- Paul Krugman: Phony Fear Factor
- links for 2011-09-29
- "The Moral Question"
- Plosser: Recent Stimulus Will Hurt the Fed's Credibility
- A Free Lunch for America
Posted: 30 Sep 2011 12:33 AM PDT
"Republican assertions about what ails the economy are pure fantasy":
Phony Fear Factor, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...Listen to just about any speech by a Republican presidential hopeful, and you'll hear assertions that the Obama administration is responsible for weak job growth. How so? The answer, repeated again and again, is that businesses are afraid to expand and create jobs because they fear costly regulations and higher taxes. Nor are politicians the only people saying this. Conservative economists repeat the claim in op-ed articles, and Federal Reserve officials repeat it to justify their opposition to even modest efforts to aid the economy.
The first thing you need to know, then, is that there's no evidence supporting this claim and a lot of evidence showing that it's false ... as a new paper by Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute documents at length...
So Republican assertions about what ails the economy are pure fantasy, at odds with all the evidence. Should we be surprised?
At one level, of course not. Politicians who always cater to wealthy business interests say that economic recovery requires catering to wealthy business interests. Who could have imagined it?
Yet it seems to me that there is something different about the current state of economic discussion. Political parties have often coalesced around dubious economic ideas — remember the Laffer curve? — but I can't think of a time when a party's economic doctrine has been so completely divorced from reality. And I'm also struck by the extent to which Republican-leaning economists — who have to know better — have been willing to lend their credibility to the party's official delusions.
Partly, no doubt, this reflects the party's broader slide into its own insular intellectual universe. Large segments of the G.O.P. reject climate science and even the theory of evolution, so why expect evidence to matter for the party's economic views?
And it also, of course, reflects the political need of the right to make everything bad in America President Obama's fault. Never mind the fact that the housing bubble, the debt explosion and the financial crisis took place on the watch of a conservative, free-market-praising president; it's that Democrat in the White House now who gets the blame.
But good politics can be very bad policy. The truth is that we're in this mess because we had too little regulation, not too much. And now one of our two major parties is determined to double down on the mistakes that caused the disaster.
Posted: 30 Sep 2011 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 29 Sep 2011 08:19 PM PDT
The Moral Question, by Robert Reich: We dodged another shut-down bullet, but only until November 18. That's when the next temporary bill to keep the government going runs out. House Republicans want more budget cuts as their price for another stopgap spending bill.
Among other items, Republicans are demanding major cuts in a nutrition program for low-income women and children. The appropriation bill the House passed June 16 would deny benefits to more than 700,000 eligible low-income women and young children next year.
What kind of country are we living in? ... We're in the worst economy since the Great Depression – with lower-income families and kids are bearing the worst of it – and what are Republicans doing? Cutting programs Americans desperately need to get through it.
Medicaid is also under assault. Congressional Republicans want to reduce the federal contribution to Medicaid by $771 billion over next decade and shift more costs to states and low-income Americans.
It gets worse. Most federal programs to help children and lower-income families are in the so-called "non-defense discretionary" category of the federal budget. The congressional super-committee charged with coming up with $1.5 trillion of cuts ... will almost certainly take a big whack at this category because it's the easiest to cut. Unlike entitlements, these programs depend on yearly appropriations. ...
It gets even worse. Drastic cuts are already underway at the state and local levels. ... So far this year, 23 states have reduced education spending. ... Local family services are being cut or terminated. Tens of thousands of social workers have been laid off. Cities and counties are reducing or eliminating their contributions to Head Start...
All this would be bad enough if the economy were functioning normally. For these cuts to happen now is morally indefensible.
Yet Republicans won't consider increasing taxes on the rich to pay for what's needed – even though the wealthiest members of our society are richer than ever, taking home a bigger slice of total income and wealth than in seventy-five years, and paying the lowest tax rates in three decades. ...
When Republicans recently charged the President with promoting "class warfare," he answered it was "just math." But it's more than math. It's a matter of morality. Republicans have posed the deepest moral question of any society: whether we're all in it together. Their answer is we're not.
President Obama should proclaim, loudly and clearly, we are.
