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Showing posts from May, 2016

Is there a new "new economics"?

INET has posted a piece by Eric Beinhocker on what he calls the “new economics” [sic]. That used to be Keynesian economics, back in the 1960s. Now it’s a mesh of New Institutionalism, Behavioral Economics, and Complexity Analysis. He argues that:
“New economics does not accept the orthodox theory that has dominated economics for the past several decades that humans are perfectly rational, markets are perfectly efficient, institutions are optimally designed and economies are self-correcting equilibrium systems that invariably find a state that maximises social welfare." This new “new economics” should be more realistic than mainstream economics. And the author does explain that it’s not new, and that it builds on heterodox traditions. Again, in his words:
"It should also be emphasised that new economics is not necessarily new. Rather it builds on well-established heterodox traditions in economics such as behavioural economics, institutional economics, evolutionary economics,…

Revised GDP and the slow recovery

BEA released the second estimate of the first quarter GDP, and it's up from 0.5 to 0.8%. Not bad, not great. Note that federal government spending is a drag on the recovery (although local and state governments are positive force, and part of that is actually funded by the federal government anyway; so the actual negative impact of contractionary fiscal policy is smaller than what the numbers suggest). At any rate, this will be used to demand higher rates in the next meeting of the FOMC. You can bet about it. Listen to Dean Baker at the Rick Smith Show here, suggesting why this is a terrible idea.

A brief note on Venezuela and the turn to the right in Latin America

So besides the coup in Brazil (which was all but confirmed by the last revelations, if you had any doubts), and the electoral victory of Macri in Argentina, the crisis in Venezuela is reaching a critical level, and it would not be surprising if the Maduro administration is recalled, even though right now the referendum is not scheduled yet.

The economy in Venezuela has collapsed (GDP has fallen by about 14% or so in the last two years), inflation has accelerated (to three digit levels; 450% or so according to the IMF), there are shortages of essential goods, recurrent energy blackouts, and all of these aggravated by persistent violence. Contrary to what the press suggests, these events are not new or specific to left of center governments. Similar events occurred in the late 1980s, in the infamous Caracazo, when the fall in oil prices caused an external crisis, inflation, and food shortages, which eventually, after the announcement of a neoliberal economic package that included the i…

Who is afraid of Neoliberalism? A comment on Mirowski

Way less scary than Neoliberalism
Debate with Mirowski, as promised. From the INET website:
While the Neoliberal movement’s concerns extend into a broad political reorganization of society, it remains intimately connected with neoclassical economic thought. The idea of a Neoliberal Thought Collective (NTC) being a “completely different school of thought” from neoclassical economics is not quite correct. It is true that Neoliberalism transcends the more limited scope of neoclassical economics with a much broader preoccupation with the political reorganization of society. On the other hand, it is hard to think of any Neoliberal author cited by Mirowski that does not fall within the neoclassical school. Read my full reply to his paper here.

PS: There is also a response to Mirowski by Kari Polanyi Levitt and Mario Seccareccia here, and one by Alessandro Vercelli here.

Latin American Corner: Thoughts on inflation targeting

By Naked Keynes (Guest Blogger)
Several Latin American economies (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru) adopted full-fledged inflation targeting regimes at the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s. Others are following suit including the Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Paraguay and more recently Argentina.

Inflation targeting is defined by its proponents as a monetary policy framework, rather than iron clad rule as monetary targeting, consisting in the public announcement of numerical targets (a point inflation rate, a range or a point with a tolerance range) acknowledging that price stability is the fundamental and hierarchical goal of monetary policy and a commitment to transparency and accountability. Transparency means that the monetary authorities must communicate their targets, forecasts of inflation, decisions on monetary policy and the motivation for their decisions. Accountability means that the monetary authorities are responsible for attaining the annou…

DisORIENT: Money, Technological Development and the Rise of the West

A very short paper on a very broad subject, co-written with David Fields, which was presented at the last ASSA Meetings in San Francisco. It is forthcoming in the Review of Radical Political Economics (RRPE). The title is derived from Gunder Frank's ReORIENT, that David and I always thought was thought provoking, but surprisingly Monetarist in its assumptions about money. The paper also adds a discussion of Pomeranz famous views on the Great Divergence, particularly the views regarding technological change, which are marginalist at its core, as well as those of Gunder Frank and some of his critics, like Arrighi.

