"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
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Risk of Deflation Feeds Global Fears
By JON HILSENRATH and BRIAN BLACKSTON
Updated Oct. 16, 2014 12:01 p.m. ET
Behind the spate of market turmoil lurks a worry that top policy makers thought they had beaten back a few years ago: the specter of deflation.
A general fall in consumer prices emerged as a big concern after the 2008 financial crisis because it summoned memories of deep and lingering downturns like the Great Depression and two decades of lost growth in Japan. The world’s central banks in recent years have used a variety of easy-money policies to fight its debilitating effects.
Now, fresh signs of slow global economic growth, falling commodities prices, sagging stock markets and declining bond yields suggest the deflation risk hasn’t gone away, particularly in the often-frenetic eyes of investors. These emerging threats come as the Federal Reserve is on track this month to end a bond-buying program that has been one of the main tools in its fight against falling prices.
The deflation concern is particularly pronounced in Europe and Japan, two economies where policy makers are struggling to come up with solutions to counter especially slow economic growth.
However, recent declines in commodities prices suggest that downward pressure on inflation—if not all-out deflation—could become a wider-ranging phenomenon, and one with some mixed implications for economies like the U.S. and emerging markets.
Investor worries about the global economy appeared to gather force Wednesday. European stock markets sagged; the Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 3.2% to its lowest level since last December. U.S. stocks pared steep losses, but still finished down for the fifth straight day; after falling more than 450 points at one point, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 173.45, or 1.1%, to 16141.74.
Meantime, yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes fell to 2.091%, their lowest level since June 2013, and are down nearly a percentage point from the beginning of the year. Bond yields fell to new lows in Germany, too. Crude-oil prices dropped further; crude futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell to $81.78 a barrel, the lowest level since June 2012.
The deflation concerns are particularly acute in Europe, where annual inflation in the 18 nations that use the euro was 0.3% last month, a five-year low that is far below the European Central Bank’s target of just under 2%.
With inflation so low, it wouldn’t take much of a shock—such as weakness in Germany’s economy or geopolitical tensions in nearby Ukraine—to tip the whole region into a deflationary downturn. Some eurozone countries, such as Italy, have already tipped into deflation. Even countries outside the currency bloc are feeling the pain. Sweden’s statistics agency said Tuesday that consumer prices fell 0.4% in annual terms last month after a 0.2% fall in August, well below its central bank’s 2% target.
The risk of deflation in Europe is “a real worry,” Harvard University professor and former Federal Reserve governor Jeremy Stein said in an interview. “The right prescription [for policy makers] is to be aggressive.”
ECB President Mario Draghi acted against deflation risks in June and September, pushing the central bank to slash interest rates to record lows each time—including a negative rate on bank deposits at the ECB—and unveiling new bank-lending and asset-purchase plans for asset-backed securities and covered bonds.
But there is little consensus for more-dramatic measures—the kind of monetary stimulus the Fed, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan have deployed—namely large-scale purchases of government bonds to raise the money supply.
The head of Germany’s central bank, Jens Weidmann, has signaled his opposition to such bond buying, and other members of the ECB’s governing council appear sympathetic to his argument that with government and corporate borrowing costs already superlow, the policy wouldn’t even do much good.
“I am very much for a steady-hand approach, and I think this is what we are doing,” Austria’s central bank governor, Ewald Nowotny, said in an interview last week.
Hard fiscal problems are part of Europe’s problem. Last week, Standard & Poor’s stripped Finland of its triple-A credit rating and downgraded France’s outlook. On Tuesday, Fitch put France on review for a possible downgrade.
Struggling economies such as France and Italy face a tough choice: Take additional austerity measures to shrink budget deficits, inflicting more pain on their economies, or attempt to flaunt the EU’s budget rules calling for low deficits, which could damage their credibility in Europe.
The resistance Mr. Draghi faces has shaken the faith of some investors that policy makers in Europe will address the threat.
“Market valuations, especially for rich countries, have been well above what was warranted by fundamentals. What kept them up there was a belief that central banks were markets’ best friends,” said Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz Group. “Most people now recognize that the ability of central banks to address what ails the global economy is weaker than they believed.”
Meanwhile, Japan had recently begun to stir sustained growth, which helped to push its inflation rate above 1%, after years of on-again, off-again deflation. But inflation decelerated again in recent months as the economy softened after an April sales-tax increase meant to restrain mounting government debt. Many private economists forecast a slip back below 1% this year.
Japanese officials must now decide whether to follow through on another planned sales-tax increase that could dent growth even more. And the Bank of Japan is weighing whether it needs to provide even more stimulus. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda launched new asset purchase programs last year to reverse two decades of deflation and has pledged to persist until he reaches the 2% target.
