- Oregon Legislature Passes That Guards Workers' Social Media Passwords - OPB News
- A PERS bill for a slain corrections officer: Oregon Legislature today - OregonLive.com
- Ore. bill guards workers' social media passwords - Statesman Journal
- Revenue forecast shines, but no deal on PERS, taxes at Oregon Legislature - OregonLive.com
- Oregon Legislature passes bill guarding workers' social media passwords - OregonLive.com
- Old-fashioned Austerity - Paul Krugman
- The 1 Percent Are Only Half the Problem - NYT
- Unconventional Monetary Policies - The Irish Economy
- For Stock-Picking Advice, Don’t Ask an Economist - Greg Mankiw
- The Week Ahead: Ready for Some Fedspeak? - Dash of Insight
- Cookbook Econometrics - Reprise - Dave Giles
- Stein's Paradox (Statistics) - Normal Deviate
- The Liquidationist Urge - Paul Krugman
George Hall and Thomas Sargent advise Republicans who support the idea of debt prioritization to "ponder the actions" of Hamilton, Madison, and Grant:Fiscal prioritisation: Lessons from three wars, by George Hall, Thomas J. Sargent, Vox EU: With the temporary suspension on the US Treasury’s statutory debt limit set to expire in late May, Republicans in the US House of Representatives have advanced the idea of debt prioritization. This proposal, put forward in the Full Faith and Credit Act (HR 807), would "require that the government prioritize all obligations on the debt held by the public in the event that the debt limit is reached”. Specifically, as an alternative to increasing the debt limit, the Secretary of the Treasury would be instructed to pay the principal and interest on Treasury securities held by public and the Social Security trust fund before paying the government’s other obligations. Hence the government would honor some of its promises (e.g. those to its bond holders) while threatening to break some of its promises to others (e.g. those to veterans and Medicare recipients expecting payments). This is hardly the first time that the US government has faced the question of whether it should discriminate among its different promises (see Hall and Sargent 2013). In 1868, immediately following the Civil War, the US faced what seemed a crushing debt burden with outstanding Treasury obligations exceeding 35% of GDP. While this may seem low by today’s standards, tax receipts as a share of GDP at the height of the war barely exceed 5% and fell to 3% immediately after war. Hence, debt was roughly ten times tax receipts. Today, the quantity of debt held by the public is between four and five times tax receipts. In order to create sufficient fiscal space to allow the government to rebuild the war-torn South and to honor the long-term pension obligations to Union soldiers and their families, many advocated discriminating across different classes of government creditors. None other than the president at the time, Andrew Johnson, stated in his 1868 Annual Message to Congress: “Various plans have been proposed for the payment of the public debt. However they may have varied as to the time and mode in which it should be redeemed, there seems to be a general concurrence as to the propriety and justness of a reduction in the present rate of interest. … The lessons of the past admonish the lender that it is not well to be over-anxious in exacting from the borrower rigid compliance to the letter of the bond”. ‘Lessons of the past’ What were these ’lessons of the past’ that might suggest less than rigid compliance to previous promises? Prior to the Civil War, the US had fought three major wars. Two of these wars, the Revolutionary War and The War of 1812, had also led to fiscal crises. In 1790, during the US’ first fiscal crisis, then Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton crafted a plan to restructure the Continental and state debts incurred in the course of the Revolutionary War. Under this plan, Hamilton gave first priority to foreign creditors, paying off Dutch creditors in full (see Table 9 of Garber 1991). Hamilton then reduced the promised interest payments to domestic bondholders while preserving their promised principal payments. This reduction in the interest rate was a form of repudiation, though perhaps Hamilton repudiated less than had been expected during the 1780s, earning him substantial gratitude from 1780s speculators. But not all government creditors fared so well. Holders of Continental Dollars received only 1% of their face value. Clearly Hamilton’s plan enhanced the credit of the new nation, but it was not until the resolution of the second US fiscal crisis that government debt would consistently trade at par. And it would not be for another 70 years that the Treasury could credibly issue paper money. Fast forward 25 years and the Federal government faced a second fiscal crisis during the War of 1812. During this conflict, the value of US Treasury bonds fell to 75 cents on the dollar as many creditors were unwilling to support an unpopular war and saw the nation’s capital burned to the ground. Despite this difficultly in borrowing, President James Madison resisted resorting to the mainstay of the American Revolution – an inflation tax – in financing the war and, in years following the war, awarded outsized positive returns to all holders of US debt. Late 1860s advocates of `lowering ex post interest rates' to be paid to Union creditors might legitimately appeal to Alexander Hamilton as an example; but they could not appeal to the precedent set by the Madison administration and its successors. While President Johnson advocated prioritizing government obligations so that bond holders would receive less then was promised, the 1868 Republican presidential candidate and former Union general Ulysses S Grant argued that to protect the nation’s honor, every dollar of government indebtedness should be paid in full. After winning the presidency, Grant stated: “no repudiator of one farthing of our public debt will be trusted in public place”. And as its very first act following the inauguration, the Congress passed ‘An Act to Strengthen the Public Credit’ committing the Treasury not to discriminate among different classes of creditors. The fact that the US government honored in full all of its obligations after the War of 1812 – including those to British creditors – established precedents that led President Grant and the Congress to preside over a period of post-Civil War deflation. This deflation had the effect of rewarding people who held Union obligations throughout the war, and by 1879, people trusted US government nominal promises to be ‘as good as gold’ for the first time in the country’s history. Alexander Hamilton discriminated among different classes of federal obligations – paying some in full while partially repudiating others. After Hamilton’s restructuring, Treasury debt traded at a discount relative to its par value for nearly 30 years. Contemporary advocates of engaging in fiscal discrimination might ponder the actions of Presidents Madison and Grant, who honored all existing federal obligations despite challenging fiscal conditions. References Garber, Peter (1991), “Alexander Hamilton’s Market Based Debt Reduction Plan”, Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy 35, 79–104. Hall, George J and Thomas J Sargent (2013), "Fiscal Discriminations in Three Wars", NBER Working Papers 19008, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is an optimist when it comes to our long-run economic prospects (i.e. he does not endorse the notion that productivity is slowing). I'm with him. (This is a graduation speech Bernanke gave at Bard College at Simon's Rock, Great Barrington, Massachusetts):Economic Prospects for the Long Run: Let me start by congratulating the graduates and their parents. The word "graduate" comes from the Latin word for "step." Graduation from college is only one step on a journey, but it is an important one and well worth celebrating. I think everyone here appreciates what a special privilege each of you has enjoyed in attending a unique institution like Simon's Rock. It is, to my knowledge, the only "early college" in the United States; many of you came here after the 10th or 11th grade in search of a different educational experience. And with only about 400 students on campus, I am sure each of you has felt yourself to be part of a close-knit community. Most important, though, you have completed a curriculum that emphasizes creativity and independent critical thinking, habits of mind that I am sure will stay with you. What's so important about creativity and critical thinking? There are many answers. I am an economist, so I will answer by talking first about our economic future--or your economic future, I should say, because each of you will have many years, I hope, to contribute to and benefit from an increasingly sophisticated, complex, and globalized economy. My emphasis today will be on prospects for the long run. In particular, I will be looking beyond the very real challenges of economic recovery that we face today--challenges that I have every confidence we will overcome--to speak, for a change, about economic growth as measured in decades, not months or quarters. Many