The Economist writes well

On the economist blog they decide to talk about carbon emissions. Everything they said was simple 1st year economics, I completely agree with them. But they say it so well, and in so few words.

Now they might make the odd mistake (such as inverting the exchange rate and saying we are 72% over-valued against the US$ when it was actually about 9%), but they write so well. I know its not much of a compliment from someone as illiterate as myself, so I was wondering what everyone else thinks.

You don’t mess with the Guv’nor

Bollard has shown who wears the pants. In raising the OCR today, he has shown his disregard for Dr Cullen’s mischievous feints at invoking his powers to override the price stability objective. He has also shown the market that he’s willing to back up his tough talk on the housing market – now on its “third wind”- even if this means ratcheting up interest rates even further as the Kiwi dollar reaches record highs.

Ultimately these actions will help bring the currency down. The Kiwi is underpinned by interest rate expectations, and only by raising rates today could he claim – credibly – that inflation is coming under control, meaning further hikes were unnecessary. So far the market appears to have believed him.

Perhaps this was unnecessarily hard on the housing market. The higher rates will bite hard as fixed rate mortgages continue to roll off over coming months. But then again, why not? A few months ago, a sharp correction in the housing market would have spelt disaster for the economy, with only government spending staving off risk of recession. But now a dairy commodity boom is underway, providing a massive boost to the incomes of farmers and wider economy. This means Bollard can afford to be more aggressive with domestic demand, coming down harder on the housing market. Showing that he is, indeed, still the Guv’nor.

A Strict Application of “Kiwi Made” Actually Hurts Our Exporters

While I am all for supporting the domestic economy, I think that a strict interpretation of the requirements for a good to be labelled “Made in New Zealand” actually harms our exporters. People get upset when they find out that something that is “Made in New Zealand” is manufactured using inputs purchased from another country. Any attempt to put pressure on exporting firms to use entirely NZ inputs is detrimental given that we are a small open economy with a very volatile exchange rate. The argument I’m making has absolutely nothing to do with price or quality but instead centres on a corporate finance concept known as “Natural Hedging”. Put simply if you have a company that sells its output in a foreign currency, purchasing your inputs in that currency naturally hedges movements in the exchange rate.  A good example of this is Navman who appear to be doing fine because they purchase a lot of their inputs in US$

While I accept that a good should still in essence be New Zealand made, I  believe that when the firm is an exporter, they should outsource as much of their inputs as possible.

One hike too far

So the RBNZ lifted rates. However, they said this is the end, no more hikes this year.

I’m can understand why Bollard wanted to lift now, Cullen threatened his manhood and Bollard had to show he had some balls. I still think this lift is unnecessary, house sales are easing and firm profit margins have recovered, easing inflationary pressure over the next few months. Furthermore, even in the June quarter when retail sales were red hot, core inflation showed signs of easing.

Bollard has said no more rate rises will happen, however I think he’s taken one more than he needed to. Remember, the OCR hits inflation with a lag, it takes 12 months for effective mortgage rates to peak, and some say the full effect of tightening can take 18 months to come into effect. 2008 looks like it will be a difficult year.

There’s taxation and then there’s taxation

Matt posted recently about environmental taxes on petrol. The
comments section contains some discussion about whether taxation
is a good idea or whether it’s just bureaucratic meddling. This
sort of politico-vs-economist tax argument inevitably involves
people talking straight past each other so perhaps this is a good
time to discuss what we mean when we say `taxation’.

When libertarian types talk about taxation they mean
distortionary, revenue-gathering taxes that form the majority of
the government’s taxation scheme. When Matt (and pretty much all
economists) gets his tax-’em-harder hat on, he’s referring to
corrective Pigouvian taxes that remove distortionary
externalities. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t seem to
listen to economists much when it comes to designing their
taxation mechanisms: rather than taxing methane emissions and
other serious externalities they tax income. Hmmmm…

Economics fiction writing

It’s about a virtual world, similar to our own but slightly removed from it. It purports to have a set of rules that are internally consistent but has to constantly resort to ad hoc explanations for unusual behaviour. Yet, still, there is a lot of stuff that happens that is inexplicable within the rules of the universe and the powers that be tell us that we just have to accept that that’s the way it is.

So runs Megan McArdle’s critique of the new Harry Potter book. I agree with her but it didn’t spoil the book for me. Frankly, critiquing the economics of a book for essentially resembling the current state of the economics profession seems a bit rich to me.