Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dean Baker on The Promotion of Waste & Inequality By US Finance

By Dean Baker
In the crazy years of the housing boom the financial sector was a gigantic cesspool of excess and corruption. There was big money in pushing and packaging fraudulent mortgages. The country paid a huge price for the financial sector's sleaze. Unfortunately, because of the Obama administration's soft on crime approach to the bankers who became rich in the process; the industry is still a cesspool of excess and greed. Just to be clear, knowingly issuing and packaging a fraudulent mortgage is a crime, the sort of thing for which people go to jail. But thanks to the political power of the Wall Street, none of them went to jail, and in fact they got to keep the money.
Read rest here

For more on the long-run macroeconomic causes, implications, and effects of US financialization, see recent articles here, here (subscription required) , here, here, here (subscription required), and here (subscription required)

Lars Syll [h/t] Jan Milch On Methodological Critique of Austrian Economics

By Lars Syll [h/t] Jan Milch

This is a fair presentation and critique of Austrian methodology. But beware! In theoretical and methodological questions it’s not always either-or. We have to be open-minded and pluralistic enough not to throw out the baby with the bath water — and fail to secure insights like this:

What is the problem we wish to solve when we try to construct a rational economic order?… If we possess all the relevant information, if we can start out from a given system of preferences, and if we command complete knowledge of available means, the problem which remains is purely one of logic…

This, however, is emphatically not the economic problem which society faces…The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is…a problem of the utilization of knowledge which is not given to anyone in its totality.

This character of the fundamental problem has, I am afraid, been obscured rather than illuminated by many of the recent refinements of economic theory…Many of the current disputes with regard to both economic theory and economic policy have their common origin in a misconception about the nature of the economic problem of society. This misconception in turn is due to an erroneous transfer to social phenomena of the habits of thought we have developed in dealing with the phenomena of nature…

Read rest here (and be sure to check out the comments made by Paul Davidson!)

Structural Transformation in China 1952-2013

Just checking the Chinese economic data (subscription required), and decided to look at the structural changes more or less since the Communist takeover, as shown below.
The interesting thing is that while the size of agriculture diminished significantly throughout the whole period, industry more or less reached its current level at the beginning of the opening period. Most of the growth in the post-liberalization period has been in services, which has gone hand in hand with the urbanization process.

Of course the results are a little bit deceiving. The primary sector is basically agriculture and the secondary contains the bulk of manufacturing, but the tertiary includes some industries too. For the definitions go here. Still interesting result. By the way, by 2013 the tertiary sector is finally bigger than the secondary.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Per Fed, American Median Wealth Plunged By 40 percent From 2007 to 2010

The Federal Reserve has confirmed that the median net worth of families plunged by 40 percent in just three years, from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. That is, the average American family wealth is roughly on par with what it was in 1992. According to the Washington Post:
"The recent recession wiped out nearly two decades of Americans’ wealth, according to government data released Monday, with ­middle-class families bearing the brunt of the decline. The data represent one of the most detailed looks at how the economic downturn altered the landscape of family finance. Over a span of three years, Americans watched progress that took almost a generation to accumulate evaporate. The promise of retirement built on the inevitable rise of the stock market proved illusory for most. Homeownership, once heralded as a pathway to wealth, became an albatross. The findings underscore the depth of the wounds of the financial crisis and how far many families remain from healing. If the recession set Americans back 20 years, economists say, the road forward is sure to be a long one. And so far, the country has seen only a halting recovery."
 Read rest here.

More on Argentina and the Vulture Funds

This week will be key for the Argentine debt renegotiation drama. If no agreement is reached then default might take place. Here is a short note in Spanish for the Argentine newspaper Página/12, in which I suggest that in spite of the costs of an agreement, and the fact that on a simple technical basis Argentina should not pay them (after all they would still profit if they accepted the terms that 93% of bondholders agreed to), it might be the only solution that would allow economic growth to continue.

