Saturday, February 13, 2016

Links for 02-13-16

    Posted by on Saturday, February 13, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (3) 


    Friday, February 12, 2016

    Paul Krugman: On Economic Stupidity

    Going "off the deep end on macroeconomic policy":

    On Economic Stupidity, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... If you’ve been following the financial news, you know that there’s a lot of market turmoil out there. It’s nothing like 2008, at least so far, but it’s worrisome. ... So how well do we think the various presidential wannabes would deal with those challenges?
    Well, on the Republican side, the answer is basically, God help us. ... Leading the charge of the utterly crazy is ... Donald Trump, who ... asserted that Janet Yellen ... hadn’t raised rates “because Obama told her not to.” ... Yet ... Mr. Trump’s position isn’t that far from the Republican mainstream. After all, Paul Ryan ... not only berated Ben Bernanke ... for policies that allegedly risked inflation (which never materialized), but he also dabbled in conspiracy theorizing, accusing Mr. Bernanke of acting to “bail out fiscal policy.”
    And even superficially sensible-sounding Republicans go off the deep end on macroeconomic policy. John Kasich’s signature initiative is a balanced-budget amendment that would cripple the economy in a recession, but he’s also a monetary hawk, arguing, bizarrely, that the Fed’s low-interest-rate policy is responsible for wage stagnation.
    On the Democratic side, both contenders talk sensibly about macroeconomic policy... But Mr. Sanders has also attacked the Federal Reserve in a way Mrs. Clinton has not — and that difference illustrates in miniature both the reasons for his appeal and the reasons to be very worried about his approach.
    You see, Mr. Sanders argues that the financial industry has too much influence on the Fed, which is surely true. But his solution is more congressional oversight — and he was one of the few non-Republican senators to vote for a bill, sponsored by Rand Paul, that called for “audits” of Fed monetary policy decisions. ...
    Now, the idea of making the Fed accountable sounds good. But ... such a bill would essentially empower the cranks — the gold-standard-loving, hyperinflation-is-coming types who dominate the modern G.O.P., and have spent the past five or six years trying to bully monetary policy makers into ceasing and desisting from their efforts to prevent economic disaster. Given the economic risks we face, it’s a very good thing that Mr. Sanders’s support wasn’t enough to push the bill over the top.
    But even without Mr. Paul’s bill, one shudders to think about how U.S. policy would respond to another downturn if any of the surviving Republican candidates make it to the Oval Office.

      Posted by on Friday, February 12, 2016 at 08:31 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy, Monetary Policy, Politics | Permalink  Comments (128) 


      'Making Inferences about Tropics, Germs, and Crops'

      Dietrich Vollrath:

      Making Inferences about Tropics, Germs, and Crops: One of the long-running arguments in growth is "geography versus institutions". A lot of ink and a tiny amount of computing power was thrown at this question. The early stages of this involved a lot of cross-country regressions that attempted to figure out empirically whether measures of institutions or geography had explanatory power for GDP per capita. (By the way, I'm talking here just about the economic growth literature's take on this. The general question goes back centuries.)
      A tweet by Garett Jones recently reminded me of one of the entries in this literature, Bill Easterly and Ross Levine's "Tropics, Germs, and Crops" paper. EL want to assess the role of geography in explaining cross-country incomes per capita. Their main questions are summed up nicely in the abstract.
      Does economic development depend on geographic endowments like temperate instead of tropical location, the ecological conditions shaping diseases, or an environment good for grains or certain cash crops? Or do these endowments of tropics, germs, and crops affect economic development only through institutions or policies?
      Their conclusion is that geography has no effect, other than through its relationship to institutions. This conclusion, though, doesn't follow from the empirical tests they run. Let's run through the empirics on these questions, and see how to answer them.
      I'm going to do this with precisely the dataset that EL use. I don't recall when or where I picked up the data, but I believe it was from Easterly's old website, where he had a nice set of links to datasets. Regardless, it's the right dataset because I can perfectly replicate their results. ...

        Posted by on Friday, February 12, 2016 at 12:24 AM in Econometrics, Economics | Permalink  Comments (7) 


        Links for 02-12-16

          Posted by on Friday, February 12, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (276) 


          Thursday, February 11, 2016

          Fed Watch: Fed Yet To Fully Embrace A New Policy Path

          Tim Duy:

          Fed Watch: Fed Yet To Fully Embrace A New Policy Path, by Tim Duy: The Fed will take a pause on rate hikes. An indefinite pause. The sooner they admit this, the better off we will all be. Indeed, the sooner they admit this, the sooner financial markets will calm and the the sooner they would be able to resume hiking rates. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen had two high profile opportunities this week to make such an admission. Yet she failed to do so. She gave some ground on March, to be sure. But overall, the Fed just isn’t ready to stop talking about rate hikes later this year.
          The framework from which I consider the Fed’s current predicament begins with this chart:

          FED021116

          Beginning in 2013 and extending through most of 2015, the domestic side of the US economy surged as consumer spending accelerated, investment stabilized, and government spending gained. The trade deficit acted as a pressure valve, widening to offshore some of the domestic demand. On net, economic activity was sufficient to collapse the output gap. By the end of 2015, the economy was near full-employment.
          At full-employment, a combination of factors would work in tandem to slow activity to that of potential growth. I think of it as a new constellation of prices consistent with sustained full-employment. I can’t tell you exactly what the new constellation would look like other than the most likely combination: A mix of higher dollar, higher inflation, higher wages, and higher short term interest rates (tighter monetary policy).
          How much monetary policy tightening is consistent with the new equilibrium depends on the evolution of the other prices. A reasonable baseline at the end of last year was that 100bp of tightening would be consistent with achieving full-employment. That was the Fed’s starting point as well.
          The international interconnectivity of financial markets, however, dealt a blow to the expectation of even a gradual rate increase. The actual and expected policy divergence between the Federal Reserve and the rest of the world’s major central banks drove a rally in the dollar. That unexpected strength of that rally means that some other price has to move accordingly to sustain full employment. The most likely price is short-term interest rates. That’s the signal from the collapse in long rates. That signals the Fed will be lower for longer, reducing the magnitude of the policy divergence, and allowing the dollar to retreat.
          Ironically, I suspect the Bank of Japan’s foray into negative interest rates sealed the fate of the divergence trade. First by pushing market participants into US Treasuries, signaling that the Fed would need to respond to the BOJ by reducing the expected short-term policy path. Second by killing bank stocks. Market participants in the US were already primed by Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fisher that negative rates could be a policy tool. And this point was seconded by Yellen this week.
          But the collapse in banking stocks suggests strongly that negative interest rates are not compatible with our current economic institutions. The system relies on the banks, and the banks need to make money, and they struggle to do so in a negative rate environment. Should it be any surprise that the threat of global negative rates is slamming the financial sector?
          If then zero (or something just below zero) is indeed a practical lower bound, and all major central banks are pulled in that direction, then the scope for policy divergence is limited. Again, this suggests the policy divergence trade – a one-way bet on the dollar – is nearing the end if not already there. It had to end sooner or later. A one-way bet would eventually cripple the US economy.
          In sum, a key factor in keeping the US economy on the rails is acknowledging that tightening financial conditions via the dollar obviates the need to tightening conditions via monetary policy. This will also sustain the expansion and allow wage growth and inflation accelerate. The Fed can stand down, and let my scenario five evolve. All of this is well and good, but the Fed has yet to fully embrace this story. And that leaves them sounding relatively hawkish. Yellen’s testimony continues to emphasize that the Fed expects to keep raising rates. To be sure, she includes the data dependent caveat, and this:
          Financial conditions in the United States have recently become less supportive of growth, with declines in broad measures of equity prices, higher borrowing rates for riskier borrowers, and a further appreciation of the dollar.
          should be sufficient to take March off the table despite solid labor data. But the underlying message is that they expect higher rates. It is only the pace that changes, not the direction. There is just no reason to promise higher rates. All the Fed needs to say is:
          “Monetary policy will be appropriate to achieve the Fed’s mandate.”
          Yellen & Co. don’t need to emphasize the direction of rates. They just can’t stop themselves. Worse yet, they feel compelled to describe the level of future rates via the Summary of Economic Projections. A level entirely inconsistent with signals from bond markets, no less. They don't really know what the terminal fed funds rate will be, so why keep pretending they do? The “dot plot” does nothing more than project an overly-hawkish policy stance that leaves market participants persistently fearful a policy error is in the making. It is time to end the “dot plot.”
          It might be helpful to add:
          “We will not pursue negative interest rates if such a policy is incompatible with stability in financial sector.”
          They should stop with the random and partially considered talk of negative interest rates. Instead, adopt a basic talking point indicating the idea has yet to be thoroughly vetted and as such any speculation on the topic is premature.
          Bottom Line: The Fed has yet to fully embrace the change in financial conditionals and the implications for the path of policy. To be sure Yellen gave enough this week to take March off the table. That said, policymakers will hesitate to dramatically change their general policy outlook focused on higher rates. Consequently, I anticipate Fedspeak with seemingly unrealistic hawkish undertones. Essentially, they will leave the fear of policy error simmering on the back-burner.

            Posted by on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 05:13 PM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy | Permalink  Comments (12) 


            'Does Inequality Cause Financial Distress?'

            This is from a Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Working Paper:

            Does inequality cause financial distress? Evidence from lottery winners and neighboring bankruptcies Sumit Agarwal, Vyacheslav Mikhed, and Barry Scholnick: Abstract We test the hypothesis that income inequality causes financial distress. To identify the effect of income inequality, we examine lottery prizes of random dollar magnitudes in the context of very small neighborhoods (13 households on average). We find that a C$1,000 increase in the lottery prize causes a 2.4% rise in subsequent bankruptcies among the winners’ close neighbors. We also provide evidence of conspicuous consumption as a mechanism for this causal relationship. The size of lottery prizes increases the value of visible assets (houses, cars, motorcycles), but not invisible assets (cash and pensions), appearing on the balance sheets of neighboring bankruptcy filers.
            Download Full text.

              Posted by on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 10:21 AM in Academic Papers, Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  Comments (5) 


              'An Interview with Larry Summers'

              Part of an interview of Larry Summers at Equitable Growth:

              ... When I went to graduate school in the 1970s, the prevailing view among economists, captured by Art Okun’s book “Equality Versus Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff,” was that equality and efficiency were both desirable, but they were likely to trade off—that more progressive taxation would achieve more equality but would inevitably in some way distort economic choices and, so, reduce efficiency, for example.
              I believe there are still many areas in which one does have to trade off equality versus efficiency. But I also believe there are many areas in which it’s possible to reform policy to promote both economic efficiency and equality. One such area is policy to mitigate secular stagnation by promoting demand at times when there is slack in the use of resources.
              Recall that I defined secular stagnation as having at its essence an excess of savings over investment, desired saving over desired investment. There are many reasons for that. Some of them have to do, for example, with reduced investment demand because so much more capital can be purchased with fewer dollars. I think of the fact that my iPad has more computing power than a Cray supercomputer did when Bill Clinton came into office in 1993.
              One aspect of that excess in saving over investments is that rising inequality has operated to reduce spending. We are fairly confident that what economists call the “marginal propensity to consume” of those with high incomes is less than the marginal propensity to consume of those with middle incomes.
              And so the combination of rising inequality in the distribution of income across income levels and a shift in inequality toward the higher profit share slows economic growth. In normal times, such a change might be offset by easier monetary policy. But in the current environment, where interest rates are very close to the zero lower bound, the capacity for that kind of offset is greatly attenuated.
              There’s another aspect of the connection between secular stagnation and inequality that bears emphasis. Experience suggests that in an economy where there are more workers seeking jobs than there are jobs seeking workers, the power is on the employer side, and workers do much less well. A tight economy, where employers are seeking workers, shifts the balance of power toward workers and leads to higher pay and better benefits. That, in turn, leads to more spending being injected into the economy, which supports further economic growth.
              And so, as Keynes recognized when he wrote to FDR in the late 1930s urging the importance of wage increases, measures that strengthen workers’ capacity to earn income by increasing spending power can promote both equality and strengthen the economic performance of the country. ...

