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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fed Watch: Data Note

Tim Duy:

Data Note, by Tim Duy: The Personal Income and Outlays report for March was released today. The pace of spending accelerated to 0.3% in real terms, the highest since last November and indication that the economy is perhaps shaking off some of its winter blues. On the other hand, inflation undershot the Fed's target for the 35th consecutive month, with core-inflation climbing just 1.3% over the past year. I would be a little wary that Fed officials won't find room for a somewhat more optimistic read on the data. Indeed, core-inflation on a monthly basis is also recovering from a winter stumble:


The annualized monthly rate was for core-PCE inflation was 1.79% in March, arguably within spitting distance of the Fed's target. Definitely something policymakers will be watching. At least those not thinking that 2% is too low a target in any event. So although we should keep an eye on the year-over-year numbers, we should be listening for what policymakers say about the month-over-month trends. Right now, those trends argue in favor of the "transitory" hypothesis.
Monetary policymakers will also be watching, obviously, next week's employment report. Only two left before the June meeting, and they need to be reasonably good for the pendulum to swing back to the hawks by then. But would only "reasonably good" be "good" enough? One thing I am watching is how much longer Fed officials will be content to risk falling behind the curve. I think the Fed is concerned about the potential for a discontinuous jump in wage growth as the economy approaches 5% unemployment, illustrated as:


This is why Fed Chair Janet Yellen does not believe they need to see accelerating wage growth before hiking rates - she has faith it is coming and that the lower unemployment is when the dam breaks, the higher the odds of a jump in wage growth that signals an economy with rapidly diminishing labor slack. They want to be reacting slowing ahead of such a scenario, rather than quickly on the other side. 
Bottom Line: The Fed is in "wait-and-see" mode after the weak first quarter, and odds are against the Fed seeing a path to a June rate hike. But I that remain wary that the patience of the newly data-dependent Fed has worn thinner than commonly believed.

    Posted by on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 06:10 PM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy | Permalink  Comments (7) 

    Romer on Growth Theory and 'Work That is Scientifically Unjustifiable'

    A small part of a much longer interview of Paul Romer (focused largely on charter cities):

    ... Q: So are you not going back to work on growth theory?
    Romer: Actually I am writing something about growth theory right now, but it is mostly a commentary on what happened to growth theory. To be honest, I think that a substantial fraction of the work that people are now doing on growth has to be judged a failure from a scientific perspective.
    In particular – and I apologize if this relies too much on the jargon of our field — monopolistic competition turns out to be just the tool for understanding the economic ideas. (It also turns out to be the tool for understanding international trade, economic geography, and macroeconomics.) But there has been a series of models that are associated with the University of Chicago – from what some people call the freshwater camp in macroeconomics – that are continuing a fight that George Stigler started in the 1930s to keep monopolistic competition from being used in economics. It is hard to explain to an outsider why a whole group of economists have ended up on the wrong side of scientific progress, resisting the direction that all of modern economic theory is taking, but they are.
    In the economics of ideas, we have to be willing to at least consider the possibility that someone could have some control over an idea, hence some monopoly power associated with ideas. This could come from patent or a copyright. It could also come from secrecy.
    Then we can ask if it is a good idea or a bad idea to have more intellectual property rights or more protection of ownership of ideas. We know that the answer here is mixed. Sometimes some amount of it can be good, but it can also be harmful if the property rights are too strong or are given to the wrong types of ideas. But if you don’t even allow for the possibility of ex post monopoly rents from the discovery of ideas, you can’t even ask the question.
    So it is scientifically unacceptable to have people who say, “We will never, as a matter of principle, consider a model in which there are ever any monopolies. We will dogmatically stick only to models of price-taking competition.” I think this an untenable scientific stance.
    I don’t think that this critique is going to reignite interest in growth theory. But like I said, when it’s time for interest to come back, somebody have a new take on growth theory, and work in this area will start again. But in the meantime, we have to stop tolerating work that is scientifically unjustifiable. ...

      Posted by on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 01:36 PM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (25) 

      'Let Me Strongly Dissent from Ben Bernanke's Claim...'

      Brad DeLong:

      Let Me Strongly Dissent from Ben Bernanke's Claim That the Critical Objective of Recovery Viewed in the Proper Metrics Is Being Met: Ben Bernanke: WSJ Editorial Page Watch: The Slow-Growth Fed?: "The Wall Street Journal... argue[s] (again) for tighter monetary policy...

      ...It's generous of the WSJ writers to note... that 'economic forecasting isn't easy.' They should know, since the Journal has been forecasting a breakout in inflation and a collapse in the dollar at least since 2006, when the FOMC decided not to raise the federal funds rate above 5-1/4 percent.... They fail to note... unemployment, which has fallen more quickly than anticipated.... The relatively rapid decline in unemployment in recent years shows that the critical objective of putting people back to work is being met...

      No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. NO! NO!!!!

      It is not the case that since 2000 three percent of our 25-54 year olds have decided that being at work is not what it is cracked up to be, and it is better to live in their parents' basement surfing the net.

      It is the case that the low-pressure economies and resulting lousy labor markets since 2001 have degraded the social networks that Americans--especially young Americans--use to find jobs, and that an extra three percent of our 25-54 year olds are discouraged, largely rationally discouraged, from looking for jobs. And that other age groups are in the same situation.

      You ... should not say that: "the critical objective of putting people back to work is being met..."? No, no, no, no, no.

      You should say that it is being partially met. You should say that it is being left substantially unmet.

        Posted by on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 10:56 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (62) 

        'WSJ Editorial Page Watch: The Slow-Growth Fed?'

        Ben Bernanke:

        WSJ Editorial Page Watch: The Slow-Growth Fed?: For the second year in a row, the first-quarter Gross Domestic Product figures were disappointing. TheWall Street Journal, in an editorial entitled "The Slow-Growth Fed," uses the opportunity to argue (again) for tighter monetary policy..., (the WSJ concludes), monetary policy is not working and efforts to use it to support the recovery should be discontinued.
        It's generous of the WSJ writers to note, as they do, that "economic forecasting isn't easy." They should know, since the Journal has been forecasting a breakout in inflation and a collapse in the dollar at least since 2006...
        The WSJ ... argues that, because monetary policy has not been a panacea for our economic troubles, we should stop using it. I agree that monetary policy is no panacea, and as Fed chairman I frequently said so. With short-term interest rates pinned near zero, monetary policy is not as powerful or as predictable as at other times. But the right inference is not that we should stop using monetary policy, but rather that we should bring to bear other policy tools as well. I am waiting for the WSJ to argue for a well-structured program of public infrastructure development, which would support growth in the near term by creating jobs and in the longer term by making our economy more productive. We shouldn't be giving up on monetary policy, which for the past few years has been pretty much the only game in town as far as economic policy goes. Instead, we should be looking for a better balance between monetary and other growth-promoting policies, including fiscal policy.

        Infrastructure construction, which can be viewed as a supply-side policy with beneficial demand side effects, ought to be a no-brainer on both sides of the political divide.

          Posted by on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 08:21 AM in Economics, Politics, Press | Permalink  Comments (95) 

          Video: Demystifying the Chinese Housing Boom

            Posted by on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 08:20 AM in China, Economics, Housing | Permalink  Comments (5) 

            Links for 04-30-15

              Posted by on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (118) 

              Wednesday, April 29, 2015

              Fed Watch: FOMC Snoozer

              Tim Duy:

              FOMC Snoozer, by Tim Duy: The FOMC concluded their meeting today, and the result left Fed watchers struggling to find something interesting to say. The really offered no insight into the economy with the opening paragraph:
              Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in March suggests that economic growth slowed during the winter months, in part reflecting transitory factors. The pace of job gains moderated, and the unemployment rate remained steady. A range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources was little changed. Growth in household spending declined; households' real incomes rose strongly, partly reflecting earlier declines in energy prices, and consumer sentiment remains high. Business fixed investment softened, the recovery in the housing sector remained slow, and exports declined. Inflation continued to run below the Committee's longer-run objective, partly reflecting earlier declines in energy prices and decreasing prices of non-energy imports. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.
              Policy-wise, nothing changed other than the elimination of any date-based forward guidance, as expected.
              In their defense, the repeated pattern of weakness in the first quarter over the past several years should leave one hesitant to draw much if any conclusions from recent data. I attribute the flat growth to a variety of factors, most of which are technical or transitory: seasonal adjustment problems, weather impacts, the West coast port slowdown, a greater initial impact of falling oil prices on investment than consumption (as predicted by the Atlanta Fed), and the stronger dollar. It was a mistake to get caught up in last year's first quarter GDP decline, and I think it would be a mistake to get caught up in this year's. Indeed, the underlying pace of growth remains stable to ever-so-gradually accelerating:


              That said, Bloomberg reports that market economists are sharply pulling back their Q2 GDP forecasts. I am always wary of over-reacting to the last data point; you need to be cautious that your "forecast" doesn't become a "backcast". This I think sets the stage for positive economic surprises in the months ahead.
              I think it is also worth noting that while Wall St. engages in nonstop hand-wringing on the state of the economy, Main St. firms are pushing ahead with research and development spending at a pace not seen in years:


              This too bodes well for the strength and sustainability of underlying economic growth.
              The FOMC statement provides little new information about the timing or pace of future rates hikes. Even if you believe, as I do, that the first quarter weakness will prove to be largely transitory, the Fed is not willing to take that chance. They will need better data to justify a rate hike, and that need is pushing the timing of a policy change ever-deeper into 2015. There just isn't that much data between now and June to move the needle on policy. You need the jobs and inflation data to turn sharply better to pull the Fed back to June. It could happen, but I am not confident it will happen.
              Bottom Line: Wait and see - that's the message of this statement.

