (with possibly one exception) who has done that. But as Sherlock Holmes famously said ...

Chris Dillow:

Osborne's idiotic idea: The FT reports that George Osborne wants to make unicorn farming compulsory:

The new fiscal mandate is expected to enshrine in law one area of common ground between the Tories and Lib Dems: that the cyclically adjusted current deficit should be eliminated by 2017-18.

This is imbecilic. ...

Now, you might think that, in saying all this I'm merely being a Keynesian.

Wrong. In fact, I'm writing in a Hayekian spirit. Hayek famously and correctly argued that economic knowledge was inherently fragmentary and dispersed and so central agencies could not possibly know very much. I'm echoing him. I'm saying that the OBR cannot know enough about the productive potential of millions of firms to know what the output gap is. And it hasn't got enough knowledge of the future to predict recessions.

In presuming otherwise, Osborne is thus not only anti-Keynesian, but anti-Hayekian. I thus agree with Simon - that he is illiterate and plain dumb.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

''How to Think about 'Think' Tanks''

Miles Corak:

Kady O'Malley Tweet on Think Tanks 1

How to think about “think” tanks: It is sometimes said that think tanks are good for democracy; indeed the more of them, the better. If there are more ideas in the public arena battling it out for your approval, then it’s more likely that the best idea will win, and that we will all have better public policies. But intuitively many of us have trouble believing this, have trouble knowing who is being truthful, and don’t know who to trust.
This battle of ideas, studies, and statistics has the potential to make many of us cynical about the whole process, and less trusting of all research and numbers. If a knowledgeable journalist like the Canadian Kady O’Malley expresses a certain exasperation that think-tank studies always back up “the think-tank’s existing position,” what hope is there for the rest of us? A flourishing of think tanks just let’s politicians off the hook, always allowing them to pluck an idea that suits their purposes, and making it easier to justify what they wanted to do anyways.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that think tanks produce studies confirming their (sometimes hidden) biases. After all this is something we all do. We need to arm ourselves with this self-awareness. If we do, then we can also be more aware of the things in a think tank’s make-up that can help in judging its credibility, and also how public policy discussion should be structured to help promote a sincere exchange of facts and ideas. ...

He goes on to explain in considerable detail.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Paul Krugman: Rock Bottom Economics

The era of "rock-bottom economics" is far from over:

Rock Bottom Economics, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Six years ago the Federal Reserve hit rock bottom. It had been cutting the federal funds rate ... more or less frantically in an unsuccessful attempt to get ahead of the recession and financial crisis. But it eventually reached the point where it could cut no more...
Everything changes when the economy is at rock bottom... But for the longest time, nobody with the power to shape policy would believe it.
What do I mean by saying that everything changes? As I wrote..., in a rock-bottom economy “the usual rules of economic policy no longer apply...” Government spending doesn’t compete with private investment — it actually promotes business spending. Central bankers, who normally cultivate an image as stern inflation-fighters, need to do the exact opposite, convincing markets ... that they will push inflation up. “Structural reform,” which usually means making it easier to cut wages, is more likely to destroy jobs than create them.
This may all sound wild and radical, but ... it’s what mainstream economic analysis says will happen once interest rates hit zero. And it’s also what history tells us. ...
But as I said, nobody would believe it. By and large, policymakers and Very Serious People ... went with gut feelings rather than careful economic analysis. ...
Thus we were told ... that budget deficits were our most pressing economic problem, that interest rates would soar ... unless we imposed harsh fiscal austerity... —... demands that we cut government spending now, now, now have cost millions of jobs and deeply damaged our infrastructure.
We were also told repeatedly that printing money ... would lead to “currency debasement and inflation.” The Fed ... stood up to this pressure, but other central banks didn’t. ...
 But... Isn’t the era of rock-bottom economics just about over? Don’t count on it..., the counterintuitive realities of economic policy at the zero lower bound are likely to remain relevant for a long time..., which makes it crucial that influential people understand those realities. Unfortunately, too many still don’t; one of the most striking aspects of economic debate in recent years has been the extent to which those whose economic doctrines have failed the reality test refuse to admit error, let alone learn from it. ...
This bodes ill for the future. What people in power don’t know, or worse what they think they know but isn’t so, can very definitely hurt us.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Paul Krugman: Suffer Little Children

It's the decent thing to do:

Suffer Little Children, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The Tenement Museum, on the Lower East Side, is one of my favorite places in New York City. It’s a Civil War-vintage building that housed successive waves of immigrants, and a number of apartments have been restored to look exactly as they did in various eras, from the 1860s to the 1930s... When you tour the museum, you come away with a powerful sense of immigration as a human experience, which — despite plenty of bad times,... was overwhelmingly positive.
I get especially choked up about the Baldizzi apartment from 1934. When I described its layout to my parents, both declared, “I grew up in that apartment!” And today’s immigrants are the same, in aspiration and behavior, as my grandparents were — people seeking a better life, and by and large finding it.
That’s why I enthusiastically support President Obama’s new immigration initiative. It’s a simple matter of human decency.
That’s not to say that I, or most progressives, support open borders. ...
But ... the proposition that we should offer decent treatment to children who are already here — and are already Americans in every sense..., that’s what Mr. Obama’s initiative is about.
Who are we talking about? First, there are more than a million young people ... who came — yes, illegally — as children and have lived here ever since. Second, there are large numbers of children who were born here — which makes them U.S. citizens, with all the same rights you and I have — but whose parents came illegally, and are legally subject to being deported.
What should we do about these people...? ... The truth is that sheer self-interest says that we should do the humane thing. Today’s immigrant children are tomorrow’s workers, taxpayers and neighbors. Condemning them to life in the shadows means that they will have less stable home lives than they should, be denied the opportunity to acquire skills and education, contribute less to the economy, and play a less positive role in society. Failure to act is just self-destructive.
But... What really matters ... is the humanity. My parents were able to have the lives they did because America, despite all the prejudices of the time, was willing to treat them as people. Offering the same kind of treatment to today’s immigrant children is the practical course of action, but it’s also, crucially, the right thing to do. So let’s applaud the president for doing it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

