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September 26, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 18 Sep 2015 01:08 AM PDT
The Republican debate was "scary":
Fantasies and Fictions at G.O.P. Debate, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, Ny Times: I've been going over what was said at Wednesday's Republican debate, and I'm terrified. You should be, too. After all, given the vagaries of elections, there's a pretty good chance that one of these people will end up in the White House.
Why is that scary? ...G.O.P. candidates are calling for policies that would be deeply destructive at home, abroad, or both. ...
Let's start at the shallow end, with the fantasy economics of the establishment candidates.
You're probably tired of hearing this, but modern G.O.P. economic discourse is completely dominated by an economic doctrine — the sovereign importance of low taxes on the rich — that has failed completely and utterly in practice over the past generation. ... Yet the hold of this failed dogma on Republican politics is stronger than ever...
If the discussion of economics was alarming, the discussion of foreign policy was practically demented. Almost all the candidates seem to believe that American military strength can shock-and-awe other countries into doing what we want without any need for negotiations, and that we shouldn't even talk with foreign leaders we don't like. ...
The real revelation on Wednesday, however, was the ... candidates ... making outright false assertions, and probably doing so knowingly, which turns those false assertions into what are technically known as "lies."
For example, Chris Christie asserted, as he did in the first G.O.P. debate, that he was named U.S. attorney the day before 9/11. It's still not true ...
Mr. Christie's mendacity pales, however, in comparison to that of Carly Fiorina, who was widely hailed as the "winner" of the debate.
Some of Mrs. Fiorina's fibs involved repeating thoroughly debunked claims about her business record. ... But the truly awesome moment came when she asserted that the videos being used to attack Planned Parenthood show "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain." No, they don't. ...
I began writing for The Times during the 2000 election campaign, and what I remember above all from that campaign is the way the conventions of "evenhanded" reporting allowed then-candidate George W. Bush to make clearly false assertions — about his tax cuts, about Social Security — without paying any price. ...
Now we have presidential candidates who make Mr. Bush look like Abe Lincoln. But who will tell the people?
Posted: 18 Sep 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 17 Sep 2015 11:05 AM PDT
Tim Duy called it. No rate hike (and only one dissent, lacker). Here's the statement:
Press Release, Release Date: September 17, 2015: Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in July suggests that economic activity is expanding at a moderate pace. Household spending and business fixed investment have been increasing moderately, and the housing sector has improved further; however, net exports have been soft. The labor market continued to improve, with solid job gains and declining unemployment. On balance, labor market indicators show that underutilization of labor resources has diminished since early this year. Inflation has continued to run below the Committee's longer-run objective, partly reflecting declines in energy prices and in prices of non-energy imports. Market-based measures of inflation compensation moved lower; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. Recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term. Nonetheless, the Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, with labor market indicators continuing to move toward levels the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee continues to see the risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as nearly balanced but is monitoring developments abroad. Inflation is anticipated to remain near its recent low level in the near term but the Committee expects inflation to rise gradually toward 2 percent over the medium term as the labor market improves further and the transitory effects of declines in energy and import prices dissipate. The Committee continues to monitor inflation developments closely.
To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain this target range, the Committee will assess progress--both realized and expected--toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. The Committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when it has seen some further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term.
The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. This policy, by keeping the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.
When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent. The Committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Lael Brainard; Charles L. Evans; Stanley Fischer; Dennis P. Lockhart; Jerome H. Powell; Daniel K. Tarullo; and John C. Williams. Voting against the action was Jeffrey M. Lacker, who preferred to raise the target range for the federal funds rate by 25 basis points at this meeting.
Posted: 17 Sep 2015 10:57 AM PDT
On raising the retirement age for Social Security (and other social insurance programs):
New report examines implications of growing gap in life span by income for entitlement programs, National Academy of Sciences, EurekAlert!: As the gap in life expectancy between the highest and lowest earners in the U.S. has widened over time, high earners have disproportionately received larger lifetime benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report looked at life expectancy patterns among a group of Americans born in 1930 and compared those with projections for a group born in 1960.
"Life expectancy has risen significantly in the U.S. over the past century, and it has long been the case that people who are better-educated and earn higher incomes live longer, on average, than those with less education and lower incomes," said Peter Orszag, co-chair of the committee that carried out the study and wrote the report, and vice chairman of Citigroup in New York City. "What has changed is that the life expectancy gap across different income groups has become so much bigger."
Men born in 1930 in the highest of five earnings levels who survived to age 50 could expect to live to be about 82 years old, on average, while men born in 1960 in the same earnings bracket are projected to live an average of 89 years - a substantial gain. In contrast, life expectancy for men with the lowest earnings was found to decline slightly, from 77 years old on average for men born in 1930 to 76 years old on average for men born in 1960. The projections for women show a similar pattern, in that life expectancy gains have been larger for higher earners than lower earners. ...
