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August 27, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 27 Aug 2015 12:15 AM PDT
Joseph Tracy, Robert Rich, Samuel Kapon, and Ellen Fu say "that roughly 90 percent of the labor gap that opened up following the recession has been closed":
Mind the Gap: Assessing Labor Market Slack, Liberty Street Economics, NY Fed: Indicators of labor market slack enable economists to judge pressures on wages and prices. Direct measures of slack, however, are not available and must be constructed. Here, we build on our previous work using the employment-to-population (E/P) ratio and develop an updated measure of labor market slack based on the behavior of labor compensation. Our measure indicates that roughly 90 percent of the labor gap that opened up following the recession has been closed.
An earlier post, "A Mis-Leading Labor Market Indicator," argued that the gap between the E/P ratio and a demographically adjusted version of the same ratio is a useful measure of labor market slack. A challenge in constructing this measure is that it requires a normalization (a level shift) to "re-center" the demographically adjusted E/P ratio. In this earlier post, we normalized by assuming that the average labor gap should be zero over a long period of time. Although this approach was easy to implement, it had the disadvantage of not being linked to wage behavior.
To better motivate an E/P-based approach, we turn to Phillips curve models that relate wage growth to labor market slack. The specification we consider relates nominal wage growth to an E/P gap variable (defined as the difference between a demographically adjusted E/P ratio and the actual E/P ratio), as well as expected inflation and trend productivity growth. Expected inflation is subtracted from nominal wage growth to derive an expected real wage growth series, which is then regressed on a constant, the E/P gap, and trend productivity growth. The E/P gap is normalized so that the estimated intercept of the Phillips curve model is set to zero. This approach implies that when the resulting normalized E/P gap is zero, expected real wage growth adjusted for the return to labor productivity is, on average, zero. That is, a labor market with no slack will have nominal wage growth, on average, equal to expected inflation plus a return to labor productivity.
We estimate Phillips curve models for three wage measures: compensation per hour, average hourly earnings, and the employment cost index. We construct four-quarter-ahead growth rates starting in the first quarter of 1982, the earliest start date for which all three measures are available, and ending in the second quarter of 2015. Expected inflation is measured using survey data on ten-year CPI inflation expectations, and trend productivity growth is a twelve-quarter moving average of (annualized) productivity growth rates. Adopting the same approach we took in another post—"U.S. Potential Economic Growth: Is it Improving with Age?"—we have extended the data sample used to estimate the demographically adjusted E/P ratio back to the early 1960s. This provides us with roughly thirteen million observations on individuals that we divide into 280 cohorts based on decade of birth, sex, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment. For each cohort, we estimate a cohort-specific profile for average employment rates by age that abstracts from cyclical effects. Aggregating these predicted employment rates across individuals produces a demographically adjusted E/P ratio, with the quarterly series derived as an average of the three monthly values.
The three Phillips curve models yield similar normalizations, so we average them instead of selecting one. The chart below shows the actual E/P ratio along with the demographically adjusted E/P ratio based on this new normalization.
E/P: Actual and Adjusted
The next chart plots the estimated E/P gap (the difference between the two series in the chart above) along with the three expected real wage growth measures adjusted for trend productivity growth. By our definition, a positive E/P gap indicates slack in the labor market. The periods in which the estimated E/P gap is zero line up well with the periods in which our adjusted real wage growth measures are also close to zero. Moreover, periods in which the adjusted wage measures have exceeded zero generally correspond to episodes of tight labor markets (negative E/P gaps), while periods in which the measures are below zero are typically associated with slack in the labor market (positive E/P gaps).
E/P Gap and Wage Measures
The current normalized E/P gap is estimated to be 32 basis points, which represents an 89 percent reduction from the 283-basis-point gap in November 2010. This finding suggests that the labor market has made considerable progress in its recovery, but is still not yet back to neutral. To gain additional perspective on this finding, we can compare the current gap with those that existed in two earlier tightening episodes. At the time the FOMC began to raise rates in February 1994, the gap was 92 basis points; at the end of that tightening cycle, it was 14 basis points. And when the Committee began to raise rates in June 2004, the gap was -38 basis points; at the end of that tightening cycle, the gap was -125 basis points. To assess labor market slack and understand the behavior of labor compensation in the quarters ahead, it will be particularly important to mind the gap.
Posted: 27 Aug 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 26 Aug 2015 11:35 AM PDT
Tim Duy:
Dudley Puts The Kibosh On September, by Tim Duy: Monday's action on Wall Street was too much for the Fed. That day, Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart pulled back his previous dedication to a September rate hike earlier, reverting to only an expectation that rates rise sometimes this year. But today New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley explicitly called September into question. Via the Wall Street Journal:
In light of market volatility and foreign developments, "at this moment, the decision to begin the normalization process at the September [Federal Open Market Committee] meeting seems less compelling to me than it did several weeks ago. But normalization could become more compelling by the time of the meeting as we get additional information" about the state of the economy, he told reporters.
While this comment was sufficiently nuanced to leave open the possibility of September, in reality Dudley pretty much ended the debate. He only reinforced expectations that September was off the table, and time is running out to pull back expectations. Incoming data, what little there is at this point, would need to come in well above expectations to bring September back into play. And that is just mostly like not going to happen.
What about October or December? I tend to think that October is off the table due to a lack of a press conference. Yes, I know the Fed claims every meeting is live, but the reality is that they have reinforced the perception that major policy shifts occur only on meetings with scheduled press conferences. If the Fed  wants eight live meetings a year, they need eight press conferences. December remains open with sufficiently strong data, but does the Fed really want to attempt the first rate hike when financial markets are already tight seasonally?
Fundamentally, the problem for the Federal Reserve is that US financial conditions have tightened since the end of the quantitative easing, and will most likely continue to tighten as the rest of the world, notably now China, eases further. In effect, easier policy in the rest of the world requires, all else equal, easier policy in the US as well. Hence this from the FT:
Interest rate futures indicate that investors now see just a 24 per cent chance of a rate increase in September, down from more than 50 per cent earlier this month. The probable path of rate rises in 2016 has also moderated markedly, according to Bloomberg futures data.
