John Maynard Keynes: Concluding Notes on the Social Philosophy Towards which the General Theory Might Lead: "THE outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live...
...are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes. The bearing of the foregoing theory on the first of these is obvious. But there are also two important respects in which it is relevant to the second.
Since the end of the nineteenth century significant progress towards the removal of very great disparities of wealth and income has been achieved through the instrument of direct taxation — income tax and surtax and death duties — especially in Great Britain. Many people would wish to see this process carried much further, but they are deterred by two considerations; partly by the fear of making skilful evasions too much worth while and also of diminishing unduly the motive towards risk-taking, but mainly, I think, by the belief that the growth of capital depends upon the strength of the motive towards individual saving and that for a large proportion of this growth we are dependent on the savings of the rich out of their superfluity.
Over at Equitable Growth: I find myself perseverating over the awful macroeconomic policy record of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government of the past five years in Britain, and the unconvincing excuses of those who claim that the austerity policies it implemented were not a disaster--and that the austerity policies it ran on would not have come close to or actually broken the back of the economy.
Leaving to one side the fact that it is ludicrous that a depression that originates in overbuilding in the desert between Los Angeles and Albuquerque and overleverage in New York has a larger impact shock on the UK than on the US: READ MOAR
Phillip Aldrick (2013): "Was Montagu Norman a Nazi sympathiser?" Torygraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/bank-of-england/10214541/Was-Montagu-Norman-a-Nazi-sympathiser.html: "Norman was Britain’s first modern central banker and Governor...
...for a remarkable 24 years until 1944, amassing powers at Threadneedle Street that turned what was a cosy City institution into an arm of the state. But he was also an economic dinosaur, whose determination to put Britain back on the gold standard in 1925 destroyed industry and condemned Britain to a more severe recession than necessary. Adam Posen, a former Bank’s rate-setter, has said that when he could not decide which way to vote he would look at the giant portrait of Norman hanging in the Monetary Policy Committee’s meeting room and ask himself ‘What would Montagu do?’. Then do the opposite.
In the Shadow of the Grand Tetons:
...[Alan] Greenspan will address a counter-conference organized by a group called the American Principles Project. The group combines social conservatism — it’s anti-gay-marriage, anti-abortion rights, and pro-‘religious liberty’ — with goldbug economic doctrine. The second half of this agenda may be appealing to Greenspan, a former Ayn Rand intimate — as Paul Samuelson remarked, ‘You can take the boy out of the cult but you can’t take the cult out of the boy.’ But the anti-gay stuff? And helping these people attack his former colleagues? Awesome.
Over at Equitable Growth: A good review by Jonathan Knee of the exteremely-sharp Richard Thaler's truly excellent new book, Misbehaving. The intellectual evolution of the Chicago School is very interesting indeed. Back in 1950 Milton Friedman would argue that economists should reason as if people were rational optimizers as long as such reasoning produce predictions about economic variables--prices and quantities--that fit the the data. He left to one side the consideration even if the prices and quantities were right the assessments of societal well-being would be wrong. READ MOAR
Over at Equitable Growth: Back in 1959 Arthur Burns, lifelong senior Republican policymaker, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Eisenhower, good friend of and White House Counselor to President Nixon, and Chair of the Federal Reserve from 1970 to 1978 gave the presidential address to the American Economic Association. In it, he concluded that the United States and a lot of choices to make as far as its future economic institutions and economic policies were concerned. And, he said:
These... choices will have to be made by the people of the United States; and economists--far more than any other group--will in the end help to make them...
That's you. "Economists", that is. And I am glad to be here, because I am glad that you are joining us. For we--all of us in America--need you. Arthur Burns was right: you are better-positioned than any other group to help us make the right choices, at the level of the world and of the country as a whole, but also at the level of the state, the city, the business, the school district, the NGO seeking to figure out how to spend its limited resources--whatever. READ MOAR
J. Bradford DeLong on May 04, 2015 at 04:46 PM in Economics: History, Economics: Macro, Political Economy, Streams: (BiWeekly) Honest Broker, Streams: (Wednesday) Economic History, Streams: Economics, Streams: Equitable Growth, Streams: Highlighted, Twentieth Century Economic History | Permalink | Comments (2)
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...on Japan's ongoing "Great Recession," although I have to keep pinching myself to ask if its main thesis can really be true. Is the equilibrium (full-employment) medium-term real interest rate for Japan actually negative, so that unless the Bank of Japan (BOJ) resigns itself to sustained inflation, the zero bound on nominal interest rates will present serious problems? Has the BOJ so thoroughly convinced the public of its anti-inflation credibility that it has lost the power to rekindle inflation now that Japan needs it?
