#economicsgonewrong Feed

Brad DeLong (2007): On Robert Barro's (2005) "Rare Events and the Equity Premium" and T.A. Rietz's (1988) "The Equity Risk Premium: A Solution": Our habit of using the Lucas-tree model of Lucas (1978), "Asset Prices in an Exchange Economy" as a workhorse has turned out to be a trap. The Lucas-tree model has neither production nor accumulation. This makes it easy to solve. But this makes its responses perverse. There are no scarce resources to be allocated among alternative uses. There are only asset prices which must move so as to make agents unwilling to try to reallocate resources. It is, I think, not surprising that an economic model in which resource allocation plays no role is a dangerous tool to use in trying to understand the world...

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The remarkable thing about Robert Barro—and all the other Lucases and Famas and Boldrins and Cochranes who, back in 2008-2012, said it was logically impossible for expansionary fiscal policy to work—and his question "Where was the market failure that allowed the government to improve things just by borrowing money and giving it to people?" is that the answer had been well-known and on the table since at least 1829. The answer was given by John Stuart Mill The market failure is that the economy is out-of-equiilibrium, in a "general glut", with an excess demand for money and an excess supply of pretty much every currently-produced good and services.

Normally the existence of excess supplies and excess demands in an economy is a good thing: The entrepreneurial profits imbalances create set in motion the migration of resources to higher-value uses. But private-sector entities cannot migrate labor and capital into the business of creating money, for money is liquid trust and can only be created by institutions that are trusted to be, well, good for the money. So the solution is not to move resources out of creating currently-produced goods and services but to move demand into buying currently-produced goods and services. And—as long as it is good for the money—the government's borrowing-and-spending or printing-and-dropping works just fine:

Comment of the Day: JEC: Keynesian Economics vs. Regular Economics: "'Unlike the trade-off in regular economics, that extra $1 billion is the ultimate free lunch. How can it be right? Where was the market failure that allowed the government to improve things just by borrowing money and giving it to people?' The funny thing here is that Barro imagines this to be a killer rhetorical question, when it is in fact a crucial and open research question (and one that Keynesian macroeconomists have done far too little to answer, in my opinion). What makes it a research question rather than a damning rhetorical one is the empirical fact that, under certain circumstances, multipliers greater than one are well-documented. (In fairness, better documented today than in 2011)...

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Betting That Nobody Will Check the References as an Intellectual Style: Monday Smackdown

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Monday Smackdown: Apropos of David Brooks's ill-sourced imaginings that "cultural Marxism... is now the lingua franca in the elite academy..." and his use of Alexander Zubatov and Russell Blackford to back him up...

I am not sure whether Brooks is simply confident that people will not check Zubatov's references or did not check them himself—he does have to write a full 1200 words a week in his job. But I have long thought that betting nobody will check the references is an intellectual style much more common on the right than on the center or the left. For example:

On Niall Ferguson: Why Did Keynes Write "In the Long Run We Are All Dead"?: In [Keynes's] extended discussion of how to use the quantity theory of money, the sentence 'In the long run we are all dead' performs an important rhetorical role. It wakes up the reader. It gets him or her to reset an attention that may well be flagging.

But it has nothing to do with attitudes toward the future, or with rates of time discount, or with a heedless pursuit of present pleasure.

So why do people think it does? Note that we are speaking not just of Ferguson here, but of Mankiw and Hayek and Schumpeter and Himmelfarb and Peter Drucker and McCraw and even Heilbroner—along with many others.

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The most remarkable thing about this piece from 2011 is that Robert Barro does not seem to feel under any pressure at all to provide an account of why it was that real GDP per capita was 52,049 dollars in the fourth quarter of 2007 and yet only 49,318 dollars in the second quarter of 2009—and did not surpass its 2007Q4 level again until 2013Q3.

Other adherents than Barro to what Barro calls "normal economics" have put forward three theories:

  • that there was a huge sudden change in American workers' utility functions that made them much less eager to work,
  • that there was a huge sudden forgetting of a great deal of knowledge about how to manipulate nature and organize production, and
  • that there was a great and well-founded fear that Obama was about to impose taxes to turn America into a Venezuela or that Bernanke was about to follow a monetary policy that would turn the U.S. into a Zimbabwe.

They were laughed at.

So Barro prefers to have no explanation at all for why production per capita was lower than it had been in 2007Q4, and yet maintains unshaken confidence that he has a deep and correct understanding of what determines the level of production. You can't do that—hold that you have the correct theory, and yet not explain how it applies to the world in which you live: Robert Barro (2011): Keynesian Economics vs. Regular Economics: "The overall prediction from regular economics is that an expansion of transfers, such as food stamps, decreases employment and, hence, gross domestic product (GDP). In regular economics, the central ideas involve incentives as the drivers of economic activity. Additional transfers to people with earnings below designated levels motivate less work effort by reducing the reward from working. In addition, the financing of a transfer program requires more taxes—today or in the future in the case of deficit financing. These added levies likely further reduce work effort—in this instance by taxpayers expected to finance the transfer—and also lower investment because the return after taxes is diminished...