                Posted by on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 08:34 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (72) 


                'Instead of Working to Demonize Struggling Families...'

                This is from Congresswoman Gwen Moore's website:

                The Use of Political Stunts to Attack Social Programs: Today, Budget Committee members Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-04) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) sent a letter to Chairman Tom Price expressing their collective concern regarding reports that House Republicans intend to use the budget reconciliation process to attack critical social safety net programs.
                “Both Congresswoman Lee and I were once recipients of the very social services that are currently being targeted by our Republican colleagues,” said Congresswoman Moore. “Our distinct perspectives and firsthand experiences with these vital public assistance programs add unique and empathetic voices to a debate overpowered by crass sentiments and hostile attitudes. With 46.7 million Americans battling poverty, we should be able to engage in an open debate about these life-saving programs in the light of day, not behind closed doors or with the help of political stunts.” 
                “Today, more than 46 million Americans are living in poverty, including one in five American children. Republican proposals to use the budget process to make misguided and sweeping changes to our nation’s proven anti-poverty programs are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past while furthering eroding our social safety net. Their actions will result in more poverty, more hunger and less hope in America,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “Attempts to use the budget process to push this extreme, Tea Party agenda is frankly disingenuous. Instead of working to demonize struggling families, we should be investing in programs that create more opportunity and build pathways into the middle class.”
                The full text of letter can be found below...

                  Posted by on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Politics, Social Insurance | Permalink  Comments (72) 


                  Links for 02-11-16

                    Posted by on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (262) 


                    Wednesday, February 10, 2016

                    'Charge Senior Bank Bosses'

                    Phil Angelides asks a "simple question":

                    Charge senior bank bosses, says former commissioner, by Ben McLannahan, FT: Phil Angelides uncovered evidence of widespread fraud and corruption in the US mortgage market as chairman of the commission which produced the government report on the global financial crisis. Five years on, he is asking the Department of Justice why it has yet to call any senior bank executives to account. ... In a letter to Loretta Lynch, US Attorney General, Mr Angelides has challenged the DoJ to take action before the ten-year statute of limitation expires.
                    “I ask a simple question: how could the banks have engaged in such massive misconduct and wrongdoing without a single individual being involved? In a sense, it’s the immaculate corruption,” he told the FT. “It defies common sense, and the people of America know this" ... "it breeds a great amount of cynicism and anger about the nature of our judicial system.”

                      Posted by on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 07:15 PM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (22) 


                      'The Cap-and-Trade Sulfur Dioxide Allowances Market Experiment'

                      From the NBER Digest:

                      The Cap-and-Trade Sulfur Dioxide Allowances Market Experiment: The Acid Rain Program led to higher levels of premature mortality than would have occurred under a hypothetical no-trade counterfactual with the same overall sulfur dioxide emissions.

                      Since the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1990, the federal government has pursued a variety of policies designed to reduce the level of sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and the associated acid rain. In The Market for Sulfur Dioxide Allowances: What Have We Learned from the Grand Policy Experiment? (NBER Working Paper No. 21383), H. Ron Chan, B. Andrew Chupp, B. Andrew Chupp, Maureen L. Cropper, and Nicholas Z. Muller evaluate the cost savings and the health consequences of relying on a cap-and-trade sulfur dioxide allowance market to implement emissions reductions.
                      The key argument advanced by proponents of cap-and-trade programs for pollution reduction is that they are less costly than regulatory programs that impose the same abatement requirements on all polluters. By allowing emission sources with high abatement costs to offset higher on-site emissions by purchasing additional reductions from other, lower-cost polluters, they assert trade in pollution allowances reduces the total cost of achieving a given reduction in aggregate emissions.
                      To study the cost savings associated with the Acid Rain Program, which allowed such trade, the authors model the cost of abatement for individual coal-fired power plants. They estimate how firms choose between the two leading technologies for sulfur dioxide abatement, burning low-sulfur coal and installing flue-gas desulfurization units. They use these estimates to compare abatement decisions corresponding to the Acid Rain Program and standards that achieve the same aggregate reduction in emissions by making uniform requirements on coal-fired plants, with no trading allowed. They find cost savings in 2002, with the Acid Rain Program in full swing, of approximately $250 million from trade in emission allowances. This is less than half of the previously estimated saving from tradable permits. The data suggest that many generating units were not complying with the Clean Air Act in the most economical manner.
                      One potential drawback of a cap-and-trade system is that in some areas the level of local pollutants — those which pose the greatest health threat near their place of emission — can be higher than under uniform emission standards. This could occur if, for example, utilities in the densely populated eastern United States, where emission reduction can be comparatively costly, pay utilities in less-populous western regions, where abatement is cheaper, to cut emissions there. The aggregate national reduction may still be achieved, but many more people in the densely populated east could be exposed to pollutants.
                      The researchers find a greater level of particulate air pollution and associated premature mortality under the Acid Rain Program than under a hypothetical no-trade scenario in which units emitted SO2 at a rate equal to 2002 allowance allocations plus observed drawdowns of their allowance banks. They estimate the cost of health damages associated with observed SO2 emissions in 2002 under the Acid Rain Program to be $2.4 billion higher than would have been the case under the no-trade scenario. They conclude that the health impact of a cap-and-trade program depends on how the program is structured and on the correlation between marginal abatement costs and marginal damages across pollution sources.

                        Posted by on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 09:16 AM in Academic Papers, Economics, Environment, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (43) 


                        'Rescuing a SIFI, Halting a Panic: the Barings Crisis of 1890'

                        Eugene White at the Bank of England's Bank Underground:

                        Rescuing a SIFI, Halting a Panic: the Barings Crisis of 1890, Bank Underground: The collapse of Northern Rock in 2007 and Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG in 2008 renewed the debate over how a lender of last resort should respond to a troubled systemically important financial institution (SIFI). Based on research in the Bank of England Archive, this post re-examines a crisis in 1890 when the Bank, supported by central bank cooperation, rescued Baring Brothers & Co. and quashed a banking panic and a currency crisis, while mitigating moral hazard. This rescue is significant because it combined features similar to those mandated by recent U.K., U.S., and European reforms to ensure an orderly liquidation of SIFIs and increase the accountability of senior management (e.g. Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act (2010); the U.K. “Senior Managers Regime”).
                        Financial historians (Bordo (1990); Schwartz (1986); Bignon, Flandreau, & Ugolini, (2012)) have argued that, when faced with a crisis in the nineteenth century, the Bank of England simply followed Bagehot’s Rule to lend freely at a high rate to preserve market liquidity (Bagehot (1873)). This “historical fact” has lent support to policy recommendations to strictly follow Bagehot in a crisis. By downplaying the rescue and treating the 1890 crisis as minor (Turner (2014)), historians have overlooked its significance and that of its French precursor; thus they have missed important examples of successful pre-emptive intervention that limited damage to the economy and future risk-taking. ...
                        The rescue package provided to Barings was modelled on the 1889 rescue of the Comptoir d’Escompte. This commercial and investment bank had supported an effort to corner the copper market with loans and vast off-balance sheet guarantees of forward contracts. When copper prices fell, the Comptoir’s president committed suicide, prompting a run. The Banque de France provided loans of 140 million francs to meet withdrawals and, co-operating with the Minister of Finance, formed a bankers’ guarantee syndicate to absorb the first 40 million francs of losses. Contributions were assigned according to banks’ ability to pay and their role in the crisis, measured by how closely they were tied by interlocking directorships to the Comptoir. In addition, substantial fines and clawbacks were imposed on the directors and senior management. The run on the Comptoir abated and spread no further. A “good bank”, the Comptoir National d’Escompte, was recapitalized, while the Banque de France took over the liquidation of the toxic copper assets (Hautcoeur, Riva & White (2014)).
                        The British press had chronicled this Parisian rescue in detail; and London bankers were well-informed. But, given that policy was formulated quickly behind closed doors, histories have been silent on the importance of the French example. The key connection is found in Alphonse De Rothschild letter of November 14 (Figure 2), where he compared the two crises and declared: “La situation à l’égard de la Baring est exactement la même que celle dans laquelle se trouvait le Comptoir d’Escompte” – roughly translated, “The situation with regards to Barings is exactly the same as the one in which the Comptoir d’Escompte found itself” (Rothschild Archives, London). He then laid out the role that the House of Rothschild should play, pushing for the formation of a British guarantee syndicate, and specifying the Rothschild contribution. ...
                        The Barings rescue or “lifeboat” was announced on Saturday November 15, 1890. The Bank of England provided an advance of £7.5 million to Barings to discharge their liabilities. A four-year syndicate of banks would ratably share any loss from Barings’ liquidation. The guarantee fund of £17.1 million included all institutions, and some of the largest shares were assigned to banks whose inattentive lending had permitted Barings to swell its portfolio. The old firm was split into a recapitalized “good bank”, Baring Brothers & Co. Ltd., which took over the still profitable trade finance and a “bad bank” that retained its name and its toxic assets, managed by the Bank of England.
                        The Barings’ partners agreed to this arrangement, delivering powers-of-attorney over their property, avoiding the danger of a fire sale. But, as unlimited liability partners, they were still expected to cover any losses. The partners’ investments, country homes, town houses and their contents were to be sold with the proceeds moved to the asset side of the bad bank’s balance sheet (Figure 3). This assessment paralleled the liability imposed on the board of directors and senior management of the Comptoir. These payments covered most losses; and neither the French or British syndicates were called upon. Ultimately, the remains of the “bad” Barings bank was sold to a group of investors for £1.5 million, closing the liquidation. The heavy assessments on the Barings appear to have dampened risk-taking, as no other major bank failed before World War I and in general banks became more conservative (Baker & Collins (1990)). ...
                        This new research reveals that the two most important central banks of the late nineteenth century did not exclusively adhere to Bagehot’s rule. While the Bank of England and the Banque de France responded to panics by lending freely at high rates on good collateral, they also intervened to rescue deeply distressed SIFIs. Central bank cooperation to obtain liquidity and coordination with the Treasury were then critical to ensure that toxic assets were liquidated in an orderly fashion to minimize losses. Combined with penalties levied on the responsible principals, they were strikingly bold and successful rescues. While one may object that recent crises erupted because of system-wide incentives to take risk (Too Big To Fail, deposit insurance and flawed governance), these two episodes should be thought of as identifying appropriate policies to manage individual troubled SIFIs if the system-wide incentives can be brought under control.

                          Posted by on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 08:45 AM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (17) 


                          Links for 02-10-16

                            Posted by on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (241) 


                            Tuesday, February 09, 2016

                            'Why the Working Class Is Choosing Trump and Sanders'

                            New column:

                            Why the Working Class Is Choosing Trump and Sanders, by Mark Thoma:  Donald Trump recently defended Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid:
                            “Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that. And it’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years and now all of the sudden they want to be cut.”
                            An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal reflects the negative reaction to Trump’s remarks from many Republicans:
                            “Mr. Trump is a political harbinger here of a new strand of populist Republicanism, largely empowered by Obamacare, in which the ‘conservative’ position is to defend the existing entitlement programs from a perceived threat posed by a new-style Obama coalition of handout seekers that includes the chronically unemployed, students, immigrants, minorities and women … who typically vote Democrat.”
                            But is it true that our economic system redistributes substantial sums away from the middle class to “handout seekers”? ...