The path of rates necessary to maintain stable growth in the US will be lower in response to easing conditions elsewhere. This is something known to bond market participants who as a group have long been more dovish than FOMC participants. But it was the equity market participants that shocked the Fed into the same realization.
To be sure, critics will loudly proclaim that the Fed must hike in September if only to prove they are not governed by the equity markets. That call will be heard in the next FOMC meeting as well, but it will be a minority view. A thousand point drop in the Dow will not be ignored by the majority of the FOMC. Dismissing what are obviously fragile financial market conditions would be a hawkish signal the FOMC does not want to send. Hiking rates is not going to send a calming message of confidence. That never works. If the history of financial crises has taught us anything, it is that failure to respond with easier policy only adds to the turmoil.
Bottom Line: The Fed has long argued that the timing of the first rate hike does not matter. I had thought so as well, but that is clearly no longer the case. A rate hike during a period of substantial financial market turmoil would matter a great deal. It looks like the Fed's plans to raise rate will once again be overtaken by events.
Posted: 26 Aug 2015 08:34 AM PDT
Ray Fair:
The Future of Macro: There is an interesting set of recent blogs--- Paul Romer 1, Paul Romer 2, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, Simon Wren-Lewis, and Robert Waldmann---on the history of macro beginning with the 1978 Boston Fed conference, with Lucas and Sargent versus Solow. As Romer notes, I was at this conference and presented a 97-equation model. This model was in the Cowles Commission (CC) tradition, which, as the blogs note, quickly went out of fashion after 1978. (In the blogs, models in the CC tradition are generally called simulation models or structural econometric models or old fashioned models. Below I will call them CC models.)
I will not weigh in on who was responsible for what. Instead, I want to focus on what future direction macro research might take. There is unhappiness in the blogs, to varying degrees, with all three types of models: DSGE, VAR, CC. Also, Wren-Lewis points out that while other areas of economics have become more empirical over time, macroeconomics has become less. The aim is for internal theoretical consistency rather than the ability to track the data.
I am one of the few academics who has continued to work with CC models. They were rejected for basically three reasons: they do not assume rational expectations (RE), they are not identified, and the theory behind them is ad hoc. This sounds serious, but I think it is in fact not. ...
He goes on to explain why. He concludes with:
... What does this imply about the best course for future research? I don't get a sense from the blog discussions that either the DSGE methodology or the VAR methodology is the way to go. Of course, no one seems to like the CC methodology either, but, as I argue above, I think it has been dismissed too easily. I have three recent methodological papers arguing for its use: Has Macro Progressed?, Reflections on Macroeconometric Modeling, and Information Limits of Aggregate Data. I also show in Household Wealth and Macroeconomic Activity: 2008--2013 that CC models can be used to examine a number of important questions about the 2008--2009 recession, questions that are hard to answer using DSGE or VAR models.
So my suggestion for future macro research is not more bells and whistles on DSGE models, but work specifying and estimating stochastic equations in the CC tradition. Alternative theories can be tested and hopefully progress can be made on building models that explain the data well. We have much more data now and better techniques than we did in 1978, and we should be able to make progress and bring macroeconomics back to it empirical roots.
For those who want more detail, I have gathered all of my research in macro in one place: Macroeconometric Modeling, November 11, 2013.

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 26 Aug 2015 12:33 AM PDT
Paul Krugman has advice for the Fed:
It's Getting Tighter: When thinking about the market madness and its possible real effects, here's something you — where by "you" I mean the Fed in particular — really, really need to keep in mind: the markets have already, in effect, tightened monetary conditions quite a lot.
First of all, if break-evens (the difference between interest rates on ordinary bonds and inflation-protected bonds) are any guide, inflation expectations have fallen sharply...
Second, while interest rates on Treasuries are down, rates on private securities viewed as even moderately risky are up quite a lot...
So real borrowing costs are up sharply for many private borrowers. This is a significant headwind for the U.S. economy, which was hardly growing like gangbusters in any case.
A Fed hike now looks like an even worse idea than it did a few days ago.
Posted: 26 Aug 2015 12:24 AM PDT
From Tim Taylor:
John Kenneth Galbraith on Writing, Inspiration, and Simplicity: John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) was trained as an economist, but in books like The Affluent Society (1958) and The New Industrial State (1967), his found his metier as a social critic. In these books and voluminous other writings, Galbraith didn't propose well-articulated economic theories, and carry out systematic empirical tests, but instead offered big-picture perspectives of the economy and society of his time. His policy advice was grindingly predictable: big and bigger doses of progressive liberalism, what he sometimes called "new socialism."
For a sense of how mainstream and Democratic-leaning economists of the time dismissed Galbraith's work, classic example is this scathing-and-smiling review of The New Industrial State by Robert Solow in the Fall 1967 issue of The Public Interest. Galbreath's response appears in the same issue. Connoisseurs of academic blood sports will enjoy the exchange.
Here, I come not to quarrel with Galbraith's economics, but to praise him as one of the finest writers on economics and social science topics it has ever been my pleasure to read. I take as my text his essay on "Writing, Typing, and Economics," which appeared in the March 1978 issue of The Atlantic and which I recently rediscovered. Here are some highlights:
"All writers know that on some golden mornings they are touched by the wand — are on intimate terms with poetry and cosmic truth. I have experienced those moments myself. Their lesson is simple: It's a total illusion. And the danger in the illusion is that you will wait for those moments. Such is the horror of having to face the typewriter that you will spend all your time waiting. I am persuaded that most writers, like most shoemakers, are about as good one day as the next (a point which Trollope made), hangovers apart. The difference is the result of euphoria, alcohol, or imagination. The meaning is that one had better go to his or her typewriter every morning and stay there regardless of the seeming result. It will be much the same. ..."
"My advice to those eager students in California would be, "Do not wait for the golden moment. It may well be worse." I would also warn against the flocking tendency of writers and its use as a cover for idleness. It helps greatly in the avoidance of work to be in the company of others who are also waiting for the golden moment. The best place to write is by yourself, because writing becomes an escape from the terrible boredom of your own personality. It's the reason that for years I've favored Switzerland, where I look at the telephone and yearn to hear it ring. ..."
