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March 28, 2010

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"The Long-Term Impact of the Mortgage Crisis"

Posted: 28 Mar 2010 01:08 AM PDT

Richard Green is concerned about the old people of the future. Are they saving enough today?:

The long-term impact of the mortgage crisis--and why it keeps me awake, by Richard Green: My parent's generation behaved differently than mine in all sorts of ways. A paper of mine with Hendershott shows that they spent less, controlling for education, etc., throughout their life cycle than any other generation. One of the reasons for this is that they paid off their mortgages. According to the American Housing Survey, 70 percent of households headed by someone over the age of 65 have no mortgage at all. Loan amortization became a mechanism for forced saving, and as a a result, those born during the depression are in pretty decent shape financially. ...

My generation is different. Even under the most benign circumstances, we refinance in a manner that slows amortization. I refinanced ... twice to take advantage of lower interest rates--this was, of course, the right thing to do financially. But each time, the amortization schedule reset, and so it extended the period at which the mortgage would pay off. Now yes, one can take the money one doesn't put into home equity and put it in other savings vehicles, but it is not clear that everyone does that. Forced saving is slowed.

But this is not the worst of how people have handled their mortgages. A substantial fraction of borrowers pulled equity out of their houses, putting themselves on a lower savings path even in the absence of falling house prices.

I am going to run some American housing survey data on this, but it is hard for me to imagine that 70 percent of my generation will have no mortgage debt when we are elders. My parents' generation has used housing wealth to, among other things, finance long-term care. I hope I am missing something here, but the lack of housing wealth in the future could become yet another challenge as we seek to fund the needs of the elderly.

links for 2010-03-27

Posted: 27 Mar 2010 11:03 PM PDT

"Does Unemployment Insurance Necessarily Raise the Unemployment Rate and Decrease Employment?"

Posted: 27 Mar 2010 11:54 AM PDT

Menzie Chinn takes on Casey Mulligan (again):

Does Unemployment Insurance Necessarily Raise the Unemployment Rate and Decrease Employment?, by Menzie Chinn: Some analysts (e.g., most recently Professor Mulligan) have stressed the disincentive effects of unemployment insurance on the unemployment rate and the level of employment. I think it useful to consider the offsetting effects arising from various effects, and hence distinguishing between the two variables. In my view, the impact of UI is more complicated than it would seem at first glance, with UI potentially increasing employment while concurrently increasing the unemployment rate. In addition, according to newer research, even if UI extends unemployment duration, it still might be welfare-enhancing. In other words, some researchers appear to have had their worldview frozen in 1990. ...[...continue reading...]...

Will the GOP Remain the Party of No?

Posted: 27 Mar 2010 10:34 AM PDT

This is from The Myrtle Beach Sun:

DeMint, Graham let S.C. down on health care overhaul, by Isaac Bailey, The Myrtle Beach Sun: Two South Carolina legislators had the opportunity to shape the historic health care bill President Obama signed into law on Tuesday... Because the Senate version of the bill was going to be the foundation of the law, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint were our only two politicians who could have forced even more conservative ideas into the legislation. ... Neither did. Both shirked their responsibility to the state to walk lockstep with the GOP.
There was little reason to expect anything different from DeMint, who represents the party's Rush Limbaugh-wing. He didn't begin the debate saying we must find a way to bring down S.C.'s high percentage of the un- and underinsured. He didn't say we must find a way to stem costs that are spiraling out of control, bankrupting hard-working people for the sin of getting too sick. He didn't say the days of uninsured families having to leave coffee cans decorated with a sick loved one's photo on convenience store counters must end. He didn't say that if reform included strong tort reform so doctors would no longer feel the need to perform unnecessary tests that he would vote for it.
Instead, he said reform's defeat would be Obama's "Waterloo", that it would break the president. Only after his comments ignited a firestorm did DeMint propose a policy that most experts considered laughable. He was focused on politics, not people.
Sen. Graham began the debate differently. He knew if nothing changed, our health care system would eventually bankrupt us, which is why he initially supported the bipartisan Bennett-Wyden bill. ... But the proposal went nowhere fast. Instead of Graham engaging in the fight to incorporate the best parts of Wyden-Bennett - or any other effective plan - he fell in line with the rest of the GOP caucus.
He, too, became more concerned about his party's positioning for November than the people he was sent to Washington to represent...
The most vulnerable South Carolinians ... needed Graham and DeMint to lead. ... They didn't. Instead, they stood for the petty and ignored the real needs of the people. History won't forget. And neither should we.

