Even if the number had been calculated correctly, it would overstate the true cost of social insurance programs due to the failure to consider “dynamic effects.” That is, these programs don’t just provide income to struggling households in times of need, income that can have a valuable stimulative effect during economic downturns; social insurance programs are also an investment in our future. ...
Not sure why "Doesn't Work" was added to the title -- my point is that it does, if only Republicans would support it.
Explaining US Inequality Exceptionalism: Disposable income in the United States is more unequally distributed than in most other advanced countries. But why? ... Janet Gornick and Branko Milanovic at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Luxembourg Income Study Center shed light on the question, partly overturning what all of us believed until recently. They explain their findings in the first Research Brief in a new series launched on the LIS Center website.
The standard story up until now has been that the source of US inequality exceptionalism lies in the unusually low amount of redistribution we do through our tax and transfer system. ...
But can this be right? We know that the US has unusually weak unions, a low minimum wage, an exceptionally wide skills premium and, of course, an exceptionally imperial one percent. Shouldn’t all this leave some mark on market income?
What Gornick and Milanovic realized (helped by suggestions from a number of colleagues, notably Larry Mishel at EPI) was that true US market inequality might be being masked by another exceptional piece of the US system – delayed retirement, causing many older households to have positive market income where comparable households in other countries have no or very little market income. ...
To correct for this possible problem, they recalculated the numbers for households containing only persons under age 60... The US remains the most unequal nation (after taxes and transfers), but now a main driver of that inequality is market inequality. ... Indeed, America also does less redistribution than several other rich countries, European countries in particular, so that’s still part of the story, but it’s not the whole story or even most of it. ...
Inflation Expectations and Recovery from the Depression in 1933: Evidence from the Narrative Record, by Andrew Jalil and Gisela Rua, April 2015: Abstract This paper uses the historical narrative record to determine whether inflation expectations shifted during the second quarter of 1933, precisely as the recovery from the Great Depression took hold. First, by examining the historical news record and the forecasts of contemporary business analysts, we show that inflation expectations increased dramatically. Second, using an event - studies approach, we identify the impact on financial markets of the key events that shifted inflation expectations. Third, we gather new evidence — both quantitative and narrative — that indicates that the shift in inflation expectations played a causal role in stimulating the recovery.
Urbanization Passes the Pritchett Test: The data presented here convinces me that policy-induced changes in the urban share of the population could have big effects on GDP per capita and could operate on a scale that affects the quality of life for billions of people. So in research on development policy, I am not persuaded that economists should narrow their focus to the analysis of such easily evaluated micro-initiatives as funding women’s self-help groups. Neither is Lant Pritchett.
In a characteristically incisive blog post, Lant expresses skepticism about the value of micro-initiatives that are being tried as strategies for encouraging economic development because they are easy to evaluate rather than because experience suggests that they have worked at a scale that is comparable to the problem that policy should address.
He recalls his experience as a member of a team with members from many developed countries that was evaluating a program in India that financed women’s self-help groups. A woman from West Bengal who had answered their questions said to the team, “You all are from countries that are much richer and doing much better than our country so your country’s women’s self-help groups must also be much better, tell us how women’s self-help groups work in your country.” Quoting now from Lant’s account:
We all looked at each other blankly as none of us had any idea whether there even were at any time in our countries’ history such a thing as “women’s self-help groups” … (much less government program for promoting them). We also had no idea how to explain that, yes, all of our countries are now developed but no, all of our countries did this without a major role from women’s self-help groups at any time (or if there were a role we development experts were collectively ignorant of it), but yes, women’s self-help groups promote development.
Pritchett proposes a basic, four part test that economists could consider when someone claims that governments or donors should experiment with policies designed to promote variable X because more X is good for development:
1. In a contemporary cross section, do countries that are more developed have more X?
2. When we look at the few countries for which we have long historical records, do the ones that become much more developed also acquire much more X?
3. In a more recent cross-sectional comparison of growth rates, do countries that have rapid growth in X also tend to experience a rapid increase in standards of living?
4. If we look for countries that switch from a regime of slow economic development to a regime of rapid development, do we see a parallel shift in the rate of growth of change in X?