Over at Project Syndicate: For the past twenty-five years those of my elders whom I regard as the barons of policy-relevant academic macroeconomics--at least the reality-based and sane barons--have been asking themselves fundamental questions. The first question was whether the business-cycle pattern of the post-World War II generation of full employment, a bias toward moderate inflation, and rapid growth had in fact come to an end. The second question was how best to think about the business cycle after the end of the post-WWII era's "Thirty Glorious Years." READ MOAR
...[They say that because] the FOMC's projections of economic growth have been too high... monetary policy is not working and efforts to use it to support the recovery should be discontinued. It's generous of the WSJ writers to note... that 'economic forecasting isn't easy.' They should know, since the Journal has been forecasting a breakout in inflation and a collapse in the dollar at least since 2006, when the FOMC decided not to raise the federal funds rate above 5-1/4 percent.... READ MOAR
...It's generous of the WSJ writers to note... that 'economic forecasting isn't easy.' They should know, since the Journal has been forecasting a breakout in inflation and a collapse in the dollar at least since 2006, when the FOMC decided not to raise the federal funds rate above 5-1/4 percent.... They fail to note... unemployment, which has fallen more quickly than anticipated.... The relatively rapid decline in unemployment in recent years shows that the critical objective of putting people back to work is being met...
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. NO! NO!!!! READ MOAR
Over at Equitable Growth: Nick Bunker is out of the gate with his take on the surprisingly low 0.2%/year first-quarter US real GDP growth rate:
...during the recovery, we should be standing by the alarms but not quite sounding them yet. Personal consumption expenditures... contributed 1.31 percentage points... a deceleration.... Net exports were the biggest drag... 1.25 percentage points... a dramatic decrease in the level of exports.... Gross fixed investment was also a drag... shaving off 0.4 percentage points.... READ MOAR
...But — you know that’s the kind of statement that is followed by a ‘but’ — I’m having a hard time understanding his demands for a world slowdown. Ken tells us that:
The huge spike in global commodity price inflation is prima facie evidence that the global economy is still growing too fast.
Over at Equitable Growth: As I say, repeatedly: everything that Ken Rogoff writes is very interesting, nd almost everything is correct.
This part of Ken Rogoff's piece appears to me to be very much on the wrong track:
small changes in the market perception of tail risks can lead both to significantly lower real risk-free interest rates and a higher equity premium.... Martin Weitzman has espoused a different variant of the same idea.... Those who would argue that even a very mediocre project is worth doing when interest rates are low.... It is highly superficial and dangerous to argue that debt is basically free. READ MOAR
...This policy framework is backed by substantial explanation and analysis, via the chairman's press conferences, FOMC meeting minutes, FOMC economic projections (including projections of the federal funds rate), testimony, and speeches.... In [this] targets-based framework, the central bank forecasts its goal variables—inflation and employment, in the case of the Fed—and describes its policy strategy for bringing the forecasts in line with its stated objectives. Although targeting rules are not mechanical, they do provide a transparent framework....
Over at Equitable Growth: Ken Rogoff--of whom my standard line is: everything he says is very interesting, and almost everything he says is completely correct--is weighing in: on secular stagnation, the global savings glut, the safe-asset shortage, the balance-sheet recession, whatever you want to call it. His view is that excessive debt issue and overleverage are at the roots of most of our problems. He thus believes that our difficulties will end when deleverage has reduced the overhang of risky and underwater debt to a sustainable level: READ MOAR
Over at Equitable Growth:: How is it that people can think that an excess supply of money can show up as an excess demand for financial assets--and thus produce large losses on leveraged portfolios and thus a financial crisis when it unwinds--without also showing up as an excess demand for currently-produced goods and services--and thus as inflation? That is the question that perplexes Paul Krugman as he tries to decode the thought of John Taylor and the BIS financial-stabilistas. It perplexes me too:
I think Tony Yates gets it 100% correct. It is not just that I do not think that John Taylor's current positions are incorrect, it is that I cannot imagine a possible world in which they would be consistent:
...He contends the following: That the Great Moderation was due to adherence to the Taylor Rule [and to ‘rules-based’ fiscal policy]. That during the early 2000s, monetary policy was set looser than that prescribed by the Taylor Rule. This caused the build up of debt and risk-taking, which ultimately led to the bust, and the end of the Great Moderation. Weak activity following the crisis has been due to departures from rules based monetary policy, in the form of unconventional monetary policy. And departure from rules based fiscal policy, in the form of the fiscal stimulus enacted by Obama in 2009. These departures have created uncertainty that has weighed against activity. Tighter policy on both counts would have led to more buoyant activity during the recovery on account of being more certain.