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0, 179, 465, 654—what's the next number in this series? Stephen Moore claims it is obvious, and gestures at it with an "and so on". Two numbers give you a line, three (that don't fall on a line) give you a parabola, and four (that don't fall along a line or a parabola) give you a cubic. We have four: What are the next numbers iin the cubic? 542, and -75, and -1401. Add up the first ten terms of this "and so on" series and we get not +6000 billion but rather -39820 billion. Economists know how to do and use math. Stephen Moore just doesn't: Stephen Moore: The Corporate Tax Cut Is Paying for Itself: "Kevin Hassett... caused a brouhaha by claiming... that the corporate tax cut... has 'about paid for itself.'... He is almost entirely right.... Even if we assume a reversion to the pre-Trump 1.9% growth path, the ratchet up in GDP this year translates into 179 billion in unexpected output this year, 465 billion next year, 654 billion in 2020, and so on. This magic of compounding yields more than $6 trillion additional GDP over the decade thanks to the faster growth already achieved...

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A Lazy New Year's Eve Morn on Twitter...

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Brad DeLong: Gee, I Have Argued Myself From Half-Agreeing With @EconMarshall To 90% Agreeing With Him, Haven’t I?_:

Suresh Naidu: Sorry that came out wrong, deleted. Straightforward: a substantial amount of economic power and inefficiency is not eliminated by deconcentration/free entry. Not clear, lots of problems are made worse by free entry/competition. Low margins mean harder to unionize. Innovation is done by big firms. On simple efficiency grounds things can get worse in market with advantageous selection (eg loans) or with any negative ext. It depends!

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Mike Konczal: If we are worried about margins being too low, boy do I have exciting news for you:

Sure, but between that, Tobin's Q, "profit share", consistent rate of return under declining real rates, and the break of investment and profitability, something is broken. One can contest any of the individual methods, but together they paint a clear picture.

Suresh Naidu: The " always more competition" fix implies we want to expand output but it is not clear we do in every market (eg airline monopoly might be 10th best emissions regulation).

(((E. Glen Weyl))): 10th best reasoning is fine for policy technocrats, but I think a pretty poor basis for thinking about imaginaries for broad social change and democratic movement building. Imaginaries that move us beyond monopolistic corporate forms, but using market mechanisms, seem promising. I am talking about building coalitions and democratic discourse rather than just being technocratic experts.

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Note to Self: WTF?!?! At a ten-percent pre-tax social return to investment, that would require a 1 trillion—a 5%-point of national income—permanent upward jump in the annual flow of investment into America. Given that it looks like Trump is raising the annual deficit by 400 billion, that would require a 1.4 trillion—a 75-point of national income—permanent upward jump in the sum of annual private savings plus the annual trade deficit. On what planet and on what definition of "reasonable" is it "reasonable" to argue that Trump's tax cuts are going produce such a thing? Greg Mankiw: The Bad Economics Behind Trump's Policies: "One might reasonably argue that Trump’s tax cuts will increase growth over the next decade by as much as half a percentage point per year...

Gross Private Domestic Investment Nominal Potential Gross Domestic Product FRED St Louis Fed

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Not Only No Wage But Minimal Investment Boosts from Trump-McConnell-Ryan...

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The so brilliant as to be goddess-like Chye-Ching Huang gets this one, I think, wrong: In response to: Jared Bernstein: "For the [Trump-McConnell-Ryan tax] cuts to have more than near-term growth impacts, they’d have to boost biz investment a lot more than we’ve seen so far, though these are early days. Both WSJ and Slate show “muted” investment results..." She writes: Chye-Ching Huang: "My concern is the frame that "growth' is what we should be focused on. If what we care about is how workers are doing—and GOP lawmakers claimed the 2017 tax law would help workers—we should focus on the metric that directly shows how they're doing! If the claimed point of tax cuts for corporations was to raise wages, we should first and foremost look at real wage rates to assess the results...

But those economists shilling for Trump-McConnell-Ryan committed not just to wage increases, but to a particular mechanism for wage increases: (1) U.S. a small open economy -> (2) tax cuts produce a huge jump in investment -> (3) faster growth -> (4) factor shares revert -> (5) higher wages.

To see whether this argument makes sense we can—and should—look at this causal mechanism at every one of its five steps.

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