Posted: 29 Sep 2011 11:07 AM PDT
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser voted against Operation Twist -- the recent attempt for the Fed to help the economy -- because:
"The actions taken in August and September tend to undermine the Fed's credibility by giving the impression that we think such policies can have a major impact on the speed of the recovery. It is my assessment that they will not," ... "We should not take certain actions simply because we can."
"If we act as if the Fed has the ability to solve all our economic problems, the credibility of the institution is undermined," Plosser said. "The loss of that credibility and confidence could be costly to the economy because it will make it much harder for the Fed to implement effective monetary policy in the future," he said.
He certainly isn't acting like "the Fed has the ability to solve all our economic problems," (and two other Fed officials dissented along with him). In addition, the Fed officials who voted for this action have been careful to say this won't, in fact, solve all of our problems. They've said it can help modestly, and given the state of the economy even modest help is vary valuable, but they have not implied this will suddenly and magically fix our problems. So I really don't see how this action undermines credibility. Fed officials have been clear this is no magic bullet, but they think it could help some and things are so bad -- and the threat of inflation so low -- that they feel compelled to try.
But from Plosser's point of view, the Fed can't do much at all at this point, and the fear of inflation down the road trumps concerns about unemployment now. Plus, the Fed can't do anything about unemployment anyway:
"I am skeptical that this will do much to spur businesses to hire or consumers to spend, given the ongoing structural adjustments occurring in the economy and the uncertainties posed by the fiscal challenges both here and abroad," Plosser said. Meanwhile, "we should be cautious and vigilant that our previous accommodative policies do not translate into a steady rise in inflation over the medium term even while the unemployment rate remains elevated."
He is saying that unemployment is largely structural ("given the ongoing structural adjustments") even though it's clear that a large part of it is cyclical, and that uncertainty over fiscal policy is holding the economy back even though bond yields show no sign of this whatsoever. Thus, in his view the structural problems combined with uncertainty are holding back employment, and there's nothing the Fed can do about it.
Is he worried about inflation in the near term? No:
with many commodity prices now leveling off or falling, and inflation expectations relatively stable, inflation will moderate in the near-term
And why should we trust his forecasts in any case? He keeps seeing green shoots that aren't there:
"I was expecting GDP growth in 2011 to be 3% to 3.5%. Now, I expect GDP growth to be less than 2% in 2011, but to gradually accelerate to around 3% in 2012." He added "I do not believe the current data signal that we are on the precipice of a so-called double-dip recession."
So he keeps expecting growth that never comes, and uses those expectations along with the excuse that it's structural/uncertainty forestall policy action. What if his forecast for 3% growth in 2012 is as wrong as his previous forecast, and what if there is a double-dip? What if the unemployment problem is largely cyclical like most analysts say? What if, as many have concluded, uncertainty is not the problem? Is he really so certain about his forecasts and views about what's holding the economy back given his track record? With near term inflation falling, why not at least try to do more? Why should inflation risk trump the risk of continued sluggish growth (which in and of itself alleviates inflation concerns if it happens)? Is somewhat higher inflation down the road -- if it even happens -- really more worrisome than a period of elevated unemployment?
And why should this action produce inflation in any case? Operation Twist doesn't change the size of the Fed's balance sheet, it changes the average duration of the assets the Fed holds. If the balance sheet doesn't expand how, exactly, does that create inflation pressure to any significant degree? If there's no inflation pressure, what is the real concern? It appears to be the credibility argument and the fact that unemployment can't be helped -- it's structural/uncertainty -- but as noted above the structural/uncertainty claim is easy to rebut, and the concerns over credibility ring hollow. So he might at least consider the possibility that he has this wrong.
For me, one of the most frustrating thing about policy over the last several years is the continued insistence from some Fed officials that good times are just around the corner so any action they take will be inflationary. They have been wrong again and again, yet the optimism about future growth -- green shoots -- remains. Like Paul Krugman, I have been warning about a slow recovery since at least 2008, and warning about seeing green shoots that aren't there for almost as long, and it's disappointing to see policymakers continue to use the promise of good times just ahead -- especially policymakers who have been wrong again and again -- along with the easily refuted claim that the problem is all uncertainty and structural issues as an excuse to stand against doing more to try to help the unemployed (however modestly).
Posted: 29 Sep 2011 09:36 AM PDT
Brad DeLong explains how to get A Free Lunch for America.
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