I think he’s wrong on every point.
Tweet of the Day: @grodeau: buying German bonds at negative interest rates is like throwing dimes in front of the steamroller! https://mobile.twitter.com/grodaeu/status/589833904011538435
Over at Equitable Growth: This is what Ben Friedman wrote about in the late 1970s:
...Chapter 4, on business investment... weak... [because of] a special problem of lack of business confidence, driven by fiscal worries, failure to make needed structural reforms, and maybe even careless rhetoric... [or] weak because the economy is weak[?]... The IMF comes down strongly for the second view....
But wait, there’s more.... To deal with... reverse causation... it looks for episodes of weak growth... clearly caused by... fiscal consolidation... [and] manages in passing both to refute a very widely held but false belief... that government deficits necessarily ‘crowd out’ investment, so that reducing deficits should free up funds that lead to higher investment. Not so, says the IMF: when governments introduce deficit-reduction measures, investment falls instead of rising. This says that the deficits were crowding investment in, not out... empirical confirmation of the existence of the paradox of thrift! Remarkable stuff. Someone tell Wolfgang Schäuble. READ MOAR
It is brilliant.
I have some other thoughts:
It could have turned out very differently.
It could have been that the money-center universal banks did understand their derivatives books. It could have been that, after the financial crisis, trust in financial intermediaries would rebuild itself quickly. It could have been that the North Atlantic's central banks would have been able to nail market expectations to a rapid return to normalcy, thus providing cash holders with powerful incentives to spend. It could even have been the case that fiscal expansion would have proven ineffective. It was Karl Smith who pointed out to me that in the guts of even the IS-LM model, fiscal policy expands
I+G private spending [satisfied, RJW?] by reducing the perceived average riskiness of and thus getting households to hold more. In the model it is guaranteed that a sovereign that issues more debt thereby necessarily reduces the perceived riskiness of average debt. In the world not. READ MOAR
I mean: What can one possibly say when confronted by this?
Well, one can quote Ben Bernanke:
...if the real interest rate were expected to be negative indefinitely, almost any investment is profitable. For example, at a negative (or even zero) interest rate, it would pay to level the Rocky Mountains to save even the small amount of fuel expended by trains and cars that currently must climb steep grades. It’s therefore questionable that the economy’s equilibrium real rate can really be negative for an extended period...
So where is our Rhine-Danube-Po tunnel-canal underneath the Alps?
I understand that the marginal holder of Bunds is expecting the euro to rise relative to the dollar in the future. But why not simply hold zero-yielding deposits instead? Presumably it is some form of counterparty risk. But what form of counterparty risk.
I am supposed to be a trained professional. I am supposed to understand this stuff...
Can, in a political-economy sense, central banks be trusted with the full-employment-and-price-stability stabilization-policy mission? Are they not captured, to too great an extent, by the commercial-banking sector that, myopically, favors higher nominal interest rates to directly improve bank cash flows and indirectly dampen inflation and so redistribute wealth to nominal creditors--like banks?
No, they cannot be trusted. Yes, they are captured to too great an extent by the commercial-banking sector. Yes, the commercial banking sector is very myopic in its conventional wisdom.
Take the mechanics of demand stabilization and management off the table. Move, in our imagination at least, into a world in which short-term safe nominal interest rates rarely if ever hit the zero nominal bound. In that world, as a result, the full employment and price stability stabilization-policy mission could be left to central banks and monetary policy. Furthermore, confine our thinking to the North Atlantic, possibly plus Japan.