Japan’s struggles to exit deflation, even with massive central-bank stimulus, illustrate just how difficult it is for an economy to pull out of the trap, once it has settled in.
A weak global outlook “has to be a worry for every economy,” Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan told The Wall Street Journal in an interview last week.
The U.S. confronts much different circumstances than Europe and Japan. U.S. inflation had been rising toward the Fed’s 2% objective earlier this year but now faces a downward tug amid the weakening global growth and a strengthening U.S. dollar. The Labor Department reported Wednesday that producer prices in the U.S. fell in September. Sharp drops in commodities prices this month could add to downward pressure.
Yet falling commodities prices have silver linings. For one, the decline is being driven in part by a U.S. energy production boom—not just sagging global demand for goods. Moreover, falling gasoline prices are a boon to U.S. consumers: One rule of thumb is that every one-cent drop in the price of gasoline amounts to a $1 billion boost to U.S. household incomes, and gasoline prices have dropped by 13 to 17 cents from a year ago, according to the automobile group AAA.
“All else equal, when energy gets cheaper, we benefit,” Mr. Stein said.
Meanwhile, the Fed is on track this month to end its bond-buying stimulus program launched in September 2012. And Fed officials have largely stuck to their line that they expected to start raising short-term interest rates by the middle of 2015. Still, traders in futures markets have been pushing up the prices of contracts tied to the Fed’s benchmark interest rate—a sign they see diminishing odds that the Fed will follow through on that plan.
Harvard’s Mr. Stein said he didn’t think the U.S. central bank needed to alter its thinking much in light of recent developments. “I wouldn’t dramatically revise my expectations,” he said. “The balance of the job-market news in the U.S. has been very positive.”
A Commerce Department report Wednesday showed U.S. retail sales dropped in September, but many economists are sticking to estimates that the U.S. economy expanded at a rate in excess of 3% in the third quarter, potentially the fourth time in the past five quarters it exceeded 3%. Moreover job growth has been stronger than Fed officials expected.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Darryl FKA Ron's history:
The end of Bretton-Woods is generally considered to have been the end of US dollar convertibility (into precious metals) and the establishment of the US dollar as the global reserve currency upon which to anchor exchange rates, trade reserves, and trading prices. Even OPEC nationalization tipped its hat to the US dollar as the global price tag.]
...On 15 August 1971, the United States unilaterally terminated convertibility of the US dollar to gold, effectively bringing the Bretton Woods system to an end and rendering the dollar a fiat currency. This action, referred to as the Nixon shock, created the situation in which the United States dollar became a reserve currency used by many states. At the same time, many fixed currencies (such as the pound sterling, for example), also became free-floating...
[Meantime you had commercial banks going inter-state which broke up some of the relationships between local banks and traditional constituents in agriculture and small business when those local banks were bought. MOstly though it just positioned commercial banking for the post Glass-Steagal world of the current century, a lamb being fattened for later slaughter.
My story of the new finger on the scale of capital gains preference in 1954 is one of corporate and private equity leverage upon which investment banks grew their more speculative bond markets for buyouts and takeover financing. Schumpeter's argument against competition won the day for firm consolidation AND investment banks. Fast forwards to the end of first Bretton Woods and then the Cold War and the hegemony of multi-national corporations allied with major investment banks all resting on the shoulders of Uncle Sam's imperial dollar is a feat of global conquest that would have made Ghenghis Khan blush.]
Prior to 1970, there were ten countries that nationalized oil production: the Soviet Union in 1918, Bolivia in 1937 and 1969, Mexico in 1938, Iran in 1951, Iraq in 1961, Burma and Egypt in 1962, Argentina in 1963, Indonesia in 1963, and Peru in 1968. Although these countries were nationalized by 1971, all of the “important” industries that existed in developing countries were still held by foreign firms. In addition, only Mexico and Iran were significant exporters at the time of nationalization...
[And then all hell broke loose. Oil shortages got us rising oil prices and by the time it all settled out global finance had its claws deep into crude. What Reagan and Thatcher did is make a narrative of all this or maybe just the backup band to Milton Fridman's narrative of all this that blame it on public spending and deficits instead of an imperialistic dollar in the hands of multinational corporations and investment banks taking advantage of financialization and globalization. Autos and steel were among the first to fall in the US because their managements were the most over-confident and unprepared to deal with change. BOth failed modernize, both in production and in marktet focus.]
The reason it is so difficult to accept that our problems originate from Ike and Nixon instead of Ronnie Rayguns is that such a narrative would not give our feeling of intellectual superiority and moral self-righteous a leg to stand on.