'The Structure of Obamacare'

Paul Krugman says pundits need to do their homework:

The Structure of Obamacare: The big revelation of this week has been how many political pundits have spent six years of the Obama administration opining furiously about the administration’s signature policy without making the slightest effort to understand how it works. They’re amazed and in denial at the suggestion that it has the same structure as Romneycare, which has been obvious and explicit all along...
So, why was Obamacare set up this way? It’s mainly about politics, but nothing that should shock you. Partly it was about getting buy-in from the insurance industry; a switch to single payer would have destroyed a powerful industry, and realistically that wasn’t going to happen. Partly it was about leaving most people unaffected: employment-based coverage, which was the great bulk of private insurance, remained pretty much as it was. ... And yes, avoiding a huge increase in on-budget spending was a consideration, but not central.
The main point was to make the plan incremental, supplementing the existing structure rather than creating massive changes. And all of this was completely upfront; I know I wrote about it many times.
Look, I understand why the hired guns of the right have to act ignorant and profess outrage. But I really am shocked at centrists who apparently thought they could opine on the politics of health reform, year after year, without taking a hour or two to learn how the darn thing was supposed to work.

It seems to me this takes some degree of willful ignorance.

'How the Great Wage Slowdown Hurts Democrats'

David Leonhardt argues "It’s the economy, stupid." Do you agree? Or is it mostly about turnout? (These may not be independent factors):

How the Great Wage Slowdown Hurts Democrats: It’s a simple rule: A weak economy makes for an unpopular president. President Obama is on course to become the fourth president of the last six to leave office with an approval rating well below 50 percent. Each of the previous three — both Bushes and Jimmy Carter — also had something else in common: Median family income fell during their presidencies.
The other two recent presidents, of course, were Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Incomes rose while they were in the White House, and they left office with more Americans approving of their performance than not.
The most famous expression of this rule is still the one made famous by the 1992 Clinton campaign: It’s the economy, stupid. ...
Ezra Klein ... wrote he was skeptical that slow wage growth was “driving elections in a very clear way.” He instead suggested that structural political forces played a bigger role.
We live in a time of partisan polarization, with most voters loyal to their side. The Republicans have an advantage in midterm elections ... because their older, whiter coalition turns out... The Democrats have an edge in presidential elections ... because their coalition is larger, even if large parts of it vote only in presidential years. Mr. Klein was suggesting that these structural forces affect politics more than the state of the economy. ...

See also "Americans recognize slow economic recovery."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

'The Choice of the Century'

Do you agree with Robert Reich?:

The Choice of the Century: The President blames himself for the Democrat’s big losses Election Day. “We have not been successful in going out there and letting people know what it is that we’re trying to do and why this is the right direction,” he said Sunday.
In other words, he didn’t sufficiently tout the Administration’s accomplishments.
I respectfully disagree.
If you want a single reason for why Democrats lost big on Election Day 2014 it’s this: Median household income continues to drop. This is the first “recovery” in memory when this has happened. ...

It's hard for me to believe that people think Republican economic policies are the solution to this problem. As Paul Krugman says, "So if Republicans are gaining from public frustration here, it is ironic. After all, the GOP is systematically opposed to anything that would increase workers’ bargaining power, and bitterly opposed to any suggestion that inequality is an issue — what we need, they say, is growth, which will raise all incomes (even though it hasn’t)." I'm all for growth, but the increase in income needs to be distributed equitably, and in recent years (decades actually) it hasn't been. It's hard to see how Republican policies will change that rather than make the problem worse.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why are the Conservatives so Incompetent at Running the UK Economy?

Simon Wren-Lewis:

Why are the Conservatives so incompetent at running the economy?: If that question seems odd to you, you are one of the majority in the UK who think the Conservatives are better at managing the economy than Labour. Why do people think this? My guess is that it is very simple. The financial crisis happened while Labour was in power. This led to the largest recession since the Great Depression.
But surely everyone knows that the financial crisis was a global phenomenon that started in the US? Surely everyone knows that if the Conservatives had been in power there would have been just as little financial regulation, so the impact of the crisis on UK banks would have been much the same?
The problem is that most people do not know this. What they hear is the Conservatives repeating relentlessly that it was all Labour’s fault. ... It is hardly ever challenged by reporters in the BBC or other TV media. It has become so pervasive, that even some of my non-macro colleagues repeat elements of it back to me. [1] ...
Of course there is mucha more to say about all this, but the point I want to make here is fairly simple. Once we recognise that the financial crisis was a global event, then the three remaining major departures from trend growth happened under Conservative led administrations. In all three cases they can be associated with poor policy decisions taken by those administrations: money supply targets under Thatcher, ERM entry under Major, and austerity under Osborne.
So the idea that the Conservatives are more competent at macroeconomic management is a myth, and if anything the opposite appears to be true. ...

He also notes in closing that:

... In mediamacro, the deficit is all important, but the decline in average living standards not so much. And people wonder why many potential voters are disaffected from mainstream politics.
In a recent post, the US economist Robert Reich berates the Democrats for failing to campaign on falling median wages and the growing inequality that lies behind it. The reason he gives is simple: money buys votes in the US system, which Jeffrey Sachs calls a plutocracy. In the UK Labour has tried to raise the link between inequality and falling real wages, as my example above shows, but the UK media does not appear to want that discussion to take place. I would really like someone who knows the UK media from the inside to explain why.

The Climate Breakthrough in Beijing

Jeff Sachs seems to be pleased:

The climate breakthrough in Beijing gives the world a fighting chance: Today’s US-China joint announcement on climate change and energy is the most important advance on the climate change agenda in many years. ... What they’ve said gives the world a fighting chance – and no doubt the last one – for climate safety. ...
An announcement is just an announcement, of course. .. The US and China have yet to put their cards on the table on how they intend to achieve deep decarbonization. ...
Not surprisingly, the incoming Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell piped up immediately that he and his colleagues would oppose the deal. No doubt they will try. Yet my guess is that Mr McConnell and his buddies are soon going to learn a lesson in real democracy.
While the fossil fuel lobby may have helped finance the Republican victories last week, the US public cares about its own survival and the world that their children will soon inherit. ... The Koch brothers may have bought some 44,000 paid ads this fall to help put favoured coal and oil candidates over the top, but they did not buy the souls of the American people, who by a large majority will be gratified today by the announcements from Beijing. ...