It seems to me then that there are four big remaining questions:
Can, in a political-economy sense, central banks be trusted with this mission? Are they not captured, to too great an extent, by the commercial-banking sector that, myopically, favors higher nominal interest rates to directly improve bank cash flows and indirectly dampen inflation and so redistribute wealth to nominal creditors--like banks?
What is the proper size of the twenty-first century public sector?
What is the proper size of the public debt for (a) countries that do possess exorbitant privilege because they do issue reserve currencies, and (b) countries that do not?
What are the real risks associated with the public debt in the context of historically-low present and anticipated future interest rates?
It could have turned out very differently.
It could have been--as those of us who more-or-less hooted Raghu Rajan down at Jackson Hole in August 2005 wrongly thought—-that the money-center universal banks did understand their derivatives books; that asset-price innovation variances did drift up or down with time relatively slowly; that the weak point in the global economy in the mid 2000s was the global imbalance of the US trade deficit, and the possibility that some large bad actor had been selling unhedged dollar puts on a very large scale--not the subprime mortgages on houses built in the desert between Los Angeles and Albuquerque, and the use of securities based on those subprime mortgages as core banking reserves. READ MOAR
...to understanding economic and financial processes. The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed challenged much conventional wisdom and academic orthodoxy with respect both to theory and policy. New economic thinking was needed and that need has been extended and amplified through the succeeding years. But: what constitutes 'new economic thinking?'
...which none of us can deny is the outstanding conundrum of today. We all agreed that, whatever the best remedy may be, we must reject all those alleged remedies that consist, in effect, in getting rid of the plenty. It may be true, for various reasons, that as the potential plenty increases, the problem of getting the fruits of it distributed to the great body of consumers will present increasing difficulties. But it is to the analysis and solution of these difficulties that we must direct our minds.
If you haven't read Bruce Bartlett's complete history of the Laffer Curve, you should. The upshot is that you do not need special circumstances for high tax rates to be capable of inflicting significant damage on the underlying economy. But you do need exceptional circumstances to actually get a free lunch out of the Laffer Curve...
The Beverly Hilton | 9876 Wilshire Blvd. | Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Tuesday, April 28, 2015 / 3:45 pm - 4:45 pm
Moderator: Josh Barro, Correspondent, New York Times
- Brad DeLong, Professor of Economics, U.C. Berkeley
- Jeremy Howard, CEO, Enlitic
- Gerald Huff, Principal Software Engineer, Tesla Motors
- Amy Webb, Digital Media Futurist; Founder, Webbmedia Group
For centuries, people have worried that new technologies will destroy jobs without creating enough new ones, and every time the doomsayers have been proven wrong. But today, with disruptive advances occurring at dizzying speed, some worry that the time may finally have come when more jobs are destroyed by technology than are created. One 2013 report by Oxford University researchers concluded that 47 percent of U.S. jobs are threatened by automation. Should workers be worried, or is the fear overblown? Is technology--from robots to intelligent digital agents--our friend or a threat? If the latter, what do we need to do to ensure employment by the middle class and others? How can we reorganize our business and economic system to avert more economic turmoil?
Tags: Information Economy, Labor Market, Economic Growth, Inequality, Rise of the Robots, Josh Barro
Over at Equitable Growth: Martin Sandbu has a truly interesting and excellent comment on my first, inital draft of thoughts for next week's Blanchard-Rajan-Rogoff-Summers "Rethinking Macroeconomics" conference.
But I do think he oversimplifies one crucial issue: dynamic efficiency.
Elementary neoclassical growth theory tells us that to the extent that patience and tolerance for intergenerational inequality between the past and the future allows, societies should try to push their accumulation of capital toward the point of the Golden Rule: the point at which the marginal product of capital r has fallen to the economy's labor-force growth rate n plus its labor productivity growth rate g. And it tells us that an economy that has pushed accumulation beyond that point--that has g+n > r--has overdone it. Such an economy is dynamically inefficient, and it should disinvest in its accumulation of capital. READ MOAR
The United States economy today is surely not dynamically inefficient as far as its private capital stock goes. Its accumulated and properly-depreciated capital stock is equal to no more than four times annual net income. The 30% of net output paid as income to capital thus sets an average net product of capital of 7.5% per year. And the marginal product of capital is unlikely to be much lower. As this is a real return, it is to be compared with the sum of the 0.75% per year labor-force growth rate and a current trend labor-productivity growth rate of 1.5% per year. We see a very substantial wedge by which r is greater than n+g, for private capital.
