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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Joseph Stiglitz: Financial Hypocrisy

Joseph Stiglitz explains why he's not surprised that "the world is once again facing a period of global financial instability, with uncertain outcomes for the world's economies":

Financial Hypocrisy, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Project Syndicate: This year marks the tenth anniversary of the East Asia crisis, which began in Thailand on July 2, 1997, and spread to Indonesia in October and to Korea in December. Eventually, it became a global financial crisis, ... unleashing forces that played out over the ensuing years... It was the worst global crisis since the Great Depression. ...

Looking back at the crisis a decade later, we can see more clearly how wrong the diagnosis, prescription, and prognosis of the IMF and United States Treasury were. The fundamental problem was premature capital market liberalization. It is therefore ironic to see the US Treasury Secretary once again pushing for capital market liberalization in India - one of the two major developing countries (along with China) to emerge unscathed from the 1997 crisis.

It is no accident that these countries that had not fully liberalized their capital markets have done so well. Subsequent research by the IMF has confirmed what every serious study had shown: capital market liberalization brings instability, but not necessarily growth. ...

Of course, Wall Street (whose interests the US Treasury represents) profits from capital market liberalization: they make money as capital flows in, as it flows out, and in the restructuring that occurs in the resulting havoc. ...

The contrast between the IMF/US Treasury advice to East Asia and what has happened in the current sub-prime debacle is glaring. East Asian countries were told to raise their interest rates, in some cases to 25%, 40%, or higher, causing a rash of defaults. In the current crisis, the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank cut interest rates.

Similarly, the countries caught up in the East Asia crisis were lectured on the need for greater transparency and better regulation.

But lack of transparency played a central role in this past summer's credit crunch... And there is now a chorus of caution about new regulations, which supposedly might hamper financial markets (including their exploitation of uninformed borrowers, which lay at the root of the problem.) Finally, despite all the warnings about moral hazard, Western banks have been partly bailed out of their bad investments.

Following the 1997 crisis, there was a consensus that fundamental reform of the global financial architecture was needed.

But, while the current system may lead to unnecessary instability, and impose huge costs on developing countries, it serves some interests well. It is not surprising, then, that ten years later, there has been no fundamental reform. Nor, therefore, is it surprising that the world is once again facing a period of global financial instability, with uncertain outcomes for the world's economies.

    Posted by on Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 02:25 AM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (20) 


    links for 2007-11-20

      Posted by on Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Links | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (15) 


      Monday, November 19, 2007

      Richard Baldwin: Feldstein’s View on the Dollar

      Richard Baldwin reviews Martin Feldstein's May 2007 predictions about the fate of the dollar, predictions he says are "looking pretty good at the moment":

      Feldstein’s view on the dollar, by Richard Baldwin, Vox EU: President Kennedy said “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” If the dollar’s slide is a defeat, then contrary to Kennedy’s wisdom, this defeat has a thousand fathers. Any number of observers now tell us that it was inevitable. One of my hobbies is to go back and see who saw it coming. Not from a pure forecasting perspective, but from an economic logic perspective. Who understood the key economic factors in advance and had the conviction to write them down? Marty Feldstein is one of those and this column presents my interpretation of the economic reasoning in his May 2007 paper.[1]

      Continue reading "Richard Baldwin: Feldstein’s View on the Dollar" »

        Posted by on Monday, November 19, 2007 at 04:23 PM in Economics, Financial System, International Finance, Saving | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (4) 


        Paul Krugman on the Dollar

        At the risk of Krugman overkill, this is too good to pass up. Paul Krugman tries to see if he can tell a pessimistic story about the falling dollar:

        Thinking about the dollar, by Paul Krugman: I have to do some teaching on the subject of the falling dollar and whether it’s recessionary. So herewith some ruminations. WARNING: FAIRLY WONKISH. [...read full post here...]

          Posted by on Monday, November 19, 2007 at 01:44 PM in Economics, International Finance | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (12) 


          Paul Samuelson: Balancing Market Freedoms

          Paul Samuelson (not to be confused with columnist Robert Samuelson) says recovery may not be "just around the corner," and we need to get ready for the worst case scenario. That means imposing financial market regulation and being ready to take take action immediately if there are any further signs of trouble. [On the continuation page, there are also comments from Yves Smith on a speech on financial market regulation by Minneapolis Fed president Gary Stern, and part of a Vox EU post by Stephen Cecchetti on how to regulate financial markets without stifling innovation]:

          Balancing market freedoms, by Paul A. Samuelson, Commentary, IHT: All through the years of the Great Depression, Wall Street publicists and President Herbert Hoover would repeatedly declare: "Recovery is just around the corner." They were wrong. And history repeats itself.

          Today, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke admits that nobody, including him, is able to guess how near to bankruptcy the biggest banks in New York, London, Frankfort and Tokyo might be as a result of the real estate crisis.

          As one of the economists who helped create today's newfangled securities, I must plead guilty: These new mechanisms both mask transparency and tempt to rash over-leveraging. ...

          The situation is not hopeless.

          Continue reading "Paul Samuelson: Balancing Market Freedoms" »

            Posted by on Monday, November 19, 2007 at 10:17 AM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (28) 


            Paul Krugman: Republicans and Race

            Paul Krugman continues his discussion of Reagan, Republicans, and race:

            Republicans and Race, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Over the past few weeks there have been a number of commentaries about Ronald Reagan’s legacy, specifically about whether he exploited the white backlash against the civil rights movement.

            The controversy unfortunately obscures the larger point, which should be undeniable: the central role of this backlash in the rise of the modern conservative movement.

            The centrality of race — and, in particular, of the switch of Southern whites from overwhelming support of Democrats to overwhelming support of Republicans — is obvious from voting data. ... Southern white voting behavior remains distinctive. ...

            The G.O.P.’s own leaders admit that the great Southern white shift was the result of a deliberate political strategy. “Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization.” So declared Ken Mehlman, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, speaking in 2005.

            And Ronald Reagan was among the “some” who tried to benefit from racial polarization.

            True, he never used explicit racial rhetoric. Neither did Richard Nixon. As Thomas and Mary Edsall put it in their ... book,... “Reagan paralleled Nixon’s success in constructing a politics ... that attacked policies targeted toward blacks and other minorities without reference to race — a conservative politics that had the effect of polarizing the electorate along racial lines.”

            Thus, Reagan repeatedly told the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen — a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud. He never mentioned the woman’s race, but he didn’t have to.

            There are many other examples of Reagan’s tacit race-baiting... My colleague Bob Herbert described some of these... Here’s one he didn’t mention: During the 1976 campaign Reagan often talked about how upset workers must be to see an able-bodied man using food stamps.... In the South — but not in the North — the food-stamp user became a “strapping young buck” buying T-bone steaks.

            Now, about the Philadelphia story: in December 1979 the Republican national committeeman from Mississippi wrote a letter urging that the party’s nominee speak at the Neshoba Country Fair, just outside the town where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964. It would, he wrote, help win over “George Wallace inclined voters.”

            Sure enough, Reagan appeared, and declared his support for states’ rights — which everyone took to be a coded declaration of support for segregationist sentiments.

            Reagan’s defenders protest furiously that he wasn’t personally bigoted. So what? We’re talking about his political strategy. His personal beliefs are irrelevant.

            Why does this history matter now? Because it tells why the vision of a permanent conservative majority, so widely accepted a few years ago, is wrong.

            The point is that we have become a more diverse and less racist country over time. The “macaca” incident, in which Senator George Allen’s use of a racial insult led to his election defeat, epitomized the way in which America has changed for the better.

            And because conservative ascendancy has depended so crucially on the racial backlash ... I believe that the declining power of that backlash changes everything.

            Can anti-immigrant rhetoric replace old-fashioned racial politics? No, because it mobilizes the same shrinking pool of whites — and alienates the growing number of Latino voters.

            Now, maybe I’m wrong about all of this. But we should be able to discuss the role of race in American politics honestly. We shouldn’t avert our gaze because we’re unwilling to tarnish Ronald Reagan’s image.

              Posted by on Monday, November 19, 2007 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (73) 


              Fed Watch: Headed For Another Game of Chicken?

              What the Fed says is different from what financial markets expect. Here's Tim Duy:

              Headed For Another Game of Chicken?, by Tim Duy: Over the last two weeks, Fedspeak has been undeniably hawkish.  Does anyone listen?  As near as I can tell, pretty much no one in the global financial markets is listening. Expectations for additional easing in the months ahead are only growing. What’s a Fed watcher to do? Listen to the Fed or the financial markets? The smart money is on the markets and suggests the best move is to continue to shade expectations toward another rate cut in December.

              The hawk parade was kicked off when Federal Reserve Governor Frederic Mishkin stepped up to the podium to reinforce the recent FOMC statement – delivering a clear message that he sees growth and inflation risks as equally balanced, and that the data, not the markets, will drive the outcome of the December meeting. Mishkin’s remarks were clearly intended to reduce expectations that the Federal Reserve is driving an unstoppable rate cut train. More interestingly, he waived the inflation flag, suggesting that Fed officials are starting to worry that inflation expectations are fraying. In total, he wants us to believe that if the data stream remains consistent with recent patterns, the Fed will hold tight in December. He bolstered that warning with a reminder that the Fed can always take back what was given in the last two outings of the FOMC:

              The FOMC perhaps could have waited for more clarity and left policy unchanged last week, but I believe that the potential costs of inaction outweighed the benefits, especially because, should the easing eventually appear to have been unnecessary, it could be removed.

              Pretty much a clear message – don’t take another rate cut for granted. And the hawkish beat kept up through the week; a nice little compilation can be found in the WSJ Marketbeat blog. A particularly blunt statement came from Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser:

              Continue reading "Fed Watch: Headed For Another Game of Chicken?" »

                Posted by on Monday, November 19, 2007 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (17) 


                "This Would be the Mother of All Financial Crises"

                Barry Eichengreen argues that:

                Adopting the euro is effectively irreversible. Leaving would require lengthy preparations, which, given the anticipated devaluation would trigger the mother of all financial crises. National households and firms would shift deposits to other euro-area banks producing a system-wide bank run. Investors, trying to escape would create a bond-market crisis. Here is what the train wreck would look like.

                The description is at "Eurozone breakup would trigger the mother of all financial crises."

                  Posted by on Monday, November 19, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (22) 


                  links for 2007-11-19

                    Posted by on Monday, November 19, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Links | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (1) 


                    Sunday, November 18, 2007

                    Drop in Commercial Property Values

                    Paul Krugman says:

                    Eek ... If commercial real estate goes the way of residential housing, we’re headed for recession city.

                    Here's the report that caught his attention:

                    MIT index shows first drop in commercial property value since '03 Indicates housing woes, credit crunch 'may be spreading', MIT News: The value of U.S. commercial real estate owned by big pension funds fell 2.5 percent in the third quarter of 2007, according to an index produced by the MIT Center for Real Estate.

                    The drop in the MIT quarterly transaction-based index (TBI) may not only spell the end of a five-year rally that saw commercial property prices effectively double, but it may also signal that weakness in the housing market is spilling over into commercial real estate.

                    "The fall in our index is the first solid, quantitative evidence that the subprime mortgage debacle, which hit the broader capital markets in August, may be spreading to the commercial property markets," stated MIT Center for Real Estate Director David Geltner.

                    The TBI decline in the third quarter of 2007 marks its first quarterly downturn since the third quarter of 2003, when prices fell 2.4 percent. The last time prices fell more than in the third quarter of 2007 was in the fourth quarter of 2001 (9/11, recession), when they fell 3.9 percent. ...