"There may be inspired writers for whom the first draft is just right. But anyone who is not certifiably a Milton had better assume that the first draft is a very primitive thing. The reason is simple: Writing is difficult work. Ralph Paine, who managed Fortune in my time, used to say that anyone who said writing was easy was either a bad writer or an unregenerate liar. Thinking, as Voltaire avowed, is also a very tedious thing which men—or women—will do anything to avoid. So all first drafts are deeply flawed by the need to combine composition with thought. Each later draft is less demanding in this regard. Hence the writing can be better. There does come a time when revision is for the sake of change—when one has become so bored with the words that anything that is different looks better. But even then it may be better. ..." 
"Next, I would want to tell my students of a point strongly pressed, if my memory serves, by Shaw. He once said that as he grew older, he became less and less interested in theory, more and more interested in information. The temptation in writing is just the reverse. Nothing is so hard to come by as a new and interesting fact. Nothing is so easy on the feet as a generalization. I now pick up magazines and leaf through them looking for articles that are rich with facts; I do not care much what they are. Richly evocative and deeply percipient theory I avoid. It leaves me cold unless I am the author of it. ..." 
"In the case of economics there are no important propositions that cannot be stated in plain language. Qualifications and refinements are numerous and of great technical complexity. These are important for separating the good students from the dolts. But in economics the refinements rarely, if ever, modify the essential and practical point. The writer who seeks to be intelligible needs to be right; he must be challenged if his argument leads to an erroneous conclusion and especially if it leads to the wrong action. But he can safely dismiss the charge that he has made the subject too easy. The truth is not difficult. Complexity and obscurity have professional value—they are the academic equivalents of apprenticeship rules in the building trades. They exclude the outsiders, keep down the competition, preserve the image of a privileged or priestly class. The man who makes things clear is a scab. He is criticized less for his clarity than for his treachery.
"Additionally, and especially in the social sciences, much unclear writing is based on unclear or incomplete thought. It is possible with safety to be technically obscure about something you haven't thought out. It is impossible to be wholly clear on something you do not understand. Clarity thus exposes flaws in the thought. The person who undertakes to make difficult matters clear is infringing on the sovereign right of numerous economists, sociologists, and political scientists to make bad writing the disguise for sloppy, imprecise, or incomplete thought. One can understand the resulting anger." 
Posted: 26 Aug 2015 12:17 AM PDT
Stefania Albanesi, Claudia Olivetti, and Maria Prados at the NY Fed's Liberty Street Economics:
Incentive Pay and Gender Compensation Gaps for Top Executives: The persistence of a gender gap in wages is shaping the debate over women's equality in the workplace and underscores the challenge facing policymakers as they consider their potential role in closing it. While the disparity affects females at all income levels, women in professional and managerial occupations tend to experience greater gender-pay differences than those in working-class jobs. The rise in the use of incentive pay, which has been linked to the growth of income inequality (Lemieux, MacLeod, and Parent), might have contributed to the gender gap in earnings (Albanesi and Olivetti). In this post, which is based on our related New York Fed staff report, we document three new facts about gender differences in the structure of executive compensation.
 Evidence on Gender Differences in Executive Pay
Our research focuses on the top five executives by title in public companies (chair/chief executive officer (CEO), vice chair, president, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer) in Standard and Poor's ExecuComp database between 1992 and 2005. Only 3.2 percent of people in these roles are women.

Fact 1: Female executives receive a lower share of incentive pay in total compensation than males. This difference accounts for 93 percent of the unconditional gender gap in total pay. ...
Fact 2: Compensation of female executives is less sensitive to firm performance than males'. For example, a $1 million increase in firm value generates a $17,150 increase in firm-specific wealth for male executives but only a $1,670 increase for females. For each 1 percent increase in firm market value, compensation rises by $60,000 for men and only $10,000 for women. ...
Fact 3: Compensation of female executives is more exposed to declines in firm value and less exposed to increases in firm value than males'. We find that a 1 percent rise in firm value is associated with a 13 percent rise in firm-specific wealth for female executives and a 44 percent rise for male executives. Conversely, a 1 percent decline in firm value is associated with a 63 percent decline in firm-specific wealth for female executives and a 33 percent decline for males. ...
Are these gender differences in compensation efficient?
Surveys of professionals and executives, time-use studies, and experimental and psychological studies suggest that:
  • Exclusion from informal networks, gender stereotyping, and lack of role models are perceived as substantial barriers to career advancements for female executives.
  • Married female professionals bear a disproportionately large share of childcare responsibilities relative to married men in similar circumstances.
  • Women display lower propensity to enter into competitive environments.
  • Women display lower propensity to initiate negotiations.
  • Women exhibit higher risk aversion.
Based on the efficient paradigm of the pay-setting process, these gender differences in barriers to career advancement and preferences are consistent with Facts 1 and 2, but they would imply lower performance for firms headed by females, an outcome for which we find no evidence in our data. Moreover, this framework cannot explain Fact 3.
We find instead that the gender differences in pay and pay-performance sensitivity are consistent with the "skimming" or "managerial power" view of executive compensation. According to this theory, board members are captive to executives, who use that position to influence their compensation packages in a way that increases their average pay and undermines incentives. In this scenario, the goal of the executive is to prevent pay from falling when firm performance deteriorates and to boost pay when the company is doing well. However, as we document in our paper, top female executives are less entrenched than their male counterparts, since they are usually younger, with fewer years of tenure and weaker networks. Thus, they are more limited than male executives in their ability to control their own compensation.
Our analysis suggests that performance pay schemes should be held to closer scrutiny. Increasing transparency about an executive's compensation, both in absolute terms and relative to counterparts', might mitigate gender-pay inequality for top executives. A recent Securities and Exchange Commission ruling that says that companies have to disclose whether executive pay is in line with the company's financial performance seems to be a good step in this direction.