                              Posted by on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 08:14 AM in Economics, Fiscal Times, Politics | Permalink  Comments (145) 


                              'Negative Rates: A Gigantic Fiscal Policy Failure'

                              Narayana Kocherlakota:

                              Negative Rates: A Gigantic Fiscal Policy Failure: Since October 2015, I’ve argued that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) should reduce the target range for the fed funds rate below zero. Such a move would be appropriate for three reasons:

                              • It would facilitate a more rapid return of inflation to target.
                              • It would help reduce labor market slack more rapidly.
                              • It would slow and hopefully reverse the ongoing and dangerous slide in inflation expectations.

                              So, going negative is daring but appropriate monetary policy. But it is a sign of a terrible policy failure by fiscal policymakers.

                              The reason that the FOMC has to go negative is because the natural real rate of interest r* (defined to be the real interest rate consistent with the FOMC’s mandated inflation and employment goals) is so low. The low natural real interest rate is a signal that households and businesses around the world desperately want to buy and hold debt issued by the US government. (Yes, there is already a lot of that debt out there - but its high price is a clear signal that still more should be issued.) The US government should be issuing that debt that the public wants so desperately and using the proceeds to undertake investments of social value.

                              But maybe there are no such investments? That’s a tough argument to sustain... With a 30-year r* below 1%, our government can afford to make progress on a myriad of social problems. It is choosing not to.

                              If the government issued more debt and undertook these opportunities, it would push up r*. That would make life easier for monetary policymakers, because they could achieve their mandated objectives with higher nominal interest rates. But, more importantly, the change in fiscal policy would make life a lot better for all of us.

                              I don't think that Chair Yellen will say the above in her Humphrey-Hawkins testimony tomorrow - but I also think that it would be great if she did.

                                Posted by on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 07:09 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy, Monetary Policy | Permalink  Comments (88) 


                                Links for 02-09-16

                                  Posted by on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (153) 


                                  Monday, February 08, 2016

                                  'Will the Economic Recovery Die of Old Age?'

                                  Glenn Rudebusch

                                  Will the Economic Recovery Die of Old Age?. SF Fed Economic Letter: Recent economic indicators show that U.S. economic growth has slowed considerably. After adjusting for inflation, aggregate output increased little during the final three months of 2015. Is this the start of a serious stumble by an aging economy with creaky knees? Are we due for a recession? Or is the slowdown just part of the normal ups and downs of a healthy, dynamic economy?
                                  Recessions are notoriously difficult to forecast. However, much conventional wisdom views an aging expansion as increasingly fragile and more likely to end in recession. The associated predictions of recession—proclaiming that “it’s about time” for a downturn—have become more prominent lately because the current recovery, which started six and a half years ago, is relatively long already. ...
                                  The notion that business expansions are more likely to end as they grow older was especially common before World War II. Gottfried Haberler’s (1937) classic synthesis of prewar business cycle theories devotes an entire section to the topic: “Why the Economic System Becomes Less and Less Capable of Withstanding Deflationary Shocks After an Expansion Has Progressed Beyond a Certain Point.” Nowadays, the underlying rationale for this view follows an analogy to human mortality: As the expansion ages, assorted imbalances and rigidities accumulate that hobble the economy and make it more fragile. Thus, the recovery could be jeopardized by ever smaller shocks, and it becomes more likely over time that the economy will fall into recession.
                                  However, the historical record since World War II does not support the view that the probability of recession increases with the length of the recovery. The earliest statistical investigation of the issue by Diebold and Rudebusch (1990) found that postwar expansions were not more likely to end as they endured. This Economic Letter updates that analysis. The results concur with Yellen’s view that, all else equal, longer expansions are no more likely to end than shorter ones. ...

                                    Posted by on Monday, February 8, 2016 at 10:38 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (32) 


                                    'The Scandal is What's Legal'

                                    Cecchetti & Schoenholtz:

                                    The Scandal is What's Legal: If you haven’t seen The Big Short, you should. The acting is superb and the story enlightening: a few brilliant outcasts each discover just how big the holes are that eventually bury the U.S. financial system in the crisis of 2007-2009. If you’re like most people we know, you’ll walk away delighted by the movie and disturbed by the reality it captures. ...
                                    But we’re not film critics. The movie—along with some misleading criticism—prompts us to clarify what we view as the prime causes of the financal crisis. The financial corruption depicted in the movie is deeply troubling (we’ve written about fraud and conflicts of interest in finance here and here). But what made the U.S. financial system so fragile a decade ago, and what made the crisis so deep, were practices that were completely legal. The scandal is that we still haven’t addressed these properly.
                                    We can’t “cover” the causes of the crisis in a blog post, but we can briefly explain our top three candidates: (1) insufficient capital and liquidity reflecting poor risk management and incentives; (2) the ability of complex, highly interconnected intermediaries to take on and conceal enormous amounts of risk; and (3) an absurdly byzantine regulatory structure that made it virtually impossible for anyone, however inclined, to understand (let alone manage) the system’s fragilities. ...[long explanationss of each]...
                                    To say that this is a scandal that makes the system less safe is to dramatically understate the case.
                                    Now, we could go on. There are plenty of other problems that policymakers have ignored and are allowing to fester (how about the government-sponsored enterprises?). But we focused on our top three: the need for financial intermediaries to have more capital and liquid assets; the need to improve the ability of both financial market participants and authorities to assess and control risk concentrations through a combination of central clearing and better information collection; and the need to simplify the structure and organization of the U.S. regulatory system itself.
                                    Only if people learn how far the financial system remains from these ideals, only if they understand that the scandal is almost always what is legal, will there be much chance of making the next crisis less severe. ...

                                      Posted by on Monday, February 8, 2016 at 10:37 AM in Econometrics, Financial System, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (15) 


                                      'Wealthy ‘Hand-to-Mouth’ Households: Key to Understanding the Impacts of Fiscal Stimulus'

                                       

                                      Greg Kaplan and Giovanni Violante at Microeconomic Insights:

                                      Wealthy ‘hand-to-mouth’ households: key to understanding the impacts of fiscal stimulus: Many families in Europe and North America have substantial assets in the form of housing and retirement accounts but little in the way of liquid wealth or credit facilities to offset short-term income falls. This research shows that these wealthy ‘hand-to-mouth’ households respond strongly to receiving temporary government transfers such as tax rebates, boosting the economy through their increased consumption. ...
                                      Our research also draws attention to the fact that the aggregate macroeconomic conditions surrounding policy interventions will affect the fraction of the transfer consumed by households in non-trivial ways.
                                      In a mild recession, where earnings drops are small and short-lived, it is not worthwhile for the wealthy hand-to-mouth households to pay the transaction costs of accessing some of their illiquid assets (or to use expensive credit) to smooth their consumption. As a result, liquidity constraints get amplified and their consumption response to the receipt of a fiscal stimulus payment is strong.
                                      Counter-intuitively, the same stimulus policy may have stronger effects in a mild downturn than in a severe recession
                                      Conversely, at the outset of a severe recession that induces a large and long-lasting fall in income, many wealthy hand-to-mouth households will choose to borrow or tap into their illiquid account to create a buffer of liquid assets that can be used to counteract the income loss. Consequently, fewer households are hand-to-mouth when they receive a government windfall. Thus, somewhat counter-intuitively, the effect of the stimulus on consumption can be lower than when the same policy is implemented in a mild downturn.
                                      Acknowledging the existence of wealthy hand-to-mouth households also has implications for economic policy beyond fiscal stimulus. In further work (Kaplan et al, 2015), we show the importance of these households for the efficacy of both conventional monetary policy (changes in nominal interest rates) and unconventional monetary policy (forward guidance about future changes in nominal interest rates).

                                        Posted by on Monday, February 8, 2016 at 10:11 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy | Permalink  Comments (14) 


                                        Paul Krugman: The Time-Loop Part

                                        "It feels as if you’ve entered a different intellectual and moral universe":

                                        The Time-Loop Part, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: By now everyone who follows politics knows about Marco Rubio’s software-glitch performance in Saturday’s Republican debate. ... Mr. Rubio’s inability to do anything besides repeat canned talking points was startling. ... But really, isn’t everyone in his party doing pretty much the same thing, if not so conspicuously?
                                        The truth is that the whole G.O.P. seems stuck in a time loop,... and ... shows no sign of learning anything from experience. ... Think about the doctrines every Republican politician now needs to endorse, on pain of excommunication.
                                        First, there’s the ritual denunciation of Obamacare as a terrible, very bad, no good, job-killing law. ... Strange to say, this line hasn’t changed at all despite the fact that we’ve gained 5.7 million private-sector jobs since ... the Affordable Care Act went into full effect.
                                        Then there’s the assertion that taxing the rich has terrible effects on economic growth, and conversely that tax cuts at the top can be counted on to produce an economic miracle. This doctrine was tested... But Republican faith in tax cuts as a universal economic elixir has, if anything, grown stronger...
                                        Meanwhile, on foreign policy the required G.O.P. position has become one of utter confidence in the effectiveness of military force. How did that work in Iraq? ... And diplomacy, no matter how successful, is denounced as appeasement. ...
                                        But don’t all politicians spout canned answers that bear little relationship to reality? No.
                                        Like her or not, Hillary Clinton is a genuine policy wonk... Bernie Sanders is much more of a one-note candidate, but at least his signature issue — rising inequality and the effects of money on politics — reflects real concerns. When you revisit Democratic debates after what went down Saturday..., it feels as if you’ve entered a different intellectual and moral universe.
                                        So how did this happen to the G.O.P.? In a direct sense, I suspect that it has a lot to do with Foxification, the way Republican primary voters live in a media bubble into which awkward facts can’t penetrate. But there must be deeper causes behind the creation of that bubble.
                                        Whatever the ultimate reason, however, the point is that while Mr. Rubio did indeed make a fool of himself on Saturday, he wasn’t the only person on that stage spouting canned talking points that are divorced from reality. They all were, even if the other candidates managed to avoid repeating themselves word for word.

                                          Posted by on Monday, February 8, 2016 at 01:44 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (50) 


                                          Links for 02-08-16

                                            Posted by on Monday, February 8, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (204) 


                                            Sunday, February 07, 2016

                                            'Global Growth Now Fraying at the Edges'

                                            Gavyn Davies:

                                            Global growth now fraying at the edges: The growth rate in global activity remains broadly unchanged at around 2.8 per cent, little different from the rates recorded since mid 2015. However, there has been a further slowdown in economic activity in the advanced economies (AEs), which are growing at only 1.2 per cent, down from 1.6 percent late last year.
                                            For the first time since 2012, the growth rate in the AEs is clearly below trend... Furthermore, the US nowcast is now at its lowest since the recovery began in 2009. ... Until now, however, this drag on global activity has been offset by fairly robust growth rates in the Eurozone. Worryingly, Eurozone growth has now sagged to about 1.3 percent. ...
                                            This development reduces our confidence that the bout of American weakness in the industrial sector will be easily shrugged off by the global economy. Significant downgrades to consensus forecasts for US growth in 2016 now seem very likely. Although the risk of an outright recession still seems contained, the Fed must surely sit up and pay attention to this.
                                            We judge that there has been little change in overall activity in the emerging markets this month. The China nowcast has moved down to the lower end of its recent range, but there are clear signs of stabilisation in Brazil – by far the weakest of the G20 economies last year – and an up-tick in growth in India. ...