factors affect the development of the economy, notably among them a nation's economic and political institutions, but over long periods probably the most important factor is the pace of scientific and technological progress. Between the days of the Roman Empire and when the Industrial Revolution took hold in Europe, the standard of living of the average person throughout most of the world changed little from generation to generation. For centuries, many, if not most, people produced much of what they and their families consumed and never traveled far from where they were born. By the mid-1700s, however, growing scientific and technical knowledge was beginning to find commercial uses. Since then, according to standard accounts, the world has experienced at least three major waves of technological innovation and its application. The first wave drove the growth of the early industrial era, which lasted from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s. This period saw the invention of steam engines, cotton-spinning machines, and railroads. These innovations, by introducing mechanization, specialization, and mass production, fundamentally changed how and where goods were produced and, in the process, greatly increased the productivity of workers and reduced the cost of basic consumer goods. The second extended wave of invention coincided with the modern industrial era, which lasted from the mid-1800s well into the years after World War II. This era featured multiple innovations that radically changed everyday life, such as indoor plumbing, the harnessing of electricity for use in homes and factories, the internal combustion engine, antibiotics, powered flight, telephones, radio, television, and many more. The third era, whose roots go back at least to the 1940s but which began to enter the popular consciousness in the 1970s and 1980s, is defined by the information technology (IT) revolution, as well as fields like biotechnology that improvements in computing helped make possible. Of course, the IT revolution is still going on and shaping our world today. Now here's a question--in fact, a key question, I imagine, from your perspective. What does the future hold for the working lives of today's graduates? The economic implications of the first two waves of innovation, from the steam engine to the Boeing 747, were enormous. These waves vastly expanded the range of available products and the efficiency with which they could be produced. Indeed, according to the best available data, output per person in the United States increased by approximately 30 times between 1700 and 1970 or so, growth that has resulted in multiple transformations of our economy and society.1 History suggests that economic prospects during the coming decades depend on whether the most recent revolution, the IT revolution, has economic effects of similar scale and scope as the previous two. But will it? I must report that not everyone thinks so. Indeed, some knowledgeable observers have recently made the case that the IT revolution, as important as it surely is, likely will not generate the transformative economic effects that flowed from the earlier technological revolutions.2 As a result, these observers argue, economic growth and change in coming decades likely will be noticeably slower than the pace to which Americans have become accustomed. Such an outcome would have important social and political--as well as economic--consequences for our country and the world. This provocative assessment of our economic future has attracted plenty of attention among economists and others as well. Does it make sense? Here's one way to think more concretely about the argument that the pessimists are making: Fifty years ago, in 1963, I was a nine-year-old growing up in a middle-class home in a small town in South Carolina. As a way of getting a handle on the recent pace of economic change, it's interesting to ask how my family's everyday life back then differed from that of a typical family today. Well, if I think about it, I could quickly come up with the Internet, cellphones, and microwave ovens as important conveniences that most of your families have today that my family lacked 50 years ago. Health care has improved some since I was young; indeed, life expectancy at birth in the United States has risen from 70 years in 1963 to 78 years today, although some of this improvement is probably due to better nutrition and generally higher levels of income rather than advances in medicine alone. Nevertheless, though my memory may be selective, it doesn't seem to me that the differences in daily life between then and now are all that large. Heating, air conditioning, cooking, and sanitation in my childhood were not all that different from today. We had a dishwasher, a washing machine, and a dryer. My family owned a comfortable car with air conditioning and a radio, and the experience of commercial flight was much like today but without the long security lines. For entertainment, we did not have the Internet or video games, as I mentioned, but we had plenty of books, radio, musical recordings, and a color TV (although, I must acknowledge, the colors were garish and there were many fewer channels to choose from). The comparison of the world of 1963 with that of today suggests quite substantial but perhaps not transformative economic change since then. But now let's run this thought experiment back another 50 years, to 1913 (the year the Federal Reserve was created by the Congress, by the way), and compare how my grandparents and your great-grandparents lived with how my family lived in 1963. Life in 1913 was simply much harder for most Americans than it would be later in the century. Many people worked long hours at dangerous, dirty, and exhausting jobs--up to 60 hours per week in manufacturing, for example, and even more in agriculture. Housework involved a great deal of drudgery; refrigerators, freezers, vacuum cleaners, electric stoves, and washing machines were not in general use, which should not be terribly surprising since most urban households, and virtually all rural households, were not yet wired for electricity. In the entertainment sphere, Americans did not yet have access to commercial radio broadcasts and movies would be silent for another decade and a half. Some people had telephones, but no long-distance service was available. In transportation, in 1913 Henry Ford was just beginning the mass production of the Model T automobile, railroads were powered by steam, and regular commercial air travel was quite a few years away. Importantly, life expectancy at birth in 1913 was only 53 years, reflecting not only the state of medical science at the time--infection-fighting antibiotics and vaccines for many deadly diseases would not be developed for several more decades--but also deficiencies in sanitation and nutrition. This was quite a different world than the one in which I grew up in 1963 or in which we live today. The purpose of these comparisons is to make concrete the argument made by some economists, that the economic and technological transformation of the past 50 years, while significant, does not match the changes of the 50 years--or, for that matter, the 100 years--before that. Extrapolating to the future, the conclusion some have drawn is that the sustainable pace of economic growth and change and the associated improvement in living standards will likely slow further, as our most recent technological revolution, in computers and IT, will not transform our lives as dramatically as previous revolutions have. Well, that's sort of depressing. Is it true, then, as baseball player Yogi Berra said, that the future ain't what it used to be? Nobody really knows; as Berra also astutely observed, it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. But there are some good arguments on the other side of this debate. First, innovation, almost by definition, involves ideas that no one has yet had, which means that forecasts of future technological change can be, and often are, wildly wrong. A safe prediction, I think, is that human innovation and creativity will continue; it is part of our very nature. Another prediction, just as safe, is that people will nevertheless continue to forecast the end of innovation. The famous British economist John Maynard Keynes observed as much in the midst of the Great Depression more than 80 years ago. He wrote then, "We are suffering just now from a bad attack of economic pessimism. It is common to hear people say that the epoch of enormous economic progress which characterised the 19th century is over; that the rapid improvement in the standard of life is now going to slow down."3 Sound familiar? By the way, Keynes argued at that time that such a view was shortsighted and, in characterizing what he called "the economic possibilities for our grandchildren," he predicted that income per person, adjusted for inflation, could rise as much as four to eight times by 2030. His guess looks pretty good; income per person in the United States today is roughly six times what it was in 1930. Second, not only are scientific and technical innovation themselves