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August 31, 2011

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links for 2011-08-30

Posted: 30 Aug 2011 10:04 PM PDT

More Dovish Than We Thought?

Posted: 30 Aug 2011 02:07 PM PDT

There is news from the Fed. First, from Narayana Kocherlakota of the Minneapolis Fed:

Fed's Kocherlakota Suggests Dissent Won't Be Repeated, by Michael S. Derby, WSJ: One member of the troika who opposed the Federal Reserve's recent decision to keep rates at rock bottom levels for two years suggested he won't be repeating his disagreement at coming central bank gatherings.
In a speech, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Narayana Kocherlakota said Tuesday "I see no reason to revisit the decisions" made last month, and added "I plan to abide by the August 2011 commitment in thinking about my own future decision."
The reason? With the Fed having made its pledge, "I believe that undoing this commitment in the near term would undercut the ability of the Committee to offer similar conditional commitments in the future." ...
That said, the official spent a considerable amount of his speech — his comments came from remarks prepared for delivery before the National Association of State Treasurers in Bismarck, N.D. — explaining why he did not think the Fed made the right decision on its forward interest rate commitment. He indicated there was even a case to be made for going the other way on policy and tightening it. ...

Brad Delong comments here, and also notes (approvingly) remarks by Charles Evans of the Chicago Fed:

Fed official makes plea for more stimulus, by Robin Harding, FT: A leading Fed policymaker made an aggressive call for more monetary stimulus on Tuesday as it emerged that staff of the US central bank have permanently cut their growth forecasts. In an interview with CNBC, Charles Evans of the Chicago Fed said that he would "favour more accommodation" and became the first policymaker on the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee to explicitly countenance letting inflation rise above the Fed's target of 2 per cent in the short-term. ...

I don't think it's a secret that I favor more accomodative policy as well. Finally, the minutes from the last FOMC meeting were released today, and they showed a divided committee, but more dovishness than most people expected:

Participants discussed the range of policy tools available to promote a stronger economic recovery should the Committee judge that providing additional monetary accommodation was warranted. Reinforcing the Committee's forward guidance about the likely path of monetary policy was seen as a possible way to reduce interest rates and provide greater support to the economic expansion; a few participants emphasized that guidance focusing solely on the state of the economy would be preferable to guidance that named specific spans of time or calendar dates. Some participants noted that additional asset purchases could be used to provide more accommodation by lowering longer-term interest rates. Others suggested that increasing the average maturity of the System's portfolio--perhaps by selling securities with relatively short remaining maturities and purchasing securities with relatively long remaining maturities--could have a similar effect on longer-term interest rates. Such an approach would not boost the size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet and the quantity of reserve balances. A few participants noted that a reduction in the interest rate paid on excess reserve balances could also be helpful in easing financial conditions. In contrast, some participants judged that none of the tools available to the Committee would likely do much to promote a faster economic recovery, either because the headwinds that the economy faced would unwind only gradually and that process could not be accelerated with monetary policy or because recent events had significantly lowered the path of potential output. Consequently, these participants thought that providing additional stimulus at this time would risk boosting inflation without providing a significant gain in output or employment. Participants noted that devoting additional time to discussion of the possible costs and benefits of various potential tools would be useful, and they agreed that the September meeting should be extended to two days in order to provide more time.

The last part where they say they need more time to discuss "the possible costs and benefits of the various potential tools" is a bit worrisome. We all know what the policy options are, and they should have been prepared with that information coming in. I think what they're really saying is that thay've gone as far as they're willing to go for now, and they want to wait to see what happens to the economy and then discuss it further. Should things get worse, they want to make sure that they have enough time to thoroughly review their options. But they're hoping things stabilize or get better so they don't have to seriously confront the question.

The release of the minutes seems to have raised the expectation that more action is coming, so it will be interesting to see if Fedspeak tries to reduce expectations in coming days.

Help Households Not Banks

Posted: 30 Aug 2011 07:29 AM PDT

Here is my contribution to The New Republic's symposium "Is There Anything That Can Be Done?"

Help Households Not Banks

I was asked to answer relatively specific questions, so if you've been hanging around here for awhile you will have heard some of these arguments before.

For all contributions (they are still adding to the collection) click here. Here's the collection so far:

DeLong: Ben Bernanke’s Dream World

Posted: 30 Aug 2011 07:20 AM PDT

Brad DeLong is unhappy with Ben Bernanke:

Ben Bernanke's Dream World, by Brad Delong, Commentary, Project Syndicate: US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke is not regarded as an oracle in the way that his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, was before the financial crisis. But financial markets were glued to the speech he gave in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on August 26. What they heard was a bit of a muddle. ...[continue reading]...

Are Macroeconomists Making Progress?

Posted: 30 Aug 2011 06:03 AM PDT

Some thoughts after attending the 4th Meeting of the Nobel Laureates in Economics:

Are Macroeconomists Making Progress?