Tom Palley on New Keynesianism as a Club

Tom Palley discusses the fact that New Keynesian have 'rediscovered' several of the ideas that other Keynesians, in particular the more heterodox sort (but not only, he includes James Tobin too), without properly acknowledging them. In his words:
"For almost thirty years, New Keynesians have dismissed other Keynesians and not bothered to stay acquainted with their research. But now that the economic crisis has forced awareness, the right thing is to acknowledge and incorporate that research."
Read rest here. By the way, Tobin, in his little book Asset Accumulation and Economic Activity, discusses why even with price flexibility the system does not have a tendency to full employment, being the closest to the alternative Keynesian ideas, or arguably to Keynes' own views. For Minsky's review of that book, in which he also criticizes Tobin for dismissing the research of post-Keynesians, go here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

CEPR on "Minimum Wage Workers Pay Cut Clock"

The last time the federal minimum wage was raised was July 24, 2009, to $7.25 per hour. Workers making the minimum wage have been facing a continual pay cut since then, as inflation has eroded the purchasing power of the minimum wage.

The first minimum wage pay cut clock shows how many dollars America's minimum wage workers have lost since July 2009. Every second it shows how much more money they're losing, as long as the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25. Mind you, even if the federal minimum wage were to catch up to its July 2009 level, it would still be far below its historical level. The peak year for the U.S. minimum wage was 1968.

The second clock shows how many dollars America's minimum wage workers have lost since July 24, 2009 if the minimum wage had instead been raised to its 1968 level and then kept pace with inflation since then. Every second it shows how much more money they're losing, as long as the federal minimum wage remains below its historical peak.

See here.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A debate on Endogenous Money and Effective Demand: Keen, Fiebiger, Lavoie and Palley

The last issue of the Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE) has a debate between Steve Keen with Brett Fiebiger, Marc Lavoie and Tom Palley. Two papers are available for download (Keen and Lavoie's). Tom's paper is available as a working paper here.

The basis for Steve's defense of endogenous money is based on the works of Schumpeter, as developed by the latter's student Hyman Minsky. In his words:
"The proposition that effective demand exceeds income is not a new one: it can be found in both Schumpeter and Minsky (and arguably in Keynes's writings after The General Theory, though not in as definitive a form – see Keynes 1937*, p. 247). A difference between income and expenditure, with the gap filled by the endogenous creation of money, was a foundation of Schumpeter's vision of the entrepreneurial role in capitalism. Minsky's attempt to reconcile endogenous money and sectoral balances is the closest antecedent to the argument I make, but I will start in chronological order with Schumpeter's analysis."
I have noted before that the idea of endogenous money is NOT central for heterodox approaches, since Wicksell and the whole modern New Keynesian consensus adopts it. And perfectly conventional authors like Irving Fisher had introduced debt in their models too. I also noted that Schumpeter is essentially a Real Business Cycle (innovations are nothing but exogenous productivity shocks) author, which thought that both short-run output and employment and long-run growth were determined by supply-side factors. So in general I'm not a great fan of having Schumpeter as a staring point, or the notion that to introduce debt and endogenous money is per se a critique of the mainstream.

In that respect, I tend to agree with Tom's point that it is the way in which endogenous money and debt are introduced in the model that matters. Keen's use of a variation of Fisher's equation of exchange, as pointed out by Tom, is troublesome. In Tom's words:
"The Fisher equation constitutes the monetarist framework for macroeconomics. Income-expenditure accounting constitutes the Keynesian framework and it offers an alternative approach to understanding the AD, credit, endogenous money nexus."
In fact, in the equation of exchange framework the presumption is that demand would adjust (in Steve's approach with endogenous money) up to the point that it meets supply at the optimal level (also something that would be perfectly in line with  Schumpeter). The whole point of the income-expenditure framework is that it puts demand in charge of the level of activity.

At any rate, a good debate that it's worth checking out. Enjoy!