The historical question, #2, deserves a separate treatment. Here I’ll show that when we consider the urban share of the population as our candidate variable (without any attempt at correcting for the quality of urbanization) the data from many countries in the years from 1955 to 2010 give us confidence that the answer to questions 1, 3, and 4 is yes, more urbanization is associated with income per capita. ...
An excerpt from Larry Summers' prepared remarks delivered at the Brookings Institute on the 40th anniversary of Okun’s "Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff":
Okun’s Equality and Efficiency: ... For many years now, it has been the case that the income distribution has been growing much more unequal. ... Certainly because of what has happened in the economy, I would in thinking about tax policy put much more emphasis on distributional issues relative to efficiency issues than I would have during much of my career. Similarly, I believe that concern with issues relating to the cost of capital and the adverse effects of taxes in increasing it has been very legitimate at points in the past. At present, when zero interest rates make capital costs as low as they have ever been but corporate profits are at record levels, there needs to be much less concern with capital costs and more concern with the distributional aspects of capital taxation.
The same basic idea that rising inequality tips the balance between fairness and efficiency applies in other areas of policy as well. ... I would judge that he benefit cost ratio seems tilted towards minimum wage increases and towards relaxation of the rules regarding the rights of private sector workers to bargain with management.
Another area where conditions have changed over the years is with respect to policy directed at the financial sector and corporate governance. The financial sector has shown itself to be less of a source of diversification and stability and more of a source of instability than most judged a generation ago. At the same time compensation levels in the sector, and in firms engaged with the sector has gone up rapidly. The simultaneous emergence of high profits and low interest rates raises the question of whether monopoly power is on the increase. So the question of regulatory actions looms much larger than it has for many years. ...
Trying to debunk political rumors can make them stronger:
Rumors have it: Bad news, fans of rational political discourse: A study by an MIT researcher shows that attempts to debunk political rumors may only reinforce their strength.
"Rumors are sticky," says Adam Berinsky, a professor of political science at MIT, and author of a paper detailing the study. "Corrections are difficult, and in some cases can even make the problem worse."
More specifically, Berinsky found in an experiment concerning the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that rebuttals of political rumors about the supposed existence of "death panels" sometimes increased belief in the myth among the public.
"Pure repetition, we know from psychology, makes information more powerful," Berinsky says.
In the case of the "death panels," Berinsky's research indicates that the best way to counteract these rumors is to find a political figure who could credibly debunk the rumor based on their broader political stand -- a Republican senator, for instance. ...
Yes, that's going to happen. Anyway:
Berinsky's experiment also produced new data about the attachment of the electorate to myths in general. He asked respondents whether they believed in any or all of seven different myths, six of which concerned politics -- such as the myth that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, or the rumor that vote fraud in Ohio swung the 2004 presidential election to then-President George W. Bush. Only 5 percent of the population believed four or more of the seven rumors, but on average, people believed 1.8 of the rumors.
As Berinsky sees it, that means belief in seemingly outlandish ideas is not the province of a relatively small portion of uninformed, conspiracy-minded voters.
"It's not that there are some people who believe a lot of crazy things," Berinsky says. "There are a lot of people who believe some crazy things." ...
Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality.
Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have pointed out that there are ... black neighborhoods in Baltimore where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World nations. But what’s really striking on a national basis is the way class disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.
Most notably,... life expectancy among less educated whites has been falling at rates reminiscent of the collapse of life expectancy in post-Communist Russia. And yes, these excess deaths are the result of inequality and lack of opportunity...
It has been disheartening to see some commentators still writing as if poverty were simply a matter of values, as if the poor just mysteriously make bad choices and all would be well if they adopted middle-class values. ...
The great sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that widely-decried social changes among blacks, like the decline of traditional families, were actually caused by the disappearance of well-paying jobs in inner cities. His argument contained an implicit prediction: if other racial groups were to face a similar loss of job opportunity, their behavior would change in similar ways.
And so it has proved. Lagging wages — actually declining in real terms for half of working men — and work instability have been followed by sharp declines in marriage, rising births out of wedlock, and more. ...