Our findings also raise concern about the standing of all professional women as incentive pay schemes proliferate outside the executive ranks. The failure of the efficient contracting paradigm to explain the gender differences in the structure of executive compensation points to possible distortions in the link between pay and performance. To the extent that performance pay amplifies earnings differentials resulting from actual or perceived differences in attributes between workers,  it can exacerbate inequality and can severely distort the allocation of resources, if designed incorrectly.
Posted: 26 Aug 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 25 Aug 2015 08:34 AM PDT
I have a new column:
The Politics of Income Inequality: f the policies favored by some Republicans seeking the nomination for president turned into reality, we'd roll back or eliminate our social insurance programs, cut taxes on the wealthy, cut spending even more to slash the deficit, and turn health care over to the private sector. 
The "you're on your own no matter what bad luck comes your way" society is a desirable outcome according to this view because it creates the correct incentives for people to be gainfully employed and take care of themselves. Never mind that history shows many people won't prepare for retirement, purchase health care, set aside funds in case of job loss, and so on unless they are forced to do so by government programs, and will thus then end up being an even bigger burden to the rest of society, Those who support these policies appear to believe that this time will somehow be different. 
What do these issues have in common? ...

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 25 Aug 2015 12:24 AM PDT
Paul Krugman:
Stupid China Stories: So a stock crash in China triggered a big decline around the world..., why should events in China matter for the rest of us?
Well, you and I might think that it's because China is a pretty big economy... So when China slumps, you can and should expect knock-on effects elsewhere.
But trust the Republican field to declare that it's all Obama's fault. Scott Walker wants Obama to cancel a state dinner with Xi; Donald Trump says that it's because Obama has let China "dictate the agenda" (no, I have no idea what he thinks he means). And Chris Christie says that it's because Obama has gotten us deep into China's debt.
Actually, let's play a bit with that last one, OK? You could, conceivably, tell a story in which America becomes dependent on Chinese loans; then, when China gets in trouble, it demands repayment, pushing us into crisis too. But any story along those lines has a corollary: we should be seeing a spike in US interest rates as our credit line gets pulled. What you actually see is falling rates: ...
Oh, why am I even bothering?...
Posted: 25 Aug 2015 12:15 AM PDT
Nothing particularly surprising here -- the Great recession was unusually severe and unusually long, and hence had unusual impacts, but it's good to have numbers characterizing what happened:
Great Recession Job Losses Severe, Enduring: Of those who lost full-time jobs between 2007 and 2009, only about 50 percent were employed in January 2010 and only about 75 percent of those were re-employed in full-time jobs.
The economic downturn that began in December 2007 was associated with a rapid rise in unemployment and with an especially pronounced increase in the number of long-term unemployed. In "Job Loss in the Great Recession and its Aftermath: U.S. Evidence from the Displaced Workers Survey" (NBER Working Paper No. 21216), Henry S. Farber uses data from the Displaced Workers Survey (DWS) from 1984-2014 to study labor market dynamics. From these data he calculates both the short-term and medium-term effects of the Great Recession's sharply elevated rate of job losses. He concludes that these effects have been particularly severe.

Of the workers who lost full-time jobs between 2007 and 2009, Farber reports, only about 50 percent were employed in January 2010 and only about 75 percent of those were re-employed in full-time jobs. This means only about 35 to 40 percent of those in the DWS who reported losing a job in 2007-09 were employed full-time in January 2010. This was by far the worst post-displacement employment experience of the 1981-2014 period.
The adverse employment experience of job losers has also been persistent. While both overall employment rates and full-time employment rates began to improve in 2009, even those who lost jobs between 2011 and 2013 had very low re-employment rates and, by historical standards, very low full-time employment rates.
In addition, the data show substantial weekly earnings declines even for those who did find work, although these earnings losses were not especially large by historical standards. Farber suggests that the earnings decline measure from the DWS is appropriate for understanding how job loss affects the earnings that a full-time-employed former job-loser is able to command.
The author notes that the measures on which he focuses may understate the true economic cost of job loss, since they do not consider the value of time spent unemployed or the value of lost health insurance and pension benefits.
Farber concludes that the costs of job losses in the Great Recession were unusually severe and remain substantial years later. Most importantly, workers laid off in the Great Recession and its aftermath have been much less successful at finding new jobs, particularly full-time jobs, than those laid off in earlier periods. The findings suggest that job loss since the Great Recession has had severe adverse consequences for employment and earnings.
Posted: 25 Aug 2015 12:09 AM PDT
From the NBER Digest:
Thinking, Fast and Slow: Efforts to Reduce Youthful Crime in Chicago: Interventions that get youths to slow down and behave less automatically in high-stakes situations show positive results in three experiments.

Disparities in youth outcomes in the United States are striking. For example, among 15-to-24 year olds, the male homicide rate in 2013 was 18 times higher for blacks than for whites. Black males lose more years of potential life before age 65 to homicide than to heart disease, America's leading overall killer. A large body of research emphasizes that, beyond institutional factors, choices and behavior contribute to these outcomes. Those choices include decisions around dropping out of high school, involvement with drugs or gangs, and how to respond to confrontations that could escalate to serious violence.
In "Thinking, Fast and Slow? Some Field Experiments to Reduce Crime and Dropout in Chicago" (NBER Working Paper No. 21178), authors Sara B. Heller, Anuj K. Shah, Jonathan Guryan, Jens Ludwig, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Harold A. Pollack explain these behavioral differences using the psychology of automaticity. Because it is mentally costly to think through every situation in detail, all of us have automatic responses to some of the situations we encounter. These responses—automaticity—are tuned to situations we commonly face.
The authors present results from three large-scale, randomized experimental studies carried out in Chicago with economically disadvantaged male youth. All three experiments show sizable behavioral responses to fairly short-duration, automaticity-reducing interventions that get youths to slow down and behave less automatically in high-stakes situations.
The first intervention (called Becoming a Man, or BAM, developed by Chicago-area nonprofit Youth Guidance) involved 2,740 males in the 7th through 10th grades in 18 public schools on the south and west sides of the city. Some youths were offered an automaticity-reducing program once a week during school or an after-school sports intervention developed by Chicago nonprofit World Sport Chicago. The authors find that participation in the programming reduced arrests over the program year for violent crimes by 44 percent, and non-violent, non-property, non-drug crimes by 36 percent. Participation also increased engagement with school, which the authors estimate could translate into gains in graduation rates of between 7 and 22 percent.
