Archive for the ‘Economic Policy’ Category

Barbera on the Case Against Mainstream Economics

Michael Stephens | September 6, 2013

Robert Barbera, a regular contributor to the Levy Institute’s Minsky conferences, has a great post at Johns Hopkins’ Center for Financial Economics on the cycle of amnesia and remembrance that seems to plague mainstream economic theorists. Here’s a key passage:

Perhaps the most indictable offense that mainstream economists committed, from 1988 through 2008, was to retrace, step by step, Keynes’s path of discovery from 1924 through 1936. Wholesale deregulation of finance and categorical confidence in a reductionist role for central banks came into being as the conventional wisdom embraced the 1924 view that free markets and stable prices alone gave us the best chance for economic stability. To add insult to injury, the conventional wisdom before the crisis was embedded in models called “new Keynesian” which were gutted of the insights of Keynes. This conventional wisdom gave license to a succession of asset market boom/bust cycles that defied the inflation/deflation model but were, nonetheless, ignored by central bankers and regulators alike. Quite predictably, in the aftermath of the grand asset market boom/bust cycle of 2008-2009, we are jettisoning Keynes, circa 1924, for the Keynes of 1936.

It’s worth reading the whole thing: “Exit Keynes, the Friedmanite, Enter Minsky’s Keynes.”


Money Creation for Main Street: Staking Out a Progressive Fed Policy

Michael Stephens | August 2, 2013

When it comes to the Federal Reserve and Fed policy, the bulk of today’s progressives can be sorted into two broad groups. There are those who, in the face of congressional sabotage of fiscal policy, shrug their shoulders and conclude that we might as well get behind QE because it’s the only game in town — thus setting the “progressive” pole of the debate in such a way that Milton Friedman represents the leftward edge of the possible — and there are those who largely cede the battlefield on Fed policy, either for lack of interest or due to skepticism that the Fed can do much to affect growth and employment anyway.

There are, of course, some notable exceptions, but they are a minority — and this has the effect of narrowing the dialogue when it comes to central bank policy. Bill Greider, in two new policy notes drawn from his work at The Nation, shows us what it might look like to go beyond progressive indifference or hostility to the Fed and articulate a positive alternative agenda.

Both of Greider’s notes focus on how the Federal Reserve’s money-creation power, which was used to great effect in propping up the financial system, might be redirected to aiding the “real” economy:

The Federal Reserve’s most distinctive asset is money—its awesome and somewhat mysterious power to create money and inject it into the economy by buying financial assets of one kind or another. If that power is abused, it can destabilize society. In an economic crisis, however, the money-creation power can be harnessed to public purposes and used to restore order and justice. That is essentially what Bernanke’s Fed attempted during the recent crisis when it created those surplus trillions for banking. The fact that the strategy did not entirely succeed suggests that maybe this power should be applied in a different direction.

According to Greider, the Fed’s authority to engage in direct lending to the real economy, to enable debt relief for underwater mortgages and the roughly $1 trillion in student debt, or to backstop infrastructure projects stems in part from from Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act. In fact, the central bank has done this sort of thing before:

During the Great Depression, the Federal Reserve was given open-ended legal authority to lend to practically anyone if its Board of Governors declared an economic emergency. This remains the law today. The central bank can lend to industrial corporations and small businesses, including partnerships, individuals, and other entities that are not commercial banks or even financial firms. The Fed made thousands of direct loans to private businesses during the New Deal, and the practice continued for 20 years. Only in more recent times has the reigning conservative doctrine insisted that this cannot be done.

The Fed carried out its bank rescues under the auspices of Section 13(3), and although Dodd-Frank placed new limits on the use of this provision, Greider argues that there is still sufficient scope for the Fed to harness its “money power” for broader public purposes.

Read “Debt Relief and the Fed’s Money-creation Power” and “‘Unusual and Exigent': How the Fed Can Jump-start the Real Economy.”


A Quantum of Herring

Thomas Masterson | July 17, 2013

Casey B. Mulligan, of whom I have written before, has a new post on the New York Times Economix blog, in which he attempts to school the less wise what policy impact assessment is all about. It is not about Red Herrings, for example. He references one of his recent posts that I opted to mostly let go at the time. Though I did make a comment not unlike the one he disparages.

In this post he says that the point of policy impact assessment is to compare what will happen if a policy is implemented to a baseline, without the policy. Fair enough, but is that enough? He says:

Policy impact quantifies how things are different as a consequence of the policy. [emphasis mine]

His analysis of the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the part-time labor market concludes that two of the things that keep people in full-time employment, access to health insurance coverage and higher pay, will be eroded by the ACA. The bit about the insurance coverage is obvious enough. Well done! The bit about the higher pay is not quite as obvious. The numbers Mulligan uses are telling, however.

continue reading…


Kregel on Financial Liberalization and Rebalancing in China

Michael Stephens | April 16, 2013

Jan Kregel speaks at INET’s “Changing of the Guard?” conference in Hong Kong about the tensions between China’s highly regulated financial system and its efforts at rebalancing. Kregel compares elements of China’s financial system to what the United States had under Glass-Steagall and observes that, similar to the US experience, a de facto liberalization is occurring in China through the emergence of shadow banking:


Polychroniou on a Post-Keynesian Political Economy for the 21st Century

Michael Stephens | March 21, 2013

In a new, wide-ranging policy note, C. J. Polychroniou traces the roots and evolution of the present “era of global neoliberalism”; an era he portrays as mired in perpetual crisis and dysfunction, and ripe for change.