Update: I should note that I originally ended the column on a slightly more positive note, but then cut this part to make the word limit (the conference is intended to bring young economists together with the Nobel laureates so that the young economists can benefit from their wisdom):

But I do have hope. The young economists I talked to are eager to move things forward, and refreshingly free of the theoretical and ideological divides that exist in the older generation of economists. I have little faith that the older generation will ever acknowledge the models they spent their lives building are fundamentally flawed. But the disappointment I felt listening to the older and supposedly wiser economists at the conference give conflicting advice based upon failed models was absent in these conversations with the next generation. Some day they too will dig in their heels and defend their lives' work against challenges, but for now it's up to them to forge a new way forward.

Policymakers Need Better Data on the Economy

Posted: 30 Aug 2011 05:40 AM PDT

Binyamin Appelbaum recently highlighted the measurement problems we have with US data. Not only are the data often very slow to arrive, there can be substantial revisions to many series after they are released and the revisions can change the picture of the economy substantially.

As I've written about before, I would like to see resources devoted to improving our ability to understand the state of the economy in (near) real time. The lack of accurate data made it much more difficult to respond to the current recession, e.g. (this was December 2009 and is far from the only example where revisions told a very different story than the initial relase):

When it was announced two months ago that GDP had grown by 3.5 percent in the third quarter of this year, it took the sails out of any movement toward another stimulus package. Now the number has been revised downward to 2.2 percent.

At a growth rate of 3.5 percent, the economy would be growing slightly faster than the long-run trend so that, although progress would be very, very slow, the economy would at least be catching up to the long-run trend (in the recovery from previous recessions, it was not unusual for GDP to grow at 6 or 7 percent...). At a growth rate of 2.2 percent, the economy is not even treading water let alone making up for past losses.

The economy needs more help, but the 3.5 percent initial figure was heralded as the sign that better times were just around the corner. This undermined the case for a new fiscal stimulus package and likely caused the Fed to back off of any further plans it might have had to do more to help the economy recover. ...

This points to the fact that policymakers need better and more timely data. The fourth quarter is almost over yet we are still trying to figure out what happened in the third quarter, and we still don't know for sure. There has been lots of criticism of how policymakers have reacted in this recession, much of it deserved, but little of that discussion has recognized the data problems. ... If we can give policymakers better and more timely guidance about the state of the economy, it could improve policy considerably, and that would be money well spent.

In any case, let me say one more time as loudly as I can that given the data that we do have, it's clear that the economy -- the labor market in particular -- needs more help.

But if we are stuck with what we have, as we are, then this is a sensible suggestion: 

Focus On Unemployment To Measure Output Gap, by Mathew Ygesias: Sveriges Riksbank deputy governor Lars E.O. Svensson, my favorite central banker, delivered a speech a few months ago (it's English title "For a Better Monetary Policy: Focus on Inflation and Unemployment" makes it sound totally banal but it's not) that had bearing on the question of what's a policymaker to do in a world where government statisticians can't accurately measure recessions fast enough to do stabilization policy. He argues that we should forget about the GDP output gap and just pay attention to unemployment:

I believe instead that the unemployment gap is the most appropriate measure of resource utilisation. There are several reasons for this. Unemployment is measured often and is not revised. GDP on the other hand is measured less often and is highly uncertain, and major revisions are made. Unemployment is also directly related to welfare – one of the worst things that can happen to a household is that one of the members of the household loses his or her job. Unemployment is also the indicator of resource utilisation that is best known and easiest for the public to understand. The preparatory works for the Sveriges Riksbank Act state that the Riksbank should support the objectives of general economic policy. One of the main objectives of economy policy in Sweden is to limit unemployment, for example by improving the functioning of the labour market and increasing the incentives to look for work.

Sounds good to me.

August 30, 2011

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links for 2011-08-29

Posted: 29 Aug 2011 10:05 PM PDT

Sachs: The Economics of Happiness

Posted: 29 Aug 2011 05:04 PM PDT

Jeff Sachs is unhappy with the "relentless pursuit of higher income" as a means of obtaining "greater happiness":

The Economics of Happiness, by Jeffrey Sachs, Commentary, Project Syndicate: We live in a time of high anxiety. Despite the world's unprecedented total wealth, there is vast insecurity, unrest, and dissatisfaction. In the United States, a large majority of Americans believe that the country is "on the wrong track." Pessimism has soared. The same is true in many other places.
Against this backdrop, the time has come to reconsider the basic sources of happiness in our economic life. The relentless pursuit of higher income is leading to unprecedented inequality and anxiety, rather than to greater happiness and life satisfaction. Economic progress is important and can greatly improve the quality of life, but only if it is pursued in line with other goals. ...
The mad pursuit of corporate profits is threatening us all. To be sure, we should support economic growth and development, but only in a broader context: one that promotes environmental sustainability and the values of compassion and honesty that are required for social trust. ...

Alan Krueger Nominated to Head the Council of Economic Advisors

Posted: 29 Aug 2011 09:27 AM PDT

I have a few quick comments on the appointment at MoneyWatch.