inherently hard to predict, so are the long-run practical consequences of innovation for our economy and our daily lives. Indeed, some would say that we are still in the early days of the IT revolution; after all, computing speeds and memory have increased many times over in the 30-plus years since the first personal computers came on the market, and fields like biotechnology are also advancing rapidly. Moreover, even as the basic technologies improve, the commercial applications of these technologies have arguably thus far only scratched the surface. Consider, for example, the potential for IT and biotechnology to improve health care, one of the largest and most important sectors of our economy. A strong case can be made that the modernization of health-care IT systems would lead to better-coordinated, more effective, and less costly patient care than we have today, including greater responsiveness of medical practice to the latest research findings.4 Robots, lasers, and other advanced technologies are improving surgical outcomes, and artificial intelligence systems are being used to improve diagnoses and chart courses of treatment. Perhaps even more revolutionary is the trend toward so-called personalized medicine, which would tailor medical treatments for each patient based on information drawn from that individual's genetic code. Taken together, such advances could lead to another jump in life expectancy and improved health at older ages. Other promising areas for the application of new technologies include the development of cleaner energy--for example, the harnessing of wind, wave, and solar power and the development of electric and hybrid vehicles--as well as potential further advances in communications and robotics. I'm sure that I can't imagine all of the possibilities, but historians of science have commented on our collective tendency to overestimate the short-term effects of new technologies while underestimating their longer-term potential.5 Finally, pessimists may be paying too little attention to the strength of the underlying economic and social forces that generate innovation in the modern world. Invention was once the province of the isolated scientist or tinkerer. The transmission of new ideas and the adaptation of the best new insights to commercial uses were slow and erratic. But all of that is changing radically. We live on a planet that is becoming richer and more populous, and in which not only the most advanced economies but also large emerging market nations like China and India increasingly see their economic futures as tied to technological innovation. In that context, the number of trained scientists and engineers is increasing rapidly, as are the resources for research being provided by universities, governments, and the private sector. Moreover, because of the Internet and other advances in communications, collaboration and the exchange of ideas take place at high speed and with little regard for geographic distance. For example, research papers are now disseminated and critiqued almost instantaneously rather than after publication in a journal several years after they are written. And, importantly, as trade and globalization increase the size of the potential market for new products, the possible economic rewards for being first with an innovative product or process are growing rapidly.6 In short, both humanity's capacity to innovate and the incentives to innovate are greater today than at any other time in history. Well, what does all this have to do with creativity and critical thinking, which is where I started? The history of technological innovation and economic development teaches us that change is the only constant. During your working lives, you will have to reinvent yourselves many times. Success and satisfaction will not come from mastering a fixed body of knowledge but from constant adaptation and creativity in a rapidly changing world. Engaging with and applying new technologies will be a crucial part of that adaptation. Your work here at Simon's Rock, and the intellectual skills, creativity, and imagination that that work has fostered, are the best possible preparation for these challenges. And while I have emphasized technological and scientific advances today, it is important to remember that the arts and humanities facilitate new and creative thinking as well, while helping us to draw meaning that goes beyond the purely material aspects of our lives. I wish you the best in facing the difficult but exciting challenges that lie ahead. Congratulations. 1. See Angus Maddison (2007), Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History (New York: Oxford University Press), table A.7, p. 382. 2. Two important examples are Tyler Cowen (2011) and Robert J. Gordon (2010, 2012); the latter reference, in particular, also contains a discussion of headwinds to growth beyond the prospects for innovation. See Tyler Cowen (2011), The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better (New York: Dutton); Robert J. Gordon (2010), "Revisiting U.S. Productivity Growth over the Past Century with a View of the Future," NBER Working Paper Series 15834 (Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, March); and Robert J. Gordon (2012), "Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds," NBER Working Paper Series 18315 (Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, August). 3. John M. Keynes (1931), "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren (1930)," inEssays in Persuasion (London: Macmillan), p. 358. 4. See Martin Neil Baily, James M. Manyika, and Shalabh Gupta (2013), "U.S. Productivity Growth: An Optimistic Perspective," International Productivity Monitor,Spring, pp. 3-12. 5. This tendency has been referred to as the first law of technology. On the potential impact of genome sequencing, see Francis Collins (2010), "Has the Revolution Arrived?"Nature, vol. 464 (April), pp.674-75. For an accessible discussion of the possibilities for life expectancy, see Stephen S. Hall (2013), "On beyond 100," National Geographic, May, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/longevity/hall-text. 6. For a discussion of the economic models of growth that build in cumulative forces of knowledge generation and the effects of expansion in the size of the market, see Charles I. Jones and Paul M. Romer (2010), "The New Kaldor Facts: Ideas, Institutions, Population, and Human Capital," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, vol. 2 (January), pp. 224-45.
Two from Tim Duy:
First, "Dollar Up":Dollar Up, by Tim Duy: The Dollar continues to gain despite the supposed "Great Debaser" Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke bringing us multiple rounds of quantitative easing:
And second, "Confidence Boom?":Confidence Boom?, by Tim Duy: The early read on the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment index jumped to 83.7 in May, up from 76.4 in April. Just a quick reminder before we get too excited - sentiment has tended to be low relative to actual spending. May's sentiment bounce just returns us to trend:
- Too Much Talk About Liquidity - Paul Krugman
- The Real Scandal and Systemic Abuse of Power - Robert Reich
- What's the Variance of a Sample Variance? - Dave Giles
- What Rational Really Means - Scientific American
- A Defense of the Financial Sector - Tim Taylor
- The “Mississippi Bubble” – Liberty Street Economics
- Optimal Monetary Policy - Supply-Side Liberal
- That 90s Show - Paul Krugman
- That Hideous Strength - Paul Krugman
- Competitive Pricing in Oregon is a Test Case for Obamacare - Kevin Drum
- Oregon's Radical Health Overhaul Blazes New Trail - Ezra Klein
- What Stimulated Markets from the 14th Century? - Gavin Kennedy
- Is There a Curse of Resources? The Case of the Cameroon - Why Nations Fail
- Is The Decline In US Budget Deficits Merely "Interesting"? - EconoSpeak
- Unleashing growth: The decline of innovation-blocking institutions - Vox EU
- Budget Office Says Obama Plan Would Cut Deficit by $1 Trillion - NYT
- Is the Stock Market Undervalued? - EconoSpeak
- Fed Officials Looking Closely at Student Debt - WSJ