                    The TBI is based on transaction price data from the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (NCREIF). Launched in February 2006 and covering the period since 1984, the index of commercial real estate prices is updated quarterly and published on the Center's website, http://web.mit.edu/cre. ...

                      Posted by on Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 03:24 PM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (8) 


                      And the Cupboard was Bare

                      I can't find or think of anything to post today. I'll keep trying.

                      While I do, here's a bunch of posts that, for one reason or another, were all ready to go but never got posted here:

                      Continue reading "And the Cupboard was Bare" »

                        Posted by on Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 01:44 PM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (21) 


                        links for 2007-11-18

                          Posted by on Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Links | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (18) 


                          Saturday, November 17, 2007

                          "Does Death Penalty Save Lives? A New Debate"

                          This is easy for me. It doesn't matter whether the research on the issue is valid or not. I'm against the death penalty. Period.:

                          Does Death Penalty Save Lives? A New Debate, by Adam Liptak, NY Times: ...According to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented.  The effect is most pronounced, according to some studies, in Texas and other states that execute condemned inmates relatively often and relatively quickly. The studies, performed by economists in the past decade, ... say that murder rates tend to fall as executions rise. ...

                          The studies have been the subject of sharp criticism, much of it from legal scholars who say that the theories of economists do not apply to the violent world of crime and punishment. Critics of the studies say they are based on faulty premises, insufficient data and flawed methodologies.

                          The death penalty “is applied so rarely that the number of homicides it can plausibly have caused or deterred cannot reliably be disentangled from the large year-to-year changes in the homicide rate caused by other factors,” John J. Donohue III, a law professor at Yale with a doctorate in economics, and Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote... “The existing evidence for deterrence,” they concluded, “is surprisingly fragile.”

                          Gary Becker, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992 ..., said the current empirical evidence was “certainly not decisive” because “we just don’t get enough variation to be confident we have isolated a deterrent effect.” But, Mr. Becker added, “the evidence of a variety of types — not simply the quantitative evidence — has been enough to convince me that capital punishment does deter and is worth using...”

                          The ... studies have started to reshape the debate over capital punishment and to influence prominent legal scholars. ... To a large extent, the participants in the debate talk past one another because they work in different disciplines.

                          Continue reading ""Does Death Penalty Save Lives? A New Debate"" »

                            Posted by on Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 05:04 PM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (96) 


                            What is This Supposed to Tell Us?

                            I must be missing something, becasue I don't get the point of this. This is Greg Mankiw:

                            Inequality Everywhere You Look, by Greg Mankiw:

                            Nfl

                            Econ prof Mark Perry examines the incomes of professional football players and reports

                            the pattern of income distribution in the NFL is strikingly similar to the income inequality of the general population, and is actually slightly greater in the NFL....perhaps this pattern of income distribution is a natural and expected outcome of any extremely competitive environment where talent is scare, valuable and highly paid, whether it's the NFL or the overall economy.

                            Continue reading "What is This Supposed to Tell Us?" »

                              Posted by on Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 11:25 AM in Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (22) 


                              The Iraq War Costs More than You Think

                              Tyler Cowen writes a letter "To: President George W. Bush" with the subject identified as "The Hidden Costs of Iraq":

                              What Does Iraq Cost? Even More Than You Think, by Tyler Cowen, Commentary. Washington Post: ...One commonly cited estimate of Iraq's cost, based on an August analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, is $1 trillion, and that's probably on the low side. A report released last week by the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee put the war's 2002-08 tab at $1.3 trillion.

                              But all these figures don't quite get at Iraq's real cost. ... We often think of cost simply in terms of dollars spent, but the real cost of a choice -- what economists call its "opportunity cost" -- consists of the forgone alternatives, of the things we could have had instead. ... This idea sounds simple, but if applied consistently, it requires us to rethink and, yes, raise the costs of the Iraq war.

                              Set aside the question of what we could have accomplished at home with the energy and resources we've devoted to Iraq and concentrate just on national security. Here, the hidden cost of the war, above all, is that the United States has lost much of its ability to halt nuclear proliferation.

                              Mr. President, when the war started, I was convinced by your arguments that we had to stop Iraq's dictatorship from getting the bomb. No longer. Let's look at some of the opportunity costs the United States has incurred so far:

                              1. We still haven't secured our ports against nuclear terrorism. The

                              $1 trillion we've probably spent on the war could have funded the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security 28 times over.

                              2. The human toll of the war is dreadful: more than 3,800 U.S. soldiers dead and more than 28,000 wounded, plus more than 1,000 private contractors killed and many more injured. It's harder to know how many Iraqis have died; some estimates claim that the war has caused a million or more Iraqi deaths, and even if that's an overstatement, the toll is still very high. But it's not just the lives that are gone; we've also lost the contributions that these people would have made to their families and to humanity at large.

                              3. Another major hidden cost: Many of the wounded have severe brain injuries or other traumas and will never return to "normal" life. Furthermore, Washington will find it far harder to recruit and retain quality troops and National Guardsmen in the future.

                              4. Don't forget the small statistics, which are often the most striking. ...[A]n estimated 250,000 bullets have been fired for every insurgent killed in Iraq. That's not just a waste of ammunition; it's also a reflection of how badly the country has been damaged and how indiscriminate some of the fighting has been. Or take another straw in the wind: The cost of a coffin in Baghdad has risen to $50-75, up from just $5-10 before the war, according to the Nation magazine.

                              5. Above all, governing Iraq has, so far, been a fruitless investment. According to 2006 figures, U.S. war spending came out to $3,749 per Iraqi -- almost as much as the per capita income of Egypt. That staggering sum hasn't bought a lot of leadership from Iraq, or much of a democratic model for its Arab neighbors.

                              In fact, Mr. President, your initial pro-war arguments offer the best path toward understanding why the conflict has been such a disaster...

                              Following your lead, Iraq hawks argued that, in a post-9/11 world, we needed to take out rogue regimes lest they give nuclear or biological weapons to al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups. But each time the United States tries to do so and fails to restore order, it incurs a high -- albeit unseen -- opportunity cost in the future. Falling short makes it harder to take out, threaten or pressure a dangerous regime next time around.

                              Foreign governments, of course, drew the obvious lesson from our debacle -- and from our choice of target. The United States invaded hapless Iraq, not nuclear-armed North Korea. To the real rogues, the fall of Baghdad was proof positive that it's more important than ever to acquire nuclear weapons... Iran, among others, has taken this lesson to heart. The ironic legacy of the war to end all proliferation will be more proliferation.

                              The bottom line is clear, Mr. President: ... you must now realize that the costs of a failed war are far higher than you've acknowledged.

                              Ironically, it's probably the doves who should lower their mental estimate of the war's long-haul cost: By fighting a botched war today, the United States has lowered the chance that it will fight another preventive war in the near future. The American public simply does not have the stomach for fighting a costly, potentially futile war every few years. U.S. voters have already lost patience with the pace of reconstruction in Iraq, and that frustration will linger; remember, it took the country 15 years or more to "get over" Vietnam. The projection of American power and influence in the future requires that an impatient public feel good about American muscle-flexing in the past.

                              Even if the wisest way forward is sticking to our guns, the constraints of politics and public opinion mean that we cannot always see U.S. military commitments through. Since turning tail hurts our credibility so badly and leaves such a mess behind, we should be extremely cautious about military intervention in the first place. The case for hawkish behavior often assumes that the public has more political will than it actually has, so we need to save up that resolve for cases when it really counts.  ...

                                Posted by on Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 09:36 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Terrorism | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (38) 


                                Social Security's Long-run Budget Math

                                Paul Krugman explains Social Security's long-run budget situation:

                                Long-run budget math, by Paul Krugman: Some commenters have asked for more about Social Security’s role in the long-run budget problem, and in ... my assertion that the Beltway obsession with Social Security reflects ignorance. So here’s a quick, informal explanation.

                                Start with the current position. Last year, federal spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid was 8.5 percent of GDP, equally divided between Social Security and the health care programs. Dismal long-run projections, like those of the GAO, have this total rising by 10 percentage points of GDP by mid-century.

                                So, how much of this is a Social Security problem? ...[T]he percentage of GDP spent on Social Security [will rise] from about 4 to 6 — that is, a rise of about 2 percentage points of GDP, which is a small fraction of the entitlements problem. See, for example, this chart from my NY Review of Books piece on the subject.

                                What’s more, Social Security has already been strengthened to deal with this rise. In 1983 the payroll tax was increased and adjustments made to the retirement age, so as to build up a trust fund. According to the “intermediate” projection of the Social Security trustees, this trust fund will be exhausted in 2041 — but they also present a more optimistic scenario, based on economic assumptions that don’t seem at all outlandish, in which the trust fund goes on forever.

                                This brings us to the claim that the trust fund doesn’t exist, because it’s invested in government bonds. The full explanation of why this is sophistry is here.

                                The bottom line is that Social Security is just not the major problem.

                                Now, part of the projected rise in Medicare and Medicaid costs represents the effects of an aging population. But as a new report from the CBO explains, demography is only a minor factor — mainly it’s rising health care costs. What’s more, the proposed “solutions” for the Social Security problem have no relevance to the issue of rising Medicare costs — even if privatization were a good idea, which it isn’t, it would do nothing to solve the problem of rising medical bills.

                                The Beltway obsession with Social Security is a classic case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. People have picked up a few facts about demography, and think they understand the long run budget problem. They don’t.

                                Update: See also Millions, Billions, Trillions, Who's Counting? by Dean Baker.

                                  Posted by on Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 09:27 AM in Economics, Social Security | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (138) 


                                  links for 2007-11-17

                                    Posted by on Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 12:27 AM Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (13) 


                                    Friday, November 16, 2007

                                    "Relative Poverty Kills as Effectively as Any Disease"

                                    Among rich countries, is it the absolute or the relative level of poverty that matters for children's well-being? The answer is relative poverty, and it's a result that holds both across countries and across states within the U.S.:

                                    Low standards of child well-being linked to greater income inequality, EurekAlert:  Improvements in child wellbeing in rich countries might depend more on reductions in income inequality rather than further economic growth, according to a study published today on bmj.com.

                                    Poorer children fare less well than richer ones in each society. But a recent UNICEF report detailing 40 indicators of child wellbeing, said children in the UK and the USA fared worse than in any of the other rich countries. The new research examines whether the damage is done by being poor, or by being poorer than others.

                                    Continue reading ""Relative Poverty Kills as Effectively as Any Disease"" »

                                      Posted by on Friday, November 16, 2007 at 10:44 AM in Economics, Health Care, Income Distribution | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (112) 


                                      Paul Krugman: Played for a Sucker

                                      Barack Obama tries to earn his "badge of seriousness," but ends up "being played for a fool":

                                      Played for a Sucker, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Lately, Barack Obama has been saying that major action is needed to avert what he keeps calling a “crisis” in Social Security... Progressives who fought hard and successfully against the Bush administration’s attempt to panic America into privatizing the New Deal’s crown jewel are outraged, and rightly so. ...

                                      To understand the nature of Mr. Obama’s mistake, you need to know something about the special role of Social Security in American political discourse. Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security ... is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.

                                      Consider, for example, this exchange about Social Security between Chris Matthews of MSNBC and Tim Russert of NBC, on ... “Hardball.”

                                      Mr. Russert: “Everyone knows Social Security, as it’s constructed, is not going to be in the same place it’s going to be for the next generation....”

                                      Mr. Matthews: “It’s a bad Ponzi scheme, at this point.”

                                      Mr. Russert: “Yes.”