                Posted by on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 01:57 PM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy | Permalink  Comments (33) 

                Video: Technology and Jobs: Should Workers Worry?

                I enjoyed this session:

                Moderator: Josh Barro, Correspondent, New York Times


                For centuries, people have worried that new technologies will destroy jobs without creating enough new ones, and every time the doomsayers have been proven wrong. But today, with disruptive advances occurring at dizzying speed, some worry that the time may finally have come when more jobs are destroyed by technology than are created. One 2013 report by Oxford University researchers concluded that 47 percent of U.S. jobs are threatened by automation. Should workers be worried, or is the fear overblown? Is technology - from robots to intelligent digital agents - our friend or a threat? If the latter, what do we need to do to ensure employment by the middle class and others? How can we reorganize our business and economic system to avert more economic turmoil?

                  Posted by on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 10:25 AM Permalink  Comments (106) 

                  'The Austerity Delusion'

                  A "long read" from Paul Krugman:

                  The austerity delusion, The Guardian: In May 2010, as Britain headed into its last general election, elites all across the western world were gripped by austerity fever, a strange malady that combined extravagant fear with blithe optimism. Every country running significant budget deficits – as nearly all were in the aftermath of the financial crisis – was deemed at imminent risk of becoming another Greece unless it immediately began cutting spending and raising taxes. Concerns that imposing such austerity in already depressed economies would deepen their depression and delay recovery were airily dismissed; fiscal probity, we were assured, would inspire business-boosting confidence, and all would be well.
                  People holding these beliefs came to be widely known in economic circles as “austerians” – a term coined by the economist Rob Parenteau – and for a while the austerian ideology swept all before it.
                  But that was five years ago, and the fever has long since broken. ...[continue]...

                    Posted by on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 08:58 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (31) 

                    Real GDP increased at 0.2% Annualized Rate in Q1

                    Calculated Risk on today's GDP report:

                    Real GDP increased at 0.2% Annualized Rate in Q1: From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product: First Quarter 2015 (Advance Estimate)

                    Real gross domestic product -- the value of the production of goods and services in the United States, adjusted for price changes -- increased at an annual rate of 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015, according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.2 percent. ...

                    The increase in real GDP in the first quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and private inventory investment that were partly offset by negative contributions from exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

                    The deceleration in real GDP growth in the first quarter reflected a deceleration in PCE, downturns in exports, in nonresidential fixed investment, and in state and local government spending, and a deceleration in residential fixed investment that were partly offset by a deceleration in imports and upturns in private inventory investment and in federal government spending. ...

                    Real personal consumption expenditures increased 1.9 percent in the first quarter, compared with an increase of 4.4 percent in the fourth.

                    The advance Q1 GDP report, with 0.2% annualized growth, was below expectations of a 1.0% increase.

                    Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased at a 1.9% annualized rate.

                    The key negatives were trade (subtracted 1.25 percentage point) and investment in nonresidential structures (subtracted 0.75 percentage points). Trade was impacted by the West Coast port issues, and the decline in nonresidential structures was probably due to bad weather and less investment in oil and gas.

                    Dean Baker has more details: Weather and Trade Depress First Quarter GDP

                      Posted by on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 08:14 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (15) 

                      Video: Closing the Income Inequality Gap

                       A widening gap between haves and have-nots is shrinking the American middle class and making it tougher than ever to move up the economic ladder. The U.S. problem reflects a worldwide concentration of wealth. The top 1 percent control 48 percent of the world's assets, up from 44 percent in 2009. Disparate voices ranging from Pope Francis to IMF Director Christine Lagarde warn that the gulf between rich and poor diminishes hope and raises serious political and economic issues. Some companies are listening. Late last year, Walmart Stores pledged to end minimum-wage pay by raising the hourly rate of 500,000 workers. Other companies followed with similar increases for their lowest-paid workers. Will their announcements spur broader efforts to reduce income equality? What else can be done to lift the standard of living for the working poor?

                      Moderator: Alan Schwartz, Executive Chairman, Guggenheim Partners

                      Speakers: Jared Bernstein, Economic Policy Fellow, Milken Institute; Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Former Chief Economist to Vice President Joe Biden, Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. Chief Economist, Global Economics and Research, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, Arthur Brooks, President, American Enterprise Institute, Jeff Greene, Investor and Philanthropist, Kristin Oliver, Executive Vice President, People, Walmart U.S.

                        Posted by on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 08:14 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Video | Permalink  Comments (5) 

                        Links for 04-29-15

                          Posted by on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (144) 

                          Tuesday, April 28, 2015

                          The Trader as Scapegoat

                          Rajiv Sethi in the NY Times:

                          The Trader as Scapegoat: A British trader, Navinder Singh Sarao, is facing extradition to the United States. Federal prosecutors accuse him of having significantly contributed to the “flash crash” of May 6, 2010, in which major American stock markets plunged dramatically in a matter of minutes. Prosecutors also say that he manipulated prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for years by “spoofing,” or placing orders that he intended to cancel before they were filled.
                          In fact, this is a common activity in equities markets today. The prosecution of Mr. Sarao is arbitrary, and his contribution to the flash crash was negligible.
                          Regulators should direct their attention instead to far more damaging practices — for example, high-speed strategies that exploit the fragmented nature of our trading systems to make profits purely on timing and speed. ...

                            Posted by on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 07:57 AM in Economics, Financial System | Permalink  Comments (28) 

                            Video: Geithner, Paulson, and Rubin

                            In this session, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, interviews former U.S. Treasury Secretaries Timothy Geithner, Henry Paulson and Robert Rubin about global economic trends, public finance and capital markets.

                              Posted by on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 07:49 AM in Economics, Video | Permalink  Comments (8) 

                              Why Trade Deals Don't Get More Public Support

                              At MoneyWatch:

                              Why trade deals don't get more public support, by Mark Thoma: Although President Obama supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, he's running into resistance from many progressives. Why are they opposed to a deal that negotiators have worked on for years, includes the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations (but not yet China) and accounts for 40 percent of the global economy? ...

                              Update: See also Americans Get Free Trade's Dark Side - Noah Smith.

                                Posted by on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 07:44 AM in Economics, International Trade, MoneyWatch, Social Insurance | Permalink  Comments (27) 

                                Links for 04-28-15

                                  Posted by on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (183) 

                                  Monday, April 27, 2015

                                  'Are Immigrants a Shot in the Arm for the Local Economy?'

                                  From the NBER (open link to earlier version):

                                  Are Immigrants a Shot in the Arm for the Local Economy?, by Gihoon Hong and John McLaren, NBER Working Paper No. 21123: Most research on the effects of immigration focuses on the effects of immigrants as adding to the supply of labor. By contrast, this paper studies the effects of immigrants on local labor demand, due to the increase in consumer demand for local services created by immigrants. This effect can attenuate downward pressure from immigrants on non-immigrants' wages, and also benefit non-immigrants by increasing the variety of local services available. For this reason, immigrants can raise native workers' real wages, and each immigrant could create more than one job. Using US Census data from 1980 to 2000, we find considerable evidence for these effects: Each immigrant creates 1.2 local jobs for local workers, most of them going to native workers, and 62% of these jobs are in non-traded services. Immigrants appear to raise local non-tradables sector wages and to attract native-born workers from elsewhere in the country. Overall, it appears that local workers benefit from the arrival of more immigrants.

