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Showing posts from January, 2013

Frank Hahn: 1925 - 2013

Frank Hahn, an old Keynesian that had written a book with Solow, passed away this week. He also signed a famous letter (co-signed by 364 economists) against the austerity policies of Margaret Thatcher in 1981 (other Cambridge signatories were Cripps, Deane, Eatwell, Godley, Kahn, Kaldor, Meade, Moogridge, and Austin and Joan Robinson).

He is best known for his contributions to General Equilibrium (in particular his famous book with Kenneth Arrow), and by heterodox economists for his misguided reply to Sraffians in his "The Neo-Ricardians." After retiring from Cambridge he taught at the University of Siena in Italy.

PS: I know, it's kind of funny that Mr. Booth thinks that those that criticized austerity were wrong, particularly after the recent British experience.

Is income distribution holding up the recovery?

A friendly debate between Stiglitz and Krugman (and also further comments here) on the role of income distribution in the recovery has been getting some attention in the blogosphere. Note that I don’t think neither Krugman nor Stiglitz would deny that worsening income distribution was not relevant for the crisis, even if they were slower than some heterodox economists like Jamie Galbraith or Bob Pollin, to name two, in emphasizing the role of inequality. The question is whether inequality has been central for the slow recovery in the last few years.

Stiglitz’s main reason for suggesting that the recovery has been stifled by inequality is that “middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth.” Krugman, for some reason, thinks that this argument is a long run one, and suggests that while: “it’s true that at any given point in time the rich have much higher savings rates than the poor. Since Milton Friedman, however, we’ve known …

Ramanan and Zezza on Europe

Even though pundits at the World Economic Forum in Davos have proclaimed the end of the Global Crisis, the European crisis continues to unfold. Ramanan correctly notes that Draghi suggests that fiscal consolidation [that's Doublespeak for fiscal contraction] is essential for the recovery. Meanwhile Zezza shows that Italy increasingly looks like Greece and other countries that have committed to contractionary policies.

Is This the End for the Deficit Drones?

By James K. Galbraith

In wars, sometimes there comes a moment when the tide turns. The collapse of Ludendorff's offensive in 1918 presaged the Armistice; failure in the Ardennes meant the end for Germany in 1944.

Today we have two drone wars in a similar state. One is mainly in Pakistan. Built on a gee-whiz technology that can't do what it promised, this war has claimed too many victims for too little effect. It is a diplomatic disaster and its days are numbered, almost surely, for that reason.

The other drone war is in Washington. The drones are in groups with names like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Campaign to Fix the Debt.
Read the rest here.

Urbanization and the Great Divergence

The Great Divergence between Western Europe and Asia, in particular China, according to revisionist authors like Ken Pomeranz, André Gunder Frank and Roy Bin Wong, has been a recent phenomenon, from around the early nineteenth century (and some would argue it will be a short lived one too; I expressed my doubts here). The graph below (source: Persson, 2010) shows rates of urbanization in Western Europe and China for a very long period.
Note that, by the renaissance of the twelfth century, Italy, particularly Northern Italy, shows a significant increase in the rate of urbanization, eventually returning to the levels of the Roman Empire. Chinese rates of urbanization are flat, in comparison, in this period. Mind you, the Song Dynasty period was a period of rapid growth in China. By the sixteenth century the rates of urbanization in Western Europe take off, with nothing comparable in China, until recent times.

Rosenthal and Wong (2011, p. 111) argue that "war was responsible for Eu…

Okun's Law at 50

The IMF has written a good paper on Okun's Law (here), suggesting (from the abstract) that: "Okun’s Law is a strong and stable relationship in most countries, one that did not change substantially during the Great Recession [and] accounts of breakdowns in the Law ... are flawed." nothing new really; I have said so a few months ago (here). Bill Mitchell has good post (here), which suggests correctly that the problem with the recoveries is not Okun's Law, but excessive fiscal austerity. I would add one more thing, not only Okun's Law works well in developed countries (advanced economies according to the IMF paper), but also in developing countries. Figure below is a crude representation of the Law for Argentina.
Note that the coefficient is more or less the same as in the US or other advanced economies. An increase in GDP growth of 1.87% reduces unemployment in 1%. Close to the 2 to 1 ratio. A more sophisticated and better estimatimated version that takes into acc…

Manufacturing matters

It does for sure. But the graph below just shows the varying share of manufacturing since the mid-18th century (source is Robert Allen, 2011). And I don't intend to say much on whay it matters per se, but note that global economic dominance goes hand in hand with manufacturing.
Note that the West, narrowly defined as England the rest of Western Europe, what was to become the US and Russia (called for the whole period USSR) had a share of less than 20% in 1750, it had expanded to more than 80% on the eve of WW-I. If you add Australia, Canada and Latin America (which are all in Rest of the World, but are what Maddison would call Western offshoots), the numbers are even larger. Most of the changes were associated to the squeeze of China. And most of the recent changes are associated with expansion of China and East Asia (which includes Japan). We have not gone full circle, by the way.

