"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
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Monday, November 16, 2015
Friday, November 13, 2015
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
I’ve written before about the all-too-common fallacy of confusing demand with supply, of arguing that because we had a bubble — so that some component of aggregate demand was unsustainable — the economy as a whole was somehow producing more than its potential. Let me just repeat what I said then:
Just a brief note: one thing that keeps appearing in comments is the notion that because we had a bubble, in which some people were borrowing too much, the economic growth of 2000-2007 wasn’t “real” — that it was all a figment of our imagination.
This is confusing demand with supply.
We really did produce all the goods and services counted in GDP; we were able to do that because we had willing workers, a sufficient capital stock, the right technology, and so on.But now we are about to have a Fed president who says:
What is true is that some of the spending that created demand for those goods and services was debt-financed, and those debtors can’t continue to spend the way they did. But that doesn’t say that the capacity has somehow ceased to exist; it only says that if we want to keep the capacity in use, someone else has to spend instead. In other words, past growth wasn’t an illusion, or a fraud; but we need policies to sustain aggregate demand.
How’s this? Growth was artificially fast due to leveraging of econ. Trying to return to that rate thru def spend is futile.In the words of Charlie Brown, AAUGH!
That word “artificially” is the real telltale, as is Kashkari’s description of Japanese monetary stimulus as “morphine.” It’s straight out of the liquidationist playbook, e.g. Hayek denouncing the use of “artificial stimulants” to fight the Great Depression.
So, great: we now have a liquidationist in a senior position in the Fed system.
Monday, November 09, 2015
In an editorial railing against the Republican Congress for reducing the Fed's reserve fund (which is needed in case they forget how to print money), the Washington Post told readers:
"Central bank independence and fiscal transparency are attributes of a healthy democracy and have been throughout history. Many a banana republic, by contrast, has come to grief using its central bank to facilitate government deficit spending. Post-World War I Germany had a similar problem, if memory serves."
Apparently memory isn't serving the Post's editorial writers very well. The Bank of England did not independently set its monetary policy until 1997. Nonetheless, it somehow it managed to avoid hyperinflation and most people probably would still describe the U.K. as a democracy. There are many other examples of central banks, including the Fed during World War II and for six years afterwards, which were not independent of the elected government. In almost none of these cases did countries suffer from hyperinflation.
On the other side, independent central banks in the United States and Europe somehow managed to overlook enormous housing bubbles, the collapse of which sank their economies. In Europe, the collapse has actually caused more economic damage than the Great Depression. Incredibly, none of the bank officials responsible lost their jobs for their extraordinary incompetence.
Unlike dishwashers, truck drivers, or school teachers, independent central bankers are not held responsible for the quality of their performance. In fact, virtually all of the bankers responsible for this disaster will retire with pensions that are an order of magnitude larger than the Social Security checks that so enrage the Post's editorial writers.
The sailors’ organisation met in in the dark, kneeling between the stones of a war cemetery. This was no Potemkin-style, spontaneous outburst. With extreme order they took over the bridges, ran up red flags and pointed the guns of rebel ships at the hulls of those that did not rebel.
On 4 November 1918 they armed themselves and set off, in their thousands, for the industrial centres of northern Germany. Jan Valtin, a participant, remembered: “That night I saw the mutinous sailors roll into Bremen on caravans of commandeered trucks – from all sides masses of humanity, a sea of swinging, pushing bodies and distorted faces were moving toward the centre of town. Many of the workers were armed with guns, with bayonets and with hammers.”
By 9 November, with workers swarming into the streets of Berlin, the Kaiser abdicated: only the declaration of a republic, with a Labour government and the promised “socialisation of industry”, prevented outright Soviet-style revolution.
For Hitler, the German workers’ role in ending the war became the “stab in the back”: it was his ultimate justification for eradicating the German labour movement after 1933. In the British imperialist version of events the Kiel sailors become useful ancillaries: Yanks and tanks turn the western front and, naturally, the Germans throw the towel in once their front starts to crumble.
But to social historians the German workers’ role in ending the war is no surprise. Because exactly 100 years ago this week, they had also turned out in their hundreds of thousands to try and prevent it starting. The German socialist party was a massive social institution – with libraries, schools, choirs, nurseries – and during the fatal slide to war they called their members onto the streets in every major city.
Then, under the pressure of war fever and fearing their institutions would be outlawed, the socialist leaders swung behind the war effort.
We know now, thanks to the publication of records and memoirs, that it was entirely possible to have stopped the first world war. Key members of the British cabinet were against it; large parts of the social elite in most countries, including Germany, were stunned and appalled by the unstoppable process of mobilisation.