                                    Posted by on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 02:40 PM in Academic Papers, Economics, Immigration | Permalink  Comments (31) 

                                    Paul Krugman: Nobody Said That

                                     Why don't prognosticators accept responsibility for their prediction errors?:

                                    Nobody Said That, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Imagine yourself as a regular commentator on public affairs — maybe a paid pundit, maybe a supposed expert in some area, maybe just an opinionated billionaire. You weigh in on a major policy initiative that’s about to happen, making strong predictions of disaster. The Obama stimulus, you declare, will cause soaring interest rates; the Fed’s bond purchases will “debase the dollar” and cause high inflation; the Affordable Care Act will collapse in a vicious circle of declining enrollment and surging costs.
                                    But nothing you predicted actually comes to pass. What do you do?
                                    You might admit that you were wrong, and try to figure out why. But almost nobody does that; we live in an age of unacknowledged error.
                                    Alternatively, you might insist that sinister forces are covering up the grim reality. Quite a few well-known pundits are, or at some point were, “inflation truthers,” claiming that the government is lying about the pace of price increases. There have also been many prominent Obamacare truthers declaring that the White House is cooking the books, that the policies are worthless, and so on.
                                    Finally, there’s a third option: You can pretend that you didn’t make the predictions you did. I see that a lot when it comes to people who issued dire warnings about interest rates and inflation, and now claim that they did no such thing. Where I’m seeing it most, however, is on the health care front. Obamacare is working better than even its supporters expected — but its enemies say that the good news proves nothing, because nobody predicted anything different. ...
                                    It’s both easy and entirely appropriate to ridicule this kind of thing. But there are some serious stakes here, and they go beyond the issue of health reform, important as it is.
                                    You see, in a polarized political environment, policy debates always involve more than just the specific issue on the table. They are also clashes of world views. Predictions of debt disaster, a debased dollar, and Obama death spirals reflect the same ideology, and the utter failure of these predictions should inspire major doubts about that ideology.
                                    And there’s also a moral issue involved. Refusing to accept responsibility for past errors is a serious character flaw in one’s private life. It rises to the level of real wrongdoing when policies that affect millions of lives are at stake.

                                      Posted by on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 07:29 AM in Economics, Politics, Press | Permalink  Comments (52) 

                                      Have Blog, Will Travel

                                      I am here today: Milken Institute Global Conference:

                                      Program Glance

                                      Continue reading "Have Blog, Will Travel" »

                                        Posted by on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 07:20 AM in Conferences, Economics | Permalink  Comments (1) 

                                        Links for 04-27-15

                                          Posted by on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (144) 

                                          Sunday, April 26, 2015

                                          'This Is Not A Trade Agreement'

                                          This is not a subtweet:

                                          This Is Not A Trade Agreement, by Paul Krugman: OK, Greg Mankiw has me puzzled. Has he really read nothing about TPP? Is he completely unaware of the nature of the argument?
                                          Personally, I’m a lukewarm opponent of the deal, but I don’t see it as the end of the Republic and can even see some reasons (mainly strategic) to support it. One thing that should be totally obvious, however, is that it’s off-point and insulting to offer an off-the-shelf lecture on how trade is good because of comparative advantage, and protectionists are dumb. For this is not a trade agreement. It’s about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments.
                                          Those are the issues that need to be argued. David Ricardo is irrelevant.

                                            Posted by on Sunday, April 26, 2015 at 09:41 AM in Economics, International Trade | Permalink  Comments (76) 

                                            'Mediamacro Myth 6: 2013 Recovery Vindication'

                                            Simon Wren-Lewis:

                                            Mediamacro myth 6: 2013 recovery vindication: The idea that austerity during the first two years of the coalition government was vindicated by the 2013 recovery is so ludicrous that it is almost embarrassing to have to explain why. The half-truths in this case are so flimsy they do not deserve that label. I can think of two reasons why that claim could have any credibility. The first is that people confuse levels and rates or change. The second is that some critics of austerity might have occasionally overstated their case.
                                            To see the first point, imagine that a government on a whim decided to close down half the economy for a year. That would be a crazy thing to do, and with only half as much produced everyone would be a lot poorer. However a year later when that half of the economy started up again, economic growth would be around 100%. The government could claim that this miraculous recovery vindicated its decision to close half the economy down the year before. That would be absurd, but it is a pretty good analogy with claiming that the 2013 recovery vindicated 2010 austerity.
                                            The second point is that some critics of austerity did on a few occasions allow their rhetoric to get the better of them, and suggested that if austerity continued a recovery would never come. That was always an overstatement. ...
                                            What any knowledgeable and honest media reporting should have done is tear the vindication argument to shreds. ...

                                              Posted by on Sunday, April 26, 2015 at 09:22 AM in Economics, Media, Press | Permalink  Comments (30) 

                                              On Microfoundations

                                              Via Diane Coyle, a quote from Alfred Marshall’s Elements of the Economics of Industry:

                                              ...He wrote that earlier economists:
                                              “Paid almost exclusive attention to the motives of individual action, But it must not be forgotten that economists, like all other students of social science, are concerned with individuals chiefly as members of the social organism. As a cathedral is something more than the stones of which it is built, as a person is more than a series of thoughts and feelings, so the life of society is something more than the sum of the lives of its individual members. It is true that the action of the whole is made up of that of its constituent parts; and that in most economic problems the best starting point is to be found in the motives that affect the individual….. but it is also true that economics has a great and increasing concern in motives connected with the collective ownership of property and the collective pursuit of important aims.”

                                                Posted by on Sunday, April 26, 2015 at 09:05 AM in Economics, Methodology | Permalink  Comments (8) 

                                                Links for 04-26-15

                                                  Posted by on Sunday, April 26, 2015 at 12:06 AM Permalink  Comments (117) 

                                                  Saturday, April 25, 2015

                                                  Links for 04-25-15

                                                    Posted by on Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (228) 

                                                    Friday, April 24, 2015

                                                    'No Price Like Home: Global House Prices, 1870-2012'

                                                    Interesting paper:

                                                    No Price Like Home: Global House Prices, 1870-2012, by Katharina Knoll, Moritz Schularic, and Thomas Steger: Abstract: How have house prices evolved over the long‐run? This paper presents annual house prices for 14 advanced economies since 1870. Based on extensive data collection, we show that real house prices stayed constant from the 19th to the mid‐20th century, but rose strongly during the second half of the 20th century. Land prices, not replacement costs, are the key to understanding the trajectory of house prices. Rising land prices explain about 80 percent of the global house price boom that has taken place since World War II. Higher land values have pushed up wealth‐to‐income ratios in recent decades.

                                                      Posted by on Friday, April 24, 2015 at 01:35 PM in Academic Papers, Economics, Housing | Permalink  Comments (48) 

                                                      'Unit Roots, Redux'

                                                      John Cochrane weighs in on the discussion of unit roots:

                                                      Unit roots, redux: Arnold Kling's askblog and Roger Farmer have a little exchange on GDP and unit roots. My two cents here.
                                                      I did a lot of work on this topic a long time ago, in How Big is the Random Walk in GNP?  (the first one)  Permanent and Transitory Components of GNP and Stock Prices” (The last, and I think best one) "Multivariate estimates" with Argia Sbordone, and "A critique of the application of unit root tests", particularly appropriate to Roger's battery of tests.
                                                      The conclusions, which I still think hold up today:
                                                      Log GDP has both random walk and stationary components. Consumption is a pretty good indicator of the random walk component. This is also what the standard stochastic growth model predicts: a random walk technology shock induces a random walk component in output but there are transitory dynamics around that value.
                                                      A linear trend in GDP is only visible ex-post, like a "bull" or "bear" market.  It's not "wrong" to detrend GDP, but it is wrong to forecast that GDP will return to the linear trend or to take too seriously correlations of linearly detrended series, as Arnold mentions. Treating macro series as cointegrated with one common trend is a better idea.
                                                      Log stock prices have random walk and stationary components. Dividends are a pretty good indicator of the random walk component. (Most recently, here.) ...
                                                      Both Arnold and Roger claim that unemployment has a unit root. Guys, you must be kidding. ...

                                                      He goes on to explain.