                                              Posted by on Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 09:50 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (51) 


                                              Links for 02-07-16

                                                Posted by on Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (205) 


                                                Saturday, February 06, 2016

                                                Links for 02-06-16

                                                  Posted by on Saturday, February 6, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (323) 


                                                  Friday, February 05, 2016

                                                  Fed Watch: Solid Jobs Report Keeps Fed In Play

                                                  Tim Duy:

                                                  Solid Jobs Report Keeps Fed In Play, by Tim Duy: Just when you think it's safe to jump in the water, reality strikes. While I still think that the Fed passes in March, the solid jobs report is just what is takes to keep the Fed in the game. Back it up with another such report in March and a stronger inflation signal in one of the upcoming price reports and you set the stage for a divisive battle at the next FOMC meeting.
                                                  Nonfarm payrolls grew by 151k, below consensus but within a reasonable range of estimates. The twelve-month moving average reveals a very modest slowing of job growth over the year:

                                                  JOBSd020516

                                                  The jobs numbers in the context of data Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen pervasively identified as what to watch:

                                                  JOBSe020516

                                                  JOBSf020516

                                                  Notably, wage growth has accelerated over the past year, suggesting that the Fed's estimate of NAIRU is within range of reality:

                                                  JOBSc020516

                                                  Prior to the 2001 recession, wage growth typically accelerated at unemployment approached 6%. Now it looks like 5% is the magic number:

                                                  JOBSb020516

                                                  I suspect the the employment cost index will soon follow the wage numbers higher:

                                                  JOBSa020516

                                                  There are no signals of recession in this data. For those who will complain that it is lagging data, I suggest watching the temporary employment component:

                                                  JOBSg020516

                                                  Temporary hiring should flatten out as the cycle matures, and you can arguably see the beginning of that process. If you squint, that is. Even so, the process evolved over a two year period before the last recession struck. Even if the seeds of recession were sown this January, we wouldn't expect recession until 2017 at the earliest. Still not by base case; using history as a guide I have a recession penciled in for 2018. (Short story: economy is in later stages of a business cycle, Fed resumes tightening later this year and pushes it too far by middle of 2017. In a perfect world the Fed could moderate the pace of activity to hold unemployment near NAIRU for an extended period of time. That, however, has proven to be a challenge for the Fed in the past.)
                                                  Bottom Line: This jobs report complicates the Fed's decision making process. They are stuck with instability in the financial markets as the economy reaches full employment. They are concerned that in the absence of temporary factors, inflation will quickly jump higher if the economy continues on this trajectory. While they would like unemployment to settle somewhat below NAIRU to eliminate lingering underemployment, they don't want it to settle far below NAIRU. They don't believe they can easily tap the breaks to lift unemployment higher. Recession is almost guaranteed to follow. Hence they would like to be able to rates rates gradually to feel their way around the darkness in which the true value of NAIRU lies. They fear that if they delay additional tightening, they will pass the point of no return in which they are forced to abandon their doctrine of gradualism. The Fed's policy challenge just became a little bit harder today.

                                                    Posted by on Friday, February 5, 2016 at 10:21 AM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (20) 


                                                    Paul Krugman: Who Hates Obamacare?

                                                    The left's attack on Obamacare could be harmful:

                                                    Who Hates Obamacare?, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...the Affordable Care Act is already doing enormous good. ... Why, then, do we hear not just conservatives but also many progressives trashing President Obama’s biggest policy achievement?
                                                    Part of the answer is that Bernie Sanders has chosen to make re-litigating reform, and trying for single-payer, a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. So some Sanders supporters have taken to attacking Obamacare as a failed system. ... And some of these critiques have merit. Others don’t.
                                                    Let’s start with the good critiques...
                                                    The number of uninsured Americans has dropped sharply... But millions are still uncovered, and in some cases high deductibles make coverage less useful than it should be.
                                                    This isn’t inherent in a non-single-payer system: Other countries with Obamacare-type systems, like the Netherlands and Switzerland, do have near-universal coverage even though they rely on private insurers. But Obamacare as currently constituted doesn’t seem likely to get there, perhaps because it’s somewhat underfunded.
                                                    Meanwhile, although cost control is looking better than even reform advocates expected, America’s health care remains much more expensive than anyone else’s.
                                                    So yes, there are real issues with Obamacare. The question is how to address those issues in a politically feasible way.
                                                    But a lot of what I hear from the left is not so much a complaint about how the reform falls short as outrage that private insurers get to play any role. The idea seems to be that any role for the profit motive taints the whole effort.
                                                    That is, however, a really bad critique..., the fact that some insurers are making money from reform (and their profits are not ... all that large) isn’t a reason to oppose that reform. The point is to help the uninsured, not to punish or demonize insurance companies.
                                                    And speaking of demonization: One unpleasant, ugly side of this debate has been the tendency of some Sanders supporters, and sometimes the campaign itself, to suggest that anyone raising questions about the senator’s proposals must be a corrupt tool of vested interests. ...
                                                    And let’s be clear: This kind of thing can do real harm. The truth is that whomever the Democrats nominate, the general election is mainly going to be a referendum on whether we preserve the real if incomplete progress we’ve made on health, financial reform and the environment. The last thing progressives should be doing is trash-talking that progress and impugning the motives of people who are fundamentally on their side.

                                                      Posted by on Friday, February 5, 2016 at 07:56 AM in Economics, Health Care, Politics | Permalink  Comments (174) 


                                                      'Job Growth Slows in January, Unemployment Falls to 4.9 Percent'

                                                      Dean Baker:

                                                      Job Growth Slows in January, Unemployment Falls to 4.9 Percent, by Dean Baker: The Labor Department reported the economy added 151,000 jobs in January, in line with some economists' expectations. There were largely offsetting revisions to the prior two months data leaving the average change over the last three months at 231,000. The household survey showed a jump in employment that both lowered the unemployment rate to 4.9 percent and also raised the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) to 59.6 percent. This is the highest EPOP of the recovery, but it is still more than 3 percentage points below the pre-recession level. ...

                                                      There was a large 12 cent jump in the average hourly wage in January, but this followed a month in which there was no reported rise at all. Over the last three months the wage has risen at a 2.5 percent annual rate compared to the prior three months, the same as its pace over the last year. There is little basis for the belief that wage growth is accelerating. The Employment Cost Index for the fourth quarter showed no uptick at all in the pace of compensation growth, with wage growth in the private sector actually slowing slightly. ...

                                                      The overall picture in this report is mixed. The sharp slowing in job growth was to be expected, given the slow growth reported in the economy. The labor market is still not tight enough to produce healthy wage growth. With many downside risks to growth, 2016 may not be a good year for workers.

                                                        Posted by on Friday, February 5, 2016 at 07:47 AM in Economics, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (22) 


                                                        Links for 02-05-16

                                                          Posted by on Friday, February 5, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (190) 


                                                          Thursday, February 04, 2016

                                                          'Dovish Actions Require Dovish Talk (To Be Effective)'

                                                          Narayana Kocherlakota:

                                                          Dovish Actions Require Dovish Talk (To Be Effective): The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has bought a lot of assets and kept interest rates extraordinarily low for the past eight years.  Yet, all of this stimulus has accomplished surprisingly little (for example, inflation and inflation expectations remain below target and are expected to do so for years to come).   Does that experience mean that we should give up on monetary policy as a useful way to stimulate aggregate demand?  
                                                          My answer is no.  I argue that, over the past seven years, the FOMC's has consistently talked hawkish while acting dovish.  This communications approach has weakened the effectiveness of policy choices, probably in a significant way.  Future monetary policy stimulus can be considerably more effective if the FOMC is much more transparent about its willingness to support the economy - that is, about its true dovishness.
                                                          My starting point is that households and businesses don’t make their decisions about spending based on the current fed funds rate - which, is after all, a one-day interest rate.  Rather, spending decisions are based on longer-term yields.  Those longer-term yields depend on market participants’ beliefs about how monetary policy will evolve over the next few years.  Those beliefs are a product of both FOMC actions and FOMC communications. 
                                                          In December 2008, the FOMC lowered the fed funds rate target range to 0 to a quarter percent. It did not raise the target range until December 2015, when the unemployment rate had fallen back down to 5%.   But - with the benefit of hindsight - a shocking amount of this eight years’ worth of unprecedented stimulus was wasted, because it was largely unanticipated by financial markets. (Full disclosure: I took part in FOMC meetings from November 2009 through October 2015, and it could certainly be argued that I was part of the problem that I describe until September 2012.)  
                                                          I’ll illustrate my basic point in the most extreme way that I can.  In November 2009, the Committee’s statement said that the fed funds rate might be raised after “an extended period” - a term that was generally interpreted to mean “about six months”.  Accordingly, as footnote 25 of this speech notes, private forecasters in the Blue Chip survey projected that the unemployment rate would be near 10 percent at the time of the first interest rate increase.  
                                                          Now, suppose that the FOMC had communicated its true reaction function in November 2009 (or even as late as December 2012): as long as inflation was anticipated to be below 2% over the medium-term, the Committee would not raise the fed funds rate until the unemployment rate had fallen to 5% or below.  We can’t know the impact of such communication with certainty.   But most macroeconomic models would predict that this kind of statement would have put significant upward pressure on employment and prices.  In other words: the models predict that if the FOMC had been willing to communicate its true willingness to support the economy, the Committee would have been able to (safely) raise rates much sooner.  
                                                          I want to be clear: my point in this post is not to express regrets or recrimination over past “mistakes”.    (It would have been good in 2009 to know what we know now, but we didn’t.)  And my point is not that monetary policy is some kind of panacea.  In the presence of a lower bound on nominal interest rates, expansionist fiscal policy would have been helpful in the past (and could be now too). 
                                                          My point is this: we shouldn’t make judgements about the efficacy of future monetary policy stimulus based on the experience from the past seven years.   Unfortunately, much of the potential impact of that lengthy stimulus campaign was vitiated by the FOMC’s generally hawkish communications.   
                                                          In my view, the FOMC can deliver useful impetus to aggregate demand with its remaining tools.  But it needs to communicate ahead of time about its true willingness and ability to support the economy.   Without that prior communication, later attempts at stimulus are likely to prove in vain - and the Fed’s credibility may suffer further damage.

                                                            Posted by on Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 12:10 PM in Economics, Monetary Policy | Permalink  Comments (27) 


                                                            'China’s Growth Prospects'

                                                            Robert Barro on China:

                                                            China’s growth prospects: ...it is not possible for the per capita growth rate to exceed 5% per year for very much longer.
                                                            China can be viewed as a convergence success story, in the sense that the strong economic growth over a sustained period led to a level of real per capita GDP that can be characterised as middle income. To put the Chinese accomplishment into international perspective, I calculated all the convergence success stories in the world based on reasonable criteria.  Specifically, I looked first at countries that had at least doubled real per capita GDP since 1990.  Within this group, I defined a middle-income success as having achieved a level of real per capita GDP in 2014 of at least $10,000.  An upper-income success requires a level of at least $20,000 (the numbers are in 2011 US dollars and factor in international adjustments for changes in purchasing power).
                                                            With these criteria, the world’s middle-income convergence success stories comprise China, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Peru, Thailand, and Uruguay (Uruguay is a surprise, apparently boosted by dramatic migration of human capital out of Argentina.)  The upper-income successes consist of Chile, Hong Kong, Ireland, Malaysia, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.
                                                            A view that has gained recent popularity is the ‘middle-income trap’. According to this idea, the successful transition from low- to middle-income status is typically followed by barriers that impede a further transition to upper income. The data suggest that this trap is a myth.  Moving from low- to middle-income status, as achieved recently by China, is difficult. Conditional on achieving middle-income status, the further transition to upper-income status is also difficult.  However, there is no evidence that this second transition is harder than the first one.
                                                            As mentioned before, China’s growth rate of real per capita GDP has been remarkably high since around 1990, well above the rates predicted from international experience.  Although I forecast that China’s per capita growth rate will decline soon from 7-8% per year to 3-4%, this lower growth rate is sufficient when sustained over two to three decades to transition from low- to middle-income status (which China has already accomplished) and then from middle- to high-income status (which China will probably achieve).  Thus, although the likely future growth rates will be well below recent experience, they would actually be a great accomplishment. 
                                                            Perhaps the biggest challenge is that the prospective per capita growth rates in China are well below the values of 5-6% per year implied by official forecasts.  Thus, the future may bring political tensions in reconciling economic dreams with economic realities.  Reducing the unrealistically optimistic growth expectations held inside and outside China’s government would reduce the risk of this tension and lower the temptation to achieve targets by manipulating the national-accounts data.