But we as a society and as taxpayers invest not just in private capital wealth but in the wealth of our government as well. Our investments in the wealth of our government produce cash flows through the government's infrastructure and organization. We invest in the wealth of our government by paying taxes used to build up infrastructure and organization and by buying back the debt that the government has previously issued. And it is here, I think, that the neoclassical growth-model dynamic-efficiency framework becomes relevant. The current ten-year TIPS rate for U.S. government debt is zero. Yes, that is: 0. There is no real resource cost to the U.S. government from selling a TIP today, using the money for a decade, and paying it back in 2025. n+g > r.
And n+g > r for a long, long time. Since the start of the twentieth century, only during the Great Depression has the interest on the debt as a share of its face value been more than the smoothed decade-average growth rate of the American economy.
What does this tell us about the value of using our tax money to pay down or even slow the growth rate of the national debt? Nothing good. It tells us that we taxpayers should disinvest our wealth from the government, and keep on doing so until, for claims on the government as well as for claims on the private sector, r > n + g.
But, you may ask, why is there this very wide gap between the marginal return to investments in private capital and the marginal return to investments in government wealth via paying down the government debt? Why a 7.5%/year real return on physical and organizational capital, a 5%/year return on investments in diversified equities, a 2.5%/year real return--4.5%/year nominal--on seasoned Baa corporate bonds, 0%/year real for investments in long-term government securities, and -1%/year at the moment for Treasury bonds purged of duration risk?
That is a great puzzle. It is strongly suggestive of major, major financial market dysfunction. Systematic risk can, we know, account for at most 100 basis points of that 850 basis point spread. But the origins, and the potential cures, of these enormous spreads have no bearing on the Golden Rule lessons--that it strongly looks like we need to invest a lot more in private physical and organizational capital, for the gap between 7.5% and 2.5% is far more than taxes, fees, enterprise, and other middle intermediaries can justify. And it strongly looks like we taxpayers need to invest a lot less in government wealth via being in a hurry to pay down our current debt, for the gap between 2.5% and 0% on that side is wide as well.
Over at Equitable Growth: Very good points from Ryan Avent, Matt O'Brien, Larry Summers, Paul Krugman, and Ben Bernanke. And rereading all these has convinced me of one additional thing: with the North Atlantic plus Japan as a group clearly in a situation in which the Wicksellian natural rate of short-term safe nominal interest is less than zero, how could it ever be part of an optimal policy for the U.S. to raise its short-term safe nominal interest rates above the zero lower bound?
Highlights: READ MOAR
Over at Equitable Growth: Picking up on In Lieu of a Focus Post: March 2, 2015: I also found on the internet a fine rant by the engaged and thoughtful femina spectabilis Frances Coppola attacking another one of my teachers, the vir illustris Olivier Blanchard, saying that his:
call for policymakers to set policy in such a way that linear models will still work should be seen for what it is–the desperate cry of an aging economist who discovers that the foundations upon which he has built his career are made of sand. He is far from alone…
It’s not quite that bad. READ MOAR
Over at Equitable Growth: I forgot to note Ben Zipperer's post on the labor market and the BLS Employment Report last Friday. And if I had, I would have stressed what the employment numbers tell us about how extraordinarily far to go we have before even semi-complete recovery.
For the past decade Stanford's John Taylor has been loudly crying:
And we all have said: This makes no sense! If the original derivation of the Taylor rule is accurate, minor deviations from it have small consequences. If minor deviations from optimal policy rules have major consequences, than the original Taylor rule simply cannot be the optimal policy rule.
And we have never gotten a coherent answer.
Over at Equitable Growth: So I believe that Noah Smith has changed my mind about something…
I was thinking out loud to him about the key conundrum of Modern Monetary Theory...
Modern Monetary Theory, or perhaps we had better call it old Abba Lernerian fiscal theory, holds that the government's fiscal-balance condition is not independent of the economy's macroeconomic price-stability condition. Anything that pushes the government out of fiscal balance and requires raising taxes to avoid a real default on the debt will also immediately produce higher inflation, and so require macroeconomic austerity. And part of such austerity is, yes, raising taxes. READ MOAR