I'm not so sure that Republican opposition can be overcome so easily.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Paul Krugman: Death by Typo

Do these people not understand, or care, how history will view them?

Death by Typo, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: My parents used to own a small house with a large backyard, in which my mother cultivated a beautiful garden. At some point, however — I don’t remember why — my father looked at the official deed defining their property, and received a shock. According to the text, the Krugman lot wasn’t a rough rectangle; it was a triangle more than a hundred feet long but only around a yard wide at the base.
On examination, it was clear what had happened: Whoever wrote down the lot’s description had somehow skipped a clause. And of course the town clerk fixed the language. After all, it would have been ludicrous and cruel to take away most of my parents’ property on the basis of sloppy drafting, when the drafters’ intention was perfectly clear.
But it now appears possible that the Supreme Court may be willing to deprive millions of Americans of health care on the basis of an equally obvious typo. And if you think this possibility has anything to do with serious legal reasoning, as opposed to rabid partisanship, I have a long, skinny, unbuildable piece of land you might want to buy.
Last week the court shocked many observers by saying that it was willing to hear a case claiming that the wording of one clause in the Affordable Care Act sets drastic limits on subsidies to Americans who buy health insurance. It’s a ridiculous claim... But the fact that the suit is ridiculous is no guarantee that it won’t succeed — not in an environment in which all too many Republican judges have made it clear that partisan loyalty trumps respect for the rule of law. ...
Now, states could avoid this death spiral by establishing exchanges — which might involve nothing more than setting up links to the federal exchange. But how did we get to this point?
Once upon a time, this lawsuit would have been literally laughed out of court. Instead, however, it has actually been upheld in some lower courts, on straight party-line votes — and the willingness of the Supremes to hear it is a bad omen.
So let’s be clear about what’s happening here. Judges who support this cruel absurdity aren’t stupid; they know what they’re doing. What they are, instead, is corrupt, willing to pervert the law to serve political masters. And what we’ll find out in the months ahead is how deep the corruption goes.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Paul Krugman: Triumph of the Wrong

Why did Republicans do so well in the election?:

Triumph of the Wrong, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong..., nor yet midterms to men of understanding. Or as I put it on the eve of another Republican Party sweep, politics determines who has the power, not who has the truth. Still, it’s not often that a party that is so wrong about so much does as well as Republicans...., the new rulers of Congress have been about, well, everything.
First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 ... shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans ... invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible...
In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner ... declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”
So here we are, with years of experience..., and the lessons ... couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. ...
Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ...
And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. ... Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.
 But if Republicans have been so completely wrong..., why did voters give them such a big victory?
Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.
But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. ...
This was ... bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.
Will things change now that the G.O.P. can’t so easily evade responsibility? I guess we’ll find out.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

'Understanding and Overcoming America's Plutocracy'

Jeff Sachs:

Understanding and Overcoming America's Plutocracy: Pity the American people for imagining that they have just elected the new Congress. In a formal way, they of course have. The public did vote. But in a substantive way, it's not true that they have chosen their government.
This was the billionaires' election, billionaires of both parties. And while the Republican and Democratic Party billionaires have some differences, what unites them is much stronger than what divides them, a few exceptions aside. Indeed, many of the richest individual and corporate donors give to both parties. The much-discussed left-right polarization is not polarization at all. The political system is actually relatively united and working very effectively for the richest of the rich. ...

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Election Thread

If you have thoughts on the election...

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

'Why Don’t We See More Macroeconomic Populism?'

Paul Krugman has a question:

Why Don’t We See More Macroeconomic Populism?: As I’ve been noting recently, there’s a lot of opposition within Japan to the Bank of Japan’s policy of printing more money; there’s also a lot of pressure on the government to raise taxes. And that’s not really very different from what has been happening in the rest of the advanced world: central banks that have pursued quantitative easing have done so despite political pressure, not because of it, and fiscal austerity has been imposed almost everywhere.
The funny thing is that when you ask for justifications for pursuing hard money and tight budgets in a depressed, low-inflation economy, the answers you get often start from the presumption that money-printing and deficit finance are immensely tempting to politicians, so that you don’t dare let them get even a slight taste of these addictive drugs. This is often said in a tone of great wisdom, and presented as the lesson history teaches us.
Now, as Simon Wren-Lewis points out — and as I’ve pointed out in the past — history actually teaches us no such thing. ...
But ... populist politicians should love it when people tell them that printing money and running big deficits is OK — seems plausible. And things like this have happened in Latin America — indeed are happening again today in Venezuela and Argentina. So why don’t they ever happen in America, Europe, or Japan? Why, in a time of deflationary pressure, have calls for belt-tightening dominated the political scene?
I actually don’t know, although I continue to think about it. But it is a puzzle worth pondering.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Paul Krugman: Ideology and Investment

What's really behind the GOP's opposition to infrastructure investment?:

