Why “Output Gap” Is Inadequate

Lekha Chakraborty | January 4, 2021

by Lekha Chakraborty and Amandeep Kaur[1]

The macroeconomic uncertainty during the Covid-19 pandemic is hard to measure. Economists and policymakers use the “output gap” variable to capture “slack.” It is a deviation between potential output and actual output, which is a standard representation of a “cycle.” The potential output is an unobserved variable. There is an increasing concern about the way we measure potential output—decomposing the output into trends and cycles. This is because the business cycle is not always a “cycle.” Sometimes, the “cycle is the trend.”[2]

When macroeconomic crises and recessions tend to “permanently” push down the level of a country’s GDP, it is inappropriate to assume that output will bounce back to previous levels. The notion of the output gap is ill-conceived and ill-measured. Scholars have highlighted the significance of “hysteresis” (the dependence of economic path on history) in analyzing the output dynamics in crisis.[3] Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, there is a renewed interest in hysteresis and business cycles. The state of the economy and the level of GDP are history dependent (hysteresis). The concept of hysteresis has urgent relevance for designing apt fiscal and monetary policies to tackle low demand during recessions. continue reading…


Increasing Diversity in Economics Is Not Only a Moral Obligation

Luiza Nassif Pires | December 8, 2020

November 3rd, 2019, I delivered remarks on the closing panel of The New School/UMASS Amherst Graduate workshop held in New York City. The panel theme was “Broadening the boundaries of political economy”. I have since graduated and successfully gone through the job market. I hope my remarks from last year can serve as encouragement for fellow female, black, African-American, Latinx, and ethnic minority economic students, as well as all students in the field who have ever felt discriminated against. I also hope that it can help my colleagues understand the importance of fighting against misogyny and racism in the field.


“Broadening the boundaries of political economy” Remarks by Luiza Nassif-Pires:

“A couple of weeks ago, when Mark [Setterfield] sent the e-mail announcing the theme of the closing panel this year “Broadening the boundaries of Political Economy” I had this unstoppable urge to participate and say something about diversity. I really had to take a step back last night (the second time my watch said it was 1 am) to analyze: What on earth was I thinking when I decided to add one more commitment to my crazy ‘thesis writing while working four jobs and going on the job market’ schedule? What is this urge to say something about diversity that kept me working late on a Saturday night?

To explain this urge I will try my best to walk you through a very specific sentiment I had last night. You see, I have been educating myself to go on the job market, I have been studying feminist economics for a while; this means reading a lot about discrimination. So I really thought I already knew all the ways in which being a Brazilian female will affect my ability to not become yet another statistic in the leaking pipeline of the gendered economic profession. So, please, picture yourself exhausted from a lot of work and proud of a paper forthcoming co-authored with a male Professor suddenly reading this:

“Sarsons (2015) using data from the CV of economists,…, documented that, while an additional coauthored paper for a man has the same effect on the likelihood of tenure as a solo-authored paper, women suffer a significant penalty for coauthoring, especially when their coauthors are men.”

Bayer and Rouse (2016)

Well, clearly my urge to be here today discussing diversity is a survival reflex. But also, it really takes someone that feels this burden to be able to express and expose it. With that comes a certain moral obligation, one that I take seriously as a privileged Brazilian woman in a Ph.D. program in the US.

Around now you should be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with broadening political economy? Well, I have established so far that I believe that fighting for diversity is a survival reflex and a moral obligation. I want to now argue that it is also necessary to improve our theories. continue reading…


The Pandemic, “Flexible” Work, and Household Labor in Brazil (Interview)

Luiza Nassif Pires | December 1, 2020

[The following is an interview by Paula Quental of Lygia Sabbag Fares, one of my coauthors for this post on how home quarantine has impacted domestic violence. The interview originally appeared in Portuguese and is posted here with permission.]


Labor market deregulation is bad for all workers and even more perverse for women, says economist.

According to Lygia Sabbag Fares, a specialist in Labor Economics and Gender Studies, labor reform is a way for the powerful to transfer the burden of productive costs to workers. According to Dr. Fares, there is no indication that a more egalitarian division of domestic chores between men and women, a supposed “gain” from the pandemic, will be sustainable in the future.

by Paula Quental

The discourse in defense of work flexibility—including working hours with a bank of hours, part-time, work on weekends, and relay shifts, among other measures—usually touts the advantages for workers, especially for those (in general, women) who need to reconcile hours worked with domestic duties. This argument has gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic, considering the spread of the home office and a supposedly more equal division of domestic tasks between men and women.