[N]eoliberalism itself is more of an ideological construct than a solidly grounded theoretical approach or an empirically-derived methodology. In fact, the intellectual foundations of neoliberal discourse are couched in profusely vague claims and ahistorical terms. Notions such as “free markets,” “economic efficiency,” and “perfect competition” are so devoid of any empirical reference that they belong to a discourse on metaphysics, not economics.

Polychroniou attempts to outline the central principles of a progressive, post-Keynesian economic policy alternative.  His primary target:  changing the relationship between the state and the financial sector.

Read the policy note here.


Seminar: William Janeway on Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy

Michael Stephens | February 28, 2013

The Bard Economics Program and the Levy Economics Institute present:

William H. Janeway
Institute for New Economic Thinking and Warburg Pincus Technology

Monday, March 4, 2013  4:45 p.m.
Bard College
Reem-Kayden Center for Science and Computation (RKC), Room 103

Excerpt from Doing Capitalism:

The Innovation Economy begins with discovery and culminates in speculation. Over some 250 years, economic growth has been driven by successive processes of trial and error and error and error: upstream exercises in research and invention, and downstream experiments in exploiting the new economic space opened by innovation. Each of these activities necessarily generates much waste along the way: dead-end research programs, useless inventions and failed commercial ventures. In between, the innovations that have repeatedly transformed the architecture of the market economy, from canals to the internet, have required massive investments to construct networks whose value in use could not be imagined at the outset of deployment. And so at each stage the Innovation Economy depends on sources of funding that are decoupled from concern for economic return.”

About the Author: continue reading…


Reverse Pivot?

Michael Stephens | February 13, 2013

Is the era of the “grand bargain” over?  That was the implication of a number of news stories that pre-framed last night’s speech.  “When President Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday evening,” wrote the Washington Post‘s Lori Montgomery, “here’s one thing you won’t hear: an ambitious new plan to rein in the national debt. In recent weeks, the White House has pressed the message that, if policymakers can agree on a strategy for replacing across-the-board spending cuts set to hit next month, Obama will pretty much have achieved what he has called ‘our ultimate goal’ of halting the rapid rise in government borrowing.”

There was indeed a small change in emphasis in this year’s SOTU.  The president began by highlighting how much deficit reduction had already been achieved ($2.5 trillion, not including the ACA) and downplayed how much remains to be done to stabilize the debt.  He then spent the bulk of his address on job creation and other national priorities that have been languishing for years, including proposals to raise the minimum wage, invest in infrastructure repairs, create wider access to quality pre-kindergarten, reduce carbon emissions, and so on.  The key line, rhetorically, was this one:  “deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.”

The deficit-reduction industry isn’t going to close up shop after this speech.  You’ll still get to hear from Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles about how Washington’s budget cuts have been insufficiently “hard” or “painful.”  Morning cable news hosts, and everyone they know, will still be so convinced that spending is “out of control” that they will find the very idea of checking the data to be laughable.  But ever since the Obama administration announced their “pivot” to deficit reduction in 2010, they have been doing little to dissuade the public from believing that we are on the verge of a government debt crisis that demands our immediate attention, and the SOTU suggests that, going forward, the administration may be providing a little less aid and comfort to the deficit hawks.

Unfortunately, the substance of the president’s speech, the economic policy, was still hemmed in by a prioritization of the federal budget balance.  Obama pledged, for instance, that none of his proposals would add to the deficit (“nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime”).  That’s an unfortunate (and arbitrary) limitation.  For policies such as investment in infrastructure repair that are meant to stimulate the economy and create jobs, deficit neutrality is going to be a significant hindrance.

In the Levy Institute’s last strategic analysis, Dimitri Papadimitriou, Greg Hannsgen, and Gennaro Zezza showed how you can do “deficit neutral” economic stimulus:  this is mainly due to the different “multipliers” associated with various budgetary changes.  However, their simulation of a deficit-neutral stimulus demonstrated that while such policies can boost economic activity (a $150 billion increase in government investment that is “paid for” could reduce the unemployment rate by almost 0.5 percentage points), a deficit-financed stimulus would be more effective.  (Their newest strategic analysis and projections for the US economy will be coming out in late February/early March.)