In other words, the process of development (or indutrialization in the center) went hand in hand wi…

ROKE: Why we are launching a new journal

By Thomas I. Palley, Louis-Phillipe Rochon and Matías Vernengo

It is widely recognized that economic crises can trigger enormous change, with regard to both economic theory and the politics of governance. Today, the global economy is struggling with the fall-out from the financial crash of 2008 and the Great Recession of 2007–2009. The economic crisis that these events have generated, combined with the failure of the mainstream economics profession, has again put the question of change on the table. Reasonable people do not expect economists to predict the daily movements of the stock market, but they do expect them to anticipate and explain major imminent economic developments. On that score, the profession failed catastrophically, revealing fundamental theoretical inadequacies.

This intellectual failure has prompted us to launch the Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE), the first issue of which is fully available here. At a time of journal proliferation, some may wonder about the nee…

Jamie Galbraith on the debt limit crisis

Or I should say on why the debt-limit is a manufactured crisis. Also, great to see how much journalists do not understand the basics of macroeconomics. They really push back on the 'need' to cut entitlements.

Phillips curve? What curve?

The Phillips curve is one of those 'regularities' that is more likely to exist in an economist mind than in reality. Figure below (from Ritschl and Straumann, 2010*) shows the 'trade-off' between inflation and unemployment in Europe in the 1920s and 1930.
They say quite candidly:
"the seemingly obvious connection between deflation and unemployment is less than easy to find in the data. ... Yet while there was ample variation in both unemployment and inflation during the interwar period, no systematic pattern seems to emerge in the data, even if the 1920s and the 1930s are looked at separately. The picture emerging from Figure [above] is rather that the natural rate of unemployment moved quite independently of inflation, irrespective of whether or not a country was on gold" (italics added). Seemingly obvious, but inexistent in the data. In doubt economists choose the obvious and avoid reality. The other possibility that they do not seem to consider is that th…

Urbanization and deindustrialization

A while ago I had posted about the deindustrialization process in the US (see here). I now checked the rates of urbanization in a few cities which were associated to the industrialization process in the US, like Detroit and Pittsburgh (Census data).
The graph compares those cities with two more conventional metropolis, New York (right axis) and San Francisco, and also to San José, where which is close to the so-called Silicon Valley is located, since 1960. Detroit grew spectacularly fast in the first 40 years of the 20th century, and so did, to a lesser extent Pittsburgh. Motor City and Steel City represented the rise of metal-mechanical industry, and they grew faster than other cities in the country.

By the 1960s Detroit population had picked, and Pittsburgh was already in decline. Note that the late 1960s is when the process of deindustrialization associated to a slower growth in industry (so industrial jobs are increasing) than in services started to take place. In the 1970s the p…

The third crisis in economics

Jamie Galbraith's presidential address to the Association for Evolutionary Economics, entitled "The Third Crisis in Economics." The audio is now up on the UTIP site here.

What makes capitalism capitalism?

So I had a debate (the sort of debate you can have with 140 characters) in Twitter a few days ago with Unlearning Economics and Jonathan Finegold, among others (links are to blogs not to the twitt feeds). The main question was the definition of capitalism. It is a peculiar feature of modern economics that very few mainstream authors would actually discuss the issue directly, even if there has been a revival of some related issues associated to the relevance of institutions (vis-à-vis geography and culture) in the rise of the West. Robert Heilbronner used to say that the best kept secret in economics is that it was is about the study of capitalism.

I'm not going to get too much into the topic here, but it is worth a brief summary. As discussed before (here) in the blog, the surplus approach suggests that economics is the study of the material reproduction of societies. The existence of a surplus allows for specialization and progress, and the ways in which the surplus is produced …

Death and taxes

Well really about taxes (which are apparently less certain than death, Ben Franklin notwithstanding). The Atlantic has a nice post, with a link to a KPMG report on taxes around the globe. Figure below shows the effective tax rates (income and payroll taxes) for an income of US$ 100,000 (similar for the 300,000 level).

Note that at the top, besides Western European countries (with greece in 2nd place),  there are some developing countries like India and Brazil. All three big Latin American countries, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, are way above the United States. KPMG says that "effective rates are derived by taking total taxes over gross income prior to any deductions." The US is in the middle of the pack.