Ideology and Investment, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: America used to be a country that built for the future. Sometimes the government built directly: Public projects, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, provided the backbone for economic growth. Sometimes it provided incentives to the private sector, like land grants to spur railroad construction. Either way, there was broad support for spending that would make us richer.
But nowadays we simply won’t invest, even when the need is obvious and the timing couldn’t be better. And don’t tell me that the problem is “political dysfunction” or some other weasel phrase that diffuses the blame. Our inability to invest doesn’t reflect something wrong with “Washington”; it reflects the destructive ideology that has taken over the Republican Party.
Some background: More than seven years have passed since the housing bubble burst, and ever since, America has been awash in savings ... with nowhere to go. ...
There’s an obvious policy response to this situation: public investment. We have huge infrastructure needs,... and the federal government can borrow incredibly cheaply... So borrowing to build roads, repair sewers and more seems like a no-brainer. But what has actually happened is the reverse. After briefly rising after the Obama stimulus went into effect, public construction spending has plunged. ...
Yet this didn’t have to happen. ... But once the G.O.P. took control of the House, any chance of ... money for infrastructure vanished. Once in a while Republicans would talk about wanting to spend more, but they blocked every Obama administration initiative.
And it’s all about ideology, an overwhelming hostility to government spending of any kind. This hostility began as an attack on social programs, especially those that aid the poor, but over time it has broadened into opposition to any kind of spending, no matter how necessary and no matter what the state of the economy. ... Never mind the obvious point that the private sector doesn’t and won’t supply most kinds of infrastructure, from local roads to sewer systems; such distinctions have been lost amid the chants of private sector good, government bad.
And the result, as I said, is that America has turned its back on its own history. We need public investment; at a time of very low interest rates, we could easily afford it. But build we won’t.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Paul Krugman: Plutocrats Against Democracy

"What's a plutocrat to do?":

Plutocrats Against Democracy, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...The ... political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy..., there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy. ...
This is a fantasy. ... All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s... But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals — and no, that’s not what ails Europe.
Still, while the “kind of politics and policies” that responds to the bottom half of the income distribution won’t destroy the economy,... the top 0.1 percent is paying quite a lot more in taxes right now than it would have if Mr. Romney had won. So what’s a plutocrat to do?
One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): ...
Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions — government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.
A third answer is to make sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different.
But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect. The obvious answer is...: Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.
And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights — at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.
The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

'In Defense of Obama'

In case you missed this from Paul Krugman:

In Defense of Obama, by Paul Krugman, Rolling Stone: When it comes to Barack Obama, I've always been out of sync. Back in 2008, when many liberals were wildly enthusiastic about his candidacy and his press was strongly favorable, I was skeptical. I worried that he was naive, that his talk about transcending the political divide was a dangerous illusion given the unyielding extremism of the modern American right. Furthermore, it seemed clear to me that, far from being the transformational figure his supporters imagined, he was rather conventional-minded: Even before taking office, he showed signs of paying far too much attention to what some of us would later take to calling Very Serious People, people who regarded cutting budget deficits and a willingness to slash Social Security as the very essence of political virtue.
And I wasn't wrong. Obama was indeed naive: He faced scorched-earth Republican opposition from Day One, and it took him years to start dealing with that opposition realistically. Furthermore, he came perilously close to doing terrible things to the U.S. safety net in pursuit of a budget Grand Bargain; we were saved from significant cuts to Social Security and a rise in the Medicare age only by Republican greed, the GOP's unwillingness to make even token concessions.
But now the shoe is on the other foot: Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn't deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it's working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it's much more effective than you'd think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.
I'll go through those achievements shortly. First, however, let's take a moment to talk about the current wave of Obama-bashing. ...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

'Hiatt Hysterical Over Losing His Schtick'

Barkley Rosser feels "sorry for Fred." Sort of:

Hiatt Hysterical Over Losing His Schtick: Poor Fred Hiatt. For years, this Editor of the Editorial page of the Washington Post has made his named appearances on the editorial page (he daily bloviates the main ed lead anonymously) only to call for cutting Social Security, and occasionally Medicare as well. This has been his schtick for many years. Now it is over, but he fails to recognize it. ...
So, I feel sorry for Fred. Beating up on seniors who have paid in their taxes for what they are getting has been the one an only topic that has inspired him to write columns under his own name for many years. The new projections of lower deficits, good news to most of us, simply do not register with him. Actually, they probably do. But Krugman is right. As much as anybody, he is the longstanding VSP in DC who has been whining for years about cutting Social Security and Medicare, whose excuse for this argument has simply disappeared, but he and his pals simply are not willing to face the new facts.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Paul Krugman: Secret Deficit Lovers

Why isn't America celebrating the large fall in the deficit?:

Secret Deficit Lovers, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: What if they balanced the budget and nobody knew or cared?
O.K., the federal budget hasn’t actually been balanced. But the Congressional Budget Office has tallied up the totals for fiscal 2014..., and reports that the deficit plunge of the past several years continues. ...
So where are the ticker-tape parades? For that matter, where are the front-page news reports? After all, talk about the evils of deficits and the grave fiscal danger facing America dominated Washington for years. Shouldn’t we be making a big deal of the fact that the alleged crisis is over?
Well, we aren’t, and once you understand why, you also understand what fiscal hysteria was really about.
First, ordinary Americans aren’t celebrating the deficit’s decline because they don’t know about it. That’s not mere speculation...
Why doesn’t the public know better? Probably because of the way much of the news media report this and other issues, with bad news played up and good news downplayed if it’s reported at all.
This has been glaringly obvious in the case of health reform, where every problem ... has been the subject of headlines, while in right-wing media — and to some extent in mainstream news sources — favorable developments go unremarked. As a result, many people — even, in my experience, liberals — have the impression that the rollout of Obamacare has been a disaster, and have no idea that enrollment is above expectations, costs are lower than expected, and the number of Americans without insurance has dropped sharply. Surely something similar has happened on the budget deficit. ...
Deficit scolds actually love big budget deficits, and hate it when those deficits get smaller. Why? Because fears of a fiscal crisis — fears that they feed assiduously — are their best hope of getting what they really want: big cuts in social programs. ...
But isn’t the falling deficit just a short-term blip, with the long-run outlook as dire as ever? Actually, no..., there has ... been a dramatic slowdown in the growth of health spending — and if that continues, the long-run fiscal outlook is much better than anyone thought possible not long ago. ...
So let’s say goodbye to fiscal hysteria. I know that the deficit scolds are having a hard time letting go; they’re still trying to bring back the days when Bowles and Simpson bestrode the Beltway like colossi. But those days aren’t coming back, and we should be glad.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

'Do We Need a Crisis to Reduce the Deficit?'