Narayana Kocherlakota on how he sees the balance between keeping interest rates low for an extended time period to help with the unemployment problem (the benefit) and potential financial instability that low rates bring (the cost). He doesn't give a precise statement about how he sees the tradeoff, but does seem to indicate that he sees the benefits as being much larger than the cost. He also explains how the increased demand for safe assets and the fall in supply translates into lowered aggregate demand and the need for stimulative policy from the Fed, and concludes that "Despite its actions, the FOMC has still not lowered the real interest rate sufficiently in light of the changes in asset demand and asset supply that I’ve described." I certainly agree. (This is from a Q&A at the 61st Annual Management Conference of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.):The Key Challenges Facing Central Bankers, by Narayana Kocherlakota, President Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis: Question: What are the key challenges facing central bankers around the world today? Narayana Kocherlakota: Thanks for the question. Before answering, I should point out that my remarks today will reflect only my own views and not necessarily those of anyone else in the Federal Reserve System. In my view, the biggest challenge for central banks—especially here in the United States—is changes in the nature of asset demand and asset supply since 2007. Those changes are shaping current monetary policy—and are likely to shape policy for some time to come. Let me elaborate. The demand for safe financial assets has grown greatly since 2007. This increased demand stems from many sources, but I’ll mention what I see as the most obvious one. As of 2007, the United States had just gone through nearly 25 years of macroeconomic tranquility. As a consequence, relatively few people in the United States saw a severe macroeconomic shock as possible. However, in the wake of the Great Recession and the Not-So-Great Recovery, the story is different. Workers and businesses want to hold more safe assets as a way to self-insure against this enhanced macroeconomic risk. At the same time, the supply of the assets perceived to be safe has shrunk over the past six years. Americans—and many others around the world—thought in 2007 that it was highly unlikely that American residential land, and assets backed by land, could ever fall in value by 30 percent. They no longer think that. Similarly, investors around the world viewed all forms of European sovereign debt as a safe investment. They no longer think that either. The increase in asset demand, combined with the fall in asset supply, implies that households and firms spend less at any level of the real interest rate—that is, the interest rate net of anticipated inflation. It follows that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) can only meet its congressionally mandated objectives for employment and prices by taking actions that lower the real interest rate relative to its 2007 level. The FOMC has responded to this challenge by providing a historically unprecedented amount of monetary accommodation. But the outlook for prices and employment is that they will remain too low over the next two to three years relative to the FOMC’s objectives. Despite its actions, the FOMC has still not lowered the real interest rate sufficiently in light of the changes in asset demand and asset supply that I’ve described. The passage of time will ameliorate these changes in the asset market, but only gradually. Indeed, the low real yields on long-term TIPS bonds suggest to me that these changes are likely to persist over a considerable period of time—possibly the next five to 10 years. If this forecast proves true, the FOMC will only meet its congressionally mandated objectives over that long time frame by taking policy actions that ensure that the real interest rate remains unusually low. One challenge with this kind of policy environment—and this is closely linked to the overarching theme of this panel—is that low real interest rates are often associated with financial market phenomena that signify instability. There are many examples of such phenomena, but let me focus on a particularly important one: increased asset price volatility. When the real interest rate is unusually low, investors don’t discount the future by as much. Hence, an asset’s price becomes sensitive to information about dividends or risk premiums in what might usually have seemed like the distant future. These new sources of relevant information can lead to increased volatility, in the form of unusually large upward or downward movements in asset prices. These kinds of financial market phenomena could pose macroeconomic risks. These potentialities are best addressed, I believe, by using effective supervision and regulation of the financial sector. It is possible, though, that these tools may fail to mitigate the relevant macroeconomic risks. The FOMC could respond to any residual risk by tightening monetary policy. However, it should only do so if the certain loss in terms of the associated fall in employment and prices is outweighed by the possible benefit of reducing the risk of an even larger fall in employment and prices caused by a financial crisis. Hence, the FOMC’s decision about how to react to signs of financial instability—now and in the years to come—will necessarily depend on a delicate probabilistic cost-benefit calculation. Here’s an example of the kind of calculation that I have in mind. Last week, the Survey of Professional Forecasters reported that it saw less than one chance in 200 of the unemployment rate being higher than 9.5 percent in 2014, and an even smaller chance of the unemployment rate being that high in 2015.1 One possible cause of this kind of a large upward movement in the unemployment rate is an untoward financial shock ultimately attributable to low real interest rates. Thus, the gain to tightening monetary policy is that the FOMC may—and I emphasize the word may—be able to reduce the already low probabilities of adverse unemployment outcomes. Endnote 1 See the Survey of Professional Forecasters, page 14.
What about Marx?, by Dan Little: At various points since the death of Karl Marx in 1883 his work has been regarded as a dead issue -- no longer relevant, too ideological, methodologically flawed, too rooted in the nineteenth century. And yet each of these periods of extinction has been followed by a resurgence of interest in Marx's ideas, as new generations try to make sense of the tough and often cruel social conditions in which they find themselves. What are the important dimensions of theory that Marx presented through his writings? And how can any of these be considered valuable in trying to come to grips with the global, capitalist, turbulent, unequal, violent world that we now inhabit?
We might say that there are a small handful of key theoretical frameworks that Marx advocated.
Materialism as a methodology for social science. Social change is driven by material circumstances, the forces and relations of production. This encompasses the property system and the ensemble of technologies present in a given level of society. Materialism denies that ideas and thought drive social change; so religion, patriotism, nationalism, and ideologies of patriarchy are epiphenomena rather than originating causes.
Emphasis on the primacy of property and class. Sociologists and historians want to explain processes of social change. Marx puts it forward that the economic interests created by the property system in a given society create powerful foundations for collective social action. Those who occupy positions of advantage within a given set of property relations want to do what they can to preserve those relations; and those who are disadvantaged by the property relations have a latent interest in mobilizing to change those relations. Persons who share a location in the property system constitute a class, and their interests are systematically different from those in other such positions.
A sketch of a theory of consciousness and culture. Institutions of consciousness and culture play a role in stabilizing and attacking the most important relations of domination in a society. Educational institutions, it is argued, prepare young people for their specific roles in society -- workers, managers, elites, sub-proletarians. So struggles over the content and form of the institutions of enculturation can be expected to be polarized along class lines. Less directly, Marxists like Gramsci have postulated that worldviews reflect life experiences; so elites create cultural worlds that are quite distinct from those imagined by subordinate groups.
A diagnosis of social ills including exploitation, alienation, and dehumanization of social relations. Exploitation has to do with the flow of wealth and material goods through the property system from producers to property-owners. Alienation has to do with the loss of autonomy and self-control that individuals have within a capitalist structure. Marx's distinctive addition to this idea is that this loss of autonomy has psychic consequences -- disaffection, lack of self-respect, depression. The dehumanization of social relations follows from the structure of the capitalist workplace -- workers and bosses, each related to the other through the workings of a command system. Wittgentstein got it right when he described the "slab" language game: the boss says "slab", and the worker produces a slab. There is nothing "I-thou" about this relation (Buber, I and Thou).
A theory of several distinct modes of production. Marx believes that history takes the form of a succession of separable and structurally distinct modes of production: ancient slavery, feudalism, and capitalism differ by the structure of the production system, the property system, and the technologies that each embodied. Marx's most extensive analysis of social formations is his treatment of the capitalist mode of production in Capital: Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy and the writings that were posthumously edited and published as volumes 2 and 3 of Capital.