From the abstract:
This paper analyzes the revisionist literature on the Rise of the West. Revisionist authors suggest that the so-called Great Divergence is relatively recent, and that good luck – in the form of silver from the Americas, and abundance of coal, rather than European exceptionalism – was central for the higher rates of growth of GDP in the West. This paper …

CEO-to-worker pay ratios

New data by the AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch, available here. Note that union members do much better than nonunion members, and certainly than minimum wage workers.
For more context read this EPI report. You must admit that the use of flawed neoclassical thinking is sometimes amusing. In this Bloomberg post, an 'expert' (aka hired gun) from a free market think tank (pro-corporations propaganda machine) says that the "AFL-CIO study [is] 'useless' because it compares two different labor markets that should be evaluated separately. While most workers could easily be replaced, he said, CEOs are 'much harder to substitute.'" Yes, they are receiving according to their productivity, and is so hard to find these geniuses.

Philip Mirowski on Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is resurgent in Latin America, and quite never left in the US anyway. And everything indicates that, either with Trump (yes, he does have a right-wing populist discourse, but I wouldn't take it too seriously; see his tax plan) or Clinton, it will continue to do well here, even if there is clearly a desire for change. This paper by Mirowski discusses the main points of Neoliberalism. A short reply by yours truly will be published soon in the INET website.

Boycott the Rio Olympics to Defend Brazilian Democracy

By Thomas Palley

Terrible anti-democratic events are now unfolding in Brazil with the constitutional coup against President Dilma Rousseff, organized through a cooked-up impeachment trial.

The impeachment coup represents a naked attempt by corrupt neoliberal elements to seize power in Brazil. Make no mistake: it is a threat to democracy and social progress in Brazil, Latin America, and even the global community at large.

If Brazilian voices concur, the world should respond by boycotting the Rio Olympics scheduled for this August.
Read full text here.

Brazilian coup and US misinformation

Brazil has an enormous past ahead
As I suggested last month the coup had succeeded. Today Dilma Rousseff was effectively removed from the presidency. No real news here. I just want to correct, to some extent, the huge misinformation campaign in course in the US.  Monica de Bolle was saying many incorrect things on NPR this week (for example, that "the origins of the program called Bolsa Familia came from actually Cardoso's government, so the previous government, thePSDB government that came before the Worker's Party government," when it actually came ideas from Betinho and Cristovam Buarque from the Workers' Party's, PT in Portuguese, government in Brasilia; note that the lie is that she seems to indicate they like spending on the poor, but will have to cut social programs because the new government must be fiscally responsible), which is not a surprise.*

Today the New York Times pitched in also spreading incorrect news. The Times suggests that Rousseff &quo…

The great economic equations

A few days ago, Unlearning Economics twitted a link to an article on "The 17 equations that changed the world." Only one was an economic equation, The Black-Scholes one, and in all fairness it did not change the world, and is not even a central one in economics. First of all, Nassim Taleb has argued convincingly (for example, here) that Black, Scholes and Merton did not invent the formula, and what they really did was to provide a theoretical justification that was compatible with Arrow-Debreu general equilibrium (GE) views. Haug and Taleb say it clearly:
Indeed what Black, Scholes and Merton did was “marketing”, finding a way to make a well-known formula palatable to the economics establishment of the time, little else, and in fact distorting its essence. So market participants already had formulas to price options, and the idea that their version of the formula "helped create the now multi-trillion dollar derivatives market," as suggested by Andy Kiersz, is cle…

Latin American Corner: Quantitative easing, commodities, corporate debt and the paradox of debt

By Naked Keynes (Guest Blogger)

The policy of quantitative easing (QE) pursued by the Federal Reserve following the fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 meant to lower long-term interest rates in the United States and boost expenditure had major effects on developing economies including in those of Latin America. As it is well know QE did not increase liquidity. The liquidity with which the Federal Reserve bought financial assets ended as excess reserves at the Federal Reserve balance sheet and the money multiplier became, actually a divisor (the money multiplier dropped below 1 after the start of QE).

However, quantitative easing had an important portfolio rebalancing effect, which altered the relative profitabilities of different assets and made commodities an attractive investment and speculative alternative. Investing in commodities as a way to hedge risk was also championed by mainstream economists. Gorton and Rouwenhorst (2004) (here) argued that commodities and stocks yi…

Jobs numbers and slow recovery

Jobs report (BLS, Employment Situation Summary) confirms a relatively weak month in April with total nonfarm payroll employment increasing by 160,000. Also, the labor force participation rate decreased and the employment-population ratio both decreased a bit. Mining employment continued to decline, something that Trump promised to reverse and Clinton noted there might not be much we can do about (the implications might not be minor, see here). Also, while unemployment remains at 5% a broader measures of unemployment remain high. For example, total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force is at 9.7%.