A second study of BAM randomly assigned 2,064 male 9th and 10th graders within nine Chicago public high schools to the treatment or to a control condition. The authors found that arrests of youth in the treatment group were 31 percent lower than arrests in the control group.
The third intervention was delivered by trained detention staff to high-risk juveniles housed in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. The curriculum in this program, while different from the first two interventions, also focused on reducing automaticity. Some 5,728 males were randomly assigned to units inside the facility that did or did not implement the program. The authors found that those who received programming were about 16 percent less likely to be returned to the detention center than those who did not.
The sizable impacts the authors observe from all three interventions stand in stark contrast to the poor record of many efforts to improve the long-term life outcomes of disadvantaged youths. As with all randomized experiments, there is the question of whether these impacts generalize to other samples and settings. The interventions considered in this study would not be costly to expand. The authors estimate that the cost of the intervention for each participant in the first two studies was between $1,178 and $2,000. In the third case, the per-participant cost was about $60 per juvenile detainee. The results suggest that expanding these programs may be more cost-effective than other crime-prevention strategies that target younger individuals.
The authors also present results from various survey measures suggesting the results do not appear to be due to changes in mechanisms like emotional intelligence or self-control. On the other hand results from some decision-making exercises the authors carried out seem to support reduced automaticity as a key mechanism. The results overall suggest that automaticity can be an important explanation for disparities in outcomes.
Posted: 25 Aug 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 24 Aug 2015 09:11 AM PDT
 What' causing so much instability in the world economy?
A Moveable Glut, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: What caused Friday's stock plunge? What does it mean for the future? Nobody knows, and not much. ...
Still, investors are clearly jittery..., the world as a whole still seems remarkably accident-prone. ... But why does the world economy keep stumbling? ...
More than a decade ago, Ben Bernanke famously argued that a ballooning U.S. trade deficit was the result, not of domestic factors, but of a "global saving glut": a huge excess of savings over investment in China and other developing nations... He worried a bit about the fact that the inflow of capital was being channeled, not into business investment, but into housing; obviously he should have worried much more. ...
Of course, the boom became a bubble, which inflicted immense damage when it burst. Furthermore, that wasn't the end of the story. There was also a flood of capital from Germany and other northern European countries to Spain, Portugal, and Greece. This too turned out to be a bubble, and the bursting of that bubble in 2009-2010 precipitated the euro crisis.
And still the story wasn't over. With America and Europe no longer attractive destinations, the global glut went looking for new bubbles to inflate. It found them in emerging markets... It couldn't last, and now we're in the middle of an emerging-market crisis...
So where does the moving finger of glut go now? Why, back to America, where a fresh inflow of foreign funds has driven the dollar way up, threatening to make our industry uncompetitive again
What's ... important now is that policy makers take seriously the possibility, I'd say probability, that excess savings and persistent global weakness is the new normal.
My sense is that there's a deep-seated unwillingness, even among sophisticated officials, to accept this reality. Partly this is about special interests: Wall Street doesn't want to hear that an unstable world requires strong financial regulation, and politicians who want to kill the welfare state don't want to hear that government spending and debt aren't problems in the current environment.
But there's also, I believe, a sort of emotional prejudice against the very notion of global glut. Politicians and technocrats alike want to view themselves as serious people making hard choices — choices like cutting popular programs and raising interest rates. They don't like being told that we're in a world where seemingly tough-minded policies will actually make things worse. But we are, and they will.

August 24, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 24 Aug 2015 12:24 AM PDT
Larry Summers says "Raising rates this year will threaten all of the central bank's major objectives":
The Fed looks set to make a dangerous mistake: Will the Federal Reserve's September meeting see US interest rates go up for the first time since 2006? Officials have held out the prospect that ... rates will probably be increased... Conditions could change... But ... raising rates ... would be a serious error that would threaten all three of the Fed's major objectives— price stability, full employment and financial stability.
Like most major central banks, the Fed has ... a 2 per cent inflation target. The biggest risk is that inflation will be lower than this — a risk that would be exacerbated by tightening policy... Tightening policy will adversely affect employment levels... Higher interest rates will also increase the value of the dollar, making US producers less competitive... This is especially troubling at a time of rising inequality. Studies ... make it clear that the best social program for disadvantaged workers is an economy where employers are struggling to fill vacancies.
There may have been a financial stability case for raising rates six or nine months ago, as low interest rates were encouraging investors to take more risks... That debate is now moot. With credit becoming more expensive, the outlook for the Chinese economy clouded at best, emerging markets submerging, the US stock market in a correction, widespread concerns about liquidity, and expected volatility having increased at a near-record rate, markets are themselves dampening any euphoria or overconfidence. The Fed does not have to do the job. ...
It is no longer easy to think of economic conditions that can plausibly be seen as temporary headwinds. ... This is the "secular stagnation" diagnosis...
New conditions require new policies. There is much that should be done, such as steps to promote public and private investment so as to raise the level of real interest rates consistent with full employment. Unless these new policies are implemented, inflation sharply accelerates, or euphoria in markets breaks out, there is no case for the Fed to adjust policy interest rates.
Posted: 24 Aug 2015 12:06 AM PDT

August 23, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 23 Aug 2015 12:27 AM PDT
From an interview of Paul Romer in the WSJ:
...Q: What kind of feedback have you received from colleagues in the profession?
A: I tried these ideas on a few people, and the reaction I basically got was "don't make waves." As people have had time to react, I've been hearing a bit more from people who appreciate me bringing these issues to the forefront. The most interesting feedback is from young economists who say that they feel that they have to be very cautious, and they don't want to get somebody cross at them. There's a concern by young economists that if they deviate from what's acceptable, they'll get in trouble. That also seemed to me to be a sign of something that is really wrong. Young people are the ones who often come in and say, "You all have been thinking about this the wrong way, here's a better way to think about it."