It remains to be seen how these SOTU proposals get fleshed out, but a true pivot away from prioritizing the deficit would mean, instead of promising not to add a dime to the deficit, pledging not pass a budget that removes even one-tenth of a percentage point from growth until the unemployment rate dips below some target level.


Incorrect Economic Historian Is Incorrect

Thomas Masterson | November 20, 2012

Amity Shlaes, whose main claim to fame is an allegedly new history of the Great Depression, thinks we may be in trouble as a result of the election. Looking beyond her alarmingly alliterative title (“2013 Looks to be a Lot Like 1937 in Four Fearsome Ways!”  Oooh! Scary!) she has some valid points. Of course she is talking about the stock market not the real economy, which produces the jobs and the economic benefits most people rely on for a living. And, unfortunately, she doesn’t realize where she is right.

But first, what are the four fearsome factors that will drive us to doom? First, a federal spending spree before the election. Shlaes uses “the old 19% rule” as a benchmark to argue that because federal government spending in 2012 “when the crisis was long past” was 24.3% of GDP, clearly the Obama administration was spending up a storm. To argue that the crisis is long past, one must be willing to ignore the employment crisis that still hasn’t left us, but let’s give her this one. Whether this is a problem given current economic conditions is another story. If it’s the debt implications you’re worried about, it is worth noting that revenues as a percentage of GDP are also quite low historically speaking, just over 15% for the last few years (see CBO’s historical budget data).

Shlaes’ second fear factor is a bath of cold water afterwards. Roosevelt restored budget balance in 1937 and since that very topic (and who David Petraeus was or was not sleeping with) is all people are talking about in Washington these days it seems likely we’ll get spending cuts and tax increases in the next budget. The “depression within the Depression” was the result of exactly this fiscal restraint. This is where Shlaes is quite right, though she doesn’t actually come out and say this: whether the President and Congress jump off the fiscal cliff together, which would reduce spending across the board, or avoid it by cutting spending on everything but defense instead, we are in for poor economic performance indeed.

Shlaes’ third scary thing is the fearsome attack on the status quo. In 1937, this meant raising the top marginal rate from 56% (where it had been raised by Hoover in 1932 from 25%) to 62% (this actually passed in 1936) and the undistributed profits tax. This, and Roosevelt’s attempts to pack the Supreme Court meant that (stock) markets “shivered.” Note that this year, Obama is talking about raising the top rate to, um, 39.6%, which is where it was before the Bush tax cuts. Remember how much markets were “shivering” in the 1990s? Me neither.

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Do the Personal Characteristics of the Prime Minister Affect Economic Growth?

Lekha Chakraborty | September 17, 2012

by Lekha Chakraborty

India has recently turned to a debate over the effect of the Prime Minister’s personal characteristics on the country’s growth and development outcomes. Do political leaders’ personal characteristics affect economic growth? It is an elusive empirical question.

One of the most robust findings of a recent treatment of this topic is that leaders do matter for economic growth and, in particular, more educated leaders generate higher growth. The paper, titled “Do Educated Leaders Matter?,” appeared in The Economic Journal in 2011, by Timothy Besley of the London School of Economics and co-authored by Jose G. Montalvo and Marta Reynal-Querol. They examined this issue in a new context of how the educational attainment of a political leader affects a country’s economic growth during the leader’s tenure in office. The study also finds a strong negative effect on growth of a random exit of the Prime Minister from his office.  “[I]ntelligence is central to the Platonic view of leadership,” they write, “so the idea that more educated citizens could be better leaders would come as no surprise.” This finding naturally leads us to the question of who should be appointed as Prime Minister. In India, we currently find a well-educated technocrat in that position.

With the recent controversial article by Simon Denyer, the New Delhi bureau chief of the Washington Post, the focus on the potential personal impact of the Prime Minister on reform policies or economic growth has reached its peak.   continue reading…


Eccles on How to End the Crisis

Thorvald Grung Moe | September 14, 2012

Marriner Eccles was Chairman of the Federal Reserve under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This note consists of excerpts from an address he gave to the US Senate Committee on Finance in 1933, before he was called to Washington for public service by FDR. The original address contained in the Congressional Records has been reduced from over thirty pages (including questions and answers) to only three pages here that contain his essential message. Some parts have been slightly modified to fit the current time and crisis. Additions or alteration to the text has been marked by square brackets. All original figures used by Eccles in the address have been inflated by a factor of 16.4, according to the official US CPI index.

In the mad confusion and fear brought about by our present disordered economies, we need bold and courageous leadership more than at any other time in our history. The orthodox capitalistic system of uncontrolled individualism, with its free competition, will no longer serve our purpose. We can only survive and function under a modified capitalistic system controlled and regulated from the top by government.

The proposals I offer are all intended to bring about, by Government action, an increase of purchasing power on the part of all the people, resulting in an immediate and increasing volume in all lines of business with consequent diminution of unemployment and distress and gradual restoration of our national income. When this is accomplished, and not before, can the Government hope to balance its budget and our people regain their standard of living. continue reading…