"The increasing gap in longevity by socio-economic status is important in itself, but it also means that high earners will increasingly collect some government benefits over more years than will lower earners," said committee co-chair Ronald Lee, professor of demography and economics at the University of California, Berkeley. "Policymakers considering changes to put entitlement programs on firmer financial footing should take into account how such policy changes interact with these differential trends in life expectancy." ...
[They go on to evaluate various changes in eligibility for Social Security and Medicare, and how the changes would impact low and high income households. For example, "Increasing the earliest eligibility age for Social Security from 62 to 64 would not generate significant savings for the Social Security system and would slightly widen the gap in benefits received between high earners and low earners."]
Posted: 17 Sep 2015 10:07 AM PDT
This is via Tim Taylor (who posted it as part of a longer discussion on new poverty statistics):'s a short essay from Charles Dickens. It was published in a magazine called All the Year Round that Dickens edited during the 1860s. This particular essay, "Temperate Temperance," appeared in the issue of March 18, 1863. The articles in the magazine did not name its authors , but a group of Australian researchers attributed it to Dickens by using "computational stylistics"--which is basically using a computer analysis of the style of the writing and comparing it to manuscripts whose authorship is known to determine the author. ... And here's the full 1863 essay.
WE want to know, and we always have wanted to know, why the English workman is to be patronised? Why are his dwelling-place, his house-keeping arrangements, the organisation of his cellar, and his larder — nay, the occupation of his leisure hours even — why are all these things regarded as the business of everybody except himself? Why is his beer to be a question agitating the minds of society, more than our sherry? Why is his visit to the gallery of the theatre, a more suspicious proceeding than our visit to the stalls? Why is his perusal of his penny newspaper so aggravating to the philanthropical world, that it longs to snatch it out of his hand and substitute a number of the Band of Hope Review?
It is not the endeavour really and honestly to improve the condition of the lower classes which we would discourage, but the way in which that endeavour is made. Heaven knows, the working classes, and especially the lowest working classes, want a helping hand sorely enough. No one who is at all familiar with a poor neighbourhood can doubt that. But you must help them judiciously. You must look at things with their eyes, a little; you must not always expect them to see with your eyes. The weak point in almost every attempt which has been made to deal with the lower classes is invariably the same — too much is expected of them. You ask them to do, simply the most difficult thing in the world — you ask them to change their habits. Your standard is too high. The transition from the Whitechapel cellar to the comfortable rooms in the model-house, is too violent; the habits which the cellar involved would have to be abandoned; a great effort would have to be made; and to abandon habits and make great efforts is hard work even for clever, good, and educated people.
The position of the lowest poor in London and elsewhere, is so terrible, they are so unmanageable, so deprived of energy through vice and low living and bad lodging, and so little ready to second any efforts that are made for their benefit, that those who have dealings with them are continually tempted to abandon their philanthropic endeavours as desperate, and to turn their attention towards another class: those, namely, who are one degree higher in the social scale, and one degree less hopeless.
It is proposed just now, as everybody knows, to establish, in different poor neighbourhoods, certain great dining-halls and kitchens for the use of poor people, on the plan of those establishments which have been highly successful in Glasgow and Manchester. The plan is a good one, and we wish it every success — on certain conditions. The poor man who attends one of these eating-houses must be treated as the rich man is treated who goes to a tavern. The thing must not be made a favour of. The custom of the diner-out is to be solicited as a thing on which the prosperity of the establishment depends. The officials, cooks, and all persons who are paid to be the servants of the man who dines, are to behave respectfully to him, as hired servants should; he is not to be patronised, or ordered about, or read to, or made speeches at, or in any respect used less respectfully than he would be in a beef and pudding shop, or other house of entertainment. Above all, he is to be jolly, he is to enjoy himself, he is to have his beer to drink; while, if he show any sign of being drunk or disorderly, he is to be turned out, just as I should be ejected from a club, or turned out of the Wellington or the Albion Tavern this very day, if I got drunk there.
There must be none of that Sunday-school mawkishness, which too much pervades our dealings with the lower classes; and we must get it into our heads — which seems harder to do than many people would imagine — that the working man is neither a felon, nor necessarily a drunkard, nor a very little child. Our wholesome plan is to get him to co-operate with us. Encourage him to take an interest in the success of the undertaking, and, above all things, be very sure that it pays, and pays well, so that the scheme is worth going into without any philanthropic flourishes at all. He is already flourished to death, and he hates to be flourished to, or flourished about. 