The Trillion Dollar Coin and Popular Monetarism

The trillions dollar coin solution for the debt ceiling limit has generated some funny news. The Republican National Congressional Committee twitted the picture above, suggesting that the coin would have to have its weight in platinum to be worth a trillion, and would be so huge as to sink the Titanic. Even Jon Stewart, who is in political matters incredibly perceptive (forget funny), bought into the monetarist madness. He thinks: "We don’t need some trillion-dollar coin gimmick. We need a way to get the world to take the U.S. dollar seriously again."

I'll spare you the obvious explanations of why all of these common sense views are incorrect (for that go here or here), but it is important to note (as I did before) that there is a persistence in popular culture of monetarist interpretations of history. The funny thing is that at least the so-called progressives that are against minting the coin are clearly okay with the debt ceiling being raised, and hence the expansion…

In Lew of Geithner and more

Yep the chances for a fiscal expansion, already a difficult proposition with a GOP dominated House and a reluctant and fiscal conservative Obama, are now even more unlikely with the eminent nomination of Jack Lew as the new Treasury Secretary in lieu of Geithner, even though some tend to think he is too liberal (see here). Yet ass noted by Mike Norman: "Lew is an avowed deficit hawk and has been very vocal about reducing the government's deficit and supporting the president's push for a "Grand Bargain." This means that Lew will almost certainly be pushing for more austerity."

Meanwhile Olivier Blanchard at the IMF has admitted that the IMF was wrong on austerity. In a recent paper he says:
We find that, in advanced economies, stronger planned fiscal consolidation has been associated with lower growth than expected, with the relation being particularly strong, both statistically and economically, early in the crisis. A natural interpretation is that fiscal …

Lies, damned lies and The Economist

The World in 2013 by The Economist has been out for a while. Got it at the airport this weekend and read a few pieces. Really bad. Nothing new. One piece caught my attention though. On the fiscal cliff and the elections this terrible article says:
"Mr Obama will maintain that his victory, along with continued Democratic control of the Senate, constitute a mandate for his version of deficit reduction. But in fact the elections produced mixed results: Mr Obama narrowly won the popular vote and the Republicans retained their majority in the House of Representatives." First, facts; yes the GOP won the House, but Democratic House candidates won more of the popular vote than their Republican counterparts. Redistricting or Gerrymandering is what explains this failure of democracy. Dems probably need more than 55% of the popular vote to win the majority in the House.

Note also that with a much thinner victory in 2004, Bush actually claimed he had a mandate, and proceeded to try to …

New Issue of ROKE out soon

A new issue of ROKE will soon be available (see contents here). A teaser here. It's the paper by co-editor Tom Palley. From the abstract:
"This paper compares Cambridge and neo-Kaleckian growth theory. Both are members of the post-Keynesian approach to growth and distribution, but the Cambridge model is a hybrid of Keynesian and classical features whereas the neo-Kaleckian model is Keynesian. The Cambridge approach assumes full capacity utilization, while the neo-Kaleckian approach assumes variable capacity utilization. The two theories rely on fundamentally dif- ferent theories of income distribution. The Cambridge model has a class structure of saving that generates Pasinetti’s (1962) theorem regarding irrelevance of worker saving for steady-state growth and distribution. That class structure can be included in the neo- Kaleckian model, generating a variant of the Pasinetti result whereby steady-state capacity utilization is independent of worker saving. Fiscal policy has …

Wage share in the US (1959-2011)

Figure above shows the compensation of employees as a share of personal income.
As you can see the negative trend starts in the late 1970s early 1980s, with the Volcker hike in interest rates and the Reagan revolution, meaning reductions in marginal taxes for the wealthy.

A brief perspective on the cliff deal

So it seems that a deal on the fiscal cliff has been reached, and was approved by a large margin, 89 to 8, in the Senate. The deal basically raises income taxes to pre-Bush tax cuts levels on families making more than $450,000 a year and individuals making $400,000, and raises the estate tax on the biggest inheritances too. Estates of more than $5 million would be taxed at 40%, up from the current 35%. It also does not include any cuts in Social Security or Medicare (the main tactics used for cuts were changing the price index for Social Security adjustments and increasing the age limit for Medicare).
More importantly no spending cuts really, which means the long term unemployed will continue to receive a check every week, and we will not add another drag on a very mild recovery. If no concessions are made on the debt limit in the next two months, a double dip recession this year might be averted. So progressives should be really happy.
The NYTimes editorial is unhappy because "…