But within 18 months of its outbreak, dissident German socialist MPs were leading mass strikes, demonstrations and riots against the war. Despite censorship, mobilisation and the natural moral solidarity people have with troops sent to the front, the German arms industry was repeatedly hit by strikes after 1916.
When they reached Berlin, the first thing the insurgent sailors did was try to seize its radio tower: their aim was to send a message of solidarity to Russian sailors at Kronstadt in the eastern Baltic Sea, who they had been fighting until a year before.
Wednesday, November 04, 2015
Larry Summers: Advanced economies are so sick we need a new way to think about them
An e-book containing the papers and presentations from the European Central Bank's central banking forum conference in Sintra, Portugal, is now available. ECB President Mario Draghi and his colleagues are to be greatly commended for running a forum that is so open to profound challenges to central banking orthodoxy.
The volume contains a paper by Olivier Blanchard, Eugenio Cerutti and me on hysteresis — and separately some of my reflections asserting the need for a new Keynesian economics that is more Keynesian and less new.
Here, I summarize these two papers.
Blanchard, Cerutti and I look at a sample of over 100 recessions from industrial countries over the last 50 years and examine their impact on long-run output levels in an effort to understand what Blanchard and I had earlier called hysteresis effects. We find that in the vast majority of cases, output never returns to previous trends. Indeed, there appear to be more cases where recessions reduce the subsequent growth of output than where output returns to trend. In other words “super hysteresis,” to use Larry Ball’s term, is more frequent than “no hysteresis."
This finding does not in-and-of-itself establish the importance of hysteresis effects. It might be that when underlying growth rates fall, recessions follow, but that recessions have no causal impact going forward. In order to address this issue, we look at the impact of recessions with different precursors. We find that even recessions that are associated with disinflationary monetary policies or the drying up of credit have substantial long-run output effects suggesting the presence of hysteresis effects.
In subsequent work, Antonio Fatas and I have looked at the impact of fiscal policy surprises on long-run output and long-run output forecasts, using a methodology pioneered by Blanchard and Daniel Leigh. Because fiscal policy effects operate primarily through aggregate demand, this provides a way to avoid the causation question. We find that fiscal policy changes have large continuing effects on levels of output suggesting the importance of hysteresis.
I was struck that in a vote taken at the conference, close to 90 percent of the participants indicated that they believe there are significant hysteresis effects. While there is much more work to be done, I believe that, as of right now, the right presumption is in favor of hysteresis effects, despite their exclusion from the standard models used in almost all central banks.
Toward a new macroeconomics
My separate comments in the volume develop an idea I have pushed with little success for a long time. Standard new Keynesian macroeconomics essentially abstracts away from most of what is important in macroeconomics. To an even greater extent, this is true of the dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) models that are the workhorse of central bank staffs and much practically oriented academic work.
Why? New Keynesian models imply that stabilization policies cannot affect the average level of output over time and that the only effect policy can have is on the amplitude of economic fluctuations, not on the level of output. This assumption is problematic at a number of levels.
First, if stabilization policies cannot affect average levels of employment and output over time, they are not nearly as important as if they can. Beginning the study of stabilization with this assumption takes away much of the motivation for doing macroeconomics.
Second, the assumption is close to absurd. It is surely reasonable to assume that better policy could have avoided the Depression or the huge output losses associated with the financial crisis without having shaved off some previous or subsequent peak.
Third, contrary to the now common view that macroeconomics is best understood by studying the stochastic properties of stationary time series, the most important macroeconomic events are in some sense one off. Think of the Depression or the Great Recession or the high inflation of the 1970s.
The problem has always been that it is difficult to beat something with nothing. This may be changing as topics like hysteresis, secular stagnation, and multiple equilibrium are getting more and more attention.
As well they should. U.S. output is now about 10 percent below a trend estimated through 2007. If one attributes even half of this figure to the effects of recession and assumes no catch up on this component until 2030, the cost of the financial crisis in the U.S. is about one year’s gross domestic product. And matters are worse in the rest of the industrial world.
As macroeconomics was transformed in response to the Depression of the 1930s and the inflation of the 1970s, another 40 years later it should again be transformed in response to stagnation in the industrial world.
Maybe we can call it the Keynesian New Economics.
Monday, November 02, 2015
"Something is blocking the private sector investment channel and, as I note in the piece, many economic scholars are pondering this puzzle–Brad DeLong provides an excellent rundown of their thinking here."
JW Mason's first piece in The Baffler.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Thursday, October 22, 2015
There are two facts you should know about full employment. First, as the bars in the figure above show, since the late 1970s, we’ve been at full employment only 30 percent of the time (see the data note below for an explanation of how this is measured). For the three decades before that, the job market was at full employment 70 percent of the time.
Central bankers and their irrational fear by Simon Wren-Lewis