                                                              Posted by on Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 08:08 AM in China, Economics | Permalink  Comments (51) 


                                                              Fed Watch: Jobs Day

                                                              Tim Duy:

                                                              Jobs Day, by Tim Duy: The jobs report for January is upon us. I would like to say this one will receive special attention but they all receive special attention. Consensus forecast is for nonfarm payrolls to gain 188k, with a range of 170k-215k, while unemployment holds constant at 5%. Calculated Risk looks at five indicators and concludes:
                                                              Unfortunately none of the indicators above is very good at predicting the initial BLS employment report. However, based on these indicators, it appears job gains will be below consensus.
                                                              One of the indicators CR considers in consumer sentiment, which as CR says is influenced by factors other than the labor market, so I will discount it in what follows. A regression of the monthly change in nonfarm payrolls on the remaining indicators - monthly change in ADP payrolls (ADP), the ISM employment index for manufacturing (NAPMEI), the ISM employment index for nonmanfucturing (NMFEI), and the monthly change in initial jobless claims (CLAIMS2) - yields:

                                                              NFPFORa020416

                                                              This is a quick and dirty regression, to be sure, and I would caveat it by saying that it is more accurately described as a model of the revised nonfarm payrolls number than the initial release. Note also that the coefficient on the manufacturing employment index is not significant. As CR says:
                                                              Note: Recently the ADP has been a better predictor for BLS reported manufacturing employment than the ISM survey.
                                                              With these caveats in mind, the one-step ahead forecasts are:

                                                              NFPFOR020416

                                                              The point forecast for January is 202.64k, a tad higher than consensus, but the 95% confidence interval is wide at (48k to 357k). Which is a reminder that trying to predict monthly payrolls is something of a fool's errand. I would not be surprised by any outcome within the 68% confidence interval, or 123k to 280k. A significant miss relative to consensus should not be a surprise. It would still be within the range of recent outcomes.
                                                              The Fed will be watching for signs that the economy has slowed precipitously since the final quarter of 2015. They will also be watching the unemployment rate and underemployment indicators to assess remaining slack in the economy. Further declines in the unemployment rate will make them increasingly uneasy with holding steady even as financial markets suggest they should. Watch wages for confirmation that slack has or has not diminished. And, finally, for those on recession watch, ignore the headlines whether they be weak or strong and look at temporary help payrolls and signs that long-term unemployment is back on the rise. Both tend to be leading indicators, especially the former.
                                                              In other news, New York Fed President William Dudley was reported to have cooled on rate hikes:
                                                              "One thing I think we can say with more confidence is that financial conditions are considerably tighter than they were at the time of the December meeting," said Dudley, a permanent voter on the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's monetary policy arm.
                                                              "So if those financial conditions were to remain in place by the time we get to the March meeting, we would have to take that into consideration in terms of that monetary policy decision," he said.
                                                              While the Wall Street Journal reports that Fed Governor Lael Brainard reiterated her warnings from last year:
                                                              Her concern is that stresses in emerging markets including China and slow growth in developed economies could spill over to the U.S. “This translates into weaker exports, business investment and manufacturing in the United States, slower progress on hitting the inflation target, and financial tightening through the exchange rate and rising risk spreads on financial assets,” Ms. Brainard said Monday in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal.

                                                              “Recent developments reinforce the case for watchful waiting,” she said.

                                                              Both are clearly more cautious than Kansas City Fed Esther George. And more influential as well. I enjoyed this:
                                                              “I don’t think it served Janet Yellen well,” former Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said in an interview of Ms. Brainard’s critique. “It’s the only time I’ve known her when she didn’t appear to be a team player,” he said of Ms. Brainard, with whom he worked in the Clinton administration.
                                                              Seriously? Fisher has the gall to criticize Brainard as not a team player? Google "fisher dallas dissent" and see what you get. A sample:

                                                              FISHER

                                                              Being a team player isn't always what the Fed needs. Fisher obviously thought so when he was on the FOMC. Yet he insists Brainard be the team player he wasn't. Sad.
                                                              Separately, Goldman Sachs has erased their expectations of a rate hike in March, but left three more penciled-in for the rest of the year. Clearly in the "no recession" camp. I think that March is unlikely, as is a chance to "catch-up" in April. But I can make a story on the back of calm in financial markets and two strong employment reports that March comes back on the table. Not my baseline though.
                                                              Bottom Line: Fed mostly coming around to delaying the next rate hike. Would need to see a lot of change over just a few weeks to get them back on their original track. More than seems likely. Rest of the year? If you are in the "no recession" camp like me, you anticipate the Fed will resume hiking later this year. If you are in the "recession" camp, it's all over.

                                                                Posted by on Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy | Permalink  Comments (8) 


                                                                Links for 02-04-16

                                                                  Posted by on Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (199) 


                                                                  Wednesday, February 03, 2016

                                                                  'The Costs of Inequality: When a Fair Shake Isn’t'

                                                                  The beginning of a relatively long discussion:

                                                                  The costs of inequality: When a fair shake isn’t, by Alvin Powell, Harvard Staff Writer: It’s a seemingly nondescript chart, buried in a Harvard Business School (HBS) professor’s academic paper.
                                                                  A rectangle, divided into parts, depicts U.S. wealth for each fifth of the population. But it appears to show only three divisions. The bottom two, representing the accumulated wealth of 124 million people, are so small that they almost don’t even show up.
                                                                  Other charts in other journals illustrate different aspects of American inequality. They might depict income, housing quality, rates of imprisonment, or levels of political influence, but they all look very much the same.
                                                                  Perhaps most damning are those that reflect opportunity — whether involving education, health, race, or gender — because the inequity represented there belies our national identity. America, we believe, is a land where everyone gets a fair start and then rises or falls according to his or her own talent and industry. But if you’re poor, if you’re uneducated, if you’re black, if you’re Hispanic, if you’re a woman, there often is no fair start. ...

                                                                    Posted by on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Politics | Permalink  Comments (46) 


                                                                    Fed Watch: Resisting Change?

                                                                    Tim Duy:

                                                                    Resisting Change?, by Tim Duy: Monday Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer offered up a speech and lengthy discussion on recent monetary policy. It was both illuminating and frustrating at once. Although his confidence is fading, I also sense that he is resisting change. Fischer begins by reviewing the December decision:

                                                                    Our decision in December was based on the substantial improvement in the labor market and the Committee's confidence that inflation would return to our 2 percent goal over the medium term. Employment growth last year averaged a solid 220,000 per month, and the unemployment rate declined from 5.6 percent to 5.0 percent over the course of 2015. Inflation ran well below our target last year, held down by the transitory effects of declines in crude oil prices and also in the prices of non-oil imports. Prices for these goods have fallen further and for longer than expected. Once these oil and import prices stop falling and level out, their effects on inflation will dissipate, which is why we expect that inflation will rise to 2 percent over the medium term, supported by a further strengthening in labor market conditions.

                                                                    This covers familiar territory, as does his subsequent remarks the even after raising rates, policy remains accommodative:

                                                                    I would note that our monetary policy remains accommodative after the small increase in the federal funds rate adopted in December. And my colleagues and I anticipate that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate, and that the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below the levels that we expect to prevail in the longer run.

                                                                    This is the first source of my frustration, because his definition of "accommodative" depends upon a specific idea of the neutral Fed Funds rates. From the subsequent discussion:

                                                                    Well, I think we have to wait to see precisely where this process will take us. We expect now that the numbers given in the survey, we can now make projections, the SEP of members of the FOMC, of somewhere around 3 ¼, 3, 3 ½ percent, which is on average a bit lower than in the past. But we’ll be data-dependent and we’ll see what happens. We don’t have to fix a rate that we’ll be at. We can indicate what members of the FOMC believe, which is what the number I’ve just given you is.

                                                                    If you don't know the longer-run rate, how can you know how accommodative policy is? If the longer-run rate is close to 2 percent, then policy is less accommodative than you think it is. The endgame of policy is the dual employment/price stability mandate, not a specific level of interest rates.

                                                                    The Fed's forecasts, however, have been foiled by oil and the dollar:

                                                                    At our meeting last week, we left our target for the federal funds rate unchanged. Economic data over the intermeeting period suggested that improvement in labor market conditions continued even as economic growth slowed late last year. But further declines in oil prices and increases in the foreign exchange value of the dollar suggested that inflation would likely remain low for somewhat longer than had been previously expected before moving back to 2 percent.

                                                                    This in and of itself would suggest a slower or delayed pace of rate hikes, but more on that later. As for market volatility and external events:

                                                                    In addition, increased concern about the global outlook, particularly the ongoing structural adjustments in China and the effects of the declines in the prices of oil and other commodities on commodity exporting nations, appeared early this year to have triggered volatility in global asset markets. At this point, it is difficult to judge the likely implications of this volatility. If these developments lead to a persistent tightening of financial conditions, they could signal a slowing in the global economy that could affect growth and inflation in the United States. But we have seen similar periods of volatility in recent years that have left little permanent imprint on the economy.

                                                                    This is unimpressive. Are we allowed to say that about Fischer? First, the likely implications of the volatility are straightforward. The decline in longer term yields signals the Fed is likely to be lower for longer. Second, it seems that Fischer does not acknowledge the Fed's role in minimizing the impact of similar bouts of volatility. They have responded by either easing via additional quantitative easing, or easing by delaying tightening (such as pushing back expectations of the taper or skipping their hoped-for September 2015 rate hike).

                                                                    I find this distressing because when you fail to recognize your role, you set the stage for a policy error. They can't use the logic that they should hike in March because past volatility had no impact on growth when that same volatility actually changed their behavior and thus the economic outcomes. I guess they can use that logic, but they shouldn't.

                                                                    So is March on the table still? I don't think they will have the inflation data to support such a move. But I can tell a story where they push ahead on the labor data alone. Back to Fischer:

                                                                    As you know, in making our policy decisions, my FOMC colleagues and I spend considerable time assessing the incoming economic and financial information and its implications for the economic outlook. But we also must consider some other issues, two of which I would like to mention briefly today.

                                                                    First, should we be concerned about the possibility of the unemployment rate falling somewhat below its longer-run normal level, as the most recent FOMC projections suggest? In my view, a modest overshoot of this sort would be appropriate in current circumstances for two reasons. First, other measures of labor market conditions--such as the fraction of workers with part-time employment who would prefer to work full time and the number of people out of the labor force who would like to work--indicate that more slack may remain in labor market than the unemployment rate alone would suggest. Second, with inflation currently well below 2 percent, a modest overshoot actually could be helpful in moving inflation back to 2 percent more rapidly.

                                                                    The economy is currently operating near the Fed's estimate of the natural rate of unemployment. Upward pressure on wages is constant with that hypothesis. The Fed would like unemployment to drop further to dissipate lingering underemployment and put upward pressure on inflation. So their is room for additional declines in the unemployment rate. But:

                                                                    Nonetheless, a persistent large overshoot of our employment mandate would risk an undesirable rise in inflation that might require a relatively abrupt policy tightening, which could inadvertently push the economy into recession. Monetary policy should aim to avoid such risks and keep the expansion on a sustainable track.