Rayguns was so blatantly contemptuous of liberalism that it must have been his fault. THat is like thinking that a psychopath has no guile and can easily be picked out of a crowd. It is not the guy that spits in your face that catches you unawares, but the one that puts the knife in your back while patting you on the shoulder.
Clinton probably did more to roll back the New Deal than Reagan did what with Welfare "reform" (or was that deform) and financial deregulation. Reagan screwed unions, but he was not their first time, and his recession ushered in the Great Moderation, which fathered contemporary secular stagnation. Mergers accelerated under Reagan era anti-trust "enforcement." But Reagans foulest contribution and legacy was less about legislation or administration than it was the Alfred E. Newman "Whot, me worry" attitude of the people regarding their own economic affairs. THe tonic he sold to ward off the nanny state was the individualistic patriarchal state. The public bought it and ate it up. "I got mine and screw everyone else" became the new pledge of disallegiance. Ronnie's start was as a PR man and a pitch man and he had gotten pretty good at it.
Chair Yellen Holds Forth on the Inequality of Opportunity by Jared Bernstein
What Janet Yellen Said, and Didn’t Say, About Inequality by Neil Irwin
You are testing a theory you came up with, but the data are uncooperative and say you are wrong. But instead of accepting that, you tell yourself "My theory is right, I just haven't found the right econometric specification yet. I need to add variables, remove variables, take a log, add an interaction, square a term, do a different correction for misspecification, try a different sample period, etc., etc., etc." Then, after finally digging out that one specification of the econometric model that confirms your hypothesis, you declare victory, write it up, and send it off (somehow never mentioning the intense specification mining that produced the result).
Too much econometric work proceeds along these lines. Not quite this blatantly, but that is, in effect, what happens in too many cases. I think it is often best to think of econometric results as the best case the researcher could make for a particular theory rather than a true test of the model.What Thoma is describing here cannot be fixed. Naive theories of statistical analysis presume a known, true model of the world whose parameters a researcher need simply to estimate. But there is in fact no "true" model of the world, and a moralistic prohibition of the process Thoma describes would freeze almost all empirical work in its tracks. It is the practice of good researchers, not just of charlatans, to explore their data. If you want to make sense of the world, you have to look at it first, and try out various approaches to understanding what the data means. In practice, that means that long before any empirical research is published, its producers have played with lots and lots of potential models. They've examined bivariate correlations, added variables, omitted variables, considered various interactions and functional forms, tried alternative approaches to dealing with missing data and outliers, etc. It takes iterative work, usually, to find even the form of a model that will reasonably describe the space you are investigating. Only if your work is very close to past literature can you expect to be able to stick with a prespecified statistical model, and then you are simply relying upon other researchers' iterative groping.
If not r > g, what’s behind rising wealth inequality? By Nick Bunker
The Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago yesterday released a survey of a panel of highly regarded economists asking about rising wealth inequality. Specifically, IGM asked if the difference between the after-tax rate of return on capital and the growth rate of the overall economy was the “most powerful force pushing towards greater wealth inequality in the United States since the 1970s.”
The vast majority of the economists disagreed with the statement. As would economist Thomas Piketty, the originator of the now famous r > g inequality. He explicitly states that rising inequality in the United States is about rising labor income at the very top of the income distribution. As Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley and a frequent Piketty collaborator, points out r > g is a prediction about the future.
But if wealth inequality has risen in the United States over the past four decades, what has been behind the rise? A new paper by Saez and the London School of Economics’ Gabriel Zucman provides an answer: the calcification of income inequality into wealth inequality.
“Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data,” their new working paper, is firstly an impressive documentation of the significant changes in wealth distribution in the United States.
Saez and Zucman create a data series using tax records to measure wealth inequality going back to 1913. The trend is similar to the one for income inequality in the United States: a high level of inequality at the beginning of 20th century that declined substantially during the mid-century only to climb starting in the late 1970s and reaching high levels again in recent years.
Rising wealth inequality since the late 1970s has been a case of the top of the distribution pulling away from everyone else. Specifically, the rise of the 0.1 percent is the dominant story. In 1979, the top tenth of the top 1 percent held 7 percent of the wealth in the United States. By 2012, the share held increased threefold to 22 percent. (An earlier version of this data was highlighted at Equitable Growth’s annual conference in September.) In fact, almost half of the total increase in wealth from 1986 to 2012 went to the top 0.1 percent of wealth holders. The increase is dramatic and brings wealth inequality to a level around that prevailing in 1929.
What caused this increasing concentration of wealth? In short, an increase in income inequality coupled with rising savings inequality. As income flowed upward to those at the top, rich individuals increased the rate at which they saved income. Saez and Zucman refer to this phenomenon as the “snowballing effect.” And Piketty does consider the calcification of top incomes into wealth inequality in “Capital in the 21st Century.”