Simon Wren-Lewis:

Do we need a crisis to reduce the deficit?: The macroeconomic case for not cutting the deficit straight after a major recession is as watertight as these things get, at least outside of the Eurozone. (It is also true for the Eurozone, but just a bit more complicated, so its easier to just focus on the US and UK in this post.) If you want to bring the government deficit and debt down, you do so when interest rates are free to counter the impact on aggregate demand. As the problems of high government debt are long term there is no urgency for debt reduction, so the problem can wait. The costs of fiscal consolidation in a liquidity trap are large and immediate, as we have experienced to our cost.
Sometimes austerity proponents will admit this basic macroeconomic truth, but say that it ignores the politics. Politics means that it is very difficult for governments to reduce debt during booms, they say. Although it would be nice to wait for interest rates to rise before cutting the deficit, it will not happen if we do, so we have to cut now. Like all good myths, this is based on a half truth: in the 30 years before the recession, debt tended to rise as a share of GDP in most OECD countries. And it always sounds wise to say you cannot trust politicians.
However both the UK and US show that this is not some kind of iron law of politics. ...

Monday, October 06, 2014

'Is Keynesian Economics Left Wing?'

A small part of a much longer argument/post by Simon Wren-Lewis:

More asymmetries: Is Keynesian economics left wing?: ...So why is there this desire to deny the importance of Keynesian theory coming from the political right? Perhaps it is precisely because monetary policy is necessary to ensure aggregate demand is neither excessive nor deficient. Monetary policy is state intervention: by setting a market price, an arm of the state ensures the macroeconomy works. When this particular procedure fails to work, in a liquidity trap for example, state intervention of another kind is required (fiscal policy). While these statements are self-evident to many mainstream economists, to someone of a neoliberal or ordoliberal persuasion they are discomforting. At the macroeconomic level, things only work well because of state intervention. This was so discomforting that New Classical economists attempted to create an alternative theory of business cycles where booms and recessions were nothing to be concerned about, but just the optimal response of agents to exogenous shocks.
So my argument is that Keynesian theory is not left wing, because it is not about market failure - it is just about how the macroeconomy works. On the other hand anti-Keynesian views are often politically motivated, because the pivotal role the state plays in managing the macroeconomy does not fit the ideology. ...

Paul Krugman: Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation

Will Republicans "destroy the credibility of a very important institution"?:

Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Even if Republicans take the Senate this year, gaining control of both houses of Congress, they won’t gain much in conventional terms: They’re already able to block legislation, and they still won’t be able to pass anything over the president’s veto. One thing they will be able to do, however, is impose their will on the Congressional Budget Office, heretofore a nonpartisan referee on policy proposals.
As a result, we may soon find ourselves in deep voodoo.
During his failed bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination George H. W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” doctrine — the claim that cutting taxes on high incomes would lead to spectacular economic growth, so that tax cuts would pay for themselves — as “voodoo economic policy.” Bush was right. ...
But now it looks as if voodoo is making a comeback. At the state level, Republican governors — and Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, in particular — have been going all in on tax cuts despite troubled budgets, with confident assertions that growth will solve all problems. It’s not happening... But the true believers show no sign of wavering.
Meanwhile, in Congress Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is dropping broad hints that after the election he and his colleagues will do what the Bushies never did, try to push the budget office into adopting “dynamic scoring,” that is, assuming a big economic payoff from tax cuts.
So why is this happening now? It’s not because voodoo economics has become any more credible. ... In fact,... researchers at the International Monetary Fund, surveying cross-country evidence, have found that redistribution of income from the affluent to the poor, which conservatives insist kills growth, actually seems to boost economies.
But facts won’t stop the voodoo comeback,... for years they have relied on magic asterisks — claims that they will make up for lost revenue by closing loopholes and slashing spending, details to follow. But this dodge has been losing effectiveness as the years go by and the specifics keep not coming. Inevitably, then, they’re feeling the pull of that old black magic — and if they take the Senate, they’ll be able to infuse voodoo into supposedly neutral analysis.
Would they actually do it? It would destroy the credibility of a very important institution, one that has served the country well. But have you seen any evidence that the modern conservative movement cares about such things?

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Unemployment Rate is an 'Inadequate Measure of Slack'

Jared Bernstein says there's more slack in the labor market than you'd think from just looking at the unemployment rate:

...So why not just look at the unemployment rate and call it a day? Because special factors in play right now make the jobless rate an inadequate measure of slack. In fact, at 6.1 percent last month, it’s within spitting distance of the rate many economists consider to be consistent with full employment, about 5.5 percent (I think that’s too high, but that’s a different argument).
There are at least two special factors that are distorting the unemployment rate’s signal. First, there are over seven million involuntary part-time workers, almost 5 percent of the labor force, who want, but can’t find, full-time jobs. That’s still up two percentage points from its pre-recession trough. Importantly, the unemployment rate doesn’t capture this dimension of slack at all...
The second special factor masking the extent of slack as measured by unemployment has to do with participation in the labor force. Once you give up looking for work, you’re no longer counted in the unemployment rate, so if a bunch of people exit the labor force because of the very slack we’re trying to measure, it artificially lowers unemployment, making a weak labor market look better.
That’s certainly happened over the recession and throughout the recovery...