                                      But the “everyone” who knows that Social Security is doomed doesn’t include anyone who actually understands the numbers. In fact, the whole Beltway obsession with the fiscal burden of an aging population is misguided.

                                      As Peter Orszag, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, put it in a recent article co-authored with senior analyst Philip Ellis: “The long-term fiscal condition of the United States has been largely misdiagnosed. Despite all the attention paid to demographic challenges, ... our country’s financial health will in fact be determined primarily by the growth rate of per capita health care costs.”

                                      How has conventional wisdom gotten this so wrong? Well, in large part it’s the result of decades of scare-mongering about Social Security’s future from conservative ideologues, whose ultimate goal is to undermine the program. ...

                                      Fortunately, the scare tactics failed. Democrats in Congress stood their ground; progressive analysts debunked, one after another, the phony arguments of the privatizers; and the public made it clear that it wants to preserve a basic safety net for retired Americans.

                                      That should have been that. But what Jonathan Chait of The New Republic calls “entitlement hysteria” never seems to die. ...

                                      Which brings us back to Mr. Obama. Why would he, in effect, play along with this new round of scare-mongering and devalue one of the great progressive victories of the Bush years?

                                      I don’t believe Mr. Obama is a closet privatizer. He is, however, someone who keeps insisting that he can transcend the partisanship of our times — and in this case, that turned him into a sucker.

                                      Mr. Obama wanted a way to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton — and for Mr. Obama, who has said that the reason “we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions” is that “politics has become so bitter and partisan,” joining in the attack on Senator Clinton’s Social Security position must have seemed like a golden opportunity to sound forceful yet bipartisan.

                                      But Social Security isn’t a big problem that demands a solution; it’s a small problem, way down the list of major issues facing America, that has nonetheless become an obsession of Beltway insiders. And on Social Security, as on many other issues, what Washington means by bipartisanship is mainly that everyone should come together to give conservatives what they want.

                                      We all wish that American politics weren’t so bitter and partisan. But if you try to find common ground where none exists — which is the case for many issues today — you end up being played for a fool. And that’s what has just happened to Mr. Obama.

                                      Update: Robert Waldmann disagrees with Paul Krugman.

                                      Update: PGL at Econospeak adds this update to his comments on the return of entitlement hysteria:

                                      Greg Mankiw chastises Paul Krugman for that criticism of Senator Obama. But I don’t get what Greg is trying to say here. OK, back in 1998 we may have been forecasting that the Trust Fund reserves would be depleted by 2029. But I hope Greg has kept up with the revised forecasts that Paul was mentioning today. And Greg should know that what President Clinton was saying in 1998 is a far cry from the rightwing spin that Paul noted. Seriously – if one wants to attack Paul Krugman for something he said, one should be more accurate with what the argument was. And one should also use updated forecasts – and not some forecast from a decade ago.

                                        Posted by on Friday, November 16, 2007 at 12:42 AM in Economics, Politics, Social Insurance, Social Security | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (89) 


                                        Robert Lucas: Trade and the Diffusion of the Industrial Revolution

                                        Robert E. Lucas, Jr. Lecture
                                        on
                                        "Trade and the Diffusion of the Industrial Revolution"
                                        November 15, 2007
                                        [Video of the Presentation]

                                        Robert E. Lucas presents his recent study on global economic growth and cross-country flows of production-related knowledge. He argues in his paper that these flows are the main force for reducing income inequality. Using evidence on successfully industrialized countries, he proposes a model to describe the evolution of real GDPs in the world economy that is intended to apply to all open economies. The five parameters of the model are calibrated using the Sachs-Warner definition of openness and time-series and cross-section data on incomes and other variables from the 19th and 20th centuries. The model predicts convergence of income levels and growth rates and has strong but reasonable implications for transition dynamics. [via Gabriel and Bayesian Heresy]

                                          Posted by on Friday, November 16, 2007 at 12:21 AM in Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (0) 


                                          FRB Dallas: The Rise and Fall of Subprime Mortgages

                                          Danielle DiMartino and John V. Duca of the Dallas Fed examine the recent "boom-to-bust housing cycle" and ask"Why did it occur, and what role did subprime lending play? How is the retrenchment in lending activity affecting housing markets, and will it end soon? Is the housing slowdown spilling over into the broader economy?":

                                          The Rise and Fall of Subprime Mortgages, by Danielle DiMartino and John V. Duca, Economic Letter, Vol. 2, No. 11, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas: After booming the first half of this decade, U.S. housing activity has retrenched sharply. Single-family building permits have plunged 52 percent and existing-home sales have declined 30 percent since their September 2005 peaks (Chart 1).

                                          Chart 1: Housing activity drops off

                                          A rise in mortgage interest rates that began in the summer of 2005 contributed to the housing market's initial weakness. By late 2006, though, some signs pointed to renewed stability. They proved short-lived as loan-quality problems sparked a tightening of credit standards on mortgages, particularly for newer and riskier products. As lenders cut back, housing activity began to falter again in spring 2007, accompanied by additional rises in delinquencies and foreclosures. Late-summer financial-market turmoil prompted further toughening of mortgage credit standards.

                                          The recent boom-to-bust housing cycle raises important questions. Why did it occur, and what role did subprime lending play? How is the retrenchment in lending activity affecting housing markets, and will it end soon? Is the housing slowdown spilling over into the broader economy?

                                          Rise of Nontraditional Mortgages
                                          Monitoring housing today entails tracking an array of mortgage products. In the past few years, a fast-growing market seized upon such arrangements as "option ARMs," "no-doc interest-onlys" and "zero-downs with a piggyback." For our purposes, it's sufficient to distinguish among prime, jumbo, subprime and near-prime mortgages.

                                          Continue reading "FRB Dallas: The Rise and Fall of Subprime Mortgages" »

                                            Posted by on Friday, November 16, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Housing | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (22) 


                                            "Billions for Guns, Vetoes for Butter"

                                            Is the war worth the cost?

                                            Billions for Guns, Vetoes for Butter, by E. J. Dionne, Commentary, Washington Post:

                                            It's time that we subject the Iraq war to the same cost-benefit analysis that we are called upon to impose on other government endeavors. We are supposed to repeal or revise domestic programs that don't work. Shouldn't a troubled war policy be treated the same way?

                                            The ruling assumption of the moment is that we can't afford to withdraw our troops from Iraq because of the chaos that would ensue. The idea seems to be that somehow -- against the evidence of the past 4 1/2 years -- good things will happen if we just keep the war going.

                                            This upside-down debate puts the burden of proof in the wrong place. We should be asking whether keeping our forces in Iraq over an extended period is worth the cost in lives, injuries, money, lost opportunities and strain on our military. How will a prolonged stay in Iraq enhance our security? Is Iraq distracting us from foreign policy questions that will matter far more to our national interest in the long run?

                                            President Bush regularly brags about the accomplishments of the troop surge. ... The question to which the administration has no answer is how this ... will produce a decent outcome down the road.

                                            From Thomas E. Ricks, The Post's military correspondent, comes a disturbing answer.

                                            Continue reading ""Billions for Guns, Vetoes for Butter"" »

                                              Posted by on Friday, November 16, 2007 at 12:12 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (16) 


                                              links for 2007-11-16

                                                Posted by on Friday, November 16, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Links | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (7) 


                                                Thursday, November 15, 2007

                                                Augustus Hawkins

                                                Tom Oliphant remembers Gus Hawkins:

                                                A quiet giant, by Tom Oliphant, Comment is Free: Serious progressives everywhere can hope that the passing this week of a quiet giant will not also produce an epitaph for one of Gus Hawkins's great passions - the struggle against economic stagnation.

                                                The death of this courtly, understated but zealous California legislator at 100, unfortunately, is a reminder that for now progressives can only hope that the vigorous promotion of job-producing growth that swells the incomes of ordinary households is not becoming part of the politics of the past. ...

                                                Augustus F Hawkins ... was a New Deal Democrat in the California legislature, representing what is today called south-central Los Angles from the 1930s until the early 1960s, when he won a congressional seat he never lost until his retirement in 1991. From a perch on the old education and labour committee - the famous redoubt of Adam Clayton Powell, Gus Hawkins quietly used his clout to profoundly change the country. He was one of the architects of the fabled Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the father of its vital Title VII, whose prohibition of employment discrimination is as critical today as it was 40 years ago.

                                                But it was during the stagflation era of the 1970s that he led a fight to make jobs-producing growth the top priority of the government's fiscal and monetary policy. Allied with another liberal of some note, the late Hubert Humphrey, he sought to require the monetary authorities at the Federal Reserve to put growth ahead of belt-tightening inflation-fighting when unemployment was high and growth was sluggish. In so doing, he and Humphrey were trying to end a debate that had been unresolved by mushy language in the government's first attempt at defining economic policy priorities - the Employment Act of 1946 - which was supposed to incorporate a few of the big lessons learned from the Great Depression, but didn't. The result has been a decades-long tilt toward what progressives have believed is tighter money and higher interest rates than is necessary to ward off inflation.

                                                Humphrey and Hawkins were essentially thwarted by ... Jimmy Carter who negotiated hard to water down the attempted refocusing of the government's priorities toward economic growth. ...[T]here is so much Carter-inspired fudge in the law that only its title, Humphrey-Hawkins, is what remains as a practical matter.

                                                Continue reading "Augustus Hawkins" »

                                                  Posted by on Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 07:11 PM in Economics, Monetary Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (4) 


                                                  Putting a Price Tag on Distributive Justice

                                                  How much do we value an equitable distribution of income?

                                                  People can put a price tag on economic justice, economists say, EurekAlert: How much would you pay to live in an equitable society in which people get what they deserve and deserve what they get" Economists at Carnegie Mellon University and the Free University of Berlin have developed a mathematical model to measure the value that people place on distributive justice – whether goods are distributed fairly among all members of society.

                                                  Applying their model to pre-existing survey data, the authors found that, on average, people are willing to sacrifice about 20 percent of their disposable income to live in an equitable society – but they also found that the value a person places on equity is substantially affected by their race and educational background. Whites place a higher value on equity than non-whites, and equity is valued more by those with high levels of education than those with less education. The paper was written by Giacomo Corneo at the Free University of Berlin and Christina Fong at Carnegie Mellon, and it is being published in the Journal of Public Economics. ...

                                                  Distributive justice can be guided by one of three principles: need, in which income is distributed to individuals based on their needs; equality, in which income is shared equally by all members of a society; or equity, in which income is distributed based on a person’s effort. Whether a person believes we live in an equitable society depends in large measure on whether they believe that labor markets are inherently fair. Do people succeed mostly because of their own hard work, or do people often fail because of bad luck or circumstances beyond their control"

                                                  Corneo and Fong analyzed data from the 1998 Gallup poll titled “Haves and Have-Nots,” which gauged respondents’ attitudes toward wealth and poverty as well as government welfare policies. The Gallup poll included questions about why the respondents believed that people became rich or poor, and whether government should redistribute wealth. The survey did not explicitly ask what monetary value the respondents placed on distributive justice, so Corneo and Fong developed their model to use the survey data to answer that question.

                                                  Simply asking people outright how much they would pay to achieve an economically just society poses many problems. For example, someone who believes that justice is important to them could exaggerate their response to a question about how much they’d be willing to sacrifice to achieve, because there is no actual cost involved, but an artificially strong response may affect policy makers. People also tend to state higher values of items that they are considering giving up, and lower values of things they are looking to acquire.