There is a tendency in the officials who are engaged in institutions organised for the benefit of the poor, to fall into one of two errors; to be rough and brutal, which is the Poor-law Board style; or cheerfully condescending, which is the Charitable Committee style. Both these tones are offensive to the poor, and well they may be. The proper tone is that of the tradesman at whose shop the workman deals, who is glad to serve him, and who makes a profit out of his custom. Who has not been outraged by observing that cheerfully patronising mode of dealing with poor people which is in vogue at our soup-kitchens and other depĂ´ts of alms? There is a particular manner of looking at the soup through a gold double eye-glass, or of tasting it, and saying, " Monstrous good — monstrous good indeed; why, I should like to dine off it myself!" which is more than flesh and blood can bear.
We must get rid of all idea of enforcing what is miscalled temperance — which is in itself anything but a temperate idea. A man must be allowed to have his beer with his dinner, though he must not be allowed to make a beast of himself. Some account was given not long since, in these pages, of a certain soldiers' institute at Chatham; it was then urged that by all means the soldiers ought to be supplied with beer on the premises, in order that the institution might compete on fair terms with the public-house. It was decided, however, by those in authority, or by some of them, that this beer was not to be. The consequence is, as was predicted, that the undertaking, which had every other element of success, is very far from being in a flourishing condition. And similarly, this excellent idea of dining-rooms for the working classes will also be in danger of failing, if that important ingredient in a poor man's dinner — a mug of beer — is not to be a part of it.
The cause of temperance is not promoted by any intemperate measures. It is intemperate conduct to assert that fermented liquors ought not to be drunk at all, because, when taken in excess, they do harm. Wine, and beer, and spirits, have their place in the world. We should try to convince the working man that he is acting foolishly if he give more importance to drink than it ought to have. But we have no right to inveigh against drink, though we have a distinct right to inveigh against drunkenness. There is no intrinsic harm in beer; far from it; and so, by raving against it, we take up a line of argument from which we may be beaten quite easily by any person who has the simplest power of reasoning. The real temperance cause is injured by intemperate advocacy; and an
argument which we cannot honestly sustain is injurious to the cause it is enlisted to support. Suppose you forbid the introduction of beer into one of these institutions, and you are asked your reason for doing so, what is your answer? That you are afraid of drunkenness. There is some danger in the introduction of gas into a building. You don't exclude it; but you place it under certain restrictions, and use certain precautions to prevent explosions. Why don't you do so with beer?
He (Tim Taylor) adds:
For those with a taste for this subject, last year when the Census Bureau released its poverty line statistics I discussed a passage from George Orwell's 1937 book, The Road to Wigan Pier, which details the lives of the poor and working poor in northern industrial areas of Britain like Lancashire and Yorkshire during the Depression. Orwell is writing from a leftist and socialist perspective, with deep sympathy for the poor. But Orwell is also painfully honest: for example, he laments that the poor make such rotten choices about food--but then he also points out how unsatisfactory it feels to patronizingly tell those with low incomes how to spend what little they have. Indeed, as I pointed out last year, there's some evidence in the behavioral economics literature that poverty can encourage some of the behaviors, like a short-run mentality, which can then tend to perpetuate poverty.
Posted: 17 Sep 2015 09:49 AM PDT
About that supposed pause in global warming:
Global warming 'hiatus' never happened, Stanford scientists say: An apparent lull in the recent rate of global warming that has been widely accepted as fact is actually an artifact arising from faulty statistical methods, Stanford scientists say. ...The finding calls into question the idea that global warming "stalled" or "paused" during the period between 1998 and 2013. ...
Using a novel statistical framework that was developed specifically for studying geophysical processes such as global temperature fluctuations, Rajaratnam and his team of Stanford collaborators have shown that the hiatus never happened.
"Our results clearly show that, in terms of the statistics of the long-term global temperature data, there never was a hiatus, a pause or a slowdown in global warming," said Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, and a co-author of the study.
Faulty ocean buoys
The Stanford group's findings are the latest in a growing series of papers to cast doubt on the existence of a hiatus. ...
The Stanford scientists say their findings should go a long way toward restoring confidence in the basic science and climate computer models that form the foundation for climate change predictions.
"Global warming is like other noisy systems that fluctuate wildly but still follow a trend," Diffenbaugh said. "Think of the U.S. stock market: There have been bull markets and bear markets, but overall it has grown a lot over the past century. What is clear from analyzing the long-term data in a rigorous statistical framework is that, even though climate varies from year-to-year and decade-to-decade, global temperature has increased in the long term, and the recent period does not stand out as being abnormal."
[I omitted the detailed discussion of the research.]

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