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Dotting i's and Crossing t's with Respect to Olivier Blanchard's "Secular Stagnation" Fiscal-Policy-in-an-Era-of-Low-Interest-Rates AEA Presidential Address

Il Quarto Stato

Consider the semi-canonical Diamond (1965) overlapping-generations model, with a wedge between the safe government-bond interest and the risky profit rate driven by risk aversion. Blanchard (2018) shows that the effects of increased debt have two effects that:

  • raise (lower) reprentative-agent utility,
    • evaluated after the resolution of uncertainties when the agent is young:
  • a direct-transfer effect that holds when the safe government-bond rate is lower (higher) than the economy's growth rate, and
  • a factor-price effect that holds when the risky average profit rate is lower (higher) than the economy's growth rate.

Robert Waldmann has convinced me that this second factor-price effect can be neutralized by a balanced-budget profit tax-funded wage subsidy.

Hence in the semi-canonical Diamond (1965) overlapping-generations model the economy is dynamically-inefficient—can be made better off by reducing its productive capital stock and introducing sustainable pay-as-you-go transfer schemes—whenever the safe government-bond rate is less than the economy's growth rate, no matter what the level of the expected profit rate:

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The Fed Board Unmoored: Live at Project Syndicate

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Live at Project Syndicate: The Fed Board Unmoored: "In December 2015, the right-wing commentator Stephen Moore, US President Donald Trump’s pick to fill a vacancy on the US Federal Reserve Board of Governors, savagely attacked then-Fed Chair Janet Yellen and her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, for maintaining loose monetary policies in the years following the 'Great Recession'.... On December 26, 2018, he savagely attacked Yellen’s successor, Jerome Powell, for raising interest rates to unwind the very approach that he had condemned three years earlier. 'If you cut engine power too far on a jetliner', he warned, 'it will stall and drop out of the sky'. Moore complained that after having 'risen by 382 points on hopes that the Fed would listen to Trump and stop cutting power', the Dow Jones Industrial Average had “plunged by 895 points” on the news of another interest-rate hike. This, he concluded, was evidence that 'the Fed’s monetary policy has come unhinged'...

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Still Haunted by the Shadow of the Greater Recession...


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By Popular Demand: What Is “Modern Monetary Theory”?

Brad DeLong s Grasping Reality

What Is “Modern Monetary Theory”?

Ever since the Great Depression it has been settled doctrine in the nations of the North Atlantic that the government has a responsibility to keep the macroeconomy in balance: The circular flow of spending, production, and incomes should be high enough to keep there from being unnecessary unemployment while also being low enough so that prices and inflation are not surprisingly and distressingly high.

To accomplish this, governments use fiscal policy—the purchase of goods and services, the imposition of taxes, and the provision of transfer payments—and monetary policy—the provision by the central bank to the system of those liquid assets called “money” and its consequent nudging up and down of interest rates and asset prices—to attempt to keep the circular flow of spending, etc., in balance with the economy‘s sustainable productive potential at the expected rate of inflation .

Modern Monetary Theory says (1) that that is all there is to worry about, and (2) that fiscal policy should play the principal role in this balancing process.

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Costs and Benefits of International Capital Mobility: Reply to Bhagwati: Hoisted from 20 Years Ago

Needless to say, time has left me a lot wiser: We need to design economies so that they can operate without disaster even when deregulatory clowns like those of the George W. Bush or the Donald J. Trump administrations are in control of the levers of policy at key moments. How to do that is not so clear. What is clear is that only a fool today would think that our political economy would support a clever technocracy so that we might have our cake and eat it too. Indeed, the most likely scenario seems to be that we will be unable to eat our cake, and then the kleptocrats will steal it out from under our noses so that we will not have it either. In short: I should have listened harder to Jagdish 20 years ago...

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Hoisted from the Archives: Reply to Bhagwati: "I open my May/June [1998] issue of Foreign Affairs to discover myself pilloried in an article by Jagdish Bhagwati between Paul Krugman and Roger C. Altman (excellent company to be in, by the way: much better than I am used to) as a banner-waving proponent of international capital mobility, guilty of "assum[ing] that free capital mobility is enormously beneficial while simultaneously failing to evaluate its crisis-prone downside."

I rub my eyes in surprise. I had not thought of myself as a banner-waving proponent of international capital mobility.