A common thread through these framing ideas is the perspective of critique: a critical intelligence trying to understand why modern society produces such human misery. But even from the perspective of critique -- the perspective that tries to diagnose and understand the systemic flaws of contemporary society -- Marxism leaves quite a bit of terrain untouched: gender relations, racism, nationalism, and religious hatred, for example. Marxism doesn't do a good job of explaining a regime of sexual violence (rape in India); it doesn't have much to contribute to the rise of fascism; it doesn't have resources for understanding Islamo-phobia and hatred. So Marxism is not a comprehensive theory of modern social failings; and we might say that its emphasis on economic conflict eclipses other forms of domination in ways that are actually harmful to our ability to improve our social relations.
Geoff Boucher takes up the issue of the continuing relevance of Marx in the contemporary world in Understanding Marxism. Here is how he opens the book:
Today, radical thinking about social alternatives stands under prohibition. According to defenders of the neoliberal transformation of every facet of human existence into a market, Marxism has failed…. Marx is dead; Marxism is finished -- and it must stay that way. (1)But Boucher rejects this neoliberal consensus.
Marxism as an intellectual movement has been one of the most important and fertile contributions to twentieth-century thought. The influence of Marxism has been felt in every discipline, in the social sciences and interpretive humanities, from philosophy, through sociology and history, to literature. (2)Here are the core reasons that Boucher offers for thinking that Marxism is still relevant in the twenty-first century:
Marxism is the most serious normative social-theoretical challenge to liberal forms of freedom that does not at the same time reject the modern world.
Marxism is the most sustained effort so far to think the present historically and to reflexively grasp thought itself within its socio-historical context. (2)
Marxism is a distinctively historical theory that normatively challenges liberalism in a way no other modern theory does. (3)
Much of Boucher's book contributes to one of two intellectual aims: to give a clear exposition of the most important of Marx's theoretical ideas; and to explicate the several "Marxisms" that followed in the twentieth century. The successive Marxisms take up the bulk of the book, with chapters on Classical Marxism, Hegelian Marxism, The Frankfurt School, Structural Marxism, Analytical Marxism, Critical Theory, and Post-Marxism. So the book provides very extensive explication of the theoretical ideas and developments that have grown out of the Marxist tradition.
What Boucher doesn't really provide is a clear rationale, based on contemporary sociology and history, for the conclusions he wants us to share about the continuing utility of Marxism as a framework for understanding the present and future. We don't get the reasoning that would support the affirmative ideas expressed above. The best rebuttal to the neoliberal triumphalism mentioned above is a compelling collection of sociological studies grounded in the perspectives mentioned above. Michael Burawoy's sociology of factories is a good example (e.g. Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process Under Monopoly Capitalism). But this isn't an approach that Boucher chooses to pursue.
So what about it? Is Marxism relevant today? Yes, if we can avoid the dogmatism and rigidity that were often associated with the tradition. Power, exploitation, class, structures of production and distribution, property relations, workplace hierarchy -- these features certainly continue to be an important part of our social world. We need to think of Marx's corpus as a multiple source of hypotheses and interpretations about how capitalism works. And we need to recognize fully that no theoretical framework captures the whole of history or society. Marxism is not a comprehensive theory of social organization and change. But it does provide a useful set of hypotheses about how some of the key social mechanisms work in a class-divided society. Seen from that perspective, Marxist thought serves as a sort of proto-paradigm or mental framework in terms of which to pursue more specific social and historical investigations.
On Thursday's data:Busy Data Day, by Tim Duy: Something of a busy data day. Not all of it pleasant, but I suspect that the Fed will attempt to see through that unpleasantness. Start with the surprise jump in initial unemployment claims: Calculated Risk has more, and notes that the incoming regional surveys suggest the next national ISM report will be weak. Manufacturing looks likely then to continue bouncing along just above the expansion/contraction mark:
This is what I think the Fed would find as the most important indicator of the day. One would think that low inflation should give the Fed pause in any consideration of tapering quantitative easing in the near future. That said, again we seem to have Federal Reserve policymakers who are discounting the low inflation numbers. San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams, in a speech today:
I expect that the decline in inflation will prove to be temporary, and that inflation will climb slowly, but stay below the Fed’s 2 percent longer-run target over the next few years.
Even though he believes that inflation will remain low for a few years (!), he still anticipates beginning the tapering process this summer:
...assuming my economic forecast holds true and various labor market indicators continue to register appreciable improvement in coming months, we could reduce somewhat the pace of our securities purchases, perhaps as early as this summer. Then, if all goes as hoped, we could end the purchase program sometime late this year.
He adds the usual caveat:
Of course, my forecast could be wrong, and we will adjust our purchases as appropriate depending on how the economy performs.
I think the lack of concern about low inflation is important. We also saw this with noted-dove Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans. Low inflation is simply having less of an impact on policymakers than would be expected.
The other reason I pay attention to Williams is that I don't see him gravitating far from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. We will hopefully learn more of Bernanke's intentions this weekend so that I can test that theory (what better day than a Saturday to provide some interesting guidance or foreshadow next week's release of the minutes of the last FOMC meeting?). UPDATE: No, probably won't be a market moving speech.
Bottom Line: I don't see much in today's data that would lead us to believe the economy is on a substantially different path. But one part of that path is low inflation, which should be meaningful to the Federal Reserve. The problem, however, is that as of yet policymakers seem rather apathetic to the low inflation readings. Apparently even lower numbers are needed to capture their attention.
- Just How Useless Is the Asset-Management Industry? - Justin Fox
- The myth of liquidity and bubbles in financial markets - Antonio Fatas
- Surprise! Inflation is too low almost everywhere on earth - Neil Irwin
- Cuddly or not, the design of worker insurance is critically important - Vox EU
- Fed’s Williams Open to Tapering Bond Purchases - WSJ
- The Sadomonetarists of Basel - Paul Krugman
- Low Demand, Low Inflation - Jared Bernstein
- Prospects for a Stronger Recovery - FRB - Raskin
- Fed’s Rosengren: Government Fiscal Policy Big Drag on Economy - WSJ
- George Akerlof on the Response to the Recession - Econbrowser
- Why Colleges Are Becoming a Force for Inequality - The Atlantic
- Key Measures show low and falling inflation in April - Calculated Risk
- The Smith/Klein/Kalecki Theory of Austerity - Paul Krugman
Another from Tim Duy:
Lumping Everything into the Wealth Effect, by Tim Duy: After posting my review of Martin Feldstein's WSJ op-ed, I waded through Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher's latest speech and found this:
The former outcome is that envisioned by the theoreticians that lead the Fed: According to this plot, by driving rates to historical lows along the entire length of the yield curve, investors will rebalance their portfolios and reach out to riskier assets, providing the financial wherewithal for businesses to increase capital expenditures and reengage workers, expand payrolls and regenerate consumption. Rising prices of bonds, stocks and other financial instruments will bolster consumer confidence. The CliffsNotes account of this play has the widely heralded “wealth effect” paving the way for economic expansion, thus saving the day.