The point is that there is no excuse for fatalism as we contemplate the evils of poverty in America. Shrugging your shoulders as you attribute it all to values is an act of malign neglect. The poor don’t need lectures on morality, they need more resources — which we can afford to provide — and better economic opportunities, which we can also afford to provide through everything from training and subsidies to higher minimum wages. Baltimore, and America, don’t have to be as unjust as they are.
Ben Bernanke's bad example, by Mark Thoma: The recent announcements that former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has accepted a position as a senior adviser at Pimco and a similar position at hedge fund Citadel have raised questions about whether the "revolving door" between government and private sector jobs ought to be restricted.
Perhaps, for example, Federal Reserve officials should be subject to a five-year waiting period before they can take jobs in the financial sector. The idea would be to reduce the chance that bank regulators could be influenced through formal and informal ties to previous Fed officials.
My concern is somewhat different: The incentive for Federal Reserve Board members to step down before their terms are up and accept lucrative private sector positions has the potential to damage the Fed as an independent institution...
Should we be worried about the U.S. net international investment position (the difference between US assets abroad and foreign claims on the US)? Paul Krugman says it's "actually a symptom of US relative strength":
As Tim Taylor notes, the U.S. net international investment position ... has moved substantially deeper into the red in recent years...
But why? You might be tempted to say that it’s obvious: we’ve been running big budget deficits, borrowing the money from foreigners, so of course our debt to those foreigners is surging. But that story implicitly requires a surge in the trade deficit (or more precisely the current account deficit, which includes investment income), which hasn’t happened. ...
So it’s not about borrowing vast sums abroad... But what is it? ... The big move is a sharp rise in the value of foreign holdings of US equity, not matched by any comparable rise in US holdings of foreign equity. What’s that about?
The answer, I believe, is that we’re looking at the differential performance of stock markets. ... So the value of foreign holdings of US equities ... has surged along with the Obama stock market, while US holdings abroad have seen no comparable boost.
And this means that the plunge in the U.S. international investment position, far from showing weakness, is actually a symptom of US relative strength, reflected in strong stock prices.
I think I’m right about this, although happy to hear alternative stories.
Bob Solow on rents and decoupling of productivity and wages: Atypical or difficult to explain movements in the capital/labor ratio, productivity per worker and real wages have stimulated recent attempts to square them with neoclassical economics, make some adjustments in the neoclassical paradigm or scrap it altogether. ...
Bob Solow explored a ... possibility. Going back to his own initial work on the theory of growth, some 60 years ago, Solow asked...: why did we assume that there is perfect competition and that factors are paid their perfect completion marginal products? ... Solow said: “I could not find a good reason, but since theory and facts were broadly in accord, nobody bothered much with the assumption”. That is, until recently. How can we explain, continued Solow, a sustained ... divergence between nonfarm sector productivity and the real wage..., that goes against everything we thought we knew! ...
However, if you assume a model of imperfect competition..., there is also a rent (due to the fact that price is greater than the marginal revenue product), the issue becomes: how is that rent going to be distributed between labor and capital? And until the early 1980, due to trade union density (“The treaty of Detroit”), relative shortage of labor, trilateral (government-capital-labor) negotiations etc., the rent was divided in a way that favored labor. But with the decline of the unions, ideological assault on labor (the Reagan revolution) and a huge expansion of available wage-labor worldwide (as China and Eastern Europe rejoined the world economy), the bargaining power of labor waned and that of capital increased. Consequently, the share of capital in national income increased, and productivity growth got decoupled from real wage growth.
This is my interpretation of Solow’s talk..., I might have gotten something wrong. ...
If, as Solow said, we came up with an estimate that (say) 20-30% of national income is rent, then surely political factors can explain why capital share is up. If our estimate of rent is 2-3% of national income, then this is not a promising story. So, it is back to empirics!—a nice theory to test where many a young economist can hope to make a difference...
... Our government, here in the U.S. at least, has been starved of proper funding for infrastructure of all kinds since the election of Ronald Reagan. Our confidence in our institutions’ ability to manage aggregate demand properly is in shreds–and for the good reason of demonstrated incompetence and large-scale failure. Our political system now has a bias toward austerity and idle potential workers rather than toward expansion and inflation. Our political system now has a bias away from desirable borrow-and-invest. And the equity return premium is back to immediate post-Great Depression levels–and we also have an enormous and costly hypertrophy of the financial sector that is, as best as we can tell, delivering no social value in exchange for its extra size.