August 29, 2011

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Latest Posts from Economist's View


Paul Krugman: Republicans Against Science

Posted: 29 Aug 2011 12:33 AM PDT

The GOP's willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism is getting worse:

Republicans Against Science, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Jon Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor and ambassador to China, isn't a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. And that's too bad, because Mr. Hunstman has been willing to say the unsayable about the G.O.P. — namely, that it is becoming the "anti-science party." This is an enormously important development. And it should terrify us.
To see what Mr. Huntsman means, consider recent statements by the two men who actually are serious contenders for the G.O.P. nomination: Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.
Mr. Perry ... recently made headlines by dismissing evolution as "just a theory," one that has "got some gaps in it" — an observation that will come as news to the vast majority of biologists. But what really got peoples' attention was what he said about climate change: "I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change."
That's a remarkable statement — or maybe the right adjective is "vile." ... In fact, if you follow climate science at all you know that the main development over the past few years has been growing concern that projections of future climate are underestimating the likely amount of warming. ...
So how has Mr. Romney  ... responded to Mr. Perry's challenge? In trademark fashion: By running away. In the past, Mr. Romney ... has strongly endorsed the notion that man-made climate change is a real concern. But, last week, he softened that to a statement that he thinks the world is getting hotter, but "I don't know that" and "I don't know if it's mostly caused by humans." Moral courage!
Of course, we know what's motivating Mr. Romney's sudden lack of conviction. According to Public Policy Polling, only 21 percent of Republican voters in Iowa believe in global warming (and only 35 percent believe in evolution). Within the G.O.P., willful ignorance has become a litmus test for candidates, one that Mr. Romney is determined to pass at all costs. ... And the deepening anti-intellectualism of the political right, both within and beyond the G.O.P., extends far beyond the issue of climate change. ...
Now, we don't know who will win next year's presidential election. But the odds are that one of these years the world's greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that's a terrifying prospect.

Fed Watch: Brief Hiatus

Posted: 29 Aug 2011 12:24 AM PDT

Tim Duy:

Brief Hiatus, by Tim Duy: I remained under the radar for the past two weeks. Summer finally got the best of me, perhaps just as well, as I did not have the opportunity to backtrack from my last assessment of Fed policy:

All in all, this is pretty weak medicine given the condition of the patient. I would have preferred to see an open-ended commitment to asset purchases - buying up anything not nailed to the floor at a rate of $10 or $15 billion a week until achieving the dual mandate is in clear sight. But policymakers, on average tend to think they have relatively weak ammunition to stimulate growth. Their tools are more effective against deflation. And until the former turns into the latter, expect the Fed to do little more than modifications of the basic zero interest rate / hold balance sheet constant policy combination.

As was widely noted, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke emphasized the Fed's "wait-and-see" position, offering only an extended September meeting to consider the available options. Nothing specific to hang our hats on, no clear guidance as to the next move – suggesting the next "move" is likely to be more of the same, especially if financial markets stabilize and growth lifts off the first and second quarter floors. I believe we need to see even weaker growth, coupled with a steeper drop in long-term inflation expectations to prompt additional action.

The failure of Bernanke to push for more aggressive action is even more puzzling in the wake of this speech. According to the Fed chair, the situation is becoming urgent:

Our economy is suffering today from an extraordinarily high level of long-term unemployment, with nearly half of the unemployed having been out of work for more than six months. Under these unusual circumstances, policies that promote a stronger recovery in the near term may serve longer-term objectives as well. In the short term, putting people back to work reduces the hardships inflicted by difficult economic times and helps ensure that our economy is producing at its full potential rather than leaving productive resources fallow. In the longer term, minimizing the duration of unemployment supports a healthy economy by avoiding some of the erosion of skills and loss of attachment to the labor force that is often associated with long-term unemployment.

I suppose I should be happy that someone in Washington considers unemployment to be a crisis, both near and long term. That said, Bernanke follows up with this:

Notwithstanding this observation, which adds urgency to the need to achieve a cyclical recovery in employment, most of the economic policies that support robust economic growth in the long run are outside the province of the central bank. We have heard a great deal lately about federal fiscal policy in the United States, so I will close with some thoughts on that topic, focusing on the role of fiscal policy in promoting stability and growth.

So he passes the ball to fiscal policy. With good reason, to be sure. Congress and the Administration are failing miserably at macroeconomic policy. The debt debate was an unnecessary, destabilizing, pointless disaster. Does this mean the Fed should be let off the hook? Consider that question in the context of Bernanke's speech on February 3 of this year:

Although large-scale purchases of longer-term securities are a different monetary policy tool than the more familiar approach of targeting the federal funds rate, the two types of policies affect the economy in similar ways…By easing conditions in credit and financial markets, these actions encourage spending by households and businesses through essentially the same channels as conventional monetary policy, thereby supporting the economic recovery.