This effect certainly isn’t the well-known r > g phenomenon. But Saez and Zucman’s research shows that there’s more than one way for wealth inequality to arise.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Monday, October 13, 2014
Anchored Perceived Inflation or How Fox News Helped Obama by Robert Waldmann (July 20, 2014)
Friday, October 10, 2014
Between a growing economy, some prudent spending cuts, health care reform, and asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more on their taxes, over the past five years we’ve cut our deficits by more than half. When I took office, the deficit was nearly 10 percent of our economy. Today, it’s approaching 3 percent. (Applause.) In other words, we can shore up America’s long-term finances without falling back into the mindless austerity or manufactured crises or trying to find excuses to slash benefits to seniors that dominated Washington budget debates for so long.And:
By every economic measure, we are better off now than we were when I took office.
Our peer countries typically rely on large, regressive tax systems to mitigate income inequality far more than we do. For example, I compared Germany and the United States, using 2007 data (the last year unaffected by the Great Recession) collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The two countries had virtually equivalent levels of income inequality. Moreover, the American tax system as a whole was quite progressive, while Germany’s actually was regressive.
Nonetheless, the American fiscal system as whole (including state and local government spending) reduced inequality in market income — that is, income before subtracting taxes and adding back government benefits — by only 22 percent, while Germany’s reduced it by 41 percent. The reason is that the German fiscal system was significantly larger in overall terms: Taxes accounted for about 36 percent of German gross domestic product, against 28 percent for the United States. It’s the spending side, not the taxes, that makes the difference.Book Review: Edward Kleinbard’s “We Are Better Than This.” by Jared Bernstein
Thursday, October 09, 2014
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
This morning, without explanation, the justices of the Supreme Court refused to hear any of the seven cases pending before them regarding same-sex marriage. The unexpected action allows lower court rulings that overturned statewide bans to stand. This means that same-sex couples in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Indiana will be free to marry almost immediately. It also suggests that couples in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming—all covered by appeals courts that have struck down the bans—may be able to marry in the near future. The decision takes the parties who were waiting for a decision in these various states off hold and allows them to marry. But the Supreme Court today declined to issue any kind of guiding opinion about the constitutionality of gay marriage in all 50 states.Scalia called it.
The Roberts Court’s Brief Progressive Moment by Jeffrey Toobin
It’s hard enough to know what the Justices of the Supreme Court are talking about when they write opinions, which tend to be dense, convoluted, and laden with coded references that are decipherable only to a few. But, on Monday, the Court presented an even greater interpretive challenge: determining what it meant when it said nothing at all. Without comment, the Court let stand successful challenges to the bans on same-sex marriage in five states. Those lower-court rulings had been stayed while the parties waited to hear from the Justices. Now that they won’t be saying anything, same-sex weddings can go forward in those states and, soon, in others in their circuits. Clerks in Utah and Virginia were already issuing marriage licenses on Monday afternoon.
What was behind the Court’s action? Several theories make sense. The conservatives wanted to kick the can down the road until President Ted Cruz could replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The liberals wanted to kick the can down the road until same-sex marriage was boring and routine in most of the country. Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history but couldn’t bring himself to vote with the liberals. Justice Ginsburg didn’t want to repeat the trauma of Roe v. Wade and let the Court get too far in front of the country. All are plausible.
Ultimately, at the Supreme Court, what matters is the result, not the motives. So, because of Monday’s non-decision decision, gay people in thirty states, representing well more than half the country, will now enjoy the right to marry. A decade ago, marriage equality existed only in Massachusetts. It is a remarkable legal and social transformation—an astonishing victory for progressive legal thought and action.
Why do I see symmetry as important? Without symmetry, inflation might spend considerably more time below 2 percent than above 2 percent. Inflation persistently below the 2 percent target could create doubts in households and businesses about whether the FOMC is truly aiming for 2 percent inflation, or some lower number. This kind of unmooring of inflation expectations would reduce the effectiveness of monetary policy as a mitigant against adverse macroeconomic shocks.
Second, I believe that the FOMC should consider articulating a benchmark two-year time horizon for returning inflation to the 2 percent goal. (Two years is a good choice for a benchmark because monetary policy is generally thought to affect inflation with about a two-year lag.) Right now, although the FOMC has a 2 percent inflation objective over the long run, it has not specified any time frame for achieving that objective. This lack of specificity suggests that appropriate monetary policy might engender inflation that is far from the 2 percent target for years at a time and thereby creates undue inflation (and related employment) uncertainty."(via Thoma)