                                                        Posted by on Friday, April 24, 2015 at 01:10 PM in Econometrics, Economics, Macroeconomics | Permalink  Comments (4) 

                                                        'Monopsony and Market Power in the Labor Market'

                                                        Nick Bunker:

                                                        Monopsony and market power in the labor market: We’ve all heard the term “monopoly,” even if it’s just in the context of the board game. But a related term, or even another face of monopoly, is monopsony. A monopsony is when a firm is the sole purchaser of a good or service whereas a monopoly is when one firm is the sole producer of a good or service. Most examples of monopsony have to do with the purchase of workers’ time in the labor market, where a firm is the sole purchaser of a certain kind of labor. Just as the United States is seeing increasing evidence of monopoly power and cartelization on the producer side, we also need to pay attention to the effects of monopsony power in the labor market.
                                                        The classic example of a monopsony is a company coal town, where the coal company acts the sole employer and therefore the sole purchaser of labor in the town. Now why should we care about this? The monopsony power of the coal company allows it to set wages below the productivity of their workers. In other words, employers gain the power to depress wages.
                                                        But employers don’t have to be sole employer for monopsonic behavior to arise. If there are a few powerful firms, collusion could drive down wages as well. ...

                                                        One of my job market papers -- it was long ago -- assumed monopsony power in labor markets as a way of flipping the correlation between real wages and employment/output from negative to positive (which is more consistent with the empirical evidence starting with Dunlop and Tarshis in the 1930's. For a nice discussion of this evidence, see Keynesian Controversies on Wages, by John Pencavel.

                                                          Posted by on Friday, April 24, 2015 at 09:18 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (20) 

                                                          Paul Krugman: Zombies of 2016

                                                          Some bad ideas just won't die:

                                                          Zombies of 2016, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last week,...Chris Christie ... gave a speech in which he tried to position himself as a tough-minded fiscal realist. In fact, however, his supposedly tough-minded policy idea was a classic zombie — an idea that should have died long ago in the face of evidence that undermines its basic premise, but somehow just keeps shambling along.
                                                          ...Mr. Christie ... thought he was being smart and brave by proposing that we raise the age of eligibility for both Social Security and Medicare to 69. Doesn’t this make sense now that Americans are living longer?
                                                          No, it doesn’t..., almost all the rise in life expectancy has taken place among the affluent. The bottom half of workers,... who rely on Social Security most, have seen their life expectancy at age 65 rise only a bit more than a year since the 1970s. Furthermore,... many ... still have to perform manual labor.
                                                          And while raising the retirement age would impose a great deal of hardship, it would save remarkably little money. ...
                                                          And there are plenty of other zombies out there. Consider, for example, the zombification of the debate over health reform. ...
                                                          Finally, one of the interesting political developments ... has been the triumphant return of voodoo economics, the “supply-side” claim that tax cuts for the rich stimulate the economy so much that they pay for themselves.
                                                          In the real world, this doctrine has an unblemished record of failure..
                                                          In the world of Republican politics, however, voodoo’s grip has never been stronger. Would-be presidential candidates must audition in front of prominent supply-siders to prove their fealty to failed doctrine. ... Supply-side economics, it’s now clear, is the ultimate zombie: no amount of evidence or logic can kill it.
                                                          So why has the Republican Party experienced a zombie apocalypse? One reason, surely, is the fact that most Republican politicians represent states or districts that will never, ever vote for a Democrat, so the only thing they fear is a challenge from the far right. Another is the need to tell Big Money what it wants to hear: a candidate saying anything realistic about Obamacare or tax cuts won’t survive the Sheldon Adelson/Koch brothers primary.
                                                          Whatever the reasons, the result is clear. Pundits will try to pretend that we’re having a serious policy debate, but, as far as issues go, 2016 is already set up to be the election of the living dead.

                                                            Posted by on Friday, April 24, 2015 at 08:01 AM in Economics, Health Care, Politics, Social Security, Taxes | Permalink  Comments (39) 

                                                            Links for 04-24-15

                                                              Posted by on Friday, April 24, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (155) 

                                                              Thursday, April 23, 2015

                                                              'Can We Predict Happiness?'

                                                              Can happiness be reduced to a mathematical equation?:

                                                              Can we predict happiness?, by Robb Rutledge, Max Planck University College London Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research: What makes us happy? Well-being researchers have identified many variables related to happiness, but we still don’t know exactly how the events of our daily lives combine to influence how we feel from moment to moment. People should get happier when good things happen, but clearly this is not the whole story.
                                                              We designed a study to investigate the relationship between rewards and happiness. We brought people into the lab and asked them repeatedly about their happiness as they chose between safe and risky monetary options. Risky choices were gambles with equal probabilities (like a coin toss) of a better or worse outcome. If they chose to gamble on a given trial, they then found out whether they won or lost.

                                                              Based on the data, we developed a mathematical equation to predict how self-reported happiness depends on past events. ...

                                                                Posted by on Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 08:38 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (76) 

                                                                Robert Hall: Secular Stagnation in the US

                                                                Robert Hall at Vox EU:

                                                                This column is a lead commentary in the VoxEU Debate "Secular Stagnation"
                                                                Secular Stagnation in the US, by Robert E. Hall: The disappointing post-crisis performance of the US economy and even more disappointing performance of continental Europe and Japan have revived interest in the possibility of secular stagnation. Under stagnation, real incomes fail to grow or even shrink, and the economy’s output falls farther and farther below its earlier upward trend. Rising unemployment may also occur. Summers (2014) ignited interest in the possibility of secular stagnation.
                                                                One important factor in stagnations is the inability or reluctance of the central bank to lower interest rates as low as would seem to be appropriate, given the ability of low rates to stimulate output and employment. The Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan have kept rates slightly positive since the crisis, while the ECB did the same until recently, when it pushed the rate just slightly negative. All three economies had combinations of high unemployment and substandard inflation that unambiguously called for lower rates, according to standard principles of modern monetary economics.
                                                                Extreme slack persists in continental Europe and Japan, but in the US, several labor-market indicators, such as low short-term unemployment and high levels of unfilled job openings, indicate the end of the period of slack that followed the crisis, while others, such as long-term unemployment and involuntary part-time work, still show slack but are declining and will probably reach normal levels in the coming year.1 Forecasters believe that the Fed will unpin the short-term interest rate in the middle of 2015 or a bit later in the year. Markets for forward rates agree.
                                                                European versus US secular stagnation: Demand versus supply factors
                                                                Thus a consensus is forming that inadequate demand will no longer be a factor in whatever US stagnation occurs in coming years. In Japan and Europe, on the other hand, the case for boosting demand is strong and inadequate demand is almost surely a main cause of the stagnation.
                                                                Despite the resumption of normal conditions in the US labor market and the consensus that slack is gone, the US economy is stagnated in the sense that the standard of living stopped growing around 2000. Family purchasing power today is just the same as in that year. Figure 1 shows that it grew briskly during the 1990s, slowed markedly prior to the crisis, dropped below its 2000 level as a result of the crisis, and grew slowly in recent years.

                                                                Figure 1.

                                                                Hall fig1 22 apr

                                                                Two episodes of low purchasing-power growth despite a growing economy appear in the figure. From 2002 through 2007 (recovery from the 2001 recession), and 2010 to 2013 (the recovery from the 2008-09 Great Recession). The unemployment rate reached 4.8% in 2007 – well below the long-run average rate of 5.8% and is right at that long-run rate today. The evidence is strong that inadequate demand is not behind the general stagnation of purchasing power, though it was a factor in the period immediately following the Crisis. As of 2014, the US has had a decade and a half of a new kind of secular stagnation, one associated with declining supply.
                                                                Causes of US secular supply stagnation
                                                                Four factors account for the stagnation of purchasing power in the US economy: 1) declining labor share; 2) depleted capital; 3) reduced productivity growth; and 4) declining labor-force participation. I will discuss indexes that capture each of these factors in turn using indices that all start at unity in 1989. An index of total purchasing power from earnings is the result of multiplying the four indexes together.
                                                                Labor’s declining share of income.
                                                                Figure 2 shows an index of labor’s share (including fringe benefits) of total US income. It tends to be level in recessions, fall during the first half of ensuing expansions, then rise back to a high level at the next recession. But superimposed on that pattern is a general decline that cumulates to about 10% over the period. Like the general declining trend in earnings, the decline in the share seems to have started around 2000. Economists have pursued multiple explanations of the decline, but no consensus has formed.

                                                                Figure 2.

                                                                Hall fig2 22 apr

                                                                Slow overall productivity growth.
                                                                Figure 3 shows that productivity grew rapidly from 1989 to 2007. The Great Recession caused a dip in productivity, as did past recessions (due mainly to idle facilities). Though productivity grew at normal rates during the recovery, it did not make up for the shock of the crisis, so the average growth since 2006 has been below par.2 Household earnings suffered proportionately. See Fernald (2014) for further discussion of productivity.

                                                                Figure 3.

                                                                Hall fig3 22 apr

                                                                Depleted capital per household.

                                                                Figure 4.

