Understanding the Adversaries
J. Bradford DeLong: U.C. Berkeley, NBER, and Kauffman Foundation
Remember Back in 2007?
- Dominance of John Taylor's (2000) argument that aggregate demand management was the near-exclusive province of central banks
- Five reasons for near-consensus:
- The problem of legislative confusion.
- The problem of legislative process.
- The problem of implementation.
- The problem of rent-seeking.
- The problem of superfluity.
- Monetary policy was strong enough to do the job. * Fiscal policy was simply not necessary.
- The other four were reasons would not have been decisive save for the near-consensus was that central banks could, via monetary policy, direct the flow of nominal spending in the economy to any pace they might desire.
The Housing Bubble
The U.S. Financial Crisis
The Spending Slowdown
What Am I Going to Say About Obama/Bernanke?
- Twenty years from now, young whippersnapper economic historians will come to interview me to ask: "Why don't you think Bernanke/Obama were the worst since the Great Depression because of their failure to understand even one of:
- the implications of the pre-2008 growth of leverage, derivatives, and shadow banking;
- that the job in the summer and fall of 2008 was not to curb moral hazard but to prevent depression;
- the goals of the dual mandate;
- the structure of the economy they were managing; and
- how to mark their beliefs to market when the economy did not evolve as predicted?
- What answer am I going to be able to give?
What I Got Wrong: Batting 2 for 8
- I thought subprime was too small to take down the U.S. economy, even if the housing bubble did crash hard
- I thought, after Bear-Stearns, that we were in liquidation-quasinationalization mode rather than uncontrolled bankruptcy
- I thought the TBTF institutions knew they had a government backstop, and would use it aggressively
- I thought higher inflation would follow rather than precede strong recovery (right)
- I thought no run on Treasuries possible until higher inflation appeared (right)
- I thought that the Federal Reserve would make stabilizing nominal GDP growth in order to avoid prolonged high unemployment its principal priority
- I thought the Obama administration would apply the lessons of the RTC and the S&L crisis
- I thought the Obama administration would husband its resources to act--via Reconciliation, FHFA, TARP, infrastructure banks--if needed, even if Congress proved dysfunctional
The Pain Caucus * Andrew Mellon (according to Herbert Hoover): The “leave it alone liquidationists” headed by [my] Secretary of the Treasury Mellon, who felt that government must keep its hands off and let the slump liquidate itself. Mr. Mellon had only one formula: “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate.” He insisted that, when the people get an inflation brainstorm, the only way to get it out of their blood is to let it collapse. He held that even a panic was not altogether a bad thing. He said: “It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people”... * Joseph Schumpeter: Recovery is sound only if it does come of itself. For any revival which is merely due to artificial stimulus leaves part of the work fo depressions undone and adds, to an undigested remnant of maladjustment, new maladjustment of its own which has to be liquidated in turn, thus threatening business with another crisis ahead. Particularly, our story provides a presumption against remedial measures which work through money and credit. For the trouble is fundamentally not with money and credit, and policies of this class are particularly apt to keep up, and add to, maladjustment, and to produce additional trouble in the future
Rebuttal to the Pain Caucus
The Housing Bubble and Its Collapse Long-Run: 2005-08 Housing down; exports, equipment investment up
The collapse of exports and equipment investment as a result of the financial crisis
The Long Short-Run: 2009-
Depressed housing and fiscal austerity
Where is the economy’s natural bounce-back?
The We-Don’t-Do-Our-Homework Caucus
- Robert Lucas: Christina Romer--here's what I think happened. It's her first day on the job and somebody says, you've got to come up with a solution to this--in defense of this fiscal stimulus, which no one told her what it was going to be, and have it by Monday morning.... [I]t's a very naked rationalization for policies that were already, you know, decided on for other reasons…. If we do build the bridge by taking tax money away from somebody else, and using that to pay the bridge builder--the guys who work on the bridge -- then it's just a wash... there's nothing to apply a multiplier to. (Laughs.) You apply a multiplier to the bridge builders, then you've got to apply the same multiplier with a minus sign to the people you taxed to build the bridge. And then taxing them later isn't going to help, we know that...
- John Cochrane: If the government borrows a dollar from you, that is a dollar that you do not spend, or that you do not lend to a company to spend on new investment. Every dollar of increased government spending must correspond to one less dollar of private spending. Jobs created by stimulus spending are offset by jobs lost from the decline in private spending. We can build roads instead of factories, but fiscal stimulus can’t help us to build more of both. This is just accounting, and does not need a complex argument about “crowding out”...
Rebuttal to the We-Don’t-Do-Our-Homework Caucus
- “Do your homework!”