A wide range of market indicators supports the view that the Federal Reserve's securities purchases have been effective at easing financial conditions. For example, since August, when we announced our policy of reinvesting maturing securities and signaled we were considering more purchases, equity prices have risen significantly, volatility in the equity market has fallen, corporate bond spreads have narrowed, and inflation compensation as measured in the market for inflation-indexed securities has risen from low to more normal levels…Interestingly, these developments are also remarkably similar to those that occurred during the earlier episode of policy easing, notably in the months following our March 2009 announcement of a significant expansion in securities purchases. The fact that financial markets responded in very similar ways to each of these policy actions lends credence to the view that these actions had the expected effects on markets and are thereby providing significant support to job creation and the economy.

Funny that additional quantitative easing yielded "significant support to job creation" in February, when Bernanke wanted to justify QE2, yet now "most of the economic policies that support robust economic growth in the long run are outside the province of the central bank." Sometimes I think the only person who doesn't read Bernanke's past speeches is Bernanke himself. In any event, it seems the key difference between then and now, from the perspective of the Federal Reserve, is that the recent burst of inflation spooked them badly, raising in their minds the possibility of any central banker's worse fear, an inflation spiral.

The bottom line: We are playing a data game as we approach the next FOMC meeting – lacking a more extensive collapse of growth forecasts and or inflation expectations, the Fed looks likely to stay the course.

As to my absence alluded to earlier, this summer finally caught up with me. My son being out of school was no small issue – parents are well aware with the requirements of summer camps. New schedule, new location each week. A bit different than I recall of my summers growing up, which were much more of the "go away and try not to wind up in the hospital" variety.

In addition, my wife was in trial in late July. For those of you married to a litigator, you understand what happened to July, and by my recollection, half of June (although I am confident the latter claim will be subject to family debate for years). Household production shifted to my corner.

Most importantly, my father passed away ten days ago after a sixteen-month battle with leukemia. I feel compelled to put a something in words, but none of you should feel compelled to keep reading (the Fed Watch part is obviously done for the day). The battle began at the end of winter term 2010 when I drove him to OHSU for an initial diagnosis and ended on August 18 at his home with his immediate family (my mother, my sister, and myself). As I am sure any of you who have faced the illness of a family member understand, the process is draining. I surely have a greater appreciation of both the possibilities and limitations of modern medicine. We were sure we lost him last September, when he fell into a coma during the first round of treatment. It is tough to forget my mother and I trying to understand the difference between "life-supporting" and "life-extending" treatments when one doctor wants to push forward yet another, just before moving onto dialysis, assured us that no one ever walks away at that point.

As it turns out, at least one person walked away, and my Dad recovered to dictate his own treatment for the next year, right up to the point when he knew he ran out of options and the end was near. We were lucky that my family moved to Eugene after my first child was born, giving us the opportunity to support each other through this ordeal. Still, throughout the year, my mother and sister were the real heroes. It was a year of sorrow, pain, uncertainty, and unexpected opportunities. My father passed on his woodworking skills to my sister as they completed projects such as a beautiful maple coffee table:

Table

Moreover, there was a furious effort to produce a large quantity of end-grain cutting boards as "goodbye presents" to friends and family:

Boards

We had some very good times even during the last week. That week he managed to convince me to take a trip to introduce his friend and former business associate to cask conditioned ale (you do need to have your priorities straight). An unambiguously fun night regardless of the circumstances. Another night with just the two of us. And a final trip to the family cabin. Good memories to add to a long list.
In short, more nights with family left fewer nights for blogging. And I will most likely sink below the radar again for the next week. My calendar tells me I am supposed to be walleye fishing in Canada – a trip planned by my father after he recovered from the coma – but instead we will be taking our traditional summer-end vacation near home. For the next few days we will disappear into Central and Eastern Oregon where, much to my wife's dismay, I have planned a rock-hunting trip in the desert. Moreover, not one of her carefully planned (and almost certainly successful) trips; more one of my "vague, have-car-will-travel, sort of know where the campgrounds are, hope I can get 3G reception as a backup" kind of trip. This is really for my son, who became interested in rocks after a presentation in his kindergarten class. Supporting that interest is a small price to pay given the teacher managed to get him reading at a third grade level after just nine months. Any attempt by his parents to accomplish the same were worse than pulling teeth. That and Oregon is a vast and diverse state, and I want to get to a few places I have yet to see.
Enjoy the end of summer, and look forward to all the possibilities of the next year.

links for 2011-08-28

Posted: 28 Aug 2011 10:04 PM PDT

August 28, 2011

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"Welfare to Work Doesn’t Work Without Work"

Posted: 28 Aug 2011 02:07 AM PDT

The program Jared Bernstein is highlighting (here) has not received enough attention:

Welfare to Work Doesn't Work Without Work, by Jared Bernstein: There have been a number of posts and articles on the 1996 welfare reform law (TANF—Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), as it turned 15 last week. I argued that it's a fair weather ship, performing far better amidst strong labor demand, foundering otherwise. My CBPP colleague Donna Pavetti posts some compelling evidence in that regard here too.