                                                  For the purposes of their model, Corneo and Fong assume that people hold one of two diametrically opposed beliefs: a laissez-faire view of the economy in which labor markets are inherently fair, rewarding hard work alone and that any form of income redistribution (e.g. via income taxes and welfare) is unjust; or a belief that labor markets are unjust and reward people based on luck. People who have a laissez-faire attitude toward the economy would give up 20 percent of their income to live in a society in which government does not transfer income from the rich to the poor. On the contrary, those who hold the opposite belief would give up 20 percent of their income to live in a society in which the government does transfer income to the poor. In reality, of course, many people do not hold such black-and-white views, and the authors write that further research might examine how more nuanced perceptions affect the value a person places on distributive justice.

                                                  The authors also found that education and race significantly influenced the value a person placed on an equitable distribution of income. Educated whites placed the highest value on equity, while non-educated non-whites valued it the least, regardless of a person’s personal income. This does not mean that non-whites or those with less education do not value distributive justice which, again, can be based on principles other than equity – namely, equality or need.

                                                    Posted by on Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 09:43 AM in Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (23) 


                                                    Overlooked?

                                                    Why don't grocery stores locate in poor neighborhoods?:

                                                    It shouldn't take a road trip to shop, by Nathan Berg, Dallas News: ...[M]any of us take it for granted that there are grocery stores in our neighborhoods selling a wide variety of nutritious foods at relatively low cost. But not all residents of ... cities are so lucky, especially if they live in low-income areas.

                                                    Lack of access to a grocery store often means lack of access to fresh vegetables, fruits and meats. Imagine buying your food primarily from convenience stores and fast food chains. More than convenience is at stake. Costs are generally higher. And the foods typically contain high concentrations of unhealthy fats, carbohydrates and additives, which contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

                                                    My colleagues at the Center for Urban Economics ...[at] the University of Texas at Dallas made a map of Dallas County showing which neighborhoods have no grocery stores within one mile. These neighborhoods are concentrated in southern Dallas. And there are stark differences between them and neighborhoods that have three or more grocery stores within one mile...

                                                    The typical no-grocery-store neighborhood has half the white residents, twice the black residents, roughly the same number of Hispanic residents, $20,000 less in median annual income and twice the number of HHS clients.

                                                    Is this what economic theory predicts? No. It may not surprise you that grocers open few stores in low-income neighborhoods, but economic theory actually predicts the opposite.

                                                    Economic theory predicts that the typical low-income resident spends a lot less on luxuries like vacations, but not very much less on necessities like food. Everyone has to eat. And because there is no good substitute for food, low-income residents spend a higher fraction of their incomes on food than high-income residents do.

                                                    Economic theory suggests other reasons why grocery stores should thrive in low-income neighborhoods. Rents are lower, which means stores can save on costs by locating there, and there are few competitors nearby to steal away sales.

                                                    It seems that store owners are not behaving as economic theory would predict. That led me to investigate ... how business owners choose where to locate their businesses.

                                                    Economists expect business owners to choose locations by considering a long list of possible locations and picking the one with maximum net benefits. But this leads to the conclusion, which economists are beginning to challenge, that abandoned neighborhoods are abandoned for good reason – because there are no profitable opportunities there.

                                                    However, in interviews with a number of top executives, I found that most of them consider only a few locations for new stores and that these locations are nearly always discovered more or less by accident – while the executive is running errands or driving through town on other business. This ... can lead to an unhealthy side effect: Neighborhoods that are ignored today may be ignored for a long time, despite their advantages.

                                                    The positive side of these findings is that ... cities facing shortages of grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods possess a number of policy tools for attracting businesses. ...

                                                    Rather than expecting small tax incentives to attract new stores, the mayor and City Council members should directly try to persuade two or three grocery chains to open new stores... To do that, they can cite the growing number of success stories that demonstrate the surprising profits retailers can reap by locating in overlooked neighborhoods. Once other businesses see the potential for stores to thrive in low-income neighborhoods, they will want to follow. ...

                                                    Does the suggestion that there are fewer grocery stores in low income areas because executives don't happen to be in those areas very often ring true? I would have guessed other forces are at work besides simply being overlooked - a market failure we don't expect to see - but I suppose it's possible.

                                                      Posted by on Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 02:52 AM in Economics, Market Failure | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (132) 


                                                      Strategic Drift in Iraq

                                                      A call to reopen the debate over the mission in Iraq and for progressives to "offer a clear challenge" that represents a "a real change in course":

                                                      Strategic Drift Where's the Pushback Against the Surge?, by John Podesta, Lawrence J. Korb and Brian Katulis, Commentary, Washington Post: With apparent disregard for the opinion of the American people, the debate over whether the large U.S. military presence in Iraq threatens our national security has been put on hold. Both political parties seem resigned to allowing the Bush administration to run out the clock ... and bequeath this quagmire to the next president. The result is best described as strategic drift, and stopping it won't be easy.

                                                      President Bush claims that his strategy is having some success, but toward what end? He argued that the surge would provide the political breathing space needed to achieve a unified, peaceful Iraq. But its successes, which Bush says come from a reduction of casualties in certain areas, have been accompanied by massive sectarian cleansing. The surge has not moved us closer to national reconciliation. ...

                                                      Progressives must be careful not to repeat the mistakes made in 2002 and 2004, when they failed to offer a clear challenge or choice on Iraq. Splitting the difference and hedging on positions helped get America into this quagmire. ... Progressive candidates should be offering clarity on Iraq and pushing for a real change in course. ...

                                                      Rather than push for a realistic end to U.S. engagement, the Bush administration claims doomsday scenarios would become reality if a phased U.S. withdrawal began. Iraq, it says, would become a terrorist sanctuary, incite regional war or be the scene of sectarian genocide. These arguments are as faulty as those that led us into Iraq, and progressive leaders must push back. ...

                                                      The real security problem in Iraq is a vicious power struggle among competing militias and factions. Foreign terrorists are mainly Sunni and represent only a small percentage of the problem. ... [I]n Anbar province, Sunni tribal leaders rose up against the pro-al-Qaeda Sunni elements well before the surge began. Drifting along the current path actually enhances the al-Qaeda narrative of America as an occupier of Muslim nations.

                                                      Similarly, the presence of a large U.S. combat force contributes to regional instability. Since the surge began, the number of internally displaced Iraqis has more than doubled. The U.N. ... has said that more than 2 million Iraqis have left the country, and tens of thousands flee every day, often to squalid camps in Syria and Jordan.

                                                      As long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq in significant numbers, regional powers feel free to meddle, knowing that America must bear the consequences. If we clearly state our intent to leave, these states will have incentive to intervene constructively; it would endanger their own security if Iraq were to become a failed state or a launching pad for international terrorism. Even Shiite-dominated Iran, which has become the region's largest power as a result of the war, would not want an Iraqi haven for Sunni-controlled al-Qaeda.

                                                      There is one sure way to stop this drift. The United States must set a firm withdrawal date. It is the only way Iraqis and regional leaders will make the compromises necessary to stabilize Iraq and the entire Middle East. This withdrawal can be completed safely in 12 to 18 months and should be started immediately.

                                                      President Bush seems content to let Iraq drift until he leaves office, but America can ill afford this policy...

                                                        Posted by on Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 12:33 AM in Iraq and Afghanistan, Terrorism | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (30) 


                                                        FRBSF: The Economic Outlook

                                                        John Williams of the San Francisco Fed uses twelve graphs to illustrate and support his view of the current economy and the economic outlook:

                                                        FedViews, by John Williams, Economic Outlook, FRBSF: Conditions in money markets continue to improve following the turmoil of August and September.

                                                        Frbsf1

                                                        The spread between the one-month LIBOR rate and the comparable maturity Overnight Indexed Swap (OIS) rate is now about 20 basis points, well below the peak of about 90 basis points reached two months ago.  Similarly, the spread between rates on second-tier A2/P2 nonfinancial commercial paper and AA commercial paper has declined to about 30 basis points.  Still, these spreads remain above the levels seen in July.

                                                        Frbsf2

                                                        Securitization of jumbo loans remains impaired and the spread between so-called “jumbo” and conforming fixed-rate mortgages has come down only modestly since the peaks of August and early September. 

                                                        Frbsf3

                                                        The housing slump has deepened further.  Sales of existing homes fell 8 percent in September and are down 19 percent over the past 12 months.  New-home sales rebounded in September, but are still down 23 percent over the past year.  Inventories of new and existing homes for sale are at high levels, putting downward pressure on house prices and building.

                                                        Continue reading "FRBSF: The Economic Outlook" »

                                                          Posted by on Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (9) 


                                                          links for 2007-11-15

                                                            Posted by on Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Links | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (11) 


                                                            Wednesday, November 14, 2007

                                                            Striking

                                                            Does going on strike raise worker compensation?

                                                            Striking Out, by James Surowiecki, The New Yorker: In the spring of 1988, television and movie writers went on strike. The strike, which lasted for twenty-two weeks, was rhetorically bitter and economically destructive: it cost an estimated half billion dollars in lost revenues and wages and sent network ratings down by nine per cent. But the walkout had only limited impact at the negotiating table: when an agreement was finally reached, it looked very much like a deal that could have been made five months earlier. The strike almost certainly cost both sides more than the sums they had been fighting over.

                                                            Twenty years later, entertainment writers are on the picket lines once again. ... Walkouts may call to mind labor triumphs like the Flint sitdown strike of 1936-37, which gained union recognition for the United Automobile Workers at G.M., but most don’t end that well—nor do they generally end as badly as the 1981 air-traffic controllers’ strike, in which everyone got fired. Instead, strikes often end tepidly, with no major gains or rollbacks, and economists have found that, on average, strikes these days have little, if any, impact on what workers get paid. (Paradoxically, unions raise worker wages, but strikes generally don’t.) Given the negative economic consequences—lost paychecks for workers and lost business for employers—the economically rational thing for both sides is usually to settle before the walkout starts. So why don’t they?

                                                            One obvious hurdle to a settlement is that neither side knows what the other’s true position is. In economists’ terms, strikes happen as a result of “asymmetric information”—when one side knows more than the other about the real economics of the situation. ... Going on strike is one way to find out ...[i]f a company ... was just bluffing. If it’s willing to endure a long strike, that may be a sign that it meant what it said. That’s why the longer a strike lasts, the less likely it is to produce a big victory for either side: you’re willing to cut a deal after a long strike that you wouldn’t have been willing to cut before in part because the strike has told you that the other side wasn’t just bluffing.

                                                            Even if negotiators are acting in good faith, it’s still hard to settle. Both sides, to begin with, are likely overestimating their chances of victory, thanks to the well-documented tendency people have toward overconfidence. A strike isn’t always a mistake: sometimes workers do win big. But if both sides think a strike will help their cause at least one of them must be wrong. ...

                                                            And justice matters quite a bit in strikes, which often turn more on questions of fairness than on strict economics. Fairness doesn’t matter much in conventional economics, which assumes that, if you and I can make a deal leaving us both better off, we’ll make it. But, in the real world, if the deal seems unfair to me I may very well reject it, even if doing so leaves me worse off. The quintessential example of this is the so-called ultimatum game, where participants offered a share of a ten-dollar bill by a fellow-participant will actually turn down the free money if they think their share isn’t big enough. ... Readiness to pay a price in order to enforce an idea of what is right is part of what keeps sides from settling:... The paychecks and the profit-and-loss statements may indicate that the writers and the producers should be able to resolve their dispute quickly. But in labor relations the bottom line isn’t always the bottom line.