                                                                Hall fig4 22 apr

                                                                Figure 4 shows the third factor – the amount of capital available to equip the average worker. With more plant, equipment, and software, workers earn more. Capital per household rose rapidly during the 1990s, but more slowly after 2000. Capital per household actually fell during the Great Recession, and its more recent growth has not come close to placing capital per household where it would have been if the trend of the 1990s had continued.
                                                                Low labor-force participation.
                                                                Figure 5 displays the average household’s involvement in the workplace as measured by an index of annual hours of work of household members. Hours per household grew rapidly until 2000, fell as usual during the recession of 2001, flattened but did not grow during the boom of 2002 through 2007, unlike previous booms, collapsed in the Great Recession, and have risen during the recovery that is still underway. The decline in hours since 2000 is the single biggest factor in the decline in household earnings.3 Recent growth in hours per household offers some hope for the return of earnings growth in coming years.

                                                                Figure 5.

                                                                Hall fig5 22 apr

                                                                Why hours worked declined
                                                                Because declining hours account for the biggest part of the stagnation of earnings, I will dig deeper, by breaking them down into three components: Labor-market participants per household; fraction of participants working; and hours per worker.
                                                                Figure 6 shows an index of participants per household.

                                                                Figure 6.

                                                                Hall fig6 22 apr

                                                                As the chart illustrates, participation rose during the 1990s, especially in the second half of the decade, but has fallen since. The Great Recession depressed participation only slightly and does not appear to have been an important determinant of the overall decline in involvement in the labor market. Of course, the recession was a time when fewer participants were actually working and more were looking for work.
                                                                Economists have been working hard on trying to understand the surprising decline in participation, which exceeds forecasts that were made in earlier years. Most research agrees that the slack labor market had a relatively small discouraging effect. Another suspect that has been found to have at most a small role is changes in the composition of the working-age population – the negative effect of aging of the population on participation just offsets the positive effect of higher educational attainment. A large increase in the fraction of households subject to taxes imposed on families benefiting from food stamps, disability, and other safety-net programs may be a factor.
                                                                Figure 7 shows an index of the fraction of participants who were actually working – the remainder were unemployed and actively looking for work.
                                                                This factor was flat on average, falling in recessions and rising in the ensuing recoveries. It has risen recently, as unemployment has fallen to the upper-five-percent range. It is not an important element of the stagnation of earnings as of today.

                                                                Figure 7.

                                                                Hall fig7 22 apr

                                                                Figure 8 tracks hours of work per week for the average household.
                                                                It was quite constant over most of the period, but fell sharply during the Great Recession and recovered only about half of the decline since. It is too early to judge whether hours per worker will return soon to its earlier level or remain as an element of the stagnation of earnings.

                                                                Figure 8.

                                                                Hall fig8 22 apr

                                                                Work versus other time uses
                                                                Some indication about the changing balance between work and other uses of time comes from the American Time Use Survey, which began in 2003. Table 1 shows the change in weekly hours between 2003 and 2013 in a variety of activities.

                                                                Table 1.

                                                                For men, the biggest change by far is the decline of 2.5 hours per week at work, a big drop relative to a normal 40- hour work week.
                                                                A small part of the decline is attributable to higher unemployment—the unemployment rate was 6.0% in 2003 and 7.4% in 2013.
                                                                The decline for women is much smaller, at 0.8 hours per week.
                                                                For both sexes, the big increases were in personal care (including sleep) and leisure (mainly video-related activities). Essentially no change occurred in time spent in education. Women cut time spent on housework.
                                                                Is there hope for a return to normal growth of household purchasing power?
                                                                Capital seems likely to continue to return to its historical growth path, as Figure 4 suggests. For the three other major categories, forecasting is a challenge. There has been no sign of a reversal of the decline in labor’s share of total income and no body of research that supports the idea that it will. Productivity growth is definitely under way, at rates similar to those in the 1970s and 1980s, but well below the rates of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1990s. In particular, there is no sign that a burst of productivity growth will make up for the complete stall in productivity growth around the crisis, as Figure 3 shows.
                                                                Most importantly, there is no sign suggesting a departure from the decline in labor-force participation shown in Figure 6. Some commentators have declared a turnaround in participation based on recent monthly data, but Figure 9 suggests this is wishful thinking. Participation has declined along a straight line during the period of improving conditions in the labor market, suggesting a complete disconnect between participation and the state of the labor market.

                                                                Figure 9

                                                                Hall fig9 22 apr

                                                                One possibility for growth in purchasing power is that unemployment may dip below 5.5% -- the level that some believe defines full employment. The unemployment rate reached 3.8% in 2000 and 4.4% in 2007, in both cases at the ends of long expansions, without triggering inflation much above the Fed’s target of around 2%.
                                                                I reiterate that these conclusions apply to the United States. In continental Europe, the case is strong that demand has far from recovered. In Japan, unemployment is at low levels but the performance of the economy is substandard.
                                                                Fernald, John (2014). “Productivity and Potential Output Before, During, and After the Great Recession”, NBER Macro Annual, 2014, forthcoming.
                                                                Lawrence H. Summers, “U.S. Economic Prospects: Secular Stagnation, Hysteresis, and the Zero Lower Bound” Business Economics Vol. 49, No. 2  National Association for Business Economics
                                                                1 Complete backup for all of the calculations is available from my website, stanford.edu/~rehall
                                                                2 See Fernald (2014) for a discussion of the evidence.
                                                                3 See Foote and Ryan (2015).

                                                                  Posted by on Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Productivity | Permalink  Comments (110) 

                                                                  'Mediamacro Myth: 2010 Britain Faced a Financial Crisis'

                                                                  Simon Wren-Lewis is attempting to debunk a series of "mediamacro myths". This is the first in the series:

                                                                  Mediamacro myth 1: 2010 Britain faced a financial crisis: The idea that the Coalition rescued Britain from a crisis is routinely put forward as fact by both the Conservatives and Nick Clegg. Every time the media let such statements pass (as they invariably do), the language seems to get more florid: Clegg’s latest is that the coalition was born in the “midst of an economic firestorm”. [1]
                                                                  The facts say this is pure nonsense. The economy had begun to recover from the recession, and this recovery might have continued if it had not been hit on the head by domestic and Eurozone austerity. As Larry Elliott makes clear (see also here), there was no sign of any market panic, either in the markets for Sterling or government debt. ...
                                                                  So where is the half-truth that gives the ‘firestorm’ myth some credence? It is of course the Eurozone crisis, and the idea that the UK could suffer a similar fate to the Eurozone periphery. But academic macroeconomists understand that the situation of a country with its own central bank, like the UK, is quite different from a country without, because the central bank can (and in the UK will) act as a lender of last resort, so the government will never ‘run out of money’. That simple fact is sufficient to prevent any crisis happening for an economy like the UK. ...
                                                                  Why is it so important to keep up the pretence that in 2010 the UK economy was ‘on the brink’ of a financial crisis? Because only then can the pain of the subsequent few years be excused. The truth is that the failure to recover until 2013 was not the inevitable cost of rescuing the economy from crisis, but an avoidable choice by the Coalition government. The delayed recovery, and the damage that did to living standards, was at least in part a direct consequence of attempts to reduce the deficit far too early, and there was no impending crisis that forced the government's hand. [3]

                                                                    Posted by on Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Media, Politics, Press | Permalink  Comments (88) 

                                                                    Links for 04-23-15

                                                                      Posted by on Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (80) 

                                                                      Wednesday, April 22, 2015

                                                                      'Airbrushing Austerity'

                                                                      Paul Krugman:

                                                                      Airbrushing Austerity: Ken Rogoff weighs in on the secular stagnation debate, arguing basically that it’s Minsky, not Hansen — that we’re suffering from a painful but temporary era of deleveraging, and that normal policy will resume in a few years.
                                                                      As far as I can tell, however, Rogoff doesn’t address the key point that Larry Summers and others, myself included, have made — that even during the era of rapid credit expansion, the economy wasn’t in an inflationary boom and real interest rates were low and trending downward — suggesting that we’re turning into an economy that “needs” bubbles to achieve anything like full employment.
                                                                      But what I really want to do right now is note something else, which is visible in the Rogoff piece and in many other things one reads lately — a backward-looking view of the austerity fever that swept policymaking circles in 2010 and airbrushes out the reality of intellectual folly. You see this sort of thing when people who predicted soaring interest rates from crowding out right away now claim that they were only talking about long-term solvency; when people who issued dire warnings about runaway inflation say that they were only suggesting a risk, or maybe talking about financial stability; and so on down the line.
                                                                      So, in Rogoff’s version of austerity fever all that was really going on was that policymakers were excessively optimistic, counting on a V-shaped recovery; all would have been well if they had read their Reinhart-Rogoff on slow recoveries following financial crises.
                                                                      Sorry, but no — that’s not how it happened. ...