Rep Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, feels differently. He released a statement including this point:

Welfare reform has worked to reduce dependence by promoting work, as intended. But the job is not finished. Not only are more reforms needed to ensure that all families on welfare can and do prepare for work, but other programs can and should be reformed to follow suit. Welfare reform proved that low-income families want to work and support themselves. We ought to build on those successes by taking steps to ensure that government programs support and not undermine that enduring American work ethic.

Now, look at this trend in employment rates—share of the group with jobs—for low-income single moms (family income below two times the poverty level) from 1995 to 2009. If Rep Camp had made this statement in 1999, he might have had a case. But since then, the share of low-income single moms with jobs has consistently fallen, and, given a welfare program now conditioned on work, the safety net failed to adequately catch them and their kids.


Source: Census ASEC data, analyzed by Arloc Sherman

His whole statement is pure "supply-side" as if promoting work, wanting to work, being prepared to work, gets you a job. In fact, when the strong demand side conditions of the latter 1990s faded, the fair-weather ship of welfare reform hit the shoals....

I happen to think he's right that families want to support themselves, but go ahead and make all the rules in the world...: if there are not enough jobs for people, they won't be able to support themselves or their families through work.

In this regard, ensuring "that gov't programs support…that enduring American work ethic" means making sure people have jobs. It so happens there's a great way to do that—a jobs program from the Recovery Act that was highly successful in helping the TANF population find work—read about it here.

If Rep Camp and others want to preserve the work ethic, they're going to need to help create some work.

"Academic freedom from Hofstadter to Dworkin"

Posted: 28 Aug 2011 01:17 AM PDT

What is academic freedom?:

Academic freedom from Hofstadter to Dworkin, by Daniel Little: Academic freedom is a core value in American higher education. At certain times in our history it is a value that has been severely challenged, including especially during the McCarthy period of the 1950s. But what, precisely, does it entail?

One way of starting on this topic is to consider Richard Hofstadter's writings on the subject. Hofstadter was an historian who did an excellent job of tracking some deep currents in American political culture, including the powerful currents of progressivism, conservatism and paranoia that American politics have embodied over the past two centuries (The Progressive Movement: 1900-1915, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, The Paranoid Style in American Politics). (Here is an informative review of Hofstadter's biography in the New York Times.)

One of those currents on the progressive side is the idea of academic freedom. Hofstadter was a champion of the value of intellectual discourse in a democracy, and Development of Academic Freedom in United States (with Walter Metzger, 1955) was a direct response to the attack on the academic freedoms of professors of the McCarthy period beginning in 1953. (The first part of this book was later published as Academic Freedom in the Age of the College (1961), which covers the history of the freedoms assigned to colleges and universities from the European middle ages to American colleges at the time of the Civil War.) The project as a whole is an interesting one. It was funded by the American Academic Freedom Project at Columbia as a response to Joseph McCarthy's attack on universities and professors. Hofstadter's part of the project was to write a history of the evolving idea of academic freedom from the European middle ages through the American colleges of the 1860s. Walter Metzger's contribution analyzed the development of universities and academic freedom in America after the 1860s. Robert MacIver wrote a companion volume, Academic Freedom in Our Time.

What is lacking in Development of Academic Freedom is an analytical definition of the idea of academic freedom. Hofstadter is clearest in his defense of the idea of the independent intellectual, whether in the medieval Italian university of the nineteenth century American university. But neither he nor Metzger give a succinct definition of the concept of academic freedom itself.

So what is academic freedom? And how is it distinct from the other kinds of freedoms we have as either constitutional protections or fundamental human rights -- freedom of association, freedom of speech and thought, freedom of expression? Fundamentally the idea is that the faculty of a university have a more extensive and specialized version of each of these fundamental freedoms, and that their exercise of their academic freedom cannot be used as a basis for dismissing them from their positions within the university. (This is the fundamental justification of the system of faculty tenure.) The employees of a corporation have a right of freedom of expression; but their conditions of employment may set limits on their exercise of that freedom. For example, there are numerous examples of people dismissed from their jobs in the private sector as a result of their comments about the company they work for. The idea of academic freedom is that professors have a special right to think, reason, and express their ideas about subjects relevant to their teaching and research responsibilities without fear of sanction by the universities (or legislatures) that employ them.

A second dimension of the idea of academic freedom is institutional. The university ought to be significantly autonomous from the power centers of society in its internal organization and decision-making. The curriculum, the subjects that are taught and researched, and the processes of appointment and review of faculty should be governed by the processes of the university rather than external powers in society. And most fundamentally, this aspect of the idea depends on the notion that the pursuit of truth should depend on the rational procedures of the disciplines of the sciences and humanities, not on the particular interests of powerful segments of society.

The classical justification for the idea of a form of academic freedom more extensive than the general freedoms that citizens enjoy qua citizens derives essentially from arguments expressed in the nineteenth century in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty: the pursuit of truth requires the untrammeled exploration of and expression of conflicting ideas, so that rational citizens can arrive at a better understanding of the issues. Here is how the 1940 AAUP statement puts the point (link):

Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights.[1]

The argument is fundamentally utilitarian: Society is best served when it embodies a university system that is fundamentally committed to the the principles of academic freedom.