                                                            Then there's this from Ezra Klein:

                                                            Why Labor Matters, by Ezra Klein: I've still got my problems with Wal-Mart, but the health care offerings for their valued "associates" do seem to be getting better.  This is, of course, entirely a function of the pressure unions have exerted on Wal-Mart -- pressure exerted despite the unions having almost no hope of actually unionizing Wal-Mart. Organized Labor has expended tens of millions of dollars over the past few years on this campaign, and while it hasn't increased union density one iota, it has given a hundred thousand Wal-Mart workers health insurance, spurred Wal-Mart to launch an effort to drive down prescription drug prices, drove them into the "Divided We Fail" health reform coalition, and contributed to the company's focus on greening their stores (they needed good press to counteract all the bad). This is why we need Organized Labor. They act as a countervailing force to make corporations think seriously about their roles in our society. No other powerful actors do that.  But it needs to be done.

                                                            It's very difficult to measure the impact off the threat of a strike on worker compensation. Thus, while the measured impact of actual strikes may be small, the threat of a strike may not be, hence the finding that "unions raise worker wages, but strikes generally don’t." Those of you closer to the labor literature than I am, what is the evidence on how the threat of a strike impacts compensation?

                                                              Posted by on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 10:44 AM in Economics, Unemployment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (56) 


                                                              "Interdependence is the Law of Society"

                                                              A passage from John Bates Clark's book, The Philosophy of Wealth: Economic Principles Newly Formulated published in 1894. Clark, an American neoclassical economist famous for developing the marginal productivity theory of distribution, was "one of one of the leading figures of the Marginalist Revolution":

                                                              CHAPTER XII. THE ECONOMIC FUNCTION OF THE CHURCH: ...The laws of spiritual poor-relief are of importance to the economist. The kind of spiritual poor-relief to be discussed here does not fall under the head of charity. Place a dozen men, each in his own boat, on the open sea, and start them for the nearest land. They are on an equality and completely independent. If any will not row, his destruction is on his own head. If any try to row and fail, it is the great law of charity, and that only, which constrains another to help him. If any venture to burden himself by towing a weaker brother to the shore, he is compelled to do so by no law legal or equitable, but the universal law of love.

                                                              But that is no picture of actual society. No man can paddle his own canoe as a member of that great social organism in which each individual labors, not for himself, but for the whole, and is dependent on the whole for employment and for pay. Independence is the law of isolation; interdependence is the law of society. Again and again, in actual history, society ceases to desire the product of a particular man's labor. The organic whole is in the position of employer to the millions who work, and it cannot always keep them busy; but it is not at liberty to starve them. It may take away their comforts; but, if it take their lives, it is murder. Civilization has placed us all in one boat; by mutual help we are sailing the homeward-bound ship of humanity. He who will not help may be thrown overboard, possibly; but he who, by force of circumstances, cannot, must be carried to the end.

                                                              It is thus in the nature of the social organism that the great principle of English law which asserts the ultimate right of every man to a maintenance finds its philosophical ground. That is an evil teaching which ventures to question this principle, and it would fare ill with a state which should attempt to follow such teaching in practice. Such action would surrender to the communists the championship of a great truth; it would place society in the wrong, and revolutionists in the right.

                                                              When a man who has had no hand in getting his neighbor into trouble, lends his aid in getting him out, that is charity. When an organized society relieves suffering which the society as a whole has caused, that is justice. Whatever part of the poor-tax goes to relieve sufferings resulting from general social causes, is paid, not given; the claim to it is as equitable as that of any officer to his salary. We may assume as a premise the principle asserted in the poor-law of Queen Elizabeth, which established the right of every man, not to be kept in idleness, indeed, but to be kept, while willing to work, from absolutely starving.

                                                              The higher nature may starve as well as the lower; and the duty of preventing such starvation has heretofore been made to rest mainly on spiritual grounds, and presented as a high order of charity. We place it on the ground of justice. The soul of man is not independent; the organic union of mankind includes mind as well as matter, and it is its nature, in every relation, to absorb and to subordinate the individual lives which are its molecules. He who is born into such a society is never independent in body or mind.

                                                                Posted by on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 12:21 AM in Economics, History of Thought | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (51) 


                                                                Land of Opportunity?

                                                                Clive Crook agrees with Paul Krugman that a recent WSJ editorial on income mobility doesn't tell us much. He also compares income mobility in the U.S. to mobility in other countries:

                                                                Land of opportunity, by Clive Crook: The Wall Street Journal's editorial writers are impressed by a new study on income mobility ... I would call this a case of being prematurely stunned. Studies of this kind always and everywhere show people rising out of lower quintiles and dropping out of higher ones... By themselves these numbers tell you very little about the life-chances of people who are born poor compared with the life-chances of people who are born rich (mobilty)...

                                                                Changes over time in the ratios tell you more. The WSJ notes that the study finds no great change in relative income mobility over the past ten years. But, ... international comparisons are what you need to test the view that the United States really is the land of opportunity, as compared with other places. What do those comparisons say? Thank you for asking:

                                                                Most researchers now give America much lower marks than they used to for intergenerational economic mobility... As flaws in early postwar studies have been addressed, estimates of mobility have fallen. Before the 1990s, researchers tended to put the correlation between parents’ incomes and their children’s at around 20 percent, implying a high degree of mobility between generations. (Zero would imply no connection at all; a correlation of 100 percent would imply that parents’ incomes entirely determined the incomes of their children.) In the 1990s, using better data and techniques, experts tended to put that figure at about 40 percent. Recent estimates run as high as 60 percent. The finding is not that mobility has fallen since World War II—the studies point to no clear trend. It is that as methods of measuring mobility have improved, the result, across a span of recent decades, has gotten worse. The earlier view that postwar America was an economically mobile society is less and less borne out. Perhaps it was once (before data became available to track such things accurately); but it isn’t now.

                                                                More telling, maybe, is the international comparison. America stands lower in the ranking of income mobility than most of the countries whose data allow the comparison, scoring worse than Canada, all of the Scandinavian countries, and possibly even Germany and Britain (the data are imperfect, and different studies give slightly different results).

                                                                Strikingly, the research suggests that mobility within America’s middle-income bands is similar to that in many other countries. The stickiness is at the top and the bottom. According to one much-cited study, for instance, more than 40 percent of American boys born into the poorest fifth of the population stay there; the figure for Britain is 30 percent, for Denmark just 25 percent. In America, more than in other advanced economies, poor children stay poor. Other data show that in America, more than in, say, Britain, rich children stay rich as well.

                                                                  Posted by on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 12:18 AM in Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (17) 


                                                                  links for 2007-11-14

                                                                    Posted by on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Links | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (18) 


                                                                    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

                                                                    Inequality and Income Mobility

                                                                    Paul Krugman is unhappy with reporting on income inequality on the WSJ editorial page:

                                                                    Movin' On Up, Editorial, WSJ: If you've been listening to Mike Huckabee or John Edwards on the Presidential trail, you may have heard that the U.S. is becoming a nation of rising inequality and shrinking opportunity. We'd refer those campaigns to a new study of income mobility by the Treasury Department that exposes those claims as so much populist hokum. ...

                                                                    The study ... show[s] beyond doubt that the U.S. remains a dynamic society marked by rapid and mostly upward income mobility. Much as they always have, Americans on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder continue to climb into the middle and sometimes upper classes in remarkably short periods of time.

                                                                    Mobility

                                                                    ...The key point is that the study shows that income mobility in the U.S. works down as well as up -- another sign that opportunity and merit continue to drive American success, not accidents of birth. The "rich" are not the same people over time.

                                                                    The study is also valuable because it shows that income mobility remains little changed from what similar studies found in the 1970s and 1980s. Some journalists and academics have cited selective evidence to claim that income mobility has declined in recent years. ...

                                                                    All of this certainly helps to illuminate the current election-year debate about income "inequality" in the U.S. The political left and its media echoes are promoting the inequality story as a way to justify a huge tax increase. But inequality is only a problem if it reflects stagnant opportunity and a society stratified by more or less permanent income differences. That kind of society can breed class resentments and unrest. ...

                                                                    As the Treasury data show, we shouldn't worry about inequality. We should worry about the people who use inequality as a political club to promote policies that reduce opportunity.

                                                                    Here's what he says:

                                                                    The WSJ goes green, by Paul Krugman: Let it not be said that the editors of the Wall Street Journal lack ecological awareness. Today they save energy, both theirs and mine, by repeating exactly the same bogus arguments about income inequality that they made — and I refuted — fifteen years ago.

                                                                    Let me just highlight what I had to say about essentially the same calculation highlighted by the chart in the middle of today’s piece:

                                                                    Continue reading "Inequality and Income Mobility" »

                                                                      Posted by on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 08:46 AM in Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (70) 


                                                                      "The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War"

                                                                      New estimates for the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars:

                                                                      'Hidden Costs' Double Price Of Two Wars, Democrats Say, by Josh White, Washington Post: The economic costs ... of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far total approximately $1.5 trillion, according to a new study by congressional Democrats that estimates the conflicts' "hidden costs"-- including higher oil prices, the expense of treating wounded veterans and interest payments on the money borrowed to pay for the wars. That amount is nearly double the $804 billion the White House has spent or requested ... through 2008... [The] report, titled "The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War," estimates that the wars ... have thus far cost the average U.S. family of four more than $20,000...

                                                                        Posted by on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 02:07 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (81) 


                                                                        China’s Ability to Gain Technology from Foreign Firms

                                                                        A colleague, Bruce Blonigen, and his co-author Alyson Ma say there's little evidence to support the view that "China extracts rents and technology from foreign competitors, thus allowing it to grow even faster and longer than most would have imagined possible." China has managed to attract considerable foreign investment, but that investment has only had a moderate impact on technology transfer and the sophistication of Chinese firms:

                                                                        Will China soon be making not only cheaper, but also better, products than everyone else?, by Bruce Blonigen and Alyson C. Ma, Vox EU: The opening of China and its breathtaking ascendancy to major-player status in world markets has led to significant hand-wringing by the rest of the world on many fronts. The huge outflow of cheap unskilled-labour-intensive products from China and its ramifications for wages and welfare in both developed and other less-developed countries has been a primary concern.

                                                                        Recently, new hand-wringing concerns have been raised by various commentators. As it turns out, the composition of China’s exports is much closer to that of OECD countries than its level of per-capita income would suggest.[1] This has substantial implications not only for China’s ability to sustain its growth, but also for real wages of all workers in developed countries, not just unskilled ones.

                                                                        A significant factor behind this surprising export sophistication by China may be the role of industrial policy to promote technologically-advanced industries. While it is well known that the Chinese government has historically had preferential tax treatment and free trade zones for foreign firms, it also often negotiates technology transfer arrangements with foreign firms. These are either through restrictions that limit FDI to joint venturing with a domestic partner or simply offering quid pro quo arrangements of technology transfer from the foreign firm to domestic ones in exchange for the foreign firm’s ability to sell to the huge Chinese market.[2]

                                                                        A prime example of how this may be successful is a case in the auto industry. The Chinese government has always required foreign automakers to partner with domestic producers. Shanghai Automotive (a Chinese-owned firm) recently announced plans to start up its own factory to produce a luxury sedan after jointly producing autos in China with General Motors and Volkswagen for many years.[3]

                                                                        The X-factor in all of this is China’s large and growing domestic market. It may be precisely the pivotal factor allowing China the leverage to wring out important and significant technology transfer concessions from foreign firms. China’s predecessors (such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) did not have this same advantage when pursuing their own industrial policies for growth in previous decades. Thus, one wonders if the upcoming growth of China will make the previous Asian miracles look pedestrian.

                                                                        While the scenario we have just laid out is plausible, recent evidence suggests otherwise. China’s ability to gain technology from foreign firms and develop its own productive sophistication has actually not been that significant.