                                                                        Posted by on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 06:51 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (44) 

                                                                        'Spoofing in an Algorithmic Ecosystem'

                                                                        Rajiv Sethi comments on the charge that Navinder Singh Sarao manipulated prices through "spoofing":

                                                                        Spoofing in an Algorithmic Ecosystem: A London trader recently charged with price manipulation appears to have been using a strategy designed to trigger high-frequency trading algorithms. Whether he used an algorithm himself is beside the point: he made money because the market is dominated by computer programs responding rapidly to incoming market data, and he understood the basic logic of their structure.

                                                                        Specifically, Navinder Singh Sarao is accused of having posted large sell orders that created the impression of substantial fundamental supply in the S&P E-mini futures contract:

                                                                        The authorities said he used a variety of trading techniques designed to push prices sharply in one direction and then profit from other investors following the pattern or exiting the market.

                                                                        The DoJ said by allegedly placing multiple, simultaneous, large-volume sell orders at different price points — a technique known as “layering”— Mr Sarao created the appearance of substantial supply in the market.
                                                                        Layering is a type of spoofing, a strategy of entering bids or offers with the intent to cancel them before completion.

                                                                        Who are these "other investors" that followed the pattern or exited the market? Surely not the fundamental buyers and sellers placing orders based on an analysis of information about the companies of which the index is composed. Such investors would not generally be sensitive to the kind of order book details that Sarao was trying to manipulate (though they may buy or sell using algorithms sensitive to trading volume in order to limit market impact). Furthermore, as Andrei Kirilenko and his co-authors found in a transaction level analysis, fundamental buyers and sellers account for a very small portion of daily volume in this contract.

                                                                        As far as I can tell, the strategies that Sarao was trying to trigger were high-frequency trading programs that combine passive market making with aggressive order anticipation based on privileged access and rapid responses to incoming market data. Such strategies correspond to just one percent of accounts on this exchange, but are responsible for almost half of all trading volume and appear on one or both sides of almost three-quarters of traded contracts.

                                                                        The most sophisticated algorithms would have detected Sarao's spoofing and may even have tried to profit from it, but less nimble ones would have fallen prey. In this manner he was able to syphon off a modest portion of HFT profits, amounting to about four million dollars over four years.

                                                                        What is strange about this case is the fact that spoofing of this kind is, to quote one market observer, as common as oxygen. It is frequently used and defended against within the high frequency trading community. So why was Sarao singled out for prosecution? I suspect that it was because his was a relatively small account, using a simple and fairly transparent strategy. Larger firms that combine multiple strategies with continually evolving algorithms will not display so clear a signature. 

                                                                        It's important to distinguish Sarao's strategy from the ecology within which it was able to thrive. A key feature of this ecology is the widespread use of information extracting strategies, the proliferation of which makes direct investments in the acquisition and analysis of fundamental information less profitable, and makes extreme events such as the flash crash practically inevitable.

                                                                          Posted by on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 06:48 AM in Economics, Financial System | Permalink  Comments (13) 

                                                                          Faster Productivity Growth May Not Lift Middle Class Incomes

                                                                          Jared Bernstein:

                                                                          Faster productivity growth would be great. I’m just not at all sure we can count on it to lift middle-class incomes: Recently, a number of economists and commentators have suggested that faster productivity growth would be a big way to boost the income of middle-class households. I’m all for faster productivity growth, though I’d argue no one knows how to reliably make it happen. But given the wedge of inequality between productivity and low and middle incomes, wages, and wealth, I’m skeptical that this would work as well as some think.
                                                                          So I wrote this paper exploring the issue and adding some of my own estimates. Here’s the intro...

                                                                          I tried to make a similar point here: Full Employment Alone Won’t Solve Problem of Stagnating Wages.

                                                                            Posted by on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Productivity | Permalink  Comments (80) 

                                                                            Links for 04-22-15

                                                                              Posted by on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (154) 

                                                                              Tuesday, April 21, 2015

                                                                              An Economic Agenda for Hillary Clinton

                                                                              I have a new column:

                                                                              An Economic Agenda for Hillary Clinton: As Hillary Clinton campaigns for the nomination for president, what should be on her economic agenda? Setting aside the political reality that Republicans will attempt to block most anything she tries to do, here is a list of objectives:...

                                                                                Posted by on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 06:21 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (221) 

                                                                                'Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy'

                                                                                Olivier Blanchard at Vox EU:

                                                                                Rethinking macroeconomic policy: Introduction, by Olivier Blanchard: On 15 and 16 April 2015, the IMF hosted the third conference on “Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy”. I had initially chosen as the title and subtitle “Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy III. Down in the trenches”.1 I thought of the first conference in 2011 as having identified the main failings of previous policies, the second conference in 2013 as having identified general directions, and this conference as a progress report.
                                                                                My subtitle was rejected by one of the co-organisers, namely Larry Summers. He argued that I was far too optimistic, that we were nowhere close to knowing where were going. Arguing with Larry is tough, so I chose an agnostic title, and shifted to “Rethinking Macro Policy III. Progress or confusion?”
                                                                                Where do I think we are today? I think both Larry and I are right. I do not say this for diplomatic reasons. We are indeed proceeding in the trenches. But where the trenches are eventually going remains unclear. This is the theme I shall develop in my remarks, focusing on macroprudential tools, monetary policy, and fiscal policy.

                                                                                Continue reading "'Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy'" »

                                                                                  Posted by on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 06:15 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics, Methodology | Permalink  Comments (34) 

                                                                                  'An Overwhelming Argument for Draconian Bank Regulation'

                                                                                  Paul Krugman on John Taylor's claim that deviations from his Taylor Rule caused the financial crisis:

                                                                                  ...if it’s really that easy for monetary errors to endanger financial stability — if a deviation from perfection so small that it leaves no mark on the inflation rate is nonetheless enough to produce the second-worst financial crisis in history — this is an overwhelming argument for draconian bank regulation. Modest monetary mistakes will happen, so if you believe that these mistakes caused the global financial crisis you must surely believe that we need to do whatever it takes to make the system less fragile. Strange to say, however, I don’t seem to be hearing that from Taylor or anyone else in that camp.

                                                                                    Posted by on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 06:12 AM in Economics, Financial System, Monetary Policy, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (25) 

                                                                                    Links for 04-21-15

                                                                                      Posted by on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (78) 

                                                                                      Monday, April 20, 2015

                                                                                      'Labor Market Slack and Monetary Policy'

                                                                                      Let's hope the Fed is listening:

                                                                                      Labor Market Slack and Monetary Policy, by David G. Blanchflower and Andrew T. Levin, NBER Working Paper No. 21094: In the wake of a severe recession and a sluggish recovery, labor market slack cannot be gauged solely in terms of the conventional measure of the unemployment rate (that is, the number of individuals who are not working at all and actively searching for a job). Rather, assessments of the employment gap should reflect the incidence of underemployment (that is, people working part time who want a full-time job) and the extent of hidden unemployment (that is, people who are not actively searching but who would rejoin the workforce if the job market were stronger). In this paper, we examine the evolution of U.S. labor market slack and show that underemployment and hidden unemployment currently account for the bulk of the U.S. employment gap. Next, using state-level data, we find strong statistical evidence that each of these forms of labor market slack exerts significant downward pressure on nominal wages. Finally, we consider the monetary policy implications of the employment gap in light of prescriptions from Taylor-style benchmark rules.

                                                                                      [Open link]

                                                                                        Posted by on Monday, April 20, 2015 at 11:42 AM in Academic Papers, Economics, Monetary Policy, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (136) 

                                                                                        'Credit Supply and the Housing Boom'

                                                                                        This is from the Liberty Street Economics Blog at the NY Fed:

                                                                                        Credit Supply and the Housing Boom, by Alejandro Justiniano, Giorgio Primiceri, and Andrea Tambalotti: There is no consensus among economists as to what drove the rise of U.S. house prices and household debt in the period leading up to the recent financial crisis. In this post, we argue that the fundamental factor behind that boom was an increase in the supply of mortgage credit, which was brought about by securitization and shadow banking, along with a surge in capital inflows from abroad. This argument is based on the interpretation of four macroeconomic developments between 2000 and 2006 provided by a general equilibrium model of housing and credit.
                                                                                        The financial crisis precipitated the worst recession since the Great Depression. The spectacular rise in house prices and household debt during the first half of the 2000s, which is illustrated in the first two charts, was a crucial factor behind these events. Yet, economists disagree on the fundamental causes of this credit and housing boom.