Q: Are there any areas where research or refinements in methodology have brought us closer to understanding the economy?
A: There was an interesting [2013] Nobel prize in [economics], where they gave the prize to people who generally came to very different conclusions about how financial markets work. Gene Fama ... got it for the efficient markets hypothesis. Robert Shiller ... for this view that these markets are not efficient...
It was striking because usually when you give a prize, it's because in the sciences, you've converged to a consensus. ...
Posted: 23 Aug 2015 12:15 AM PDT
Posted: 23 Aug 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 22 Aug 2015 11:52 AM PDT
Branko Milanovic:
Did socialism keep capitalism equal?: This is an interesting idea and I think that it will gradually become more popular. The idea is simple: the presence of the ideology of socialism (abolition of private property) and its embodiment in the Soviet Union and other Communist states made capitalists careful: they knew that if they tried to push workers too hard, the workers might retaliate and capitalists might end up by losing  all.
Now, this idea comes from the fact that rich capitalist countries experienced an extraordinary period of decreasing inequality from around 1920s to 1980s, and then since the 1980s, contradicting what a simple Kuznets curve would imply, inequality went up.  It so happens that the turning  point in 1980s coincides with (1) acceleration of skill-biased technological progress, (2) increased globalization and entry of Chinese workers into the global labor market, (3) pro-rich policy changes (lower taxes), (4) decline of the trade unions, and (5) end of Communism as an ideology. So each of these five factors can be used to explain the increase in inequality in rich capitalist countries.
The socialist story recently received a boost from two papers. ...
 I am not sure that this particular story can alone explain the decline in inequality in the West, and certainly it is a story that one hears less often in the US than in Europe, as the United States  believed itself to be sufficiently protected from the Communist virus (although when you look at the repression in the 1920s and McCarthyism in the 1950s, one is not so sure). But even Solow's recent mention of the changing power relations between capitalists and workers (the end of the Detroit treaty) as ushering in the period of rising inequality is not inconsistent with this view. In a recent conversation, and totally unaware of the literature, an Italian high-level diplomat explained to me why inequality in Italy increased recently: "in then 1970s, capitalists were afraid of the Italian Communist Party". So there is, I think, something in the ... story.
The implication is of course rather unpleasant: left to itself, without any countervailing powers, capitalism will keep on generating high inequality and so the US may soon look like South Africa. That's where I think differently: I think there are, in the longer-term, forces that would lead toward reduction in inequality (and that would not be the return of Communism).
Posted: 22 Aug 2015 11:38 AM PDT
This is part of the introduction to an essay by Mike Konczal on how to "insure people against the hardships of life..., accident, illness, old age, and loss of a job." Should we rely mostly upon government social insurance programs such as Medicare and Social Security, or would a system that relies upon private charity be better? History provides a very clear answer:
The Voluntarism Fantasy: Ideology is as much about understanding the past as shaping the future. And conservatives tell themselves a story, a fairy tale really, about the past, about the way the world was and can be again under Republican policies. This story is about the way people were able to insure themselves against the risks inherent in modern life. Back before the Great Society, before the New Deal, and even before the Progressive Era, things were better. Before government took on the role of providing social insurance, individuals and private charity did everything needed to insure people against the hardships of life; given the chance, they could do it again.
This vision has always been implicit in the conservative ascendancy. It existed in the 1980s, when President Reagan announced, "The size of the federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience or charitable concern," and called for voluntarism to fill in the yawning gaps in the social safety net. It was made explicit in the 1990s, notably through Marvin Olasky's The Tragedy of American Compassion, a treatise hailed by the likes of Newt Gingrich and William Bennett, which argued that a purely private nineteenth-century system of charitable and voluntary organizations did a better job providing for the common good than the twentieth-century welfare state. This idea is also the basis of Paul Ryan's budget, which seeks to devolve and shrink the federal government at a rapid pace, lest the safety net turn "into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives." It's what Utah Senator Mike Lee references when he says that the "alternative to big government is not small government" but instead "a voluntary civil society." As conservatives face the possibility of a permanent Democratic majority fueled by changing demographics, they understand that time is running out on their cherished project to dismantle the federal welfare state.
But this conservative vision of social insurance is wrong. It's incorrect as a matter of history; it ignores the complex interaction between public and private social insurance that has always existed in the United States. It completely misses why the old system collapsed and why a new one was put in its place. It fails to understand how the Great Recession displayed the welfare state at its most necessary and that a voluntary system would have failed under the same circumstances. Most importantly, it points us in the wrong direction. The last 30 years have seen effort after effort to try and push the policy agenda away from the state's capabilities and toward private mechanisms for mitigating the risks we face in the world. This effort is exhausted, and future endeavors will require a greater, not lesser, role for the public. ...
The state does many things, but this essay will focus specifically on its role in providing social insurance against the risks we face. Specifically, we'll look at what the progressive economist and actuary I.M. Rubinow described in 1934 as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: "accident, illness, old age, loss of a job. These are the four horsemen that ride roughshod over lives and fortunes of millions of wage workers of every modern industrial community." These were the same evils that Truman singled out in his speech. And these are the ills that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food assistance, and our other public systems of social insurance set out to combat in the New Deal and Great Society.
Over the past 30 years the public role in social insurance has taken a backseat to the idea that private institutions will expand to cover these risks. Yet our current system of workplace private insurance is rapidly falling apart. In its wake, we'll need to make a choice between an expanded role for the state or a fantasy of voluntary protection instead. We need to understand why this voluntary system didn't work in the first place to make the case for the state's role in fighting the Four Horsemen. ...

August 22, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 22 Aug 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 21 Aug 2015 11:19 AM PDT
John Robertson, writing at the Atlanta Fed's Macroblog, on evidence for wage stickiness:
No Wage Change?: Even when prevailing market wages are lower, businesses can find it difficult to reduce wages for their current employees. This phenomenon, often referred to as "downward nominal wage rigidity," can result in rising average wages for incumbent workers despite high unemployment levels. Some economic models predict that a period of subdued wage growth can follow, even as the labor market recovers—a kind of delayed wage-adjustment effect.
