"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister
"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."
- Daenerys Targaryen
"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"
- Tyrion Lannister
"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."
- Jorah Mormont
"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."
- Tyrion Lannister
"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."
- Michael Barone
"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker
Thursday, June 06, 2013
"Have those parchments told you anything of use?"
"Oh, much and more, my lord." Haldon gave him a thin smile. "The Lannisters make enemies easily but seem to have a harder time keeping friends. Their alliance with the Tyrells is fraying, to judge from what I read here. Queen Cersei and Queen Margaery are fighting over the little king like two bitches with a chicken bone, and both have been accused of treason and debauchery. Mace Tyrell has abandoned his siege of Storm's End to march back to King's Landing and save his daughter, leaving only a token force behind to keep Stannis's men penned up inside the castle."
Connington sat. "Tell me more."
"In the north the Lannisters are relying on the Boltons and in the riverlands upon the Freys, both houses long renowned for treachery and cruelty. Lord Stannis Baratheon remains in open rebellion and the ironborn of the islands have raise up a king as well. No one ever seems to mention the Vale, which suggests to me that the Arryns have taken no part in any of this."George R.R. Martin, "A Dance With Dragons," page 808
Last Friday, the BEA announced the lowest year-over-year rise in core inflation it has ever recorded. The year-over-year PCE core inflation, or inflation stripped of volatile energy and food prices, was 1.05 percent. As Doug Short notes, the previous all-time low was 1.06, and that is from March 1963. (The records go back to 1959.) Inflation is collapsing in 2013, both for observed values and future expectations. This is noteworthy because, as you may remember, the Federal Reserve took extraordinary actions at the end of last year to hit its inflation target.
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Harold Meyerson has an interesting column warning of conditions that are likely to be in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. However it is misleading in one important respect.
At one point the article notes efforts by Senator Sherrod Brown to require rules that will the United States to retaliate against currency "manipulators," countries that deliberately prop up the value of the dollar against their own currency in order to increase their trade surplus. This is misleading because the United States already has this authority (see this piece, for example) and under almost any conceivable set of circumstances will possess ample means to force down the value of the dollar relative to other currencies.
The reason that the United States runs an over-valued currency, placing U.S. goods and services at a competitive disadvantage, is that powerful interest groups profit from having an over-valued currency. Retailers like Walmart have spent large amounts of money setting up low-cost supply chains in China and other developing countries. This is an important source of their advantage over smaller competitors. They are not anxious to see this advantage eroded by a fall in the value of the dollar.
Similarly, large manufacturers like GE have much of their production overseas. These companies also do not want to see their profits eroded by a fall in the value of the dollar. Major financial companies like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan also tend to favor a high dollar since it means that their money goes further elsewhere in the world and it minimizes the risk of inflation in the United States.
These and other powerful domestic interests are the main reason that the United States does not take steps to reduce the value of the dollar and bring the trade deficit closer to balance. It is misleading to imply that the problem is trade agreements that prevent the Obama administration from acting.
Note -- "rise" was changed to "fall" in 3rd paragraph, thanks David H.
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
To me it's smacks of blaming the victims.
However, a little income accounting here would go along way in helping this discussion. The country has an output gap of around 6 percent of GDP. This is due to the plunge in residential construction following the collapse of the housing bubble and also the lost consumption that resulted from the loss of $8 trillion in housing equity. Standard measures of the housing wealth effect imply that a reduction of $400 billion to $560 billion in annual consumption.
There are a limited number of channels to fill this lost demand and thereby make up the 9 million jobs deficit we now face. One route is large government deficits, either from increased spending or tax cuts. That is probably the quickest and surest way to make up the demand gap, but the Serious People insist that we can't run large deficits.
Another obvious route, and probably the best long-term solution, is to get the dollar down. This will improve the international competitiveness of U.S. goods and bring the trade deficit closer to balance. Unfortunately this has not been a high priority for the Obama administration. There are powerful interests like Walmart, many large manufacturers, and the financial sector which benefit from an over-valued dollar. As a result, getting the dollar back to a more sustainable level has not been a priority for the administration.
When these routes are excluded there are not many other options to increase growth and create jobs. Low interest rates will help by allowing homeowners to refinance their mortgages and free up money for other spending. However this effect will be limited. Even if all $8 trillion in mortgage debt were refinanced at a 1.0 percentage point lower interest rate that would only free up $80 billion. And, this is offset by the fact that those lending the money will have less to spend.
Monday, June 03, 2013
Larry Summers Still Hasn't Heard About the Stock Bubble by Dean Baker
It looks like more trouble with Harvard economists (e.g. Reinhart-Rogoff). It seems Larry Summers, who was Treasury Secretary in the last two years of the Clinton administration, is still unaware of the stock bubble that propelled growth in those years.