                                                                        Continue reading "China’s Ability to Gain Technology from Foreign Firms" »

                                                                          Posted by on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 12:42 AM in China, Economics, International Trade, Productivity, Technology | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (45) 


                                                                          Frydman and Goldberg: Imperfect Knowledge Economics and Exchange Rate Dynamics

                                                                          Continuing with the subject of how to model exchange rate dynamics, this is Roman Frydman and Michael Goldberg describing how their work on imperfect knowledge economics can help us to understand exchange rate movements, and how policymakers can use this knowledge to reduce deviations of exchange rates from parity:

                                                                          Currency fluctuations cannot be eliminated, but they can be limited, by Roman Frydman and Michael D. Goldberg, Project Syndicate: "Dollar denial," that state of willful blindness in which bankers and central bankers claim not to be worried about America's falling currency, seems to be ending. Now even European Central Bank Governor Jean Claude Trichet has joined the chorus of concern. ... Every day seems to bring a new low against the euro.

                                                                          In the face of the dollar's ongoing fall, policymakers have seemed paralyzed. The reasons for inaction are many, but it is difficult to avoid the impression that they are related to the current state of academic theorizing about exchange rates. Simply put, economists believe either that nothing should be done or that nothing can be done. Their so-called "rational expectations models" predict that exchange rates should not deviate from parity in any lasting way. Believing that..., they see no need for intervention because, save for temporary deviations, markets always get currency values right.

                                                                          "Behavioral economists," by contrast, acknowledge that currencies can depart from parity for a long period. But they attribute this to market psychology and irrational trading, not to the attempts of currency traders to interpret changing macroeconomic fundamentals. This implies that intervention is not only unnecessary; it is ineffective: Faced with wide swings and trading volumes of $2 trillion per day, central banks are helpless to counteract traders' irrational zeal.

                                                                          But both the "rational expectations" and the "behavioral" models are flawed, because they seek to generate exact predictions of human behavior. Both disregard the fact that rationality depends as much on individuals' imperfect understandings of history and society as on their motivation.

                                                                          If we place "imperfect knowledge" at the heart of economic analysis, the implications of our limited ability to predict market outcomes becomes clear. When it comes to currency markets, parity levels based on international trade are merely one of many factors that traders consider. In attempting to cope with imperfect knowledge, they are not irrational when they pay attention to other macroeconomic fundamentals and thereby bid an exchange rate away from its parity level.

                                                                          Continue reading "Frydman and Goldberg: Imperfect Knowledge Economics and Exchange Rate Dynamics" »

                                                                            Posted by on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 12:24 AM in Economics, International Finance, Macroeconomics, Methodology | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (2) 


                                                                            links for 2007-11-13

                                                                              Posted by on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Links | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (6) 


                                                                              Monday, November 12, 2007

                                                                              "After the Next Recession"

                                                                              Robert Reich is looking past the next recession, Calculated Risk looks at residential construction employment, and Nouriel Roubini sounds the alarm:

                                                                              After the Next Recession, by Robert Reich: All signs point to a recession... We may pull out of it, yet. Bernanke and company may make bigger cuts in interest rates. Congress may enact a payroll tax holiday on the first fifteen thousand of income, as I’ve urged.

                                                                              But look beyond the business cycle and the consequences may be larger. For years now, America's middle class has lived beyond its paycheck. Middle-class lifestyles have flourished even though median wages have barely budged.

                                                                              The reason is we’ve been able to borrow so much so easily. With housing prices rising, home equity loans have financed renovations and home improvements. With credit cards raining down like manna from heaven, we’ve bought plasma TVs, new appliances, vacations. With dollars artificially high because foreigners have held them even as the nation sank deeper into debt, we could summon cheap goods and services from the rest of the world.

                                                                              But now, the era of easy money is over.

                                                                              Continue reading ""After the Next Recession"" »

                                                                                Posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 02:01 PM in Economics, Housing, Unemployment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (32) 


                                                                                St. Ronnie and the Southern Strategy

                                                                                Brad DeLong says the debate between David Brooks and Paul Krugman is over, it's clear Krugman was right:

                                                                                Game, Set, and Match to Paul Krugman..., by Brad DeLong: It appears that Paul Krugman wins his fight with David Brooks, who had written this about Paul Krugman's invocation of Ronald Reagan in Philadelphia, Mississippi:

                                                                                David Brooks: History and Calumny: Today, I’m going to write about a slur. It’s a distortion that’s been around for a while, but has spread like a weed over the past few months. It was concocted for partisan reasons: to flatter the prejudices of one side, to demonize the other and to simplify a complicated reality into a political nursery tale.... But still the slur spreads. It’s spread by people who, before making one of the most heinous charges imaginable, couldn’t even take 10 minutes to look at the evidence. It posits that there was a master conspiracy to play on the alleged Klan-like prejudices of American voters, when there is no evidence of that conspiracy. And, of course, in a partisan age there are always people eager to believe this stuff.

                                                                                Here, via Rick Perlstein, is Joseph Crespino:

                                                                                Did David Brooks Tell the Full Story About Reagan's Neshoba County Fair Visit?: In his November 9, 2007, column in the New York Times, David Brooks discussed Ronald Reagan’s appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980 and his use of the term “states’ rights.” Brooks absolved Reagan of racism, but he ignored the broader significance of Reagan’s Neshoba County appearance.... Consider a letter that Michael Retzer, the Mississippi national committeeman, wrote in December 1979 to the Republican national committee.  Well before the Republicans had nominated Reagan, the national committee was polling state leaders to line up venues where the Republican nominee might speak.  Retzer pointed to the Neshoba County Fair as ideal for winning what he called the “George Wallace inclined voters.”...

                                                                                Continue reading "St. Ronnie and the Southern Strategy" »

                                                                                  Posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 11:25 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (15) 


                                                                                  Dani Rodrik Seminar at Crooked Timber

                                                                                  I am part of a seminar at Crooked Timber on Dani Rodrik's new book One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions and Economic Growth. My entry is at the end of this batch, but do read the others as I'm sure they are much better, and there will be more entries posted tomorrow along with Dani Rodrik's response. The first day's entries are more descriptive so that people who haven't read the book can get a better idea of what it is all about, though they do have points to make, while the the second batch focuses on more specific criticisms:

                                                                                  Introduction: Dani Rodrik Seminar, Crooked Timber, by Henry Farrel: Dani Rodrik’s new book, One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions and Economic Growth ( Powells, Amazon ) is a major contribution to debates on globalization, economic development and free trade. It brings together much of his existing work bringing together an important critique of the Washington Consensus with positive suggestions about how best to encourage economic growth, and how to build a global system of rules that can accommodate diverse national choices. We’re pleased and happy that both Dani and several other guests have agreed to participate in a new Crooked Timber seminar. This seminar will be published in two parts – the first today (featuring Henry Farrell, John Quiggin, Mark Thoma and David Warsh), the second tomorrow (featuring Daniel Davies, Dan Drezner, Jack Knight, Adam Przeworski, and Dani’s reply post). As with previous Crooked Timber seminars, it is published under a Creative Commons license (see below). Tomorrow, I will post a PDF of the entire seminar (plus a LaTeX file for anyone who wants to play around with it). If you have specific comments about the contributions, please post them in the relevant comments section for the specific post. For general technical glitches etc, post comments here.

                                                                                  The (non-CT regular) participants in the seminar are, in alphabetical order:

                                                                                  (1) Dan Drezner blogs at http://www.danieldrezner.com/blog/. He is an Associate Professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, at Tufts University. He has written two academic books on international political economy (looking at sanctions and globalization), as well as a Council of Foreign Relations report and numerous articles. He possesses specific expertise on the intersection between celebrity culture and global politics.

                                                                                  (2) Jack Knight is Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government at Washington University in St. Louis. He is author of a widely cited book on institutional theory, Institutions and Social Conflict as well as numerous articles. He has a new book co-authored with Jim Johnson on rational choice, pragmatism and deliberative democracy, which will be published next year.

                                                                                  (3) Adam Przeworski is Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of European Studies and Professor of Politics at New York University. He is the author of several monographs and numerous articles on topics including social democracy, democratic transitions and economic development. This interview (previously discussed in this CT post) gives a good overview of his life, politics, and academic work.

                                                                                  (4) Dani Rodrik blogs at Dani Rodrik’s Weblog. He is Professor of International Political Economy at the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University, where he teaches on international development issues. He has written two books, copious numbers of academic articles and policy papers, and was recently awarded the inaugural Albert O. Hirschman Prize of the Social Science Research Council.

                                                                                  (5) Mark Thoma blogs at Economist’s View, which has quickly become established as one of the key forums for debate of economics and politics on the Internet (with occasional interjections by Paul Krugman and others). He is professor of economics at University of Oregon, where he has published numerous articles on aspects of macroeconomics theory.

                                                                                  (6) David Warsh is the editor of Economic Principals. He previously covered economics issues for The Boston Globe and Forbes Magazine for 25 years, and is the author of a widely acclaimed (and rightly so) intellectual history of the new growth theory in economics, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations

                                                                                  This work is licensed under a
                                                                                  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


                                                                                  Through the Hourglass by David Warsh: From his title on, Dani Rodrik is at pains to identify himself as a neoclassical economist, bred in the bone. He writes, “If I often depart from the consensus that ‘mainstream economists’ have reached in matters of development policy, this has less to do with different modes of analysis than with different readings of the evidence and with different evaluations of the ‘political economy’ of developing nations.” Not to start an argument, if the book were about professional cooking, he might have called it One Chemistry, Many Recipes (and Plenty of Chefs). True, economics is not very much like chemistry, but the reason for Rodrik’s emphasis on the primacy of theory, I think, has less to do with the presence of economics’ many competitors in the development game – political scientists, sociologists, lawyers, business executives, savants of all sorts—than with what happened in mainstream economics itself in the twenty-five years since he began his career. » Continue reading “Through the Hourglass.”


                                                                                  More Politics, Many Recipes, by Henry Farrel: A good way to start thinking about Dani Rodrik’s genuinely excellent new book is to contrast its statement of objectives with a programmatic statement from another new book on international economics, Roberto Unger’s Free Trade Reimagined.

                                                                                  First of all, Rodrik:

                                                                                  First, this book is strictly grounded in neo-classical economic analysis. At the core of neoclassical economics lies the following methodological predisposition: social phenomena can best be understood by considering them to be an aggregation of purposeful behavior by individuals – in their roles as consumer, producer, investor, politician, and so on – interacting with each other and acting under the constraints that their environment imposes. This I find to be not just a powerful discipline for organizing our thoughts on economic affairs, but the only sensible way of thinking about them. If I often depart from the consensus that “mainstream” economists have reached in matters of development policy, this has less to do with different modes of analysis than with different readings of the evidence and with different evaluations of the “political economy” of developing nations. The economics that the graduate student picks up in the seminar room – abstract as it is and riddled with a wide variety of market failures – admits an almost unlimited range of policy recommendations, depending on the specific assumptions the analyst is prepared to make … the tendency of many economists to offer advice based on simple rules of thumb, regardless of context (privatize this, liberalize that), is a derogation rather than a proper application of neoclassical economic principals

                                                                                  » Continue reading “More Politics, Many Recipes.”