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The Federal Reserve Is Raising Interest Rates Again for Probably All The Wrong Reasons: Last Month Over at Equitable Growth

The Federal Reserve is set to raise interest rates again for probably all the wrong reasons Equitable Growth

Last Month Over at Equitable Growth: The Federal Reserve Is Set to Raise Interest Rates Again for Probably All The Wrong Reasons: The meeting [last month] of the Federal Open Market Committee—the principal policymaking body of the U.S. Federal Reserve system—[was] overwhelmingly likely to raise the benchmark interest rate it controls, the Federal Funds rate. The rate, which governs short-term safe nominal bonds, is likely to go up by one-quarter of a percentage point, from the range of 1.75 percent to 2 percent per year to the range of 2 percent to 2.25 percent per year. That would make it a little more expensive to borrow and spend and a little more attractive to cut spending and save. Thus, there would be a little less spending in the economy, and so a few fewer jobs. Economic growth would be a little slower. The U.S. economy would be a little less resilient in the face of adverse shocks to resources or confidence that might generate a recession. These are all minuses—small minuses from a 25-basis-point increase in the Federal Funds rate, but minuses nonetheless.

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Over on EconSpark, I think this is wrong: Ben Bernanke: How Important Was The Financial Panic As A Cause Of The Great Recession?: "The collapse of the housing bubble was certainly a primary cause of the Great Recession.  The unwinding of the bubble (1) depressed aggregate demand through its adverse effects on consumer wealth and residential construction, and (2) triggered a financial panic...

The unwinding of the bubble set the table for the financial panic, but it did not trigger it. The bubble had already been unwound before the panic. The triggers of the panic lay elsewhere: in the events in financial markets that produced a sudden, discontinuous boost in the demand for safe assets. One picture I have always found very illuminating is this one:

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Lars Svensson: Can Monetary Policy Still Deliver? A Natural Experiment: "Riksbank policy-rate hikes 2010-2011, from 0.25% to 2%. What happens to inflation and unemployment when the central bank (for no good reason) raise the policy rate by 175 bp?... Monetary policy works like clockwork in Sweden. Neo-Fisherian view rejected. What contributes to powerful monetary policy in Sweden? 1. Strong exchange-rate channel 2. Strong household cash-flow channel...

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Is There Any Reason to Fear Low Interest Rates?

Il Quarto Stato

Paul Krugman tells us: Paul Krugman: @paulkrugman: "The American Economic Association has a new discussion forum set up by Olivier Blanchard. First up is the question of whether low interest rates are leading to excessive risk-taking https://www.aeaweb.org/forum/311/have-low-interest-rates-led-to-excessive-risk-taking..." So I mossed on over and left three comments: one on the forum, one on secular stagnation, and one on whether there is any reason to fear low interest rates:

Is There Any Reason to Fear Low Interest Rates?: Have low interest rates led to excessive risk taking?: I suspect that the right way to make the accurate point that this line of discussion is hunting for is to focus not on the amount of risk but on, rather, who is bearing the risk...

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I still think it more likely than not that the Fed will be back at the zero lower bound in three years—and that the Fed then will wish that it had cut interest rates next week, rather than raised them, as it will: Narayana Kocherlakota: The Fed Should Prepare for the Unexpected: "Keeping the economy strong is the best defense against recession.... Let’s consider another risk — that the relationship between unemployment and inflation, expressed in what economists call the Phillips curve, will prove different than expected...

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Adam Ozimek: Wider Labor Market Slack Implies Lower Rates: "Wider slack measured using the prime non-employment rate—the share of people age 25 to 54 who don’t have a job—does a better job explaining wage growth over the last few decades than the unemployment rate, making it a plausibly better recent measure of labor slack.... Continued slack is consistent with strong monthly job growth alongside near-target inflation...

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Resources on the Kinds of Uses of Math I Am Trying to Use in Econ 101b This Fall...

School of Athens

Street-Fighting Mathematics and Other Tools

Sanjoy Mahajan: Street-Fighting Mathematics: The Art of Educated Guessing and Opportunistic Problem Solving
George Pólya: How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1400828678
George Pólya: Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning: Induction and Analogy in Mathematics https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0691025096
George Pólya: Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning: Patterns of Plausible Inference https://books.google.com/books?isbn=069102510X Paul Zeitz: _The Art and Craft of Problem Solving https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1118916662

Tools: Uses of Mathematics in Economics
Macro Textbook Chapter 3: Thinking Like an Economist
How to Think Like an Economist (If, That Is, You Wish to...)
Optional Teaching Topic: How to Think Like an Economist... (Provided, That Is, You Wish to...) (Pre-Class? Mid-Class?)