* J.M. Keynes (1937), "Alternative Theories of the Rate of Interest," 47, Economic Journal, pp. 241-252. Available here (subscription required).

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Comparative Asian and Latin American Development

New book on the comparative development experiences of Latin American (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela), and Asian (China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, and South Korea) economies, plus Russia, edited by Ricardo Bielschowsky, has been published and is available for free here (in Portuguese, I'm afraid). A general intro to all country experiences and the chapter on Argentina by yours truly (an updated version of the paper on Argentina is posted here).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CEPR | Stimulus and Fiscal Consolidation: The Evidence and Implications

In a previous post, see here, Matias provided a graph that displayed the fiscal results for the US as a share of GDP from 1993-2014, along with a discussion of the misconception that democrats are nothing but tax/spend liberals. I thought it would be pertinent to post this paper by Dean Baker and David Rosnick providing conclusive evidence on the effects of stimulus packages and fiscal consolidation during the recent economic crisis.

From the abstract:
The first part deals with the most important literature on the subject, the consensus in the research of the past decade attests a clear counter-cyclical effect of stimulus packages during a prolonged recession. The second part deals with the impact of changes in government consumption and investment to growth. For this data for developed countries in 1980 are analyzed. Consistent with much of the previous literature have increased government spending during a crisis has a positive effect on economic growth. In addition, the period is simulated after the crisis, the multiplier effect is around 1.5. The third part focuses on the production potential, which has declined sharply due to the economic crisis. This would have to include a comprehensive model that analyzes the effects of an economic stimulus package with, since the effect could turn out relative to the size of the stimulus package as significant.
Read rest here.

Bretton Woods Conference transcripts now available

The transcripts of 1944 Bretton Woods Conference were recently found at the Treasury, and have been published (a sample is available here). More info here. As noted by the NYTimes do NOT expect any major surprises though.

Overall federal fiscal results for the US, 1993-2014

Prompted by my post on Brazil yesterday. Graph below shows fiscal results for the US as a share of GDP.
For more go to the original post here.

PS: On the switch between Democrats and Republicans regarding deficits and the 'size' of government see this debate.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fiscal balances in Brazil, 2002-2012

This is from an unpublised paper by Fernando Maccari Lara, Roberto de Souza Rodrigues, and Carlos Pinkusfeld Bastos.* Figure below shows the nominal and primary balances as a share of GDP, and the financial expenditures, which make the difference between the two balances (i.e. a primary surplus becomes a nominal deficit after the interest payments on outstanding debt). All figures as a share of GDP.

Note that during the whole Lula, and the first two years of Dilma, the Brazilian government kept primary surpluses, as it has done essentially for a few decades now, with few exceptions. There is a tendency for the expenses with interest rates to go down, they remain at 3.5% of GDP (in 2012), which means that it remains the largest 'social' program in Brazil, larger than the Bolsa Familia.

From the asbtract: 
Brazilian economy adopts a set of economic policies after the crisis in the end of the 1990s decade. Setting a target for the primary fiscal surplus was the main objective of the fiscal policy, and it has been in used since then. In fact, the Workers Party (PT), which was initially critical to this policy, maintained it after assumed the government in 2003. Therefore, this article analyzes the fiscal policies during this party government period from 2003 to 2012. To achieve this objective it will be used both government's official raw data and a calculation of fiscal impact of outlays and taxation. We conclude that there is no clear rationale behind the determination of primary fiscal surpluses which became more of a political dogma than a useful policy instrument. In terms of economic growth one cannot say that the fiscal policy has been effectively contractionist but in some years it most certainly did not contribute to a more robust rate o economic growth and did not respond to stabilization policy needs.

* To be published in the Annals of the Brazilian Keynesian Association Meetings.