- No further rebuttal necessary
- No further rebuttal appropriate
Serious Doubts from Real Economists
*And there will always be serious doubts from real economists... *John Stuart Mill: What was affirmed by Cicero of all things with which philosophy is conversant, may be asserted without scruple of the subject of political economy--that there is no opinion so absurd as not to have been maintained by some person of reputation. There even appears to be on this subject a peculiar tenacity of error--a perpetual principle of resuscitation in slain absurdity.
Types of Financial Disequilibrium
- Excess demand for money (at full employment) produces a monetarist recession as people try to cut spending below income in order to raise cash balances
- Excess demand for financial savings vehicles (at full employment) produces a Wicksellian recession as people find that diverting their cash balances from “transactional” to “speculative” repairs this gap in their portfolio
- Excess demand for safe financial assets (at full employment) produces a Bagehot-Minsky-Koo balance-sheet recession as people turn to using their cash to deleverage rather than to purchase currently-produced goods and services
IS-LM--but modified Blanchard-wise with a focus on spreads--as good a framework as any
What Do I Mean by “Modified Blanchard-Wise”?
- Olivier Blanchard: when teaching the IS-LM, we have the same interest rate on the IS and the same interest rate on the LM. Basically, the policy rate that the central bank chooses by the LM curve goes into the IS curve when corrected for expected inflation. I think what we have learned is that these [two interest rates] can be incredibly different. So I would have an r and an rb, and have a machine in the middle--the banking system which would, depending on its health, determine the spread. It seems to me that if I want to communicate one message, that message is what I would communicate...
Augmented IS-LM Framework
- LM: Quantity Theory: M x V(i) = P x Y
- IS: Wicksell: S(Y) = I(r) + (G-T)
- Spreads: r = (i - π) + ρ + E(if - i)
Augmented IS-LM Framework
Stage I: Monetary Policy Can Do the Job
Stage II: We Have a Short-Run Crisis, But Monetary Policy Will Soon Be Able to Do the Job
Stage III: Crowding Out!
Stage IV: Summoning the Confidence Fairy: Cutting the Deficit Is the Real Expansionary Policy
Stage V: “Uncertainty”: Immaculate Crowding Out--but the Stock Market
Stage V: “Uncertainty”: Immaculate Crowding Out--but the Cross-State-Pattern
Stage VI: Summoning the Inflation-Expectations Imp: Monetary Policy Is the Real Expansionary Policy
Stage VII: Never Mind Why, Multipliers Are too Small to Bother with--but the Cross-European Pattern
Stage VIII: Never Mind Why, Costs of Debt Accumulation Are Very High
Gnawing Away at the Reinhart-Reinhart-Rogoff Coefficient
- Starts out at 0.06% point/year growth reduction from moving debt from 75% to 85% of annual GDP
- With a multiplier of 2.5 and a 10-year impact we’re comparing 25% to 0.6%
- Incorporate era and country effects: down to 0.3% points/year
- Has a numerator and a denominator--to some degree high debt-to-annual-GDP is a sign that something is going wrong with growth
- We would expect high interest rates to discourage growth
- How much is left when we consider countries with low interest rates where high debt-to-annual GDP is not driven by a slowly-growing denominator? 0.02%/year for a 10% point increase in debt-to-annual-GDP? 0.01%/year
Gnawing Away at the Logic
- Spend $1
- Gotta then finance (r-g)
- or then buy back the debt for cash and make sure that banks are happy holding the extra cash *At worst, then, financing takes the form of: Δτ = (r-g) - τη ; (η = dYf/dG)
- g=2.5%/yr; τ=0.33; η=0.2 :: r > 9.1%/yr
- g=2.5%/yr; τ=0.33; η=0.1 :: r > 5.8%/yr
- g=2.5%/yr; τ=0.33; η=0.0 :: r > 2.5%/yr
- Gotta believe in some horrible “unknown unknown”
- Because you can always buy back the debt for cash, and can always make sure that banks are happy holding the extra cash via “financial repression”--which is not so bad on the hierarchy of economic catastrophes...
- Banks need to make 3%/yr on assets
- Banks that cannot make 3%/yr on assets will reach for yield--sell unhedged out of the money puts so they can report profits and their officers won’t be fired
- Modal scenario is Treasury interest rates normalize in the next five years
- New normal is not 10-yr Treasury of 4%/yr but, because of high debt, 6%/yr
- That’s a 36% capital loss on bank and shadow bank holdings of 10-yr Treasuries--and of other securities of equivalent duration.
- Then the argument seems to go off the rails...
- Is the best way to deal with a “bond bubble” really to load more of the risk of bubble collapse onto highly-leveraged institutions?
- Is the best way to take steps to reduce the fundamental value of assets that you fear might experience price declines?