This File: http://delong.typepad.com/teaching_economics/street-fighting-math.html


Hoisted from teh Archives: Joseph Schumpeter on "Liquidationism"

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Today's Economic History: Joseph Schumpeter on "Liquidationism": "Three things strike me while rereading Schumpeter's 1934 "Depressions" (and also his 1927 Explanation of the Business Cycle):

  1. How much smarter Schumpeter is than our modern liquidationists and austerians--he says a great many true things in and amongst the chaff, which is created by his fundamentally mistaken belief that structural adjustment must be triggered by a downturn and a wave of bankruptcies that releases resources into unemployment. How much more fun and useful it would be right now to be debating a Schumpeter right now than the ideologues calling for, say, more austerity for and more unemployment in Greece!

  2. How very strange it is for Schumpeter to be laying out his depressions-cause-structural-change-and-growth theory of business cycles at the very same moment that he is also laying out his entrepreneurs-disrupt-the-circular-flow-and-cause-structural-change-and-growth-theory of enterprise. It is, of course, the second that is correct: Growth comes from entrepreneurs pulling resources into the sectors, enterprises, products, and production methods of the future. It does not come from depressions pushing resources into unemployment. Indeed, as Keynes noted, times of depression and fear of future depression are powerful brakes halting Schumpeterian entrepreneurship: "If effective demand is deficient... the individual enterpriser... is operating with the odds loaded against him. The game of hazard which he plays is furnished with many zeros.... Hitherto the increment of the world’s wealth has fallen short of the aggregate of positive individual savings; and the difference has been made up by the losses of those whose courage and initiative have not been supplemented by exceptional skill or unusual good fortune. But if effective demand is adequate, average skill and average good fortune will be enough..."

  3. How Schumpeter genuinely seems to have no clue at all that the business cycle is a feature of a monetary economy--how very badly indeed he needed to learn, and how he never did learn, what Nick Rowe and company teach today about the effects of monetary stringency on economic coordination.

  4. And, finally, how absolutely bonkers liquidationism and austerianism remain...

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Tail Risks

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Tail risks. Can we afford right now to think about tail risks? Probably not: right now what were our tail risks have become head risks, and given them and our day jobs we are all fully absorbed. But if we are going to be spending even a little time thinking about tail risks, the big worry has to be that something happens to cause the Global North to stop investing, as it did in 2008-2009.

Cast your minds back to ten years and two months ago. Back then people were patting themselves on the back; The United States had wound down from its over-the-top overcommitment to housing construction, and had done so without a recession. The Federal Reserve had handled the unpleasantness of mortage-firm, structured-product, and Bear-Stearns bankruptcy. In doing so the Federal Reserve had effectively guaranteed the unsecured debt of every systemically-important commercial and investment bank in and out of New York. The forecast—at least among those who were not close students of Hyman Minsky, an who had not paid attention to Paul Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics—was for at most a small recession, with the balance of risks such that the major risk to the economy—at least in the minds of the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee—was an increase in core inflation.

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I disagree with Jeff here: the Federal Reserve has not been doing a good job since 2010. Its central task as of 2010 was to (a) get the U.S. economy rapidly back to full employment at (b) a configuration of economic variables that would give it a short-term safe nominal interest rate of 5% or more so it would have room to properly fight the next recession whenever it should come. You could argue that the rest of the government make it impossible for the Fed to do a good job. But you cannot argue that the Fed should be satisfied with the job it has done since 2010: Jeffrey Frankel: The Depth of the Next US Recession: "Whatever the immediate trigger of the next US recession, the consequences are likely to be severe.... Pro-cyclical fiscal, macro-prudential, and even monetary policies... [leave] authorities are in a weak position to manage the next inevitable shock...

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This is, I think, both right and wrong. China has an... interesting property-rights system—your property is secure not through title deeds and such but through networks that link you to party and government officials. It's hard to argue that it does not work. It is easy to argue that it shouldn't work. But it does work, and this does, I think, have something to do with China's stabilization policy success. China has Keynesian demand management—and is willing to use it. China has interest rate tools, but they are in general effective at boosting only exports and construction. And China has effective financial repression, with which it appears to do a lot to manage banking and investment and thus the flow of aggregate demand. I have not seen a good analysis of how China's credit-based stabilization policy really works. I would like to see one. But fiscal policy and monetary policy ought—away from the zero lower bound at least, be powerful enough tools to do the job, and in all likelihood better tools to do the job: Noah Smith: China Invents a Different Way to Run an Economy: "The nation has avoided a recession for a quarter-century. Few countries can make the same claim...