                                                                    Here Fischer echoes the comments of New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley. Policymakers fear that they cannot allow unemployment to drift far below the natural rate because they do not believe they could just nudge it back higher without causing a recession. They can only glide into a sustainable path from above. Hence one can envision the Fed getting caught up in the employment data between now and March. That is two reports; if those reports suggest that labor markets remain strong, then the Fed will resist holding rates steady. At a minimum, it would certainly complicate the March meeting and sap my confidence that they stand pat. Indeed, one voting member is already working hard to downplay recent events. Today's speech by Kansas City Federal Reserve President Esther George:

                                                                    While taking a signal from such volatility is warranted, monetary policy cannot respond to every blip in financial markets. Instead, a focus on economic fundamentals, such as labor markets and inflation, can help guard against monetary policy over- or under- reacting to swings in financial conditions. To a great extent, the recent bout of volatility is not all that unexpected, nor necessarily worrisome, given that the Fed’s low interest rate and bond- buying policies focused on boosting asset prices as a means of stimulating the real economy. As asset prices adjust to the shift in monetary policy, it is to be expected that the pricing of risk will realign to this different rate environment…

                                                                    …The exact timing of each move, however, is subject to the economic environment. Because monetary policy affects the economy with lags, decisions must necessarily rely on forecasts and their associated risks — not waiting until desired objectives are realized.

                                                                    If we wait for the data to provide complete confirmation before making a policy decision, we may well have waited too long. Likewise, policy may be faced with altering its trajectory if the economy’s progress points to a different outlook. But in the absence of any substantial shift in the outlook, my view is that the Committee should continue the gradual adjustment of moving rates higher to keep them aligned with economic activity and inflation. These actions are often difficult, but also necessary to keep growth in line with the economy’s long-run potential and to foster price stability.

                                                                    An additional point: Watch for policymakers to downplay the inflation numbers as well. Back to George:

                                                                    Finally, inflation has remained muted as a result of lower oil prices and the strong U.S. dollar. Recent movements in each of these have been quite large by historical standards. Yet, despite these headwinds, core measures of inflation have recently risen on a year-over-year basis. And although inflation rates over the past few years have hovered below the Fed’s goal of 2 percent, they have been positive and broadly consistent with price stability.

                                                                    Note the "positive and broadly consistent" line. And Fischer:

                                                                    And our view of progress is what the law calls maximum employment and what we call maximum sustainable employment, and a 2 percent inflation rate. And when we get there—we’re there—we’re very close to there on employment, and on inflation the core number that came out this morning was 1.4 percent. You know, that’s not 2 percent. It’s not in another universe. It’s not a negative number. But inflation’s been pretty stable, and we’d like it to go up.

                                                                    Not in "another universe' from 2 percent. Not negative. Sure we'd like it to go up, but are we really worried about it? Doesn't sound like it to me.

                                                                    Bottom Line: Fischer is clearly less confident than earlier this month when he claimed that market participants were underestimating the pace of rate hikes. The baseline of four hikes is clearly is doubt; see here for my five potential scenarios. Financial market participants have almost completely discounted any rate hikes this year. This is a recession scenario that I am not enamored with. That said, I suspect market volatility and lack of inflation data keep them on hold in March and maybe April even if the recession does not come to pass. However (although not my baseline), I can tell a story where they feel like the employment data forces their hand. Especially so if they continue to downplay the inflation numbers. A substantial part of their policy still appears directed by a pre-conceived notion of "normal" policy. This I think is the Fed's largest error; the fact that the yield curve stubbornly resists being pushed higher suggests that the Fed's estimates of the terminal fed funds rates is wildly optimistic. There appear to be limits to which the Fed can resist the global pull of zero (or lower) rates.

                                                                      Posted by on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Fed Watch, Monetary Policy | Permalink  Comments (49) 


                                                                      'How Successful Was the New Deal?'

                                                                      From the NBER:

                                                                      How Successful Was the New Deal? The Microeconomic Impact of New Deal Spending and Lending Policies in the 1930s, by Price V. Fishback, NBER Working Paper No. 21925 Issued in January 2016: Abstract The New Deal during the 1930s was arguably the largest peace-time expansion in federal government activity in American history. Until recently there had been very little quantitative testing of the microeconomic impact of the wide variety of New Deal programs. Over the past decade scholars have developed new panel databases for counties, cities, and states and then used panel data methods on them to examine the examine the impact of New Deal spending and lending policies for the major New Deal programs. In most cases the identification of the effect comes from changes across time within the same geographic location after controlling for national shocks to the economy. Many of the studies also use instrumental variable methods to control for endogeneity. The studies find that public works and relief spending had state income multipliers of around one, increased consumption activity, attracted internal migration, reduced crime rates, and lowered several types of mortality. The farm programs typically aided large farm owners but eliminated opportunities for share croppers, tenants, and farm workers. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation’s purchases and refinancing of troubled mortgages staved off drops in housing prices and home ownership rates at relatively low ex post cost to taxpayers. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation’s loans to banks and railroads appear to have had little positive impact, although the banks were aided when the RFC took ownership stakes.

                                                                      (I couldn't find an open link.)

                                                                        Posted by on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 12:12 AM in Academic Papers, Economics, Fiscal Policy | Permalink  Comments (20) 


                                                                        Links for 02-03-16

                                                                          Posted by on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (159) 


                                                                          Tuesday, February 02, 2016

                                                                          Economics is Changing

                                                                          Not much out there to excerpt and blog, so I threw down a few thoughts for you to tear apart:

                                                                          I hear frequently that economics needs to change, and it has, at least in the questions we ask. Twenty years go, the dominant conversation in economics was about the wonder of markets. We needed to free the banking system from regulations so it could do its important job of turning saving into productive investment unfettered by government interference. Trade barriers needed to come down to make everyone better off. There was little need to worry about monopoly power, markets are contestable and the problem will take care of itself. Unions simply get in the way of our innovative, dynamic economy and needed to be broken so the market could do its thing and make everyone better off. Inequality was a good thing, it created the right incentives for people to work hard and try to get ahead, and the markets would ensure that everyone, from CEOs on down, would be paid according to their contribution to society. The problem wasn't that the markets somehow distributed goods unfairly, or at least in a way that is at odds with marginal productivity theory, it was that some workers lacked the training to reap higher rewards. We simply needed to prepare people better to compete in modern, global markets, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with markets themselves. The move toward market fundamentalism wasn't limited to Republicans, Democrats joined in too.

                                                                          That view is changing. Inequality has burst onto the economics research scene. Is rising inequality an inevitable feature of capitalism? Does the system reward people fairly? Can inequality actually inhibit economic growth? Not so long ago, the profession ignored these questions. Similarly for the financial sector. The profession has moved from singing the praises of the financial system and its ability to channel savings into the most productive investments to asking whether the financial sector produces as much value for society as was claimed in the past. We now ask whether banks are too big and powerful, whereas in the past that size was praised as a sign of how super-sized banks can do super-sized things for the economy, and compete with banks around the world. We have gone from saying that the shadow banking system can self regulate as it provides important financial services to homeowners and businesses to asking what types of regulation would be best. Economists used to pretty much ignore the financial sector altogether. It was a black box that simply turned S (saving) into I (investment), and did so efficiently, and there was no need to get into the details. Our modern financial system couldn't crash like those antiquated systems that were around during and before the Great Depression. There was no need to include it in our macro models, at least not in any detail, or even ask questions about what might happen if there was a financial crisis.

                                                                          There are other changes too. Economists now question whether markets reward labor according to changes in productivity. Why is it that wages have stagnated even as worker productivity has gone up? Is it because bargaining power is asymmetric in labor markets, with firms having the advantage? What's the best way to elevate the working class? In the past, an argument was made that the best way to help everyone is to cut taxes for the wealthy, and all the great things they would do with the extra money and the incentives that tax cuts bring would trickle down and help the working class. That didn't happen and although there are still echoes of this argument on the political right, the questions have certainly changed. Much of the current research agenda in economics is devoted to understanding why wage income has stagnated for most people, and how to fix it. We've moved beyond "technology is the problem and better education is the answer" to asking whether the market system itself, and the market failures that come with it (including political influence over policy), has something to do with this outcome.

                                                                          Fiscal policy is another example of change within the profession. Twenty years ago, nobody, well hardly anyone, was doing research on the impact of fiscal policy and its use as a countercyclical policy instrument. All of the focus was on monetary policy. Fiscal policy would only be needed in a severe recession, and that wouldn't happen in our modern economy, and in any case it wouldn't work (not everyone believed fiscal policy was ineffective, but many did). That has changed. Fiscal policy is now an integral component of many modern DSGE models, and -- surprise -- the models do not tell us fiscal policy is ineffective. Quite the opposite, it works well in deep recessions (though near full employment its effectiveness wanes).

                                                                          Monetary policy has also come under scrutiny. In the past, the Taylor rule was praised as responsible for the Great Moderation. We had discovered the key to a stable economy. But the Great Recession changed that. We now wonder if other policy rules might serve as a better guidepost (e.g. nominal GDP targeting), we ask about negative interest rates, unconventional policy, all sorts of questions that were hardly asked or even imagined not so long ago. We wonder about regulation of the financial sector, and how to do it correctly (in the past, it was about how to remove regulations correctly).

                                                                          I don't mean to suggest that economics is now on the right track. The old guard is still there, and still influential. But it's hard to deny that the questions we are asking have gone through a considerable evolution since the onset of the recession, and when questions change, new models and new tools are developed to answer them. The models do not come first -- models aren't built in search of questions, models are built to answer questions -- and the fact that we are asking new (and in my view much better) questions is a sign of further change to come.

                                                                            Posted by on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 10:40 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics | Permalink  Comments (77) 


                                                                            'Post-Iowa Notes'

                                                                            In case you want to talk about the primaries, here's something to get you started:

                                                                            Post-Iowa Notes, by Paul Krugman: ...Sanders is tapping into something that moves a lot of Democrats, and which Clinton needs to try for as well. Can she?
                                                                            Certainly taking a harder line on the corruption of our politics by big money is important — and no, giving some paid speeches doesn’t disqualify her from making that case. (Cue furious attack from the Bernie bros.) Substantively, her financial reform ideas are as tough as his, just different in focus. What is true, though, is that simply by having been in the world of movers and shakers for so long, Clinton can’t project the kind of purity that someone who has been an outsider (even while sitting in the Senate) can manage.
                                                                            The bigger problem, though, to my mind at least, is the ability to deliver a message of dramatic uplift, the promise that electing your favorite candidate will cause a dramatic change in the world. How do you do that if your reality sense tells you that only incremental progress is possible, at least for now? You probably can’t. (I’m pretty bad at the uplift thing myself). To be blunt, I think Sanders is selling an illusion, but it’s an illusion many people want to believe in, and there’s no easy way to counter that.
                                                                            In the end, again, Clinton’s tell-it-like-it-is approach will probably be enough to clinch the nomination. And then she’ll be in a very different position, running as the champion of real if limited progress against, well, look at those top three on the other side.

                                                                              Posted by on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 09:24 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (142) 


                                                                              Links for 02-02-16

                                                                                Posted by on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (259) 


                                                                                Monday, February 01, 2016

                                                                                Predictions?

                                                                                I don't have anything to post presently, so let me ask:

                                                                                What are your predictions for the outcome of the Iowa caucuses tonight?

                                                                                  Posted by on Monday, February 1, 2016 at 11:32 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (98) 


                                                                                  'Changes in Labor Participation and Household Income'

                                                                                  Robert Hall and Nicolas Petrosky-Nadeau:

                                                                                  Changes in Labor Participation and Household Income, by Robert Hall and Nicolas Petrosky-Nadeau, FRBSF Economic Letter: For most people, active participation in the labor market is socially desirable for several reasons. One major benefit is the set of skills and abilities a person gains on the job. Long periods out of employment can mean a worker loses valuable skills. In terms of the overall labor force, this loss is compounded, lowering the accumulation of human capital and negatively affecting economic growth in the long run. As such, a decline in labor force participation, particularly among workers in their prime, is a significant concern for policymakers.

                                                                                  Over the past 15 years, the labor force participation (LFP) rate in the United States has fallen significantly. Various factors have contributed to this decline, including the aging of the population (Daly et al., 2013) and changes in welfare programs (Burkhauser and Daly, 2013). In this Economic Letter, we look at another potential contribution, the changing relationship between household income and the decision to participate in the labor force.

