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August 9, 2014

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Posted: 09 Aug 2014 12:06 AM PDT

'Getting There?'

Posted: 08 Aug 2014 11:39 AM PDT

David Altig (Research Director at the Atlanta Fed):

Getting There?, by David Altig, Macroblog: To say that last week was somewhat eventful on the macroeconomic data front is probably an exercise in understatement. Relevant numbers on GDP growth (past and present), employment and unemployment, and consumer price inflation came in quick succession.
These data provide some of the context for our local Federal Open Market Committee participant's comments this week (for example, in the Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog, with similar remarks made in an interview on CNBC's Closing Bell). From that Real Time Economics blog post:
Although the economy is clearly growing at a respectable rate, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said Wednesday it is premature to start planning an early exit from the central bank's ultra-easy policy stance.
"I'm not ruling out" the idea the Fed may need to raise short-term interest rates earlier than many now expect, Mr. Lockhart said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. But, at the same time, "I'm a little bit cautious" about the policy outlook, and still expect that when the first interest rate hike comes, it will likely happen somewhere in the second half of next year.
"I remain one who is looking for further validation that we are on a track that is going to make the path to our mandate objectives pretty irreversible," Mr. Lockhart said. "It's premature, even with the good numbers that have come in...to draw the conclusion that we are clearly on that positive path," he said.
Why so "cautious"? Here's the Atlanta Fed staff's take on the state of things, starting with GDP:
With the annual benchmark revision in hand, 2013 looks like the real deal, the year that the early bet on an acceleration of growth to the 3 percent range finally panned out. Notably, fiscal drag (following the late-2012 budget deal), which had been our go-to explanation of why GDP appeared to have fallen short of expectations once again, looks much less consequential on revision.
Is 2014 on track for a repeat (or, more specifically, comparable performance looking through the collection of special factors that weighed on the first quarter)? The second-quarter bounce of real GDP growth to near 4 percent seems encouraging, but we are not yet overly impressed. Final sales—a number that looks through the temporary contribution of changes in inventories—clocked in at a less-than-eye-popping 2.3 percent annual rate.
Furthermore, given the significant surprise in the first-quarter final GDP report when the medical-expenditure-soaked Quarterly Services Survey was finally folded in, we're inclined to be pretty careful about over-interpreting the second quarter this early. It's way too early for a victory dance.
Regarding labor markets, here is our favorite type of snapshot, courtesy of the Atlanta Fed's Labor Market Spider Chart:

Atlanta Fed Labor Market Spider Chart

There is a lot to like in that picture. Leading indicators, payroll employment, vacancies posted by employers, and small business confidence are fully recovered relative to their levels at the end of the Great Recession.
On the less positive side, the numbers of people who are marginally attached or who are working part-time while desiring full-time hours remain elevated, and the overall job-finding rate is still well below prerecession levels. Even so, these indicators are noticeably better than they were at this time last year.
That year-over-year improvement is an important observation: the period from mid-2012 to mid-2013 showed little progress in the broader measures of labor-market performance that we place in the resource "utilization" category. During the past year, these broad measures have improved at the same relative pace as the standard unemployment statistic.
We have been contending for some time that part-time for economic reasons (PTER) is an important factor in understanding ongoing sluggishness in wage growth, and we are not yet seeing anything much in the way of meaningful wage pressures:

Total Private Earnings, year/year % change, sa

There was, to be sure, a second-quarter spike in the employment cost index (ECI) measure of labor compensation growth, but that increase followed a sharp dip in the first quarter. Maybe the most recent ECI reading is telling us something that hourly earnings are not, but that still seems like a big maybe. Outside of some specific sectors and occupations (in manufacturing, for example), there is not much evidence of accelerating wage pressure in either the data or in anecdotes we get from our District contacts. We continue to believe that wage growth is most consistent with the view that that labor market slack persists, and underlying inflationary pressures (from wage costs, at least) are at bay.
Clearly, it's dubious to claim that wages help much in the way of making forward predictions on inflation (as shown, for example, in work from the Chicago Fed, confirming earlier research from our colleagues at the Cleveland Fed). And in any event, we are inclined to agree that the inflation outlook has, in fact, firmed up. At this time last year, it was hard to argue that the inflation trend was moving in the direction of the Committee's objective (let alone that it was not actually declining).
But here again, a declaration that the risks have clearly shifted in the direction of overshooting the FOMC's inflation goals seems wildly premature. Transitory factors have clearly elevated recent statistics. The year-over-year inflation rate is still only 1.5 percent, and by most cuts of the data, the trend still looks as close to that level as to 2 percent.

'Trends' in the June Core PCE

We do expect measured inflation trends to continue to move in the direction of 2 percent, but sustained performance toward that objective is still more conjecture than fact. (By the way, if you are bothered by the appeal to a measure of core personal consumption expenditures in that chart above, I direct you to this piece.)
All of this is by way of explaining why we here in Atlanta are "a little bit cautious" about joining any chorus singing from the we're-moving-on-up songbook. Paraphrasing from President Lockhart's comments this week, the first steps to policy normalization don't have to wait until the year-over-year inflation rate is consistently at 2 percent, or until all of the slack in the labor market is eliminated. But it is probably prudent to be fairly convinced that progress to those ends is unlikely to be reversed.
We may be getting there. We're just not quite there yet.

