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February 4, 2013

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 12:33 AM PST
After saying:
the great likelihood is that over the next 15 years debts will rise relative to incomes in an unsustainable way if no actions are taken beyond those in the 2011 budget deal and the recent "fiscal cliff" agreement. So even without the risk of self-inflicted catastrophes — the possibility of default or a potential government shutdown this spring — it is appropriate for policy to focus on reducing prospective deficits. Those who argue against a further focus on prospective deficits on the grounds that the ratio of debt to gross domestic product may stabilize for a decade contingent on a forecast that assumes no recessions counsel irresponsibly. Given all the uncertainties and current U.S. debt levels, we should be planning to reduce debt ratios if the next decade goes well economically.
Larry Summers then says:
Reducing prospective deficits should be a key priority but should not take over economic policy.
But I don't get the very next sentence at all. How does a tax cut reduce the deficit?
Such an obsession risks the enactment of measures like pseudo-temporary tax cuts that produce cosmetic improvements in deficits at the cost of extra uncertainty and long-run fiscal burdens.
It's late, and it's been a long day -- I must be missing something. Anyway, I agree with this:
Surely even leaving aside any possible stimulus benefits, current economic conditions make this the ideal time for renewing the nation's infrastructure. Such investments, borrowed at near-zero interest rates, need not increase debt ratios if their contribution to economic growth raises tax collections.
Infrastructure represents only the most salient of the deficits facing the United States. Nearly six years after the onset of financial crisis, we clearly are living with substantial deficits in jobs and growth. Consider that if an increase of just 0.15 percent in the economy's growth rate were maintained over the next 10 years, the debt-to-GDP-ratio in 2023 would be reduced by about 2.5 percentage points. That's an amount equal to the much debated year-end fiscal compromise that raised taxes. Increasing growth also creates jobs and raises incomes.
By all means, let's address the budget deficit. But let's not obsess over it in ways that are counterproductive, nor should we lose sight of the jobs and growth deficits that ultimately will have the greatest impact on how this generation of Americans lives and what they bequeath to the next generation
The obsession with the deficit in Washington is not going to end, and the deficit has received far too much attention relative to other issues like unemployment (which really ought to take precedence in the short-run). There is no need, at all, to remind policymakers of that the deficit needs attention.
The intent is different, but my fear is that phrases such as "the great likelihood is that over the next 15 years debts will rise relative to incomes in an unsustainable way if no actions are taken" and "it is appropriate for policy to focus on reducing prospective deficits" is the only message that Republicans and centrist Democrats will hear in this column.
Posted: 22 Jan 2013 12:30 AM PST
What if we actually achieve the target of limiting global warming to a 2 degree Celsius increase? We are unlikely to meet this goal -- it's looking much worse than that -- but what if we did?:
 ... It is abundantly clear that the target of a 2-degree Celsius limit to climate change was mostly derived from what seemed convenient and doable without any reference to what it really means environmentally. Two degrees is actually too much for ecosystems. Tropical coral reefs are extremely vulnerable to even brief periods of warming. .. A 2-degree world will be one without coral reefs (on which millions of human beings depend for their well-being)..., there undoubtedly will be massive extinctions and widespread ecosystem collapse. The difficulty of trying to buffer and manage change will increase exponentially with only small increments of warming.
In addition, the last time the planet was 2 degrees warmer, the oceans were four to six (perhaps eight) meters higher. We may not know how fast that will happen (although it is already occurring more rapidly than initially estimated), but the end point in sea-level rise is not in question. A major portion of humanity lives in coastal areas and small island states that will go under water. ...
More than a 2-degree increase should be unimaginable. Yet to stop at 2 degrees, global emissions have to peak in 2016. ...
Environmental change is happening rapidly and exponentially. We are out of time.
Of course, global emissions won't be anywhere near a peak in 2016.
Posted: 22 Jan 2013 12:24 AM PST
Housing cycles matter:
Wealth Effects Revisited: 1975-2012, by Karl E. Case, John M. Quigley, Robert J. Shiller, NBER Working Paper No. 18667, January 2013 [open link, previous version]: We re-examine the links between changes in housing wealth, financial wealth, and consumer spending. We extend a panel of U.S. states observed quarterly during the seventeen-year period, 1982 through 1999, to the thirty-seven year period, 1975 through 2012Q2. Using techniques reported previously, we impute the aggregate value of owner-occupied housing, the value of financial assets, and measures of aggregate consumption for each of the geographic units over time. We estimate regression models in levels, first differences and in error-correction form, relating per capita consumption to per capita income and wealth. We find a statistically significant and rather large effect of housing wealth upon household consumption. This effect is consistently larger than the effect of stock market wealth upon consumption.
In our earlier version of this paper we found that households increase their spending when house prices rise, but we found no significant decrease in consumption when house prices fall. The results presented here with the extended data now show that declines in house prices stimulate large and significant decreases in household spending.
The elasticities implied by this work are large. An increase in real housing wealth comparable to the rise between 2001 and 2005 would, over the four years, push up household spending by a total of about 4.3%. A decrease in real housing wealth comparable to the crash which took place between 2005 and 2009 would lead to a drop of about 3.5%
Posted: 22 Jan 2013 12:06 AM PST
Posted: 21 Jan 2013 12:53 PM PST
Paul Krugman:
More On Inequality: Responses to my response to Joe Stiglitz have varied. Some are outraged that I might suggest that inequality isn't the source of all problems — there are even some suggestions that I am acting as an apologist for the plutocrats, which will come as news to the plutocrats. But there have also been some interesting points raised. ...
Posted: 21 Jan 2013 10:09 AM PST
Travel day, so a quick one:
How Big Should Government Be?, by Justin Fox: There are a couple of fundamental questions at the bottom of Washington's ongoing battles over deficits and debt: (1) How big should the U.S. government to be? and (2) How should we pay for it? The answers to both will ultimately have to be political ones — messy calculations based on who pays, who benefits, who votes, and who makes the campaign contributions. But it would be nice to know what the economics are, wouldn't it?
It turns out economists have lots of theories of optimal government spending and optimal taxation. This isn't the same as saying they have reliable or consistent answers. As one critic wrote of Robert Lucas's American Economic Association presidential address on economic growth in 2003, in which the Nobel laureate cited several studies showing dramatic welfare gains from hypothetical tax cuts in France and the U.S.:
Such findings have two distinctive features. First, they show big numbers. Second, they are not really findings. Contrary to the words offered so traditionally and casually by economists, none of these authors actually 'found' or 'showed' their results. Rather, they chose to imagine the results they announced. In every study Lucas cited here the crucial ingredient was a theoretical model laden with assumptions.
The author of these words is University of California, Davis economic historian Peter Lindert... People on the left love Lindert's conclusion, contained in this shorter working paper, that the rise in spending (and accompanying taxation) has not carried with it the costs predicted by neoclassical economic theories such as the ones wielded by Lucas. But those on the right love his explanation that this is mostly because countries with high social spending have tax systems that appear to have been designed by a neoclassical economist: with low progressivity, low taxes on capital, and big value-added taxes on consumption. ...

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