The problem with Economists

I am disappointed with Paul Krugman (ht Economist’s View).

Now don’t get me wrong, I am against almost everything that Trump plans to do.  I am socially liberal, his tax policies (and the sharp cuts and spending that will need to be implemented) will redistribute away from the poor, his tariffs programs will hurt the vast majority of Americans and undermine the rate of reduction in absolute poverty in other low income nations, and his lack of trust in the Federal Reserve is likely to erode independent monetary policy.  Furthermore, his divisive rhetoric and willingness to create “other” groups to blame failures on point to a dark undercurrent within the US and within his administration.

But none of these things suggest:

Still, I guess people want an answer: If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.


So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened.

When these things don’t happen, it will further undermine the credibility of economists – and implicitly tell Trump supporters and opponents that ALL the costs economists had said would occur from his election do not exist!

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The Fed vs the BoE

Yesterday the Fed pirouetted neatly, simultaneously beginning to taper its quantitative easing and suggesting that policy will not tighten until well beyond its guidance threshold for unemployment. The sum impact has been a loosening of policy but what interested me is the sequencing of its actions.
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Thinking on the US Fed mandate

Via Mark Thoma, I spotted this piece in the Washington Post about the US Fed’s mandate. 

I disagree with this piece.  But, it is well laid out and argued – which makes it a good piece!  So let us go through the reason why I take issue:

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NZ isn’t the US: Employment rates

So often we hear that, even though the unemployment rate is falling in the US, employment is low.  It is the low level of employment, and the lack of integration in the community that entails, that is causing so much anger over there.  The lack of opportunity illustrated through the low employment rate is one of the key pieces of information pulled out to suggest something must be done.

Often people in New Zealand talk as if whatever is happening in the US is happening here, therefore something must be done.  However, lets be a bit more careful – especially as in the case of the employment rate that is untrue.


remprSource:  Stats NZ.  Quandl.

Yes, the story is more complicated (Working for families increased the number of second earners in the labour market, a factor that will in of itself have pushed up the participation and employment rates).  But if anything that suggests we need to be a lot more careful applying “lessons” from the US situation to New Zealand.  We are not the United States – a point we’ve noted when looking at median income comparisons in the past 😉



Bleg: Grimes on bubbles

Arthur Grimes recently gave an interview to Reuters, all I’ve seen so far is this write up via Raf on Twitter (cheers).  Now Grimes is an incredibly good New Zealand economist, to put things in perspective I would generally put more weight on a single line of his opinion of something than I would on my own intuition and analysis of issues – an given that as individuals we are strongly biased towards our own views that is pretty significant.

But anyone who reads TVHE knows what I’m like, I just really really want to know ‘why’ certain things are being said!  I emailed a few economists and some suggested I do a bleg asking, so why not!

In the Yahoo story there are a couple of segments I’m a touch confused on and I’d like it if someone could answer them for me 🙂 (Note:  Seamus from Offsetting offers some example answers at the bottom of this post)

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It’s about the “right” counterfactual

In a recent post, Mark Calabria from the Cato Institute took aim at the idea that the Lehman Brothers crisis was the “trigger” for a big crisis.

Now I do not disagree that there was, and would have been, a recession without Lehman Brothers – and even without the uncertainty caused by the lack of clarity around insurance of the shadow banking system which grew post August 2007.  However, these issues, and in turn the failure of Lehman Brothers did make the crisis significantly more severe than it would have been.

He appears to say that the failure of Lehman Brothers was a good thing (Note:  There is nothing wrong with wiping out the company – but the way it was handled, was a big driver of the global slowdown that was to come), and that the US was on the road to recovery post this.  So here we are focusing just on the US, not the contagion to other countries.  His evidence is the following graph:

Employment and consumption stopped declining not long after Lehman Brothers failed, and although the largest declines occurred WHEN Lehman Brothers failed this doesn’t mean the failure caused them – in fact, employment tends to lag the cycle and the drop may well have been the result of prior economic weakness … and the amazingly high fuel prices through the first half of 2008.

Now I agree that there were factors driving a recession prior to the failure of Lehman Brothers – but the impact of Lehman Brothers as an event is captured by asking what would have happened in the absence of the Global Financial Crisis that stemmed from it, and the full blown “bank run” on wholesale financial markets that had been building pressure from the start of 2008.  Going to FRED, grabbing consumption and population, and running a basic time regression in excel no less (so it’s easy to copy) we can get an idea of what the “trend” rate of consumption per capita was during the 1952-2012 period.  Armed with that, we can ask what the percentage difference is between this trend and actual consumption per capita outcomes.  This is:

Something is broken here – I will try to fix that up tonight.  The strange thing is that I can see the graph when editing the post … but it then wont let me do anything with it

Now we can start arguing that consumption per person was too high and a whole bunch of other things if we want to here.  However, this basic analysis clearly shows that the gap between trend consumption and actual consumption, something that should have a tendancy to head back to zero after a recession, actually deterioarted further … and has continued to deteroriate.  We look at business cycles “around trends” not “around levels” given that our counterfactual involves growth – and this makes this post by the Cato institute a bit misleading.

Saying that the downturn, or even the crisis, started with Lehman Brothers is wrong, I agree with the author here – however Lehman Brothers failure started a new dangerous stage of the crisis which, when combined with the persistent institutional failure in Europe, has made sure that the US economy has remained below potential.  A market monetarist would say that the Fed is truly responsible for this in terms of policy action, but even if we were to accept this it is undeniable that it is the “shocks” that have occurred in financial markets are the very things the Fed needs to respond to by “loosening policy”.

It’s failure is indicative of what was underlying the crisis, and the evidence shown in no way suggests that allowing its failure and initially ignoring the quiet, and then full scale, bank runs in wholesale financial markets was good policy.