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The more interesting question, I think, is: Should we use the natural rate hypothesis in forecasting and expect it to materially affect our forecasts over the next three years? And the answer, I think, is: no. The gearing of inflation on its past is low, and there is little impact of unemployment on inflation in the short run. Plus there is no good reason to think anything like the natural rate hypothesis holds near zero inflation: Olivier Blanchard: Should We Reject the Natural Rate Hypothesis?: "Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman articulated the natural rate hypothesis... the natural rate of unemployment is independent of monetary policy.... there is no long-run trade-off between the deviation of unemployment from the natural rate and inflation...

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Monday DeLong Smackdown/Hoisted: Greenspanism Looking Pretty Good...

Oy: This was perhaps the biggest thing I got most wrong in 2008. It's not saved by the weasel-words at the end: "If the tide of financial distress sweeps the Fed and the Treasury away--if we find ourselves in a financial-meltdown world where unemployment or inflation kisses 10%--then I will unhappily concede, and say that Greenspanism was a mistake...: Greenspanism Looking Pretty Good...: Martin Wolf is gloomy:

A year of living dangerously for the world: It is now almost a year since the US subprime crisis went global. Many then hoped that the repricing of risk would be no more than a brief interruption.... Such hopes have been disappointed.... So where is the world economy now? And where might it go? Here are some preliminary answers to these questions.

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Following the pattern of the Bank of England, the United States's regional Federal Reserve Banks are quasi-governmental corporations with special charters, missions, and governance structures created by the central government. This provides them with an unusual degree of autonomy. For example, the Bank of England's charter strictly regulated the kinds of financial transactions it could undertake without going ultra vires. But the Bank of England did, repeatedly, engage in ultra vires actions. In fact, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would, not infrequently, write to the Governor of the Bank of England inviting him to and requesting that the Bank do so.

Somehow, in the summer of 2008, the systemically-important American investment bank of Lehman Brothers entered into a state in which it was grossly insolvent, albeit still liquid. Somehow, in the summer of 2008, the Federal Reserve failed to either to develop a plan to guide the successful conservation and resolution of Lehman Brothers should it also become insolvent or to immediately shut it down before the insolvency of this systemically-important financial income became large enough to threaten the stability of the system as a whole. So when Lehman did hit the wall in the fall of 2008, Bernanke, Paulson, and Geithner dithered. That, I think, was the biggest policy mistake of the last decade.

Ryan Cooper has a very good candidate for the second biggest policy mistake of the past decade, however: Ryan Cooper: The biggest policy mistake of the last decade: "After the 2008 financial crisis, old-fashioned Keynesians offered a simple fix: Stimulate the economy. With idle capacity and unemployed workers, nations could restore economic production at essentially zero real cost. It helped the U.S. in the Great Depression and it could help the U.S. in the Great Recession too...

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Two and a half years after Jared wrote this, and there is still no sign that the economy has reached "full employment", or that the pace of wage and price growth is even beginning to spiral upwards. Thus he Federal Reserve continues to work with a model of the economy in which we should have very little confidence, if any: Jared Bernstein (2016): Important new findings on inflation and unemployment from the new ERP: "The 'Phillips curve'... negative correlation between inflation and unemployment...

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But are we sure that our debts are in dollars? Would we know it if the big New York banks had been trying to boost their earnings by selling unhedged dollar puts, in the (probably correct) belief that if they all do this together they do not have a problem, the rest of us have a problem?: Paul Krugman: Opinion | Partying Like It’s 1998 - The New York Times: "Those of us who devoted a lot of time to understanding the Asian financial crisis two decades ago were wondering whether Turkey was going to stage a re-enactment. Sure enough...

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The empirical studies are finding more and more hysteresis—more hysteresis in the sense of a persistent downward shadow cast by a recession than I would have believed likely. I keep hunting for something wrong with these studies. But there are too many of them. And they all—at least all those published that cross my desk—point in the same direction: Karl Walentin and Andreas Westermark: Stabilising the real economy increases average output: "DeLong and Summers (1989)... argue that (demand) stabilisation policies can affect the mean level of output and unemployment...

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Ten Years Ago: A Federal Reserve Not Understanding the Situation at All

The Ahistorical Federal Reserve by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

Occurrences in August 5, 2008, FOMC Meeting Transcript:

322: Inflation
029: Liquidity
029: Spreads
028: Unemployment
011: Crisis
001: Solvency
000: Minsky
000: Lehman
000: Bear-Stearns

A Federal Reserve looking in exactly the wrong direction ten years ago: Federal Reserve: FOMC Meeting Transcript: BERNANKE: "On inflation, I do have concerns, as everyone else does.... We will continue to see that high level of prices being passed through into the core...