Here is the classic statement of academic freedom from the AAUP Red Book, drafted in 1940 (link).

Academic Freedom

  1. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.
  2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.[2] Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.[3]
  3. College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.[4]

This statement refers to three zones of academic freedom: in research and publication, in the classroom, and in "extramural expressions" by faculty members in the exercise of their ordinary citizens' rights of expression. Essentially this final point comes down to the idea that a faculty member has an ordinary citizen's right to express ideas that are unpopular to the public without punishment, "censorship or discipline" from the university for this expression. Noam Chomsky's opinions about the Vietnam War or the Gulf War were often unpopular with officials and the public; but his academic freedom assured that he would not be censored by his university employer. An employee of Northrup or Krogers would not have had the same protections. (Note that principle 3 is the most qualified of the three, and sets somewhat vague limits on the content and form of extra-mural utterances by the faculty member.)

The AAUP statement does not separately justify its inclusion of the extramural principle; but presumably it goes along these lines. Determining public policy in a democracy requires open debate among well informed citizens. Faculty members are well positioned to develop their knowledge and arguments about important public issues -- welfare reform, desegregation, war and peace. The public and the common good are well served by a set of arrangements that enable faculty members to speak their minds without fear of retaliation from their university employers. So it is felicitous to extend the protections of academic freedom to expressions by faculty members in the public sphere as well as within the university.

The philosopher of jurisprudence Ronald Dworkin provided a pivotal contribution to Louis Menand's The Future of Academic Freedom (1998). Dworkin argues that the issues surrounding academic freedom have shifted since the 1970s, and that they have as much to do with criticisms of faculty speech from the left as from the right. Here is how Dworkin describes the essentials of academic freedom:

We begin reinterpreting academic freedom by reminding ourselves of what, historically, it has been understood to require and not to require. It imposes two levels of insulation. First, it insulates universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher education from political institutions like legislatures and courts and from economic powers like large corporations. A state legislature has, of course, the right to decide which state universities to establish -- whether, for example, to add an agricultural or a liberal arts college to the existing university structure. But once political officials have established such an institution, fixed its academic character and its budget, and appointed its officials, they may not dictate how those they have appointed should interpret that character or who should teach what is to be taught, or how. Second, academic freedom insulates scholars from the administrators of their universities: university officials can appoint faculty, allocate budgets to departments, and in that way decide, within limits, what curriculum will be offered. But they cannot dictate how those who have been appointed will teach what has been decided will be taught. (183)

In addition to the utilitarian reasons for defending academic freedom mentioned above, Dworkin argues that there is also a principled ethical basis for these institutional protections based on his theory of "ethical individualism".

It seems relatively clear that academic freedom is a fragile value that depends substantially on the willingness of the public to recognize its crucial role in securing democratic progress, and legislatures and elected officials who are prepared to resist the inclination to narrow its scope. And it also seems right that Hofstadter's central intuitions about universities are still the strongest justification for the defense of academic freedom: the integrity of intellectuals and scholars seeking and debating the truth and the contribution they can make to a civil democracy. Here is how Robert MacIver puts this point in Academic Freedom in Our Time:

The search for knowledge, honestly undertaken, is a moral discipline. With the pursuit of this discipline goes the liberation from intolerance. . . Thus the intellectual mission of the university becomes also a moral one. Men sensitive to experience may learn the lesson in other ways, but the institution of learning is a major training ground. . . . Not knowledge itself but the free search for and the free communication of knowledge distinguishes the open mind from the closed mind, and the open society from the closed society.... The attack on academic freedom is an attack on all these values. (261-262.)
Here is a review of Hofstadter and Metzger, Development of Academic Freedom in United States as well as MacIver, Academic Freedom in Our Time. Here is an article in the Journal of Philosophy on MacIver's book, including a fascinating letter by John Dewey to the New York Times in 1949 on the subject of academic freedom. And here is an AAUP piece in Academe on what it regards as a different kind of threat to academic freedom -- from commercial and corporate interests.

"The United States of Unemployment"

Posted: 28 Aug 2011 01:08 AM PDT

David Wessel:

The United States of Unemployment, by David Wessel: There are 13.9 million unemployed people in the U.S. – and that just counts those looking for work. That works out to 9.1% of the labor force, the widely publicized unemployed rate.
But here are a few more ways to look at it.
There are more unemployed people in the U.S. than there are people in the state of Illinois, the fifth largest state.
In fact there, there are more unemployed people in the U.S. than there are people in 46 of the 50 states, all but Florida, New York, Texas and California.
There are more unemployed than the combined populations of Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho and the District of Columbia.
If they were a country, the 13.9 million unemployed Americans would be the 68th largest country in the world...

Maybe we should do something.