There's still plenty of room, and plenty of time for fiscal policymakers to do more to help the unemployed (and with infrastructure, our future economic growth at the same time). Unfortunately, Congress has been captured by other interests. As for monetary policy, let's hope that the FOMC listens to Charles Evans' call for patience. Raising rates too late and risking a temporary outbreak of inflation is far less of a mistake than raising them too early and slowing the recovery of employment. And there's this too: Unemployment Hurts Happiness More Than Modest Inflation.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Paul Krugman: Those Lazy Jobless

Why are conservatives are blaming the victims of the recession despite "evidence and logic" to the contrary?:

Those Lazy Jobless, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.” Holy 47 percent, Batman!
It’s hardly the first time a prominent conservative has said something along these lines. Ever since a financial crisis plunged us into recession it has been a nonstop refrain on the right that the unemployed aren’t trying hard enough, that they are taking it easy thanks to generous unemployment benefits, which are constantly characterized as “paying people not to work.” And the urge to blame the victims of a depressed economy has proved impervious to logic and evidence.
But it’s still amazing — and revealing — to hear this line being repeated now. For the blame-the-victim crowd has gotten everything it wanted: Benefits, especially for the long-term unemployed, have been slashed or eliminated. So now we have rants against the bums on welfare when they aren’t bums — they never were — and there’s no welfare. Why? ...
Is it race? That’s always a hypothesis worth considering in American politics. It’s true that most of the unemployed are white, and they make up an even larger share of those receiving unemployment benefits. But conservatives may not know this, treating the unemployed as part of a vaguely defined, dark-skinned crowd of “takers.”
My guess, however, is that it’s mainly about the closed information loop of the modern right. In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. You might think that personal experience — almost everyone has acquaintances or relatives who can’t find work — would still break through, but apparently not.
Whatever the explanation, Mr. Boehner was clearly saying what he and everyone around him really thinks, what they say to each other when they don’t expect others to hear. Some conservatives have been trying to reinvent their image, professing sympathy for the less fortunate. But what their party really believes is that if you’re poor or unemployed, it’s your own fault.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

'Climate Realities'

Robert Stavins:

Climate Realities: ...It is true that, in theory, we can avoid the worst consequences of climate change with an intensive global effort over the next several decades. But given real-world economic and, in particular, political realities, that seems unlikely..., let’s look at the sobering reality.
The world is now on track to more than double current greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by the end of the century. This would push up average global temperatures by three to eight degrees Celsius and could mean the disappearance of glaciers, droughts in the mid-to-low latitudes, decreased crop productivity, increased sea levels and flooding, vanishing islands and coastal wetlands, greater storm frequency and intensity, the risk of species extinction and a significant spread of infectious disease.
The United Nations has set a goal of keeping global temperatures from rising by no more than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. ... Meeting this goal would require a worldwide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 to 70 percent by midcentury, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That’s an immense challenge. ...
Of course, the political climate in the United States presents its own challenges. It will require immense effort — and profound good fortune — to find political openings that can resolve the debilitating partisan divide on climate change. But if destructive politics have been at the heart of the problem, the best hope may be that creative politics and leadership can help provide a solution.

He also talks about the cost of climate change (saying it will be large), as do Peter Dorman  (in response to Paul Krugman) and John Quiggin. See also Scientists Report Global Rise in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Friday, September 19, 2014

'The Political Economy of a Universal Basic Income'

Since I posted the original, it's only fair to post the response:

The political economy of a universal basic income, by Steve Waldman, Interfluidity: So you should read these two posts by Max Sawicky on proposals for a universal basic income, because you should read everything Max Sawicky writes. (Oh wait. Two more!) Sawicky is a guy I often agree with, but he is my mirror Spock on this issue. I think he is 180° wrong on almost every point. ...

Paul Krugman: Errors and Emissions

Don't pay any attention to "the prophets of climate despair":

Errors and Emissions, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news?
I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses. ...
Enter the prophets of climate despair, who wave away all this analysis and declare that the only way to limit carbon emissions is to bring an end to economic growth.
You mostly hear this from people on the right, who normally say that free-market economies are endlessly flexible and creative. But when you propose putting a price on carbon, suddenly they insist that industry will be completely incapable of adapting to changed incentives. Why, it’s almost as if they’re looking for excuses to avoid confronting climate change, and, in particular, to avoid anything that hurts fossil-fuel interests, no matter how beneficial to everyone else.
But climate despair produces some odd bedfellows: Koch-fueled insistence that emission limits would kill economic growth is echoed by some who see this as an argument not against climate action, but against growth. ... To be fair, anti-growth environmentalism is a marginal position even on the left, but it’s widespread enough to call out nonetheless.
And you sometimes see hard scientists making arguments along the same lines, largely (I think) because they don’t understand what economic growth means. They think of it as a crude, physical thing, a matter simply of producing more stuff, and don’t take into account the many choices — about what to consume, about which technologies to use — that go into producing a dollar’s worth of G.D.P.
So here’s what you need to know: Climate despair is all wrong. The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception. If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Paul Krugman: The Deflation Caucus

Why is there so much fear of inflation, particularly on the political right?:

The Deflation Caucus, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: On Thursday, the European Central Bank announced a series of new steps it was taking in an effort to boost Europe’s economy. ... But its epiphany may have come too late. It’s far from clear that the measures now on the table will be strong enough to reverse the downward spiral.
And there but for the grace of Bernanke go we. Things ... are far from O.K., but we seem ... to have steered clear of the kind of trap facing Europe. Why? One answer is that the Federal Reserve started doing the right thing years ago, buying trillions of dollars’ worth of bonds in order to avoid the situation its European counterpart now faces.
You can argue ... the Fed should have done even more. But Fed officials have faced fierce attacks... Pundits, politicians and plutocrats have accused them, over and over again, of “debasing” the dollar, and warned that soaring inflation is just around the corner..., but despite being wrong year after year, hardly any of the critics have admitted being wrong, or even changed their tune. And the question I’ve been trying to answer is why. What ... makes a powerful faction in our body politic — ...the deflation caucus — demand tight money even in a depressed, low-inflation economy? ...
One answer is ... truthiness — Stephen Colbert’s justly famed term for things that aren’t true, but feel true to some people. “The Fed is printing money, printing money leads to inflation, and inflation is always a bad thing” is a triply untrue statement, but it feels true to a lot of people. ...
Another answer is class interest. Inflation helps debtors and hurts creditors, deflation does the reverse. And the wealthy are much more likely than workers and the poor to be creditors... So perceived class interest is probably also a key motivation for the deflation caucus. ...
And the important thing to understand is that the dominance of creditor interests on both sides of the Atlantic, supported by false but viscerally appealing economic doctrines, has had tragic consequences. Our economies have been dragged down by the woes of debtors, who have been forced to slash spending. To avoid a deep, prolonged slump, we needed policies to offset this drag. What we got instead was an obsession with the evils of budget deficits and paranoia over inflation — and a slump that has gone on and on.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

'The US Economy Performs Better Under Democratic Presidents. Why?'