                                                                                  If so many recipes can work, why do so many fail?, by John Quiggin?: Dani Rodrik’s book opens with a discussion of the policy approach that dominated the development debate for much of the 1990s, and to some extent still does. The term ‘Washington consensus’ was coined by John Williamson of the IIE, to described the views of Washington-based institutions (IMF, World Bank and US Treasury in the 1980s, but escaped from its creator and came to encompass a program of dogmatic adherence to a revived version of 19th century economic orthodoxy, commonly referred to as neoliberalism. » Continue reading “If so many recipes can work, why do so many fail ?.”


                                                                                  Setting the Stage for Growth, by Mark Thoma: Dani Rodrik’s new book, One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth takes on a problem of fundamental importance, how to stimulate and sustain economic growth in underdeveloped countries and lift people out of poverty.

                                                                                  Past attempts to solve this problem can, for the most part, be identified with one of two polar extremes, solutions that involve pervasive and persistent government intervention, and solutions that rely upon extreme laissez faire market-oriented policies. Neither of these approaches has been very successful, and the book argues for a different approach that combines these extremes and allows market forces to operate in an environment shaped by government policy. Under this combination approach the government in partnership with the private sector uses industrial policy and institutional change to strategically kick-start, coordinate, and sustain economic activity.

                                                                                  Continue reading "Dani Rodrik Seminar at Crooked Timber" »

                                                                                    Posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 09:45 AM in Economics, International Trade, Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (3) 


                                                                                    "Why So Glum? The Meese-Rogoff Methodology Meets the Stock Market"

                                                                                    This has received quite a bit of attention already, though I did try to add something new at the end with a discussion of some recent work by Bob Flood and Andrew Rose, but in case you missed it this is Menzie Chinn on modeling exchange rates. I won't repeat the entire post, but here's part of it followed by a description of the new work by Flood and Rose (which has a very nice description of the impact of the Messe-Rogoff paper discussed below):

                                                                                    Modeling Exchange Rates: What Does Current Academic Thinking Have to Say about the Dollar's Future?, by Menzie Chinn: As the dollar continues its decline, I think it's useful to step away from the high frequency analysis [1],[2], to consider what the currents in academic thinking on the enterprise of predicting exchange rates are. ...

                                                                                    Now, as I've observed before, one of the key stylized facts regarding the empirical modeling of exchange rates is the one associated with Meese and Rogoff's 1983 paper: that it is difficult to outpredict a random walk in out of sample forecasts where the ex post values of the explanatory variables are used (what are sometimes called ex post historical simulations).

                                                                                    This stylized fact has been remarkably durable in its 20 year history. After some work which seemed to indicate that one could outpredict a random walk at long horizons (Mark (1995) [pdf] and Chinn and Meese (1995) [pdf]), subsequent research demonstrated that this long horizon outprediction was an artifact of sample period, at least insofar as RMSE criteria are concerned. Cheung, Chinn and Fujii (2003) [pdf] showed that at long horizons, one could find cases where the random walk was outpredicted at long horizons using interest rate parity, but not (typically) structural macro models of the type examined by Meese and Rogoff.

                                                                                    One path has been undertaken by Roman Frydman and Michael Goldberg, where they have dispensed with the rational expectations approach, and forwarded what they call the "imperfect knowledge expectations". In a recent paper [pdf], they explain their approach thusly:

                                                                                    Why do academic economists believe that short-run currency fluctuations are not connected to macroeconomic fundamentals, whereas the individuals most connected to financial markets obviously do? Our answer is that market participants and observers recognize that the relationship between the exchange rate and macroeconomic fundamentals changes at times and in ways that cannot be fully foreseen. While they may use economic theory to understand and forecast markets, they recognize that they cannot base their actions solely on a fixed model. ...

                                                                                    The basic premise of our approach, called "imperfect knowledge economics" (IKE), is that the search for sharp predictions of market outcomes is futile. Market participants and policy makers must cope with ever-imperfect knowledge in forecasting the future exchange rate. As a result, our knowledge and our institutions (e.g., the conduct of monetary policy) change over time. Indeed, capitalist economies provide powerful incentives for individuals to find new ways of thinking about the future and the past. In such a world, it is rather odd for economists to expect that a fixed set of economic fundamentals would matter in exactly the same way for more than 30 years, or that they could fully prespecify how this relationship might have changed over time.

                                                                                    It is thus not surprising that academic economists have found that their models forecast exchange rates no better than flipping a coin does. This finding still attracts much attention among academic researchers. Indeed, it is one of the main reasons why they have concluded that markets participants' irrationality, rather than macroeconomic fundamentals, moves currency markets. ...

                                                                                    ...Given that some of my own research suggests nonlinearities in exchange rates [pdf], and changes in what factors traders consider important [pdf], I'm sympathetic to some of the ideas Frydman and Goldberg propound. At the same time, I should observe that a quite different approach to thinking about exchange rates adheres to the rational expectations view -- and indeed takes the inability of typical exchange rate determinants to predict the exchange rate as proof that the rational expectations/present value approach is correct. This approach, developed by Engel and West [pdf], was discussed in this post. [See] a paper provocatively titled Exchange Rate Models Are Not as Bad as You Think [by]... Engel, Mark, and West...

                                                                                    Perhaps more interesting is some recent work by Engel and West, as well as Molodtsova and Papell, suggesting that Taylor rule fundamentals (namely output and inflation gaps) can be used as predictors of exchange rates. I discussed this point in this post from January. ...

                                                                                    What I take from this discussion is that some of the movements in the dollar are explicable in terms of fundamentals. The fundamentals that matter differ depending upon the horizon, with perhaps Taylor rule fundamentals (and consequently revisions to expectations regarding those fundamentals) driving the exchange rate at short horizons. ...

                                                                                    I also think conventional monetary model fundamentals matter at longer horizons. These include money stocks, incomes, interest rates and inflation rates, and possibly the relative price of nontradables (this is where productivity trends can come into play). This predictability might not be seen in the RMSE criteria typically used, but sometimes shows up in direction of change statistics.

                                                                                    But, traveling full-circle, I want to stress that these factors overlay the structural factors ... that are in some sense harder to model. Will central banks change the pace of dollar acquisition...? ... What will sovereign wealth funds do? What are investors' views regarding the substitutability of dollar denominated assets versus euro or pound denominated assets? Because some of these questions pertain to infrequent, discrete, events (de-pegging from the dollar), or to relatively new phenomena (SWFs), or to imperfectly measured relationships (investor perceptions of substitutability), one should expect much greater uncertainty surrounding the effects of these structural changes.

                                                                                    This assessment is consistent a view I forwarded (along with others) two years ago. In a Council on Foreign Relations report [pdf], I argued that one of the implications of happily borrowing away at the Federal and national levels (the budget deficit and the current account deficit) was that, given the source of the funding, we would place the fate of the dollar and other asset prices to some extent in the hands of foreign, state, actors. Current events have, I think, vindicated that view.

                                                                                    Let me try to add something to Menzie's discussion. There is a recent paper by Flood and Rose that places a new interpretation on the Meese-Rogoff results. The Flood-Rose paper doesn't revive exchange rate models, but it does show that if you apply the Meese-Rogoff result to other assets, e.g. to stock prices, you get exactly the same result again and again. This suggests, and the paper verifies, that there may be something about the econometric technique that builds the Meese-Rogoff outcome into the results and, because of that, care needs to be taken in interpreting the results from the Meese-Rogoff procedure. In particular, the results appear to rely upon persistence in the model's error term:

                                                                                    “Why So Glum?  The Meese-Rogoff Methodology Meets the Stock Market”, by Andrew Rose and Robert Flood [PDF file]: I. Motivation In their now-classic (1983a, b) papers, Richard Meese and Kenneth Rogoff (hereafter “MR”) examined the forecasting performance of a number of then-popular exchange rate models. They found that a random walk “model” of the exchange rate consistently out-forecast the structural models, despite the latter’s being given the advantage of using actual future values of market fundamentals. The full reaction to the MR message took years to process, but was eventually devastating for the field of International Finance. Academic modeling of exchange rate determination basically ceased. The area fell into disrepute; indeed, the area is not even represented on many first-rate academic faculties. By academic standards the MR paper had a huge impact and its fallout is still felt whenever exchange rates are intelligently discussed. In the current paper we ask a simple question: What happens when the MR method is applied to assets other than foreign exchange? We consider aggregate stock market indices in Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA, countries that correspond to the bilateral exchange rates considered by MR. We carry out the same forecasting analysis as MR, over the same sample period, 1973m3 through 1981m6. Just as MR did for foreign exchange rates, we consider a number of time-series and structural models, and use a number of metrics to compare them out of sample with a random walk. Crucially, we follow MR in allowing structural models to forecast asset prices with actual future values of fundamentals (which would ordinarily be unknown). Where MR forecast exchange rates with money, income, and the like, we provide the forecaster with information about the levels and growth rates of earnings, dividends, and interest rates. It turns out that not only is our methodology similar to that of MR; so is our conclusion. Just as MR found with foreign exchange, we find that none of our models with fundamentals perform consistently and substantially better than a simple random walk model of the aggregate stock market. However, we also show that this may be an artifact of the Meese-Rogoff methodology. In particular, the technique seems to hinge inadvertently on the time-series persistence of the model’s error term.

                                                                                    VI. Conclusion

                                                                                    • International finance is in no worse shape at modeling important asset prices than domestic finance, at least over the MR sample period.
                                                                                    • The Meese-Rogoff methodology may not be revealing for any asset price, especially with a lot of persistence in the composite residual.
                                                                                    • Fundamentals may eventually seem to kick in, but not at any short horizon. Most of the finance literature is at longer horizons than one year (e.g., Fama and French). Alternatively, coefficients linking fundamentals to stock prices may not be reasonably viewed as constant at the short run. Alternatively, lots of variation in discount rates.

                                                                                      Posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 12:42 AM in Economics, International Finance | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (4) 


                                                                                      "Marijuanomics 101"

                                                                                      As the exchange rate continues to fall, illegal imports are declining. Get ready for a glut of B.C. bud in Canada, and a dry spell in Montana. Given the asymmetric flexibility in these markets - exit is much faster than entry for obvious reasons - it will take awhile for supply lines to be reestablished in Montana, but things should return to normal in Canada much faster:

                                                                                      Pot trade slows, by Michael Jamison, Missoulian: For years, backpacks crammed with cash have slipped north into Canada, followed closely by hockey bags packed with premium marijuana skating south into Montana. A favorable exchange rate (not long ago, one American dollar bought one and a half Canadian dollars) made the smuggling profitable, and thus popular.

                                                                                      But last month, for the first time in more than 30 years, the two currencies were at par, ... and Sunday a Canadian dollar bought $1.06 U.S. The financial tables have turned, and global economics have done what U.S. law enforcement could not: Capitalism has stopped the smugglers in their tracks.

                                                                                      Call it Marijuanomics 101.

                                                                                      Continue reading ""Marijuanomics 101"" »

                                                                                        Posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 12:24 AM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (9) 


                                                                                        links for 2007-11-12

                                                                                        [Please feel free to add more links in comments.]

                                                                                          Posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Links | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (20) 


                                                                                          Sunday, November 11, 2007

                                                                                          "Big Governments and Globalisation are Complementary"

                                                                                          International trade produces both winners and losers, but "the winners win more than the losers lose, so governments should boost public support for trade by creating ex ante mechanisms that share the pains and gains." This research provides evidence that these types of mechanisms are actually able to reduce public resistance to free trade policies [see also Comparing Flexicurity in Denmark and Japan for more on this general topic]:

                                                                                          Big governments and globalisation are complementary, by Anna Maria Mayda and Kevin H. O’Rourke, Vox EU: While economists have preached the virtues of free trade for over two centuries, the majority of their fellow citizens remain stubbornly protectionist. When over 60,000 people in 47 countries were asked in 1995-1997 whether they favoured free trade or stricter limits on imports, approximately 60% of them chose the latter option.[1] As China and India rise to economic prominence over the coming decades, it is predictable that such opinions will become even more prevalent in Europe and the United States than they are now. Faced with such fears, is there anything that governments can do to reassure their fellow citizens, or do they face a straightforward choice between facing down and giving into protectionist demands?