According to the economist Lygia Sabbag Fares—professor at the Escola Superior de Administração e Gestão Strong, certified by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), PhD in Economic Development and specialist in Labor Economics at Unicamp, holder of a master’s degree in Labor Policies and Globalization from the University of Kassel and the Berlin School of Economics and Law (Germany)—the reality is quite different from what the work flexibility enthusiasts believe. According to her studies, these processes “are driven by capital, with the objective of obtaining profits and externalizing costs, following the capitalist model of production under the aegis of neoliberalism”. The result is severe job insecurity, or greater pressure in the case of more competitive jobs, and in both situations, women are the most affected.

There is also no guarantee, according to her, that in the post-pandemic scenario, couples will still push to share domestic chores relating to their home and children. The net result of this period seems to be more negative than positive, considering the increase in domestic violence and divorce.

Read the following interview with the Brazilian professor, who has just received an invitation to teach at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, in the United States: continue reading…


The Reserve Bank’s Pandemic Predicament

Lekha Chakraborty | June 24, 2020

by Lekha Chakraborty and Harikrishnan S

As the Reserve Bank of India Governor Shri Shaktikanta Das puts it upfront, these are extraordinary times, and we need to respond with “whatever it takes” to deal with the pandemic. Over the past few days, our hope for systematically “flattening the curve” by containing the COVID-19 pandemic and moving to a quick V-shaped or U-shaped recovery is waning[i]. Evidence is increasingly pointing towards the situation worsening to a dual crisis — a public health crisis and a macroeconomic crisis — like never before.

The IMF projections substantiate that the drag of the pandemic on global growth could be to the extent of -3%. This is a major revision in the global growth rate over a very short period of time. The IMF highlighted that “the Great Lockdown is the worst economic disruption since Great Depression, and far worse than the global financial crisis,” and its estimates suggest that “the cumulative loss to global GDP over 2020 and 2021 from the effects of the COVID19 pandemic would be around $9 trillion, greater than the economies of Japan and Germany combined.”[ii] *(The IMF has since released its latest [June 2020] estimates, showing global growth declining 4.9 percent, for a cumulative, 2020-21 loss of $12 trillion.)

How have the central banks responded to this crisis?  This is evidently uncharted territory for the central banks — how to deal with “life versus livelihood” issues. The pandemic economics of central banks is twofold. One is the focus on measures that relate to instantaneous economic “firefighting”: for instance, how to ensure liquidity infusion into the system to stabilize the market reactions. The second is the long-term policy imperatives. As this crisis is of an unprecedented scale, it calls for unprecedented policy responses. continue reading…


Eulogy for Carlos Lessa

Luiza Nassif Pires | June 5, 2020

I have translated this eulogy on behalf of the Economics Institute of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where I have spent many of my years of economic formation. Carlos Lessa is part of a generation of brilliant Brazilian economists that have shaped the public debate and the discipline in Brazil. This is an effort to pay homage and make more visible the work and life of scholars whose writings are hardly ever translated into English but who are extremely important to our education.

This Friday June 5th at dawn, Carlos Lessa, Professor Emeritus of the Institute of Economics and former Rector of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) has passed away. This is a time of mourning for our community. Lessa was a brilliant professor and for several decades has been systematically considered by students as the best in class. As an intellectual, he was a big interpreter of Brazil and especially of Rio de Janeiro, a city that for him was the epitome of what is best and worst in our country . In addition to his many classes, he was a man of his time and a brilliant speaker, known for his very influential and extremely popular talks and speeches. His hundreds of lectures, from a world before the existence of the internet, are of immeasurable importance and impact, particularly in the most difficult years of our history, during the military dictatorship regime, when the circulation of information was often restricted by the fear and action of censorship. continue reading…


Higher Education in Brazil: Interrupted Inclusion?

Michael Stephens | June 4, 2020

by Ana Luíza Matos de Oliveira

Brazil is a highly unequal country — so is the access to its higher education system. However, in the beginning of the 21st century (2001-2015), there was a convergence between the profile of Brazilian higher education students and the Brazilian population in terms of income, race, and region, although many inequalities still exist. Now, this process might be at risk.

From 2001 to 2015, economic growth and improvements in the labor market affected families’ spending decisions. Also, the budget for higher education presented significant growth and many programs aiming at democratizing access to higher education in Brazil — such as Reuni (expansion of the federal higher education system), Prouni (offer of scholarships in private institutions), loan schemes for students, affirmative action, and student assistance — were created or broadened. Policies in partnership with the private sector were put in place and are related to a significant growth in enrollment in private institutions in this period.

This led to greater social inclusion in higher education, as Graph 1 demonstrates.[1] It is also important to state that during this period there was a policy of increasing the value of the minimum wage (MW), which in 2020 is now R$ 1045 (USD 205).