In case you missed this research from Blinder and Watson:

The US economy performs better under Democratic presidents. Why?, by Alan S. Blinder, Mark Watson: Economists and political scientists – not to mention the political commentariat – have devoted a huge amount of attention to the well-established fact that faster economic growth helps re-elect the incumbent party (see, for example, Fair 2011 for the US). But what about causation in the opposite direction – from election outcomes to economic performance? It turns out that the US economy grows faster – indeed, performs better by almost every metric – when a Democratic president occupies the White House.
This partisan gap has barely been noticed by researchers, but it is wide.1 Since the end of World War II, there have been 16 complete four-year presidential terms - seven Democratic and nine Republican. Growth of real GDP averaged 4.35% per annum under the Democratic presidents but only 2.54% under the Republicans. That partisan growth gap of 1.8 percentage points is large by any standard - it implies that real GDP grew by 18.6% during a typical Democratic four-year term, but only by 10.6% during a typical Republican term - and it is statistically significant despite the relative paucity of data.2 In fact, as Figure 1 shows, growth has always slowed down when a Republican president replaced a Democrat and always sped up when a Democrat replaced a Republican. There are no exceptions.3
Similar partisan gaps favouring Democrats – some larger, some smaller, and not always significant – appear in almost any macroeconomic indicator you can think of: the incidence of NBER recessions, employment growth, business investment growth, stock market returns, the profit share of GDP, and so on.

Figure 1. Average annualised GDP growth, by presidential term

The data hold more surprises. Here are a few:

  1. Even though the US Constitution assigns power over the budget (and most other economic powers) to Congress, not to the president, there is no difference in growth rates depending on which party controls Congress. It’s the presidency that matters.
  2. The Democratic growth advantage is concentrated in the first two years of a presidency, especially the first, even though Republicans bequeath much slower-growing economies to Democrats and US GDP growth is positively serially correlated (ρ ≈ 0.40 in quarterly data).
  3. As indicated both by time series models and by genuine ex ante forecasts, Democrats do not inherit economies that are poised for more rapid growth. Granger-causality runs from party-to-growth not from growth-to-party.

Trying to explain the partisan growth gap

Confronted with such stark partisan differences, a macroeconomist naturally wonders whether the explanation could be that fiscal policy was, on average, more expansionary under Democrats. We assess this possibility in a variety of ways and come up with the same answer: no. What about monetary policy, despite the Federal Reserve’s vaunted independence from politics? The answer here is that, if anything, monetary policy was more pro-growth under Republican presidents.4

If the partisan gap cannot be explained by differential monetary and fiscal policy, what does explain it? And do these explanatory factors suggest it was good luck or good policy? We searched over a wide variety of factors, mostly entered in the form of econometric ‘shocks’, that is, as residuals from regressions that include the variable’s own lags and the current and lagged values of GDP growth. Four showed econometric promise:5

  1. Oil price shocks;
  2. Total factor productivity (TFP) shocks, adjusted to remove cyclical influences;
  3. Foreign (that is, European) growth shocks;
  4. Shocks to consumer expectations of future economic conditions.

In addition, defence spending shocks mattered in samples that include the Korean War, but not much in samples that do not. Using all five of these variables enables us to explain about half of the partisan gap in GDP growth rates since 1947.

As we peruse the list of explanatory variables, the first (oil shocks) looks to be mainly good luck, although US foreign policy (rather than economic policy) certainly played a role. (Think about George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq, for example.) The second variable (TFP) should in principle measure improvements in technology – and so be mostly driven by luck. But a wide variety of economic policies, ranging from R&D spending to regulation and much else, might influence TFP in multiple, subtle ways. And TFP shocks affect the economy with long lags, so that a portion of the TFP-induced strong growth for Democrats was inherited from previous administrations. The third (real growth in Europe) should not have much to do with US economic policies. And when you couple the fourth variable (consumer expectations) with the observed fact that spending on consumer durables grows much faster under Democrats, you get a tantalising suggestion of a self-fulfilling prophecy – consumers, expecting faster growth under Democratic presidents, buy more durable goods on that belief, which makes the economy grow faster. Did they know something economists didn’t?6

These findings raise a host of questions. Among them:

  • Is the basic finding limited to post-World War II data?

We think not. We found a similar (though smaller) partisan growth gap in US data going all the way back to 1875. But the 1875–1947 data are dominated by the administration of Franklin D Roosevelt, during which real GDP grew at a heady 7.4% annual rate.

  • Are there similar partisan gaps in other countries?

We looked briefly at four other large democracies with stable two-party systems: Canada, the UK, France, and Germany. The Canadian data display a similar (though not quite as large) GDP growth gap in favour of Liberal over Conservative prime ministers. But that is not true in any of the three European countries.

Our best econometric efforts explained little more than half of the Democratic growth gap - our ‘glass’ wound up literally half full and half empty. What factors explain the rest? Hopefully, further research will cast some light on that question.

References

Alberto Alesina and Jeffrey Sachs (1988), “Political Parties and the Business Cycle in the United States, 1948–1984”, Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking, 20(1): 63–82.

Larry M Bartels (2008), Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, and Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Alan S Blinder and Mark W Watson (2014), “Presidents and the U.S. Economy: An Econometric Exploration”, NBER Working Paper 20324, July. 

Michael Comiskey and Lawrence C Marsh (2012), “Presidents, Parties, and the Business Cycle, 1949–2009”, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 42(1): 40–59.

Ray C Fair (2011), Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things, Second Edition, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Endnotes

1 Alesina and Sachs (1988), Bartels (2008, Chapter 2), and Comiskey and Marsh (2012) are a few exceptions. There are not many.

2 In Blinder and Watson (2014), we compute standard errors in a variety of ways and find that the partisan gap is statistically significant at roughly a 1% significance level.