We badly need a new framework for thinking about policy-relevant macroeconomics given that our new normal is as different from the late-1970s as that era’s normal was different from the 1920s, and as that era’s normal was different from the 1870s.
Despite their centrality, the question of how effective these policies are and therefore how the government should employ them is in dispute. Many economists have been highly critical of the government's aggressive use of monetary and fiscal policy during this period, in some cases arguing that the policies employed were ineffective and in other cases warning of serious negative consequences. On the other hand, others have argued that the aggressive employment of these policies has "walk[ed] the American economy back from the edge of a second Great Depression."1
In our view, the reason for this controversy is the absence of conclusive empirical evidence about the effectiveness of these policies. Scientific questions about how the world works are settled by conclusive empirical evidence. In the case of monetary and fiscal policy, unfortunately, it is very difficult to establish such evidence. The difficulty is a familiar one in economics, namely endogeneity. ..
After explaining the endogeneity problem, empirical evidence on price rigidity and its importance for assessing policy, structural modeling, natural experiments, and so on, they turn to their evidence:
Our identification approach is to study how real interest rates respond to monetary shocks in the 30-minute intervals around Federal Open Market Committee announcements. We find that in these short intervals, nominal and real interest rates for maturities as long as several years move roughly one-for-one with each other. Changes in nominal interest rates at the time of monetary announcements therefore translate almost entirely into changes in real interest rates, while expected inflation moves very little except at very long horizons.
We use this evidence to estimate the parameters of a conventional monetary business cycle model. ... This approach suggests that monetary non-neutrality is large. Intuitively, our evidence indicates that a monetary shock that yields a substantial response for real interest rates also yields a very small response for inflation. This suggests that prices respond quite sluggishly to changes in aggregate economic conditions and that monetary policy can have large effects on the economy.
Another area in which there has been rapid progress in using innovative identification schemes to estimate the impact of macroeconomic policy is that of fiscal stimulus.9 ... Much of the literature on fiscal stimulus that makes use of natural experiments focuses on the effects of war-time spending, since it is assumed that in some cases such spending is unrelated to the state of the economy. Fortunately - though unfortunately for empirical researchers - there are only so many large wars, so the number of data points available from this approach is limited.
In our work, we use cross-state variation in military spending to shed light on the fiscal multiplier.10 The basic idea is that when the U.S. experiences a military build-up, military spending will increase in states such as California - a major producer of military goods - relative to states, such as Illinois, where there is little military production. This approach uses a lot more data than the earlier literature on military spending but makes weaker assumptions, since we require only that the U.S. did not undertake a military build-up in response to the relative weakness of the economy in California vs. Illinois. We show that a $1 increase in military spending in California relative to Illinois yields a relative increase in output of $1.50. In other words, the "relative" multiplier is quite substantial.11
There is an important issue of interpretation here. We find evidence of a large "relative multiplier," but does this imply that the aggregate multiplier also will be large? The challenge that arises in interpreting these kinds of relative estimates is that there are general equilibrium effects that are expected to operate at an aggregate but not at a local level. In particular, if government spending is increased at the aggregate level, this will induce the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy, which will then counteract some of the stimulative effect of the increased government spending. This type of general equilibrium effect does not arise at the local level, since the Fed can't raise interest rates in California vs. Illinois in response to increased military spending in California relative to Illinois.
We show in our paper, however, that the relative multiplier does have a very interesting counterpart at the level of the aggregate economy. Even in the aggregate setting, the general equilibrium response of monetary policy to fiscal policy will be constrained when the risk-free nominal interest rate is constrained by its lower bound of zero. Our relative multiplier corresponds more closely to the aggregate multiplier in this case.12 Our estimates are, therefore, very useful in distinguishing between new Keynesian models, which generate large multipliers in these scenarios, and plain vanilla real business cycle models, which always generate small multipliers.