In a Post column today he tells readers:
"As a consequence of policy steps in 1990, 1993 and 1997 [deficit reduction measures], it was possible by 2000 for the Treasury to retire federal debt. Deficit reduction and the associated reduction in capital costs and increase in investment were important contributors to the nation’s strong economic performance during the 1990s, when productivity growth soared and unemployment fell below 4 percent. We enjoyed a virtuous circle in which reduced deficits led to lower capital costs and increased confidence, which led to more rapid growth, which further reduced deficits."
Of course the reason that the country was repaying debt was that a $10 trillion stock bubble led to an investment boom (much of it in junk dot.com investment) and a much larger consumption boom through the stock wealth effect. This bubble fueled the strong growth at the end of the 1990s.
While the growth and resulting low unemployment rate were great news, bubbles are inherently unsustainable. This bubble burst beginning in 2000 and led to the recession of 2001. It is difficult to recover from a recession caused by a bursting bubble. The economy did not begin to create jobs following the 2001 recession until September of 2003. It did not make up the jobs lost in the downturn until January of 2005. Until the current downturn this was the longest period without job growth since the Great Depression.
The demand from the stock bubble was necessary to support the economy as a result of large trade deficit the country was running at the time. Robert Rubin, Larry Summers' predecessor as Treasury Secretary, pushed a strong dollar policy. He put force behind this policy with his control of the IMF's bailout from the East Asian financial crisis. The sharp run-up in the value of the dollar over these years made U.S. goods uncompetitive in the world economy leading to a sharp rise in the trade deficit. The deficit eventually peaked at 6.0 percent of GDP in 2005. The demand from the stock bubble and later the housing bubble were needed to offset the demand lost due to the trade deficit.
It is remarkable that Summers does not seem to be aware of this history, but I guess economics at Harvard is different from economics elsewhere in the world.
Sunday, June 02, 2013
Perhaps more importantly, it grants patent monopolies to drugs and medical devices. These monopolies allow pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers of medical devices to charge prices that are many thousand percent above their free market price. Not only does this raise the cost for these items it also perversely is likely to lead to unnecessary procedures, like the proliferation of colonoscopies that are a main theme of the piece.
Because the equipment used in colonoscopies is subject to patent protection, hospitals and other medical facilities are able to charge exorbitant prices. Since colonoscopies provide large profits (which would not be the case in a free market), there is a strong incentive to push their use on patients in circumstances where they may not be needed.
This is a more general problem in U.S. medicine. Because drug companies can sell drugs for hundreds or even thousands of dollars per prescription, when they can be profitably sold for $5-$10, they have an enormous incentive to mislead the public about the safety and effectiveness of their drugs.
This is why we regularly see stories about drug companies concealing evidence that their drugs are ineffective or even harmful. That is a direct result of the enormous mark-ups that are provided by patent monopolies. If drugs were sold in a free market these incentives would not exist.
Patent monopolies are one mechanism to provide an incentive for innovation, however they are a tremendously inefficient mechanism. There are other possible routes for financing innovation (the government already spends $30 billion a year on biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health).
Of course the industry will fiercely contest any changes that threaten their profits, but no alternatives can even be considered until the public understands the nature of the problem. This piece missed a great opportunity to inform readers.
As it happens, I’ve thought about this issue quite a lot; it comes up with each revision of Krugman/Wells, where we have to ask whether AS-AD belongs in the exposition. The problem is not that the “real” model is DSGE (New Keynesian theory with intertemporal optimization yada yada); in practice, when it comes to thinking about macro policy Robert Waldmann has it right:most have gone all the way back to an IS curve (real interest and output) assuming AS doesn’t matter and with the LM curve replaced with something like a Taylor rule. AS if anything, is an adaptive expectations augmented Phillips curve which matters only because of real interest rates, the monetary authority’s response to inflation and debt deflation/inflation.
Second — and this plays a surprisingly big role in my own pedagogical thinking — we do want, somewhere along the way, to get across the notion of the self-correcting economy, the notion that in the long run, we may all be dead, but that we also have a tendency to return to full employment via price flexibility. Or to put it differently, you do want somehow to make clear the notion (which even fairly Keynesian guys like me share) that money is neutral in the long run. That’s a relatively easy case to make in AS-AD; it raises all kinds of expositional problems if you replace the AD curve with a Taylor rule, which is, as I said, essentially a model of Bernanke’s mind.
So there is a place for AS-AD, although it’s an awkward one, and the transition to IS curve plus Taylor rule plus Phillips curve, which is the model you really want to use for America right now, is a moment that fills me with dread every time we take it on in a new edition.
What’s more, this isn’t some obscure issue. When people try to explain the logic of ObamaRomneyCare — certainly when I try to explain it — they often start from precisely this point, pointing out that unregulated insurance markets give the healthy and wealthy a pretty good deal but leave everyone else out in the cold, then work from that point toward the “three-legged stool” of community rating, mandates,and subsidies that supports reform. So Roy has to know that he’s making an essentially fraudulent argument — and does it anyway.