3 But the Carter-to-Reagan transition exhibits only a small slowdown.

4 This is true even though growth was decidedly faster under Fed chairmen who were first appointed by Democrats.

5 We omit from this list factors that we found help explain why Republican presidents should have shown a growth advantage.

6 The partisan growth gap does not rely on recent data. In fact, the estimate generally increases as we shorten the sample by eliminating more recent data.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Paul Krugman: Why We Fight

Why do wars still exist?

Why We Fight, y Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: A century has passed since the start of World War I, which many people at the time declared was “the war to end all wars.” Unfortunately, wars just kept happening. And with the headlines from Ukraine getting scarier by the day, this seems like a good time to ask why.
Once upon a time wars were fought for fun and profit; when Rome overran Asia Minor or Spain conquered Peru, it was all about the gold and silver. And that kind of thing still happens. ...
If you’re a modern, wealthy nation, however, war — even easy, victorious war — doesn’t pay. And this has been true for a long time. ... Modern nations can’t enrich themselves by waging war. Yet wars keep happening. Why?
One answer is that leaders may not understand the arithmetic.... It’s only a guess, but it seems likely that Vladimir Putin thought that he could overthrow Ukraine’s government, or at least seize a large chunk of its territory, on the cheap — a bit of deniable aid to the rebels, and it would fall into his lap.
And for that matter, remember when the Bush administration predicted that overthrowing Saddam and installing a new government would cost only $50 billion or $60 billion?
The larger problem, however, is that governments all too often gain politically from war, even if the war in question makes no sense in terms of national interests. ...
And the fact is that nations almost always rally around their leaders in times of war, no matter how foolish the war... Argentina’s junta briefly became extremely popular during the Falklands War. For a time, the “war on terror” took President George W. Bush’s approval to dizzying heights, and Iraq probably won him the 2004 election. True to form, Mr. Putin’s approval ratings have soared since the Ukraine crisis began. ...
Most immediately, we have to worry about escalation in Ukraine. All-out war would be hugely against Russia’s interests — but Mr. Putin may feel that letting the rebellion collapse would be an unacceptable loss of face.
And if authoritarian regimes without deep legitimacy are tempted to rattle sabers when they can no longer deliver good performance, think about the incentives China’s rulers will face if and when that nation’s economic miracle comes to an end — something many economists believe will happen soon.
Starting a war is a very bad idea. But it keeps happening anyway.

Friday, August 08, 2014

'On Reaganolatry'

"It just isn't so":

On Reaganolatry, by Paul Krugman: The truly vile attack on Rick Perlstein’s new book has been revealing in a number of ways. ...
And why this determination to quash Perlstein? It’s all about Reaganolatry, the right’s need to see the man as perfect. ... Everyone on the right knows that Reagan presided over job creation on a scale never seen before or since; but it just isn’t so. In fact, if you look at monthly rates of job creation for the past six administrations, it’s actually startling:

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You may have known that Clinton was a better “job creator” than Reagan, but did you know that over the course of the Carter administration — January 1977 to January 1981 — the economy actually added jobs faster than it did under Reagan? Maybe you want to claim that the 1981-82 recession was Carter’s fault (although actually it was the Fed’s doing), so that you start counting from almost two years into Reagan’s term; but in that case why not give Obama the same courtesy? The general point is that the supposed awesomeness of Reagan’s economic record just doesn’t pop out of the data.
But don’t expect the Reaganlators to acknowledge that. Their whole sense of identity is bound up with their faith.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

'Republican Craziness Is Undermining the South’s Massive Keynesian Stimulus'

Ha:

Someone needs to tell Republicans that you’re not actually supposed to govern according to the rhetoric used to gull the rubes.

More here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

'Presidents and the U.S. Economy: An Econometric Exploration'

Alan Blinder and Mark Watson:

Presidents and the U.S. Economy: An Econometric Exploration, by Alan S. Blinder and Mark W. Watson, NBER Working Paper No. 20324 [open link]: The U.S. economy has grown faster—and scored higher on many other macroeconomic metrics—when the President of the United States is a Democrat rather than a Republican. For many measures, including real GDP growth (on which we concentrate), the performance gap is both large and statistically significant, despite the fact that postwar history includes only 16 complete presidential terms. This paper asks why. The answer is not found in technical time series matters (such as differential trends or mean reversion), nor in systematically more expansionary monetary or fiscal policy under Democrats. Rather, it appears that the Democratic edge stems mainly from more benign oil shocks, superior TFP performance, a more favorable international environment, and perhaps more optimistic consumer expectations about the near-term future. Many other potential explanations are examined but fail to explain the partisan growth gap.

Paul Krugman: Corporate Artful Dodgers

Congress should do something about "ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance":

Corporate Artful Dodgers, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In recent decisions, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has made clear its view that corporations are people, with all the attendant rights. ...
There is, however, one big difference between corporate persons and the likes of you and me: On current trends, we’re heading toward a world in which only the human people pay taxes.
We’re not quite there yet: The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate profits taxation. But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s... Part of the decline since then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent.
Which brings us to the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion.” This refers to a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate.
The most important thing to understand about inversion is that it does not in any meaningful sense involve American business “moving overseas.” ... All they’re doing is dodging taxes on those profits.
And Congress could crack down on this tax dodge...
Opponents of a crackdown on inversion typically argue that instead of closing loopholes we should reform the whole system by which we tax profits, and maybe stop taxing profits altogether. They also tend to argue that taxing corporate profits hurts investment and job creation. But these are very bad arguments against ending the practice of inversion. ...
As for reforming the system: Yes, that would be a good idea. But..., there are big debates about the shape of reform, debates that would take years to resolve... Why let corporations avoid paying their fair share for years, while we wait for the logjam to break?
Finally, none of this has anything to do with investment and job creation. If and when Walgreen changes its “citizenship,” it will get to keep more of its profits — but it will have no incentive to invest those extra profits in its U.S. operations.
So this should be easy. By all means let’s have a debate about how and how much to tax profits. Meanwhile, however, let’s close this outrageous loophole.