The latter outcome posits that the wealth effect is limited, for two possible reasons. One is that our continued purchases of Treasuries are having decreasing effects on private borrowing costs, given how low long-term Treasury rates already are. Another is that the uncertainty resulting from fiscal tomfoolery is a serious obstacle to restoring full employment. Until job creators are properly incentivized by fiscal and regulatory policy to harness the cheap and abundant money we at the Fed have engineered, these funds will predominantly benefit those with the means to speculate, tilling the fields of finance for returns that are enabled by historically low rates but do not readily result in job expansion. Cheap capital inures to the benefit of the Warren Buffetts, who can discount lower hurdle rates to achieve their investors’ expectations, accumulating holdings without necessarily expanding employment or the wealth of the overall economy.
Is it just me, or is Fisher being explicitly derisive about the wealth effect? And when did we start lumping all the channels of monetary policy into the "wealth effect"? The wealth effect is but one channel of monetary policy. See something like this graphic from Frederick Mishkin's money and banking textbook:
While equity prices do operate through a number of channels, only one of those is the "wealth effect." To his credit, Fisher has a more sophisticated view of those channels than Feldstein, who appears to limit the impact of QE to the strict definition of the wealth effect:
That drives up the price of equities, leading to more consumer spending.
But even if Fisher does see the bigger picture, should he really be lumping together all the channels of monetary policy into the "wealth effect?" Doing so only feeds the bias against monetary easing by perpetuating the view it is about nothing more than creating an artificial boost of equity prices and benefiting speculators rather than stimulating the economy via a number of channels that subsequently enhance the profitability of firms and thus raises equity prices.
Of course, Fisher and Feldstein are deliberately trying to perpetuate a bias against quantitative easing. And even after all these years, I still find it odd that Fisher appears to believe his job is to undermine the institution that provides his employment.
This is from Sultan Mehmood. The article appears in the May edition of Defense and Peace Economics, which the author describes as "a highly specialized journal on conflict":Terrorism and the Macroeconomy: Evidence from Pakistan, by Sultan Mehmood, Journal of Defense and Peace Economics, May 2013: Summary: The study evaluates the macroeconomic impact of terrorism in Pakistan by utilizing terrorism data for around 40 years. Standard time-series methodology allows us to distinguish between short and long run effects, and it also avoids the aggregation problems in cross-country studies. The study is also one of the few that focuses on evaluating impact of terrorism on a developing country. The results show that cumulatively terrorism has cost Pakistan around 33.02% of its real national income over the sample period. Motivation: Studies on the impact of terrorism on the economy have exclusively focused on developed countries (see e.g. Eckstein and Tsiddon, 2004). This is surprising because developing countries are not only hardest hit by terrorism, but are more responsive to external shocks. Terrorism in Pakistan, with magnitude greater than Israel, Greece, Turkey, Spain and USA combined in terms of incidents and death count, has consistently hit news headlines across the world. Yet, terrorism in Pakistan has received relatively little academic attention. The case of Pakistan is unique for studying the impact of terrorism on the economy for a number of reasons. Firstly, Pakistan has a long and intense history of terrorism which allows one to capture the effect on the economy in the long run. Secondly, growth retarding effects of terrorism are hypothesized to be more pronounced in developing rather than developed countries (Frey et al., 2007). Thirdly, the Pakistani economy is exceptionally vulnerable to external shocks with 12 IMF programmes during 1990-2007 (IMF, 2010, 2011). Lastly, the case study of terrorism for a developing or least developing country is yet to be done. Scholars of the Copenhagen Consensus studying terrorism note the ‘need for additional case studies, especially of developing countries’ (Enders and Sandler, 2006, p. 31). This research attempts to fill this void. Main Results: The results of the econometric investigation suggest that terrorism has cost Pakistan around 33.02% of its real national income over the sample time period of 1973–2008, with the adverse impact mainly stemming from a fall in domestic investment and lost workers’ remittances from abroad. This averages to a per annum loss of around 1% of real GDP per capita growth. Moreover, estimates from a Vector Error Correction Model (VECM) show that terrorism impacts the economy primarily through medium- and long-run channels. The article also finds that the negative effect of terrorism lasts for at least two years for most of the macroeconomic variables studied, with the adverse effect on worker remittances, a hitherto ignored factor, lasting for five years. The results are robust to different lag length structures, policy variables, structural breaks and stability tests. Furthermore, it is shown that they are unlikely to be driven by omitted variables, or [Granger type] reverse causality. Hence, the article finds evidence that terrorism, particularly in emerging economies, might pose significant macroeconomic costs to the economy.
I have had several responses to my offer to post write-ups of new research that I'll be posting over the next few days (thanks!), but I thought I'd start with a forthcoming paper from a former graduate student here at the University of Oregon, Eric Guass:Robust Stability of Monetary Policy Rules under Adaptive Learning, by Eric Gaus, forthcoming, Southern Economics Journal: Adaptive learning has been used to assess the viability a variety of monetary policy rules. If agents using simple econometric forecasts "learn" the rational expectations solution of a theoretical model, then researchers conclude the monetary policy rule is a viable alternative. For example, Duffy and Xiao (2007) find that if monetary policy makers minimize a loss function of inflation, interest rates, and the output gap, then agents in a simple three equation model of the macroeconomy learn the rational expectations solution. On the other hand, Evans and Honkapohja (2009) demonstrates that this may not always be the case. The key difference between the two papers is an assumption over what information the agents of the model have access to. Duffy and Xiao (2007) assume that monetary policy makers have access to contemporaneous variables, that is, they adjust interest rates to current inflation and output. Evans and Honkapohja (2009) instead assume that agents only can form expectations of contemporaneous variables. Another difference between these two papers is that in Duffy and Xiao (2007) agents use all the past data they have access to, whereas in Evans and Honkapohja (2009) agents use a fixed window of data. This paper examines several different monetary policy rules under a learning mechanism that changes how much data agents are using. It turns out that as long as the monetary policy makers are able to see contemporaneous endogenous variables (output and inflation) then the Duffy and Xiao (2007) results hold. However, if agents and policy makers use expectations of current variables then many of the policy rules are not "robustly stable" in the terminology of Evans and Honkapohja (2009). A final result in the paper is that the switching learning mechanism can create unpredictable temporary deviations from rational expectations. This is a rather starting result since the source of the deviations is completely endogenous. The deviations appear in a model where there are no structural breaks or multiple equilibria or even an intention of generating such deviations. This result suggests that policymakers should be concerned with the potential that expectations, and expectations alone, can create exotic behavior that temporarily strays from the REE.