                                                                                        Real House Prices

                                                                                        Household Mortgages-to-GDP Ratio

                                                                                        A common narrative attributes the surge in debtand house prices to a loosening of collateral requirements for mortgages, associated with higher initial loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, multiple mortgages on the same property, and expansive home equity lines of credit.
                                                                                        The fact that collateral requirements became looser, at least for certain borrowers, is fairly uncontroversial. But can higher LTVs account for the unprecedented increase in house prices and debt, while remaining consistent with other macroeconomic developments during the same period?
                                                                                        Two facts suggest that the answer to this question is no. First, if the relaxation of collateral constraints had been widespread, it should have resulted in a surge of mortgage debt relative to the value of real estate. In the data, however, household debt and real estate values rose in tandem, leaving their ratio roughly unchanged over the first half of the 2000s, as shown in the chart below. In fact, this ratio only spiked when home prices tumbled, starting in 2006.

                                                                                        Household Mortgages-to-Real Estate Ratio

                                                                                        Second, more relaxed collateral requirements make it possible for the borrowers to demand more credit. Therefore, interest rates should rise to convince the lenders to satisfy this additional demand. In the data, however, real mortgage interest rates fell during the 2000s, as shown below in the fourth chart.

                                                                                        Real Mortgage Interest Rates

                                                                                        The fall in mortgage interest rates depicted in the fourth chart points to a shift in credit supply as an alternative explanation of the credit and housing boom of the early 2000s. We develop this hypothesis within a simple general equilibrium model in Justiniano, Primiceri, and Tambalotti (2015).
                                                                                        In the model, borrowing is limited by a collateral constraint linked to real estate values. Changes to this constraint, such as when the maximum LTV increases, shift the demand for credit. On the lending side, there is a limit to the amount of funds that savers can direct toward mortgage finance, which is equivalent to a leverage restriction on financial intermediaries. Changes to this constraint shift the supply of credit.
                                                                                        Lending constraints capture a host of technological and institutional factors that restrain the flow of savings into the mortgage market. Starting in the late 1990s, the explosion of securitization together with changes in the regulatory environment lowered many of these barriers, increasing the supply of mortgage credit.
                                                                                        The pooling and tranching of mortgages into mortgage-backed securities (MBS) played a central role in loosening lending constraints through several channels. First, tranching creates highly rated assets out of pools of risky mortgages. These assets can then be purchased by those institutional investors that are restricted by regulation to hold only fixed-income securities with high ratings. As a result, the boom in securitization channeled into mortgages a large pool of savings that had previously been directed toward other safe assets, such as government bonds. Second, investing in these senior MBS tranches freed up intermediary capital, owing to their lower regulatory charges. This form of “regulatory arbitrage” allowed banks to increase leverage without raising new capital, expanding their ability to supply credit to mortgage markets. Third, securitization allowed banks to convert illiquid loans into liquid funds, reducing their funding costs and hence increasing their capacity to lend.
                                                                                        International factors also played an important role in increasing the supply of funds available to American home buyers, as global saving flowed into U.S. safe assets, including agency MBS, before the financial crisis (Bernanke, Bertaut, Pounder, DeMarco, and Kamin 2011).
                                                                                        The fifth chart plots the effects of a relaxation of lending constraints in our model. When savers and financial institutions are less restricted in their lending, the supply of credit increases and interest rates fall. Since access to credit requires collateral, the increased availability of funds at lower interest rates makes the existing collateral—houses—scarcer and hence more valuable. As a result of higher real estate values, borrowers can increase their debt, even though their debt-to-collateral ratio remains unchanged. These responses of debt, house prices, aggregate leverage, and mortgage rates match well the empirical facts illustrated in the previous four charts. We conclude from this experiment that a shift in credit supply, associated with looser lending constraints, was the fundamental driver of the credit and housing boom that preceded the Great Recession.

                                                                                        Response to a Change in the Lending-Limit

                                                                                        This interpretation of the sources of the credit and housing boom is consistent with the microeconometric evidence presented in the influential work of Mian and Sufi (2009, 2010). They show that an expansion in credit supply was the fundamental driver of the surge in household debt and that borrowing against the increased value of real estate accounts for a significant fraction of this build-up in debt.
                                                                                         Our model, by providing a theoretical perspective on the important factors behind the financial crisis, should prove useful as a framework to study policies that might prevent a repeat of this experience.

                                                                                        The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.

                                                                                          Posted by on Monday, April 20, 2015 at 09:04 AM in Economics, Financial System, Housing | Permalink  Comments (16) 

                                                                                          Paul Krugman: Greece on the Brink

                                                                                          Is there any hope for Greece?:

                                                                                          Greece on the Brink, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... At the end of 2009 Greece faced a crisis driven by two factors: High debt, and inflated costs and prices that left the country uncompetitive.
                                                                                          Europe responded with loans that kept the cash flowing, but only on condition that Greece pursue extremely painful policies. These included spending cuts and tax hikes that, if imposed on the United States, would amount to $3 trillion a year. There were also wage cuts on a scale that’s hard to fathom, with average wages down 25 percent from their peak.
                                                                                          These immense sacrifices were supposed to produce recovery. Instead, the destruction of purchasing power deepened the slump, creating Great Depression-level suffering and a huge humanitarian crisis. ...
                                                                                          It has been an endless nightmare... Can Greek exit from the euro be avoided?
                                                                                          Yes, it can. The irony of Syriza’s victory is that it came just at the point when a workable compromise should be possible. ...
                                                                                          By late 2014 Greece had managed to eke out a small “primary” budget surplus... That’s all that creditors can reasonably demand... Meanwhile, all those wage cuts have made Greece competitive on world markets — or would ... if some stability can be restored.
                                                                                          The shape of a deal is therefore clear: basically, a standstill on further austerity, with Greece agreeing to make significant but not ever-growing payments to its creditors. Such a deal would set the stage for economic recovery, perhaps slow at the start, but finally offering some hope.
                                                                                          But right now that deal doesn’t seem to be coming together..., creditors are demanding things — big cuts in pensions and public employment — that a newly elected government of the left simply can’t agree to, as opposed to reforms like an improvement in tax enforcement that it can. ...
                                                                                          To make things even worse, political uncertainty is hurting tax receipts, probably causing that hard-earned primary surplus to evaporate. The sensible thing, surely, is to show some patience on that front: if and when a deal is reached, uncertainty will subside and the budget should improve... But in the pervasive atmosphere of distrust, patience is in short supply.
                                                                                          It doesn’t have to be this way. True, avoiding a full-blown crisis would require that creditors advance a significant amount of cash, albeit cash that would immediately be recycled into debt payments. But consider the alternative. The last thing Europe needs is for fraying tempers to bring on yet another catastrophe, this one completely gratuitous.

                                                                                            Posted by on Monday, April 20, 2015 at 07:28 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (45) 

                                                                                            Links for 04-20-15

                                                                                              Posted by on Monday, April 20, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (139) 

                                                                                              Sunday, April 19, 2015

                                                                                              'How Immigrants and Job Mobility Help Low-Skilled Workers'

                                                                                              From Vox EU:

                                                                                              How immigrants and job mobility help low-skilled workers, by Mette Foged, Giovanni Peri: Existing studies – largely based on the analyses of large immigration episodes (e.g. Friedberg 2001, Card 1991), and the experience of the US and the UK (Ottaviano and Peri 2012, Manacorda et al 2012) – show that immigration can be absorbed with small changes in employment and wages of natives.

                                                                                              Theories of native-immigrant complementarities (as described in Lewis 2013) and of efficient task specialisation (as proposed in Peri and Sparber 2009) have been articulated in order to explain those findings. They suggest that:

                                                                                              • The inflow of low-skilled immigrants may encourage natives to upgrade and adjust their jobs taking advantage of immigrant-native complementarity as those two groups specialise in different occupations.

                                                                                              Critics of those studies, however, argue that lacking a genuine random supply shock to the distribution of immigrants and without the ability of following native workers over time one cannot establish the causality of that relationship. Moreover, some argue that European labour markets are different and those results cannot be extended to immigration in Europe.

                                                                                              New evidence

                                                                                              Our new research provides a cleaner and more convincing test of the causal effect of low-skilled immigrants on labour market outcomes of natives (Foged and Peri 2015). In it we use a panel of all residents of Denmark between 1991 and 2008 and exploit an exogenous dispersion of refugees across Danish municipalities and a later surge in immigrants to track how such exogenous shock affected native workers. We focus especially on the effects on workers at the low end of the wage and income spectrum, specifically the less educated and those who were young and with low job-tenure.