The evidence from our research on both fiscal and monetary policy suggests that demand shocks can have large effects on output. Models with price-adjustment frictions can explain such output effects, as well as (by design) the microeconomic evidence on price rigidity. Perhaps this evidence is still not conclusive, but it helps to narrow the field of plausible models. This new evidence will, we hope, help limit the scope of policy predictions of macroeconomic models that policymakers need to consider the next time they face a great challenge. ...
The Political Roots of Widening Inequality: For the past quarter-century I’ve offered in articles, books, and lectures an explanation for why average working people in advanced nations like the United States have failed to gain ground and are under increasing economic stress: Put simply, globalization and technological change have made most of us less competitive. The tasks we used to do can now be done more cheaply by lower-paid workers abroad or by computer-driven machines.
My solution—and I’m hardly alone in suggesting this—has been an activist government that raises taxes on the wealthy, invests the proceeds in excellent schools and other means people need to become more productive, and redistributes to the needy. These recommendations have been vigorously opposed by those who believe the economy will function better for everyone if government is smaller and if taxes and redistributions are curtailed.
While the explanation I offered a quarter-century ago for what has happened is still relevant—indeed, it has become the standard, widely accepted explanation—I’ve come to believe it overlooks a critically important phenomenon: the increasing concentration of political power in a corporate and financial elite that has been able to influence the rules by which the economy runs. And the governmental solutions I have propounded, while I believe them still useful, are in some ways beside the point because they take insufficient account of the government’s more basic role in setting the rules of the economic game.
Worse yet, the ensuing debate over the merits of the “free market” versus an activist government has diverted attention from how the market has come to be organized differently from the way it was a half-century ago, why its current organization is failing to deliver the widely shared prosperity it delivered then, and what the basic rules of the market should be. It has allowed America to cling to the meritocratic tautology that individuals are paid what they’re “worth” in the market, without examining the legal and political institutions that define the market. The tautology is easily confused for a moral claim that people deserve what they are paid. Yet this claim has meaning only if the legal and political institutions defining the market are morally justifiable. ...
Since I've posted quite a few things skeptical of the trade agreements the Obama administration has been promoting, including an article of my own, it's fair to give the White House's response. However, the response is speaking in general about trade, and I also think it's fair to ask the degree to which the TPP and the TTIP will provide these benefits, and how the benefits will stack up against the costs (the benefit side is covered to some degree on pages 45 and 46 of the full report):
Ten Facts about U.S. Trade, The White House: President Obama’s top priority is to make sure the United States builds on its economic momentum by continuing to grow businesses, create jobs, and expand the middle class. That is why the President is committed to free and fair trade agreements that level the playing field and benefit American businesses and workers. This report presents original empirical evidence, alongside a summary of the extensive economic literature, on a broad range of effects of enhanced U.S. trade and U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs). Highlights from this report include:
1. U.S. businesses must overcome an average tariff hurdle of 6.8 percent, in addition to numerous non - tariff barriers (NTBs) , to serve the roughly 95 percent of the world’s customers outside our borders. The United States is already one of the most open markets in the world, meaning that the main impact of new trade agreements would be to decrease foreign barriers to U.S. exports. In 2014, almost 70 percent of U.S. imports crossed our borders duty - free, but many of our trading partners maintain higher tariffs that create steep barriers to U.S. exports.
2. Exporters pay higher wages, and the average industry’s export growth over the past twenty years translated into $1,300 higher annual earnings for the typical employee. Studies of U.S. manufacturing industries document that, on average, export - intensive industries pay workers up to 18 percent more than non - export - intensive industries. Controlling for industry, location, and worker characteristics, CEA finds that the average industry’s increase in exports in the 1990s and 2000s translated into an additional $1,300 in annual earnings for the typical middle - class worker.
3. Middle - class Americans gain more than a quarter of their purchasing power from trade. Trade allows U.S. consumers to buy a wider variety of goods at lower prices, raising real wages and helping families purchase more with their current incomes. This is especially important for middle - class consumers who spend a larger share of their disposable income on heavily - traded food and clothing items. Compared to a world with no trade, median - income consumers gain an estimated 29 percent of their purchasing power from trade.