Michael Kinsley tries to take on Paul Krugman, but ends up showing he really doesn't know what he is talking about. For details, see:
- Seven Howlers from Michael Kinsley's Very Misguided War Against Paul Krugman - Brad DeLong
- The worst piece of conventional wisdom you will read this year - Daniel Drezner
I suppose Kinsley is just trying to do his cute contrarian thing, and show his flair as a writer, but this kind of crap does real harm. If we are going to mock people, it ought to be the people who embraced the false ideas Krugman is addressing all the while ignoring the plight of the unemployed. To me, the way so many turned their backs on the unemployed is unforgiveable and it's puzzling why Kinsley would contribute to it through this sort of false equivalency. The unemployment problem isn't even mentioned in his article, though he does say:
I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins, and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be.
Actually, solving problems today, e.g. increasing employment so that fewer people exit the labor force permanently, lowers the long-run price. In any case, who's this "we" he's talking about? Has he or any of his VSP buddies suffered as much as the long-term unemployed, some of whom may never find a job again? If we were to say you and your VSP friends need to "suffer" higher taxes in the future so we can help the unemployed today (suffer is, of course, hardly the right word to use for increasing taxes on high income households), would he be on board, or we he confound it with nonsense like he wrote in his latest article?
Dodged That Bullet, by Tim Duy: I was reading Robin Harding's take on the possible nomination of Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen for the top job at the Fed, and a chill went down my spine when he reminded me of this:
Mr Bernanke’s own appointment in 2005 was a case in point. There were several candidates that year. According to people involved, then-President George W. Bush leaned towards Martin Feldstein, a former economic adviser to Ronald Reagan.
But fate intervened:
But Mr Feldstein was a director of the insurance company AIG, which restated five years of financial results that May after an accounting scandal. Then in October, Mr Bush ran into a huge backlash after nominating his lawyer Harriet Miers, who later withdrew, to the Supreme Court.
I think we dodged a bullet there. Indeed, it might be proof of a higher power. Martin Feldstein could have been Fed chair during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Consider that in light of May 9, 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he professes that raising equity prices is the ONLY mechanism by which quantitative easing impacts the economy:
Quantitative easing, or what the Fed prefers to call long-term asset purchases, is supposed to stimulate the economy by increasing share prices, leading to higher household wealth and therefore to increased consumer spending. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has described this as the "portfolio-balance" effect of the Fed's purchase of long-term government securities instead of the traditional open-market operations that were restricted to buying and selling short-term government obligations.Here's how it is supposed to work. When the Fed buys long-term government bonds and mortgage-backed securities, private investors are no longer able to buy those long-term assets. Investors who want long-term securities therefore have to buy equities. That drives up the price of equities, leading to more consumer spending.
As might be expected, Feldstein finds this channel lacking:
...Although it is impossible to know what would happen without the central bank's asset purchases, the data imply that very little increase in GDP can be attributed to the so-called portfolio-balance effect of the Fed's actions.
Even if all of the rise in the value of household equities since quantitative easing began could be attributed to the Fed policy, the implied increase in consumer spending would be quite small. According to the Federal Reserve's Flow of Funds data, the total value of household stocks and mutual funds rose by $3.6 trillion between the end of 2009 and the end of 2012. Since past experience implies that each dollar of increased wealth raises consumer spending by about four cents, the $3.6 trillion rise in the value of equities would raise the level of consumer spending by about $144 billion over three years, equivalent to an annual increase of $48 billion or 0.3% of nominal GDP.
This 0.3% overstates the potential contribution of quantitative easing to the annual growth of GDP, since some of the increase in the value of household equities resulted from new saving and the resulting portfolio investment rather than from the rise in share prices. More important, the rise in equity prices also reflected a general increase in earnings per share and an increase in investor confidence after 2009 that the economy would not slide back into recession.
Oh my. Can Feldstein really believe that only the wealth effect channel is in operation? What about other channels that could boost activity and drive the improvements in earnings and confidence? And does Bernanke believe quantitative easing has an impact only throughthe wealth effect? I don't think that is the conclusion you reach if you read his speeches. Bernanke's description of the portfolio-balance impact is a bit more sophisticated than Feldstein's interpretation. From last year's Jackson Hole speech:
One mechanism through which such purchases are believed to affect the economy is the so-called portfolio balance channel, which is based on the ideas of a number of well-known monetary economists, including James Tobin, Milton Friedman, Franco Modigliani, Karl Brunner, and Allan Meltzer. The key premise underlying this channel is that, for a variety of reasons, different classes of financial assets are not perfect substitutes in investors' portfolios....Thus, Federal Reserve purchases of mortgage-backed securities (MBS), for example, should raise the prices and lower the yields of those securities; moreover, as investors rebalance their portfolios by replacing the MBS sold to the Federal Reserve with other assets, the prices of the assets they buy should rise and their yields decline as well. Declining yields and rising asset prices ease overall financial conditions and stimulate economic activity through channels similar to those for conventional monetary policy.
Quantitative easing acts through a variety of channels - interest rate, credit, exchange rate, etc. - just like traditional interest rate policy. And other channels as well:
Large-scale asset purchases can influence financial conditions and the broader economy through other channels as well. For instance, they can signal that the central bank intends to pursue a persistently more accommodative policy stance than previously thought, thereby lowering investors' expectations for the future path of the federal funds rate and putting additional downward pressure on long-term interest rates, particularly in real terms. Such signaling can also increase household and business confidence by helping to diminish concerns about "tail" risks such as deflation. During stressful periods, asset purchases may also improve the functioning of financial markets, thereby easing credit conditions in some sectors.
So, no, Bernanke does not view quantitative easing as acting only through equity price and related wealth effects, and no, Feldstein shouldn't either. But somehow he does, or wants to trick you into believing that Bernanke's only objective is boosting equity prices. Either way, I don't think this is the intellectual approach we should be looking for in a Fed chair.
With regards to Feldstein's claim that it is impossible to know what would have happened in the absence of quantitative easing, I think Bernanke would have something like this to say:
If we are willing to take as a working assumption that the effects of easier financial conditions on the economy are similar to those observed historically, then econometric models can be used to estimate the effects of LSAPs on the economy. Model simulations conducted at the Federal Reserve generally find that the securities purchase programs have provided significant help for the economy. For example, a study using the Board's FRB/US model of the economy found that, as of 2012, the first two rounds of LSAPs may have raised the level of output by almost 3 percent and increased private payroll employment by more than 2 million jobs, relative to what otherwise would have occurred....Overall, however, a balanced reading of the evidence supports the conclusion that central bank securities purchases have provided meaningful support to the economic recovery while mitigating deflationary risks.
Yes, like it or not, quantitative easing has been a successful policy.
I understand that in the midst of the crisis there was a significant confusion about what monetary policymakers were doing and why. But we are well past that stage. We would hope that any potential Fed chair would by now have come to an understanding about what quantitative easing is and how it works. And we should be relieved that any candidate that has not made that leap did not get the pick for the top job at the Federal Reserve.