Robert Paul Wolff on Marx

Robert Paul Wolff always worth. Should read his Understanding Marx. He surprisingly says that Analytical Marxism has taken over Marxism. To get to Marxism he had to learn economics, the classical political economy of the Ricardian kind, and learn linear algebra. Hegelianism was not really central to the message (in my view, but he does say he hates Hegel). Labor Theory of Value explained, but he does not discuss Piero Sraffa's contributions directly here. There is no way to understand Marx without Sraffa. As he said in a paper in Social Research (subscription required) Sraffa "rescued [Smith, Ricardo, and Marx] from the trash heap of antique, outmoded ideas... [and provided] a serious alternative to marginalist theories."

An alternative for Greece

Nikolaos Bourtzis (Guest blogger)

There we have it again. Another one of those clashes between Greece’s creditors and the Greek government. For the millionth time, the Troika, I’m sorry I mean the institutions, are demanding that Greece comes up with policy suggestions that could bring in 3.6 billion approximately in fiscal savings.

This time, though, is different because these are going to be a “just in case” package, a buffer in case the government misses its fiscal targets. The government wants to finish the negotiations as soon as possible in order to remove the uncertainty that has grinded the Greek economy to a halt but it does not want to pass any preliminary measures. The negotiation on other issues is coming closely to an end, or so it is being reported, but this issue persists and the final decision is to come from the urgent Eurogroup meeting on Greece that will take place on the 9th of May.

Why all this fuss? Well, Greece urgently needs a disbursement of some of its 80 …

How bad is the Greek crisis in one graph

Real GDP starting in 1929 for the US and 2007 for Greece. Back then, with the New Deal, the US economy had essentially recovered after less than a decade. But there is no solution in sight for Greece now. This summer with more payments due, and the Brexit discussion on top, should bring new developments.

More on the slow recovery

The private sector added 156,000 jobs in April, according to the Automatic Data Processing (ADP) report, ahead of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) more comprehensive release this Friday. As the graph shows there is a slowdown form last month.
This adds to weak manufacturing growth,and a smaller trade deficit, resulting from lower imports, that is, a slower economy. I still think a recession might not be in the immediate horizon. However, the data seem to indicate, as I said before, that there are good domestic reasons for Yellen not to hike the rate of interest.

By the way, not surprisingly labor productivity has been weak, and according to the BLS it "decreased at a 1.0 percent annual rate during the first quarter of 2016... From the first quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016, productivity increased 0.6 percent." This is sometimes reported still by suggesting that "low productivity [is] a puzzle to economists." It shouldn't be a puzzle, of cours…

John Cochrane on economic growth

There are three kinds of lies, "lies, damned lies, and statistics," supposedly said Benjamin Disraeli. This applies to John Cochrane piece in the Wall Street Journal today. Cochrane says that:
"Sclerotic growth is America’s overriding economic problem. From 1950 to 2000, the U.S. economy grew at an average rate of 3.5% annually. Since 2000, it has grown at half that rate—1.76%. Even in the years since the bottom of the great recession in 2009, which should have been a time of fast catch-up growth, the economy has only grown at 2%. Last week’s 0.5% GDP report is merely the latest Groundhog Day repetition of dashed hopes." That is all true, and I myself complained about slow growth last week. However, this gives a false impression that the slowdown is a very recent thing, of the 2000s. In all fairness there has been a slowdown in growth going back to the 1970s or at least the 1980s. Growth since 1973 has been around 2.8%, and 2.6% since 1980, the years of the first …

The Central Bank as sugar daddy

Complex technical stuff indeed
Pascal Blanqué and Amin Rajan complain about unconventional monetary policy, low or negative rates and Quantitative Easing, which they mostly blame on Greenspan and the excessive reliance on the lender of last resort (LOLR) function of the central banks (even though this precedes Greenspan). They say:
The US example shows all too clearly that the longer such unconventional policy remains in place, the harder it is to exit. Most likely, ultra-low rates will remain a fact of life for the foreseeable future, with no return to a scenario in which asset prices mostly reflect their intrinsic worth... Negative interest rates are a dangerous comfort blanket. They show that the proverbial punch bowl will continue to be replenished while the party is on. Investing is now mostly about second guessing the central banks’ next move, which even central banks themselves are not sure about. I have a more benign view of unconventional monetary policy. It is there to suppor…

On the blogs

Millionaires Would Gain Trillions Under Trump and Cruz Tax Plans -- Isaac Shapiro at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows the effects of GOP candidates' tax policies. Hillary would have pro-business economic policies (yes I prefer Bernie), but nothing like this
What is to be done? -- Robert Paul Wolff on the Trump vs. Clinton choice. Yes, Hillary, if you had any doubts
Why Is Productivity So Weak? Three Theories -- Neil Irwin at NYTimes/Upshot gives 3 scenarios really, and they're all supply side stories. Oh well