Video: Ed Prescott on "The Current State of Aggregate Economics"

Posted: 28 Aug 2011 12:42 AM PDT

Stephen Williamson says, "If you have never seen an Ed Prescott talk, here is your chance. Don't pay attention to how he's saying it, just listen closely. This is interesting, just to hear how he thinks about what he does."

I'd guess I was far less impressed, but here's the video so you can make up your own mind:

links for 2011-08-27

Posted: 27 Aug 2011 10:01 PM PDT

August 27, 2011

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Latest Posts from Economist's View


How Long Will It Take for the Economy to Recover?

Posted: 27 Aug 2011 02:25 AM PDT

I don't think we'll attain the growth rates the CBO is forecasting -- an average of 3.6% from 2013 to 2016 is a lot to ask for (especially if there is substantial deficit reduction over that time period). But even the CBO's optimistic estimates imply we won't fully recover until 2017. And if growth is a bit slower, well, yikes!:

Lots of ground to cover: An update, David Altig: ...There are two pieces of information that emphasize the economy's recent weakness and potential slow growth going forward. The first is this week's revised forecasts and potential for gross domestic product (GDP) from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and the second is today's revision of second quarter GDP from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Though estimates of potential GDP have not greatly changed, the CBO's downgrade in forecasts and BEA's report of much lower than potential growth in the second quarter have the current and prospective rates of resource utilization lower than when macroblog covered the issue just about a month ago.

Key to the CBO's estimates is a reasonably good outlook for GDP growth after we get past 2012:

"For the 2013–2016 period, CBO projects that real GDP will grow by an average of 3.6 percent a year, considerably faster than potential output. That growth will bring the economy to a high rate of resource use (that is, completely close the gap between the economy's actual and potential output) by 2017."

The margin for slippage, though, is not great. Assuming that GDP ends 2011 having grown by about 2.3 percent—as projected by the CBO—here's a look at gaps between actual and potential GDP for different, seemingly plausible growth rates:

Attaining 3.5 percent growth by next year moves the CBO's date for closing the output gap up by about a year. On the other hand, a fall in output growth to an average of 3 percent per year moves the date for eliminating resource slack back to 2020. If growth remains below that—well, let's hope it doesn't.

Maybe policymakers should do something to try and improve the odds?

How Should We Measure the Poverty Rate?

Posted: 27 Aug 2011 02:07 AM PDT

Lane Kenworthy:

How should we measure the poverty rate?, Consider the Evidence: Perhaps we shouldn't.
The idea behind a poverty rate is that we set an income line below which people's resources are deemed insufficient for a minimally decent standard of living. The poverty rate is the share of people in households with income below that line.
Because it's a binary measure, it's a crude one. Suppose a lot of the poor at time 1 have incomes just below the poverty line. The economy then improves, or the benefit amount for a government transfer program is increased, so at time 2 a number of those people have moved above the line. It will appear that poverty has been sharply reduced, even though the amount of genuine progress is small. Similarly, suppose a number of people who formerly had very low incomes move into the work force and experience an income rise, but that rise doesn't quite get them above the poverty line. This is a significant improvement, but it won't show up at all in the poverty rate.
This problem is well known among social scientists. Some therefore also calculate the "poverty gap" — the distance between the poverty line and the average income of those below the line. To that we can add inequality among the poor. Measures exist to incorporate either or both of these. But they are complicated and thus difficult to communicate to a nontechnical audience. One common measure, for instance, is the poverty rate multiplied by the poverty gap. This is better than the poverty rate by itself, but the numbers yielded by the measure don't have an intuitive feel.
Another problem with poverty rates is that much hinges on where the line is drawn, so we end up mired in interminable debates about exactly where that should be (here, here).
Is there a useful alternative? I think so.
Instead of a relative poverty rate, such as the official measure used by the European Union, I recommend the p50/p10 income ratio. Relative poverty is essentially a measure of inequality within the lower half of the distribution, so why not use a measure that more clearly conveys that? The 50/10 ratio is an inequality measure already familiar to social scientists, and it's fairly simple to explain and understand. And as the first of the following two charts shows, the 50/10 ratio is very similar to the poverty rate multiplied by the poverty gap (the correlation is .96). The second chart shows that the poverty rate is a less effective proxy for the rate x gap.

Instead of an absolute poverty rate, such as the official poverty measure in the United States, we can use absolute household income at the tenth percentile (p10) of the distribution. Across countries and over time, this measure is very similar to the absolute poverty rate multiplied by the absolute poverty gap. But it's much simpler and easier to comprehend. Also, it's a low-end analogue to median (p50) household income, a common indicator of the living standards of the middle class.
Why the tenth percentile rather than the fifth or the fifteenth? Actually, I'd prefer the fifth, but there sometimes is reason to worry about data quality as we get close to the very bottom of the distribution. The tenth is reasonably close but not too close to the bottom, it's a nice round number, and it already is commonly used in inequality measures such as the 50/10 ratio and the 90/10 ratio. But in truth, the choice of the tenth is arbitrary; it's no more representative than the seventh or the twelfth or any other point at the low end of the distribution.
So we have good alternatives to the two most common poverty rate measures. But what about political impact? Isn't the poverty rate a helpful tool in pressing policy makers to keep their eye on the least well-off? Maybe. Yet hardly any of Europe's rich nations had an official poverty rate measure prior to the EU's introduction of one a decade ago, while here in the U.S. we've had an official poverty rate for nearly half a century. The absence of an official poverty rate doesn't seem to have impeded government commitment to the poor in Europe. And I'm not sure the presence of one has helped a whole lot here.
I don't expect policy makers or social scientists to stop using poverty rates any time soon. And it won't be disastrous if they don't. But we could do better.