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The Ahistorical Federal Reserve: Live at Project Syndicate

The Ahistorical Federal Reserve by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

The Ahistorical Federal Reserve: The most effective–and thus the most credible–monetary policy is one that reflects not only the lessons of history, but also a willingness to reconsider long-held assumptions. Unfortunately, neither attribute is much in evidence at today's Federal Reserve: BERKELEY–Economic developments over the past 20 years have taught–or ought to have taught–the US Federal Reserve four lessons. Yet the Fed’s current policy posture raises the question of whether it has internalized any of them... READ MOAR at Project Syndicate

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Event studies are very dangerous tools if you truly seek robust identification for policies that operate through expectational channels: Joseph Gagnon: QE Skeptics Overstate Their Case: "David Greenlaw, James Hamilton, Ethan Harris, and Kenneth West... argued that the consensus of previous studies overstates the effects of quantitative easing (QE) on long-term interest rates...

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Sunday Morning Twitter: Functional Finance/A Better World Is Possible Tweeting...

Preview of Sunday Morning Twitter Functional Finance A Better World Is Possible Tweeting

A better world—a better twitter—is indeed possible...

Suresh Naidu: I will stake my fancy economics job on this: Nothing in @Ocasio2018's policy program is inconsistent with a 2018 understanding of economics.

Wojtek Kopczuk: I missed it before, by my favorite colleague to disagree with. Congratulations on tenure @snaidunl!

Suresh Naidu: Sigh you drew me out. Tell me which policy is infeasible and not addressing some market failure?

Wojtek Kopczuk: They are inconsistent with the government budget constraint. And her MMT support is definitely inconsistent with mainstream economics.

Suresh Naidu: MMT is totally consistent with lots of mainstream macro when the economy is demand constrained (and fiscal theory of the price level when its not). it is unfortunate its adherents dont see that. And budget constraints are endogenous.

Ivan Werning: What do you have in mind?

Suresh Naidu: Oh crap a real macroeconomist. I think stripped of mysticism, MMT is really boils down to "fiscal mutipliers greater than 1", which could be true in demand constrained economy.

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I am swinging toward thinking that disequilibrium foundations of equilibrium economics is the only useful macro theory standing: Seppo Honkapohja and Kaushik Mitra: Price Level Targeting with Evolving Credibility: "We examine global dynamics under learning in a nonlinear New Keynesian model when monetary policy uses price-level targeting and compare it to inflation targeting...

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If real wages are not growing faster than productivity, we are not yet at full employment. We aren't: Matthew Yglesias: "I think it [a labor shortage] would be a good thing, but it’s also mostly fake. We had a labor shortage in 1999 and it was glorious. I think we’ll get there again. But not yet..." Josh Barro: 'Labor shortage' is good news for workers: "For now, the coming "labor shortage" is good news for workers. We should root for it to continue. It's undoubtedly a headache for some owners and managers. But it's one they should, hopefully, be made to live with for a few years..."

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If you take the appropriate measure of labor market tightness to be the prime-age employment rate, there is no wage growth puzzle. So why does the Federal Reserve take the unemployment rate as the relevant labor market tightness variable and wring its hands about the wage-growth puzzle, rather than taking the prime-age employment rate as its relevant labor market tightness variable? It is a mystery: Adam Ozimek: Wage growth is right on target folks!:

Adam Ozimek on Twitter Wage growth is right on target folks

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Robin Wigglesworth: Flat yield curve sends a grim message for investors in 2019: "investors are now starting quietly to fret that the US central bank may be on the brink of making a mistake, tightening monetary policy too aggressively in the face of a vulnerable global economy and still-quiescent inflationary forces. The Fed might get away with two hikes this year, but markets should worry about what might come in 2019..."

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The argument against Nouriel is that asset markets are still placing high valuations on everything. The argument against taking that as a sign of optimism is that true apocalypse scenarios are not priced: there is no place to hide, so fear of them produces no pressure to sell anything: Nouriel Roubini: Trump May Kill the Global Recovery: "How does the current global economic outlook compare to that of a year ago?...

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I think that this is a very important thing to remember. The Fed View—and the zero-marginal-product workers view—and a lot of other pessimistic views about the economy's non-inflationary speed limit for recovery and growth were totally, catastrophically wrong over the past decade. The people who strongly advocated for such views thus had a badly-flawed Vision of the Cosmic All. Thus I think there is no reason to put a weight higher than zero on their current views of how the world works—unless they have publicly and substantially done the work to mark their beliefs to market. Certainly the Federal Reserve has not yet done so: Timothy B. Lee: "Every additional month of strong employment growth and weak wage growth makes people who said we were near full employment in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 look wronger..."

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