4. Over the past twenty years, the average industry’s increase in exports translated into 8 percent higher labor productivity, or almost a quarter of the total productivity increase over that time. About half of all U.S. imports are inputs that businesses use to produce final goods, which lowers firms’ production costs by making a greater variety of inputs available at lower prices. Additionally, economic research shows that trade increases productivity for businesses and the economy as a whole.
5. When countries make trade deals with China, outsourcing of American jobs increases, while U.S. trade agreements do not change the rate of U.S. investment abroad. Trade agreements with China offer countries preferential access to the vast Chinese market while accepting low labor and environmental standards. U.S. FTAs, on the other hand, raise standards across the board and help U.S. businesses export to foreign markets while still producing goods here. U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in FTA partner countries shows little to no change after completion of a trade agreement. However, China’s completion of a trade agreement increases U.S. FDI in China’s FTA partners.
6. Trade raises labor standards and incomes abroad, helping developing countries lift people out of poverty and expanding markets for U.S. exports. Research suggests that trade has helped decrease poverty by raising wages around the world and also finds that expanding U.S. market access promotes higher - quality employment in less - developed countries as workers shift from informal to formal employment. Enforceable labor standards, which form a central part of trade agreements the United States is currently negotiating, have also complemented trade’s direct effects.
7. For every 1 percent increase in income as a result of trade liberalization, pollution concentrations fall by 1 percent. This happens because the adoption of clean technologies spread through trade more than offsets emissions resulting from increased transportation or production. Current trade agreements amplify these effects: the Administration includes environmental commitments as a core part of its values - driven trade approach, including commitments to protect oceans, combat wildlife trafficking, and eliminate illegal logging.
8. Trade helps lower the gender wage gap , with a 10 percentage point decrease in tariffs leading to a 1 percentage point drop in the wage gap. CEA studied the relationship between tariffs and the gender wage gap, finding that industries with larger tariff declines saw greater reductions in the wage gap. Trade also decreases discrimination based on race and immigration status and is correlated with better human - rights conditions.
9. The United States has a $43 billion surplus in agricultural trade and is a worldwide leader in agriculture , employing almost 1.5 million American workers. In 2014, one - half of the wheat, rice, and soybeans produced in the United States was exported, along with over two - thirds of almonds and walnuts and four - fifths of cotton and pistachios. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that every $1 in agricultural exports stimulates another $1.22 in related business activity, so that agricultural exports increased total economic output by almost $350 billion in 2014.
10. The United States is the global leader in services exports. Over the past 34 years, real U.S. services exports have grown more than seven - fold, particularly in areas like insurance and financial services. As a result , knocking down barriers to services trade is especially important for the American workforce. Compared to the average across 40 other countries, including most advanced economies and large emerging markets, the United States has lower trade barriers in 14 out of 18 different service sectors. By one estimate, if U.S. services reached the same export potential as manufactured good s, total U.S. exports could increase by as much as $800 billion.
[ 1] This report complements work already published in Chapter 7 of the Council of Economic Advisers’ (CEA) 2015 Economic Report of the President.
Nonetheless, many in the news media will try to make the campaign about personalities and character instead. ... But the character trait that will matter most isn’t one the press likes to focus on. ...
You see, you shouldn’t care whether a candidate is someone you’d like to have a beer with. Nor should you care about politicians’ sex lives, or even their spending habits unless they involve clear corruption. No, what you should really look for, in a world that keeps throwing nasty surprises at us, is intellectual integrity: the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course. ...
As you might guess, I’m thinking in particular about the sphere of economics... Did I predict runaway inflation that never arrived? Well, the government is cooking the books, and besides, I never said what I said. ...
So what’s the state of intellectual integrity at this point in the election cycle? Pretty bad, at least on the Republican side of the field.
We’re talking about never admitting error, and never revising one’s views. Never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw.... But moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office. ... We really, really don’t want the job of responding to that crisis dictated by someone who still can’t bring himself to admit that invading Iraq was a disaster but health reform wasn’t.
I still think this election should turn almost entirely on the issues. But if we must talk about character, let’s talk about what matters, namely intellectual integrity.
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.
... 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. ...
...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.
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.
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.
Amy Webb, Digital Media Futurist; Founder, Webbmedia Group
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?
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]...
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.
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?
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.
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. ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ...
“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.”
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.
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. ...
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.
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.