                                                                                  Measuring labor force participation

                                                                                  People are considered “in the labor force” if they are employed or have actively looked for work in the past four weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics definition of unemployment. Following this definition, we study labor market participation and how it relates to household income using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Administered by the Census Bureau since 1983, the SIPP was created to remedy shortcomings in existing survey data on household incomes and benefit-program participation, such as the March Income Supplement to the Current Population Survey. The SIPP collects detailed information on a person’s labor force activities, a wide range of demographic data, the receipt of cash and in-kind income, and participation in government programs.

                                                                                  Comparisons of LFP rates over time need to control for the ever-changing demographic characteristics of the U.S. population, such as age, educational attainment, and race and ethnicity. For example, aggregate participation may decline if a certain group—say, individuals over age 55, who are less likely to be working—gain greater prominence in the overall population. In this case, we would observe a decline in overall participation even if there had been no change in each individual’s propensity to be in the labor market.

                                                                                  We use a probability model to determine the likelihood that an individual with a specific set of demographic characteristics will participate in the labor market. Crucially, this allows us to compare the behavior of similar individuals at different points in time. The factors we include are age and sex, household structure (at least two individuals in the household over age 25), education (less than high school, high school, college, or post-graduate), and race and ethnicity (white, black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, or other). All LFP rates we report in this Letter control for these demographic characteristics.

                                                                                  The LFP rate for people between the ages of 25 and 54 was 83.8% in 2004, then dropped to 81.2% by 2013. This 2.6 percentage point decline has persisted well beyond the end of the Great Recession and has caught the attention of policymakers, particularly because it concerns workers in their prime who are usually active participants in the labor market.

                                                                                  Measuring household income

                                                                                  Each individual in the SIPP is associated with a household, and the survey provides a detailed account of the household’s monthly income. Households are then ranked according to income level, and divided evenly into four quartiles across the range of the household income distribution. In 2013, households in the lowest 25% of the income distribution, or the first quartile, had an average monthly income of less than $1,770. The median total household monthly income was $3,430. At the top of the distribution, the lower bound for being in the highest 25% of households, or the fourth quartile, was a monthly income of $5,993.

                                                                                  Earnings from work are typically the main source of income for a household regardless of its position within the household income distribution. Other sources are property income and various support programs such as social security, veteran benefits, and public assistance. On average in 2013, the upper-level households derived about 96% of their monthly income from working. For households in the poorest quartile, earnings made up about 62% of monthly income, while another 23% came from unemployment compensation, social security, supplemental social security, and food stamps.

                                                                                  Labor force participation and household income

                                                                                  We sort prime-age individuals according to their household’s position in the income distribution. The probability of participating in the labor market for those in the poorest households in 2013 was just 61.5%, compared with 81.2% for all 25- to 54-year-olds (see Table 1). Further up the household income distribution, individuals are more likely to actively participate in the labor market—in the top quartile, the participation rate was 89.9% in 2013.

                                                                                  Table 1
                                                                                  Labor force participation among prime-age workers across household income distributions

                                                                                  Labor force participation among prime-age workers across household income distributions

                                                                                  Looking back in time, we see that the decline in the LFP rate of prime-age workers is unevenly spread across the income distribution. The poorest quartile had the smallest change since 2004, falling 0.8 percentage point. The second quartile fell 2.4 points, while the third quartile reported the largest drop with 3.2 points. Participation also fell 2.0 percentage points for households in the fourth quartile.

                                                                                  Figure 1 shows how much each household income quartile contributed to the 2.6 percentage point overall decline in LFP among workers ages 25 to 54 since 2004. Each quartile’s contribution is the sum of two numbers. The first is the change in the probability that an individual living in a particular household income bracket will participate in the labor market. The second is the change in household size over time, which raises or lowers the number of people in a household income grouping. For instance, the poorest quartile saw a small decline in individual participation rates. At the same time there was a modest increase in the average number of people living in these households. Taken together, the poorest quartile added 0.7 percentage point to the total participation rate between 2004 and 2013 (red line). Likewise, the second quartile (yellow line) added 0.4 percentage point.

                                                                                  Figure 1
                                                                                  Changes in labor participation among prime-age workers
                                                                                  Total and contribution by quartiles of household income distribution

                                                                                  Changes in labor participation among prime-age workers: Total and contribution by quartiles of household income distribution

                                                                                  Note: Numbers to right of lines show percentage point changes to total and quartile contributions, 2004–13.

                                                                                  By contrast, individuals in the two highest income quartiles have increasingly remained out of the labor force during this time frame. Individuals in the fourth quartile (green line) accounted for 1.6 of the 2.6 percentage point decline in total participation since 2004, while those in the third quartile (blue line) contributed the most to the decline, a full 2.1 percentage points. By this measure, virtually all of the decline in labor market participation among 25- to 54-year-olds can be attributed to the higher-income half of American households.

                                                                                  Participation among younger and older workers

                                                                                  We can also extend this analysis to the remaining age groups: young people under age 25 and older workers age 55 and over. Doing so will allow us to examine the contribution of each group to the decline in the LFP of the working-age population, that is, all individuals over age 16. Indeed, the LFP of the working-age population dropped 4.8 percentage points over this period, from 67.2% in 2004 to 62.4% in 2013.

                                                                                  As a first step, Figure 2 depicts the total decline in labor force participation and the contribution from each of the three age groups between 2004 and 2013.

                                                                                  Figure 2
                                                                                  Contribution by age group to changes in labor participation

                                                                                  Contribution by age group to changes in labor participation

                                                                                  Source: Authors’ calculations based on the SIPP.

                                                                                  The decline among young workers from 61.8% participation in 2004 to 52.2% in 2013 is striking. Although young workers represent only 16% of the overall working-age population, the 9.6 percentage point decline of the young pulled the aggregate rate down by 2.0 percentage points (light blue line). The pattern of young workers’ participation across the household income distribution, shown in panel A of Figure 3, is similar to that of prime-age workers. Young workers in the highest-income households contributed the largest drop, 3.8 percentage points, while those in the lowest-income households contributed only 0.8 percentage point to the decline for their age group.

                                                                                  Figure 3
                                                                                  Change in labor force participation by household income quartile

                                                                                  Change in labor force participation by household income quartile: A. Younger workers, ages 16–24
                                                                                   
                                                                                  Change in labor force participation by household income quartile: B. Older workers, over age 55

                                                                                  Note: Numbers to right of lines show percentage point changes to total and quartile contributions, 2004–13.

                                                                                  The LFP rate of those over age 55 differs from what we have seen for the other age groups in two respects. First, their likelihood of being in the labor market has increased 3.1 percentage points; together with their increased share of the population, these conditions pushed the aggregate LFP rate up 2.3 percentage points, as shown by the dark blue line in Figure 2. Second, we do not find the same household income pattern among older workers as we found for the other age groups. Rather, panel B of Figure 3 shows that individuals in the highest-income households provided the bulk of the increase in labor force participation.

                                                                                  Conclusion

                                                                                  To get a clearer view of the factors underlying the decline in labor force participation, this Letter has examined how work trends have changed across different age groups and income levels. Our findings suggest that the decline in participation among people of prime working age has been concentrated in higher-income households. A similar pattern appears among younger workers, between the ages of 16 and 24. However, this has not been the case among older workers. Workers over the age of 55, particularly those in households at the top of the income distribution, have been increasingly participating in the labor force. Further research should help understand the underlying reasons for these diverging trends across household incomes.

                                                                                  References

                                                                                  Burkhauser, Richard, and Mary C. Daly. 2013. “The Changing Role of Disabled Children Benefits.” FRBSF Economic Letter 2013-25 (September 3). 

                                                                                  Daly, Mary C., Early Elias, Bart Hobijn, and Òscar Jordà. 2012. “Will the Jobless Rate Drop Take a Break?” FRBSF Economic Letter 2012-37 (December 17). 

                                                                                  [Opinions expressed in FRBSF Economic Letter do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.]

                                                                                    Posted by on Monday, February 1, 2016 at 10:32 AM in Economics, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (14) 


                                                                                    Paul Krugman: Wind, Sun and Fire

                                                                                     "We can have an energy revolution even if the crazies retain control of the House":

                                                                                    Wind, Sun and Fire, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: So what’s really at stake in this year’s election? Well, among other things, the fate of the planet.
                                                                                    Last year was the hottest on record..., climate change just keeps getting scarier; it is, by far, the most important policy issue facing America and the world. ...
                                                                                    Most people who think about the issue at all probably imagine that achieving a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would necessarily involve big economic sacrifices. This view is required orthodoxy on the right, where it forms a sort of second line of defense against action, just in case denial of climate science and witch hunts against climate scientists don’t do the trick. ...
                                                                                    But things are actually much more hopeful than that, thanks to remarkable technological progress in renewable energy.
                                                                                    The numbers are really stunning..., the cost of electricity generation using wind power fell 61 percent from 2009 to 2015, while the cost of solar power fell 82 percent. These numbers ... put the cost of renewable energy into a range where it’s competitive with fossil fuels. ...
                                                                                    So what will it take to achieve a large-scale shift from fossil fuels to renewables, a shift to sun and wind instead of fire? Financial incentives, and they don’t have to be all that huge. Tax credits for renewables that were part of the Obama stimulus plan, and were extended under the recent budget deal, have already done a lot to accelerate the energy revolution. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which if implemented will create strong incentives to move away from coal, will do much more.
                                                                                    And none of this will require new legislation; we can have an energy revolution even if the crazies retain control of the House.
                                                                                    Now, skeptics may point out that even if all these good things happen, they won’t be enough...
                                                                                    But I’d argue that the kind of progress now within reach could produce a tipping point, in the right direction. Once renewable energy becomes an obvious success and, yes, a powerful interest group, anti-environmentalism will start to lose its political grip. And an energy revolution in America would let us take the lead in global action.
                                                                                    Salvation from climate catastrophe is, in short, something we can realistically hope to see happen, with no political miracle necessary. But failure is also a very real possibility. Everything is hanging in the balance.

                                                                                      Posted by on Monday, February 1, 2016 at 08:18 AM in Economics, Environment, Politics | Permalink  Comments (128) 


                                                                                      Links for 02-01-16

                                                                                        Posted by on Monday, February 1, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (123) 


                                                                                        Sunday, January 31, 2016

                                                                                        'Freedom: Three Varieties and a Caveat'

                                                                                        Highlighting something from yesterday's links:

                                                                                        Freedom: Three Varieties and a Caveat, by Peter Dorman, Econospeak: What follows is a very brief summary of an appendix in my micro textbook that addresses the libertarian case for free markets. It was triggered by the comment of Tyler Cowen that the left needs more Mill.
                                                                                        There are three kinds of freedom, each valid. The first is negative freedom, “freedom from”, which means simply freedom from external coercion.  This is what underlies the libertarian attachment to free markets.  The second is positive freedom, “freedom to”, which seeks to provide people the means to realize their (feasible) objectives. Traditionally the left has seized on this notion to justify redistributive institutions and policies. The third is “inner freedom”, freedom from habit, custom, and unreflected assumptions, which was the core message of German idealism, English and French Romanticism and American Transcendentalism (and, at its best, rock and roll).
                                                                                        In a perfect world we would bask in all three of them. Unfortunately, each makes demands on the others, and there is no universal criterion for striking a balance. The first step toward a reasonable politics of freedom, however, is to simply recognize that no one conception is sufficient by itself.
                                                                                        Finally, it’s important to recognize that freedom, according to any interpretation, is always limited by obligation. In particular, we have obligations toward children, the very old or disabled and others who depend on us for the necessities of life. One way collective action can widen the domain of freedom is by helping us to meet these responsibilities more efficiently. Consider, for instance, how public education and pension systems (like Social Security) widen the scope for parents and children of their elderly parents to be freer in other aspects of their lives.