Graph 1 – Students in Higher Education according to per capita income – Brazil (2001-2015)

Source: A. L. M. Oliveira (2019)

Graph 2 shows a rising trend of participation in higher education among people from the bottom 70% of the Brazilian income distribution (per capita family income) and a decrease in participation among the richest 30%. However, there is a sign of reversal in 2015.[2] continue reading…


The Political Economy of Lockdown in India

Lekha Chakraborty | June 2, 2020

by Harikrishnan S and Lekha Chakraborty

As predictable as it can be, the Indian Prime Minister announced lockdown at 8 PM on March 24th 2020, giving the country and its 1.3 billion people all of four hours to get ready, evoking memories of the demonetisation announcement and the midnight launch of the GST! This was done by invoking the National Disaster Management Act of 2005. While many analysts lauded the communication strategy of the leader “directly” speaking to the people as political decisiveness, our contention is that it was a clear case of using a “command and control” strategy instead of co-operative federalism, which the government had been taking pains to highlight that it believed in. The manner in which we are getting out of the lockdown, with an ad hoc and arbitrary exit strategy, at a time when the number of COVID cases reported daily has seen a mountainous surge (almost every other day previous records are being broken), shows a clear lack of any sort of planning and sadly reeks of cluelessness.

While the obvious intent of the lockdown policy was “to flatten the curve” and control the spread of the pandemic, almost irreversible economic disruption has resulted in many sectors and a mounting humanitarian crisis through the unprecedented exodus of migrant labour is staring at us with all its severity. continue reading…


Jan Kregel: Why Stimulus Cannot Solve the Pandemic Depression

Michael Stephens | May 11, 2020


What MMT Is, and Why We Should Not Wait for the Next Crisis to Live Up to Our Means

L. Randall Wray | April 4, 2020

by Yeva Nersisyan and L. Randall Wray

As MMT has been thrust into the spotlight, misrepresentations and misunderstanding have followed. MMT supposedly calls for cranking up the printing press, engaging in helicopter drops of cash or having the Fed finance government spending by engaging in Quantitative Easing.

None of this is MMT.

Instead, MMT provides an analysis of fiscal and monetary policy applicable to national governments with sovereign, non-convertible currencies. It concludes that the sovereign currency issuer: i) does not face a “budget constraint” (as conventionally defined); ii) cannot “run out of money”; iii) meets its obligations by paying in its own currency; iv) can set the interest rate on any obligations it issues.

Current procedures adopted by the Treasury, the central bank, and private banks allow government to spend up to the budget approved by Congress and signed by the President. No change of procedures, no money printing, no helicopter drops are required. continue reading…


We Need Class, Race, and Gender Sensitive Policies to Fight the COVID-19 Crisis

Luiza Nassif Pires | April 2, 2020

Luiza Nassif-Pires, Laura de Lima Xavier, Thomas Masterson, Michalis Nikiforos, and Fernando Rios-Avila


Disproving the belief that the pandemic affects us all equally, data collected by New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and a piece published today in the New York Times shows that the novel coronavirus is “hitting low-income neighborhoods the hardest.”[1] In a forthcoming policy brief, we share evidence that this pattern would be the case and provide a solid explanation as to why (Nassif-Pires et al., forthcoming). Moreover, as we argue, the death tolls are also likely to be higher among poor neighborhoods and majority-minority communities. This inequality in health costs is in addition to an unequal distribution of economic costs. In short, poor and minority individuals are disproportionately feeling the impacts of this crisis. A concise version of our evidence is presented here.

The toll of social inequality in healthcare is well known. A clear relationship has been repeatedly demonstrated between social determinants — such as income, education, occupation, social class, sex, and race/ethnicity — and the incidence and severity of many diseases. This association holds true for infectious respiratory illnesses such as influenza, SARS and also for COVID-19, as figure 1 shows. The consequences of this imbalance are particularly catastrophic when there is a massive disease outbreak. The precise mechanisms by which social determinants drive unequal disease burden during these outbreaks is harder to assess. On the one hand, there is a strong association of social determinants with clinical risk factors for respiratory illnesses such as chronic diseases, on the other, social aspects of poverty increase the risks of individuals contracting infectious diseases.

To establish the relationship between poverty and the clinical risk of a severe case of COVID-19, we estimate a health risk index as a function of poverty and percentage of minority population in neighborhoods of 500 cities. We use data from the 500 Cities project and from the American Community Survey. The risk index accounts for the incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, coronary disease, cancer,  asthma,  kidney disease, high blood pressure, percentage of smokers, proportion of individuals with poor physical health and the proportion of the population that is above 65 years old. All data is available at the census tract level and results are presented in figure 1 and figure 2[2]. continue reading…