- Snags await favourite for Fed job - FT.com
- The Real I.R.S. Scandal - NYT
- Cells as living calculators - MIT News
- Google’s Multi-Front War - Digitopoly
- Broken transmission mechanisms - Free exchange
- Why Did the U.S. Financial Sector Grow? - Tim Taylor
- Does Expanding School Choice Increase Segregation? - Brookings
- The History of Cyclical Macroprudential Policy - FRB Working Papers
- The Myth of a Perfect Orderly Liquidation for Big Banks - Economix
- Spatial Econometric Peeves (wonkish) - Greed, Green and Grains
- The CBO Is Likely Still Overestimating Future Deficits - Modeled Behavior
- Do New Keynesians need to assume (much) labour hoarding? - Nick Rowe
- Steven Pearlstein Tries to Rescue His Austerity Pushing Friends - Dean Baker
- Mark Carney will follow the Fed, not the Bank of Japan - Gavyn Davies
Paul Krugman on the recent news that the deficit is falling:About That Debt Crisis? Never Mind, by Paul Krugman: OK, another toe dipped in reality. The new CBO numbers are out, and they scream “debt crisis? What debt crisis?” ... Yes, debt rose substantially in the face of economic crisis — which is what is supposed to happen. But runaway deficits? Not a hint. Yes, there are longer-term issues of health costs and demographics. As always, however, these have no relevance to what we should be doing now... Meanwhile, our policy discourse has been dominated for years by what turns out to be a false alarm. To the millions of Americans who are out of work and may never get another job thanks to premature fiscal austerity, the VSPs would like to say, “oopsies!” Or maybe not even that. ...
It's a good scam if your goal is to reduce the size and influence of government: implement spending cuts that slow the economy, never mind the unemployed, then call loudly for tax cuts and deregulation to spur economic growth. Repeat as needed.
The previous post reminds me of an offer I've been meaning to make to try to help to publicize academic research:
If you have a paper that is about to be published in an economics journal (or was recently published), send me a summary of the research explaining the findings, the significance of the work, etc. and I'd be happy to post the write-up here. It can be micro, macro, econometrics, any topic at all, but hoping for something that goes beyond a mere echo of the abstract and I want to avoid research not yet accepted for publication (so I don't have to make a judgment on the quality of the research -- I don't always have the time to read papers carefully, and they may not be in my area of expertise).
New and contrary results on the wealth effect for housing:Homeowners do not increase consumption despite their property rising in value, EurekAlert: Although the value of our property might rise, we do not increase our consumption. This is the conclusion by economists from University of Copenhagen and University of Oxford in new research which is contrary to the widely believed assumption amongst economists that if there occurs a rise in house prices then a natural rise in consumption will follow. The results of the study is published in The Economic Journal. "We argue that leading economists should not wholly be focused on monitoring the housing market. Economists are closely watching the developments on the housing market with the expectation that house prices and household consumption tend to move in tandem, but this is not necessarily the case," says Professor of Economics at University of Copenhagen, Søren Leth-Petersen. Søren Leth-Petersen has, alongside Professor Martin Browning from University of Oxford and Associate Professor Mette Gørtz from University of Copenhagen, tested this widespread assumption of 'wealth effect' and concluded that the theory has no significant effect. Søren Leth-Petersen explains that when economists use the theory of 'wealth effect' the presumption is that older homeowners will adjust their consumption the most when house prices change whilst younger homeowners will adjust their consumption the least. However, according to this research, most homeowners do not feel richer in line with the rise of housing wealth. "Our research shows that homeowners aged 45 and over, do not increase their consumption significantly when the value of their property goes up, and this goes against the theory of 'wealth effect'. Thus, we are able to reject the theory as the connecting link between rising house prices and increased consumption," explains Søren Leth-Petersen. ... The research shows that homeowners aged 45 and over did not react significantly to the rise in house prices. However, the younger homeowners, who are typically short of finances, took the opportunity to take out additional consumption loans when given the chance. ...
Basit Zafar, Max Livingston, and Wilbert van der Klaauw examine the impact of the payroll tax cut in 2011 and 2012, and its subsequent reversal:My Two (Per)cents: How Are American Workers Dealing with the Payroll Tax Hike?, by Basit Zafar, Max Livingston, and Wilbert van der Klaauw, Liberty Street Economics, NY Fed: The payroll tax cut, which was in place during all of 2011 and 2012, reduced Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from workers’ paychecks by 2 percent. This tax cut affected nearly 155 million workers in the United States, and put an additional $1,000 a year in the pocket of an average household earning $50,000. As part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, Congress allowed the 2011-12 payroll tax cut to expire at the end of 2012, and the higher income that workers had grown accustomed to was gone. In this post, we explore the implications of the payroll tax increase for U.S. workers. The impact of such a tax hike depends on two factors. One, how did U.S. workers use the extra funds in their paychecks over the last two years? And two, how do workers plan to respond to shrinking paychecks? With regard to the first factor, in a recent working paper and an earlier blog post, we present survey evidence showing that the tax cut significantly boosted consumer spending, with workers reporting that they spent an average of 36 percent of the additional funds from the tax cut. This spending rate is at the higher end of the estimates of how much people have spent out of other tax cuts over the last decade, and is arguably a consequence of how the tax cut was designed—with disaggregated additions to workers’ paychecks instead of a one-time lump-sum transfer. We also found that workers used nearly 40 percent of the tax cut funds to pay down debt. To understand how the tax increase is affecting U.S. consumers, we conducted an online survey in February 2013. We surveyed 370 individuals through the RAND Corporation’s American Life Panel, 305 of whom were working at the time and had also worked at least part of 2012. ...
After a presentation of the survey results, and a discussion of what they mean, the authors conclude:Overall, our analysis suggests that the payroll tax cut during 2011-12 led to a substantial increase in consumer spending and facilitated the consumer deleveraging process. Based on consumers’ responses to our recent survey, expiration of the tax cuts is likely to lead to a substantial reduction in spending as well as contribute to a slowdown or possibly a reversal in the paydown of consumer debt. These effects are also likely to be heterogeneous, with groups that are more credit and liquidity constrained more likely to be adversely affected. Such nuances may be lost in the aggregate macroeconomic statistics, but they’re important for policymakers to consider as they debate fiscal policy.
In response to arguments that tax cuts wouldn't help because they would be mostly saved, I have argued that there are two ways that tax cuts can help (see Why I Changed My Mind about Tax Cuts). One is to increase spending, and the other is to help households restore household balance sheets that were demolished in the downturn (i.e. the cure for a "balance sheet recession"). The sooner this "deleveraging process" is complete, the sooner the return to normal levels of consumption and the faster the exit from the recession (rebuilding household balance sheets takes a long time and this is one of the reasons the recovery from this type of recession is so slow, tax cuts that are used to reduce debt can help this prcess along). It looks like both effects are present for payroll tax changes (and work in the wrong way with a payroll tax increase).