Money Creation

Posted: 27 Aug 2011 01:17 AM PDT

From the NY Fed's Liberty Street Economics blog:

These "Clams" Really Were Money, New York Fed Research Library: While money has taken all forms—precious commodities, beads, wampum, the large stones of Yap—we tend to think of those forms of money as archaic. Yet shells were used as money in California as late as 1933!
Here is what happened. In 1933, during the Depression, the nation experienced a banking panic as people scrambled to withdraw their savings before their bank failed. In March of that year, President Roosevelt ordered a four-day bank holiday to curtail the run on banks. The closing of the banks prompted many people to hoard their money. With less cash in circulation, communities created emergency money, or "scrip," so that they could continue doing business. For example, Leiter's Pharmacy in Pismo Beach, California, issued this clamshell as emergency money. As the clamshell went from person to person, it was signed, and when cash became available again, the clamshell could finally be redeemed. Other forms of emergency money were also fashioned.

links for 2011-08-26

Posted: 26 Aug 2011 10:01 PM PDT

Bernanke: We'll Wait and See

Posted: 26 Aug 2011 07:56 AM PDT

Here's a quick response to Bernanke's speech:

Bernanke: We'll Wait and See, but No Changes in Policy for Now

Video: Akerlof's Identity Economics and Stiglitz on Macro Models

Posted: 26 Aug 2011 07:02 AM PDT

I enjoyed this talk:


George Akerlof: Identity Economics

Abstract: Identity economics constitutes the first sustained effort to incorporate the effects of social context into our understanding of why people make the economic decisions they do, and why certain people, given different identities, make markedly different decisions in the same situations. It yields a more realistic and deeper account of behavior, and thereby a better basis for shaping organizations and public policies. The lecture will give a brief introduction to the book Identity Economics by George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton. It will give a motivation for identity economics and why it matters.

This one too:


Joseph Stiglitz: Imagining an Economics tthat Works: Crisis, Contagion and the Need for a New Paradigm

Abstract: The standard macroeconomic models have failed, by all the most important tests of scientific theory. They did not predict that the financial crisis would happen; and when it did, they understated its effects. Monetary authorities allowed bubbles to grow and focused on keeping inflation low, partly because the standard models suggested that low inflation was necessary and almost sufficient for efficiency and growth. Advocates of capital market liberalization argued that it would lead to greater stability: countries faced with a negative shock borrow from the rest of the world, allowing cross-country smoothing. The crisis showed the deep flaws in this thinking, but policymakers have been slow to rethink the paradigms they relied on. There is a need for a fundamental re-examination of the models. This lecture first describes the failures of the standard models in broad terms, and then develops the economics of deep downturns, and shows that such downturns are endogenous. Further, the lecture will argue that there have been systemic changes to the structure of the economy that made the economy more vulnerable to crisis, contrary to what the standard models argued. In particular, the lecture will explore how integration can exacerbate contagion; and how a failure in one country can more easily spread to others. There are conditions under which such adverse effects overwhelm the putative positive effects. Finally, the lecture will contrast the policy implications of our framework with those of the standard models; for instance, how capital controls can be welfare enhancing, reducing the risk of adverse effects from contagion.

GDP Growth Revised Downward, but GDI Growth Revised Upward

Posted: 26 Aug 2011 06:21 AM PDT

The estimate of GDP grwoth for the second quarter of the year was revised downward today:

Real gross domestic product -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- increased at an annual rate of 1.0 percent in the second quarter of 2011, (that is, from the first quarter to the second quarter), according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 0.4 percent.
The GDP estimates released today are based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, the increase in real GDP was 1.3 percent (see "Revisions" on page 3).

Thus, once again the situation is worse than we initially thought. However, Justin Wolfers finds reason to upgrade his forecast:

There's more news in the first GDI estimates than in the revision to GDP. And it's good news.
Given the track record of GDP v. GDI, I'm actually revising upward my views based on this report. Oh, BEA, why bury the lede in Appendix A?

He is basing this on GDI rather than GDP (which in theory ought to be equal, but practically are not, and GDI is often more reliable) which grew at 2.5% the first quarter (GDP growth was .4%), and in the second quarter it was 1.5% (GDP was 1.0%). That's still not great, or even good, but it is better than the GDP numbers (see here for a comparison of the two measures).

My own view is that whichever set of numbers you look at, they cry out for more aggressive policy.