Cheap Talk at the Fed

By Dean Baker
Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen made waves in her Congressional testimony last week when she argued that social media and biotech stocks were over-valued. She also said that the price of junk bonds was out of line with historic experience. By making these assertions in a highly visible public forum, Yellen was using the power of the Fed’s megaphone to stem the growth of incipient bubbles. This is an approach that some of us have advocated for close to twenty years. Before examining the merits of this approach, it is worth noting the remarkable transformation in the Fed’s view on its role in containing bubbles. Just a decade ago, then Fed Chair Alan Greenspan told an adoring audience at the American Economic Association that the best thing the Fed could do with bubbles was to let them run their course and then pick up the pieces after they burst. He argued that the Fed’s approach to the stock bubble vindicated this route. Apparently it did not bother him, or most of the people in the audience, that the economy was at the time experiencing its longest period without net job growth since the Great Depression.
Read rest here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Some thoughts on the Bank of the BRICS

The BRICS announced in their last summit a new development bank, with US$ 100 billions in capital, of which US$ 41 billions are from China. There is a certain excitement about the possibilities for South-South cooperation and alternatives to development that this new institution will bring about. First, let me explicitly say that I think in general development banks are a relevant tool for development, that the new bank is a welcome addition that increases South-South cooperation and that reduces the need for developed country dominated institutions.

And yes a lot of the investment that will come will likely (and I would say hopefully) be on infrastructure (I say this since in one of the meetings of the Bank of the South, in Quito years ago, an activist told me I was a neoliberal for supporting infrastructure rather than community based projects; by the way, not against those, but as I said back then, if you want schools or sanitation for local communities, you'll need roads, electricity, sewer facilities and so on, which is what I mean by infrastructure). Stephany Griffith-Jones provides here the sort of defense of development banks I would agree with.

The new arrangements include a Contingent Reserve Arrangement which is more interesting than the bank itself, since it purports to provide “a self-managed contingent reserve arrangement to forestall short-term balance of payments pressures, provide mutual support and further strengthen financial stability.” In other words, not simply provide funding for development projects, but more widely to provide finance for balance of payments problems, which are at the center of developing countries problems. So, all in all, this seems to be something to be celebrated.

My two concerns are not directly connected to the new institutions. The first issue would be implementation. The Bank of the South has been in the works for almost a decade, and has been established since 2009. As I had noted here, barriers to implementation have basically meant that it is an irrelevant institution, at least so far (what I said back in 2009 was that lack of implementation might come from political differences, in the case of the Bank of the South, given its role vis-à-vis the Brazilian National Development Bank, BNDES). Note that in the case of the Bank of South it duplicated to some extent the work done by the Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF), another regional development bank, also headquartered in Caracas. Not only it has so far failed, but in addition it has precluded the further development of existing institutions.

The second concern is regarding the type of integration between Brazil (member of the BRICS) and other Latin American countries (the same is true with some caveats for India, specialized in services, and Russia and South Africa) with China. If the new development bank is one more instrument to pursue a strategy of development in which Latin American economies specialize in commodity exports, to an increasingly manufacturing based China, then rather than solve our long-term balance of payments problems we will end building a new dependent relation, now with the Asian periphery (for more here). Hope springs eternal.

EPI | Why It’s Time to Give Tipped Workers A Living Wage

By Sylvia A. Allegretto and David Cooper
Raising the wage floor for tipped workers is crucial for a number of reasons. Rising income inequality and the accompanying slowdown in improving American living standards over the past four decades has been driven by weak hourly wage growth, a problem that has been particularly acute for low-wage workers (Bivens et al. 2014). Tipped workers—whose wages typically fall in the bottom quartile of all U.S. wage earners, even after accounting for tips—are a growing portion of the U.S. workforce. Employment in the full-service restaurant industry has grown over 85 percent since 1990, while overall private-sector employment grew by only 24 percent.4 In fact, today more than one in 10 U.S. workers is employed in the leisure and hospitality sector, making labor policies for these industries all the more central to defining typical American work life. Ensuring fair pay for tipped workers is also a women’s issue. Women comprise two out of every three tipped workers; of the food servers and bartenders who make up over half of the tipped workforce, roughly 70 percent are women. Allegretto and Filion give an historical account of the tipped-minimum-wage policy and bring much-needed attention to how the two-tiered wage system results in significantly different living standards for tipped versus non-tipped workers. For instance, tipped workers experience a poverty rate nearly twice that of other workers. This contradicts the notion that these workers’ tips provide adequate levels of income and reasonable economic security.
Read rest here.