In her 2014 Jackson Hole speech, Fed Chair Janet Yellen suggested this effect may explain sluggish growth in average wages in recent years, despite significant declines in the rate of unemployment.
This macroblog post looks at evidence of wage rigidity, particularly a spike in the frequency of zero wage changes relative to wage declines. A comparison is made between hourly and weekly wages and between incumbent workers (job stayers) and those who have changed employers (job switchers).
Chart 1 shows the fractions of job stayers reporting the same or a lower hourly or weekly wage than 12 months earlier. These measures are constructed from the Current Population Survey microdata in the Atlanta Fed's Wage Growth Tracker. They include workers who are paid hourly (accounting for about 60 percent of all wage and salary earners). The measures exclude those who usually receive overtime and other supplemental pay and those with imputed or top-coded (redacted) wages. Weekly wage is defined as the hourly wage times the usual number of hours per week worked at that rate. The data are aggregated to an annual frequency (except for 2015, where the first six months of the year are covered).
Job stayers cannot be exactly identified in the data and are approximated by those who are in the same occupation and industry as they were 12 months earlier and the same job as they were in the prior month. Consistent with other studies (see, for example, the work of our colleagues at the San Francisco Fed), we find that the incidence of unchanged hourly wages among job stayers is substantial (although some of this is probably the result of rounding errors in self-reported wages). The measured share of unchanged hourly wages rose disproportionately between 2008 and 2010, and it has remained elevated since. Zero hourly wage changes (the green line in chart 1) have become almost as common as declines in hourly wages (the blue line in chart 1).
150821a
Chart 1 also suggests that weekly wages for job stayers show a pattern over time broadly similar to hourly wages. But the fraction of unchanged weekly wages (the purple line in chart 1) is lower. Each year, about 60 percent of those with no change in their hourly wage had no change in their weekly wage (or hours) either. Also, there are relatively more declines in weekly wages (the orange line in chart 1) than in hourly wages—mostly the result of reduced hours worked. On average, a reduction in weekly wages is associated with a four-hour decline in hours worked per week. About 90 percent of those with lower hourly wages also had lower weekly wages, and 20 percent of those with no change in their hourly wage had a lower weekly wage (working fewer hours).
If job stayers show a relatively high incidence of no wage change, we might expect a different story for job switchers, since they are establishing a new wage contract with a new employer. Chart 2 shows the fraction of job switchers reporting the same or a lower hourly or weekly wage than 12 months earlier. Job switchers are approximated by workers who are in a different industry than a year earlier.
150821b
Not surprisingly, a smaller share of workers experience no change in their hourly or weekly wage when switching jobs. But the pattern of zero wage change for job switchers over time is generally similar to that of job stayers. It is also true that a decline in hourly and weekly wages is more likely for job switchers than for job stayers, with a significant temporary spike in the relative frequency of wage declines for job switchers during the last recession.
Taken at face value, this analysis suggests the presence of some amount of wage rigidity. Also, rigidity increases during recessions and has remained quite elevated since the end of the last recession—especially for job stayers. The question then becomes whether this phenomenon has important macroeconomic consequences. A prediction of most models in which wage stickiness has allocative effects is that it causes firms to increase layoffs when faced with a decline in aggregate demand. Interestingly, during the last recession—when wage stickiness appears to have increased substantially—the rate of layoffs was not unusually high relative to earlier recessions. What was atypical was the size of the decline in the rate of job creation, and this decline contributed to unusually long unemployment spells. As noted by Elsby, Shin, and Solon (2014), it is not clear that an increase in wage rigidity would constrain the hiring of new workers more than it constrains the retention of existing workers.
On the other hand, persistently high wage rigidity in the wake of the Great Recession is consistent with the relatively sluggish pace of wage increases seen in most measures of aggregate wage growth via the "bending" of the short-run Phillips curve (as described by Daly and Hobijn (2014)). Interestingly, the Atlanta Fed's Wage Growth Tracker is an exception. It has indicated somewhat stronger wage growth during the last year than other measures. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues in coming months.
Posted: 21 Aug 2015 10:06 AM PDT
John Whitehead responds to those who say the solution to water problems is to "allow free markets to operate":
...The water market will never be a "free market" in the true sense of the word. A plea to the water authority (i.e., government) to price water more rationally is a plea for policy reform ... towards a better use of incentives. Free markets only exist when there is no government regulation of buyers and sellers, no taxes, no subsidies and no nothing. An efficient free market for water is a difficult thing to pull off since it is a common-pool resource. It is easier for the pizza market to operate efficiently since pizza is a private good. 
I don't think adaption to climate change can be accomplished efficiently by government taking a hands off approach. You can't privatize much of the natural environment. ...
Posted: 21 Aug 2015 10:00 AM PDT
Paul Romer's latest entry on "mathiness" in economics ends with:
Reactions to Solow's Choice: ...Politics maps directly onto our innate moral machinery. Faced with any disagreement, our moral systems respond by classifying people into our in-group and the out-group. They encourage us to be loyal to members of the in-group and hostile to members of the out-group. The leaders of an in-group demand deference and respect. In selecting leaders, we prize unwavering conviction.
Science can't function with the personalization of disagreement that these reactions encourage. The question of whether Joan Robinson is someone who is admired and respected as a scientist has to be separated from the question about whether she was right that economists could reason about rates of return in a model that does not have an explicit time dimension.
The only in-group versus out-group distinction that matters in science is the one that distinguishes people who can live by the norms of science from those who cannot. Feynman integrity is the marker of an insider.
In this group, it is flexibility that commands respect, not unwavering conviction. Clearly articulated disagreement is encouraged. Anyone's claim is subject to challenge. Someone who is right about A can be wrong about B.
Scientists do not demonize dissenters. Nor do they worship heroes.
[The reference to Joan Robinson is clarified in the full text.]

August 21, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Paul Krugman: Debt Is Good
Posted: 21 Aug 2015 01:07 AM PDT

 We owe a debt to debt:
Debt Is Good, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...Believe it or not..., there's a reasonable argument to be made that part of what ails the world economy right now is that governments aren't deep enough in debt.
