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August 8, 2014

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Latest Posts from Economist's View


Paul Krugman: Inequality Is a Drag

Posted: 08 Aug 2014 12:24 AM PDT

Reducing inequality "can make the nation as a whole richer":

Inequality Is a Drag, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: For more than three decades, almost everyone who matters in American politics has agreed that higher taxes on the rich and increased aid to the poor have hurt economic growth. ...
But there's now growing evidence for a new view — namely, that the whole premise of this debate is wrong,... coming from places like the International Monetary Fund, that high inequality is a drag on growth, and that redistribution can be good for the economy. ...
But how is that possible? Doesn't taxing the rich and helping the poor reduce the incentive to make money? Well, yes, but ... extreme inequality deprives many people of the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
Think about it. Do talented children in low-income American families have the same chance ... to get the right education, to pursue the right career path ... as those born higher up the ladder? Of course not. ... Extreme inequality means a waste of human resources.
And government programs that reduce inequality can make the nation as a whole richer, by reducing that waste.
Consider, for example,... food stamps, perennially targeted by conservatives who claim that they reduce the incentive to work. The historical evidence does indeed suggest that ... food stamps ... somewhat reduces work effort, especially by single mothers. But it also suggests that Americans who had access to food stamps when they were children grew up to be healthier and more productive..., which means that they made a bigger economic contribution. The purpose of the food stamp program was to reduce misery, but it's a good guess that the program was also good for American economic growth.
The same thing, I'd argue, will end up being true of Obamacare. Subsidized insurance will induce some people to reduce the number of hours they work, but it will also mean higher productivity from Americans who are finally getting the health care they need, not to mention making better use of their skills because they can change jobs without the fear of losing coverage. Over all, health reform will probably make us richer as well as more secure.
Will the new view of inequality change our political debate? It should. Being nice to the wealthy and cruel to the poor is not, it turns out, the key to economic growth. On the contrary, making our economy fairer would also make it richer. Goodbye, trickle-down; hello, trickle-up.

Links for 8-08-14

Posted: 08 Aug 2014 12:06 AM PDT

'How the Incipient Inflation Freak-Out Could Wreck the Recovery'

Posted: 07 Aug 2014 08:08 AM PDT

Tim Duy dealt with this effectively a few days ago (see here too), but it's worth emphasizing:

How the incipient inflation freak-out could wreck the recovery, by Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein: As predictable as August vacations, numerous economists and Federal Reserve watchers are arguing that the nation's central bank must raise interest rates or risk an outbreak of spiraling inflation. Their campaign has heated up a bit in recent months, as one can cherry pick an indicator or two showing slightly faster growth in prices or wages.
But an objective analysis of the recent data, along with longer-term wage trends, reveals that the stakes of premature tightening are unacceptably high. The vast majority of the population depends on their paychecks, not their stock portfolios. If the Fed were to slam on the breaks by raising interest rates as soon as workers started to see some long-awaited real wage gains, it would be acting to prevent most of the country from seeing improvements in living standards.
To understand why continued support from the Fed is unlikely to be inflationary, consider three factors: the current state of key variables, the mechanics of inflationary pressures and the sharp rise in profits as a share of national income in recent years, along with its corollary, the fall in the compensation share. ...

'Will the US Inflate Away Its Public Debt?'

Posted: 07 Aug 2014 07:59 AM PDT

Ricardo Reis:

Will the US inflate away its public debt?, by Ricardo Reis, Vox EU: Should the US Federal Reserve raise the inflation target from its current level of 2%? And will it? One benefit would be to make hitting the zero lower bound less likely, which would lead to less severe recessions, as Olivier Blanchard, Giovanni Dell'Ariccia, and Paolo Mauro (2010), Daniel Leigh (2010), and Laurence Ball (2013) have argued on this website. Other benefits of higher inflation that Kenneth Rogoff has been emphasising for a while might include accelerating the fall in real wages during the recession, and deflating away debt overhang (Rogoff 2014).1
One of the most indebted economic agents is the government. The federal debt limit has had to be raised repeatedly in the past few years, and at the end of the 2013 fiscal year the gross federal debt outstanding was 101% of GDP – the highest ratio since 1948. It is therefore natural to imagine – like Aizenman and Marion (2009) –that inflating away the public debt is possible, perhaps effective, and maybe even desirable. Using a simple rule of thumb to estimate the effect of higher inflation on the real value of debt, they venture that US inflation of 6% for four years could reduce the debt-GDP ratio by roughly 20%.
However, in our recent work we show that the probability that US inflation lowers the real value of the debt by even as little as 4.2% of GDP is less than 1% (Hilscher, Raviv and Reis, 2014). Why is this estimate so small? We show that there are two reasons: first, the private sector holds shorter maturity debt; second, high levels of inflation in the next few years are extremely unlikely. ...

He concludes:

One way or another, budget constraints will always hold. This is true as much for a household or a firm as it is for the central bank or the government as a whole. If the US government is to pay its debt, then it must either raise fiscal surpluses or hope for higher economic growth; the former is painful and the latter is hard to depend on. It is therefore tempting to yield to the mystique of central banking and believe in a seemingly feasible and reliable alternative: expansionary monetary policy and higher inflation.3 Crunching through the numbers we find that this alternative is not really there.

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