And, from the local paper this morning:

Move past 'repeal, replace', Editorial, Register Guard: Republicans are preparing to march into the 2010 election under the dubious banner of "Repeal and replace!"
It's a losing strategy, one that GOP lawmakers should rethink before venturing too far down that road. The health care reform bill has been signed into law. ... The Republicans should turn the page on health care if they want to shed the "party of no" label that served both the GOP and nation poorly in the debate over health reform.
That doesn't mean that House Minority Leader John Boehner and other Republican leaders should publicly embrace Obamacare. That's unrealistic; their philosophical differences with Democrats on reform are too deep and broad, and Republicans resentment over President Obama's historic achievement precludes even the pretense of a political truce.
But Republicans face long odds in any attempt to repeal and replace health care reform, and they know it. ... As Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., acknowledged, repeal "is not realistic because Barack Obama would veto the bill and we don't have the votes to override it."
For Republicans such as Boehner, Kyl and DeMint, "repeal and replace" is an election strategy and not a practical legislative goal. ...
Repeal-and-replace Republicans eventually must face the difficult task of explaining why their apocalyptic predictions — everything from the death panels to the dismantling of democracy — didn't come true. In the months and years to come, many Americans, even those skeptical about the reform effort, will come to see the scare tactics as hyperbolic depictions of a bill whose moderate approach incorporated many Republican ideas.
Republicans have just suffered a devastating legislative defeat, and they are entitled to nurse their wounds. But the GOP's political aspirations — and the nation's interests — would be best served by full engagement on the many critical issues facing Congress, from financial regulatory reform to immigration to unemployment. ... Republicans remain fixated on their loss on health reform — so much so that some, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have publicly ruled out any bipartisan cooperation for the remainder of the current session.
The American people need — and deserve — a legislative process in which both parties are engaged and bring competing views to the table. By clinging to the cold corpse of the health care debate, Republicans will miss an opportunity to express a clear, compelling vision on other issues — a vision that could do far more to sway voters to their side this fall than continuing to flail away over health care. ...
While there is still time, Republicans should repeal and replace their catchphrase, and substitute another that bodes better for their party's future.

There's an inconsistency between free market ideology and the need for reform in areas like health care and financial services. One of the first steps in reforming the system is to acknowledge that the market won't take care of the problems itself. Once that is acknowledged, i.e. that regulation is needed to fix these market failures, the only question is whether that regulation will be of the "market-based" variety or by edict (e.g. this is the difference between system of tradable carbon permits that allow least cost carbon reduction strategies to emerge and a government set emission limit for each industry which generally does not achieve ca4rbon reductions at least cost).

With Democrats mostly opposed to old fashioned edict style regulation --  with their willingness to embrace market-based solutions to regulatory issues --  and with Republicans unwilling to embrace anything that Democrats propose, there is little ground left for those Republicans who are willing to admit that markets sometimes fail to stand upon. Democrats have taken the middle ground -- market based regulation -- from Republicans. This leaves Republicans with a choice of going along and compromising (and thereby embracing proposals they have made in the past, e.g. the health care bill looks an awful lot like the health care program Romney put in place in Massachusetts), or standing in opposition simply because it is a Democratic proposal. The choice they've made, standing in opposition to everything, is a losing strategy that allows policy to be shaped entirely be the other side. It will be interesting to see if a fissure develops within the Republican Party over this.

Will Republicans be able to share the market-based regulatory ground Democrats have taken away? There are already signs that Republicans will work with Democrats on financial reform, but there were early signs of a bi-partisan effort on health care as well, so we'll see how this plays out. I think people are fed up with banks and want something to be done, and Republican attempts to block legislation won't play well with the public at all. So I expect the coalition of no to be broken -- some legislators will see that they cannot continue just saying no and expect public support -- but not without big fights within the Republican Party between the extremists and the centrists. If Republicans do move in this direction, and it's more likely they'll do so on financial reform than on climate change legislation, you'll see an attempt to reclaim these policies as Republican (here's a great example: Health Care Reform--A Republican Idea?). And given the administration's centrist tendencies, in many cases they'll have a pretty good argument.

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