                                                                                        Comments?

                                                                                          Posted by on Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 11:48 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (52) 


                                                                                          Links for 01-31-16

                                                                                            Posted by on Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (178) 


                                                                                            Saturday, January 30, 2016

                                                                                            5 to 4

                                                                                            Narayana Kocherlakota:

                                                                                            5 to 4: On Friday, the Policy Board of the Bank of Japan decided to lower its deposit rate into negative territory for the first time.  The vote was five to four.  In this post, I argue that US monetary policy would be stronger if the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) were willing to issue statements and take actions that were supported by such narrow margins.
                                                                                            As is well-known, the FOMC operates by consensus.  No decision has had more than three No votes in at least twenty-five years.  There has not been a No vote by a governor in ten years, and there has not been more than one No vote by a governor at a meeting in over twenty years.  (See this great article by Thornton and Wheelock for a deeper review.)  
                                                                                            This decision framework is not statutory.  Rather, it is a Committee norm.  The norm is buttressed by Fed watchers and the media, who often refer approvingly to the absence of dissents at a meeting.  (Even today, this FT article refers to the lack of dissents at the December 2015 meeting as being a sign of a successful liftoff.)
                                                                                            This tradition of consensus has three main deficiencies. 
                                                                                            First, consensus creates a strong status quo bias that reduces the sensitivity of monetary policy to incoming data.   The current Committee norms imply that it requires a super-majority of the FOMC to implement a change in direction.  Without that super-majority, the Committee tends to stick to its prior course.   This automatically makes monetary policy relatively insensitive to incoming information.  
                                                                                            Second, the tradition of consensus opens up the possibility that relatively small minorities of FOMC voters can have a disproportionate influence  on monetary policy decisions.   For example, the above history suggests that the FOMC is following a practice under which all decisions need near-unanimous support from the governors.  If so, it becomes theoretically possible for a bloc of one or two governors to exercise veto rights over changes in the direction of monetary policy.
                                                                                            Finally, and perhaps most troublingly, the desire/need for consensus tends to strip collective Committee statements of their clarity.   (See a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Charles Plosser for a similar concern.)  For example, here’s how the current FOMC statement describes the conditionality of the path for the fed funds rate: 
                                                                                            “In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments.”
                                                                                            This length of this list of conditioning variables helps create consensus, but it also serves to reduce the public’s understanding of the overall FOMC strategy.  This uncertainty can be a drag on the effectiveness of policy. 
                                                                                            Bold policy moves often engender significant disagreement.   Policy-making bodies must have cultures that can allow those decisions to get made, despite that disagreement.   Clearly, the Policy Board of the BOJ has that kind of culture.   I worry that the FOMC, with its emphasis on consensus, does not. 
                                                                                            I’ll write more about the potential economic importance of the BOJ’s move in a later post.  For now, I’ll simply say that, given the challenges facing the global economy, I applaud Governor Kuroda’s willingness to lead the BOJ in this new direction.

                                                                                              Posted by on Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 07:39 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy | Permalink  Comments (27) 


                                                                                              'Networks and Macroeconomic Shocks'

                                                                                              Daron Acemoglu, Ufuk Akcigit, and William Kerr:

                                                                                              Networks and macroeconomic shocks, , VoxEU: How shocks reverberate throughout the economy has been a central question in macroeconomics. This column suggests that input-output linkages can play an important role in this issue. Supply-side (productivity) shocks impact the industry itself and those consuming its goods, while a demand-side shock affects the industry and its suppliers. The authors also find that the initial impact of an industry shock can be substantially amplified due to input-output linkages. 
                                                                                              How shocks propagate through the economy and contribute to fluctuations has been one of the central questions of macroeconomics. We argue that a major mechanism for such propagation is input-output linkages. Through input-output chains, shocks to one industry can influence ‘downstream’ industries that buy inputs from the affected industry, as well as ‘upstream’ industries that produce inputs for the affected industry. These interlinkages can propagate and potentially amplify the initial shock to further firms and industries not directly affected, influencing the macro economy to a much greater extent than the original shock could do on its own.
                                                                                              Introduction
                                                                                              The significance of the idea that a shock to one firm or disaggregated industry could be a major contributor to economic fluctuations was downplayed in Lucas’ (1977) famous essay on business cycles. Lucas suggested that due to the law of large numbers, idiosyncratic shocks to individual firms should cancel each other out when considering the economy in the aggregate, and therefore the broader impact should not be substantial. Recent research, however, has questioned this perspective. For example, Gabaix (2011) shows that when the firm size distribution has very fat tails, the power of the law of large numbers is diminished and shocks to large firms can overwhelm parallel shocks to small firms, allowing such shocks to have a substantial impact on the economy at large. Acemoglu et al. (2012) show how microeconomic shocks can be at the root of macroeconomic fluctuations when the input-output structure of an economy exhibits sufficient asymmetry in the role of some disaggregated industries as (major) suppliers to others.
                                                                                              In Acemoglu et al. (2016), we empirically document the role of input-output linkages as a mechanism for the transmission of industry-level shocks to the rest of the economy. Our approach differs from previous research in two primary ways.
                                                                                              • First, whereas much prior work has focused on the medium-term implications of such network effects (e.g. over more than a decade), we emphasise the influence of these networks on short-term business cycles (e.g. over 1-3 years).
                                                                                              • Second, we begin to separate types of shocks to the economy and the differences in how they propagate.
                                                                                              We build a model that predicts that supply-side (e.g. productivity, innovation) shocks primarily propagate downstream, whereas demand-side shocks (e.g. trade, government spending) propagate upstream. For example, a productivity shock to the tire industry will tend to strongly affect the downstream automobile industry, while a shock to government spending in the car industry will reverberate upstream to the tire industry.  We then demonstrate these findings empirically using four historical examples of industry-level shocks, two on the demand side and two on the supply side, and confirm the predictions of the model.
                                                                                              Model and prediction
                                                                                              We model an economy building on Long and Plosser (1983) and Acemoglu et al. (2012), in which each firm produces goods that are either consumed by other firms as inputs or sold in the final goods sector. The model predicts that supply-side (productivity) shocks impact the industry itself and those consuming its goods, while a demand-side shock affects the industry and its suppliers. The total impact of these shocks – taking into account that customers of customers will be also affected in response to supply-side shocks, and suppliers of suppliers will also be affected in response to demand-side shocks – is conveniently summarised by the Leontief inverse that played a central role in traditional input-output analysis.
                                                                                              The intuition behind the asymmetry in propagation for supply versus demand shocks relates to the Cobb-Douglas form of the production function and preferences. If productivity in a given industry is lowered by a shock, firms in that industry will produce fewer goods and the price of their goods will rise. Due to the Cobb-Douglas structure, these effects cancel each other out for upstream firms, leaving them unaffected, while downstream firms feel the increase in prices and consequently lower their overall production. On the other hand, if demand in a certain industry increases, firms in that industry increase production, necessitating a corresponding increase in input production by upstream firms. Because of constant returns to scale, however, the increased demand does not affect prices, and so downstream firms are not changed.
                                                                                              We also incorporate into the model geographic spillovers, showing that shocks in a particular industry will also influence industries that tend to be concentrated in the same area, as shown empirically by Autor et al. (2013) and Mian and Sufi (2014). The idea is that a shock to the first industry will influence local demand generally, and therefore will change demand, output, and employment for other local producers.
                                                                                              Empirics
                                                                                              We test the model’s prediction by examining the implications of four shocks: changes in imports from China; changes in federal government spending; total factor productivity (TFP) shocks; and productivity shocks coming from foreign industry patents. The first two are demand-side shocks; the latter two affect the supply side. For each of these shocks, we show the effects on directly impacted industries as well as upstream and downstream effects. Our core industry-level data is taken from the NBER-CES Manufacturing Industry Database for the years 1991-2009, while input-output linkages were drawn from the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ 1992 Input-Output Matrix and the 1991 County Business Patterns Database.
                                                                                              For brevity we focus here on the first example, where changes in imports from China influence the demand in affected industries. Of course, rising import penetration in the US for a given industry could be endogenous and connected to other factors, such as sagging US productivity growth. We therefore instrument import penetration from China to the US with rising trade from China to eight non-US countries relative to the industry’s market size in the US, following Autor et al. (2013) and Acemoglu et al. (2015). Chinese imports to other countries can be taken as exogenous metrics of the rise of China in trade over the last two decades.
                                                                                              The empirics confirm the predictions of our model. A one standard-deviation increase in imports from China reduces the affected industry’s value added growth by 3.4%, while a similar shock to consumers of that industry’s products leads to a 7.6% decline.
                                                                                              • In other words, the upstream effect is nearly twice as large as the effect on the directly hit industry in a basic regression.
                                                                                              • Downstream effects, on the other hand, are of opposite sign and do not change in a statistically significant manner, confirming the model’s prediction.
                                                                                              Figure 1 shows the impulse response function when our framework is adjusted to allow for lags and measure multipliers. Again, a one standard-deviation shock to value added through trade produces network effects that are much greater than the own effects on the industry.
                                                                                              • We calculate that the effect of a shock to one industry on the entire economy is over six times as large as the effect on the industry itself, due to input-output linkages.
                                                                                              Similar effects are found for employment, and the findings are shown to be robust under many different specification checks.

                                                                                              Figure 1. Response to one SD value-add shock from Chinese imports

                                                                                              Kerr fig1 29 jan

                                                                                              The other three shocks – changes in government spending, TFP shocks and foreign patenting shocks – also broadly support the model’s predictions, with the first leading to upstream effects and the latter two leading to downstream effects. Similarly, extensions quantify that geographical proximity facilitates the propagation of the shocks, particularly those on the demand side. 
                                                                                              Conclusions
                                                                                              Shocks to particular industries can reverberate throughout the economy through networks of firms or industries that supply each other with inputs. Our work shows that these shocks are indeed powerfully transmitted through the input-output chain of the economy, and their initial impact can be substantially amplified. These findings open the way to a systematic investigation of the role of input-output linkages in underpinning rapid expansions and deep recessions, especially once we move away from simple, fully competitive models of the macro economy.
                                                                                              References
                                                                                              Acemoglu, D, U Akcigit, and W Kerr (2016), “Networks and the Macroeconomy: An Empirical Exploration”, NBER Macroeconomics Annual, forthcoming. NBER Working Paper 21344.
                                                                                              Acemoglu, D, V Carvalho, A Ozdaglar, and Al Tahbaz-Salehi (2012), “The Network Origins of Aggregate Fluctuations”, Econometrica, 80:5, 1977-2016.
                                                                                              Acemoglu, D, D Autor, D Dorn, G Hanson, and B Price (2015), “Import Competition and the Great U.S. Employment Sag of the 2000s”, Journal of Labor Economics, 34(S1), S141-S198.
                                                                                              Autor, D, D Dorn, and G Hanson (2013), “The China Syndrome: Local Labor Market Effects of Import Competition in the United States”, American Economic Review, 103:6, 2121-2168.
                                                                                              Gabaix, X (2011), “The Granular Origins of Aggregate Fluctuations”, Econometrica, 79, 733-772.
                                                                                              Long, J and C Plosser (1983), “Real Business Cycles”, Journal of Political Economy, 91:1, 39-69.
                                                                                              Lucas, R (1977), “Understanding Business Cycles”, Carnegie Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, 5, 7-29.
                                                                                              Mian, A and A Sufi (2014), “What Explains the 2007-2009 Drop in Employment”, Econometrica, 82:6, 2197-2223.

                                                                                                Posted by on Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics | Permalink  Comments (8) 


                                                                                                Links for 01-30-16

                                                                                                  Posted by on Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Links | Permalink  Comments (185)