Bivens, Josh, Elise Gould, Lawrence Mishel, and Heidi Shierholz. 2014. "Raising America’s Pay: Why It’s Our Central Economic Policy Challenge." Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #378. http://www.epi.org/publication/raising-americas-pay/

Saturday, July 19, 2014

NPR Planet Money on Bretton Woods and the Role of the Dollar

Listen here (if the one on top doesn't work). Not bad, I should add, but it relies too much on Benn Steil's terrible book. In particular the evidence on Harry Dexter White being a Soviet spy is exaggerated. The best evidence is inconclusive. And as the program says White was responsible, or mainly so, for the use of the dollar as the key currency, which gave the US a great economic advantage. If he was pro-Soviet he was awful, wasn't him?

Friday, July 18, 2014

New Book: Private Equity at Work, When Wall Street Manages Main Street

By Eileen Appelbaum and Rosemary Batt

Prior research on private equity has focused almost exclusively on the financial performance of private equity funds and the returns to their investors. Private Equity at Work provides a new roadmap to the largely hidden internal operations of these firms, showing how their business strategies disproportionately benefit the partners in private equity firms at the expense of other stakeholders and taxpayers. In the 1980s, leveraged buyouts by private equity firms saw high returns and were widely considered the solution to corporate wastefulness and mismanagement. And since 2000, nearly 11,500 companies—representing almost 8 million employees—have been purchased by private equity firms. As their role in the economy has increased, they have come under fire from labor unions and community advocates who argue that the proliferation of leveraged buyouts destroys jobs, causes wages to stagnate, saddles otherwise healthy companies with debt, and leads to subsidies from taxpayers. Appelbaum and Batt show that private equity firms’ financial strategies are designed to extract maximum value from the companies they buy and sell, often to the detriment of those companies and their employees and suppliers. Their risky decisions include buying companies and extracting dividends by loading them with high levels of debt and selling assets. These actions often lead to financial distress and a disproportionate focus on cost-cutting, outsourcing, and wage and benefit losses for workers, especially if they are unionized.

See here.

Tom Palley on the Phillips Curve

Tom has written a short note titled “The Phillips Curve: Missing the Obvious and Looking in All the Wrong Places.” From the intro:
There is an old story about a policeman who sees a drunk looking for something under a streetlight and asks what he is looking for. The drunk replies he has lost his car keys and the policeman joins in the search. A few minutes later the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here and the drunk replies “No, I lost them in the park.” The policeman then asks “So why are you looking here?” to which the drunk replies “Because this is where the light is.”That story has much relevance for the economics profession’s approach to the Phillips curve.
Read more here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kevin P. Gallagher on BRICS Consensus

By Kevin P. Gallagher

Conveniently scheduled at the end of the World Cup, leaders of the BRICS countries travel to Brazil in mid-July for a meeting that presents them with a truly historic opportunity. While in Brazil, the BRICS hope to establish a new development bank and reserve currency pool arrangement. This action could strike a true trifecta — recharge global economic governance and the prospects for development as well as pressure the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — to get back on the right track. The two Bretton Woods institutions, both headquartered in Washington, with good reason originally put financial stability, employment and development as their core missions. That focus, however, became derailed in the last quarter of the 20th century. During the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank and the IMF pushed the “Washington Consensus,” which offered countries financing but conditioned it on a doctrine of deregulation.

Read rest here.