                                                                                              An ideal setting: Dispersal policy and immigration surge in Denmark

                                                                                              Immigrants represented a limited share (three percent or less) of total employment in Denmark until 1994, equally divided between those from EU countries and those from other countries. Refugees were distributed across municipalities between 1986 and 1998 following the Spatial Dispersal Policy (Damm 2009). This policy implied that the Danish Refugee Council, independently of the economic characteristics and preferences of the refugees, distributed them across municipalities based only on information on their nationality and family size. The goal of the dispersal policy was to distribute the total of the refugees uniformly across municipalities and to provide them with housing for a year (hence most of them accepted the offer). Clusters of refugees from specific countries in specific municipalities were generated by the dispersal due to the timing of their arrival and house availability when they arrived. These clusters were completely uncorrelated to the labour market conditions of the municipalities and to the economic characteristics of the immigrants.

                                                                                              Then, beginning in 1995, the presence of non-EU immigrants had a rapid surge. In particular, as shown in Figure 1, immigrant inflows from specific refugee-sending countries experienced a strong and sudden increase due to a sequence of international conflicts (Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq).

                                                                                              Figure 1. Refugee-country immigrants in Denmark

                                                                                              Peri fig1 17 apr

                                                                                              Notes: Growth in immigrant populations since 1 January 1995 from major source countries for refugee inflows between 1986-1998 and from Eastern Europe.

                                                                                              When the dispersal policy was phased out and family reunification became the main channel of entry between 1995 and 1998, the location of those new immigrants from refugee countries was driven by their inclination to locate near the communities of co-nationals formed earlier by the dispersal policy. This unique combination of events provides us with an ideal random supply shock to immigrants. This shock is represented by the increase of refugee-country immigrants after 1995, distributed to the municipalities that experienced dispersal-driven clustering of these refugee-country immigrants between 1986 and 1995.

                                                                                              Labour market effects on the less educated

                                                                                              The refugee-country immigrants were quite representative of non-European immigrants in terms of their education and skills. Forty to fifty percent of them did not have post-secondary education (only 32% of natives did not). Similarly, the more basic occupations (‘sales and elementary service occupations’) employed 13% of these immigrants and only 4% of the natives. In particular, by measuring the ‘manual skill’ content of occupations, we establish that refugee-country immigrants, as typical of non-European immigrants, were in large part concentrated in manual-intensive occupations.

                                                                                              In our analysis, we first test how non-college educated native workers responded to an increase of refugee-country immigrants.

                                                                                              • We find that, especially for native workers who moved across establishments, refugee-country immigrants spurred significant occupational mobility and increased specialisation into complex jobs, using more intensively analytical and communication skills and less intensively manual skills.

                                                                                              This upgrade to less manual intensive and more complex jobs was accompanied by a significant wage increase. Certainly the high job mobility, facilitated by the flexibility and competitiveness of the Danish labour market, were key catalysts for the observed native workers’ response.

                                                                                              A clean way to visualise the effect on native outcomes is Figure 2 that shows a difference-in-difference representation of the effect of exposure to refugee-country immigration. The figure plots the difference in job complexity and hourly wage between less educated natives in municipalities with large and small (top and bottom quartile) increases in refugee-country immigrants as determined by the dispersal policy and the post-1994 surge (1994 is year 0). We see that the differences in occupation complexity (panel A) and wages (panel E) for low-skilled natives increased significantly after 1994 in favour of the municipalities that received the surge of refugee-country immigrants.

                                                                                              Figure 2. The short- and long-run differences in native outcomes
                                                                                              in a high-versus-low immigration municipality

                                                                                              Peri fig2 17 apr

                                                                                              Notes: Parameter estimates and 95% confidence limits on the difference in outcomes between the upper and lower quartile of immigrant exposure.

                                                                                              The figures (and regression results in the study) suggest that the complexity index increased with 3% more and wages increased up to 2% more for low-skilled natives in high exposed municipalities (with a 1.6 percentage point increase in the refugee immigrant share) relative to the less exposed municipalities. This took place over 13 years and it appears to be a permanent positive change.
                                                                                              We then focus on the groups with lower wage and higher probability of unemployment, namely those who were young and had a low-tenure job as of 1994 and we compare their performance between high and low refugee-immigration municipalities. These groups are also those with larger potential lifetime gains from changing occupation and upgrading. And in fact, for those groups, job complexity and wages increased the most. Older (over 45 years of age) and long-tenured workers did not take advantage of immigration complementarity, did not experience a wage growth, and some may have retired earlier.
                                                                                              Summary and concluding remarks
                                                                                              Overall, our study finds that a labour market that encourages occupational mobility and allows low-skilled immigrants can generate an effective mechanism to produce upward wage and skill mobility of less educated natives, especially the young and low-tenure ones.
                                                                                              Card, D (1990) “The impact of the Mariel boatlift on the Miami labor market”, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, vol. 43(2), pages 245-257, January.
                                                                                              Damm, A P (2009), “Determinants of recent immigrants' location choices: quasi-experimental evidence”, Journal of Population Economics 22 (1):145-174.
                                                                                              Foged, M and G Peri (2015), “Immigrants’ Effect on Native Workers: New Analysis on Longitudinal Data”, IZA Discussion Paper No. 8961
                                                                                              Rachel M F (2001), “The Impact Of Mass Migration On The Israeli Labor Market”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1373-1408, November.
                                                                                              Lewis, E (2013), “Immigration and Production Technology”, Annual Review of Economics 5 (1):165-191.
                                                                                              Manacorda M, A Manning and J Wadsworth (2012), “The Impact Of Immigration On The Structure Of Wages: Theory And Evidence From Britain”, Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 120-151, 02.
                                                                                              Ottaviano, G I P and G Peri (2012), “Rethinking the Effect of Immigration on Wages”, Journal of the European Economic Association 10 (1):152-197.
                                                                                              Peri, G and C Sparber (2009), “Task Specialization, Immigration and Wages”, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1 (3):135-169.

                                                                                                Posted by on Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 05:39 AM in Economics, Immigration | Permalink  Comments (15) 

                                                                                                The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Poverty


                                                                                                  Posted by on Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  Comments (16) 

                                                                                                  Links for 04-19-15

                                                                                                    Posted by on Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (172) 

                                                                                                    Saturday, April 18, 2015

                                                                                                    'Are We Kidding Ourselves on Competition?'

                                                                                                    This seems implausible to me, yet there seems to be evidence for it:

                                                                                                    Are we kidding ourselves on competition?, by Joshua Gans: ...Consider a situation where there are 10 firms in a market and they compete with one another. Now suppose that all shareholders — say because they are following the dicta of diversification — allocate their wealth in equal proportion across those 10 firms. That means that each owner of the firm — even if there are thousands of these — cares equally about each firm’s profits.
                                                                                                    So ask yourself: when those shareholders vote on the composition of boards or the management of the firm, or, importantly how the management of the firm is compensated, are they going to vote for managers who will care only about the profits of the firm they manage or about the profits more broadly? The answer is obvious: they will look to managers who manage in the interest of shareholders and so that means they care about all firm profits and not just the one of their own firm.
                                                                                                    In a world where shareholders can get what they want, we won’t have competition in this outcome but, more likely, a collusive outcome. What is more, the firms won’t have to go to all the difficulty of violating antitrust laws to obtain this outcome, they will do it unilaterally. There are no laws against that. ...
                                                                                                    Now this isn’t just speculation. Jose Azar, an economist now at Charles River Associates, did his Princeton PhD on this topic. His theory paper is here and it builds on others including Gordon (1990), Hansen and Lott (1995) and O’Brien and Salop (2000). Frank Wolak and I came up with a similar set of issues related to cross-ownership and hedging in electricity markets (for vertical ownership) and verified anti-competitive consequences arising from this. But Azar, along with Martin Schmalz and Isabel Tecu have demonstrated that cross-ownership has anti-competitive impacts on the US airline industry. They find that cross ownership increases US airline prices 3–5%. When they use the event whereby BlackRock acquired Barclays Global Investors (a merger changing the shares of common ownership in airlines), they found such ownership could indicate 10% bumps in pricing with US airline ticket prices rising by 0.6% as a result of that merger alone. ...
                                                                                                    The point here is that we cannot really ignore this issue as economists or as policy-makers. We have “known” about it for decades. Now’s the time to take it seriously.

                                                                                                    [There's a bit more in the original post.]

                                                                                                      Posted by on Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 10:08 AM in Economics, Market Failure, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (39)