                                                                                          One of the main complaints against globalisation is that it heightens economic insecurity, making for a riskier, less predictable environment for individual workers. If globalisation does increase risk, then one response would seem to be for governments to provide workers with insurance, guaranteeing them appropriate safety nets in the event of unexpected dislocation. According to a famous paper by Dani Rodrik, this explains why more open economies have bigger governments; far from being substitutes for each other, governments and markets are in fact complementary, with appropriate government programmes being essential in shoring up political support for trade.[2]

                                                                                          Indeed, economic history provides considerable evidence in favour of this view, since it was precisely during the heyday of the first great globalisation, in the decades running up to the First World War, that the foundations of the modern welfare state were laid. Across Europe, socialist parties then supported liberal free trade policies, in return for the introduction of a range of social insurance programmes, such as old age pensions, accident insurance or unemployment insurance. These reforms tended to be most advanced in those countries which were most open to the world economy of the day. Far from globalisation leading to a race to the bottom, this was a period in which free trade and social progress went hand in hand in Europe, and recent historical research suggests that this is precisely why governments were able to maintain a consensus in favour of free trade.[3] Similarly, the post-1945 political settlement, which combined a commitment to both open markets and domestic stability, can be seen as acknowledging that while the interwar move towards autarky had been disastrous, and that openness was essential to economic recovery, such openness would be unsustainable without active government intervention to reduce and insure against economic volatility.

                                                                                          In a recent paper co-authored with Richard Sinnott, a political scientist, we have uncovered suggestive microeconomic evidence in support of the view that government expenditure can boost support for free trade.[4] Using survey data for 18 countries in Europe and Asia, we found that those who were more risk-averse were most opposed to trade. However, this effect was considerably weaker in countries where government expenditure accounted for a higher share of GDP.

                                                                                          Continue reading ""Big Governments and Globalisation are Complementary"" »

                                                                                            Posted by on Sunday, November 11, 2007 at 06:48 PM in Economics, Social Insurance | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (24) 


                                                                                            "Democratic Politics Manipulates Truth"

                                                                                            George Soros calls for "new ground rules for political discourse":

                                                                                            Democratic politics manipulates truth: But there’s a way out, by George Soros, Project Syndicate: In his novel 1984 , George Orwell chillingly described a totalitarian regime in which all communication is controlled by a Ministry of Truth and dissidents are persecuted by political police. The United States remains a democracy governed by a constitution and the rule of law, with pluralistic media, yet there are disturbing signs that the propaganda methods Orwell described have taken root here.

                                                                                            Indeed, techniques of deception have undergone enormous improvements since Orwell's time. Many of these techniques were developed in connection with the advertising and marketing of commercial products and services, and then adapted to politics. ... More recently, cognitive science has helped to make the techniques of deception even more effective, giving rise to political professionals...

                                                                                            Karl Popper's concept of open society, ... is based on the recognition that, while perfect knowledge is unattainable, we can gain a better understanding of reality by engaging in critical thinking.

                                                                                            Popper failed to recognize that in democratic politics, gathering public support takes precedence over the pursuit of truth. In other areas, such as science and industry, the impulse to impose one's views on the world encounters the resistance of external reality. But in politics the electorate's perception of reality can be easily manipulated. As a result, political discourse, even in democratic societies, does not necessarily lead to a better understanding of reality.

                                                                                            The reason democratic politics leads to manipulation is that politicians do not aspire to tell the truth. They want to win elections, and the best way to do that is to skew reality to their own benefit. ...

                                                                                            We must abandon Popper's tacit assumption that political discourse aims at a better understanding of reality and reintroduce it as an explicit requirement. ... We need to introduce new ground rules for political discourse. These cannot be identical to scientific method, but they should be similar in character, enshrining the pursuit of truth as the criteria on which political views are to be judged. Politicians will respect, rather than manipulate, reality only if the public cares about the truth and punishes politicians when it catches them in deliberate deception. ...

                                                                                            The practical difficulty is in recognizing when political professionals are distorting reality. There is an important role here for the media, the political elite, and the educational system, which must all act as watchdogs. In addition, the public needs to be inoculated against the various techniques of deception. The most effective techniques operate at the subconscious level. When emotions can be aroused by methods that bypass consciousness, the public is left largely defenseless. But if the public is made aware of the various techniques, it is likely to reject them.

                                                                                            One influential technique — which Republican pollster Frank Luntz says that he learned from 1984 — simply reverses meanings and turns reality on its head. Thus, Fox News calls itself "fair and balanced," and Karl Rove and his acolytes turn their opponents' strongest traits into their Achilles' heels, using insinuations and lies to portray the opponents' achievements as phony. ...

                                                                                            The American public has proven remarkably susceptible to the manipulation of truth, which increasingly dominates the country's political discourse. Indeed, a whole network of publications, some of which manage to parade as mainstream media, is devoted to the task. Yet I believe that it is possible to inoculate the public against false arguments by arousing resentment against Orwellian Newspeak. What is needed is a concerted effort to identify the techniques of manipulation — and to name and shame those who use them.

                                                                                            Now is an ideal time to begin that effort. Americans are now awakening, as if from a bad dream. What we have learned from recent years' experience — what we should have known all along — is that the supremacy of critical thought in political discourse cannot be taken for granted. It can be ensured only by an electorate that respects reality and punishes politicians who lie or engage in other forms of deception.

                                                                                            He doesn't mention the role of wealth in this process. The main reason George Soros has a voice in the media is because of his wealth, and there are others with far greater control over the messages coming daily from the nation's editorial pages, people with the ability to influence the interpretation and framing of the news more generally, and with the means to shape the political discourse. My biggest frustration is not with the public's inability "to identify the techniques of manipulation," it's the fact that the media seems to have lost the ability to self-police in a way that weeds out those who engage in this type of deception, and ownership and control of the media needs to be part of an examination of why this has happened. A professional ethic has eroded, it seems, so that unethical reporting and editorial practices are allowed to pass without much comment or condemnation from within. I think people already have the tools they need if information is reported to them in an way that allows fact to be sorted from fiction without requiring considerable additional effort to augment the reporting and ferret out the truth. So sure, let's make people aware of how they can be manipulated, that might help some, but let's not stop there because teaching people to cover their ears may not be the best solution to pervasive political messages backed by powerful interests that distort reality for political gain.

                                                                                              Posted by on Sunday, November 11, 2007 at 03:24 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (114) 


                                                                                              links for 2007-11-11

                                                                                                Posted by on Sunday, November 11, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Links | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (11) 


                                                                                                Saturday, November 10, 2007

                                                                                                Reagan's Innocent Mistakes?

                                                                                                Poor Ronald Reagan, one innocent mistake after another has, according to David Brooks and others, left the wrong impression about him:

                                                                                                Innocent mistakes, by Paul Krugman: So there’s a campaign on to exonerate Ronald Reagan from the charge that he deliberately made use of Nixon’s Southern strategy. When he went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1980, the town where the civil rights workers had been murdered, and declared that “I believe in states’ rights,” he didn’t mean to signal support for white racists. It was all just an innocent mistake.

                                                                                                Indeed, you do really have to feel sorry for Reagan. He just kept making those innocent mistakes.

                                                                                                When he went on about the welfare queen driving her Cadillac, and kept repeating the story years after it had been debunked, some people thought he was engaging in race-baiting. But it was all just an innocent mistake.

                                                                                                When, in 1976, he talked about working people angry about the “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks at the grocery store, he didn’t mean to play into racial hostility. True, as the New York Times reported,

                                                                                                The ex-Governor has used the grocery-line illustration before, but in states like New Hampshire where there is scant black population, he has never used the expression “young buck,” which, to whites in the South, generally denotes a large black man.

                                                                                                But the appearance that Reagan was playing to Southern prejudice was just an innocent mistake.

                                                                                                Similarly, when Reagan declared in 1980 that the Voting Rights Act had been “humiliating to the South,” he didn’t mean to signal sympathy with segregationists. It was all an innocent mistake.

                                                                                                In 1982, when Reagan intervened on the side of Bob Jones University, which was on the verge of losing its tax-exempt status because of its ban on interracial dating, he had no idea that the issue was so racially charged. It was all an innocent mistake.

                                                                                                And the next year, when Reagan fired three members of the Civil Rights Commission, it wasn’t intended as a gesture of support to Southern whites. It was all an innocent mistake.

                                                                                                Poor Reagan. He just kept on making those innocent mistakes, again and again and again.

                                                                                                  Posted by on Saturday, November 10, 2007 at 09:54 PM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (61) 


                                                                                                  Forward Looking Markets See Trouble in Iraq

                                                                                                  Austan Goolsbee on what the Iraqi bond market is telling us about the chance of success in Iraq (this has come up previously, see "Is The 'Surge' Working? Some New Facts" and Jim Hamilton: Economic Indicators of Success in Iraq):

                                                                                                  In the Bond Market, a Bleak Prognosis for Iraq, by Austan Goolsbee, Commentary, NY Times: President Bush's surge of troops in Iraq has done little to resolve the political debate over the Iraq war. But global financial markets have been monitoring the war for months, and with remarkable consistency, they have concluded that the long-term prospects for a stable Iraq are very bleak.

                                                                                                  That is the picture that emerges from a study by Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology... Professor Greenstone started by reviewing basic statistics on the Iraqi economy and on the battle for security within Iraq since February. This data provided a murky view, at best. ... Sifting through these facts was time-consuming, but it provided little real guidance on the state of affairs in Iraq.

                                                                                                  It wasn’t until Professor Greenstone began examining the financial markets’ pricing of Iraqi government debt that he had his eureka moment. It was immediately clear that the bond market — which, historically, has often been an early indicator of the demise of a political system — was pessimistic about the Iraqi government’s chances for survival. ...

                                                                                                  Continue reading "Forward Looking Markets See Trouble in Iraq" »

                                                                                                    Posted by on Saturday, November 10, 2007 at 09:00 PM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (5) 


                                                                                                    "The Fallacy of 'Immaculate Transfer'"

                                                                                                    Paul Krugman corrects Robert Rubin:

                                                                                                    Robert Rubin is wrong about the dollar, by Paul Krugman: He says,

                                                                                                    “You could have had surpluses that affected the savings rate and would have helped the trade balance. I think you would have had more confidence in the policy framework and you would have had a better dollar,” he says regretfully. He pauses to reflect. “But we are where we are.”

                                                                                                    This is what John Williamson of the Institute for International Economics calls “the doctrine of immaculate transfer.” As I wrote a very long time ago, ... I know this is a bit obscurely written in economese. Here’s a (somewhat) plainer English version:

                                                                                                    The problem becomes apparent if one asks how a higher savings rate translates into a smaller trade deficit. It is not enough to insist that the accounting ensures that it must. A consumer deciding between a Ford and a Honda cares nothing about the US’s national income accounts. How does a lower US budget deficit persuade Americans to buy fewer foreign goods and foreigners to buy more US products?

                                                                                                    Continue reading ""The Fallacy of 'Immaculate Transfer'"" »

                                                                                                      Posted by on Saturday, November 10, 2007 at 04:32 PM in Economics, International Finance | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (25)