'On Reaganolatry'

Posted: 08 Aug 2014 11:39 AM PDT

"It just isn't so":

On Reaganolatry, by Paul Krugman: The truly vile attack on Rick Perlstein's new book has been revealing in a number of ways. ...
And why this determination to quash Perlstein? It's all about Reaganolatry, the right's need to see the man as perfect. ... Everyone on the right knows that Reagan presided over job creation on a scale never seen before or since; but it just isn't so. In fact, if you look at monthly rates of job creation for the past six administrations, it's actually startling:

080814krugman1-blog480

You may have known that Clinton was a better "job creator" than Reagan, but did you know that over the course of the Carter administration — January 1977 to January 1981 — the economy actually added jobs faster than it did under Reagan? Maybe you want to claim that the 1981-82 recession was Carter's fault (although actually it was the Fed's doing), so that you start counting from almost two years into Reagan's term; but in that case why not give Obama the same courtesy? The general point is that the supposed awesomeness of Reagan's economic record just doesn't pop out of the data.
But don't expect the Reaganlators to acknowledge that. Their whole sense of identity is bound up with their faith.

'Making Sense of Friedrich A. von Hayek'

Posted: 08 Aug 2014 08:44 AM PDT

Another one from today's links. This is by Brad DeLong:

Making Sense of Friedrich A. von Hayek: Focus/The Honest Broker for the Week of August 9, 201, by Brad DeLong: One way to conceptualize it all is to think of it as the shape of a river:
The first current is the Adam Smith current, which makes the classical liberal bid: Smith claims that the system of natural liberty; with government restricted to the rule of law, infrastructure, defense, and education; is the best of all social arrangements.
This first current is then joined by the Karl Polanyi current: Polanyi says that, empirically, at least in the Industrial Age, the system of natural liberty fails to produce a good-enough society. The system of natural liberty turns land, labor, and finance into commodities. The market then moves them about the board in its typically disruptive fashion: "all that is solid melts into air", or perhaps "established and inherited social orders are steamed away". But land, finance, and labor–these three are not real commodities. They are, rather, "fictitious commodities", for nobody wants their ability to earn a living, or to live where they grew up, or to start a business to be subject to the disruptive wheel of market fortuna.
The social disruption produced by allowing the prices of these "fictitious commodities" to be set by market forces is too great to be sustained. Politics will not allow it. And so a good society needs to regulate: A good society needs to regulate the market for land so that people are not thrown off of what they have good reason to regard as theirs even if they lack the proper pieces of paper. A good society needs to regulate the market for finance in order to maintain full employment and price stability. A good society needs to regulate the market for labor to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to work at a living wage.
Thus we must move forward from classical liberalism to social democracy.
That is Karl Polanyi's argument. And it is convincing. Classical liberalism supports and justifies economies that produce a great deal of unnecessary human misery: that seems very, very clear indeed by the time of the Great Depression. As John Maynard Keynes wrote in his 1926 essay, "The End of Laissez Faire", nineteenth and early twentieth-century history teach one big lesson...

There's quite a bit more after that, including a discussion of "three other channels in the delta besides Polanyi-style social democracy: call them Leninism, Keynesianism, and Hayekism."

How Immigration Benefits Natives

Posted: 08 Aug 2014 08:07 AM PDT

This was in today's links. The abstract:

How immigration benefits natives despite labour market imperfections and income redistribution, by Michele Battisti, Gabriel Felbermayr, Giovanni Peri, and Panu Poutvaara, Vox EU: Immigration continues to be a hotly debated topic in most OECD countries. Economic models emphasising the benefits of immigration for natives have typically neglected unemployment and redistribution – precisely the things voters are most concerned about. This column analyses the effects of immigration in a world with labour market rigidities and income redistribution. In two-thirds of the 20 countries analysed, both high-skilled and low-skilled natives would benefit from a small increase in immigration from current levels. The average welfare gains from immigration are 1.25% and 1.00% for high- and low-skilled natives, respectively.

And the conclusion:

Our analysis shows that immigration into imperfectly competitive labour markets need not be worsening labour market outcomes for natives. Instead, it can improve the job creation incentives of firms. Thus, measures that aim at eliminating the immigrant–native wage gap may hurt natives. This positive effect is threatened if immigrants are too often unemployed or if too many of them are unskilled. Policies reducing the rate of job loss for immigrants would therefore help natives. Finally, in contrast to widespread belief, immigrants do not seem to hurt low-skilled natives, even in the more realistic framework developed here. This is because immigration is often balanced between more and less educated, because its job-creation effect can help, and because redistribution towards immigrants is not as large as often suggested in the debate.

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