I know that may sound crazy. After all, we've spent much of the past five or six years in a state of fiscal panic, with all the Very Serious People declaring that we must slash deficits and reduce debt now now now or we'll turn into Greece, Greece I tell you.
But the power of the deficit scolds was always a triumph of ideology over evidence, and a growing number of genuinely serious people ... are making the case that we need more, not less, government debt.
Why?
One answer is that  ... the United States suffers from obvious deficiencies in roads, rails, water systems and more; meanwhile, the federal government can borrow at historically low interest rates. So this is a very good time to be borrowing and investing in the future...
Beyond that..., the debt of stable, reliable governments provides "safe assets" that help investors manage risks, make transactions easier and avoid a destructive scramble for cash. ...
And... When interest rates on government debt are very low even when the economy is strong, there's not much room to cut them when the economy is weak, making it much harder to fight recessions. There may also be consequences for financial stability: Very low returns on safe assets may push investors into too much risk-taking...
What can be done? Simply raising interest rates, as some financial types keep demanding (with an eye on their own bottom lines), would undermine our still-fragile recovery. What we need are policies that would permit higher rates in good times without causing a slump. And one such policy ... would be targeting a higher level of debt.
In other words, the great debt panic ... was even more wrongheaded than those of us in the anti-austerity camp realized.
Not only were governments that listened to the fiscal scolds kicking the economy when it was down, prolonging the slump; not only were they slashing public investment at the very moment bond investors were practically pleading with them to spend more; they may have been setting us up for future crises.
And the ironic thing is that these foolish policies, and all the human suffering they created, were sold with appeals to prudence and fiscal responsibility.


Links for 08-21-15
Posted: 21 Aug 2015 12:06 AM PDT


'Shifting Visions of the ''Good Job'''
Posted: 20 Aug 2015 10:30 AM PDT

From Tim Taylor:
Shifting Visions of the "Good Job": As the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.5% and less in recent months, the arguments over jobs have shifted from the lack of available jobs to the qualities of the jobs that are available. It's interesting to me how our social ideas of what constitutes a "good job" have a tendency to shift over time. Joel Mokyr, Chris Vickers, and Nicolas L. Ziebarth illuminate some of these issues in "The History of Technological Anxiety and the Future of Economic Growth: Is This Time Different?" which appears in the Summer 2015 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. All articles from JEP going back to the first issue in 1987 are freely available on-line compliments of the American Economic Association. (Full disclosure: I've worked as Managing Editor of the JEP since 1986.)
One theme that I found especially intriguing in the Mokyr, Vickers, and Ziebarth argument is how some of our social attitudes about what constitutes a "good job" have nearly gone full circle in the last couple of centuries. Back at the time of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and into the 19th century, it was common to hear arguments that the shift from farms, artisans, and home production into factories involved a reduction in the quality of work. But in recent decades, a shift away from factories and back toward decentralized production is sometimes viewed as a decline in the quality of work, too. Here are some examples:
For example, one concern from the time of the original Industrial Revolution was that factory work required scheduling their time in ways that removed flexibility. Mokyr, Vickers, and Ziebarth (citations omitted) note: "Workers who were "considerably dissatisfied, because they could not go in and out as they pleased" had to be habituated into the factory system, by means of fines, locked gates, and other penalties. The preindustrial domestic system, by contrast, allowed a much greater degree of flexibility."
Another type of flexibility in the time before the Industrial Revolution is that people often had the flexibility to combine their work life with their home life, and the separation of the two was thought be worrisome: "Part of the loss of control in moving to factory work involved the physical separation of home from place of work. While today people worry about the exact opposite phenomenon with the lines between spheres of home and work blurring, this disjunction was originally a cause of great anxiety, along with the separation of place-of-work from place-of-leisure. Preindustrial societies had "no clearly defined periods of leisure as such, but economic activities, like hunting or market-going, obviously have their recreational aspects, as do singing or telling stories at work."
Of course, some common modern concerns about the quality of jobs is that many jobs lack regular hours. Many workers may face irregular hours, or no assurance of a minimum number of hours they can work. Moreover, many jobs now worry that work life is intruding back into home life, because we are hooked to our jobs by our computers and phones. ...
Another a fairly common theme of economists writing back in the 18th and 19th centuries ranging from Adam Smith to Karl Marx was that the new factor jobs treated people as if they were cogs in a machine. ...
Now, of course, there is widespread concern about a lack of factory jobs for low- and middle-skilled workers. Rather than worrying about these jobs being debasing or unfit for humans, we worry that there aren't enough of them.
I guess one reaction to this evolution of attitudes about "good jobs" is just to point out that workers and employers are both heterogenous groups. Some workers put a greater emphasis on flexibility of hours, while others might prefer regularity. Some workers prefer a straightforward job that they can leave behind at the end of the day; others prefer a job that is full of improvisation, learning on the fly, crises, and deadlines. To some extent, the labor market lets employers and workers match up as they desire. There's certainly no reason to assume that a "good job" should be a one-size-fits-all definition.
A second reaction is that there is clearly a kind of rosy-eyed nostalgia at work about the qualities of jobs of the past. Many of us tend to focus on a relatively small number of past jobs, not the jobs that most people did most of the time. In addition, we focus on a few characteristics of those jobs, not the way the jobs were actually experienced by workers of that time.
But yet another reaction is that the qualities of available jobs aren't just a matter of negotiation between workers and employers, and they aren't an historical inevitability. The qualities of the range of jobs in an economy are affected by a range of institutions and factors like the human capital that workers bring to jobs, the extent of on-the-job training, how easy it is for someone with a series or employers or irregular hours to set up health insurance or a retirement account, rules about workplace safety, rules that impose costs on laying off or firing workers (which inevitably makes firms reluctant to hire more regular employees), the extent and type of union representation, rules about wages and overtime, and much more. I do worry that career-type jobs offering the possibility of longer-term connectedness between a worker and an employer seem harder to come by. In a career-type job, both the worker and employer place some value on the expected continuance of their relationship over time, and act and invest resources accordingly.